ALTERNATIVE AND INCLUSIVE?

When Lunara brought this book home after her trip to Pondicherry, I couldn’t wait to dive right in. There’s a part of me that’s always wondered how an early years programme would look like in an alternative school.

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While ‘What is special about the kindergarten in Auroville?’ does in no way claim to be an academic text, the fact that it is written by a professor (Heidi Watts) lends to it some air of credibility. Although the book was by no means paradigm shifting for me, I found a few ideas listed as practices in the kindergarten fairly novel and interesting. Ideas such as a ‘quiet room’ and an ‘activity room’ besides uniquely shaped blocks (why do all building blocks inevitably go the lego route anyway?) really spurred on many thoughts in my head.

What really makes the kindergarten stand apart for me, is its authentic inclusivity. Too many schools self-proclaim themselves as inclusive, when they usually only meet one or two parameters of inclusivity. Merely accommodating special needs by ‘mainstreaming’ is not a sole determinant of inclusivity. It was heartening to see children of differing ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds intermingle (in the school) in the book. Of course, only someone who’s actually been there (like Lunara!) is in a position to tell us how much boundaries are really being pushed. Alternative schools generally struggle with accommodating diversity of belief, and the apparent self-reflexivity does not always suffice in ensuring such spaces do not acquire an exclusive, cult-like status in the local communities they belong to.

“Too many schools self-proclaim themselves as inclusive, when they usually only meet one or two parameters of inclusivity…”

A quick and informative read, the ‘book’ does box itself into a corner by attempting to take on comparisons between early years programmes in Waldorf, Montessori, progressive schools and the kindergarten itself. What could have been an interesting and nuanced comparison is sadly reduced to grand sweeping statements that only base themselves on the writer’s subjective observations and limited experiences of working in say, a Montessori school. I felt like a more extensive use of the listed bibliography and perhaps by referring to more sources and examples within these traditions and finding specifics, for instance, within the progressive tradition would have made the book a more rigorous and useful read that would only have enhanced Auroville’s credibility further.

But I must say the book never claimed to aspire to such objectivity. In so far as its implicitly stated aims go, it perhaps only seeks to introduce the kindergarten at Auroville to the general reader or visitor. It is fairly successful in this regard, and leaves the reader feeling that the kindergarten must be a special place and wanting to know more.

-Ferzine

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What is special about the Kindergarten in Auroville?

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Just recently during my solo travelling I came across a book, called “What is special about the Kindergarten in Auroville?” by Heidi Watts.  And due to my current occupation and an interest in pre-school education and child development, I found it catchy and felt curious. Sooo, here we go or reflection 2 about Auroville kindergarten.

But first, you might ask yourself “what is Auroville and what is special about it, if it has its own named after kindergarten?”  So just let me introduce what is the place itself.  If you google it, you could find that “Auroville (City of Dawn)*  is an experimental township mostly in the state of Tamil Nadu, India with some parts in the Union Territory of Pondicherry in South India”. Quite unsual  sentence with many names of geographical places, isn’t it?! It’s unique place, under the protection of UNESCO, which main vision is “to realize human unity”. Place, where “all nations, religions, politics and creeds are cleared”; “people live in peace and progressive harmony”.

Let’s back to main topic about Auroville kindergarten, I suppose you might feel curious now. Heidi Watts, being a visitor in that place highlights peculiarities of Auroville kindergarten and makes a comparative study on Montessori, Waldorf, Progressive schools and Auroville itself.

Talking about Auroville, there are few principles created by founder of Auroville, The Mother**, and resonated in kindergarten:

“Nothing can be taught”

“Work from near to the far”

“Mind must be consulted in its own growth.”

The idea that human being should be a man of varied attainments is quite close to me. And this kindergarten’s curriculum is based on five domains developed by founder: physical, mental, vital, psychic and spiritual. All classes are interrelated to support these domains, whereas children learn by doing.

Among special activities I liked Mud House and Quiet Room the most. In Mud house, children of older age are supposed to build one big hut by themselves and work as a team, whereas in Quiet Room, children are welcomed to come two by two for 45 minutes and play with whatever they want, while others have regular classess. The last one helps children explore and express themselves without pressure of the group.

“To love to learn is the most precious gift that one can make to a child: to love to learn always and everywhere” states the founder.

Furthermore, Heidi Watts points out about developmental stage theory, where “children are not thought or treated like little adults. Childhood is recognized as a stage in human development with special qualities all its own.” Every child knows about the world as he/she sees it and the things may be different from what they see, but they will come to it later. And the message to you is “don’t force your child to learn the right answer, because he/she doesn’t have enough experience”

– Lunara

You can read more about:

*Auroville

**The Mother