Friday, June 21, 2013

Learning About Learning

Now that Peanut is almost six, I have finally come to an important conclusion conclusion that can be summed up as - No sirree - parenting don't get no easier as they grow up. 

I've finally stopped brushing off her questions with the kind of answers that Calvin's dad gives him - her curiosity is quite something, but I find myself struggling with the never-ending stream of questions -

- Why does doctor aunty have her clinic on sixth floor?
- How did Kali Ma become Ma Parvati?
- Why is the sky so many colours?
- What do monkeys eat?
- Why are ten hundreds called a thousand?
- What makes a rainbow?
...and so on.

I'm sure there are a lot of parents out there who are thrilled by questions of this sort by their children - they probably sit down patiently, look through Wikipedia and revel in the whole process of imparting education to their kids. But I'm not one of them - I was scarred for life by the 'E' that I got by Mrs. Harpreet Kaur, General Knowledge Teacher when I was in Class 3. She wrote the E in red, to rub in, which frankly, I thought was rather unnecessary. Anyway, Mrs. Kaur ensured that I would never be able to confidently answer the most basic of questions from my own children. To put it another way - I'm a little lazy about Googling these things.

But one thing which I have taken up rather seriously is the whole piano lessons thing. Peanut has been learning from February and she is pretty good by now, although obviously still a beginner. This is primarily because I have been making her practice for half an hour each and every single day. No matter what else is going on with me, I'm very clear that this is one non-compromisable activity - Piano-practice time. It helps that I have a rudimentary understanding of music, being an amateur guitar player who has taken lessons three times in the last ten years ( without any major success at continuity).

In fact, just last year on my sabbatical, I took 3 months of guitar lessons and was struggling with music theory - I gave it up because of lack of time back then. But now, I find that those three months helped a lot when it came to teaching Peanuts the basic of reading music - Treble Clef vs Bass Clef, Crochets vs Minims, 3/4 vs 4/4. I used to read the simpler pieces and play them for her, but already, she's overtaken me - she's using both hands to play and is quicker at recognizing the notes than I am. But the fact that I am about three decades older has to have SOME advantage, right? So I'm able to help in various ways. She's already ahead of where she's supposed to be and I've had to download extra music material for her to give her new stuff to practice, so she stays excited. It's all very Battle Hymns and Tiger Mothers out here. I can be very short and impatient with her, and really have to check myself sometimes - but the fact that she willingly missed half of the birthday party of one of her best friends, allowing me to whisk her away to piano class in between - means there's something we're doing right.

The other thing where she's really doing well is reading. She's always been curious about books - I started reading to her when she was three months old - and it's clearly made a big difference. She is now reading the Magic Faraway Tree Series. I was too tired to read to her last night, so I told her to read one chapter of it by herself - it was the first time she was attempting to undertake such a project, so when she came back to me saying 'Mom...can I read only however much I want?', I had kind of been expecting it - she has a tendency to give up too soon at the beginning - which so many of us do.

I decided to try and be neutral, and hid my irritation, saying 'Go ahead and read as much as you want.'

I thought she would struggle to finish half a chapter - she ended up reading three chapters instead of the one. That's what she had meant - she had wanted to read more. And there have been occasions when I've gone into her room and found her reading quietly to herself - a kind lady at our Library said that she read aloud more confidently at a storytelling session than kids much older than her.

