Our biggest aim perhaps, is that of supporting each child in getting to know herself/himself. We see this process of deepening happening through the development of their faculties of consciousness – thinking, hearing, seeing, speaking, vital and body. We wish for the children to train these instruments of knowing, and for this they need to have started to develop the capacities of attention and concentration. With this awakening we believe children are able to access their inner guide, and make constructive choices.
Children who have choices will naturally engage in what they need to further their development. We have observed that several things are needed for the ability of concentration to develop in a child. They need to work with activities designed to develop their faculties of consciousness and these activities need to be interesting and hands on. The mind needs uninterrupted time and the child’s concentration must not be interrupted.
But this work to develop the faculties of consciousness needs to start when the children are in their formative years. Some children who have not had this opportunity, have difficulty developing the ability to concentrate later on. This affects their capacity to learn, and it is is very hard for a child at this point to access their inner guide, and hold focus, to be with what they are doing. We often see this in the children we work with, and a lot of what we do aims to work on this.
Now the child has entered into a new phase of development. The absorbent mind is no longer at work, and effort has to be put into all learning from now on. Sensitive periods have passed and will not come again. A child whose developmental needs were met during the formative years will blossom during these coming years of expansion. If areas of development were not met during the early years, these start to become visible in the child now, hindering the child to work from the actual needs, instead having to work to compensating and mending the gaps. Now the work is to deepen the child’s self-knowledge, and to allow the platform of learning in a social context to have blossom.
A community of adults and children of different ages working together
The mixed age environment in TLC allow the children to help and learn from each other. Younger and older children get experience working together, inspiring each other. This concretely shows the children both what they will be able to work with when they have developed further skills, as well as helping them to stay connected with the things they have learned in the past, by seeing and helping younger children. This creates a natural and alive curriculum. The mixed-age environment also nurtures care, collaboration, tolerance, patience and a sense of learning together. Sharing a space where each one is doing something different brings acceptance of individual needs, minimizing competition. It also enforces the need to respect and care for other’s work and other’s concentration, not to disturb and cut someone else’s flow. We want to create an Integral Learning environment that is a dynamic, social and interactive space.
When understanding mixed age groupings at a deeper level, we need to look at the inbuilt mechanisms that come with it. These mechanisms are incorporation, distributed cognition, active learning and motivation.
Incorporation is when children learn by observing others. By imitating others behaviours and thought processes, a child may in course alter her/his own cognitive structures. Observing others solve problems can directly impact how a child solves a problem. Imitation and observation are important processes in peer learning, which also serves collaborative learning because the children can incorporate another child’s behaviour and skills into their own.
Distributed cognition is when in collaboration, the cognitive work is socially distributed, so the workload for the mind is reduced for each individual. This way the children can talk back, exchange ideas, and fill gaps in each other’s knowledge, this way raising the level of discussion. This can be especially important when each individual brings skills or knowledge that another may lack, which allows the children to serve as scaffolds for each other’s learning. This is extremely interesting in the cultural diversity that we have in Auroville, where each child has so much to bring to the others.
As the thinking process is distributed between several children, and dialogues are happening, the learning is clearly more active than it would be otherwise. When children are sharing information and comparing understandings they are engaged. It also adds creativity to the process.
In our mixed age environment the children are naturally engaged with each other. This involvement motivates learning, as social life is increasingly important to the children. Collaboration among friends is particularly motivating, which we observe a lot.
The challenge working with children aged 7+, is their constant comparison of each other, their wanting to fit in and follow the normal, and do like everyone else. This is something that has been prominent since the industrial revolution on which the traditional school system is based. It is time to shake this off and leave it behind when creating a new way of education. In the old system children are segregated by ages and grades to be fed through the system at the same pace. Our mixed age group is essential to break this. To have children of different ages learning from each other instead of competing with each other, is important in TLC. We want each individual child to experience that she/his perfect to be exactly as they are, to develop at their own individual pace, and to understand that different children have different needs.
Learning to learn
The brain is sensitive to many things, like mood, timing and to one’s circadian rhythm, as well as to the location and to the environment. To flex the neural muscles that make deep learning possible, the children need to develop their understanding of themselves, how they learn best, to listen to and follow their inner their own needs and patterns. Learning to learn is also about organisational skills, planning, time management, patience and perseverance. This is needed to drive the inner force to persue and persist in learning, to follow one’s inner drive for growth and deepening.
Each child is different, with his/her own strengths and challenges and needs to develop the ability to make choices on a deeper level, becoming aware of inner capacities. Without a set plan we want to be more open to really meet the child in the moment. This way we move from teaching subject matter towards focusing fully on the development of faculties, skills and qualities. This way we shift from focusing on product to process.
Once a child passes this threshold, s/he will get in touch with the inner self, which in turn becomes the driver, and the learning is no longer dependent on outer motivation. Both the child and the facilitator attain the capacity to assess individual needs and access creativity to find strategies to meet these needs.
It is a shift from the need for an outer stimulus in the form of pre-planned, teacher-led, pre-scheduled dynamic lessons, towards children exploring their own questions, in their own time, and becoming drivers in their quest for learning. For older children who have not become independent learners during their formative years, this is a big step to overcome, and often involves facing confusion, and indecision that can manifest as boredom, and a difficulty to overcome challenges.
The principle that nothing can be taught encourages the child to open up to the qualities needed for this shift in education. To learn to persevere, to be courageous, to collaborate with others, to listen to inner needs, to observe individual patterns and to reflect on these. It also takes skills of planning, organization, self- discipline, self-direction, self-control and cooperation. This is independence. These qualities and skills take time to develop, and only regularity, continuity over time, and the possibility for each child to be able to find his/her daily work cycle can make this possible.