Tag Archives: preschool

Smart Steps Preschool: Quality at an affordable price

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Having children in the preschool age-group, I have spent a good amount of time in high quality high end private preschools  and have blogged about them too – whether it is By the Sea in Mumbai or Gaia in Bangalore … these are spaces which have met my fairly exacting demands of good ECE provision for my kids. Spaces which are for kids and about kids…happy cheerful spaces that recognize children’s needs and work to meet them, spaces that foster interactions and engaged learning and curiosity…Where the environment is truly a teacher who complements and supplements the class teacher(s).

And then, when I walk into low fee private preschool classrooms, I am upset, depressed and angered by the quality of provision I see there. Here are children whose parents work incredibly hard to send them to “English medium, private preschools” …and in all honesty the schools are failing them.  I don’t want to attribute blame or point fingers…the parents understanding of good learning is based on their understanding (or lack) of what good education is. They want their children to be writing and bringing home pages of homework, they want them to recite inane nursery rhymes and be regularly assessed at school. The low fee schools feel they cannot access fancier products and services at the price point they are able to afford, they struggle to hire good quality teachers or find an appropriate space…

And yet the reality of the low fee private schools is depressing. Small cramped classrooms housed in small cramped buildings, preschool classrooms with rows of long wooden benches seating an inordinately large number of children squashed against each other. The paint peeling, the floor grimy, an occasional nail sticking out somewhere. The walls are bare or have numbers and alphabets and maybe a clock. There is no space to move and 3, 4 and 5 year olds are sitting and copying mindlessly from a blackboard or repeating everything the teacher says. An occasional smack or “tap” with a long wooden ruler helps with discipline (I am serious).  There are pockets of happy activities – saying Jack and Jill in a loud voice with strange actions and even stranger punctuation, going for lunch or play time (if any).

And somewhere one wonders whether it is the affordability that is taking so much away from quality. I know the fancy schools my children go to charge a whole lot more and have so much more access to materials and resources. Does one really need that much to access quality. Does quality always need to mean expensive? I have seen models work with less albeit in the non-profit sector. Could it also work in a low fee private school?

A visit to Smart Steps Preschool (an initiative by ABLE Educare) with Smitin Brid helped answer this question and I walked out of there feeling a lot happier. I was a little apprehensive when I first approached one of their centers for a visit. The space looked similar to a typical low fee private school from the outside. But stepping in through the gate, I already began to see the difference. For one, it was clean- of course that matters…how can we imagine creating a nurturing environment for kids minds of we don’t bother with even the basics of safety before that. If you care enough about the child’s well-being and safety, it will be reflected right away in the set up.

I spent some time in 2 Smart Steps Preschools. Both were clean, safe, cheerfully painted and had a lot of teaching and learning material available and accessible. The material wasn’t fancy or expensive. There were different types of building blocks and connectors, jigsaw puzzles, beads, a book library to name a few. It was a refreshing change to see free play set up and also watch the interactions teachers were trying to have with their children.  Usually teacher student interactions are very transactional in nature and this was a move away from that.

The children seemed happy and confident. The teachers used materials of different kids during activities – so during story time, the teacher read the story from a book and also had stick puppets to go with it. She also encouraged the children to try the stick puppets and was perfectly calm when a child accidentally managed to tear the puppet.

I saw children being given strategies to deal with conflict and teachers would model those when required.

The teachers used a bilingual approach and ensured that the children were comfortable and happy to be in school. Which they were – in their cheerful uniforms, colorful bags and enthusiastic conversations to match they certainly painted a happy picture.

Sure there are still gaps to address – working on an ongoing basic to support them and help them hone their skills, to scaffold their learning, to make them better facilitators – but it is a start in the right direction…a start that shows that quality need not come at a high cost. These centers charge between 300 and 2000 a month depending on location and size and are actually able to bring a lot of learning and experiences to their children!

