Building Better Blocks For The Future

Even until the late 1990s, most families visited parks and play-centres at least on the weekends. However, with increasing working hours and the pressure to be constantly available, parents are leading more of their weekends indoors or at places where they have internet connectivity.


Sanjana Pillai*, 37, is at the prime of her career, has her own place, a good marriage, and solid financials. Sanjana also has an active 8-year-old. So, apart from meeting deadlines and securing their future, her husband, Varun, and she also spend a lot of time wondering how to engage their child without the intrusion of multi-media screens.

Step out to a restaurant or a mall at any point during the week, and you are likely to see a family where either the adults are occupied with their phones and the children are bored or the children have been given free rein over the phones so that the adults can have a conversation. The advances in technology, while a blessing in many walks of our lives have begun to be seen as an intrusive and/or disruptive behavioural tool, especially for children. Sanjana and Varun are two among many parents now seeking alternative, even if considered old-fashioned, recreational tools for their children.

It’s not technology, though. Modern apartments and townships are not being designed keeping in mind the need for children to run around, play, and make friends. Even until the late 1990s, most families visited parks and play-centres at least on the weekends. However with increasing working hours and the pressure to be constantly available, parents are leading more of their weekends indoors or at places where they have internet connectivity. While parental controls and supervised watching hours do help on certain platforms, a quick search on the internet tells us that we are now living with children who are addicted to their screens, and as a consequence cut off from the real world.

Seeking to disrupt this trend are a bunch of companies, such as Magic Crate, which seek to engage children and parents in activity-based learning. Anchored in the school of thought that children should be active learners rather than just passive recipients learning products, activity-based learning introduces the children, parents and teachers to various pedagogical methods which teach children through action-based, hands-on learning. It includes a range of child-friendly educational aids encouraging children to explore, learn by self, and form ideas rather than be fed from textbooks and other sources.

Activity-based learning focus on individual aptitude rather than a generalised set of skills. Alpana Shah’s 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with learning difficulties after just 4 months at a play school. Alpana* and her husband, Rohit*, were quite surprised upon learning this, as their daughter did not show any difficulties in early stage childhood such as learning to speak or walk or with other cognitive abilities.  After a few doctor visits, which fortunately did not reveal any such medical diagnosis of learning disabilities, Alpana and Rohit decided to sit in during playschool for a couple of days to understand the teacher’s perspective. Alpana also discussed this with her support group for young mothers in her society. The couple soon realised that their daughter was more of an explorer with concepts rather than being able to absorb what was being taught on the blackboard. Six months of activity-based learning later, the couple is happy about their daughter’s progress. Rohit affirms, “Earlier it was as though our daughter was being taught what an apple tastes like without ever eating one. Now, she challenges herself to explore concepts and then explains it to us. Her self-learning time has also created more time for us, without having to engage her every minute.”

India is not new to activity-based learning. Main credits go to Britisher David Horsburgh after World War II and Rishi Valley School in contemporary times to implement activity-based learning among students. Since 2003, UNICEF has supported an activity-based learning venture among Chennai Corporation schools to help improve learning outcomes and child psychology. Many of us have grown up on pedagogical methods used in activity-based learning. Puzzles, games such as Scrabble, flash cards for memory games, DIY kits of fire engines and hospitals etc., are all used in activity-based learning. Sanjana and Varun are happier and more relieved since introducing activity-based learning to their son, too. They say that it has had an immense impact on their son’s psychology as well as physical restlessness. “As he now has to apply himself to working out solutions, he is no longer restless towards sleeping time. The activities tire him in a good way,” says Sanjana.  

Activity-based learning can also help children to monitor their own progress as well. Most activity and educational aids will also come with a sheet or card that can help the child track his or her own progress and mark milestones. Overall, this form of learning fosters curiosity and self-learning in children, not only giving parents some time off from constantly engaging their children, but also teaching the children themselves to be on their own and use their time and mind productively.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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