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Are You Facilitating Open-Ended Learning for Your Child?

being open to open-ended learning as a teacher and parent

I’ve shared my thoughts before about open-ended learning and why I think, it’s the way to go with most all of the projects I do with Pari.

Just as a refresher – for my own sake – I’ll phrase my understanding of open-ended learning.

The experts describe it as process-based, child-driven learning wherein the child has freedom to do and make where his/her imagination leads him/her.

Go on to read why I’ve embraced this approach after much self-correction. I also share an example from our homeschool experience.

In an open-ended learning environment or a project, the child is not bound by a set of rules or instructions. He/she does does not work under the constraint of producing a particular result or striving for THE right answer. The outcome of the process can be ‘anything’. There can be many answers to a problem. All he/she has to do is ‘seek’ the outcome or the answer that appeals to him/her. Here’s a brilliant read about Convergent Vs Divergent Thinking on the Imagination soup blog.

The parent or the teacher or any adult who’s the ‘facilitator’ is merely ‘that’ – a facilitator  – and does not pass on his/her own idea of the ‘final product’ or the ‘answer’ onto the child.

The main objective of open-ended learning is to let the child explore his creative instinct and imagination and basically enjoy the process of learning; be open and curious about it.

Having said this, as facilitators and teachers to our own children, we know that there will be many projects and lessons where we do need to define the learning theme, the process and even the learning objective.

After defining all this, do we still have the scope for open-ended exploration?

Yes, absolutely! And that’s the fun and the challenge for us facilitators.

Infact, realistically speaking, for most of the lessons or projects that we do with our kids we do have some sort of intention – literacy, math, gross motor/fine motor skill, physical agility or focus/concentration, or artistic skill or….

Well, we adults are always full of objectives. I tell ya! And, well, the intentions are well meaning but the approach is the key.

Even when the project is loaded with objectives, we can still make it very open-ended. Really! Rather, I would say, if we do want to achieve those well-intentioned learning objectives for our children, moulding the lesson to fit his/her interest and giving him/her the ‘control’ – is the best bet to nurturing curious, enthusiastic young learners.

I’ll share one example of open-ended project that could have become an out and out closed-ended if I had not consciously intended it to be.

open ended learning to encourage creativity and independent thinking in children

One of the books that Pari absolutely loves is an alphabet book about the wild life, flora and fauna of Africa. We’d picked this fabulous book during our recent South Africa trip. She reads this herself and I go through it with her, too  – to discuss our Safari stories and jog our memory about the animals that we’d seen ourselves in one or the other encounter.

There’s always so much to talk about from any page of this book. The difference in spots on the body of Cheetah and Leopard; the Kelp plant and how its long stems float below the surface of the water; the African elephant in all its glory and how it’s different from the Indian elephant. All these make for very interesting story-time! Yeah – a mere alphabet book, when Pari’s way past alphabets!

The other day, I thought she could do an interesting art project integrating facts from this book.

How about making an otherworldly creature? A creature that would have features of different animals all combined into one! It could live anywhere SHE wanted it to – under water, in the sky, in burrows – wherever.

With the art project, I combined a little free wheeling writing for her. She could go on to describe her other worldly creature. What it looks like, where it lives, what it eats etc.

And, this is what she came up with. She drew the animal from imagination. To add unique characteristics, she referred to this alphabet book of African animals.

She wanted her otherworldly creature to wear spots of a Cheetah, carry trunk of a baby Elephant; ears like that of an adult Elephant; have long eye lashes and swim like a fish.

She could do as she fancied. She was not bound by any specific look nor by mama’s instructions!

She went on to write her ideas about the animal she’d painted.

This art+writing project helped reinforce her ‘knowledge’ when she noticed the spots of Cheetah vis a vis leopard.

When she drew the Kelp, we jogged our memory about the under-water plants – something that we’d read on another day, from another book.

The writing exercise was integrated with the art and yet proved a unique tool to help articulate her ideas and imagination. When you write something down, you gain clarity.

integrating art and writing for childrenThis whole exercise could have become ever so close-ended if I had asked her to simply write down the facts that we discussed – Cheetah Vs Leopard, facts about Kelp and water plants and so on and so forth. That might have sounded heavy and study-like. As if, she needs to learn ‘these specific lessons’.

