I have been visiting a lot of preschools all over the place…mainly schools which are working with kids from low income backgrounds but also a few that are catering to the middle class as well as a couple of high end ones. In general, I walk out of the preschools feeling low, disappointed at the disservice we are doing the future of this world. the teaching is below par, very rote based, with a strong focus on discipline (sit straight, don’t talk), shows little evidence of thought in the planning and is more often than not, developmentally inappropriate (highly so). You have 3 yr olds writing – well, the teacher grips the kid’s hands and ‘makes him write’. I have not seen differentiation and catering to kids with special needs is too way out to even think about.
However, in the midst of all this disappointing developmentally inappropriate teaching and (lack of) learning, I was pleasantly surprised – actually blown away – by a wonderful model on the outskirts of a tier two town. A non profit too! This was a preschool center that had 21/2 to 51/2 year olds from the community coming in. The fees were nominal. There werre 2 teachers – both veterans who had been teaching for the past 20 years or more.
The building was nothing fancy…two large whitewashed rooms. There were a lot of displays on the wall…some kids artwork and then stuff with numbers and letters and animals, etc. Nothing fancy…nothing expensive…but very appropriate for what was happening in the class.
The day started out with a prayer and then the kids did 2 minutes of planning before their 40 minute slot of work time (free play!) Together, they went over the different ‘centers’ in the room and each child chose what they wanted to do. There were blocks and puzzles, peg boards, stacking toys, a corner with books, one with musical instruments, an art corner, a home corner and another spot with laces and beads. The children spent the next 40 minutes busy with what they had chosen. They moved from one center to another (the only rule which was articulated at the outset was to put away one thing before taking out another).The teacher provided occasional scaffolding where she thought it would help. The material at the centers was all inexpensive, locally sourced, culturally relevant and often hand made by upcycling things….keeping the cost pretty low and yet ensuring that there was enough variety as well as material for all the children.
At the end of the 40 minutes, the kids regrouped and debriefed what they did in a circle. They learned about the concept of hot and cold through the example of making tea and a discussion around. The conversation built on past knowledge and experience and was very student led.
They did a little counting using stones and shells and then moved on to art.
Then they had story time where although the teacher did not read a book, she told them a story using cut outs and manipulatives.
The children were engaged, interested and having a good time. They showed a good degree of independence and ownership – they helped lay the mats and clean up after play. They chatted comfortably with the teachers and were all mostly on task without any reprimands or references to disciplinary consequences.
All in all – a wonderful experience that shows us what is indeed possible if only we recognize how important it is to get this right. As educators we owe it to our children to believe in our philosophies, to stand by them because of the commitment we have made to these kids…even if parents themselves demand bad early childhood education…asking for rote repetition and early reading and writing and homework and tests. We own it to the kids and to ourselves and it is so refreshing to see a school that stands its ground and does what it truly believes.
On teachers’ day, i had to put this down and congratulate all these wonderful people who are doing the most incredible work ever….and being the change!
Happy Teachers Day!!!