Learning's from the field
Malwani with its bustling streets and noisy atmosphere transports a certain restlessness into schools in the area as was the case with the U217, 224 and 225 centers of Toybank I visited. The children are creative and full of ideas but also rambunctious and at times unruly. That, however, seemed to dissipate when our field officer stepped into the room. There was a gleam of excitement but also a silent request. The initial activities helped channel their energy and put them in the right frame of mind so that what followed would have a meaningful impact.
The field officer chose an immersive approach rather than an instructive one. The children were allowed to immerse themselves into the board games with little tutoring. I was skeptical but found that not only did this allow children to quickly grasp the rules and instructions themselves but many of them also introduced new procedures and methods of playing the game. There was great learning in that situation. I quickly followed suit and switched roles from demonstrator to mentor
Field officer’s peaceful stance allowed the pupils to find order from chaos. Children came from different walks of life and with that came different approaches to play. The impact was palpable on each of them. More interestingly, I found the process impacting me as I grew in patience and attitude during the back to back sessions.
The Wrap up
The students needed little recognition for their achievements. While I was almost heartbroken to put away their dazzling creations, they were more than happy to have the learning as their takeaway
So similar yet so different. As contradictory as that might sound, it may be the only way to describe the difference between the two play sessions. Our field officer had a different MO. His initial activities were full of energy and there was a language (Marathi) connect. The Borivali U140 center seemed to be in better shape than Malwani but the pupils were as (if not more) hyper. Samson chose more puzzle oriented game for this particular class and it was great to see children helping out each other with pieces that had got mixed up.
While I personally struggle with the language, I found I didn’t really need it as they only needed a few words of before the game allowed their intuition and creativity to kick in. This time I found myself using what I had learned the previous day and connecting more with the students. Interestingly, the evident biases of a classroom such as gender separation quickly dissolve in the environment of the game. The language didn’t change the way concepts were being grasped and while the learning was subtle the change in attitude from the start of the play session to its end was distinct.
While there were many who chose to switch board games in pursuit of being introduced to more skill sets, there were also those that took great pride in sticking to one game and perfecting it.
Younger children are a lot less inhibited than older children. As the student becomes older, their lineation towards traditional orthodox learning systems strengthens and their creativity and enthusiasm fizzles out. The students in the Borivali center were younger than some of the classes at Malwani and the difference was stark. Where younger students flaunted their elan, older students were more reserved. The access to play therefore becomes the first step before we can discuss learning patterns and methodologies.
While they need little to no assistance, the attention span of children is low and they will be quickly distracted without a semblance of direction. Hence timely and balanced intervention during play sessions is a skill set to be honed.
Teachers are an important part of the process as the efficiency of our field officers has to be replicated to sustain the model.
How can the Volunteer Action team benefit from this experience? The message has a lot more zest and clarity now. Allow children the right to play and observe the power held in play. Teachers need very little convincing after the first play session. Hence the VA team will push for more sensitization sessions across various platforms.
Furthermore, children are best engaged when they have a confidant or adviser they can relate to. The VA team will ensure the volunteer base it forms for this purpose have the kind passion and patience that translates into facilitative environment to maximize learning and turn lesson learning into fun. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, whenever in doubt the VA team will fall back on the sense of purpose the erudite smiles of these children at play creates.