– By Vysakh Sethumadhavan, Volunteer at Tejasvita
We all love surprises. Day in and day out, we crave for them and wish that they always come to us unexpectedly. We wouldn’t like to risk predicting surprises, lest they don’t happen. Some people like surprising more than being surprised. And some are ever-surprising – they never cease to amuse you, inspire you or even charm you out of your wits. At the end of this blog, you wouldn’t be surprised that I was trying to tell a tale about these two sets of people 🙂
It has only been 4 years since I have started working in the corporate sector. I was a student until then. Being a student, going to school/college was never the most exciting thing to do. However, that notion changed once I graduated. In fact, I started to love visiting schools so much that I would spend hours in classrooms doing nothing but listening to how students and teachers interact. My mind felt fresh, vibrant and lot more positive after spending time in classrooms.
Recently, as a volunteer at Tejasvita Trust, I grabbed an opportunity to visit one of their preschool classrooms. What interested me were the take-aways every student would have at the end of each class but what impressed me were the take-aways every teacher had at the end of each class about all her students.
As I stepped into the classroom, I observed little kids helping the teachers to bring the class in order. It spoke volumes in terms of what they wanted to achieve out of the class. Their curiosity to learn supersedes any kind of distraction. The 25 odd students participated keenly as their teachers took them through a journey of rhymes, hands-on activities and stories. Based on the stories the teachers narrated to them, these young minds were asked to think and come out with solutions for the problems faced by various characters of the story. Many of the solutions suggested by these 5 year olds took the teachers by surprise. Given that one of the goals of the Tejasvita Preschool program is to help children speak in English, what I liked the most was the fact that every student tried to convey their ideas in English rather than sticking to their mother tongue. Profound enthusiasm and simple innocence in their way of approach made my heart feel light.
To these young boys and girls, activities were seen as a means to express themselves without any restrictions. I could see various colours being splashed all over their work and I could not see any child restraining to express herself. Many kids were more than happy to share their colours and help their friends in colouring their pictures. While interacting with them, one of the kids who was helping her neighbouring friends with crayons said, ‘She always makes space for me to sit when I come to class, so I always give her crayons so that she can make a beautiful picture.’ Trust me that line made my day. Until then, I had considered schools and institutions to be temples of rat race. Unwanted competition, constant desire to stay at the top and the desire to be perfect at whatever you do is what drove me right from my kindergarten days. Maybe these kids were driven by something else. I thought of checking with the teachers as to what makes these young children love what they learn.
‘[During art activities], students are never told what to do, how to do or even why they have to do. We just don’t want them to stop.` quoted one of the teachers at Tejasvita. Easier said than done, I decided to dig a bit deeper into what she said. At Tejasvita, the environment is set up to help children feel the joy of learning rather than understand what they are learning. Teachers feel that preschool kids lose out on the opportunity to explore learning further if the focus is only on what they are learning. They often lose interest in exploring how to learn while growing up, owing to various pressures beginning from school curriculum to exams to parents to peer pressure etc. Instead, if they are inspired to love learning it could be used anytime to learn anything from scratch. Knowing how to have fun while learning pushes the student unknowingly to explore each and every facet of what they are learning, in-turn transforming them into better equipped individuals.
But to setup such an environment, is no easy task. At Tejasvita, a pre-school learning calendar is developed every month where every teacher gets to know what activities to do each day. The teachers constantly take efforts to ensure that children have choice, can move around in the classroom and lessons are activity based. Rather than focusing on grasping the topic, Tejasvita requests their teachers to hone the curiosity of the children by engaging them in various activities such as listening to stories, music, art and hands-on thinking activities and activities to build empathy among them. To achieve this level of integrity, a classroom of about 30 children has 3 teachers assigned, so that every child gets individual attention. Every student is evaluated on four different learning goals by the teacher herself without ever subjecting the child to any tests or exams and the fear of it – Communication, Collaboration, Critical thinking and Creative thinking. This helps the teacher understand the important focus points of the child to build upon.
To conclude, my take-aways from this wonderful experience are largely going to impact the way I see or perceive the challenges concerning me. When a teacher makes herself free for her students, she is not just willing to share her wisdom and experience but is also sowing the seeds for a newer and better tomorrow. Her students are going to be the torch-bearers of these inputs generating evergreen learners for generations to come. My earnest desire is to be one of these torch-bearers who could if not inspire, at least surprise people by sharing my child-like curiosity 🙂