Learning Is NOT Locked Up in Books; Why Do We See Learning Separate from Living?

by Rashmie on December 18, 2012 · 6 comments

in Holistic Living,Nature Learning,Nurture & Culture

learning parenting homeschooling

A family member who’d initially planned to visit us couple of days back, dropped the idea and called me to say that since I haven’t had the time to do any homeschooling-related study/activity with Pari in the last few days – due to our travel etc – that she’d not visit us so we get time to do our homeschooling stuff.

(Well, I don’t mean she said something rude or meaningless or unthoughtful. On the contrary, it was kind and well-meaning. It was thoughtful of her. My point is something else…)

I was about to explain to her that Pari has done and learned a ton of things during our birding trip (last week to Bharatpur) and that she hasn’t missed out a wee bit on her homeschooling and learning. But I decided not to get into the explanation mode then and there.

Instead, I thought I need to reflect on this quite a bit myself to understand why do we see learning separate from living.

Why learning, in our mind, is pictured as something that happens within the confines of a school/class-room/text-book/curriculum?

25+ hours of watching birds – paying attention to their sounds, colours, movements, behavior; clicking photographs; picking feathers, fruits, leaves, twigs; discussing, questioning, smelling – if all this is not ‘real learning’, what is?

Male Saras Crane in the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

I ask this question to no one in particular and yet to each one of you (and to myself). I ask this because that innocuous remark from my family member triggered an avalanche of thoughts and questions in my head.

Our Conditioned Minds

The schoolish-conditioning that we carry into every aspect of living refuses to regard these experiences and opportunities as “real learning” – purely on their own accord and merit.

Experiences such as visiting bird sanctuaries or museums, watching movies, traveling, constructing lego, pretend play – all are considered wonderful so long as the child is (also) solving worksheets, doing unit studies, making project reports, solving math problems out of textbooks, spelling words correctly and so on.

The bird sanctuary visit is considered fruitful if the child comes back and prepares a “presentable” report of his/her field trip – no matter the child wants to make that report or not. I’m not saying that every single child will not want to make a project report of his field trip. Many will. But, if the others are not interested in making a report, does that mean he’s not learned in the real sense of the word?

Interacting with the wild

What’s Meaningful ‘To’ The Child (the Learner)?

On the third evening of our birding trip, Pari came back home, took a shower and went to sit on the bed with her notepad, pencil and sharpener. She first sharpened her pencil and then asked me to give her the ‘birds checklist booklet’ that we’d purchased at the museum in the sanctuary.

She then started going through each bird image, reading aloud its name and jotting down the ones that she thought we’d spotted back there. If she was in doubt, she’d ask one of us to confirm.

Self driven learning

She did this without being told to do such a thing. And, she did not to conform with any rules or ways of learning. Half way through the booklet, she was too tired to go on till the end. She may complete it one of these days or she may not. It’s not all that important.

What’s worth wondering, for me, is that she considered this meaningful for her own learning. She did this on her own accord. She wasn’t following anybody’s instruction. Neither was she doing this to please her mom, dad or anyone else for that matter.

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary India

So, why do we separate learning from living?

Because, we have come to believe (from our own schooling) that learning is confined to books (more so – textbooks). And, only when we open those books and read them religiously will we learn what we “need to learn”.

We were made to believe that when we read up that packaged information made available in text books and their various chapters, will our learning happen in the best way. That sort of learning is valued.

And we continue to think that’s true.

Learning by onserving in nature

Learning is all around us. Our trained and conditioned eyes fail to recognize it. 

From my own experience, I’ll share some examples. There are times when Pari is enthused by a matter and she’ll want to read up all that’s there on the subject. This kind of learning is easy for me to see. And value. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s learning.

My mom had a massive heart surgery more than two years back. Ever since, Pari has been keen to learn why parts of Nani’s (grandmom) heart needed to be replaced. Was it due to the food she ate? Or, due to lot of work she did? Or that she didn’t exercise? She wants me to read to her about the Circulatory System and How Heart functions in the Times Encyclopedia that we have. From Circulatory system, she got interested in other body functions like child birth, digestion, how diseases strike. etc.