She did anyway learn all those ‘lessons’ by way of painting the other worldly creature” and writing about it. But the approach was non-academic, light and open-ended. She learned without me having to ‘teach’. She ‘taught’ herself and did not even realize she had ‘learned’.

It has taken years for me to let go of my urge to give instructions to Pari or to correct her every now and then so as to make the project look pretty or to achieve the learning objective I intended for her. But, I learned. And, I changed. It felt like an awakening. Seriously! Nothing less. And now, nothing else will deviate me back to those past faulty ways of mine.

The more I let go of my çontrols, the less stressed out I feel and the more çreatively she thinks and enjoys!

Friends, did you enjoy reading this article? If so, please share it with others by clicking on the ‘share’ button below or by tweeting, e-maling etc.

This is a Part 1 of this article on open-ended learning. I’ll share the Part 2 soon.

While we’re on this topic, I’d like to remind you about my Personalized Kids Story books giveaway that are a unique tool for encouraging love for reading – in an open-ended way. Enter the giveaway now. There are 5 prizes to be won and only 4 more days to go.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Haripriya January 16, 2012, 10:26 am

    Hi Rashmie, I enjoyed reading your article. I had a similar concern today about my work with children in school and your post came as a kind of reply to my questions :)

    • Rashmie January 22, 2012, 12:28 pm

      Sorry about my late reply. I am so glad this post about open-ended learning helped you as a reply to your concern in your class. I would be interested to know what the situation in your class was that popped such questions for you. Pls do feel free to share here if you are comfortable… :)

  • Manai January 16, 2012, 12:33 pm

    I try to follow a similar approach- freedom of creativity. When a child sits with a paint brush, amazing things start happening. I usually sit by my daughter and seenher painting and describing her strokes. Most of the time, her beautiful painting with vivid color ends up as a monotone. So it becomes difficult to preserve her works. my daughter is Three, I do not want to control her creativity and care for the end result. What are your thought on it?

    • Rashmie January 22, 2012, 12:35 pm

      Hi Manai,
      It’s wonderful that you let your child be and do what ‘she’wants to – with art, painting etc. rather than focusing on the end product.
      About preserving her work, it may not be possible to file all that she does. I’ve to be honest – I’ve not been able to either. But, I do try to take pictures as much as I can.
      Other than that – whenever she makes something, for a few days, I pin it up on a soft board, stick on the fridge, some – I frame. Basically, I display in different ways so she feels a sense of achievement and feels motivated to do more…

  • Kalyani January 16, 2012, 4:42 pm

    beautiful post, Rashmie. I am an on n off visitor to your site but absolutely loved whatever i have read. so much to learn from you and Pari and other visitors’ views too. i hope or rather wish that i can be/do even half as good as what you are doing for/with her through art and your amazing thought process (if and when i eventually become a mom that is!) :-)
    look forward to part 2! :-)

    • Rashmie January 22, 2012, 12:38 pm

      Dear Kalyani,
      Thank you for such a lovely comment. I’m so sorry for the late reply. I’ve not been on top of things these days…. :(
      I’m sure you’ll be an inspiring mom, my dear. If the intention is there along with an open-minded attitude to learn, nothing stops you from being what you want to be… :)
      All the best for your future :)

  • Ann January 17, 2012, 2:27 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your lessons! You are so right about how we learn best.

    Also, I think your reminder to share this post is a great idea – this is certainly worth sharing!

    BTW, my daughter would like to know how old Pari is because she is very impressed with her hand-writing.

    • Rashmie January 22, 2012, 12:45 pm

      Thanks for being here :) I really appreciate your comments and support…
      About Pari’s handwriting – so glad your daughter likes it. Pari is 6 years and 1 month…!
      Of late, she’s been smitten by the idea of cursive writing. She sees me writing cursive and loves the flow and speed of it. Otherwise, I’ve never really made her sit down and practice writing to improve the look of it – the way it’s done across schools here in India.
      I think that schools in India focus way too much on handwriting (and spelling/dictation!!). Kids have to fill pages just to learn cursive and get it right!