Given that music and reading have played such an important role in my own life, I'm glad I've at least been able to get her to make a good start in these two areas. I think the key learnings for me so far are -

* It helps to focus. So what if I can't turn her into a Science or Mathematics Genius. I'll focus on the things I'm good at. Besides, what the heck is my husband for?
* The things to focus on have to come from what naturally appeals to your child. I was advised percussion instruments to start with by one teacher - my own leaning was towards the guitar - but I had seen her enjoying fooling around on a banged up old keyboard at home - I took the cue from that, and the piano turned out to be the right instrument.
* It ain't nothin' without reinforcement - I read a quote once that really struck me - I forget the source now and the exact words, but it went something like ''Every day that you don't play, is a day you're getting worse'' - I believe in this thoroughly. Daily practice time of 30 minutes at anything that you really want to get good at is a must - that's one of the reasons I chucked guitar lessons. I couldn't do it myself - but I'm glad I'm motivated enough to ensure Peanut does it.
* If you don't taken an interest, they may lose theirs. A kid, especially a six year old, will happily play and while away the whole of her day. But the fact that I'm keen on music and reading and build it into our daily routine means that she is now used to it and looks forward to her daily practice time herself.
* A little knowledge isn't necessarily a dangerous thing - her piano teacher had initially told me that he didn't allow parents in the class. He said he was just letting me sit in for the first few lessons so that she would get comfortable. Well, it's been over four months now and he hasn't yet kicked me out - I suppose it's because he's seen that I understand the basics of music and I understand more than the basics of Peanut - so interpreting things that he says for her is something I'm well-positioned to do and really helps her progress.
* Challenges are important - I found if something comes too easy to Peanut, she doesn't really value it. So the trickier pieces are the ones that frustrate her in the beginning but give her the biggest kick in the end, once she's conquered them. Being able to identify those pieces and make sure enough practice time is spent on them is important. In fact, her teacher has said that we may put her up for an examination by December if she progresses at a good rate. The word Exam, which filled me with terror as a kid, now takes on a more positive connotation, especially because she's unperturbed by the word currently ( largely because she doesn't yet understand the implications.) But I think it's important to work towards a goal and assess where she is in a slightly formal manner. My sister doesn't want Peanut to ever have to take an exam in her life, but I tell her - and myself - we'll all go out for ice-cream later, so it's okay.
* Finally - and this is the toughest one for me - if you don't let them have fun, they will rebel - there are loads of times when Peanut will deliberately go off-beat and start making the strangest sounds on her keyboard that grate on my nerves. When I ask her what the heck she thinks she's doing, she answers blithely, 'Oh just having fun, Mama.' I grit my teeth and bear it for as long as I could, which isn't always too long. But I'm working on it. After all, on the whole, it's something that's got to bring pleasure to her - why else would we even do it?

So that's it, at this stage. Some learning about learning.

Like I said - no, it don't get easier as they grow up. But then, things that don't challenge us don't bring much satisfaction either, right? No wonder parenting is the most satisfying thing ever.


  1. You and Peanut really and truly rock:) Love you all.

  2. explains quite well how mumma learns while the child does seems so fascinating to see your child pick up the habits from a very early stage and surpass the expected learning curve..I think there can be nothing more rewarding than seeing a child grow into an alrounder..
    well..on science and maths parts..I guess you just need to pull ur socks up a bit and your interest will create interest in her and then she will take on from there on her own..and U must do it!!!

  3. Dear Yashodhara
    I read this blog post yesterday and there were just so many similarities between Peanut and my daughter Hia that as soon as Hia was back from school I had to tell her about Peanut. Hia was thrilled to hear about Peanut. Hia is 6 yrs old too. She was born on 6-10-2006. She started learning the Piano in April this year as well and is really proud of herself for having been called above average by her teacher. She is also an avid reader and has recently taken up the challenge of reading 'The faraway tree' which I had been reading to her all this time. When she heard about Peanut her first question was - is she older than me? Then - Is she doing the 'Jhon Thompson's Easiest Piano Course'? Is she on book 1 or book 2? And which is her favourite piece and how far has she got yet? Is her Faraway tree book as heavy as mine? etc etc. I am writing this comment hoping for some answers to those questions because now I am not going to have any peace until she finds out those answers.
    Have a great time practising piano! We are doing 'Three Blind Mice' now. It's a tough piece and our half hour's practise is now stretching to an hour sometimes.
    Say Hi to Peanut from us.
    Love Varsha and Hia.


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