Do We Let Children Choose?

We want our children to develop a positive attitude towards learning, don’t we? Are we giving them the freedom to choose what they wish to learn?

Though I can see a paradigm shift in the manner we are raising our children but yet we see an increase in the number of children suffering from depression, mental stress and other health problems. This is a cause of concern for parents and educators, but are we doing enough?

Is this because they have very little to say about what happens with them throughout the day in school and at home? Have we asked ourselves this question?

Most of the times kids are compelled to follow someone else’s rules and are subject to constant evaluation regarding their academics, extra -curricular activities or their behaviour.

I think such kind of adult behaviour deprives a child of ascertaining their self worth and we also deprive them of self-determination. No one likes to be evaluated on everything that they do. Lack of self determination deprives a child from motivation too. I strongly believe in a child being self motivated.

How I let my daughter choose:

Yesterday my daughter came sobbing back from school. She was feeling humiliated as the teacher had asked her to say the tables in class and she was amongst the very few who didn’t remember. Initially when she was unable to solve multiplication sums, I used to insist that she should learn her tables well. However I know she is more creatively inclined child and her subjects of interests are art and languages so I never used to force her to learn tables. I gave her the freedom to make the choice. Until now she was comfortable and all was well in class. But she was not motivated to learn math or spend more time on practising it and I didn’t force her either. But yesterday she was upset. She was self motivated to learn as she didn’t want to be among the few who didn’t know tables. Her sense of self image in class became important for her.

I sometimes do doubt my parenting style when like other parents I didn’t pay too much attention to her academics. I let her learn at her own pace. I gave her the choice to learn what she loved. But after this incident I know that my nagging or pestering her would not have made the difference to her as much as this incident in her class. It has made an impact on her that now she is motivated to practice more.

Generally on weekdays she only finishes the daily home work which is given to her and she chooses the time when she would like to do it. Either she does it after her snack time or after the half an hour screen time that she gets daily at noon after returning from school.

Her evenings are spent in swimming for around 1.5 hours and this is her choice of sport she wishes to learn. She started formal coaching for swimming three years back when she was five as it was suggested to us by her school teacher to enrol her in a sport as she indentified her kinaesthetic qualities. She insisted that to improve her academic performance we need to tap on her kinaesthetic abilities. This choice has greatly helped my daughter. It is important that the school and teachers recognise the qualities of the child in the early years.

Since I am also a qualified teacher, I refer to many resources while teaching my daughter. One such valuable resource which my mother (she is ex-principal of a pre-primary school) shared with me is ‘Learning To Teach… not for beginners’ by Linda Shalaway published by Scholastic. This resource is essentially for teachers but it has helped me as a parent also.

I read in the book about four types of choices that should be given to every child.

  • What to learn
  • How to learn
  • How well to learn
  • Why to learn

Let’s discuss these in detail:

What to Learn:

When we do our learning activities, I always let my daughter choose the topic she wants to learn. She chooses if she wants to learn nouns in language arts or subtraction in math. She makes that choice. This increases her concentration. Also she is more motivated to learn.  Later after we finish one topic of her choice, I give her options to choose from the topics that she lacks interest but which need to be learnt. She willingly chooses one. Thus the learning objective is achieved easily.

How to learn:

She decides whether she wants to sit on the desk to learn or she wants to sit on the floor. She decides whether she will finish her work independently or does she want me to help her out. She decides if she wants me to read out the story from her literature text or will she read it. I let her choose if she wants me to design an activity or make a work sheet for her to understand the topic she selects for study on that particular day. So essentially I give her the freedom to choose on how to learn.

How well:

How well deals with the evaluation aspect of the learning activity. After a few days we decide on assessment activity which means she chooses if she wants to take a test on a particular day of her choice. She chooses if she wants it to be an oral evaluation or written. I have found that if a child is involved in the evaluation process also it improves their performance. Also I let her correct her answer sheet. This makes the evaluation process exciting too.

Why to learn:

I always discuss with my daughter why a topic needs to be learnt. As a teacher I have a habit to list the learning and teaching objectives for every topic.  So we discuss why we need to learn and how is it connected to our lives. This makes the learning intriguing and fun for her and not a burden.

