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.


Interview with Reena Singh!

Dear friends,

I met Dr Reena Singh at a training program and we connected immediately!

I had heard about her many times before as the both of us worked in the field of special needs and therapy.

We decided to meet again and that meeting led to an interview cum conversation with Reena as part of her YouTube channel. It was great fun doing it as we were on the same page and could relate to each other.

Here are the links to the interview presented in parts on the YouTube Channel:

Anthroposophic approach to parenting

Waldorf approach to schooling

Life Rhythms and Children

Hurried parenting vs Slow parenting

Sibling rivalry and how to deal with it.

Will keep adding as Reena adds more parts of the interview.

So please watch, like, share and subscribe 😄

Lots of love ,



(Written on request from a friend to create awareness about Anthroposophy and its importance in Autism from my perspective)

My name is Nirupama. I am a psychologist. I work with children with special needs and mostly autism. Currently my focus is on parent training, education and support. I started my career in 1994 when the incidence of autism was relatively low, that is six for every ten thousand children. Today it is one in every sixty. It is worth pondering over the rise in its incidence.

A decade into my career, the conventional therapies mainly focused on academics, speech and behavioral therapies which focused on correcting, educating or ‘fixing’ the children. And I was doing the same.

It was in 2008 that I attended my first annual conference on Anthroposophy. Anthroposophy is the philosophy founded by spiritual scientist Dr Rudolf Steiner in the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a philosophy that when applied to any walk of life or field of work our everyday tasks become more enlivened, conscious, and more humane.

That was where for the first time I heard someone talking about ‘connecting’ with the child. The concepts I heard in that conference shifted completely my paradigms, not only on autism but on life itself.
The branch of anthroposophy that works with Special Needs, is called Curative Education. Without going into the details of the spiritual-scientific principles, I would like to mention the concepts that I found useful for all children, but more so those with autism, ADHD, Learning disabilities, sensory processing and developmental disorders. These concepts are now more widely accepted in the mainstream society. The following is what became clear to me, personally, in the past nine years with Anthroposophy with regard to autism:

• A child’s behavior, emotional state and ability to learn depend on his well-being and his internal health. A healthy child is a happy child. No amount of therapies can yield complete benefit until the child is feeling well and balanced. For this, it is important to look into what he eats, when he eats, when and how much he sleeps, what he does during the day, his lifestyle, the environment at home and so on. This is much in line with the principles of Ayurveda.

• Autism is known as a neurological disorder. However, like Rudolf Steiner said about almost a hundred years ago, it has a lot to do with metabolism and gut health as it is being widely accepted these days and parents are seeing amazing results with special diets like wheat, milk, sugar free and other diets.

• A child with autism has an intact intellect (unless there’s comorbidity with other conditions). However, the body doesn’t cooperate with the mind. Therefore therapists need to focus more on the physical body with movement, balance, core muscle development, reflex integration, physical fitness, massages, sports, horse riding, walking, trekking, and most importantly, real, meaningful work with hands, etc., to help the child ground into his body, to become aware of his body, so that his body is able to access the intellect that is already present and use it to function more productively in this world. In other words, improve the mind body connect. This is the reason that Occupational therapy, when done effectively, yields positive results.

• Even if the child is non-speaking (lack of expressive language), it is incorrect to assume that the child is unable to comprehend, follow or grasp what is being said (intact receptive language). We need to assume intellect and address his actual age in teaching him academic concepts, exposing him to books, stories and life experiences, as their receptive language is much better than their expressive language. Children have proved this true with the help of the RPM method that is helping them learn and communicate age appropriately.

• Children with autism, because of their awareness not being completely grounded in their bodies, are less individualized and much more at one with the natural world as compared to typical persons. Hence, it is extremely beneficial to keep them close to nature, maintain eco friendly and natural living styles, food, rhythms and routines that are in harmony with the natural world.

  • They do not have a sense of “I” or Ego and hence they are not capable of any negative thinking or actions and are pure hearted. Interestingly, many verbal children on the spectrum do not use the word ”I” to refer to themselves. Instead they use names in third person!

• Therapy is more effective when therapists connect deeply with the children, respect and accept them for who they are and gain their trust by working from the heart and soul as opposed to working mechanically.

No two children with autism are the same and it is important to observe them and allow ourselves to be guided by their needs and not be bound rigidly by schedules and agendas although it is important to have a structure to begin with.

Steiner strongly recommended that teachers and Curative Educators do ‘Innerwork’. That is, work on their own conscious growth and development. Get in touch with their inner core and find their internal balance. This would help them serve the children and adults alike in a deeper, compassionate and a more intuitive way.

• Children are more deeply and subtly connected with their parents’ and more so the mother’s well being than we are aware. The sensitive children often reflect the mother’s state of mind. Hence it is equally important to work with the mothers, help them deal with their anxiety, help them accept their children unconditionally, to help them identify their children’s strengths and build on them. In addition, most importantly, to find something that will fulfill the mother’s personal need for joy and happiness. A happy, fulfilled mother is able to better care for her family than a mother who is giving more than she is receiving.

• Although technology is proving to be a boon for children on the autism spectrum, we need to be careful not to expose these children to too much technology as they are sensitive to the EMF and radiation that comes from the wifi and signals. The TV and video programming ensures that the children are highly stimulated and hence hooked on to them.
Children are responding positively to methods like communication charts, PECS and RPM which do not involve the use of technology. In this time and age of excesses, it important not to expose children to over-stimulation of the senses (example: noisy videos, malls, arcades). Care has to be taken to keep the children in calm and peaceful environments as many of them are hypersensitive to loud noises and to reduce the occurrence of hyperactivity which is rather environmentally induced.

• Children on the autism spectrum and other special conditions need to be helped to live a life of dignity and productivity. This is the central guiding principle behind the Camphill Communities (residential communities for adults with mental and psychological challenges) based on principles of anthroposophy, located all over the world including India. It is important to keep the youngsters and adults productively engaged in order to help them become contributing members of the society in their own unique capacity.

These are just some of my takeaways from anthroposophy.
Hence, anthroposophy is not just a method of education or medicine, but it is a way of life. It is a holistic way of looking at the human being and serving humanity with a deeper understanding.
I sincerely believe that anthroposophy can improve the quality of life of everyone that is touched by it in one form or another. It has made my life and work so much more meaningful.

Nirupama Rao
Psychologist, Parent Consultant.
Author- The Autism Story

Curative Educational Institutes in India: