Shashvat first step.
Let us explore what shashvat kindergarten is like?
How is it like other kindergarten and how is it different? What is consistent and what is developmentally appropriate for children at this age?
Does it have a coherent philosophy?
Here are the solutions for all the questions raised while stepping into shashvat premises.
What happens here?
In shashvat Kindergarten there are 4 levels.
1)Cocoon for 2 year old kids.
2)Starter for 3 year old kids.
3)Movers of 4 year old kids.
4)Flyers of 5 year old kids.
For each group there is a main teacher and one assistant.
The shashvat Kindergarten is in a large, airy double storey building with spaces allocated for classrooms, Kitchen,office and library. Apart from that the necessary Children’s toilet ,a large covered activity room and a central entrance which is also used for small assemblies. There is a huge sand play area and many different pet animals all around and within the campus i.e. ducks, rabbits, pigeons, dogs, birds.
The Programme :
The kindergarten works in two shifts 8:00 am to 11:30 am and 12 to 3:30. The children gather for an opening circle to share stories or to do a group activity. Each circle begins with a small ritual. For example children sit on the floor in a circle close their eyes and meditate quietly with or without music for one minute. This is a uniquely Shashvatian practice which is used to start and some times concludes meetings classes or talks.As observed in schools it has a wonderfully calming and centring effect, even on the most active children.
After the opening circle there is time for talking and sharing and for planned activities. There is a fruit break and a short recess. Children have a free play time in the sand play area before they leave.
The kindergarten, curriculum is organized by the five domains of the personality physical, mental, vital ,psychic and spiritual.
The Physical Being…
At shashvat we have underlined the importance of physical culture. The ultimate aim of which is to infuse a higher consciousness into cells of our bodies. If we cultivate the body by clear sighted and rational methods, at the same time we are helping the growth of the soul, its progress and enlightenment.
At the Shashvat Kindergarten following activities take place to build the physical culture:
1) For about twenty minutes after snack time around the mid mornings, children are free to play in the play ground where there are slides ,swings, a sea saw and set of tunnels along a raised passage. While they are under observation ,teachers leave them completely free to play together in groups or by themselves . Qualities of leadership, empathy develop spontaneously.
2) Entry to the school is differently arranged daily the children are welcomed through different entries to make them feel curious about each new day at school .They walk on a pipe, cross in a monkey bridge both from on top and while hanging, summer saluting on an artificial Lawn, walking through a puddle or jumping over it. Jumping through different shapes and on different heights and many more different and innovative walk ways are created by the teachers.
3) A dance teacher works with the children doing movements presented as games and simple exercises, which often lead to a marked change in their body consciousness.
4) Teachers lead the children in body awareness work once a week from their year in kindergarten. The exercise and games encourage concentration and lead the child’s awareness of all parts of the body.
5) The oldest group once a week for two hours learns acrobatics.Thereafter warming up with simple stretches and strengthening exercises they learn numerous skills such as floor exercises (cartwheels, somersaults) ribbon dancing, hopping, swinging and crawling.
The Vital Being…
At Shashvat the training for vital personality is carried out scientifically. Particular emphasis on developing and training the responses of our sense organs to be exact and precise as a preliminary to the discovery of the inner sense. Importance has been given to developing the aesthetic sense. The sense of beauty, harmony and order the emotional personality can be easily developed if proper conditions are created for child growth. In the turbulence of modern life shashvat has created some of the practices in the kindergarten to cultivate the vital being.
A set of habits is insisted upon gently until they come naturally to the children. When coming into the building they are expected to arrange their sandals in an orderly line. if they use a tab a book or a game, they are expected to put it back in place; neatness in all work is expected as well as not interrupting an adult or other child: eating without making mess. Washing hands before and after eating rinsing the mouth after snack. Children are encouraged to at least try all the food items offered. Here the teachers do not force but gently insist if they see a child rejecting food out of caprice and not from innate repulsion.
An important though difficult area is the interactions among the children themselves. Being means to another, aiming nasty remarks, not sharing, violence, and playing favourite are all behaviours which appear in some of the children from time to time. Teachers watch children closely and find appropriate forms of conflict resolution to deal with these tendencies when they appear. One of the responses, for instant is to separate the fighters and get down to eye level with them, and make each explain what and why of conflict. The attempt is not to suppress the energy of children but to redirect it in a positive way. The children are never judged ”bad”; it is only the specific behaviour which is unacceptable.
There are many opportunities for free creative and expensive activities such as big blocks, legos, dot to dot drawing, painting and drama. Simple dramatic exercises help the children to sharpen their sensory responses, encourage the development of imagination, and increase consciousness of vital being. Acting out different emotional state such as anger or fear fosters the capacities to create distance between the self and the emotions and with that the ability to have greater control over the emotions.
Games to develop sensorial faculties are regularly introduced. We have developed many games for training the vision, using common object to strengthen the perception of other senses.
The children learn many songs in English, Hindi, and Marathi.
Competitiveness can be strong in some children and often adversely affects the whole group. Shashvat team tries to identify the cause and find appropriate ways to work with them. They encourage an understanding that children are not all good at the same things- some are good at sports, others at painting, or music and so on and play many games which have no competitive elements to faster cooperation.
The Mental Being…
Before the age of seven, the child is not conscious of himself and doesn’t know why he does things; that is the time to cultivate his attention, teach him to concentrate on what he does, give him a minimum of knowledge sufficient for him not be like a little animal, but to belong to the human race through an elementary intellectual development. shashvat believes to “Understand and see clearly why this movement took place, why impulse, what the Childs inner conscious is? which point needs to be strengthened and brought to a fore? That’s all you have to do, and then leave them; leave them free to blossom, just give them the opportunity to see many things, touch many things, do as many things as possible. Its great fun. And above all, do not try to impose on them something you think you know.”
There is no stress on abstract mental reasoning in the kindergarten. Everything is concrete and tangible. The children are exposed to and invited to be conscious of the world around them. They take many trips to the farms, lakes, forests, rivers around Amravati. The children love to learn to appreciate in it. As a part of nature study, animals and birds are kept in the school: ducks, rabbits, pigeons, hen, dogs, love birds, cat brought to school so that children can learn the proper way of handling them and get sensitive towards living creatures around them. The children do simple cooking and gardening activities. They celebrate the holidays of Christmas, Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Holi, Eid, Dusshera.
At shashvat kindergarten the children are exposed to three languages English, Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit. English is the medium of instruction and they learn simple songs, numbers and words. we believe if they learn to reproduce those sounds when their vocal organs are most plastic they can come to fluency more readily when they are older.
All children are involved in the sensory activities which provide a strong foundation for the later development of reading and writing skills. As individuals show their developmental readiness they are encouraged to do more with reading and writing.
In the younger groups mathematical concepts are introduced through various block games, sorting, grouping, algorithms, comparisons, manipulating numbers from 0 to 12, always apprehending with the body as well as with the mind. The older children learn mathematical concepts through games, working with numbers upto 100 with simple addition, subtraction and occasionally even multiplication and division. An understanding of weight, volume, time and area is developing through the use of games and simple but appropriate materials.
The Psychic And Spiritual Being :
Essentially there is but true reason for living: it is to know oneself. We are here to learn – to learn what we are? Why we are here? And what we have to do? “We give the name ‘psychic’ to the psychological Centre of our being, the seat within of the highest truth of our existence, that which can know and manifest the truth. It is therefore of capital importance for us to become conscious of its presence within us, to concentrate on the presence and make it a lifetime fact for us and identify ourselves with it.” The day to day activities of the kindergarten, its physical space, and the attitude of the adults present there welcome the psychic and spiritual development of the children.
The atmosphere in shashvat is warm loving, simple and beautiful. The children feel very secure and at ease and experience in their own way that the place is there for them, to meet their needs.
The whole school often chooses one topic together at the same time, which brings about sense of sharing and oneness.
A natural friendship develops between children of different cultures and traditions thereby promoting a sense of human unity.
Sometimes there is a basket of flowers or pots filled with rangoli, children spontaneously start making dot practice or prepare kolam (a traditional tamil flower design), in the centre of the entrance. Allowing the children to play with rangoli or flowers brings a special sensitivity in them.
All teachers get a chance to interact with all children at some point of time during the day or week. This helps to create a sense of wholeness and integration in the relationships between teachers and children, with the result that no sharp break occurs when they move from one group to another. The emotional climate of the school improves greatly.
Teachers are alert at observing the children and periodically share their observations among themselves and with the parents, in order to foster greater consciousness of the uniqueness of each child. Teachers have found that as they learn more about the unique characteristics of each child they are better able to help that child’s growth.
A subtle balance is maintained between leading children into teacher directed activities and leaving the children free to choose between a set of activities offered to them.
Special Activities Block :
The kindergarten has a dedicated room for block play called math lab. It is a large and spacious room with shelves along the walls that is of the child’s height, filled with unit block and various tools which the child can remove by themselves and return to the shelves when finished. Shashvat fully honours and encourages the creativity and initiative understanding of relationship represented by block play. The children have frequent access to the block room (math lab), either as a part of the daily schedule or for free play.
Quiet Room :
A “Quiet Room” provides quiet secure, relaxing environment that allows the children to play explores and express themselves without the pressure of the group. Twice a week children come here two by two or four by four and can stay for 30 mins during which the rest of the class are in their regular class. Every child gets a chance in the quite room and play with the puppets, dolls, sand box, clay and other materials. Priority is given to some children who seem to need this experience the most. Through spending time in quiet room some children become more open and talkative, without fear of expressing their thoughts and needs.
Play Of Painting :
Play of painting offers the children the opportunity to paint with beautiful materials in a totally free and non-judgmental setting. It’s another activity made special with a room of its own. In the middle of the play of painting room there is a long bank of paints in pure colours. The table palette and enough brushes for the whole group. Two walls are free standing bulletin board material and here each of the children can stack up a large piece of good quality white paper and paint it wherever they want. When one painting is finished the teacher takes it down and helps the child to put up another until the time is up.
These paintings are kept for the child to review but they are not commented upon.
The result is that slowly the children learn the painting skills which enable them to explore deeply and painting grows freer and more expressive. Under these conditions an inner language of expression which Arno Stern names “Formulation” emerges through the painting.
Every year after the monsoon has passed the oldest group of children gets to build a small hut (Approximately 2 meters by 3 meters). The floor is kept plain earth; the walls or bricks plastered with red mud and the roof is of branches and big leaves. The process of the construction demands a lot of cooperation and plenty of effort. Most of the children enjoy participating in the grounding experience and it gives them a feeling of achievement.
Awareness Through The Body :
“Awareness through body” involves exercises and activities which draw out and strengthen the non-verbal qualities of developing child. It involves an intuitive sense of timing, of building from one small accomplishment to the next and the next, in ascending levels of difficulty. Children become conscious of their bodies, of where they are in shape, of how they move and of where their centre of gravity is, by many different activities. They may experiment with walking in different ways: fast, slow, dragging, skipping, walking up a ladder, walking blind folded, walking to music; each time the child goes there it is something different yet each time children are led to activities connecting between previous activities and the increasing competence and self confidence of the children.
There is a strong but subtle balance between meeting the needs of the group. Children have many opportunities for self- expression, and for the exploration of their own interest.