HOW CHILDREN LEARN IN PRIMARY SCHOOL Nirupama Rao (Psychologist-Child Development and Parenting Consultant)

“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information” Albert Einstein.

From the second we’re born, till the minute we die, the process of learning goes on continuously. We learn about the world and our environment primarily through our senses. Babies and young children take in the world through all their senses.
Thus begins their learning journey. As pointed out by Pavlov, conditional learning kicks in early and the baby starts making associations between their behaviour and the response that that behaviour evokes from the people in the environment.
If I cry, I get a diaper change. If I touch something hot, I can injure myself. If I throw a tantrum, I can have my way.

“The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it at turn it inside out”- Unknown

‘Curiosity is the very basis of education’ – Arnold Edinborough

Learning thus, is an automatic, natural process. Human beings are programmed to learn and evolve. They love to learn because they are naturally curious! If we use the right methods to teach and use curiosity as a tool, children would never have to be pressurised to learn and learning would never have to be stressful.
Unfortunately completely contradictory to the quote by William Butler Yeats, our education system has become more of filling a pail than lighting a fire- the fire of a child’s curiosity.

“Millions of people saw apples fall. But Newton wondered why”- Bernard Baruch

Conventional learning approaches do not have time for curiosity. Teachers don’t have time for it as they have a curriculum to complete. Children’s questions are not usually encouraged.

Learning Theories
The popular theories of learning are
● Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning where humans and animals learn through association and conditioning,
● Skinner’s Operant Conditioning wherein positive response to a behaviour reinforces it and a negative response reduces it;
● According to Bandura’s Social Learning theory, children learn by observation and imitation
● Lesser known but common sense, is Rudolf Steiner’s seven year stages of learning and development approach which is applied in Waldorf schools that are based on his research.
According to Steiner, the way children learn changes every seven years according to their developmental needs and stage.

Like Bandura said, they learn by observing the environment and imitating the adults in the environment. In fact, walking is learnt through imitation. Steiner goes on further to say that children do not learn from what we say or do but who we are. Adults have to be worthy of being imitated by children as their primary mode of learning in the first seven years is observation.

Children are naturally movers and doers. Young children learn a lot through their own physical bodies- through play, movement, exploration and experimentation. They just need ample opportunity to do so, to keep their curiosity and wonder alive and to create a lifelong love for learning. It’s not appropriate to expect a four or five year old to sit at a desk and focus for hours.

For the past one or two decades, we have been hearing a lot about accelerated learning or an early start in learning. Infants as young as 6 months are exposed to flash cards to maximise the golden period of learning. If this were true, the concept of adult education would not exist. Research has proved time and again that the brain is plastic and even when half the brain is lost, the other half compensates.
However, 0-7 is a period of physical development and it certainly is a time when children should be given a chance to develop their muscles, fine motor and gross motor skills, balance, eye hand coordination and all the readiness skills required for future academic learning. This can be achieved through movement and play or activity based learning.

We’re all familiar with the Chinese proverb-
“Tell me, I may forget,
Show me, I may remember,
Involve me, I’ll understand”
In the next seven years that is 7-14, children learn through the faculty of feeling and the senses. The best way to teach them at this stage is to engage them through sensory experiences and concepts brought in through concrete learning where they can touch and feel their way through the learning process. This is what we call “experiential learning”. Songs, stories, field trips, art, poetry, movement, activities and games etc., can go a long way to not only help them learn but also retain what they learn. Repetition combined with movement ensures that the concept is stored in long term memory.


While it’s true that children learn through all their senses, different children have different senses as their dominant sense. For some it’s visual and for some auditory, while for others it could be tactile or kinesthetic.
If a teacher uses all the different senses in introducing new concepts rather than just the “chalk and talk” method that only uses visual and auditory senses, teaching and learning could be much more effective.
Children learn better in freedom, joy and through experience and interaction, by being active and involved in the process.

“Learning is not the product of teaching. It’s the product of the activity of the learner”- John Holt, author, How Children Learn, How Children Fail

“If the child cannot learn from the way you teach, you need to teach in a way that the child can learn”.

