Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Can we make them study?

Can we make them study?

Every parent’s bugbear is a child who is not “studying well”. Most common complaints are ‘he is always playing”, “she likes everything except studies” and so on. Is it possible to make children study all on their own?  Especially the ones with average grades? There are no magic wands here but a few tips on how problems can be opportunities.

What is learning?

Most of us adults would recollect at least one instance when on hindsight we would have”tried more hard” or taken a different route” or made a different choice. When the grades arrive all that we have is hindsight. In essence even this is learning. But in the more academic sense of the word, learning is the process of acquiring knowledge. Since basic knowledge in all fields is deemed essential in today’s world we have structured curricula in all subjects taught in schools. But it needs to be emphasized that mastering all subjects is not essential for success in life. Not knowing intricate details of historical events for instance may not be relevant for an Engineer but a sense of history is relevant if tomorrow he is become an IAS officer. Therefore learning is not mere accumulation of data but using new knowledge to leverage one’s innate instinct to succeed in life and equally importantly to become a socially responsible citizen. Passing an exam is a small event in this journey .Honestly how many of us recall our marks in the Quarterly examinations of Class 8? But right now, that seems to be the end of the road for your 13 year old!
Ensuring that the child learns the concepts of ideas is more important than rote memorization.
It is alright if he/she has less than expected marks in this test. He has more tests to write than you have years to live!

Learning to learn:

Human memory has finite capacity to process in formation and reproduce it at will. Let us briefly look at the processes.
As you read this document a part of your brain is reading it ,another is giving meaning to it and another is storing it for future use .Research has shown that information that is fed indiscriminately and then not used is easily lost .Brain has the capacity to flush out unnecessary data and retain the core. As can be easily made out data entry, storage and retrieval are all important in learning and for those still interested in them-scoring marks!
Retrieval of data is dependent on many variables but data that is linked to other data and then stored is easily retrieved .Let us look at memory itself-there are different kinds of memory-the short term one that helps you to dial a number moments after you heard it ,the medium term memory that helps you to write exams ,the long term ones that makes you recollect the past including childhood.
Committing to memory:
This is an important tool. It is not enough that knowledge is obtained. Children need to be taught to link data with anything interesting and commit it to memory. Acronyms, poems, familiar names can all be used .Just ask your family doctor how he studied his medical course. So many funny acronyms are in use in medical schools. This is not to encourage rote learning, but fact remains there are certain things which cannot be “further explained”.
Organizing memory:
It is not enough to memorize, organization of information into chunks that make sense is also important.
Lesson 2:
Learning can be fun if you can link the printed word to things he sees or hears regularly
Message 2:
Yes, your old teacher was right! Remember at least the headings- Organizing information!

Motivating children:

Punishment is the worst kind of motivation. Any child who is studying because otherwise he might be punished will be the first to “give up” when the pressure eases as he passes into adulthood. 
Being role models:
A parent who spends his/her time aimlessly is hardly likely to inspire children to learn. People who earn a living by manual labour or small business can also be role models. The trick is to be honest to the work one is doing. Children make out lousy work very easily and this gives the information “mediocrity works”.
Don’t live your dream:
Unrealistic expectations are at the heart of many parent ward conflicts. Do not make choices for your children. If you are a Maths teacher there are equal chances that your child might love, be indifferent to or plainly hate maths! If your ward love sports, gently remind him that at least a good degree would land him a job with a company that might be interested in recruiting sportspersons.

Reward and Bribe:

Never assure your child you will buy something if he gets good grades. But when he/she performs well surprise him/her with a reward.

Unconditional love:

The baby in the cradle sleeps peacefully because it   knows that” the cradle will rock”. Unconditional love is the best motivator. You can nudge him to spend more time with his books, but subtly assure him that come what may, even if he fails, he would still be your darling kid.

Spend time with your kids:

This might look like a cliché but is just as evergreen as green itself. Listen to your children as they narrate their woes, dreams, quarrels and successes. It might be pointless to you to listen to why Imran is a bad boy, but for your ten year old it is important .It might seem slightly ridiculous to get upset because a friend would not talk, but for a teenager that might bug him days on end. Live with your kids, see their movies, read their books, frown at their “foes”, laugh with their friends. Quality time spent with kids is the best motivator for him to fulfill his part of the “contract”-to learn well.

Control, don’t strangle!

In the new era there is this misconception that freedom to kids would solve all problems. Hardly! Children growing up with absolutely no control would themselves be clueless .They would not know how much to proceed and will be like unspooled kites. Some organization is good for the mind.
Everybody needs their space and so do kids. But they need to know where the limits lie. Going to a party is okay but returning late is not. Without limit setting children either withdraw completely or freak out completely.

Avoid de-motivating :

Comparison with peers may not be a good idea. If you feel the need to compare, even though I see no reason, then that needs to be tempered with a positive comment .But fact of the matter is we do end up comparing. We do it all the time! The trick is again unconditional love!

Remember that many successful people had mediocre academic backgrounds. But as a judge recently pointed out, every school drop- out does not become a Steve Jobs!

Dr Santhosh Rajagopal
Paediatrician and Developmental Neurologist

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