For generations, we have been learning the same old children’s stories and songs, be it ‘Wheels on the Bus’ or ‘Chubby Cheeks’ with characters that have blond hair and blue eyes, with British or American accents, living in houses with picket fences and fireplaces, eating ham and jam. They are far away from the realities of Indian children; the language we speak, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the festivals we celebrate. This has a big impact not only on learning but also the sense of identity and self-esteem of a young child who has just set out to discover the world around him/her.
Manu’s first visit to a market with his Papa
Why does it matter, you ask?
We all know how curious young children are. But when they are learning something new, they first try to look for what they already know and automatically make connections to what they have experienced. This makes their mind comfortable and able to take on new information and ideas. Knowing this simple sequence in which the mind works — from the familiar to the unfamiliar — when children feel comfortable with what they know, they will feel confident to use this as a platform to explore and understand something new. The real world, culture, and contexts that children actually experience are the seed from which all learning stems.
When children listen to stories and songs with characters that look like them, their parents and grandparents, eating the food that they eat, speaking the languages that they speak and celebrating festivals that they celebrate as a family, there is an almost automatic emotional connect. The feeling that somewhere out there is a person who might feel like me and look like me; makes them know that they are not alone and that they are understood and this quietly boosts their self-esteem and confidence. These stories and songs subtly tell them that their voice, too, is worth hearing; their experiences worth knowing. So, let’s take a break from ‘Chubby cheeks’ and ‘Cinderella’ and unabashedly explore counting with pooris; or learn shapes by finding bindis that match Ma’s dress; or sing songs with Dada and Dadi or Thatha and Paati because the culture is the fabric of all our learning experiences.