But this would take a lot from the teacher in terms of motivation and interest. Learning is most effective when it can happen in a joyful manner that is devoid of stress, fear and pressure. The entire educational system has to undergo a change to make learning more experiential, based out of real life experiences rather than competition.
There are many new schools coming up that are either attempting to bring back ancient wisdom or new progressive approaches in education. The main objective is that children should be taught in a way that learning actually happens and is retained for a longer period. There is also more focus on soft skills, environmental consciousness and an attitude of giving back to the community in the new schools.
The trend is positive and the future of the coming generation of children looks bright as they have more and more opportunities to discover their own potential. The goal of any education should be to help children discover their own unique potential. Good education, especially in rural areas and lower socioeconomic sector has the power to positively transform the destiny of the child.




I got up feeling sore about the fact that women have more problems than men. Their problems are twofold. One being societal and the second being physical. I felt it was unfair that women have more than their share of problems.

So I went on a rant in a couple of groups where I felt safe to be vulnerable about my misgivings. I said that women have fought their own battles and there have been slow but steady changes in their condition, especially social, and it will continue to improve.

But when it comes to physical problems we have to face it all by ourselves. Our grandmothers, mothers and now us- we have had no choice but to accept the reality of menstruation, period pains, excessive  bleeding, PMS, menopause and so on. I am not even talking about gynaecological problems here. I am only talking about day to day “normal” challenges only women have to face.

So in one of the groups where I was ranting, one gentleman said, “It was insightful to me to know about the natural suffering which now I am willing to understand.”

This made my day! This is it! A little understanding is all we need for us to go through what we have to go through. A kind word here and compassionate gesture there from a man (who we resent for having to deal with hardly anything- truth be told) can go a long way to help us feel stronger and supported.

In my grandmother’s time, women would (be made to) sit separately during their periods (by other women 🙄). For three days no one would touch them nor could they touch anything in the house.

For three days, men would take over the charge of the house and women did not have to do anything except maybe wash their stained clothes. Men would mind the children and even cook!

Had this been done with compassion and respect we would not have fought so vehemently against this practice.

Unfortunately, we were made to feel like untouchables during this time and treated as if we were dirty. For this reason we rebelled and abolished this practice successfully. In short we managed to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We lost our chance to take rest for three days as the men toiled and also learnt some life skills.

Now we have successfully liberated ourselves from this three day rest period. Yay! So now we can go about our lives, work, home, cooking, children and have the period. We have the cake and get to eat it…….all we needed was a little respect 😓🤦

This women’s day my appeal to all boys and men is this. Please sit down with the woman in your life. Be it your mother, sister, wife, girlfriend, colleague or your daughter and tell her that you want to understand so that you can support.

It’s different for every woman. It begins at around 12-13 years and goes on and on till about 50-55 years.

Sit with her and ask her how she feels about her menstrual cycle. Directly or indirectly depending on the comfort level. If you don’t ask her, it’s likely she won’t tell you. That’s  because she has accepted this reality.

Some people may be shocked to hear this because it is still taboo in some parts of our country to talk openly about this, especially the women themselves. They would not want to talk about this to the man no matter how troublesome it is for them. She would rather suffer silently.

Ask her if it is painful, ask if she bleeds too much. Observe if she’s feeling tired and drained out.

See if it’s too painful, could she use a hot water bag? A little back massage? Get her a cup of hot chamomile tea maybe? Or you could get into the kitchen and make a simple breakfast or a meal. Give her a break from household chores.

Don’t call guests for dinner when she is menstruating. Take care of children’s homework and other needs at least for three days.

Most of all just try to understand, because it will be impossible for you to empathize. Don’t even try!

A little support from you will go a long way in giving her the strength to continue doing what she has been doing all these years- all by herself. Maybe, just maybe it will be a little less painful with your help and care.

By Nirupama Rao

 Image courtesy:

 Peace to all!

I had a very deep and profound conversation with someone after I posted this article. As a result, I have become aware of a few things which I must mention here

1. I’m aware that every one has challenges and so do men. If the men out there want women to understand something about them, we will try our best. Give us a chance. We may not be able to find solutions but we can try to understand. At the same time, women, let’s not expect men to magically read our thoughts. If we need help, let’s ask for it. We don’t become any lesser for it.

2. There are natural solutions to menstrual issues especially in ayurveda. There is no need to suffer. Take care of your iron and calcium.

 3. Men are often the way they are, because of the socio-cultural conditioning. Let us, as parents become aware of the differences in males and females and teach our children to respect and accept these differences. Let’s teach our children to respect everyone without discrimination and lead by example.

I’m sorry, Please forgive me, I thank you, I love you, Let the grace flow, Peace begins with me 🙏 (Ho’oponopono prayer)