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Introduction  |   Chapter 1   |   Chapter 2  |   Chapter 3  |   Conclusion



The Auroville Kindergarten

How to describe the Auroville Kindergarten? There are approximately 46 children in four groups. The Yellow Group is composed of three years old, the Orange Group of four year olds, the Blue Group of five year olds and the Green Group of six year olds. In every class, of course, there are some children who are just coming up to a birthday either at the early end of the age group or the latter end. For each group there is a main teacher and an assistant. In all the groups, the teachers come originally from France, Germany, Italy and India. The cultural mix of children is even more varied. They are all children of Aurovilians, but the languages spoken at home may range from Tamil to Russian, French to Hindi. The common language for all these groups, and the language of instruction in the kindergarten, is English.

The place

The kindergarten is housed in a new building, designed to their specifications, and is located in the city area. It is a large, airy, one story building, with the four classrooms, a dining room, a library, a children’s toilet room and a large open activity area opening off a central, circular entrance cum assembly hall. The building is of warm red sand brick with deep window seats and accents of wood, like the classroom doors, painted in bright colours. Behind the orange door you will find the Orange Group, and so on.

In the inviting circular central space one wall is devoted to a large bulletin board where volunteers have arranged that week an attractive display to illustrate the concept of wind. On another wall there is a very large aquarium at child’s eye level where fish float dreamily amongst the underwater ferns. Sometimes there will be a display of children’s work on another wall. At the moment a frieze of elephants marches around the base board, crayoned like elephants who have walked through rainbows.

The physical activity and energy needs of young children are well accommodated. The large activity room sometimes has a dance or movement class, otherwise children may be in there playing their own games. The playground, in the back of the building, has swings and a large climbing apparatus. There is a washing area and a large contained outdoor sand area for sand play. A swimming pool provides opportunities for welcome relief as the days grow hotter. Flowers and small child planted gardens surround the buildings.

It is truly a kinder-garten, a children’s garden.

The programme

The children, not quite old enough to cycle by themselves, come by bus and parent transport, straggling in between 8:00 and 8:30. At 8:30 or a little after, each class gathers for an opening circle, to share stories, to do an activity together. Each circle begins with a small ritual. The children sit on the floor in a circle, light a candle, close their eyes, and meditate quietly for a few minutes. This is “concentration”, a uniquely Aurovilian practice which is used to start and sometimes conclude meetings, classes, talks, etc. When observed in schools it has a wonderfully calming and centreing effect, even on the most active children.

After the opening circle there is time for talking and sharing, and for planned activities. At 10:30 there is a snack and short recess, then lunch, served in an adjoining dining space, arrives at 12:00. After lunch children play until it is time to leave around one o’clock. The kindergarten curriculum has been described by the staff in some detail and I would like to reproduce some of that description here, organized by the five domains of the personality identified by The Mother as the physical, the mental, the vital, the psychic and the spiritual.

The psychic and spiritual being

  • The atmosphere in the school is warm and loving, simple and beautiful. The children feel very secure and at ease and experience in their own way that the place is there for them, to meet their needs.

  • The whole school often chooses to follow one topic together at the same time, which brings about a sense of sharing and oneness.

  • A natural friendship develops between children of different cultures and nationalities thereby promoting a sense of human unity.

  • Each morning there is a basket of flowers with which to make a kolam, a traditional Tamil flower design, in the centre of the entrance hall. Children spontaneously start making the kolam or help a teacher in doing so. Allowing children to play with flowers brings out a special sensitivity in them.

  • All the teachers get a chance to interact with all the children at some point during the day or the week.
    This helps to create a sense of wholeness and integration in the relationships between teachers and children,
    with the result that no sharp break occurs when they move from one group to another.

  • Each group visits the homes of all the children in the group. This narrows the gap between home and school and helps the children know each other and make friends more easily. The emotional climate of the class improves greatly.

  • Teachers are alert in observing the children and periodically share their observations among themselves and with the parents, in order to foster greater consciousness of the uniqueness of each child. Teachers have found that as they learn more about the unique characteristics of each child they are better able to help that child’s growth.

  • A subtle balance is maintained between leading the children into teacher-directed activities and leaving the children free to choose between a set of activities offered to them.

The physical being

Sri Aurobindo and Mother have underlined the importance of physical culture, the ultimate aim of which is to infuse a higher consciousness into the cells of our bodies. Mother said, “If we cultivate the body by clear sighted and rational methods, at the same time we are helping the growth of the soul, its progress and enlightenment.”

At the kindergarten the following physical activities take place.

  • For about twenty minutes after snack in the middle of the morning the children are free to play in the playground, where there are slides, swings, a see-saw and a set of tunnels along a raised passage. While they are under observation, teachers leave them completely free to play together in groups or singly. Qualities of leadership and acting in concert develop spontaneously.

  • The children are taken to an adjacent playground where they practice walking on a pipe, crossing a monkey-bridge both from on top and while hanging, somersaulting on a raised bar at different heights, and climbing on a chain wall. In their last year at the school they also learn to skip and play many children’s games like tug-o-war.

  • Periodically a dance teacher works with the children doing movements presented as games and simple exercises, which often leads to a marked change in their body consciousness.

  • Two teachers lead the children in body awareness work once a week from their second year in kindergarten. The exercises and games encourage concentration and lead the children to awareness of all parts of the body.

  • The children also go to the swimming pool at least twice a week and learn through games many exercises that are preliminary to learning to swim.