There is always a doubt that if we will always give the child the freedom to choose than we might lose control. As a parent there will be a fear that they may take undue advantage of this freedom. However it’s my personal experience and my firm belief that giving children choices will make them employ self control in their lives. They will learn to make decisions. They will be better equipped to learn from their mistakes. They will also learn from their failures and that will make them more successful.

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27 comments

  1. Love your approach Aesha. I think giving choice to the kid is really important. They learn to make decisions (sometimes hard ones) and it’s a life skill. I see so many people with talent but some of them lack decision-making, some lack in self-motivation and some lack in self-control. I can see that your approach will make your daughter strong in all these life skills. My best wishes to you for daring to be a different type of parent and love to your daughter for success in her future.

    • Thanks a lot Gayatri. When one tries to take a path less taken it has more challenges but with assurance from others it helps to move forward with confidence . Thanks for reading.

  2. love it love it love it. my daughter is 15 months old and i sometime do home activities with her and like you said she has control on which and how she wants to play with toys of her book. but i they way you have explained 4 type of choices is amazing. also while reading i just notice at times i ask her to sit when we are together doing a acitvity or reading etc. thank you so much for the information.

    • The 4 types of choices has been listed in the resource ‘learning to teach’ which I used while I used to work as a teacher . I employ those methods now with my daughter. Thanks for reading , keep visiting

  3. Here comes another awesome post my you pick very good topics and give them a special touch through your writing. It’s always good to give kids the freedom to choose. Especially today kids are smart enough. Also by doing this there is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

  4. I just loved your post, hands down! It’s not just informative, but so reflective. My mother is a teacher and she used all these techniques listed in the Scholastic book to teach me. For mom and me, learning was a collaborative affair. Normally, she would act like she doesn’t know what I read in school which led me to play teacher to explain it to her and she’d be like an obedient student tracing my crooked a’s and p’s to understand the teaching style of my school teachers. Whenever I’d get stuck, she’d switch roles to being my classmate where we’d collaborate to understand the text and subtext. Sometimes, she’d act childish so I’d study or do sums in the way she felt better guiding me to the right path to approach a question or a poetry. Gradually, this practice turned me into an inquisitive student and a “tutor” to my younger siblings. She now tells me that she always knew, from the kind of analogies I gave her to explain topics, that I would become a writer eventually, even when I chose to go for Engineering and Business studies.
    Keep writing more such posts. I may not have kids, but a little “revision” never hurt anyone! 😉

    • Mansi your comment means a lot to me. When non parents read a post because they could relate it to it as a individual , it’s the much needed impetus I require to keep writing about parenting. It’s so good to know about your mom’s parenting style and teaching methodology. I learnt an important lesson in teaching as a teacher and one as a parent too. Thanks once again.

  5. Thanks for this post because my son is 4.5 years and the pressure to learn new stuff in terms of academics has only started to build up. I have been confused on what should be my approach towards his learning. But your post clarifies a lot of my doubts.

  6. I am not a parent . But our idealogy match a lot. Again there is a lot of difference between doing it and just thinking of it. Isn’t it ?
    Btw I loved your idea on this particular parenting challenge. 😀

  7. I’m not a parent, but I like your parenting style. It’s good to involve the child and get their style of learning set rather than force our style on them, I think. Like everything, even the ways of learning change with time. It’ll be a good thing for the future too. 🙂

  8. Such a well articulated and thoughtful post Aesha. My daughter is still young but I see that she is eager to make her own choices about what she wears, with whom she plays, which story book she wants to read. I loved your approach and the personal experience you shared with your daughter

    • Thanks a lot Akshata. Toddlers are very curious and these are natural instincts. We as parents need to nurture it at this age itself. Let her choose what she wants to wear she is learning to make a decision.

  9. Aesha ,as I always said Ur writings are👌🏾…. sometimes when I feel something going out of track between my being her mom n being her friend,and I feel little failed out ..your writing gives me a ” get up n go ” types motivation.you are a super writer.

    • Thanks for reading Madhu. And providing me with insightful feedback. It only helps me understand the needs of my readers and parents and their expectations from my blog.

  10. hehe Aesha, if I let my kids chose they will sit anywhere and ‘not’ study!!!!

    Jokes apart, they do study but only when they know its time.

    Loved the post:)

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