A history of the Kindergarten
It began in the early summer of 1985. What had up until then been known as Center Field School turned into Center Field Kindergarten. The elementary school which had been there relocated to its permanent location and was named Transition. Amudha, Aryamani, Jivatman, Rakhal, Coco, Joy and Miriam got together to start a small pre-school for about 15 children. We had at our disposal one large keet-covered house with a kitchen and bathroom, a big living room, a small wooden loft, and many small classrooms scattered over a spacious garden compound. There was a paddling pool for cooling off and splashing around. The location was perfect, but the set-up much too large and cumbersome.
We cleaned, repaired, painted, built playground structures and prepared some children's materials. Our first children were: Anandamayi, Blanchefleur, Yajna, Aurya, Velu, Ramu, Balaji, Anand, Ancoli, Lakshmi, Satyen, Sukhamuni, Pryam, Cochi and Shefali. We worked in mixed-age groups, and activities were mostly introduced in a big circle sitting on the floor. Drama, dance, singing, storytelling, clay modeling, painting, paper crafts, drawing, outings and learning languages were some of our activities. We had English, French, Tamil and Sanskrit!
Within months the team began changing. Rakhal and Coco left the first with their daughter Cochi. Kantha, Ambre and Paulo joined. As soon as we started functioning we realized that the set-up was too scattered to be easily supervised. We also found ourselves running around in the sun between classrooms a lot of the time, and we began thinking about a proper building with all the necessary facilities close together.
Gradually we started functioning in same-age groups: 4, 5, 6 year-olds in separate classrooms with two teachers assigned to them. Each year we had new students and the school kept steadily growing in numbers.
Patricia, Rossella, Santo, Anke and Sanjeev were some of the early teachers who joined; so did Ravi our caretaker/teacher. Generally there were 2 teachers per class, plus subject teachers for say languages or drama or carpentry or singing. Nuria was a class teacher and then became the singing/music teacher. Aloka and Joan came in the afternoons for a while and so did François Gautier. The morning program would be over after lunch, and the children would go home and return for a physical education program in the afternoon. We even tried keeping them there for quiet activities after lunch but that did not last long. Claire and Astha joined to help beautify the place with panels of collages, mostly placed in the big building.
In 1991 Miriam was able to do a little bit of fundraising in the USA, and we received a so-called seed grant of $3,000 from the Foundation for World Education, with which we drilled a well and fenced off the area proposed for a new building. We began working on the design of this building. We chose Suhasini as our architect and the plans were drawn up. Then SAIIER allocated Rs. 12 lakh to us from a Government of India grant, and we were set to go. Our contractor was Ramalingam from Matrimandir. The site was adjacent to our existing one so it was easy to supervise. Jivatman and Aryamani left at this point because they were not in agreement with the design we had chosen.
Finally, in November 1996 our new building was inaugurated! And by March the next year we even built a proper pool for the children to learn swimming. The building had 3 classrooms and a craft room. Each room was meant for 15 children of one age group. We also had a semi-open hall suitable for movement sessions such as dance or Awareness Through the Body, and there was a dining room with a kitchenette and storeroom attached. There was also an office cum reception.
Then suddenly we realized we also wanted to include the 3-year-olds in our program. At first we assigned the craft room to them, but soon we saw that it would be better to have a separate building for them as they were too young to move around freely in this large building. So, Suhasini created a separate little set-up for this group, the so called Yellow Group, in 1999.
Some of the new teachers were: Elvira, Giri, Suresh, Tanvi, Elodi, Claire, Falguni, Yvelise, Cecilia and Marie-Claire.
Over time, through observing the children's free play with wooden blocks, we eventually came to the decision that this activity needed its own space. So we designed and built one more classroom, but we kept the blocks in the main building and assigned the new classroom for the 5-year-olds. This room was slightly bigger and also square instead of rectangular, so as to enable the teacher to have more space for creating activity corners.
Another innovation to our program came from Claire with the Play of Painting. This activity in which children and adults learn side-by-side requires specific parameters. The craft room was assigned solely to this and was transformed into a so-called Closlieu. This work has now resulted in a book sharing this method of painting (Looking at Children's Paintings in a New Light).
Recently we added one more space to the set-up, which is the so called Quiet Room. Children go there on their own with a teacher when they need to relax.
The children now receive a four-year program at the Kindergarten. They start in the Yellow group at 2 ½ years old, then enter the Orange group, Blue group, and Green group. Then they graduate, at 6 years old, ready to enter school.