Saturday, December 18, 2010

Anjali, And The Art Of Learning Through Imitation

One thing about children is that they are instantly and constantly imitating things that they see or hear. And now that Anjali sees and hears a lot of stuff from people and television and books, and is also understanding the use of language, she instantly and constantly imitates. From expressions on people's faces (on which we have no control), to animation pictures, storybooks or nursery rhymes, songs or dances, she is instantly imitating them. Baloo, the bear says something in 'The Jungle King' and she is instantly repeating it, a new rhyme at school (the latest is something that goes 'Walrus is something..) and she is at it all day, or she asks me to play 'Lakdi ki kathi..' on the car stereo so she can sing along. She sings 'Meharauli' in the song like 'rolli' and probably associates it with rolling because she makes a rolling movement with her hands.
An 'Imitation Class' on Sinhagad

The thing is that even though she is wrong most times, she is not scared to say, or do, what she thinks is being said, in a sincere attempt to learn. That is probably one reason why kids learn so fast, because they are not afraid of saying the wrong things or of being corrected. Once we correct them, they are quickly repeating the corrected versions and off they go with it - new and improved. Of course there are times when she insists that she has got it right, and that we have it all wrong, and there is nothing that one can do about it in those times. But those times are rare. From words, to sings, to rhymes, to dances, to languages, everything is quickly imitated and said and used and corrected if need be. Some things are pulled out of association, something she has heard before and applied, again in several wrong contexts and some right, and is learning by application. And she, as all children, learns hundreds of new things every day, every week.

The flexibility of their mind and their non attachment to the 'right' is what I think makes them so unique and delightful, such scene stealers. They just flow, right or wrong, completely unaffected by the outer world, or what they think. That is why they are spontaneous, that is why we love watching them, for their honesty, for their willingness to learn and for just being themselves. I also think that their physical bodies reflect their state of mind, in terms of mallaeability and strength, as saplings when compared to rigid trees, and can thus survive storms that great trees cannot. We do so underestimate their strength.

In comparison adults are stuck with fixed opinions, beliefs and grow so rigid that they develop arthritis. We are right, you are wrong. And for this right they fight themselves, their families, their societies, countries even their own gods. What does the god know of his own good? I know better. They go to war because they cannot see another way, they do not believe that they can be corrected. They cannot imitate nature, life, which flows in harmony with one another. They cannot see a world where things can coexist, where people can fight because they have a difference of opinion but can also make up after that, share, forgive, and live happily together. With adults it is either 'us' or 'them'. Countries fight for years without knowing what they are fighting for. Families, factions, do not forgive one another for lifetimes. So rigid that they cannot bend. And have to break.

The learning has long since stopped. Adults use words and ideas dangerously. They use regressive ideas as if they are progressive. This is learning that is inward - for negative growth. But what we need is positive growth. Outward. We need not be afraid of making mistakes to get a better outcome. But making the same mistakes again under the garb of being 'safe', and staying stuck, nay, going backwards is unacceptable.

There is much to learn for us from the child. Perhaps it is time we went back to primary school and learnt everything again. Through imitation of good systems and practices already in place, through learning from mistakes, by being flexible, by being growth oriented.

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