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The Right Age to Start School



The right age to send children for enrichment classes: Interview with Priya Srinivasan, Mumbai 

A staunch believer in making learning fun, Priya Srinivasan tells us what she believes are enriching activities for young children. She is part of the faculty that runs The Pomegranate Workshop (TPW) in Mumbai. TPW organises classes and workshops in visual arts, painting and theatre for younger kids, and fiction, filmmaking and animation for the older ones. In this interview, Srinivasan extrapolates what she has learnt in her many years of organising such classes and advises parents on what to keep in mind.

A staunch believer in making learning fun, Priya Srinivasan tells us what she believes are enriching activities for young children. She is part of the faculty that runs The Pomegranate Workshop (TPW) in Mumbai. TPW organises classes and workshops in visual arts, painting and theatre for younger kids, and fiction, filmmaking and animation for the older ones. In this interview, Srinivasan extrapolates what she has learnt in her many years of organising such classes and advises parents on what to keep in mind.

At what age do you believe children should be sent to enrichment classes?

The essential requirement for a child to start any enriching activity is for her to be able to understand abstract concepts. I would say a child needs to be at least six years old before she is enrolled in such activities. Most enriching activities are meant to develop the personality and bring in an extra dimension. So it would be better to wait till the child is old enough to benefit from this kind of learning.

For instance, take the activities that we offer. Most of them require an understanding of abstract concepts. Children need to understand the kind of expression format with which creativity is concerned. So kids have to be definitely at least six if they are to benefit from these activities. They need to be capable of understanding intangibles. To explain further, take something like theatre — to be able to read and understand plot, the child needs to be at least nine years old. You cannot tell them to pretend to be someone and expect them to understand why. While they are playing, they are constantly pretending, but to ask them to do theatre suddenly becomes too formal a platform for the younger kids.

How can parents recognise if their children are ready for enrichment classes and activities?

Hard to say. As long as children enjoy what they are doing, the parents can be sure that they are ready for it. Having fun at this stage is very critical. If a six-year old child says she does not want to enrol in a particular activity, then maybe she is not ready for it and she shouldn’t be forced to go.

What kind of classes would you recommend for younger children? How will this change as they grow up?

As a child grows, the ability to understand abstract thoughts and comprehend — say a story book — develops. At the age of about nine, they are ready to take on more challenging activities. At the age of six, however, we feel that children are most comfortable colouring with big blocks of crayons, running around and basically having fun. This is why at TPW, we insist on putting them into visual arts. It’s something natural to them, we don’t teach them anything. They learn and practise various new media of expression. They understand that there is no wrong or right and that everything they learn or feel can be expressed.

Can a parent provide a child with the kind of stimulation required at this age without sending them to classes?

Of course parents can provide this stimulation at home as long as they understand that it is counter-productive to restrict children. As parents, we need to show children that there is no right or wrong. Once she gets this, a child will show a lot of creativity and brilliance.

I believe that children should be read to and given things to do at home. Children can learn much more at home than they can outside in classes. The problem today is that parents don’t find the time to do various activities with their kids. I often tell parents to buy massive rolls of paper and stick them up on the walls. Allow your child to use big brushes and just paint! This whole obsession with colouring books and minute details is so sad! Why don’t we let our children colour with big blocks of crayons that they can grab with their entire hand? It helps them move about freely and gives them satisfaction, instead of using the tiny crayons they cannot even hold.

They need to explore, gather things, find things and understand things. The basic problem is that nowadays everything revolves around “don’t waste your time” or “what are you going to learn from this?”

Once the child starts regular schooling, should she continue to attend enrichment classes, or is what she learns at school sufficient stimulation? 

It depends on what the stated aims and objectives of the school are. If the school believes in building a good attitude and allowing freedom, then of course, this will provide good stimulation to the child. According to me, children should enrol in enrichment classes as well as attend school. Today it is very important to build your profile and your portfolio. You must build your personality. A degree just says what you have studied — what is more important is to show what you are made of. How have you shone in comparison to everyone else? That’s what’s really important.

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