SAIIER 2016:Nandanam Kindergarten

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Lilaloka
SAIIER Annual Report 2015-16 icon.jpg




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Play of Painting at Nandanam Kindergarten
Nandanam Kindergarten


Introduction

At Nandanam Kindergarten we begin with the understanding that “The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught”[1] and that “The teacher is not an instructor or a task master but a helper and a guide.”[2] We frequently work through projects because it is a very effective and holistic educational tool, starting with topics that children are interested in and then, widening the learning horizon each time. We essentially and strongly feel that the children should have the freedom to explore the world within and around them and to grow at their own pace and in their own way, trying always to come in contact with their psychic being and being guided by it. We therefore try to balance between these two ways of working as we also try to balance between group activities, where they learn to coordinate with their friends and develop social qualities, as well as individual activities where they have the freedom to do things in their own way.

Jalam group (Age: 2-and-a-half to 3)

Our first goal was to achieve a safe space where the children are not afraid to explore and there is warmth and a feeling of belonging to the group, of being part of a big family.

This year we concentrated on the physical and sensorial development of the children, since at this particular age children are learning to integrate their sensations into one whole experience and understand their bodies with respect to gravity and space.

Another goal was to have better communication with the parents to create the space of growth for our children together.

Activities of the year

This year we had 5 boys and 10 girls in Jalam group. Over the year we explored the new playground specifically made for Jalam group. Our space is larger than it was before; we utilized the big sandpit, the balancing structures, the trampoline, the slide, the ducks and the monkey gym a lot. The outdoor tables were a great help and fun for messy activities like clay, maida paintings, whole-body mud baths, soapy and bubble painting, colouring with paints, natural dyes, collages with natural things, sand paintings, etc.

Individual games and activities took preference over group ones in the beginning, gradually shifting towards more collective activities by the end of the year. Social skills were introduced right from the beginning. Development of motor skills is a continuing theme throughout the school year.

Corners: To create a safe space, many activity corners where set up which the children could explore independently and also with their teachers throughout the year. Some of them were painting corner, craft corner, reading corner, puzzles and games corner, dressing-up corner, doll house with dolls, clay corner, trampoline corner, the big sandpit with sand toys, and a little water-splashing corner.

Self-reliance: Children were encouraged to serve themselves at the dining‐table, eat without help, use the toilet independently, put on their own clothes, take care of their bags and shoes and handle school materials with respect, ask for help from facilitators when required, etc., helping them become more independent.

Motor-skills: Activities like pouring liquids into different-sized containers, putting sand and seeds into differently-shaped and sized containers, putting buttons on, using a zipper, and other practical life activities based on Montessori activities helped children develop their concentration as well as their motor skills. Sorting things according to size, beading, cutting, tearing, gluing, hammering, etc. helped develop their fine motor skills. Big movements like walking the animal, being an animal, jumping, skipping, hopping, running, throwing, catching, running like a train all over the playground helped develop the gross motor skills.

Spatial development: Building structures with wooden blocks, Legos, kuppala, feeling their bodies with respect to gravity in activities like balancing, Awareness Through the Body etc. helped develop their sense of space.

Sense of beauty and concentration: Making mandalas with different designs and materials (like flowers, leaves, seeds, coloured tiles, stones), playing with different shapes and with toys like animals and dolls helped develop the children's visual perception with colours and designs and a sense of beauty. Painting, seeing beautiful things, helping to keep things neat and tidy also brought about the development of the sense of beauty. Passing the candle in different ways also helped develop their concentration and fine motor skills.

Sensorial development: The development of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch was taken into consideration throughout the planning of all the different activities during the year.

Language: Language was explored through many nursery rhymes, action songs, story-telling and narrating many stories. Children themselves took up the narration of stories with books during story-time. Through games, listening to instructions, and stories, they grasped many new words and enriched their vocabulary.

Music and dance project: When we saw the children's interest in music and dance we took this up as a project. We listened to many different types of music. We played many different types of instruments like the drum, xylophone, cymbals etc. Children danced to simple rhythms and beats. We visited Svaram and explored the musical instruments there. At Svaram each child made a necklace with a bell, and this inspired us to create many musical instruments with the children. We recycled material like tissue paper rolls to make rattles, plastic bottles to make drums, etc. Children also learnt to distinguish different types of sounds through this project.

