“I only play in school. I do not study in the school” Our resident loudmouth – Peanut, responded with his biggest cheeky smile possible, when asked ‘How’s your new school?”
After he had said this to a couple of our family and friends and after we – the parents, had received shock (from mainly friends) or death (mainly family) stares and after I had tried whimsically explaining the concept of the school, I decided it was time to write about this enchanting little school and should anyone ask about it – this post should suffice.
So here goes. It may help to get context to this blog post by reading the following 2 posts –
Had we not moved cities, in all likelihood our children would not have gone to an alternative school. Just because it was a new city, a clean slate and were looking for options we found this school. This is a Steiner Waldorf school. Googling this will provide loads of information on what that is exactly. And surprisingly, it’s not a new age teaching methodology but one practiced for centuries under various names. In India, again surprisingly there are quite a few Waldorf schools, the first one being approximately 20 years old. Brave were the parents of the children who were the first few batches of this school. The father and I were merely resting on their conviction and assurance for our children’s future.
In very naïve terms, the concept is to work with a child’s rhythm. In essence celebrating childhood. So they reach school, leave their shoes on a rack outside and join the morning prayers. Now while Waldorf schools celebrate childhood, they also ensure a strong cultural connect. So in India, the prayers will be in local language, they will celebrate the local festivals and emulate the local functioning of society. After a prayer and some play/work in their class they are released into their playground. The idea here is that children cannot sit in one place too long and neither can they focus on one thing for too long. Soon they need a release of their energy. And that’s what this school provides, a constant release and then a pull back, and then release and then class. This is unlike other schools where the sports/ activity would happen once a day, usually at the beginning of the school or towards the end.
Before I go any further, let me address the big fat elephant in the room – All play and no work. That is very true from the child’s perspective and especially true at Kindergarten level. Now here’s the catch – their class is not designed for a conventional study time but instead it is designed for exploration and creativity. The class has plenty of wooden unfinished toys to peak any child’s curiosity and ‘work’ with that. ‘I’m bored’, is a constant whine from this generation of children especially urban class. Village children to some extent are spared this boredom. And the culprit seems to be toys – ready-made toys specifically. Give a child a car or a doll and their excitement would soon start wearing off and then they would be ‘bored’ or looking for new stimulation. But unfinished toys (like building blocks) provide a constant stimulation, because they can be anything at any given point of time. Peanut has been building a racing car from the tyres kept outside the school. In class his friends and he are making volcanoes these days. Buttercup is usually busy making crochet neck-pieces or head gears. Her creations are nowhere near perfect but she’s learning and exploring and creating.
Another shocker – No writing till grade 1. In this competitive, high stress world how is that going to work? These children would necessarily be far behind their peers! And other such thoughts entered my mind. A parent of 4 waldorf educated children, all of whom are working (in various parts of the world) and are happy, told me that those doubts will continue to haunt me every so often. She would often wonder how her children would survive when her children were the only few who were found playing in the park while other children were busy with physics homework. All her children have turned out just fine. Happy and stress free for sure!
During one of the review meetings, I happened to peep into a class and saw a story depicted on the blackboard and one example of large division of numbers. Curious to know which grade was being taught this, I asked a teacher passing by and she said – Grade 1 (last semester)! No pressure, lots of play and no work got that out of the children? I was rest assured till Grade 1.
All play, no work and NO CCTV either. This the father was not comfortable with at all. And justifiably so, given the way the world is functioning. But we decided to take the plunge without this apparent safety net. Why? Because, they have something better -The eyes of the teachers. A cctv camera cannot prevent a mishap but an attentive teacher can. And we have to trust the system or the teacher to do just that. Till date I have never seen a child unattended in this school. They could be playing in the far off corner of their ground but there will be 1 or 2 or more teachers keeping an eye.
The class teacher works on developing a strong relationship with each student. The teacher moves with her class as they progress from grade 1 to 2 to 3 and onwards. Subject teachers come in to teach their respective teachers but the class teacher remains a constant through the years, developing a formidable bond. Trust, care, love, respect, relationships, empathy and other ‘soft’ words are subtly brought about.
The school acknowledges feelings – good and bad. Children feel as much happiness as sadness, anger as empathy and all these and more are crafted and shared through stories and poems and songs. Nothing is overt yet it’s felt and registered in the child’s mind and heart. Something to the tune of – If it connects with the heart, it’s lifelong. They are big on the power of storytelling. Fairytales for the younger ones who are more than happy to live in an imaginary beautiful creation and folk tales for the older ones.
Regular nature walks are inherent to their education philosophy. Parents are encouraged to join their children on these walks. In fact parents are welcome to join almost all activities.
The ROTA is one such example. Kindergarten children get lunch in school. This lunch is prepared by the parents on a rotational basis. Parents are paired up and they make everything from roti, rice, vegetables, dal to salad for the hungry ones. The children love the variety and the ROTA child serves the food. Buttercup had her chance recently and she was beaming with pride as she served the food to her friends.
This community style education extends to their annual day. It’s not really an annual day though. It’s a Mela and open to the public. All the children and parents contribute to the stalls and it’s a day long affair with live music, food and craft stalls.
All parents and teachers get together once a month and instead of being told what the children did in the last month, we are shown and we are expected to participate in that song and dance. Peanut and Buttercup were highly amused seeing their parents sing and dance to their tunes (literally!)
I’m in awe of this school’s education, because it has put a premium on the child, the child’s individuality, the child’s happiness and needs. Being diametrically opposite to the other schools it has unknowingly unearthed a huge issue in the Indian education system (a system where it’s all marks/scores/ performance oriented and as a result creating highly stressful childhoods).
The usual point in favor of such a system is- that’s the call of the hour, but the next post Why Are INDIAN Students Coming LAST In Math, Science And Reading? should exemplify that the Indian education system needs a revamp or success in life (be it material or non-material related) is surely going to elude our children.