SAIIER Annual Report 2014-2015: Nandanam Kindergarten

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Nandanam Kindergarten


Introduction

At Nandanam Kindergarten we begin with the understanding that “the first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught”, and that “the teacher is not an instructor or a task master but a helper and a guide”. We frequently organize project-based learning, finding it a very effective and holistic educational method. Project-based learning starts with topics that children are interested in, and then widens the learning horizon each time. On the other hand we feel strongly that children should have the freedom to grow at their own pace and in their own way. We therefore try to balance these two approaches.

We also try to balance group activities, where children learn to coordinate with their friends and develop social qualities, with individual activities, where children have the freedom to do things in their own way.

At Nandanam the children are grouped by age:

1. Jalam class, age 2+
2. Prithvi class, age 3+
3. Vayu class, age 4+
4. Agni class, age 5+


1. Jalam class, age 2+

Teachers: Kiran, Snehaprabha, Thamu and Hearong

Activities of the year

Each of these youngest students was entering kindergarten for the first time. Our emphasis was therefore on gaining the child’s trust and building an environment where he or she could feel at home after shifting to a new and alien environment. Facilitators tried to form one-to-one relationships with each child, creating activities and games according to the child’s individual preference.

This group was unusual in that it included two girls and ten boys. In the beginning of the year, individual games and activities took precedence over group ones. These gradually shifted to group based activities towards the end of the year. Social skills, motor skills, and sensory development were continuing themes throughout the year.

Children were encouraged to: serve themselves at the dining-table, eat without help, use the toilet independently, take care of their own clothes, take care of their bags and shoes, handle school materials with respect, and ask for help from facilitators when required. In this way children learned to be more independent.

Children took advantage of various corners set up in Nandanam such as sand-pit, puzzles and games, dolls, painting, books, and musical instruments, which allow the kids to explore and connect with their interests. A ‘Practical-Life’ corner based on Montessori activities encouraged the practice of discipline in concentrating on an activity, and the habit of clearing up after using materials.

Through playground and indoor activities, the children’s motor skills were constantly exercised. Towards the end of school year a trampoline was introduced, which is always a great help developing the kids’ gross motor skills, as well as a source of entertainment and sport. Outdoor walks to the Matrimandir and to the field outside the school provided points of interest for the children as well as exposure to Nature. Children were also taken to the pool frequently.

Regular painting and collage activities nourished their creative urge. Children were also taken for ‘Play of painting’ regularly. Children explored spatial structures by playing with assorted shapes of wooden blocks.

This year the group was dominated by boys, so we put special concentration on physical activities. Children played games with bats and balls, and tricycles were used liberally. These activities helped to hold the children’s attention and to motivate and channel excess energy.

Outings were organized to Bharat Nivas, Baraka, the Botanical Gardens, Solar Kitchen, Evergreen, Matrimandir and Certitude.

Some examples of our activities with the children:

  • Familiarization of colours was done through asking all children to wear a specific colour on a given day, by using only one colour to paint and draw with, and by introducing everyday items of a particular colour.
  • Familiarization of numbers was encouraged through songs, stories, and parts of the body.
  • Shapes were introduced through playing with wood blocks, collage, drawing, using their body parts, and through crafts.
  • Sensory activities sensitized taste, smell and touch.
  • The concept of ‘myself’ and ‘my family’ was initiated during circle time.

An extension of the crèche playground was initiated and manifested with help of the parents. This year there were so many boys that the playground area felt really small for the expression of their physical energies, and the need to address the situation became a priority. The parents felt the need and immediately put energies together to fundraise. Together we rasied funds joyfully and successfully and created a beautiful and spacious playground for the crèche children. This experience strengthened the bond between parents and teachers, creating a feeling that ‘yes we are together in supporting the children’s growth and learning’.

Outcomes

Over the year the children learned to take better care of their personal needs. They developed social skills and fine and gross motor skills. Their creativity, imagination and curiosity were stimulated and they developed a greater sense of order and harmony through their activities.

Reflections

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

This year the proportion of boys and girls was extremely imbalanced, due to which group dynamics was severely affected. Over years we have seen that when the gender in a class is fairly balanced, boys and girls contribute well to the integral growth of each other through their general temperaments, interests and energies. And when there is good mix of different nationalities, it opens them to different cultural experiences and helps them to accept and respect each other - a first important step towards human unity.

Next year we would really like bring this awareness to the parents so that we may be able to work together with them and the other two kindergartens of Auroville to create a more balanced group in each kindergarten. It is important to do so right at the beginning, since more or less the same group stays together for the four years of kindergarten.