It was heartening to walk into the Smart Step Preschools and I was more than pleasantly surprised. You can find out more about them and their work on: http://smartstepspreschool.com/

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Please don’t tell my child ‘how’ to draw

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You know that beautiful beautiful poem called the Hundred Languages of Children? What the Reggio Emilia approach is based on?
About how the child has a hundred languages…a hundred ways of expressing, of being, of looking at the world? And how the school and culture take away ninety nine?

That poem always touches a chord in me…and today as i looked at a couple of “worksheets” in my 5 year old son’s bag, saw the corrections marks on it, his lopsided scrawled words underlined with a bold pen, “aided work” as a comment next to another that labelled him as a slow and hesitant reader, i teared up, thinking how this was already starting to happen. They were taking away the 99..I saw how a picture he had drawn of himself had been reshaped with a pen, detail added in, legs where they should be and hair on the head. There was a prescribed way of being, of writing, reading and seeing. And that was all that mattered here.

This child has just moved cities. He has watched his home disappear into boxes, he has said bye to his friends, his neighbours and teachers…even to the park and his favorite frangipani tree. He has changed homes and schools and not even had the time to settle down or make friends. He has started the in the middle of a term in a school so different from the one he has been in and I find these comments and remarks on his sheets. There are instructions for me to work with him on reading and better writing..sure, all that i can do if i really must. But please, can you let his drawing be? Please don’t tell him to look at the world through your eyes. Ff his person has crooked legs, let that be. he may need to work some more on his motor skills but allow him to express himself as he is able to. And whatever you do, remember he is fragile…do not damage his self esteem. I want him to grow up to be a good human being, comfortable with himself and happy.

Gaia: A school that we will truly miss

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Today was the boys’ last day at school…

I still remember when we had moved to Bangalore two years ago and started scouting for a school. We had the bar set very high…after their preschool in Mumbai, we wanted something that would be similar…a place where they could be themselves, where they could be children, discover joy in simple things…a school that was uncomplicated and offered them a chance to discover themselves. it wasn’t easy but after a lot of thinking we decided on Gaia…a small stand alone preschool in RT Nagar, Bangalore. We fell in love the premises when we first walked in with the boys. The gate opened and we stepped into a lovely garden compound with fruit trees, birds, a nice play area, a sandpit, jungle gyms and other cool stuff to climb. There were tyres for children to walk and balance on, a trampoline, a little tree house and a puppet house too.

The classrooms all connected to each other in a lovely house – something i loved straightaway. But yet i was worried…Would the teachers be good? Would they take the time to understand the boys? Would they allow them to learn at their own pace and find themselves in the process? Or would they be swallowed up in the rut of rote learning and piles of homework? Would the teachers compare the twins? Would they judge them or misunderstand them? Would they provide them with the stimulus they were so used to getting at By The Sea? Of course I was worried…who does not want the best for their kids?

And now, two years later, as we get ready to move once again, I cannot thank our stars enough that we discovered Gaia when we did. It met all I wanted it to and more…the children have loved every day there and every person…and have been loved back too. They have spent time watching ants and hammering nails and observing birds and climbing all over the place. They have come home every day with sand in their hair and mud on their feet, with seeds in their pockets and so many stories. They have read so many books, played games and heard songs…they have started to read and write and understand numbers too. They have made friends and memories!

Their teachers have loved hem for who they are, they have washed away boo-boos and comforted them on days when i was traveling and they were low…they have gotten to know my boys for who they are and accepted them for that. They have been open to feedback and always ready to learn from around them.

Every child knows the other, every teacher knows every child and all three of my boys are comfortable with all the adults in the school. The person who runs the school is an incredibly wonderful lady and my boys love her to bits. Sid enjoys sitting down and chatting with her, pulling her leg and running off with her hairclip – and he knows she does not judge him badly for that – for she does not look at it as indiscipline but just a child’s fun way of connecting with her.

