The Virtues of Benign Neglect

.. are now official. If I had any doubts yesterday, they are well and truly banished today. Our adamant refusal to provide Arvind with ANY intellectual sustenance of the organised kind (homework, Kumon etc.) is finally paying off. What do I mean by this? It basically means that my five-year old has clued into his own curiousity and his thirst for knowledge and taken his education into his own hands.

This evening, as we were sailing effortlessly through our bum-parent routine (which we have down pat) and serving up our Sunday leftovers as Monday Specials, Arvind announces that as soon as dinner is done, there is WORK TO DO downstairs in his room. Could we please be there? He would bring papers and pens and we would do MAGICAL STUFF.

Yeah, whatever, we mumble as we stuff ourselves with pizza and Armaan binges on leftovers on the floor.

We troop down dutifully after dinner, though somewhat unwillingly. I mean, schoolwork is SO yesterday to us. We enter his room to see him sprawled out on the floor, doing, whaddaya know, maths. At this point, the Viking’s geeky chest is almost bursting out of his body, maths being like foreplay to him and all. And I park my butt and pick my jaw up off the floor as I watch my son doing sums so casually – adding, subtracting, multiplying and having the TIME OF HIS LIFE. His eyes sparkle and you could almost hear him cracking the code – CCCHHHING! as he bounces about begging to be quizzed..”Ask me.. Ask me stuff I can’t count with my fingers!” And I see that it is magic to him. This numerical revelation that has opened up a whole new world to him. A world he masters and controls. Hell, even WE can see that this is HUGE stuff for him, and we’re pretty slow.

Now ask me about a surefire way to kill that sense of magic and wonder. We could start by signing him up for Maths coaching and make it a mandatory must-do.

I know. Shame on our lazy asses and all. Maybe if we pushed him, he would be brilliant. And if I believed that for one moment, I would actually sign him for all the insane classes people sign five year olds up for. But the Viking and I are maybe arse-backwards that way. I really believe that if you never take away the enjoyment in a task, if you stimulate “freely” and without structure in the early years, children WILL blossom. They will love the magic in a mathematical sum and NOT ONLY because they have been told that they are good at it and SHOULD keep at it.

For Pete’s sake. He’s five. He is supposed to be goofing off with fart cushions, riding around the neighourhood on his bike and singing songs about poop. All of which he does, by the way. And sure its a time for learning, for absorbing the world around him. I just don’t think 4 and 5 year olds need tutoring to do that.

At this age and for the next couple of years, I don’t want a child of mine learning through anything other than play and activity. They need to be in the park, in the woods and picking up on basic science, tasting the good mushrooms and blueberries and figuring out how and why seasons change. They should be having conversations with their parents and grandparents about the world and people they see around them, making sense of it. This is as much a time for developing EQ and building social sensitivity. They should be cooking and baking with their families, learning how to measure and weigh. They should be hearing all the stories their tiny heads can stand.

And for all my cocka-whopee talk, this I believe.

They should be endlessly curious and never satiated. Lets never let them believe that learning has a beginning and an end. They should NOT always be served up answers. Leave them wondering. Stop giving a shit whether they colour inside the lines or write perfectly neatly. Did writing perfectly neatly get you very far? Sorry, but there’s still a lot of post-colonial cockamamie shite going around.

Let them colour their mangoes blue sometimes.
(Thanks MM, for this heads up)

In the meanwhile, I will apply for Queendom in the Republic Monarchy of Benign Neglect, yessir, and spread the gospel with the kind of zeal that would put Jerry Falwell to shame.


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3 responses to “The Virtues of Benign Neglect

  1. Muthu

    Whoa there…..MM will surely be proud of your Gospel….the gospel of St. S*****, Champion of the no regimentation for kids cause……bless you darling. Agree totally but am constantly second guessing my own attitude of benign neglect

    Me: Hmm.. when you put it that way, I REALLY feel like Falwell on his soapbox!LOL
    For what its worth, I second guess myself too, babe.. it’s just that I know the little guy better now and can see more clearly what will work with him. Plus the HUGE fact that there is no spoonfeeding system to fight against!

  2. nat

    OK – Momgonemad – I never went to Kumon or got ripped apart for colouring my mangoes whatever I did then either. How come I never got good at Math or ever understood it for that matter?
    I am super thrilled that Adu turned out to love and understand Math – maybe it has something to do with the environment you created for him, maybe it was genes (dad who loves it, uncle who got thru to REC, grandmom with her latent stockbroking talent and all that) maybe not, maybe it’s something he was blessed with, I dont know.
    For those of us who DO send the kids to Kumon and have had homework foisted on them too, it’s served its purpose too. I think it all depends on your situation. I know for a fact that sending Nosh to Kumon worked in her favour. I thought it was too much but I see now once she has joined kindergarten that half the population has been doing the same and Thank God I did so otherwise she would have felt way behind the others and I remember what that felt like when everyone else seemed like they were getting the hang of things way before you did.
    She still has the the zeal I admire and am grateful for, for learning.
    Funnily enough I am not trying to make my kid something she’s not – my attempt is just not to make her feel left out or not good enough. I read your disclaimer about the recognition of the fact that you know there’s no spoonfeeding system to fight against. My question is what would you have done if you did live in a system like would you have felt if Adu went to school one fine day and the teacher tells you it’ll take him 6 months to a year to get to whether the other kids are?

    Me: Whoa there, passionate lady:-) I agree with you. It totally depends on the situation. We have made a choice (because we could make a choice) NOT to let him continue in the British/American system because I feel the local system lets kids be kids and they do as well if not better in the later years.
    I am personally against the spoonfeeding system and the rote-learning system but I don’t doubt that there are people who also come through that and are creative and bright and have yearnin’ for learnin’. And yes, we are privileged to be able to spare him that. And its “benign” neglect. We are incredibly focussed on learning at home, learning through your environment. There are less structured and more interesting ways to do it than sticking them in a classroom. But if I was in situation, where the system didn’t give a choice, I guess I would give in unhappily. Very unhappily.
    And you bring up an important thing – a sense of inadequacy amongst children. I think all educational systems that are over-focussed on grading and sizing up are not only incredibly damaging to self-esteem, but also thoroughly inadequate at measuring what a child really knows. In my ideal world, there is no place for them:-)
    And yes, Adu’s yen for the numerals – sure as hell ain’t from me:-) My point all along has been that I am not obsessed with whether he aces it or not.. I love it that he enjoys it, that it thrills him. Just a mother happy to see her kid happy. And in the same spirit, I can completely understand your desire to see your kid feeling competent at school.

  3. nat

    lets see that next post soon ok? like yesterday?

    Me: LOL.. Oh for sure! On the woes of being a single working mom!

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