Yup, Go Ahead, Explore!

Growing up as the older ones in a large family, my sisters and I developed a keen ability to sniff out trouble and stop it before it happened. Wherever we were–at home, in NTUC doing grocery, at the playground–we had to be constantly on the lookout for our younger ones.  I remember getting so annoyed with my brother for playing catching along the aisles in NTUC.  There’s something about the way those shelves are arranged that inspires a game in little boys, I’m sure! :)

active learning with waterAt any rate, because of that, I unconsciously adopted the habit of discouraging children from trying out things that would end up in messes and dirt.  One second before the toddler turns a cup of water upside down, for instance, my immediate instinct is, “No, duckie, don’t pour water on yourself!”  And I’d stop him from doing it.  It is natural.  And I wouldn’t say it is necessarily a bad thing, but maybe we all need to consider a fresh viewpoint once in awhile.

So what on earth am I advocating now? Allowing children to make messes, break vases, turn the house upside down?  No of course not.  I was just thinking this weekend, how many wonderful learning experiences we could give children by letting them learn through exploration and experience.  By the way, if you’re interested, it’s called active learning.  In the right circumstances, pouring water over oneself wouldn’t really hurt, provided it’s just plain drinking water and your baby isn’t all dressed up… right?

And what good would it do him? Quite a lot!  He would learn that water flows out when you turn a cup upside down, instead of sticking in the cup like yoghurt does–knowledge of the world around him.  Also when he gets wet, you’d say so:  “Oh oh, now you’re wet!”  And he learns to associate that coldish, watery feeling all over his shirt as being “wet”–development of language.  Then there are hidden benefits.  Encouraging the child to explore perks his curiosity and boosts his confidence.  A child who dares to make mistakes has taken one huge step to becoming an independent life-long learner!

So letting your child learn through meaningful little experiences is a fantastic practice.  The next time your little one wants a cup of water, let him hold the cup as you pour in the water.  Nevermind if he drops it, it will be a great learning experience for him!  One of these days, you might just find your toddler filling his own cup whenever he needs a drink!  Incidentally, when children play, much of it has to do with active learning–learning through experience, exploration and trial-and-error too.  Of course, you must be practical.


Because I do not advocate blindly supporting any and every philosphy that happens to have an ounce of truth, I sometimes come across as cynical.  I am sorry about that, and I do try to identify good practices and apply them acceptably to my teaching practice.  Having said that…

Active learning is a good thing, but never forget, please, that there is an undeniable place for laying foundations. Children do not need to learn everything by experience.  They need not be burned to find out that fires can be dangerous.  Active learning can enrich a child’s learning experience and make it fun for him, but it cannot replace solid training and teaching.

One of the saddest things about many so-called “modern advancements in education” today is that it often blindly carries its practices to impracticality. In America, there are schools graduating high school students who are unable to read or write.  No, I’m  not joking! It is true.  I happen to know a teacher who teaches in remedial classes for first year college students who enter college unable to read and write–and those students are American high school graduates, mind you!  Those poor students are the result of ten to twelve years’ worth of John Dewey’s highly-acclaimed progressive education.  Yet, just a quick look at the tenets of Dewey’s progressive education will tell you that it was not all wrong.  Some of his propositions were right and true.  What is happening to education?  What is the problem?  A mixing of truth and error and a blind faith in those principles to an extreme degree, which led to sheer impracticality!

Okay, end of pep talk.  My point? Please, be discerning about all these new-fangled ideas.  You’ll hear preschools, especially, talk much about these things, promoting their programmes as superior because of these elements.  Be open to them, but also be discerning. We in Singapore are not immune to the disastrous effects of educational theories gone awry. Often, I read the newspapers and tremble at some of the propositions of over-zealous educators.  I am an educator today because it is my goal to support and raise our people by giving them a solid education.  If our people lose a quality, worthwhile education, we will lose our progress in every area.  Never forget that.

You parents can help to prevent that. You can make a difference by choosing wisely, keeping informed and raising awareness of these issues.  I warmly encourage you to do your part to keep our Lion City going forward!

Thank you for reading!  Feel free to share your thoughts and comments; I’d love to hear from you!  Interested to know more about progressive education?  I hope to write another newsletter on that in the near future, so watch for it!


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