Thank you Team Gaia for making the last two years so wonderful, magical and full of love and care for my three boys. We are really really going to miss you! Gaia is such an important integral part of our life in Bangalore…a part that made our stay here even more special!

foam pieces, tessellatations and a discovery

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We have been playing with cut up foam pieces for a long time now. But recently I came across a few sets of foam created by JodoGyan called Rangometry (www.jogogyan.org).

The foam is thick and sturdy and the pieces lend themselves to endless tessellations and combinations. Initially I let the boys simply explore the sets. They made all kinds of things using the pieces. The set has squares, triangles of two different types, diamonds, and hexagons.

Finally this morning as we were enjoying a chilled out morning in the balcony, I thought of pulling out the rangometry kit. This time we first played a game (an activity I learned about at the JodoGyan workshop called Sajaana). I drew an outline of a bus using a marker on the plexiglass sheet along our balcony railing. Then using a large dice each child rolled, identified the number rolled and picked out the matching number of pieces of rangometry foam which they placed along the outline. (Note: we had poured the foam pieces into a bowl of water. The made them wet and they adhered easily to the plastic sheet we were playing on) Since the twins are comfortable with numbers upto 10 we used a 12 sided dice (dodecahedron) which has numbers from 0-10 (5 is repeated once). It was great because here is what was happening as we played:

  1. the kids had to identify the number on the dice face correctly
  2. They had to then pick out the corresponding number of foam bits from the bowl
  3. They had to then put those pieces in continuation on the outline of the bus (fine motor skills)
  4. They quickly figured out bigger and smaller numbers, getting most excited when they got high numbers like 8 or 9 or 10 and a little sad when they got 3, 2 or 1
  5. They – especially the 3 yr old got the meaning of zero – it means nothing!! as he exclaimed when he rolled it and could not put anything on the outline. (It is useful to follow JodoGyan advice here – when a kid rolls a zero, do not give him another turn because not giving him another turn allows him to understand and appreciate the value of zero)
  6. We got quite a pretty outline with the kids trying to make patterns as they went along.

After we were done with this, I started playing with the pieces and started out a tessellation type design. I found Nish (5 yrs next month) was most interested. He observed carefully while I made pattern and then asked if he could help. With a tiny bit of guidance he started out and then was so fascinated that he went on and on…quickly inspiring his twin to join in too! I had not thought they would get it so easily but it was a pleasant surprise and they totally enjoyed it too!

And, since I have mentioned JodoGyan a few times here – you must check out their website. They have developed a math teaching and learning program preschool up that is pretty incredible. With a strong focus on the child, developmental appropriateness and simplicity, the program is actually very interesting and I would strongly recommend educators – especially in the preschool space to look at it. In stead of trying to cram the preschooler with endless numbers to read, identify and write repeatedly, moving into tens and hundreds and place value and complex operations, the program focuses on making math a concrete and enjoyable fun learning experience where comprehension is key. Given the general experiences in math learning across age groups it is indeed time to stop and look at math learning differently. For schools that are interested – they actually do detailed and very practice based training for teachers who plan top use their materials.

Note – I am not a representative of JodoGyan nor have I been asked to talk about it. However, I have recently come across their material and have been quite impressed – hence sharing this here with you!

