"Without a free and open environment that encourages children to fiddle, meddle and work with their own minds and hands, academic concepts that are taught in classrooms will not lead to further application, individual enquiry, critical research, innovation and development."
The children of Class 5 had been introduced to pop-up books through a few videos in one of the art classes. They had never seen books like those before. They were very excited about the idea of making their own pop-up books. The teacher demonstrated the V-fold and the parallel fold and explained how these folds formed the basis of most pop-up mechanics. The children made their trial experiments with used drawing paper before they sat in groups and worked out their own pop-up books. The basic demonstration triggered many little experiments and some children attempted complex variations of the demonstrated example.
They were curious, imaginative and took risks to find something new. Some trials failed and they picked up more paper and started again. They revelled in the magic of opening a folded sheet to watch its insides move as the page opened. This project extended over almost 3 weeks; with about 4 periods of art classes a week. During this time, the children gradually built their pop-ups, returning to their work in each class, modifying some bits, adding and reworking on their pieces. Many found it more exciting to create stand-alone units that were then collaged into the folded page. One boy who used this approach made a tree that had two newspaper pipes as its trunk. This trunk, unfortunately, was too heavy to “pop-up” and stand when the page opened.
He always needed to raise it with his fingers and it would flop onto the opposite side. The teacher pointed out that the problem might be due to the weight of the newspaper pipes but nevertheless was a good attempt and that he could think of its rectification in another piece. The boy was determined and two classes later went back to the teacher with the same piece.
The Falling Tree
The same tree popped up and stood firm. It even had a little bird’s nest with eggs inside, all made of paper. A small strip of paper pasted at the tree’s base had solved his problem. The drive to persist in finding a solution through his own design was remarkable, even when the class expectation did not demand it. This boy is not considered to have grade-level competencies in academics (reading and writing skills). The ‘core subject’ teachers consider him to be a slow learner.
However, what he learnt (rather quickly) with immense persistence and self-motivation is perhaps something that many engineering graduates struggle with: simple design solutions through trial and error. Without a free and open environment that encourages children to fiddle, meddle and work with their own minds and hands, academic concepts that are taught in classrooms will not lead to further application, individual enquiry, critical research, innovation and development.
This is especially true for children who seem to be less engaged in typical classroom structures. In most schools, learning outcomes and grade-level targets are set within rigid subject compartments that are guided by stone-like textbooks. The arts are completely sidelined and reduced to entertainment and enjoyment of skills and spectacles.
Opportunities for genuine exploration, discovery and self-learning are either unrecognised or misused due to poor understanding of how and when learning occurs. The more fundamental problem is the complete lack of belief in children’s abilities when boundaries are set for what they learn and how much must be accomplished at a particular age. This essentially clips their wings to dream and shape new possibilities for their own futures.
(The writer is an artist and currently a fellow at the Azim Premji Foundation working in Yadgir, Karnataka. Views expressed in the article are personal. )