I was happy. Of course, I could see that she was learning. A lot. And beyond the school curriculum defined for her age/grade. These are clear evidences. Aren’t they?

do nothing when in nature

But what happens on other occasions when what she’s learning is not explicit enough to see or appreciate.

And, there are NO books involved.

For instance, when she makes those learning connections.

One day when we were driving through a street in Central Delhi, she instantly pointed out the installation/monument of Gandhiji’s Salt March (that installation is called Gyarah Murti literally meaning 11 statues) and said, “isn’t this picture on the backside of the 500 rupee note. Yes, it is!

She’d just made a connection on her own. Isn’t that learning? She asked the names of the 10 figures portrayed there, besides Gandhiji’s. We figured that we couldn’t really identify all of them. Didn’t look like any famous names/leaders.

Well, she didn’t come back and read any more about them. Neither did I. Until now, that is! Yes, just now as I recollected that incident, I got curious about who the rest of the figures are. A quick search yielded this. But, I need to delve deeper. So, more connections, you see!

Now, this kind of learning is not explicit.

Most of the times, there are no tangible evidences (like reports/essays/answer sheets) but this kind of learning is natural and intrinsic. And yes – slow.

But, meaningful – because the child made those connections out of his/her own natural curiosity and interest. There was no ‘so and so’ information package prescribed. There were no chapters crammed into their brains in order to test.

If the child gets the time and opportunity to wander off in thoughts and places, he/she will seek and form more and more such learning connections. And, if the parent sees, supports and joins in such explorations, natural learning will happen. Real learning will happen.

Snake casting off skin. Called Moulting

At other times, she makes her own observations and inferences, or she discovers something after a lot of questioning and analysis. Or, something catches her attention and her eyes widen in wonder.

THESE are the times when I may not be able to see that she’s actually learning. And, I  might fret. If only I could look at it from a fresh set of eyes rather than with the ones clouded by my conditioning, I would fret less and let go. I would be able to see learning happening left, right, centre.

But, it’s changing. For me. I’m beginning to question my conditioning a LOT!

As I reflect back on my childhood and schooling, I find that the things that are fresh and vibrant in my memory are NOT the ones I learned in the textbooks. Far from it, a lot of my textbook knowledge is gone, if not all. (Actually, realizations like these first made me question the relevance of school and triggered the idea of homeschooling.)

family learning together Mommy Labs

What’s thrived through all those years, till date, are the things I explored outside of books:

– the Chandipur sea beach back home with its waters receding miles back, the red crabs carpeting the shores, the casuarina trees swaying back and forth – these pictures are so vivid that I felt inspired to write poetry recently – based on these memories.

– I remember bright and clear the festivals that we celebrated and the aromas of the dozen dishes my mom made each Diwali.

– the long art and craft sessions with my brother during summer holidays – that passion continues till today.

– the potatoes that I sliced with mom to make an year-round supply of chips – every step of that chips-making-process runs like a movie in my mind’s eye.

– the rose sherbets, the tomato ketchup, the many pickles that mom made and my brother and I served as apprentice to her – all that learning has remained crisp and fragrant.

The textbookish knowledge has decomposed. Sadly, what remains of it is a conditioned mind.

The good news is, I’ve chosen to question and examine it little by little, every day, at every intersection.

Pond Heron

So, before I go explain to that family member why living and learning go hand in hand, I need to internalize it thoroughly myself. Only then will natural learning work joyfully and effectively for us.

What’s your experience in learning from life – from your own childhood or from observing your child?

PS: The pictures in this post are from our trip to the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (also called ‘ghana’ meaning dense – in Hindi). Place your cursor on the pic to know the ID of the bird or to read other notes. I hope to share many more pictures from Bharatpur. Birding is such a divine experience and photographing them is the ultimate challenge as well as bliss! I’m so grateful for my Bazooka Canon telephoto lens (in case you were wondering which lens I used).