The Shift In Learning
By Aruna Rajaram

My experience at Creative has been full of surprises as I am endearing the process of self learning. This article explains how the education at Creative nurtures children and adults to handle different situations in life.

In an open and honest environment, I can see children open up, flourish and give honest feedback about themselves and others. The last component, in particular has been such a revelation to me. The incident which comes to my mind is the “Science Fair” that was organized by three older children in the school—Keerthana, Krutika, and Thejaswini--on January 13, 2012. The fair was open to all the children, 6–12 years old, and half a dozen adults.

It was a Big day … Of course, it was the happy occasion of Sankranthi/Pongal, the festival of harvest. But I would like to remember this day on the eve of Sankranti as a day of significance; I saw the transitioning of these three children beyond the realms of knowledge into being leaders. It is not the reward, but what one becomes through the process that is significant.  These three children were superb and I learnt a lot. For me, it was transformational learning.

Normally science fairs equip the students with an opportunity to practice science investigation and invention. I empowered the girls to hold the fair. And the children wholeheartedly took on the complete responsibility to build the science fair. They decided the topics, chose the experiments, collected materials for the project, and prepared to make their presentations.

The objective was to introduce various aspects of physics in a fun-way, catering to each age group: not in a “funny” way, but an involving, interactive, and inclusive way, and without parental contributions to the projects. It was a platform to maximize the educational value of the project for the students.

Each of the children picked up a set of six experiments to explain the concepts of force and pressure, magnetism, and heat. The children from primary standards visited them in groups of three. These little visitors were given a chance to try out the experiments as per the instruction written by the project owners, followed by an explanation of concepts, then asking objections and queries. The fair started at 9:30 am and went on till 1 p.m. These three concepts were presented in three-and-half hours. The children did brilliantly with their time … optimizing the time. It was an amazing experience for all of us.

The girls’ energy levels and enthusiasm didn't diminish even a bit throughout the lifetime of the fair. I was amazed at their abilities, especially the way they exercised assertiveness in group decision making. They had a positive self-image and were at ease overcoming stigma, if any. They were crystal clear in their thinking and were fast in adapting. Their tone, reasoning, and questions changed with each age group. They were attending to the visitors with delight. 

The three girls had to assess each other on various criteria given to them in a rubric matrix on the four parameters of attitude, planning, communication, and creativity. The assessment (the feedback) they did of each other and themselves were honest and non-judgmental. My goal here isn't to tell you how they fared, but to tell you all that they had the direction to self-assess.

My inner learning

At Creative, we have weekly inner work (self-work) sessions for teachers to address in a sangha. In one of our inner work sessions, I realized how our attention generally shifts to what is not happening right. By shifting our attention to what is happening right, the entire equation and situation can change. I started paying attention to situations. I could see the changes in the classroom and at home, too. I now consciously create a safe environment by having nurturing, not controlling limits.

Let me explain this with an example. I have a five-year old daughter. Earlier whenever my daughter used to throw a tantrum, I used to say, “You cannot do that”. Now I say, “Sweetu, I cannot understand what you are saying when you scream, shout or cry. It is okay to cry, I am ready to listen when you are ready to talk.” If I am very angry or irritated, the tantrums increase, but when I state this with total honesty, the tantrum stops, almost immediately. It is very important to be firm and authentic. Last but not least, one does not need lectures and long dialogues, especially with children below seven. They just want to be heard and want us to understand how they are feeling. It is a part and parcel of the process of learning and growing up for them. By trying to resolve their problems, we might unknowingly hamper their growth.

I am reading a book—The Habits of S.U.C.C.E.S.S by Henry Toi and I am inspired by this one statement. Education needs to be restructured to produce people with what the real world looks for. Its key function should be to prepare people for the “test of life” rather than students for a “life of tests”. The author has emphasized on experiential and reflective intelligence. As I read the book I see myself constantly observing “Oh! We do this at Creative.”

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Aruna Rajaram teaches physics at Creative School in Bangalore. Originally working for a corporate, she switched professions to follow her heart and work with children. She now facilitates experiential and joyful explorations of science.