Your garden variety of preschools may not be what nurtures your child’s mind over the long haul. Here’s why the foundation years are so very significant for child development.
Early years education is more important than we give it credit. Let me explain. When my daughter was 2, she was brimming with curiosity. A natural discoverer, she would explore the world around her with so much enthusiasm. For her, movement was a tremendous learning tool and it helped her achieve major milestones in terms of logical thinking, emotional maturity, sequencing and even a sense of direction and an awareness of her surroundings.
When I fell into the academic trappings of making her read and write as well as her peers, she started performing these executive functions as if by rote but her self-confidence just plummeted. It broke my heart. Even today, she works hard but that confident two-year-old who knew she would rule the world? She was gone.
In most preschools in Bangalore, children aren’t allowed to move and they barely have outdoor space to explore. They don’t have opportunities to problem solve, make decisions and to engage in active learning. And this is exactly what my daughter was doing when she was a toddler.
It takes a village
As soon as I entered The Atelier school in Sarjapur Road, I knew that my daughter’s two-year-old self would have exploded in excitement. Never before had I seen a learning space reimagined this way. The entire school, along with its different learning environments, is a giant studio. Filled with skylight and designed with material drawn from nature, the Atelier’s indoor space gives the impression that the whole school is working on a giant project together. And this could very well be true. The Atelier is a Reggio Emilia inspired school, and all Reggio schools have this sense of community that nurtures the children completely.
Rythm Aggarwal co-founded The Atelier, Guwahati in 2014 along with her father, the acclaimed educationist Ashutosh Aggarwal. The children in The Atelier, Guwahati move into Sanskriti the Gurukul, which is their parent school for grade 1 onwards. Says Rythm, “The children actually look forward to this new journey. Unlike us adults they are excited about new experiences and adapt to their new environments fairly quickly.
The Atelier in Sarjapur Road, Bangalore, has individual learning spaces are named after famous minds – Da Vinci’s Studio, Kipling’s Corner, Newton’s Tree and Darwin’s Den. There is a giant piazza at the centre of the space and it is dynamic in nature, evolving every week along with the projects and work that the children do. One week, there are obstacle courses, and the other week, there is a large-scale art installation for internal use. There are also two lofts that are shared by two rooms.
Even evolved pedagogies in Bangalore have very small outdoor area and cramp movement in a big way, so it was a huge delight to see porches in the inside space spilling out into the outside space in the form of backyards, the cafeteria and even a beautiful pump and a pond that adjoins the outdoor exploration area! The backyards have supporting exploratory corners like a dissolving station, a tent and a mud kitchen.
A sense of purpose
The baby’s brain is a hotbed of neural activity and sitting at The Atelier, I was fascinated to watch how the pedagogistas observed and worked with the toddlers so intently and continuously, to the point that when they knew the children’s emotional behaviours and patterns like shorthand.
According to Rythm, a good childhood education will nurture a child’s sense of purpose. “We have recently been working with two 3-year olds to define their purpose. They earlier found purpose in carrying and transporting materials which are larger than them, hence challenging themselves physically and finding a sense of accomplishment and succeeding. This need to lift, carry, push, pull and transport slowly moved to connections with reality. What brought the two together was their love for automobiles. They started out with constructing cars, to trucks, to jeeps, to the most recent bike with a steering.”
During a workshop on parenting, a teacher joked that all her life, she had been asked to study harder, get more marks and top the school rankings. As soon as she graduated and assumed office roles, she and her peers were continuously being trained and assessed on team work. Healthy social interactions are crucial to learning, because think about it, don’t our children learn the most from other children?
Says Rythm, “One of the children would love all the energy when the children came together in a group but would choose to watch from a distance and smile to himself. We allowed him the space and time, inviting him with respect and leaving the choice to him. We had trust that he would eventually choose to join, we just had to wait. And just as we had expected, the day came soon enough. The children had created a “climb and jump” course and the energy was palpable. He watched from a safe distance, excited but not sure about joining in. This time, all it took was one invitation. And he was unstoppable. He jumped right in, eager to explore his physical movements, and did not stop for over an hour. This day changed his relationship with his peers.”
Let’s work on a project!
A lot of the curriculum at The Atelier is project based. One of their most memorable projects stemmed from the children’s interest in planes, rockets, eagles and sharks. The teachers and their pedagogistas realized that what brought everything together was “flight” and they worked on supporting and deepening the children’s relationship with this interest. Believe me, the educators in a Reggio school work doubly hard to prepare a great learning environment for their children. The space is a teacher in itself, and should children need resources, they are not limited to their immediate environment but can also learn to use materials that are every day and natural in nature to represent their ideas thus recycling and reusing these materials in innovative and creative ways.”
What do the educators at The Atelier expect from a good early years curriculum? The school does take compulsories like literacy and numeracy seriously but works in meaningful ways with these subjects and keeps track of a child’s milestones for different ages. A good early years curriculum does this and more. Says Rythm, “In the earliest years of their learning, children need an environment which would retain their natural sense of wonder and encourage self discovery. They need adults who support them positively, such that their self esteem, empathy, problem solving, physical and social skills grow with each passing day. They need a space for dialogue around their curiosities, interests and theories. Most importantly we need to nurture this generation to form a strong sense of self identity and understand the need for sustainability of natural resources.”
Interested in knowing more about The Atelier? Click here.
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