A is still for Apple but maybe not the one that keeps the doctor away.
The vocabulary of young learners aged three to six is being increasingly fashioned by utility and exposure to lifestyle symbols rather than the textbooks previous generations grew up with.
Teachers have realised this and in many city schools the printed word is sometimes merely a corollary to what children see, experience and identify with. So don’t be surprised, young parents, if your little one comes home from school and teach you that the music wafting in the air is not from “R for Radio” but “F for FM”.
“Language learning is now essentially utility-based,” said Debjani Rudra, head of the nursery section at La Martiniere for Girls.
A pre-primary girl or a boy in the classroom would now more automatically utter “C for Cell phone” and “M for Mall or Mouse (the one wired to your desktop, not the one that nibbled on your socks, silly!)” when prodded by a teacher. It’s not textbook learning but it isn’t wrong either.
Experts say a child’s surroundings now act as a stimulus for learning more than they ever did. “It makes sense to tell them about things that they know and can identify with. School need to adapt to the interests and attention spans of today’s children, basically change with the times,” said Angela Ghose, headmistress of the junior section at St. James’ School.
Modern High School for Girls does not use textbooks for beginners and the La Martiniere schools use them more as secondary tools. St. James’ and Apeejay School, Park Street, lay emphasis on teaching beyond the textbook.
According to Ghose, vocabulary building has also become more “application and association-based learning”. When a classroom of students at St. James’ was asked what “stand” meant, one bright spark came up with “autorickshaw”.
In association-based learning, teaching a child what a kitchen is entails telling him or her about everything one would see in that part of the house. Talking about “friendship” would mean associating it with “Friendship Day” and describing what a “projector” is when using one in the classroom to beam visuals.
The scope of a child’s vocabulary becoming larger could also be attributed to modern-day parents teaching their children the “basics” before they get into school.
“There is a lot of pre-learning as well as learning outside the classroom. Modern mothers are very aware and they play a big role in expanding the child’s vocabulary,” said Rudra of La Martiniere.
What used to be complex words for a child in Class I a few years ago are now part of everyday nursery conversation. From gadgets to experiences, words have found myriad routes into a child’s mind as well as vocabulary.
“Earlier, things that children loved or built an association with were seldom used in the classroom or included in books. This has changed, and for the better. It is easier for children to understand and learn instead of mechanically memorising,” said a pre-primary teacher.
So is there a flip side to this?
“Yes, there is. What a child hears all the time has an impact on how he or she speaks and learns. A kid may pick up a word like ‘Hi!’ but not understand when and where to use it. The most common instance is children saying ‘Hi!’ to a teacher or parent instead of ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon’,” said Meenakshi Atal of The Heritage School.
The biggest challenge for parents and teachers is, therefore, to strike a balance. “The idea of challenging the child’s mind has to be within limits. Also, children should not be expected to remember everything,” said Devi Kar, the director of Modern High.
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