A school full of laughter

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Everyday when I go to pick up the kids from their preschool, the first sound that hits my ears as i as get out of the car is the sound of laughter…lots of laughter…giggles, gentle laughs, loud and boisterous laughs…and happy voices engaged in all kinds of conversations. I love to take a peek over the corner of the compound wall. It’s like a 30 second power packed entertainment video clip. There are children on swing-sets, children on slides, some wearing dress up clothes, others busy with some paper and colors. A few kids whiz around on trikes while others are occupied coloring on the paved area with chalks. Paper rockets zoom around but not half as fast as the excited bodies that fling and chase them. Sometimes there are kids arguing about something, the occasional tumble and scrape (i would be surprised if that did not happen!) but in general the place is alive with curious, engaged and really happy souls! I see kids chatting with each other, children chatting with an adult, some with fresh guavas off their guava tree, others observing the pet school rabbit. I sometimes worry that there may be some pressure for things like writing which for the younger kids is definitely developmentally inappropriate…but conversations with the team have helped and then when I see the myriad of other things happening – especially the interactions and time for free play I know I can relax…my boys are in the right place! For a setting that allows kids to be…to explore, play and discover is one where I know my boys will become the more rounded human beings that I would hope they will be….they get to experiment, practice, develop at their own pace…they negotiate, fight and make up, resolve conflicts or deal with them. I have been thinking about this for quite a few days…had to put it down and share.

Where there is a will

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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!!!

many a slip twixt cup and lip

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The title of the post pretty much sums up what i observed in one of the early childhood centers i visited earlier this week.  The center, a part of a larger chain of preschools, boasts of a standard curriculum that has been tested. it claims to draw from various philosophies and pedagogies…talks about the importance of focusing on the child, keeping a good child-teacher ratio…the coordinator at the center definitely spoke the talk, used the right terms and displayed a fairly good understanding of early childhood, developmental benchmarks and appropriate practice, the need for the right kind of program etc.

The center was well set up. There was enough space, the furniture was child friendly, the class had a ton of displays on the walls, there were 2 teachers per class and each of them had a maximum of 4 kids (per teacher).

And yet, somewhere between the very wonderful ed-speak, the seemingly well thought through setup and the actual implementation and delivery there seemed to be a deep incomprehensible chasm.

The class functioned entirely on rote learning, constant repetition of every piece of information. The children had absolutely no opportunity to talk or respond, let alone to process or question. The group i was with were all 3 yr old and throughout the session the only movement i found them allowed to do was a trip to the washroom before and after lunch.

There was no art, no craft, no work with gross motor skills. There was a decent and well equipped play space outside but i was told that they got to use it only twice a week. The remaining days were for “music and movement” which as my observation showed translated into everyone sitting in their places and listening to two teachers singing (droning monotonously) repeating everything twice. That was certainly not music and there was absolutely no movement.

Surprisingly even lunch was an extremely quiet affair. The kids barely tried to interact. If they did they were asked to be quiet and quickly finish their food.

They did writing (yes- at age 3) using chalk and a slate. The teacher basically held each child’s hand and had him write alphabets.

I walked out depressed…i was clearly part of a system that is failing our kids…badly. I agree that most of the population cannot access resource rich school because of financial considerations, i recognize that the gaps are huge, the road looks and is bumpy, that there is so much work to do to prepare the child for grade school. Yet, the only thing i see us doing is completely stealing their childhood, depriving them of the right and the ability to think, process, assimilate and grow. The industrial revolution has come and gone and we are still struggling with the aftermath…struggling so much that we see this approach as the only way to help our kids!?

And I feel that the system, the parents..we are all to blame. I see parents pushing kids into classes, parents demanding teachers to get their 3-4 year olds to do formal writing … i see preschools not thinking twice about their fancy philosophies and pedagogies and they do rapid turnarounds to have children start reading and writing as early as they possibly can…even if that means holding their little fingers and forcing them to do it. Plato would shudder, Rousseau too…and i am certain that Dewey, Montessori, J.Krishnamurthy (who everyone is happy to call their inspirations) would be aghast at what their philosophies not look like. Reggio Emilia is an approach – not just a room called an atelier, there is much more to Montessori than the learning aids..and don’t even get me started on project based learning, inquiry or experiential learning.

