A lot of parents are in a rush, sometimes in a frenzy to get their children to learn many skills – apart from their education at school. I see children being sent to this class and that outside the school time – music, gym, swimming, abacus, art, shlokas, IQ improvement – and what not.

It’s good to have children learn more than that they do at school. Unlike earlier times, there is access to learning many skills. But what’s important, I feel, is the purpose behind it and the way it’s done.

For one, art is primarily a mode of self-expression. It’s unfortunate that media has projected art as a medium to compete rather than to express oneself. The shows on TV are luring both parents and kids to show off and overdo rather than just enjoy the art form.

Secondly, learning art ought not be a forced affair for children. What’s important is to kindle and nurture interest. One need not push for speedy learning or expect superlative performance in extra-curricular areas. It’s best to let children learn at their own pace. What’s important is to keep encouraging every effort and make it a specific point not to compare them with others.

The choice of the activity is equally important. Every child has a creative instinct and an inclination to a form or forms of artistic expression. It’s best to identify and encourage what comes naturally.

Now, that which I really want to talk about.

The best way to encourage learning is to help a child make the activity a habit.

Children don’t understand time (at least not till they are over ten, I think). Their minds LOVE staying in the moment and continuing to do what they are doing till they get bored of it or get distracted from the activity. They aren’t conscious of the passage of time. Of course, I am not implying that a military regime be imposed to make kids adhere to a schedule of activities. But gentle, patient reminders that it’s time to do something helps a lot. (Note, I’m saying a time TO DO something and NOT saying a time NOT to do something – there is a subtle difference).

Setting a time to do an activity, practice an art, pursue an interest – on a daily basis (or weekly if applicable), builds the habit over time. It is absolutely the parent’s effort to help the child develop a habit. Not out of force but by kindling interest.

And here is another well known, yet hardly practiced fact. Children learn by example.

A disciplined parent can get his or her child to get disciplined more easily than one who is not. If a parent plays games on his or her mobile, I can say for sure that their children aren’t going to stop playing either. On the other hand, if a parent practices discipline in say the hours of TV watched, he or she can get a child to switch off the TV when told to do so. A child would see someone who isn’t addicted to the TV and hence the develop the mental discipline to get away from it.

Back to the matter of habits and learning – what’s more important than having children attend classes is to inculcate the habit of practice. To make sure they spend some time every day practicing the art they are learning, spending time to express themselves and enjoying their learning can go a long way in building the child’s confidence. Every so often, a parent ought to check with the child if the interest is still alive and assert that he or she can discontinue when the interest dies. Encouragement, keeping interest alive, making learning non-competitive is a definite mantra to have a happy child.

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Subhash Iyer

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