Soft tiny hands that reached out with love,
Big bright eyes that radiated wonder and innocence,
Joyful hearts and playful spirits,
Young children brought delight to my life when I began my journey as an Early Childhood Teacher in 2006.
Over the years, I worked in different kinds of schools – Conventional, Montessori, and Integrated Models.
While I enjoyed every minute spent with the little ones, I was miserable as a teacher.
Most schools did not give teachers the freedom to tailor their lessons to meet the student’s needs.
Free creative expression in children was a big no-no.
In one of the schools I worked at, the management performed a check on the books of the children every term. Based on what was seen in the books, they provided feedback to teachers on their performance as educators.
Lessons had to be taught strictly as per the curriculum and within pre-determined time frames. However, there was a growing awareness in educational circles that children learn in different ways and in their own time. In this light, it didn’t feel right that we continue to impose rigid approaches and timelines upon children. But the system was still evolving and many educators still preferred the old school way of working. So, I couldn’t do much about the scenario in this particular school.
However, I thought some free expression could be allowed at least in areas like art ( more so in the early years). Therefore, I permitted the children in my class the liberty to explore art freely.
If a child chose to colour the sun green instead of yellow, I just let it be!
Very often, the artwork of children appeared vague and illogical. But when I asked them about what they had created and they explained, it made perfect sense.
This approach of mine was not received well by the school.
During one book check season, I was summoned to the principal’s chamber.
“Haripriya, what is this I see in the art books of the children?” said the principal, looking alarmed.
I tried to explain to her the child’s perspective of art. However, she wasn’t convinced.
“We cannot allow this dear. What will happen to the reputation of the school?” she went on.
I was taken aback.
What was she talking about?
Is getting four and five-year year-olds to create picture-perfect artwork a way to build the school’s reputation?
My eyes welled up with tears. I felt like I was going insane.
However, I suppressed my tears and managed to appear normal.
I soon saw that this was the trend in many schools. They all pretended to have adopted new and innovative ways of teaching and learning. But what unfolded within the walls of the classroom was a totally different story.
I reached a point where I began to hate going to school.
I cried at home every evening and told Suraj it was impossible for me to suppress the free spirit and spontaneity of the little ones.
I eventually realised I was done working for the conventional and so-called integrated schools. I moved to a Montessori school. While I wouldn’t say the Montessori schools were perfect, that system felt way better. At least, no one insisted children must colour every tree and apple perfectly!
However, something was still missing…
I often dreamt of a school that prepared children for life, with academics also being an important feature. A school that did not suppress the free spirit of children and allowed them to blossom into the most authentic and empowered version of themselves.
I felt like such a school was out there but that I was yet to discover it.
My colleagues at work often laughed and told me I was living in fantasy land! They didn’t think such a school existed. But I continued to long for such a school. The longing became stronger when I became a mother to an adorable baby boy.
I believe our deepest desires are always granted by the Universe.
Synchronicity came into play and I was led to the school of my dreams!
And our son is part of this amazing learning environment today.
It is a space where-
- He learns spellings without ever mugging up a single one. He doesn’t even know the meaning of mugging up yet!
- He learns math not like a robot that applies formulas mechanically but through ingenious application that calls for a deeper understanding of numbers.
- He explores art with joy and freedom.
- His education is so much more than spellings, math and science. It is also about life skills, emotional intelligence and some age-appropriate spiritual grounding. And all this without ever compromising on academic learning.
- He is allowed to cry when sad and to reveal his authentic self, without fear of being judged or ridiculed.
- He receives unconditional love and acceptance from his teachers.
- Teachers embody their role fully and work with the sole objective of helping each child achieve their highest potential.
- Feedback for improvement is given in loving and constructive ways, without crushing the spirit of the child or the parents.
- And much much more…..
Eventually, our son will move to college and there is no guarantee he will enjoy a similar environment there. At the moment, he insists his goal is to become a doctor like his father. If he feels the same even at 16, he will be required to adapt to other ways of studying. He will also have to be willing to take on a lot more pressure in the form of competitive exams and at least a decade of medical training after that. And preparation for all of this will have to begin well before he turns 16.
However, I believe the well-rounded education he is receiving during these foundational years is empowering him to hold himself steady in the outside world, no matter what career path he chooses. I trust he will carry the strengths he is developing here to build a life of his choice and also to pass them on to others he will be associated with in future.
His journey may not always be easy but it does feel like it would be worth it!
It is my prayer that more and more children receive an education that helps them blossom to their highest potential in body, mind and spirit!