Bharti Asher on running one of the oldest play schools in the city

The quaint house with black-tiled roof, immaculate waiting sheds, colourful concrete miniatures, manicured bushes and pale green gate wears its age gracefully. Toddlers troop out to waiting parents and auto rickshaws. Inside, Bharti Asher, clad in a white chiffon sari and white self-print blouse, matching perfectly with her spotless white hair, is making worksheets on the computer. Children peek in to say good bye. She responds warmly. “Children should feel wanted. They should feel there is some one waiting for them in school. When they leave, I often tell them, ‘I will be waiting for you tomorrow,’” says Bharti.

Asher’s ‘Tiny Tots’, one of the oldest play schools in the city, turned 28 this month. She brought in the concept of play schools here when they were hardly any around. Begun with 16 children, a help and two teachers in 1984, the school today boasts around 200 students, three helps and 13 teachers and has a nursery school apart from play classes.

Three decades of engagement with toddlers have been an education for Bharti. The right way of educating a child is nebulous and often making a child feel wanted and cared for is her yardstick.

“You should like children. How qualified you are, is theoretical,” she says. She tells her teachers to be generous with physical warmth, a hug, a pat, which makes all the difference to a child being weaned away from home.

A graduate in Home Science from Avinashilingam University, Coimbatore, where she was also taught child psychology, child development, child education and food and nutrition, Bharti has learnt to put all of it to use. A Gujarati born and brought up in Coimbatore, Kozhikode became home post marriage. A nursery school was a dream and she approached her businessman husband to give her the house for the school. “He told me I can run the school from this house if I manage to vacate the tenants. I came every day requesting them to vacate. Finally, it happened,” she recounts. Initially she toured schools in Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Coimbatore. “Playschools were popular in Mumbai. I would sit in the class, watch and learn,” she says.

Bharti stresses the all-round development of a child in a play class. “They are taught different skills – listening, sorting, balancing, interaction.” Her method has evolved from her experience. “Earlier, we used to teach them to write. Now, we don’t. It is too early.”

If annual days are a norm, Bharti is convinced she doesn’t need one. “We had an annual day once and I wanted all my children to take part. As each event got over, parents would go home with those children. The final event was a solo dance by Vaishali and when her turn arrived, she came onto the stage and danced, but was crying all along. I hugged and asked her why. She told me, ‘My parents, they have gone,’” she recollects, her eyes welling up. The agony of the child who thought her parents have gone, yet left with no choice but to dance, traumatised the teacher. “I thought of the mental torture I put the child through. I wondered why we should train children like circus animals and make them perform.” Ever since, there were no annual days at Tiny Tots on East Hill Road.

As the children of her first students begin their stint at her school, Bharti is keeping pace. “I have hired a retired head mistress to teach children moral values, help them be good human beings,” she says. She continues to scoop in material from where ever she can. Ask her about the future of the school when she chooses to retire, she says, “I wish to live in the present.”

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012