(This post outlines the rhythm followed by learners in the age group of 6-8 years, as understood by a parent)
Every day, chirpy young kids are welcomed by green and serene surroundings. An empty lane flanked by beautiful flowers and trees entice the young ones to explore their surroundings with new enthusiasm. On several days at a stretch, we get to hear the stories of centipedes, caterpillars and butterflies- a transformation that they witness first hand rather than reading and memorizing from the books. What an interesting way to learn, one would say!
Children’s interests and inspiration keeps varying. In their curious minds, questions arise and they are encouraged to explore answers for them. Sometimes they succeed, other times they run to their facilitators who gently guide them for more discoveries. The calm demeanor and warm approach of the facilitators encourages the most introvert of the group to open like a budding flower. In their own delightful ways, the facilitators lead them further into the depths of their curiosity; and encourage them find their own answers in their own space and at their own pace. The last point is perhaps the most important. Not all children learn in the same manner or at the same speed but it is important that seeds of love for learning are sown in them.
From the facilitators’ point of view, they have a set of core objectives to achieve for each age-group; along with a malleable structure to achieve them. These objectives cover physical, mental, emotional and spiritual (at a later stage) development and well-being of the young learners.
The first hour of each day is dedicated to learners’ physical development – the objective being developing their strength and stamina. They walk, hop and run across a dedicated stretch of land at their own pace and each one of them is encouraged by their peers to go beyond their current abilities. They function as a group to root for one another and no one child is considered better than the other. Then next objective is balance and coordination for which different games are used such as hopping over sticks and hoola-hoops. Needless to say, it comes with a bundle of fun and lot of enjoyment for them.
After their bodies and minds get a good workout, their rumbling tummies are satiated by a healthy fruit followed by five dedicated minutes of meditation or ‘quiet time’ for their minds to attain equilibrium. This helps them in transitioning to the next set of activities such as learning through songs, poems and dramatics amongst other. Children are engaged in these activities primarily to learn nuances of a language (English at the moment). They are assigned roles, construct stories and enact plays. For example, on a particular day, they enacted the role of farmers who enthusiastically shared the process of growing apples and bananas with an appreciative audience. This was executed by the learners with a little structure and loads of encouragement by the facilitators. Vowels and their sounds were the learning objectives that were secretly embedded in this play.
Just before the lunch, they are engaged in arts and crafts to give shape to their imagination. With an interesting variety of raw materials at their disposal such as clay, wool and colours- they are also learn the art of making best out of waste such as old newspapers and clothes. Learners are urged to come up with different masterpieces through self-directed learning. Occasionally, this session is guided by a facilitator to teach a particular skill such as making bracelets where the learners find the space to question the facilitators to learn the nuances of the art.
Lunch includes a variety of healthy food items where the young ones stand in queue and help themselves to their shares. The facilitators encourage them to try all the varieties in whatever quantities they accept for a balanced meal. This is followed by free time where the leaners carry-out a recreational activity of their choice to release their pent-up energies so that they can concentrate in the sessions that will follow- the first one being Math. Sometimes, they are asked to make sets and groups with seeds, on other days they use buckets, jars, bottles, and few ounces of sand to learn about measurement, approximation and estimation. The world of numbers and concepts like heavy and light; more and less; and big or small are learnt by observation, experimentation and practice.
The session is followed by a healthy snack to sustain their energies through the last sessions dedicated to learning other languages (which currently are Hindi and Sanskrit). Stories, plays and songs are brought out of the facilitators’ toolbox to engage them and are readily gobbled up by the curious minds. Children are given their own time to digest and internalize the learning and reproduce it in a form of their choice such as drawing of Ravana and his ten heads to learn Hindi counting from 1 to 10. After Ravana exits the scene, excited minds calm down with another round of ‘quiet time’.
Group dynamics, obvious conflicts, learning from peers and seniors lay the ground for all round emotional development which is achieved in a non-obvious manner by the facilitators. At the end of the day, learners leave with satisfaction of exploring new territories, while satiating and igniting their curiosity at the same time.
Providing freedom to learn while sustaining a child’s natural curiosity leads to the development of a very important skill – ‘learning to learn’. In today’s ever changing environment, no set of skills can guarantee success. The ability to question, explore and continuously learn, with well-balanced emotional intelligence surely allows an individual to continuously find her own way to realize her potential.