Other projects: Other projects worked on were colours, shapes and size, numbers, butterfly, fish, birds, and farm animals.

Outings: We went on many outings - Matrimandir, Bharat Nivas, Solar Kitchen, Certitude, visited some of the children's homes and visited places related to our projects like Svaram, Botanical Gardens, Baraka and Aurogreen. Many nature walks were undertaken in nearby areas like Aurodam, Centre Field and also the big Nandanam campus. These outings are opportunities to practice social skills and fine and gross motor skills. They stimulate the children's creativity, imagination and curiosity.

Communication with parents: We made a very conscious effort to maintain a good communication with our parents on a daily basis. We got together to share and also had parents' meetings and individual parents' meetings to understand what each child was going through, what are the needs and how we can create this space of growth and love together for the children. This has been a very fulfilling experience.

From our experience of the previous year, an event to bring all parents together was organized – a potluck lunch. This was felt to be an excellent way to provide a platform for parents to get to know each other better; since because of their children they were likely to be thrown together and may need depend on each other in the next several years, when the group continues together first through Kindergarten and later primary and higher secondary schools.

Reflections

This year we explored the new playground a lot. It has inspired us to go deeper into researching new activities for the physical development of this age group.

Every year is a new experience for the teachers and an occasion for greater understanding of how to support the children better for their personal growth.

Goals for next year

  • Next year we would like to record and develop activities for the physical development and body co-ordination of children.
  • We plan to consciously work on language so that children accept English as an emotional language and not simply as a language of instruction. We hope that they will have a good vocabulary so that they can string words into sentences.

Vayu group (Age: 4+)

This year the class was full, with 16 children. There were 13 Tamil children, two children from North Indian family and one child of German and Tamil origin. It was not a mixed group where English naturally becomes common language for communication between them all. Yet gender-wise it was balanced group. We had 10 girls and 6 boys. We were three teachers – two Tamil and one Chinese.

We kept a fixed daily and weekly plan in which all children participated together (circle times, story times and time for physical activities) as well as weekly activities with the whole group (Awareness Through the Body, Write Dance, swimming, outings, singing classes, building with blocks). We had to take half the group at a time for some other weekly activities, to offer a quality working space for the children for yoga classes, Play of Painting (see separate report), and the Children's House.

Throughout the year we the teachers set up our classroom according to the projects that we were working on. We created visual displays which helped the children be connected to what was going on. We kept many different types of games, books, and different kinds of materials for all of us to explore and learn through the project. We kept different activities planned and ready for the children to learn by doing.

We were aware of communication skills and created a very safe and comfortable space for children and parents to practice social skills. We helped children understand emotional faces and body language, and how to deal with difficult situations between themselves.

English being a big concern

For the first two terms it was difficult to convince children to speak in English, because for most of the children the strong and obvious question was - “Why do we need to speak in English when the two teachers are Tamil?” Some children didn't want their teachers to speak to them in English at all, though they could understand and follow instructions. We had to explain to them in simple manner that the medium of learning in schools here is in English and if they didn’t learn the language, it would be difficult for them to enjoy the classes. Consciously we always spoke to them in English. Initially though, to bond with the children, gain their confidence and to be sensitive to their needs we heard their feelings either in Tamil or in English. Every day at ‘story time’ we read them stories in English which they loved and looked forward to. During free times we read stories to those children who wanted them, which also helped them individually. Singing songs every day helped them to improve their vocabulary and get familiar with right pronunciations. All of this helped them outgrow their question of “why do we need to speak in English?” Initially we had to help them express themselves in small sentences in English, and it worked well. Now most of them can speak and follow instruction in English very well.

