Reflections from extended interactions between worldly-wise mentors, and middle-school students, in a highly curated program—not just the academic content, but the overall experience!
This past summer, I had the pleasure of designing and leading one of the flagship GenWise Summer residential programs—Early Explorer. While I was involved directly with the Early Explorer, a 2-week large-footprint format program for students in grades 5–6–7, another program, Explorer, a 3-week deep dive for children entering grades 8–9–10 was also running in parallel.
It was great fun working with these eager pre-teen students; heartening it was the increasing joy we saw in their eyes with every passing day (not to mention copious amounts of tears on the last day!) Moving beyond the immediate high of interacting with them and in the spirit of reflection, I decided to compile a list of compelling reasons why such a program might be really impactful for students in 10–15 age group.
10. She will 'Learn to Learn'
The fun way—by observing, thinking and doing it herself. When children are at the late elementary/middle-school stage, their basic skills are in place; they are are ready to push the boundaries and be inspired by the world out there. This is the growth stage Genwise mentors are best suited to start their interactions with students.
Our world-class mentors provide a model of excellence for learning, with finely scaffolded activities, such that the child reaches and revels in the ‘Aha!' moment herself.
The approach is to pose continuously 'attainable' challenges that the child is inspired to take on. Whether it is exploring symmetry, understanding mathematical conjectures/proofs, or estimating their own density, learning is through observation, enquiry, experimentation and discussions. Please take a moment to review our 5 Curricular Tracks, on which our academic content is based.
9. He will learn to think 'critically'
A child who can read & comprehend, question & critique, reason & infer, summarise & conclude is learning foundational skills that will stand him in good stead for life. It is by practicing that children learn—both to examine information critically before coming to a conclusion, and to present an argument coherently and respectfully.
Crafting well-thought out arguments is an integral part of our sessions—our interactions often witness deep insights flying from both sides of a class debate. In one of the debates over “Is knowledge a need or a want?” while one team passionately argued that life was not worth living without knowledge, the opposing team noted that knowledge had been used to create much pain.
Open-ended questioning (Asking Versus Telling) is a standard feature of how we enable learning—in our version of "How Do We Know What We Know," we have analysed advertising techniques, perspectives on media usage, foods, food packaging, use of plastics, water, air, climate… you can see how the Socratic Method can be effectively applied for discussing (and learning more about) such issues. Children have also been taken on overnight visits to Gandhian communities, to enhance their context.
Awareness of, and fluency in, Problem-Solving Techniques (including Estimation Skills) is another aspect of critical thinking—in our programs, children systematically practice guesstimating number of fish in a pond, or leaves on a tree, and even the number of hair stylists in Bengaluru. It is well established that such techniques enhance/solidify the interconnections between disparate pieces of knowledge, aiding life-long learning.
Hool, a Bridge-like Mind Game involving analysis and strategy, was a big hit with the students; a good bit of dinner conversations revolved around passionate dissections and critique of Hool games just played.
8. He will have a chance to be happily bored for a bit
A little safe boredom, especially outdoors and with friends, is a healthy thing. Children learn to pay attention to the resources around them and create their own games, challenges and joys when every minute of theirs is not boxed into a schedule. The GenWise team is well-equipped from a Safety & Security perspective.
7. She will learn to feel connected, without a device
The much-maligned device, the mobile phone, has pushed us to a point of no return. We must reach back beyond the device and help our children reclaim the fundamentals of childhood friendships.
Our programs offer safe spaces for face to face interactions among the children, with adults modeling behaviour, gently placing boundaries and intervening only where necessary. This way, children can nurture their lifelong skills of listening, disagreeing and responding; including “others”; peer learning and teaching. Some children need to learn to do it more assertively, and others, more empathetically.
Children also get to meet achievers in various areas, as part of Evening Addas - featured in the picture above is Roopa Pai, Children’s Author, who spent a couple of hours interacting with children in an informal setting, sharing stories and helping children make connections.
