Developing your child’s senses -  Alternative Schooling

A philosopher said that a child should learn on his own, without interference from the adults around. A lady told him with great pride that she had not taught her 5year old anything. The philosopher said, “Madam, you have wasted five years; go home immediately and start teaching your child.”

Probably what the philosopher meant was that we ensure that we do not pass on our own likes, dislikes, prejudices and fears to our child. But certainly teach we must. And what do we teach a child less than five?

In the preceding columns here, we have discussed reading methodologies. There is a stage of readiness that a child goes through before he begins. We teach him to use his 5 senses; to use them well and correctly so that they, in turn, report – developing his intelligence. The more the number of senses used to ‘understand’ the more complete the learning.

One of the first senses that a child uses is taste and almost immediately, touch. In just a few days a new- born knows its mother’s arms. He can tell the difference between a friendly arm (cozy enough to sleep) and an unfriendly arm (he’ll bawl the hospital down.) In weeks, he knows cold from warm and will tell in no uncertain terms his preferences.. A little rain or cold and the washing machine does overtime with the nappies! His entire body is so tuned to everything around him. At three months, when the doting  mother starts on the solids (after advice from all neighbourhood, doctors and extended family) the baby spits it out. To him, it is new, not necessarily friendly. The mother goes into a  frenzy. After the dust settles, the mother finds that she is back to the first box of cereals anyway. The truth was the baby was learning. And was not given time to complete learning one taste before the second, third and fourth were presented to him. And so a pattern sets. The mother waits for ‘rejection’ before she ‘finds’ what the baby likes! Most babies like everything; for them, orange juice or a banana is a learning game. What each tastes like, what the texture is, what it smells like…

By  the time a baby is two months, he knows sounds too.  The familiar sound of running water and he knows he is in for a lovely time. Something flows down him. It feels tickly and smooth. By three months, the baby knows even his daily routine. He knows when he is going to be powdered, bathed, fed, taken out… By then he can see, register, look for familiar things. This is the time to carry him so that he can look over the mother’s shoulder. The world is a movie, all things are characters in it. If the mother tells the baby where she is going it would be a bonus.  Not long sentences. Just, “Baby and I are going to the bath room”, “Baby and I are going to the kitchen”. Repeated sentence patterns and repeated action and words. The three will register a number of messages. “Baby will now eat banana, mmm, banana, sweet banana.” This sounds like non-stop chatter from your side. But look at the outcome: he will have a nice fat vocabulary even if he can’t talk yet!  He will know what, where and how of each thing in the house, besides having ‘mapped’ out the entire house by the time he is five months! He will know exactly which door leads to ‘tata’ and from which window he can see the crows. His world is growing. To all this, you add small games. These exercises can be practised on any child irrespective of the age.

To sharpen his sense of touch, vary the texture of things he plays with.  You could have a small coir mat, a soft towel, a rough bark of a tree, a stone with many edges, a painting brush, a tooth brush …All these are to be kept aside for this exercise. Make sure that all the pieces are very large and cannot be put in the mouth by the baby.

Now, you could run each of the items on the baby’s arms. But before you do, tell your baby what you are going to rub and then rub it. Say that it is soft/ sharp/ poky/ prickly. You are finessing the sense of touch.

For taste, what ever you feed him should be called out, its taste specified, said that it is yum and then fed. (It will keep your own preferences in check whilst learning what your baby actually likes.)

For sound, choose soft music, initially 5 cassettes with about 15 songs or pieces on each cassette.  Ensure that they are your favourites, because you’ll have to play them over and over again. Until you are sure that your baby has registered every note. That might be almost 5 months down the line. You’ll be rewarded with a finely tuned ear in your child. (That you might wake up at night with the sounds of those notes going on in your head is of little consequence. Besides, it is a taste of what is going to come 15 years down the line!)  When you choose the songs, you might even like to make it in as many languages as you wish. For each language, even as a raga, has its own nuances; the more sounds that are offered, the better tuned ear your child will have. Speak to your child in as many languages you know.. India is a gift to the sense of hearing. In any city, you can, at any given moment, hear at least 4 languages. The state language, English, Hindi, and a neighbour  who hails from another state. So, for any city Indian knowing 4 languages is not a great feat. Your child too will learn. If his ears are tuned well, he will speak each of the languages like a native. Do not worry about confusion. Here is a joke I often crack: we have two Labrador retrievers and they can understand English and Tamil; draw your own conclusions!

With sight, sound, taste and touch becoming more acute, your child’s skills at learning are also finessed. It doesn’t take  time or energy. Cooing to one’s baby is natural; coo a little more is all that is asked! And as you coo, see the world again through your baby’s senses.

