OPINION: Natural learning in the time of Covid-19

Curiosity, the engine of natural learning, thrives on the freedom to explore, says the writer. (Gallo Images)
Curiosity, the engine of natural learning, thrives on the freedom to explore, says the writer. (Gallo Images)

We are living in a very strange and difficult time that has placed undue stress on all members of the family, and therefore, drawing the family together and strengthening family bonds are ever so important, writes Renuka Ramroop.


As South Africa and the world continue with lockdown during this pandemic, there are many articles about how to manage kids at home.

Schools have given children work for the weeks ahead, and there are countless stories of how parents are creatively managing this process.

There are also many jokes and memes about people finding it increasingly difficult to be at home with their children. 

The common thread within these articles is the dread that so many people feel about having their children at home for the days of lockdown.

Where does this dread or fear of being together 24/7 come from?

After all, our ancestors certainly did not pack their kids off to spend a significant part of their day with someone they barely knew to learn something they could not understand or find useful.

Children used to be a significant part of society, where play and observation within the community and family life developed their survival skills that ensured humans' continuous survival for thousands of years.

Modern society with all its pressures of performance, fear of failure and punishment, whether overt or covert, alienates children and families from living their authentic lives.

It is well-researched that children (all people for that matter) learn from everything they do, and no learning is passive.

Children do not have to learn by sitting quietly at a desk doing worksheets or reading books someone else deems important.

Children are actually very good at learning by themselves when they are interested in what they are doing.

They learn by observing, thinking, testing out their own theories, experimenting, speculating and enjoying what they are immersed in.

Think about it: why does one have to fight, coerce and bribe children to do their homework or study, and yet, children can spend many enjoyable, happy hours immersed in something they are totally interested in? 

All over the world there are people who follow Natural Learning to living and learning, in which families provide the space and opportunity for their children to live a life of seamless learning, where learning is not separated from life, where learning is authentic, enjoyable and long lasting.

They learn to satisfy their own needs and curiosity and not just to prepare for a test or to win approval. The ability to learn is innate; children are naturally curious about their world.

Curiosity, the engine of natural learning, thrives on the freedom to explore, and therefore, cannot flourish in a school setting because school, in its very structure, denies freedom.  

Should we not therefore perhaps take a different perspective on this period of lockdown and children’s education?

The intrusion of the demands of school (homework, tests, projects etc.) can take its toll on family values and relationships.

After all, parents are there to love their children unconditionally while inspiring and supporting them to achieve their goals and live happy lives.

Making parents complicit in policing their children and their schoolwork forces them into a role that may create conflict, and therefore, impact on the parent-child relationship and on the very fabric of family.  

Perhaps during this lockdown period families should adopt the tenets of Natural Learning and enjoy the time they are spending with each other.

Let children follow their own interests and their own curiosities into what they want to learn and excel in. Enjoy observing how engaged they are in their chosen activities and show your support.

Understandably, being forced to be together will take some adjustment, but it will be good for family bonding. So instead of worrying about schoolwork and desperately trying to find online programmes to keep them busy, try doing things as a family and enjoy each other’s company.

One does not need fancy entertainment, but the natural rhythm that home life offers is an immense comfort and source of well-being that is nourishment for the soul of the family. 

For example, cooking and having meals together without any rush for a specific bed time, the rambling conversations in the day, reading, perhaps watching a movie and talking about it, working in the garden and planting vegetables to eat, and so many more activities exist within the uniqueness of each family that can be a wonderful source of comfort and joy.

In most communities these activities are part of a general rhythm of home and family life, but perhaps it should become particularly pronounced and cherished during lockdown in all families.  

We are living in a very strange and difficult time that has placed undue stress on all members of the family, and therefore, drawing the family together and strengthening family bonds are ever so important.

For posterity, don’t let the most difficult part of this global pandemic be your battles with your children over maths, geography or completing a worksheet.

It demands something a lot more noble from us all. 

- Dr Renuka Ramroop is a research associate at the University of Limpopo. Her research focus is on Natural Learning and the impact this approach has on children and society. She writes this article in her private capacity. 

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