My wife Nandini and Advay (our 8yo) had been to Mysore recently along with her Tripster Buddies. There were many moments in the whole trip, but one moment clearly stood out. The following is a note from her travel diary.
Today, we went for the light and sound show at the palace. Just before we got to the palace we noticed an old man selling hand made musical instrument. He was playing so well that all the kids stood and enjoyed his music. Advay was immersed in the music.
Few mothers came and told me, “He is liking it very much, why don’t you buy one for him?” I thought, let him ask, then I will buy. He didn’t say a word.
When Chandrayaan-2 launched, my wife Nandini and son Advay (8yo) watched the launch live stream together. Emotions ran high as it took off. Nandini used that moment as an opportunity to explain about launch vehicles. To explain the difference between a rover, lander, and orbiter. Advay was clearly smitten by all that tech.
The next day I asked Advay if he wants to learn some of the ideas from science that would have helped ISRO scientists to build the SLV that launched Mangalyaan. He said yes with excitement. Using this as an opportunity, I thought of introducing Physics to him. Not knowing where to start, I decided to use the beginner material from Khan Academy where “vectors and scalars” concept is introduced.
Advay (my 8-year-old) has a friend in our gated community who is in his second year of engineering. When he was at home for his semester break, Advay would visit him often and watch him play the keyboard. In roughly a week’s time, Advay would come home and share with excitement about this new tune he had learned to play on the keyboard. He would enact his learnings on the table and make sounds from his mouth to convey what he had learned.
A few weeks later Advay started asking us if we could buy a keyboard at home. Nandini & I were reluctant. But we remembered that my mother had bought a keyboard ~10 years ago and she had loaned it to one of my cousins. I checked with him and brought the keyboard home. Advay couldn’t believe his eyes that we now had a keyboard at him. He called my mother and thanked her profusely.
We connected the keyboard in our media room and Advay called us to watch his first performance. We did not have many expectations. We honestly did not expect him to play much at all. But we were surprised…
My friend Murali Krishna loaned us his old typewriter. Advay loves to play with it, to type stories using it and in general explore different kinds of writing. One afternoon he decided to fill out a form using the typewriter. His answers are quite accurate.
Whats interesting is that he read long sentences on the form, understood it and answered it from his point of view.
As a child, whenever I got myself to stick around for long in the vicinity of this phenomenon called “question”, it was always followed by something called “answer”. Q&A – Questions and Answers. They never existed in isolation. It was scary to just be with a question. If there was a question that I no answer for, I feared being perceived as stupid. My school loved to have “General Knowledge” quizzes. I almost always had no answer to questions like –
What is the capital of Namibia? Who won the last Olympics 100 meters? Who is the current Mr. India? How many rivers are there in India? Who is the deputy chief minister of Gujarat?
Not knowing answers to these questions was still Ok. At best I would lose the quiz and be teased by my classmates who knew the answers to these questions and were celebrated as smart and intelligent kids.
But I better know answers to questions that show up at the end of each chapter in my textbook, whether or not I know the reason for knowing those answers. If I don’t know those answers, I must be willing to be labeled as “poor student”.
As an adult, I began to see how much of my life and career were about being with un-answered questions.
One key skill that every self-directed learner must nurture is the ability to read books of interest. I am not saying that reading is a skill that is more important than other skills like making friends, playing, etc. I am saying that reading is a critical skill that one must pick up as a self-directed learner.
Nandini has ensured that Advay (our 8-year-old) always has enough books around him that he can pick up from and begin to read. Since we don’t follow a specific syllabus, he is free to pick any book fromstorybooks, to science books, to national geography books, to cooking recipe book, to mythological books to anything.
Last year Nandini and Advay had been to the Books By Weight Fair at Safina Plaza. The whole process of going there, looking at the sheer volume of books available, the huge crowd that comes to the event, the kind of intent and interest people show towards books, the process of picking up books for ourselves, bringing them home and reading them – everything was great fun.
The word “multiplication tables” brings back memories of only one thing from my childhood – “mugging”. As a child I simply had to learn multiplication tables. I couldn’t ask for a reason why. My parents would explain to me the benefits of learning tables by-heart. They would even give me sufficient time to learn it. Figure out ways to learn it. But when the exam time came, I better have learned it by-heart already. There was no way around it. My school, the neighbourhood with other kids everybody basically reinforced the need-to-learn-multiplication-tables-by-heart ™. So I would spend days and months learning it by-heart.
One onezaar one
One twozaar two
Eight onezaar eight
Eight twozaar sixteen
Eight threezaar twenty-four
“I was mostly in college when I realised that it is not “eight eightzaar sixty-four”. It actually is “eight eights are sixty four.” I never bothered to question “zaar” as a child. Because questioning anything was a big big big big risk. What if my questions pissed off my teachers?”
As a kid, I did not like it at all. Now as an adult I know that multiplication tables are useful. Although I hardly use tables beyond 10 for mental math. Calculators are always around so performing multiplication is not an issue.
My son turned 8 this year. If he was in a regular school, he would be in 3rd standard. Many of his friends in the neighbourhood are ramping up on math-tables. So Advay would come home asking about it and slightly wanting to learn it.
About two weeks ago my MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Early 2013) decided to call it quits. I was writing an email. The display went blank. I connected an external monitor; nothing. I tried to cold reboot; nothing. Nothing I did could reboot it.
Advay, my 8 year old, has developed a liking for carpentry off late. His first tryst with carpentry was two years ago when he was frequently visiting Aarohi. Since then he would take up carpentry projects every once a while.
One of my close friends, Murali Krishna, has recently renovated his house and dedicated half of his terrace to his carpentry workshop. He keeps doing some woodwork or the other.
Advay (my 8 year old) asks me: “Appa, what is the meaning of meaning?”
Having read a lot of philosophy, this question appealed to the philosopher in me. I paused for a while, pondered over the question and tried to grasp the depth of such a question. After spending a while in deep thought I said – “well meaning is likely meaningless, because it is absurd”