( To exchange ideas on this series you may e-mail the author at

Integrate Learning

At school here we had Kanimozhi, a precocious child of four and a first generation literate. She learnt with her whole being’, giving her a unique prodigious ‘memory’. She was like a bird – eager and chirpy. In a few months she outstripped her classmates. It is always interesting to know what makes one better than another in any given field. And so, we began studying her.

We found that she learned quickly. She had us redefine ‘learning’. Learning, we learned, watching Kani, was to take any new fact, find a place for it; find other inter related facts that could be brought together. Then restore them as newer, more complex facts. Every new thing heard, seen, read, having been re-assimilated, her actions and ideas took new shape. This was the ‘creative effort’. Very often, we are ourselves surprised at what we put out. We are not certain when, why or how the learning took place. Yet, when we do something that makes us smile at our own work, we can be assured that something new has been learned; something new has taken us by surprise. Having understood what was happening to Kani we decided to work on the same lines with other children in the class. In the meanwhile, as she was the only Girl in a class of ten, for two years there was a keen competition in class to do better than a ‘girl’. Finally, the boys decided to find things they could do better and get on in life! Even now, her essays are more informative, more moving.

The question then is how do we teach a child to ‘learn’. May be a few examples would help. Lets take a few words and find all that we can associate off hand.

Main word: Penguin: bird, flippers, Antarctic, Patagonia, water bird, webbed feet (at two years). Now, we can increase the understanding by talking about their climate, their food, their enemies, their friends, and how they live (at three years); being able to tell the different specie by just looking at it keeps four year olds busy, even as stories from Durrell’s books delight them.  A five-year-old whose language and speech has developed enjoys learning and saying the scientific names. Aptenoditus patagonicus is quite a mouthful that children enjoy.

However, to look at penguins as just birds is not enough. Emperor penguins have two circulatory systems. One for the body and the other that goes round the feet alone. Blood in the feet being as cold as the rocks they stand on they do not feel the Antarctic cold. Very little blood from the feet is transferred to the main stream at a time. This information to a three year old can become an introduction to the concept of cold blooded and warm blooded creatures, creatures that live in extreme climatic conditions and how they survive, and a study of various systems in our own body… Obviously, to go through an entire range may take anywhere from 6 months to 6 years depending on the age of the child and the complex ideas presented.  We move through natural history, animal kingdom, zoos (through Durrell), animal behaviour, geography,   biology. We weave together many ‘subjects’ to present the world as an interesting, varied and amazing place. All this can be very systematic too. A little bit of planning can ensure that your baby has an ‘associative memory’ – the key to a true learner.

You could: Make a set of cards the size of a foolscap. Make 10 sets of a single theme. Let us continue with the example of bird. If you can choose 10 birds that are as unlike each other as possible (penguin, ostrich, kiwi, seagull, vulture, woodpecker, flamingo, crane, pelican, peacock). These can be presented at first as pictures being shown even as the names are called out. Then, they can be reclassified as water birds, non flying, carrion, migratory, then by the continents they belong, Further classification by the family. To these 10 cards you could make 10 associative cards. Of which 5 would be continents – their names, location, mountains, rivers, some countries. One card could talk about migration, kinds, when, where. One card could talk about webbed feet being similar to paddles of boats, with drawings to show the similarity. One card could show wings and how they are shaped to enable flight to explain why ostrich don’t fly. Card nine could be food of each of the birds. And card ten could be a bird in your neighbourhood.

To talk about continents is to move to map work. Buy a large wall map of the world for your child. Then choose any 5 countries that are as far from each other as possible. Lets say, Canada, Brazil, Norway, India and Australia.

Day 1: Show and call out the countries simultaneously as often as you can, [at least 5times]

Day 2: Show him the same countries as often as you can; but this time add Mexico, Chile, England, the Sudan and Japan.

Day 3: Revise the 10 countries three times and add 5: West Indies, Portugal, Russia, Thailand, Mongolia.

Day 4: Revise the 15 countries three times and add 5: Peru, Iceland, Egypt, China, Sri Lanka.

Day 5and 6: Go through the 20 countries and ensure that your child knows them perfectly.

Day 7: Quick recall of the 20 and add 5.

Go through the same motions as the first exercise. It works. We have worked with quite a few children and each time it has worked. For your child, the map is like a large jigsaw and you are helping him solve it. He will adore you for it. And what sight is more enthralling than have your child look at you with joy and expectation?

The above articles were contributed by Anugriha.  For more information, you could email the author at  You can also email for more of their articles.


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