2. Prithvi class, age 3+

Teachers: Bhavani, Anna and Jyoti

Activities of the year

Last school year (2013 – 14) the teachers had regular classes and workshops with a trainer in the Montessori system of education. So when we were planning this school year, we felt inspired to integrate some of its elements into the class, though we did not want to embrace the Montessori system in its entirety.

The Montessori system includes arranging the physical environment into different activity corners. Since our group of kids this year was especially large (16 students), and very young (2+ years old), we felt that this arrangement would would help us work with children in smaller groups as well as give them the possibility to chose and move according to their needs and interests. During the holidays we created many games and activities ourselves and then arranged them as different activity corners in the classroom:

  • Craft corner: here every day we would propose a variety of activities each child was invited to participate by turn, in small groups. All manner of basic material was also available for children to create their own craft works as and when they wanted.
  • Area for individual activity: here children could take up activities related to sensory development, concepts like colors, shapes, and numbers, or puzzles and games and play individually in a quiet concentrated atmosphere.
  • Small group activities: here children could play board games and memory games, and build things in small groups - learning to collaborate, take turns, and socialize.
  • Sandpit: here sand toys and small plastic animals were made available with the help of which children could create their own world in sand and water – digging , piling, pouring, floating etc. - and develop fine and gross motor skills both individually and collectively.
  • Reading Corner: here children could pick up books of their choice and go through them either alone, with friends or with a teacher.

The three class teachers observed and gave support to the children in these areas as and when required. The children had ample time and space to work individually or in small groups following a natural flow.

We also kept a fixed daily routine in which all the children participated together (circle time, story time and time for physical activities) as well as weekly activities with the full class (Awareness Through the Body, Write Dance, Play of Painting, block room, children’s corner, singing classes, outings and swimming).

In parallel, but only from the second term, we also took up projects including colors, numbers and shapes. Through the variety of activities and games proposed, children learned these concepts well.

Outcomes

We observed that in the beginning of the year children needed practice with gross motor skills and were mostly at the sandpit digging, piling, collecting things from nature, and creating their own games there. Around the second term they slowly started taking interest in other activities and spent more time exploring the corners. In the last term the children could really choose consciously from the variety of activities offered, being aware of each of them, and learned to play more independently.

It was slowly that we helped them become conscious of framework of the class, and helped them follow the routine of the day smoothly. Having ample space to explore freely within a fixed routine, and working individually, in spontaneous small groups, and with the whole class, children found a nice balance between flowing with their needs and choices and being disciplined and aware of the group dynamics.

Children also improved their fine and gross motor skills, enhanced their sensory awareness, improved their language, comprehension and reasoning. Their social skills improved. While learning to make their own choices and develop independence, they also became more disciplined, responsible and caring about things.

Reflections

This was the first time we tried offering such ample space for the children’s free flow of activity. We observed that it helped us to follow the children more individually and support them in their specific needs. It allowed them to be more in harmony with themselves and therefore more settled.

One observation we have is that children in general are very distracted and have difficulty focusing and listening to instruction. We feel that this is largely due to over-stimulus through television, computers, video games and the like. We would like to focus a bit more on how to better provide an atmosphere where the children’s concentration is naturally enhanced and where they develop better their listening skills. To do this we will share our concerns with the parents, try to provide a more serene atmosphere at school, and guide to the children clearly and consistently with gentleness and understanding.

Future direction

We are happy with the way the class was designed this year and would like to follow a similar plan next year. We will improve upon it by providing a richer environment to explore, both in terms of material and activites.


3. Vayu class, age 4+

Teachers: Sarasu and Lifang

Activities of the year

The two major projects of the year were Gardening and Insects, described in detail below. Over the course of the whole year we consciously worked on the children’s large motor skills to prepare them for writing. In the last term we worked on the Five Senses to explore their body and heighten their sensory awareness. We had other regular activities like the Write Dance, Awareness Though Body, Swimming, Play of Painting, and a activity corner called ‘Children's House’ where they could explore some learning material available from both Waldorf and Montessori systems of education.

