Early Learning: Your Home Is Your Child’s First Classroom

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By Susan Rao

Priya Ramachandran is the young mother of a three-year-old. While having her nails done in a beauty parlour, she laments at how difficult it is to get admission in a good school.

Rita Jairaj, an executive in a multinational firm, is a mother of two and has already enrolled her six-month-old son in a reputed international school .While she sips a drink at a club, she hopes her son will make it to NASA.

Home – The First Learning Environment

“Do you believe you have an Einstein in your home?” or,” Do you believe that a future Sachin Tendulkar is growing up in your house? Look ahead and enroll him in Snotnose International School!” scream massive roadside billboards.

Many schools will promise an international baccalaureate – which, after enrolling your child and paying a hefty admission fee, you realise are hollow claims.

Parents the world over want their children to become famous and successful. They are easily taken in by advertisements that guarantee these outcomes, and will do everything in their power to enroll their children in such schools.

In all this, the parent loses sight of one basic fact – it is not the school alone that molds your child. The learning process begins at home. The child’s first classroom is, in fact, right there in the house.

The ‘Primary’ School

Parents are the child’s first teachers. If they talk, the child learns to speak. What a parent does, the child imitates. Parents who do not pay attention to this crucial stage in the development of their child are missing the essential ingredient in raising a successful individual.

In the early years, children grow and learn rapidly. Each experience with the home environment offers opportunities to increase a child’s understanding of the world. What matters most here is how the experience fits into the child’s life… how it connects. The connection the child has with other adults provides a basis for learning.

In every area of development, be it physical well-being, motor development, social or emotional development, learning, language or literacy development, the child’s first caregivers – the parents – play a primary role. The environment they provide has a profound effect on virtually every facet of their early growth.

The home is what we consider a safe harbor, a place where we can drop anchor. Home is also a place where we engage with those who are closest to us – our parents, grandparents, relatives and close friends. We live here with a certainty that we will be loved regardless of our mistakes and faults. It is where a child’s soul is nurtured.

However, home is increasingly becoming a place where faults are pointed out, children are pressured to perform and comparisons are made with a neighbor’s successful children. In many (if not most) cases, home is now the place the parent’s unfulfilled ambitions are being projected onto the child.

Development is biologically programmed, and tied to this is the bond between parent and child. From early childhood through adolescence, children are most open to parental teaching.

It is difficult to catch up with a lack of nurturing in the early parent-child relationship once the child becomes a teenager. Thankfully, it is equally difficult to undo the love, care and attention given by a parent in the crucial, formative years.

Early childhood learning

Learning starts in infancy and the parents are the most important people in a child’s life

The Parent Effect – Beyond Performance

Learning starts in infancy, and the two most important people in a child’s life are his or her mother and father. Early learning begets later learning and early success begets later success, just as early failure begets later failure.

Much is known and has been said about a child’s physical and intellectual growth, but less is understood about its emotional growth. An understanding of this would help the Priyas and Ritas of today.

As a society, we undervalue the profoundly important role of a mother. We have undermined a woman’s ability to feel good about her role, making her feel that being just a mother is not enough. It is not the role that needs to be changed but the esteem in which we hold it.

Society has designated the mother’s role as that of the guardian of the child’s physical self. Its food, growth and well-being are considered her prime responsibility. Equally important is the parental role in the child’s temperament and individuality.

Moral development is a result of parent-child socialization and interaction. Any kind of provocative initial data that the child receives at home in terms of religious beliefs and prejudices of any kind towards people or communities are bound to influence the child’s attitudes later in life.

About 2000 years ago, Plato said in utter desperation, “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, ignore the laws and their morals are decaying. They riot in the streets, inflamed by wild notions.”

He could have been describing the youth of today. Often we speak of a crisis of character. Looking around us, we see dehumanized people lacking in empathy, morals, ethical values and compassion.

The child’s early concepts of truth vs. lies, violence vs. non-violence and good vs. bad affects their future conduct and cognition of external events. A parent’s personality and beliefs therefore have a lasting effect on the child’s conscience, and it is their individual consciences that make them function in the absence of supervision.

If successfully instilled in the early years, a wholesome personality is a more powerful regulator of conduct than any external law or social control. Yet we pay so little attention to its foundation.

Being a positive role model for your children is essential because they watch your every move. Your behavior and response in all of life’s situations convey either a positive or negative attitude, giving the boy or girl an identity and an understanding of their role in life.

Parents who spend quality time with their children will create confident and secure children. Secure children are successful and have fewer complexes, as they are emotionally stable.

If a father spends time with his daughter or son going on excursions, little walks, shopping at the market, going on outings to a restaurant, zoo or the park, the child retains the memory for life and feels loved and valued.

On the other hand, the father who is distant and emotionally removed may be carried within the child in the same way. As adults, it may make them feel less-than-perfect or make them overachieve in an effort to compensate for the love not given.

As a society, we cannot afford to postpone investing in our children. When they become adults, it may be too late to intervene. We need to educate ourselves on the vital role we play instead of depending on schools to teach our young ones.

Decades from now, long after we’ve gone, what will matter is the emotional legacy that we leave our children – and, through them, to their children.

© Susan Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad.

Early Learning at Home

Making your home a learning environment

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