It’s time for us to take a step back…all of us – parents, teachers, school leaders, educators and policy makers…what do we really want for our children? Because it really fails to make sense right now. And it all starts in the early childhood years…that’s the crucial foundation. Let’s give ourselves and our kids a chance. Let’s allow them to be kids while we are at it. And let us make ourselves and the system accountable to our children – we need to recognize and demand much better and more meaningful early childhood care and education…because we can make that change if we really want to. DSC02670

The importance of free play in early childhood

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I have been spending time visiting preschools and thinking about / talking about preschools…observing schools, debriefing, thinking about the different factors that go into making a preschool a center for good quality early childhood care and education.

One of the factors that i find really really important but seem to see a frighteningly less proportion of is free play. Play is such an integral part of (early) childhood…an organic and experiential learning experience that is by nature tailor made, learner specific, continuous and ongoing…one that places significant agency in the hands of the learner and in all honesty, not so complicated to set up! And yet, there seems to be a significant dearth of free play time in a lot of preschools around us today. (my context for observations is more urban india – specific to larger metros where I have had some opportunity to observe classrooms looking at a range of populations…also, this is just my reaction to the few that i have seen. on no way does this conversation mean that free play does not exist in preschools – but more that i seem to be observing very few instances of it).

Play has been such a pivotal and important part of learning …whether it has been Plato’s observation of young children as unable to be still; in the Republic he recommends replacing enforced learning with lessons in the form of play, or Rousseau in Emile where he stresses the importance of play as a means to develop the senses:
‘Let all the lessons of young children take the form of doing rather than talking, let them learn nothing from books that they can learn from experience’ (Rousseau 1762/1963: 101).

Which takes us to the concept of Free play:
Free play is described by Play England as:
… children choosing what they want to do, how they want to do it and when to stop and try something else. Free play has no external goals set by adults and has no adult imposed
curriculum. Although adults usually provide the space and resources for free play and might be involved, the child takes the lead and the adults respond to cues from the child. (http://www.playengland.org.uk/media/120426/free-play-in-early-childhood.pdf)

Ideally, every preschool classroom should have at least a third of the day set up for free play – thereby providing children the opportunity to engage with each other and materials of their choice, to hone their skills, to practice a task…to assimilate their learning and accommodate new phenomenon into their schemas of understanding. It provides them with space for real, natural conversations, turn taking, understanding and sharing perspectives, working independently, in pairs or groups. It allows them to experiment, to question things and try out theories in a safe manner. It is their quest for learning that they set for themselves. they learn from themselves, the environment and each other, scaffolding each other as they participate in play.

One of the preschools i visited does the free play set up beautifully. I was at By the Sea last week and had a chance to be a fly on the wall for the day (and it was indeed an enriching experience so i was one lucky fly). The first hour was set up for free play. The centers and areas were set up well before the kids came in. Kids walked in, greeted the teachers and put away their bags. Then looking around they slowly (or very quickly) gravitated towards activities of their choice. Here is what was set up for the day:
1. water play – a water play table with inviting purple colored water. There were plastic bottles and cups (all reused/upcycled) to pour, transfer, etc
2. Sand pit with a few sand toys
3. Trikes and scooters
4. Swings (part of infrastructure)
5. Jungle gym for climbing (part of infrastructure)
6. Wooden board with papers and 3 bowls of paint with brushes
7. puzzles
8. blocks
9. A guided art/craft activity
10. Home corner – with hats, coats, dress up clothes, dolls, kitchen toys, baskets, etc.

The place was abuzz and pretty much every single child was engaged in something or the other. There were kids playing by themselves with a dollhouse or in the sandpit, a group of children busy with the home corner with elaborate conversations in progress. Two girls made detailed shopping lists and planned out their day with their “babies” while another boy played at being a ‘policeman’.

Kids whizzed around on their trikes and scooters, while others chose to work on making structures with the large wooden blocks laid out.

It was a busy busy hour but honestly, it was simply incredible to see the amount of learning and processing going on. I could hear the minds whirring, imaginations stretching, scientists testing theories, artists creating and discussing, and children being children and learning in a manner that was like second nature to them.

