Childhood Milestones: From a Teacher’s Diary

Childhood Milestones From a Teachers Diary

By Imrana Moiz – Lead teacher at Generation’s School. She holds a Diploma from Association Montessori Internationale and a certificate from Agha Khan Institute of Educational Development in Early Childhood Education

These days we, as teachers and parents, have become increasingly aware of special needs, thanks to the movie “Tare Zameen Pay”. Working in primary education in Pakistan for almost a decade now, I have seen many systems of education based on different theories of development. For example, Montessori and High Scope are established approaches, which require proper training of teachers. But no matter what theory the school follows, the focus is on one or two aspects of child psychology. Consequently, all teaching techniques are centred upon the development of those aspects.

However, in my experience, I have seen that sometimes we are too quick to declare a child as dyslexic or having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These terms, now widely known, have created many stereotypes in our minds regarding children. These conditions are real, but we should be very sure when we declare that a specific child is suffering from them.

Over-anxious parents with high expectations tend to label their own child as a slow learner. If we try to elaborate the word ‘slow’ and ask them to explain it, they usually reply that, “he/she cannot write as well as his/her older sibling”, “he/she has no interest in reading” or “he/she cannot sit still”.

When saying such things, they drive their children into unhealthy and unnecessary competitions, without stopping to consider the basics. The particular child becomes a specimen under a microscope. He may not have reached developmentally appropriate milestones for these tasks. Instead of helping children reach their goals, kids are pressurized at a tender age. When their mental growth is hindered by the fussing of the parents, kids perform poorly. Rather than being free to grow, pressure makes them worried and depressed, which results in erratic behaviour.

Besides, the child might be facing a number of problems, which can hamper his or her studies. The child might not be getting enough sleep, may be bullied, may be ignored by his parents or teacher, or only looking for a little encouragement. Any one of these reasons can lead to misbehaviour.

ADHD is characterised by a combination of inattentiveness, hyper-activity and impulsivity, exceeding the limits of the normal developmental range for children of that age. While parents might think that studying will make their child successful, too much studying is also harmful. Bombarding the child with information and around-the-clock learning is not the answer. It only makes them run away from it.

Narrated Ibn Masood: “The Prophet used to take care of us in preaching by selecting a suitable time, so that we might not get bored. He abstained from pestering us with sermons and knowledge all the time.” (Bukhari)

Review: “Taare Zameen Par”

By Ruhie Jamshaid

It really is not the norm to find a review of a movie amongst the pages of “Hiba” magazine, but we make an exception here and for deserved reasons. Read on…

There are many movies one may feel guilty of watching, but none can claim to look into a child’s mind and heart like “Taare Zameen Par” does. This movie isn’t the standard better-to-be avoided Bollywood potboiler with jarring music and mindless story-telling. Produced and directed by Aamir Khan, “Taare Zameen Par” educates about the very real but often misunderstood learning disability of dyslexia.

The protagonist of the movie is eight-year old Ishaan Awasthi (played by master Darsheel Safary), who often gets lost in his dream world. Scribbling drawings and day-dreaming seem to be all he does the whole day. Everyone from his teachers, neighbours to his parents seem to be at their wits end trying to figure out and straighten his ‘irresponsible’ behavior, as they perceive it to be. He often has no answers in class, never does his homework and is not able to write legibly. After much deliberation, Ishaan is sent by his parents to a boarding school with the hope of inculcating discipline in him much to his unhappiness.

At the boarding school, nothing much changes. On the contrary, Ishaan’s situation gets worse. He withdraws into his shell. Feeling abandoned by his family, he is unable to perform effectively in his academics. It is at this point that his teacher Ram Shankar Nikumbh (played by Aamir Khan) enters Ishaan’s life and discovers that Ishaan has an exceptional artistic talent and is actually very intelligent. Ram ascertains the fact that Ishaan is struggling through school and life at large because of dyslexia. The rest of the movie is about Ishaan’s strivings to rectify his learning disability with his teacher’s support, understanding and love, bouncing back to meet his true potential.

The movie is touching and heart-wrenching. One can’t help but feel overcome by emotions watching Ishaan’s struggles. “Taare Zameen Par” enlightens the viewers about dyslexia and the ways, how this learning disability can cripple the otherwise untapped talent and intelligence hidden in an innocent child, marring his self-esteem and progress in life. It reminds us to accept the fact that every child is created different, and that we need to curb our adult tendencies to force our children to conform to norms, without understanding our children as individuals.

“Taare Zameen Par” is surely an eye-opener for every parent out there. This movie can be recommended for its excellence in teaching about dyslexia and for its strong message of unconditional acceptance, which is conveyed in simple and touching terms, without the trappings of a typical movie.

Dyslexia: The Reading and Learning Disability

Imagine picking up some reading material and not being able to see the letters as they are. Imagine seeing sentences without spaces, letters formed backwards or words broken up or jumbled together. That is how text appears to someone, who has dyslexia. It is a reading disability, a condition that prevents a person from reading, spelling and writing a language.

Why a dyslexic person is unable to read successfully can be understood better, if we disseminate what the brain does during the reading process. The brain recognizes different letters by associating them with their sounds, joins them together to form words and comprehends what the words mean by generating images. A dyslexic person’s brain is unable to decipher images of letters and to connect letters with their sounds. A sentence may appear to them as a string of letters below:

I tisv er yd ifficu ltf or meto re adthi s. (“It is very difficult for me to read this.”)

Dyslexia does not indicate mental retardation, lack of intelligence or a deficiency in vision. A child or an adult having dyslexia may be very intelligent, highly creative and possess a high IQ. They are also physically normal development-wise. It’s just that because of a malfunction, their brain cannot translate images seen by the eyes into a language that they can understand.

The cause of dyslexia is usually genetic disposition: the condition can be passed on through the genes of the family. Very rarely, it can be caused by some trauma in life, hearing problems in early childhood or by deficient brain-cell development in the mother’s womb. Dyslexia can be overcome or worked around using alternative learning techniques, but there is no physical cure.

A child with dyslexia feels very frustrated within a traditional school environment. The teacher might notice that even though the child comprehends everything well and is overall smart, he finds it very difficult to read a book or write notes in class. Since later school-learning focuses more on taking notes, studying books and writing assignments, dyslexic students eventually need to have a separate, special reading and study group, in order to keep up with others. They are taught with flashcards or audio lectures.

It is said that Albert Einstein was dyslexic. The actor Tom Cruise is also a famous dyslexic person, who memorizes his dialogues for films by having his lines read out to him. This condition is, therefore, only as much of an obstacle in a child’s intellectual achievement as it is allowed or perceived to be.

Dyslexic children have an extraordinary long-term memory and exceptional learning skills. Some go even as far as to call them gifted because of their high creativity. Their need to learn via images and sounds (as opposed to symbols, letters, numbers and words) makes their minds multi-dimensional. They excel in outdoor sports. However, since they have difficulty in reading, spelling, writing and speaking a language, they experience shyness, frustration, anger, isolation or even embarrassment at being ‘the different children in class.’ They need extra support and love from both family and teachers, in order to feel confident about themselves.

Although not dyslexic, an inspiring example for Muslims is our ‘unlettered’ Prophet Muhammad (sa), who could neither read nor write. The method by which he learned and taught the Quran was Ilqaa – archangel Gabriel would recite the words aloud repeatedly, until they were memorized. The same method was used by the Companions to memorize the Quran.

Therefore, if a child cannot read or write properly, it is not the end of the world.