6. She will learn to make friends from all over
Children from places far apart (Cebu and Dubai, New Delhi and Erode) attend our program—What an opportunity for each child to meet others like her and yet not like her.
In 2019 alone, we will have had students from Dhirubhai Ambani International School, St Marys, JBCN, Ascend International, Avalon Heights, Bombay Scottish, CNM School (all Mumbai), Inventure Academy, Vidya Niketan, Vidya Shilp, Greenwood High, The International School Bangalore (TISB), CMS, Primus, Silver Oaks, Brigade Millennium Schools (all Bengaluru), Orchid International School, Sahyadri, Vidya Valley, DLRC (all Pune), PSBB, APL Global, Velammal International, KC High, Chettinad Harisree Vidyalaya (all Chennai), in addition to Riverside, Anand Niketan, Cygnus World School (all Gujarat), and homeschoolers, among others.
As they work, play, agree and disagree with each other, the seeds of a friendship are sown. Also, creative group activities such as cooking & baking serve to cultivate not just these friendships, but also an appreciation for the food on the table, the joy of being creative, positive attitudes to working in a team, finishing tasks and cleaning up!! Here is a blog by our Residential Head, Sheetal Kurup.
5. He will have a chance to take responsibility
Our children live well-cared-for lives and it is understandable that, at times, they might take things for granted. Here is a guided opportunity for them to learn to keep track of what they eat and where their things are, sleep away from family (usually a first for several of our Early Explorers) and take their first steps towards developing their independence.
4. He will learn to reflect/journal and look inward
By gently facilitating a pause and reflection of their day, we help them move away from a state of externally induced insecurity to one of internal joy, gratitude and resilience.
3. She will learn to be aware of her body/ mind
While we begin and end with our bodies, we somehow veer off track in the middle and lose our innate touch with our bodies.
As newborns and infants, we are very connected to our bodies. We cry when we are hungry, eat until we are full, and cry when we are lonely, for example. When we die, it is the body that signals the going. However, between life and death, we eat when we are tired/stressed out, drink when we are lonely, and grit our jaws when we are angry. We seem to have lost the connection.
Through regular sessions such as Yoga, Awareness Through the Body, and Silent Walks, we nudge the children to get back to being in touch with themselves, playfully, in their bodies. Facilitated by Certified Instructors, these activities also help children enhance their attention, concentration, and self-awareness.
2. He will stay on a tree-filled, bird-filled campus
There is growing evidence that children who grow up around greenery, grow up to be happier. This is a small step in that direction. All of our programs are in locations that are scenic, green, and well-endowed with a representation of local flora and fauna. Going on tree-/bird-watches is a typical feature of our programs!
1. Your child will be in a safe, inspiring place
We all know that ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ however, our modern-day social structures often place all the burden of child-rearing on the parents. Here is an opportunity to send your child to a safe learning and holiday experience rolled into one—one that happily inspires and excites the learner in him.
GenWise Summer Experiences start April 19, 2020 and will run for 6 straight weeks. Students aged 10–12 can sign up for any 1 or 2–week window. More about the program details will be shared shortly on our website.
About the Author:
Sowmya is convinced that if there’s a way out of the gigantic mess that our world is today, it has to come from our children—their sensibilities, imaginations and capabilities. She is inspired by her Montessori training and nearly 15 years of teaching experience in various school settings.
Sowmya has a B. Tech degree from IIT Madras and a Masters degree from Pennsylvania State University.
Sowmya is a mother of two children—both of whom have studied at schools at Auroville, and other alternate schools in Bengaluru, apart from being home-schooled at various points in time. Her daughter is doing her undergraduate program in Design at IIT, Guwahati, and her son is in 9th Grade, threatening to make a career in Drums!
Sowmya designed and delivered two leading GenWise programs in 2019 - GSS Early Explorer, and the customised program for the CSR arm of a Hyderabad-based corporate group, targeted at underprivileged students in middle-/ high-schools.