The teachers were there – around but taking a back seat, allowing the learning to happen as organically as it could. They stepped in when there was a conflict, to model behavior, to help when it was really really required..but this was more about the child and his space and ownership of learning.

Take away the fact that this was a more ‘privileged’ preschool…and look more closely at the philosophy at play. This is something that can be so easily replicated in so many preschools. The materials do not need to be fancy or expensive. The focus needs to be on the child, and he needs to be given the space and materials to truly develop and learn.
Changing larger curriculum structures and bad early childhood education will take time (3 yr olds writing, rote learning and memorization, teaching for school interviews amongst a ton of other things) but maybe play is a good place to start improving the very first exposure our little ones (and future generations) have to formal school!

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Report cards and reflections

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My baby went to preschool for almost 9 months…and his year of discoveries, explorations, friendships and exponential development was captured in a 2 page checklist and a small narrative paragraph. His folder gives me the tiniest glimpse into what his days might have been…but most of the artwork in there (too little and too neat) looks incredibly guided. Lucky for me my little chap likes to chat and generally babbled about his day when i picked him up…so i knew what songs they were singing or that he could count a little. Yeah…i guess at the end of the day, he is the report card.

I am not interested in a checklist which codes with a little tickmark whether my child is able or unable to do something. And this is where i find value in the portfolio system…as well as a more organic student led report system which can be ongoing.

The latter is something I experienced in the twins’ previous preschool- By the Sea (https://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/a-school-full-of-memories/)

At BTS they had a really nice system where parents or caregivers could come into school on fridays to pick up the kids. On Friday, kids would take their parents around the school, show them all that they had been up to…what they liked, what they were interested in, who they were playing with, special things in the school…and so on. So all through the year I had a really nice sense of what was happening with the boys. This was very informal and while it really was not set up to be a sort of report on progress…it was in effect exactly what it could be. And so, I got 2 incredibly interesting versions of the week because my twins were on such different trajectories…From one i found out about the imaginary play corner, another led me to the books they were reading…one showed me all the pictures they had painted (each one so starkly different from the other, beautifully unguided and imagined by the kids with complete ownership). another showed me what all he was doing in the sandpit. It was all with so much excitement and a sense of pride. And it created a wonderful connect with the teachers and staff as well!

The formal interactions for discussing kids progress over the year was also a wonderful experience. Teachers had detailed documentation and notes and it was such a lovely conversation. A lot more fulfilling than a checklist – i assure you…and it certainly captured the child and his growth in a much more competent and meaningful manner. This coupled with their bag of ‘work’ that came home every friday was great to give me a good glimpse into how they were developing and what they were learning.

Why do I feel that a portfolio is important? (first of all because i do recognize that there is worth in a progress report if it is done right and not as yet another task on a list of chores for the end of the year). Here are components I feel that a good portfolio tries to capture:

Assessments:
Things that capture the learning that has taken place …objectives that have been set up and met and a sense of how one arrives at this.

Children’s work: It is important for the portfolio to showcase authentic examples of children’s work. As a parent of a preschooler, I do not care so much about receiving a portfolio of art and craft that it obviously adult planned and executed and painfully guided in order to have a beautiful finished product. Like i keep on saying in my blogs…learning is largely in the process and not always so much in the product. I don’t expect the paper doggie to have two perfectly glued eyes…i know my 2 1/2 yr old cannot do that unless he is really REALLY guided and made to. I know he prefers giving most creatures three eyes (don’t ask me why…he does!)
Authentic independent art and craft work show me right away how is doing with his fine motor development, his cognitive processes, his imagination and creativity, his ability to take risks and try something he wants to. Teacher art work makes no sense for me to have in a portfolio.

Narrative is important! It tells a story, it provides a real context for what is happening and how it is taking place. Narrative for me is NOT a 3 line paragraph stating the obvious…”XYZ enjoys school and playing with his friends. He is social and likes music. It has been a pleasure having him in class” So impersonal if you think about it…applies to half the class and gives no real sense of anything does it?