Gardening
When Last year’s Vayu Group prepared a garden, the present Vayu group children would often go to help water the plants, weed the garden and observe with fascination as the vegetables grew. We took up gardening with this year’s group at the children’s request. Gardening was good for their physical growth, nourished their curiosity and was a field for exploring shapes, numbers, and colors. Many games and craft activities were also linked to the garden. By sensing and doing things with their bodies, and observing nature around the school and community gardens, the children became more conscious and felt more connected to their natural environment.
We were so enthusiastic about gardening this year that we started in the second week of the school. The children began to plough their own piece of land very actively and chose a geometric form for their garden. As they brought compost they noticed many earthworms crawling out of it. Deeply impressed, some stopped working with the compost, while others, curious, asked us many questions like ‘how can they live in the compost?” and “why are they there?”. We told them not to be afraid and explained the importance of these worms for our lives and for the topsoil. When the plot was ready the children chose seeds of vegetables and flowers for planting, according to the colors of flowers and the type of vegetable they wished to grow. This was also a counting exercise. There was heavy rain that week, right after we planted, so not all the seeds grew.
Yet with great joy and much patience, children counted the number of days each of the plants took to grow. To their surprise, just after the rain, many velvet bugs emerged from the ground. Children loved playing with them and spent most of their time observing how they moved and how soft and special they felt. They would put them all over their body. It was a wonderful to see how they loved this particular bug and we immediately knew that it would be good for them to get familiarized with insects around them. We decided to make this our next project. Our garden continued to grow - beautiful and strong. We had many cucumbers, beans, ladies fingers and tomatoes. Some sunflowers managed to grow despite the heavy rain. Other seeds did not sprout at all. The plants continued to grow throught the year and the children took good care of their garden.
Insects
In the second term we chose Insects as our main project. It was the time when nature was in full bloom. Many flowers, caterpillars, beetles and bugs could be found. In an area of the the classroom we created a beautiful landscape with insects, and when the children came back from their holidays they were very happy. They noticed all the insects, talked about them a lot and were immediately taken by the project.
We created a nature table in the class with a terrarium, few bug boxes, and magnifying glasses. The children loved this setup, and just like little biologists, they became busy collecting insects. As they watched they shared lot of information between them. It was a wonderful atmosphere. They very much enjoyed discovering different bugs! Every day they collected dead bugs and live bugs and showed them to each other, and together learned their names, and watched them with the magnifying glasses then left them on the nature table for all to see.
Every day we read to them books on different types of insects and butterflies. The life cycle of a butterfly was their favorite topic. During the snack break they would go to the playground looking for caterpillars and bring them to their terrarium. Carefully they would feed a caterpillar with the same kind of leaves as the plant it was found on, until the caterpillar was ready to make its cocoon. The children waited and watched every day (a little more than week) for the butterfly to come out of the cocoon. It was a wonderful discovery to see that the bigger caterpillars took longer to become butterflies than the smaller ones. For each cocoon the children counted the days it took for the butterfly to come out. The moment they saw a butterfly coming out, they would wait for the butterfly to dry its wings. Then carefully one child would pick it up by its legs and bring it to the circle so that each one had a turn to admire its beauty, taking their own time, then carefully pass it to their friends one by one. We the teachers were amazed to see their patience and witness the cooperation. At the end of sharing the children would go outside and released the butterfly, saying goodbye. (It was told to them that these butterflies needed to eat.) It was a wonderful experience that also challenged their patience as they followed the whole process. The process was really magic to them. Some children even brought caterpillars home with them, to follow the process with their families.
During the Insects project we did craft in relation to the caterpillar’s life cycle. We had prepared different colors of caterpillar costumes for the children, and butterfly wings for them, and made flower masks to become a garden where the butterflies could look for food. We made all the things available to the children so they could enact the life cycle of a butterfly. At the end we wrote a short story about the life cycle of a caterpillar and the children presented this in the form of a play to their parents. On the whole the children had a wonderful experience and a lot of fun.

Outcomes

The children (four girls and ten boys) and the two class teachers, as well as a volunteer who was with us for two months, benefited directly by all of the learning that took place.

We learned to observe Nature closely and discovered its rhythms and explored some of its mysteries. The children developed their fine motor skills, gross motor skills and sensory development. They developed physical endurance. They developed patience and learned to respect the natural rhythm of life. They learned to share and collaborate with each other. They learned the concepts of colors, shapes, and numbers and they took the first steps towards pre-writing skills - recognizing letters and being introduced to phonetics.

Reflections

It was pleasure and easier to work with the group once knowing their real interests. It was wonderful experience to see the children always wanting to know more, with lot of curiosity. We achieved our goals and objectives and created a lot of scope for learning. The team has been very sensitive towards each child and catered to each child’s need by being flexible with time, which made our learning together more fun.

Future direction

The goal for next year is to know the children in the first place. We will work on the different concepts, introduce phonetics and focus on the children’s physical development. If they are interested we will organize an Insects project like this year, or we will come up with projects of their interest.