Physical development

We had noticed that some of the children really needed to develop their motor skills. Their physical being wasn't developed to their expected age. We noticed they had a lot of coordination problems. So we planned in our daily planning where they could explore different games and activities indoors as well as outdoors. We did gardening as one of project in the first term to explore the body. We did activities to develop muscle tone, like having them balance on different structures and in normal space; did a lot of activities for eye movements like catching balls; did many exercise to improve their bilateral integration like jumping with two legs, galloping, skipping, and exercises where they crossed their hands and moved the hands in different sides up and down, etc. Two teachers came once a week throughout the whole year to give a class on Awareness Through the Body, where the children explored the different parts of the body in different ways. The children had great fun with all these activities for physical development.

We also did many different activities every day for their fine motor skills, such as cutting, gluing, stitching, painting, drawing, beading, and playing with sand and water. A teacher came to give a Write Dance class every week for the first two terms, which worked a lot on their bigger motor skills and introduced them to their first pre-writing skills.

House visit

We had a child who hardly spoke in class. We teachers tried different ways to get this child to speak but it was still very difficult. So we decided that the teachers would take turns visiting her house to see how she was at home. To our surprise she was very talkative at home and opened herself with a lot of excitement to all three of us. We were in tears. Based on that experience we planned to bring all her classmates to visit her house and to give her chance to feel free and good. It had a impact on her and she started to open herself to few of the children in the playground and to some of the teachers as well. This was a wonderful learning for all us so we decided to visit houses of all the children. The children were very proud and happy to show where they lived and be with all of us in their home. The children had a wonderful time coming to know their friends' houses. They remembered a lot and they made a lot of connections outside of school as well. We all connected to each other much more closely. We found very good space to work with the parents for their children.

Projects

Insects project: In the second term we did a project on Insects. This is the children's world: they were very fascinated with this project and it was a beautiful experience, as with the previous year. The children learned to be comfortable around the insects. They became very sensitive to nature and developed awareness about their environment. We the teachers refined our knowledge and explored together with the children, and had great fun learning together.

Senses project: In the last term we decided to do an intensive project on the five senses. We created nice displays for the children in their class as well in the common spaces where they could connect to the project. We enjoyed playing many different games and doing different activities like cooking. We went to visit different units in Auroville to taste different kinds of food, smell different kinds of perfumes and incenses, and explore different musical instruments. On the whole it was a complete learning experience for the children.

Outcomes

  • The children improved their English a lot.
  • They developed much greater fine and gross motor coordination.
  • They refined their senses considerably.
  • They learnt observe closely and understand the natural environment surrounding them, with a great sense of marvel and joy.
  • They improved their social skills – learning to collaborate, respect each other’s needs, and listen to each other and the teachers.
  • Through a more intensified interaction with the parents, collaboration with them was very good and they learnt to take a greater responsibility for their children.

Reflections

Initially children were afraid to explore the playground structures during their free play periods. We played different games and planned various physical activities regularly at the playground. Now they are very happy to call us and show all the different things they can do at the playground. It is an amazing experience to see how the children have grown up. It made us realize how important it is to focus on the physical development and exposed them to various physical challenges regularly, as they are otherwise quick to forget and lose contact with their body.

We saw that through parents' gatherings, inviting parents to school to celebrate their child’s birthday, the potluck, going to visit their house, and through parent-teacher meetings the communication between teachers and parents became very smooth and transparent. This created a happy and comfortable environment that supported well the development of the children.

Teachers improved their capacity to focus on individual needs of each child, and learnt many things on various fronts.

Conclusion

It was a full group of 16 children. It seemed such a big group that initially it felt like a big challenge for us. But slowly we were able to create space for each child and receive him/her in his/her totality, catering to each and every one’s needs. It built a wonderful relationship and we started missing them if they were absent even for a day. We have learnt a lot from each other.

We would like to receive next year's group in the same spirit, and continue to create a safe environment and to give a happy experience at school, focusing on their individual needs.

We would like to take up projects that come from the children’s interests and to have an enjoyable experience. We would like to continue building a close relationship with the parents.

Agni group (Age: 5+)

Our two big projects of the year were “Me and My Body” and “Transport”. Along with the activities of these projects, children learned letters and their associated sounds, words and rhymes, numbers and manipulation of numbers. We also did music and chanting, Awareness Through the Body, Play of Painting, Write Dance, building with blocks, learning Tamil, and going on outings.

