Back in March, when schools across the country shut their gates and went remote following the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chennai-based Kavita Sekaran had to facilitate at-home learning for her two children, aged five and three years.
A naturalist by profession, Kavita started the journey by veering away from the worksheets concept of conventional schools and letting her children design their day’s schedule. “Of course, we all went berserk by the second day,” she laughs. Within a month, she managed to completely stay off online classes, in favour of a more relaxed and child-led schedule as per the Montessori approach.
Soon, she saw the merits of adopting an alternative learning methodology where the child leads the way and the adult is the facilitator. “My five-year-old daughter is a lot more expressive today. I have seen a lot of creativity in her work,” says Kavita. The morning rush hour vanished; the usual tired crankiness at the end of the day disappeared. Her kids began learning at their own pace, and had the liberty to explore their personal interests.
Like Kavita, a growing tribe of parents are exploring alternative education methodologies to make learning a fun experience for their children.
Deepti Vadlamudi, head of academics of Swechha — a Waldorf inspired school in Visakhapatnam — conducts weekly guidance and online consultation sessions to help parents understand the principles of Waldorf learning, along with one-on-one guidance. “The beauty of Waldorf Early Childhood education is that it follows a child and their natural rhythm. Parents and caregivers need to spend two to three hours of time spread over the day with their children. This time can be used to tell age-appropriate stories and songs and including the children in age-appropriate household chores like cleaning and wiping,” explains Deepti.
The philosophy encourages children to learn to think logically and independently. “Children are in sync with their emotions and can emotionally connect with the work as well as their world,” she adds.
As Waldorf has no pre-prepared text books, passionate parents find it easy to create work along with children with guidance from experts. Especially in the early years, there are many positive experiences of parents building a Waldorf environment at home. When Bengaluru-based Vineeta Raj saw her three-and-half-year-old preschooler spend the bulk of his school time doing “very task-oriented work,” she pulled him out of school to try the Waldorf system, through an offline curriculum purchased from another school. “The rhythm in Waldorf is completely different. Now we look forward to a schedule in which learning isn’t all day long, just checking boxes off of what to complete,” she adds.
Chickpeas and music
The kids are happy too. In Mumbai-based Madhura Gogate Pusalkar’s Montessori Maths online class, the kids learn the concepts of numbers through counting kidney beans and chickpeas. “It is a more conceptual way of making kids learn Mathematics,” says Madhura, a trained Montessori teacher.
While she misses the physical class, Madhura says the positive side of this situation is that more parents are now willing to explore methodologies absent in conventional schools. She also conducts Music Together online classes, an early childhood music and movement programme for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers that is spread across 40 countries today. It creates an environment where everyone enjoys singing, dancing, and jamming. “The curriculum has been designed after decades of research, in both music education and child development,” says Madhura.
Learning methodologies like Reggio Emilia is also fast making its way to the homes of preschoolers. “The aim of the Reggio Emilia approach is to teach children how to use the symbolic languages of painting, sculpting, drama in everyday life,” says Archana Dange, founder of Helen O’Grady, a playschool and kindergarten whose offline homeschooling kit has reached homes across cities like Chennai, Bengaluru, Coimbatore and Visakhapatnam.
“99% of our activities are designed in a way that involves things available at home,” explains Archana. From using puppets for storytelling to seed ball activities in demonstrating the germination process, the Reggio Emilia method puts the natural development of children and their relationship with their environment at the centre. The result is an environment of community and collaboration that is developmentally suitable for adults and children alike.