  • Rebekah @ The Golden Gleam January 17, 2012, 4:05 am

    LOVE this!!! Kids need the opportunity to learn and create on their own terms. Your series on open ended learning reminds me of my series on unstructured play. I think we slow their growth if we don’t give them the chance to learn and play as they choose.

    • Rashmie January 22, 2012, 12:49 pm

      My reply comes late but I’d so intended to write back to your insightful comment. You’re right in this – Ï think we slow their grown if we don’t give them the chance to learn and play as they chose”. Very well said.
      I loved your series on unstructured play…
      Thanks for being here and for your support… :)

  • Roopa@putti prapancha January 17, 2012, 2:49 pm

    Love your inputs on open ended learning!! Kids learn more this way and it makes learning more fun:) Pari is a lucky girl !!

    • Rashmie January 23, 2012, 12:31 pm

      Thanks Roopa. Glad you liked reading my ideas on open-ended learning. You’re right – children learn this way much more and gain so much self-confidence…

  • Melissa @The Chocolate Muffin Tree January 19, 2012, 1:07 pm

    Love Your daughter’s drawing/painting! SO creative! Made up imaginative creatures are always a winner with kids! I know C will be inspired by Pari’s work!

    • Rashmie January 23, 2012, 12:33 pm

      Melissa – thank you :)
      The unpredictable nature of made-up imaginative animals excite kids. They feel they don’t have to be exact and there lies the fun ;)
      I’m sure your daughter will love making such animals…!

  • Ali @ At home with Ali January 23, 2012, 9:55 am

    I am amazed at your daughter’s artwork. Just incredible.

    • Rashmie January 23, 2012, 12:34 pm

      Ali – thank you for being here. So glad you like Pari’s artwork. She’ll be delighted to know… :)

  • Haripriya January 24, 2012, 10:56 am

    Thanks Rashmie :)

    Well, it is more or less a daily affair in class. Whether it is art, a motor activity or any other activity, children are expected to complete tasks in set ways. Often, they ask why it cannot be done differently. For example, why a flower MUST be coloured red (just because the reference picture shows that it is red) when they would like to colour it yellow. As a teacher, I feel caught! On the one hand, I want to give children the freedom to express, while on the other, my colleagues expect things to be done in set ways! On that particular day, I was suddenly wondering about what’s wrong with allowing children to be unique in their expressions and your post came as a reassurance:)

    • Rashmie @ Mommy Labs January 28, 2012, 3:34 pm

      I totally understand your dilemma. Between wanting to give kids the creative freedom and catering to the school’s mindset, I think you should do what’s best for the kids and take your colleagues in confidence by sharing your views in a way that they don’t feel threatened.

      May be you could even write a small piece about the value of creative freedom – in your school’s newsletter – if you have one. Or, may be you share this blog article with your colleagues and principal if you don’t feel comfortable teling them what you intend. Or, you can share this article indirectly by taking a print-out and putting pinning it on the school board where people are most likely to read.

      Probably what I’m trying to tell is – YOU çreate the awareness about the value of open-ended learning among your collagues – indirectly, gradually to begin with… :)

  • Kalyani January 28, 2012, 3:46 pm

    @Rashmie – thanks for the encouragement. will surely keep in touch. :-) :-)

  • Eula December 4, 2012, 5:35 pm

    Hi Rashmie,

    Love what you’re doing with Pari. I too would have liked to do the same with my daughter who is 11 now but I lack the confidence you have. This was a very interesting read, as are all your other posts. My daughter is a slow learner and she’s actually struggling in school. It breaks my heart to see her struggle so much.
    Even at this age she wants me to tell her a bedtime story or to read to her, which I do regularly. YOur post on storytelling also helped a lot though very often I do get stuck in the middle of a story.
    She loves to do things in the kitchen, like make a franky for herself or small pakoras, as she calls them and then impress us. I allow her this little lee way in the kitchen with no interference from me. Also as and when time permits she loves to paint small diyas, pots by herself .
    One thing she hates doing is writing stories or notes on trips/holidays, etc. Maybe that’s because I force her to do it so she shies away from it.
    Any tips for me?