Once upon a time there lived a prince. He loved spending his time among the animals and birds in the forests near the palace, and that is where he was to be found for most part of the day. The prince rarely saw his parents – the King and the Queen. Not that it bothered him. The day the prince turned five, the King and the Queen sent him to the ashram of a wise sage, to be instructed in the ways of the world. The prince was sad as he would now be leaving behind his parents as well as his beloved friends from the forest. But he brightened up at the prospect of learning and making new friends at the ashram.
At the ashram his life fell into a routine. Every morning he, along with the other children, would get up early, help bring in wood for the fires, clean the floors and prepare food. Once the children sat down for their lessons, the wise sage would spend the morning narrating stories – of gods, of demons, of other people, and of all objects animate and inanimate. Every story was followed by discussions, which would invariably lead to more stories, sometimes told by older children. Sometimes the stories would be accompanied by studying numbers, sometimes celestial charts.
The first half of the afternoon was spent in learning scriptures and the second half was dedicated to learning the art of warfare and practicing the use of weapons. The prince lived at the ashram for many years, growing up to be wise and learned. Ten years later he returned to the palace, to rule over what was now his kingdom. Just as his father, he turned out to be an intelligent and just ruler, love by all.
The above story is familiar to all of us. We have heard it in many versions, sometimes as kids, sometimes as adults. Mapping it to a current day scenario, this simple story provides many insights into solutions to everyday struggles that parents and educators face.
1. Getting Rid of Parental “Guilt”
One of the most important things that strikes the reader/listener is the absence of parental guilt. The child was encouraged to find his own space, his interests and pursuits, without being bogged down by helipcopter parenting – stemming from their own guilt. Instead the focus was on treating the child as an individual in his own right, on teaching minimal dependence, on explaining the concept of respect and duties through actions and not words. In an era, when we, as parents, attempt to “give” as much time as possible to our kids, it is interesting to note that maybe that is not what the kids need.
2. The Importance Given To Stories
Stories were not always treated as a form of entertainment. Yes, they did entertain, but hidden beneath the entertainment was loads of wisdom. Old countries such as India, China, the Middle East, and the native populations of all countries always carry a rich history of folklore that teach everything from languages, to the sciences, to politics. Somewhere along the way these stories were routed out of mainstream education, and became limited to merely being a form of mass entertainment. The only storytellers that remained were the grannies, while teachers became part of the grindmill that promoted rote education. In the process, educators forgot that what cannot be taught with a whip can always be taught with a story.
3. The Advanced Age of Intellectual Maturity
At fifteen, the child was intellectually mature enough to take up his father’s profession. While that paradigm of the child following the parent’s footsteps may not completely hold valid in today’s date and age, research backs the fact that children who are taught with the help of stories, learn much faster and retain much more than others. They also tend to think creatively and out-of-the-box, making them better innovators and problem-solvers.
Stories may appear superficial, but carry deep lessons for all. One just needs to break them down. Storytellers can be much more than entertainers, they can also be partners in education and parenting. A parent who tells stories would not only have a happier child (everyone likes a parent who can tell stories!), but also one who is confident, wiser and much more in sync with the world around her/him.
This article was first published in SpeakingTree on June 28, 2017.