“Me and My Body” project

The project “Me and My Body” was taken up with the children with an aim to bring an awareness about their body and themselves – to know what is inside their own body, its basic functions, and to know how to keep the body strong and healthy. With these aims in mind we got the physical environment ready by arranging the display board with different body postures, different body parts with their names, etc. Seeing the display, children started asking questions and thus we began our project.

The body is most concrete and near for all. We can feel it, sense it and touch it. Children took a great interest in drawing their own faces looking into a mirror. They were very curious to see the colour of their eyes and the shapes and sizes of their noses, lips, ears. They understood the different functions of each organ.

We played many sensorial games with the children, and this led us to explore emotions and feelings. Children reflected upon them and expressed their feelings through drawings and made their own feeling books.

Sensing the children's interest to know more about the body and to bring more clarity in their understanding, we decided to visit the Health Centre and the Dental Clinic. At the Health Centre we did a simple check-up of each child. Doctor Satish checked their ears and told them about hygienic habits. He showed them how doctors wash hands properly. Then he showed a model of the body's internal organs. This led us to listen to each others' heartbeats through a stethoscope, and made us curious about the digestive system. During the eye check-up we discovered that one child had a vision problem. Children enjoyed looking at each other's eyes through the opthalmoscope, and finding alphabet letters and objects in the test for colourblindness.

Children saw a model of the human skeleton. They had fun without being scared of it. This led us to a craft activity of cutting a paper skeleton each, and learning the names of the main bones. Children made a model of the digestive system, with paper, wool and coloured power. They understood how the food travels through their body and how food is important for energy.

After working intensely for a few weeks and observing their eagerness to learn more we explored teeth. At the Dental Clinic, resource person Suryagandhi explained about teeth by using models. She showed the children how to brush their teeth and how to look after them. She explained how important it is to chew food well in order to digest it. Each child became a dentist and looked at the teeth of his/her partner using a torch light and dental tools. Thereafter as Doctors they prescribed how their friend should look after their teeth. They enjoyed this role-play very much. A beautiful movie on teeth was also shown to them. Each child made a clay model of the set of teeth.

Language and Math were also explored through the “Me and My Body” project. We introduced measurement of height with a measuring tape, weight with weighing scale, and distances for long jump and high jump in the playground. The concept of 'small number' and 'big number' was introduced by making a chart of the children's height, weight, and high jump and long jump data.

We worked on language by turning what they were learning about their bodies into a script for a play. The children had started taking circus classes with Kalou in Miracle, and took a great interest in learning different postures and movements. Observing their interest we wove their play with the physical movements of the circus, and performed it for the parents and children of other schools. Circus class helped the children a lot by bringing flexibility, balance and harmony in their body movements. It helped them conquer their fears. Performing it in front of a big group helped them overcome their shyness.

Transport project

Children showed a lot of interest in playing with cars and vehicles, so we took up Transport as our next project with the aim of helping children learn about the different kinds of transport. Children sorted the vehicles into land, air and water transport, understood the importance of transport and how recent all this development is, and how to distinguish different types of transport according to their use.

Following the thread of their interest we visited the railway station, went on a train ride in the Botanical Garden, distinguished rural and urban environment, saw the road signs and signals. Children made a model of a city with its different kinds of transport. Models of vehicles were made through stitching, paperwork and clay.

Outcomes

On the whole, the children had a year of joyful learning, progress and growth and teachers also grew along with them. Children developed awareness about their bodies, the different functions of the parts of the body and how to look after themselves. They developed their skills of sorting, sequencing, and differentiating. They acquired some knowledge about types of transport and their uses. They wondered at the history of transport. They enriched their language – vocabulary and power of expression – through dramatization and puppet shows. They improved their fine and gross motor skills through art/craft, free play, projects and daily activities.

Reflections

It was really a joyful experience being with the children, helping them in their learning process and simultaneously observing ourselves and growing along with them. The rich and intense activities done with the children gave us further clarity regarding planning and implementation of these activities. It was a year of progress, growth and learning for all involved.




  1. “A System of National Education”, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 1: Early Cultural Writings, p.384
  2. Ibid.