4. Agni class, age 5+

Teachers: Pushpa, Usha and Ravi

Activities of the year

Litter-free
In the present world scenario it is crucial that the young generation is conscious and acts responsibly in taking care of the environment. With this aim in mind, we began the litter-free project by displaying some collage work on the board using waste material, and related it to the alphabet so that children could get exposure to the letters at the same time. After observing the display, children started bringing waste material from home to make their own creative crafts. We asked the children questions to see whether they had any understanding of the need for recycling waste and the process involved.
Later we cleaned our school campus and segregated the waste. Seeing the interest of the children we also invited resource persons Ribhu and Chandra from Eco Service. With their help we gave detailed information about the waste cycle. This was done through games, stories, role plays, discussion, flash cards, charts, videos, arts and crafts, painting and clay work.
Children actually went to the Eco Service with the waste collected at school. There they saw how the waste was organized and processed. They noticed the different qualities of paper, plastic, cloth material, metal, etc. and learned the impacts each type have on the environment.
Finally the children together set up a model of the recycling process at school.
Dasa Avatar
Children often see cartoons depicting Indian mythology but rarely do these cartoons convey the deeper values behind the myths. So we thought of reading the children the stories of the Dasa Avatar – the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Starting from the third month of school, we read them the story of one avatar every week.
The children were very interested and often took up the roles of the avatars as they played. So we enacted one Avatar – Matsaya, the Fish, together as a class. Seeing their sustained interest and enthusiasm, we decided to take up some of the other Avatars too and planned for a play. Each child selected a character that they wanted to be, and created dialogues, with the help of teachers when needed. The children themselves made the props and ornaments for the play. Teachers found a song in Tamil that briefly narrated the story of all the Avatars. Again with the help of the teachers a dance was composed in which all the children took part. This project resulted in the play and dance “Dasa Avatar” that the children presented to their parents, friends and other schools.
As part of this project the children also made drawings of the stories, and wrote a short sentences depicting the scenes they had drawn. Later these were put together and a book was created. Finally the children were given a copy of the book to take home.
My body
At the beginning of the year the children were not eating the salads served at lunch, wasting food, and often refusing to taste some of the items. Seeing this, the teachers started to encourage better food habits. We arranged for the children to prepare some simple food in class - fruit salad and salad. We also had an activity where the children tasted different kinds of vegetables and fruits according to sounds of the alphabet.
Later we took the children to the Solar Kitchen, where their school lunches come from. There the children saw the whole process of cooking and came to know how much effort is put in preparing food. Children asked many questions to the staff there – “where do the vegetables come from?”, “how many vegetables are needed?”, “how many people are working?”, “how long do they work?” etc.
We also showed them books of the human body where they could see pictures of internal organs and follow the whole digestive process. Detailed explanations were given of how food helps them grow. Children measured each other’s height and the different parts of their body - arms, legs, ears, nose, eyes, etc. Children were given a notebook where they made a drawing of the body parts they had measured and wrote down the measurements.

Outcomes

From the three projects (Litter-free, Dasa Avatar, My Body) and the other regular activities, children improved their fine and gross motor skills, enhanced their sensory awareness, improved their food habits and learnt to be more careful and responsible about waste. They improved their spoken English and developed a greater capacity to comprehend complex thoughts. They acquired basic reading and writing skills. They learned more about numbers and measurements. They learnt to socialize and cooperate better. They developed a deeper and richer personality.

The three facilitating teachers deepened their understanding of the children, and improved their skills as facilitators.

Reflections

For the teachers it was really a great experience being with the children, supporting them in their learning process and simultaneously growing together. Working with them we observed that we need to be patient and observant in understanding their needs and in helping them in their learning process.

We had more Tamil speaking kids this year, but their English knowledge was abundant and they could grasp everything easily. They were eager to learn and were very energetic. The unique talent of each child was expressed through the projects. They had a lot of creative ideas which even made us reflect. We feel we achieved our goals and objectives.

Future direction

In the future we mean to design projects in a more integrated way, so as to include all subjects within them. Our documentation of the different completed projects will remain as a resource to build upon.

We will continue to focus on each child individually in order to meet their needs. We will explore and apply multiple teaching methods in order to make the learning process easier and more effective.


Conclusion

At Nanadanam we ensured collective as well as one to one interaction with parents, creating a strong collaborative learning environment. Parents were updated regarding their child’s progress in school and we sought their feedback, enabling parents and facilitators to work together in parallel toward the child’s overall development. From our experience of the previous year, an event to bring all parents together was organized – a potluck lunch. This was an excellent way to provide a platform for parents to get to know each other better. The parents will need to support each other over the next several years, as the group of children continues together from Kindergarten to primary and higher secondary schools.

Though we have found a general approach at Nandanam that we are happy with, and repeat the activities that are successful, every project, every situation and every child is handled in a unique and individual way based on the real situation of the moment. This learning is neverending and can always be enhanced and shared with all.

See also

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Mitra Youth Hostel
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New Creation Sports