A parents meeting was held on 27 Nov, 2017 at Jamunamarathur. The topic was about rewards and punishments. There were about 10 parents representing 12 children, which included siblings of some of them also.
The meeting started with a small discussion in tamil about what it means to neglect the children and what it means to manage them. An article written by Ms. Maden smith, which was translated into tamil by one of our staff members was read out. The words were discussed point by point and simple examples have been given for parents to understand. That paved the way to the later discussion on rewards and punishment.
The discussion on “Reward and Punishments” was started with Mr.Murali Krishnan and Mr.Hari playing a role play. One of them acted as an adult and the other as a child. Five scenarios of how children can be handled by adults in various situations were acted on by both the members. The following were the five scenarios:
Ø When a child makes a mistake, the adult scolds the child and completely stop the child from using a particular thing for no reason at all.
Ø When a child makes a mistake, the adult tells the child little bit patiently but firmly that if the child wants to use that material again in future, the child must contact the adult.
Ø The child has done something properly and the adult is trying to reward the child by giving a chocolate.
Ø The adult showing the child how to use a particular thing when the child makes a mistake and telling the child that he/she can always come back to the adult in case of any doubts or questions. Basically giving the confidence to the child to use it by himself or herself.
Ø The child has done something properly and the adult don’t pay any attention to it and just watches what the child is doing or how the child does. There was no reprimand, no reward, no correction and nothing happens.
The scenarios were well received by the parents. They had a lot of questions around it. The first question was about what it means reward and what it means punishment.
Punishment is basically something that doesn’t have a connection with the action. For example, the child drops something and not scolding or beating the child but not allowing the child to use that particular object is a punishment. In fact in some schools and several houses, punishments are nowhere connected to the action at all.
What is the consequence?
Consequence is something that is connected with the action. You tell the child well in advance or when the action happens that the child have done this and you are not going to do this to the child or the child have broken this and you don’t think you can actually get the child something. You can also tell the child well in advance that this is what going to happen but it all depends on the child. For example, preparing a child for a field trip outside and let’s say that there is a train or bus that is waiting and needs to boarded at a particular time. Tell the child that if the child delays and misses the train/bus and because of that he/she has to miss the field trip. Now the child knows in advance that because the child misses the train or the bus he/she cannot participate in the field trip. So if missing the bus/train is the action, then missing the participation in the field trip is the consequence. The action is connected to the consequence. So the child takes full responsibility for the action and aware of the consequence too.
The difference between the rewards and punishment is completely given by an example of how in a school setup a child may have to write an exam for a long period of time whereas question papers are set by somebody with several restrictions like the time to answer, number of words, number of question to attend etc. The child is being assessed in a particular subject, based on how she/he performs and being rated with ranks and grades where the child does not probably have an interest in that particular subject. Should we consider that as a punishment? That was a question that was post to the audience also.
Quite interesting that one of the parents came up with a question saying that while the system that is being followed at Cascade Montessori rural centre at Jamunamarathur is quite different but parents would need to get used to practice this at school. Murali Krishnan answered to the question saying that we mostly stick to what we know or rather how we were brought up. Since we were brought up under a traditional mode we usually know how a school runs. We know that there are only 5 subjects History, English, Mathematics, Language and Science whereas there are several other options which we don’t try to explore and by us not knowing about something doesn’t mean that there are no other options at all. He also talked about the existence of NAOS where there are more than 40, 50 subjects as options that can be chosen by a child and till 8th standard there are no exams. The child can write his/her 10th std for 2 years, choosing one subject at a time and finish it in 2 years’ time successfully and the child doesn’t need to choose a subject if the child doesn’t like it. So those options are available.
Murali krishnan also said that if u really wanted to stick to the school curriculum, you have a choice to register your protest if a child is beaten up or get scolded. You can tell them that they have any rights to beat or scold your child and you can ensure that you will find the root cause of the problem. No child actually deserves punishment in the hands of anybody including the parents. This doesn’t mean that you cannot correct a child, but the way in which you help the child to understand the mistakes that have been made and the consequences is important.
Murali Krishnan gave an example of how, in a Montessori environment there are several materials that are made up of parceline, glass and clay which are brittle. If a child wants to carry such material, the child has to handle it with care. If the child drops the material, it’s going to break and when it is broken it’s not going to be used anymore. That certainly touches the child because the result is immediate. Whereas if the child drops a plastic, even if he/she drops it several times that particular material is not going to break and the child is not going to learn anything. For that child, the dropping is fun and in reality which is not. Such tiny changes in the environment is going to make a lot of difference in the minds of children to understand how to value material and what it means consequence and how. In fact consequence in this case is completely connected because when the child drops it, the material is going to be lost completely forever and the child is not going to get back that material. That’s a consequence and the consequence is connected. So that’s the way in which the child actually comes to know about it.
There will be quarrels, there will be issues, in an environment but the way in which you deal with it makes a lot of difference. By giving rewards for correct behavior, what are we trying to communicate to a child. The child was not expecting a reward and was happy about what she/he was doing. So that’s why we don’t have any grading or any kind of assessment in our environment. This was communicated to the parent also.
When the child grows up, let’s say the child brings you a glass of water and then you give a chocolate saying “Oh my god! Lovely child! You gave me a glass of water. Thank you so much”. So in front of a child, you are equating one glass of water for a chocolate, which is no way connected at all. What does the child think, so if I bring a glass of water, it can be a father or mother or whoever it is, that person will give me a chocolate. So next time let me bring. If the next time you are not going to give the child a chocolate, that’s going to demotivate the child. The child might think that he gave me last time why isn’t he giving me this time. Have I made a mistake or should I do more? So the child itself create a pressure. If the child is not interested in chocolate at all and you go and ask that child to bring a glass of water, the child refuses to bring a glass of water. What do you say? you actually scold the child by saying that so will you do it only if I give you chocolate. Who connected the chocolate with the glass of water, it’s only the adult, us. Whereas had you stopped and then just said thank you for bringing a glass of water where in you appreciate the action and not the child. The child is going to understand that you are thankful for the action and the action by itself is reward for the child. That’s how we connect it. When the child grows up and thinks that for every action there needs to be a reward, then obviously what is that even after the growing up, he/she will seek award even when he/she is a teenager or a college student.
These were the questions that were discussed in detail. Parents were also able to comment about the actions that were performed by the adults by pointing out what was correct and what was not correct and how it should have been done. Which was an eye opener even for Murali Krishnan and Hari. Because they were able to immediately understand what was wrong. Of course they had some difficulty in understanding the rewards and consequences because some of the parents were actually justifying it by saying that by giving a reward to a children we are motivating a child but in reality we don’t. That was communicated to the parent.
The meeting concluded by saying that the topic was very vast and what was covered during that one hour time was very less. So they were requested to come back to the adults in the environments, in case if they have any questions about rewards and punishment.
The experience of conducting such a parents meeting is that it doesn’t really make much of a difference whether the parents are from a rural or urban background, the parents are curious about providing the best of education to their children. They come forward to learn and understand what it means to bring up the children that shows the curiosity and interest. So all they need is access to the right information
Relief Foundation is very proud that it is able to take this information to rural audience though it started to work with urban parents through the Cascade family learning society at Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai. So by spreading this Montessori parenting to rural areas we are 100% sure that we are making a revolutionary impact in the minds of these parents who will turn up to become responsible parents in bringing up their children and those children when they grow up they will in turn become responsible adults. So we are 100% sure about it.