Observations – if a preschool is set up right, with space for discovery, experiential learning and independent time, the teacher is actually able to spend some time making notes and observations. Especially if the desired student-teacher ratio is in place. These observations are really important to understand development and then validate the assessment criteria and objectives met in the first component of the portfolio.

Reflections: Along with the child’s work and teacher’s observations, it is important that the portfolio capture to some extent the student’s reflections and thoughts as well. This also brings us to the importance of conversations in the preschool classroom..most teacher-student conversations are directions, instructions or reprimands. There is very little authentic ‘conversation’ happening in a lot of preschool classrooms. It is important for these to take place for a variety of reasons…but yes reflections is one aspect these conversations can bring out.

Pictures: This may be an added cost, but it is good to have some images that capture some of the child’s experiences over the year.

This probably take more time than your standard checklist but it is something that needs to be ongoing and probably not something to be filled up over a couple of days and many cups of coffee. This is a year in the life of a child entrusted to you. Stand up for your self and your work, your children and your philosophy and share the wonders you work with parents and other teachers.

Let the report be something the next teacher can pick up and really understand the child with so she can plan and work with this student to the best of her abilities. Do it for your self, your students and for a more constructive learning and growing experience!

And thank you teachers for doing so much with my kids…i maybe critical of checklists but that does not take away from what you do with the kids, the hours of planning, infinite patience and oodles of love!

A school full of memories

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It has been six months since we left Mumbai but still, when we took a short trip down last week and I asked the boys where they wanted to go and who they wanted to see, they both almost instantly said “By the Sea!” And so, almost like a pilgrimage, we went back to the school where my boys had started preschool last october. They attended school at By the Sea for about 6-7 months and in that short period of time formed such amazing bonds with their teachers and friends…something that made them call out their school’s name as one of the first places they wanted to go to in Mumbai.  In fact, even when we moved from Mumbai to Bangalore and went looking for preschools, the benchmark that By the Sea had set for us was simply too high and very little seemed to measure up to it. As i turned away from yet another school looking dissatisfied, my husband finally said “babes…let it go…we are not going to find another By the Sea here!” Even Sid and Nish used BTS as a yardstick for schools they visited with us. “This does not have cars like BTS!” or “There are no paints set up here!”

We finally found a school we liked but it was difficult to move on from BTS. As a parent and an educator, I could not think of a single instance when i was dissatisfied with BTS. The approach, the setting (literally by the sea), the space and the way it was done up, how open and welcoming everyone was, and most most importantly…the absolutely WONDERFUL and capable team of teachers and staff…the school was like a dream come true for me. I felt connected to the school, its philosophy, the team, other kids and parents. It was warm, friendly, non-threatening and safe. And so did my kids…they bounced off to school everyday, singing on the way there and chattering away about their day on the way back. They have made friends who we are still very much in touch with.

For people in south and central Mumbai…this is a preschool you really must look at. They start only when the kid is 2 1/2. The principal and teachers will bend backwards to help the child settle in and get comfortable. I loved how the environment nurtured my twins who are so very different as individuals and learners. The school has an inclusive approach and they are very open in general. The principal and teachers are very impressive..and warm, genuine caring individuals. The teachers know every kid and understand their pulse. There is space to run around outdoors. The indoor space is beautiful. There is a focus on art, music and free play and it is basically a lovely space that allows kids to be kids.

I realized how much the boys missed their old school when we went there last week. Although school was closed, the principal had opened up the classroom and set out their favorite trikes and cars…the boys were zooming around the school and it was almost like we had never left…I though we would be their for 10-15 minutes but the kids did not want to leave and we were there for almost an hour and half!

I am glad we were lucky to be part of this wonderful experience and while I am sure that the boys will love their other schools too I am so thankful that their first experience at formal schooling was as magical as this!

You can check out their website: http://www.bythesea.in  or visit them on FB