The vital being

Sri Aurobindo and Mother have pointed out the fact that training for the vital in the personality is presently carried out unscientifically, if at all. They have put particular emphasis on developing and training the responses of our sense-organs to be exact and precise as a preliminary to the discovery of the inner sense. Importance has been given to developing the aesthetic sense, the sense of beauty, harmony and order. The emotional personality can be easily distorted if proper conditions are not created for a child’s growth.
In the turbulence of modern life many emotional problems show up in children. Some of the practices in the kindergarten to cultivate the vital being are:

  • A set of simple habits is insisted upon gently until they come naturally to the children.
    When coming into the building they are expected to arrange their sandals in an orderly line. If they use any book or game they are expected to put it back in place; neatness in all work is expected as well as not interrupting an adult or another child; eating without making a mess; washing hands before and after eating; brushing teeth after lunch and rinsing the mouth after a snack. Children are encouraged to at least try all the food items offered. Here the teachers do not force but gently insist if they see a child rejecting food out of caprice and not from innate revulsion.

  • An important though difficult area is the interactions among the children themselves.
    Being mean to another, aiming nasty remarks, not sharing, violence, and playing favourites are all behaviours which appear in some of the children from time to time. Teachers watch the children closely and find appropriate forms of conflict resolution to deal with these tendencies when they appear. One of the responses, for instance, is to separate the fighters, get down at eye level with them, and make each explain the what and why of the conflict. The attempt is not to suppress the energy of the children but to redirect it in a positive way. The children are never judged “bad”; it is only the specific behaviour which is unacceptable.

  • There are many opportunities for free creative and expressive activities such as big blocks, Lego, drawing, painting and drama. Simple dramatic exercises help the children to sharpen their sensory responses, encourage the development of the imagination, and increase consciousness of the vital being. Acting out different emotional states such as anger or fear fosters the capacity to create distance between the self and the emotions, and with that the ability to have greater control over the emotions.

  • Games to develop the sensory faculties are regularly introduced. Good games are commercially available for training the vision, but we have developed many other simple games using common objects such as fruits and seeds to strengthen the perception of the other senses.

  • The children learn many songs in English Tamil, French and Sanskrit, and the oldest group begins to learn musical notation.

  • Many children, particularly from separated parents, show a lack of self-esteem. The staff pay special attention to these children and take care that other children do not use put-down statements to them.

  • Competitiveness can be strong in some children
    and often adversely affects the whole group. The staff tries to identify the causes and find appropriate ways to work with them. They encourage an understanding that children are not all good at the same thing - some are good at sports, others at painting, or music, and so on - and play many games which have no competitive elements to foster cooperation.

The mental being

Mother said that as a general rule, before the age of seven, the child is not conscious of himself and doesn’t know why he does things: “that is the time to cultivate his attention, teach him to concentrate on what he does, give him a minimum of knowledge sufficient for him not to be like a little animal, but to belong to the human race through an elementary intellectual development”.
She also said, “Understand and see clearly why this movement took place, why that impulse, what the child’s inner constitution is, which point needs to be strengthened and brought to the fore. That’s all you have to do, and then leave them: leave them free to blossom, just give them the opportunity to see many things, touch many things, do as many things as possible. It’s great fun. And above all, do not try to impose on them something you think you know.”

  • There is no stress on abstract mental reasoning in the kindergarten. Everything is concrete and tangible. The children are exposed to and invited to be conscious of the world around them. They take many trips to the farms, beaches, forests, canyons and lakes in and around Auroville. The children learn to appreciate nature and its diversity from their experience in it.
    As part of the nature study many animals and birds are brought into the school: turtles, snakes, lizards and other common species are brought to school so that children can learn the proper way of handling them.
    The children do simple cooking and gardening activities. They celebrate the holidays of Christmas, Ganesh Chaturthi, Deepavali, and also the birthdays of Sri Aurobindo and Mother.

  • At the kindergarten the children are exposed to four languages: English, Tamil, French and Sanskrit. English is the medium of instruction and they learn simple songs, numbers and words in the other languages. Children of this age are particularly receptive to the sounds of other languages; if they learn to reproduce those sounds when their vocal organs are most plastic they can come to fluency more readily when they are older.

  • All children are involved in the sensory activities which provide a strong foundation for the later development of reading and writing skills.
    As individuals show their developmental readiness they are encouraged to do more with reading and writing.

  • In the younger groups mathematical concepts are introduced through sorting, grouping, algorithms, comparisons, manipulating numbers from 0 to 12, always apprehending with the body as well as with the mind. The older children learn mathematical concepts through games, working with numbers up to 50, with simple addition, subtraction and occasionally even multiplication and division. An understanding of weight, volume, time and area is developed through the use of games and simple but appropriate materials.

Through conscious attention to the psychic and spiritual being, physical culture, education for the vital, and an emphasis on experiential learning rather than on abstract thinking, the kindergarten is consistent throughout as an example of integral education for young children.

Balance

It is easier to describe the place and the programme than to describe the feeling which permeates the kindergarten. “Balance” is the word I heard myself saying to my friend. Balance. There is a strong but subtle balance between meeting the needs of the individual child and meeting the needs of the group. Children have many opportunities for self-expression, and for the exploration of their own interests, but they are also expected to be respectful and considerate toward each other, to act without license in the environment, to listen, to contribute and to share.

There is a similar balance in the rhythm of the day which alternates between vigorous activity and quiet activity, directed activity and free choice activities.
A somewhat unusual aspect of the kindergarten curriculum is the emphasis on observation and concentration, developing the senses in different ways. The physical, vital, intuitive, social, and spiritual aspects of the growing child each have a place for play (which is the work of children) in this kindergarten. This is completely consistent with the aim of the kindergarten, which is to nurture the child’s growth in all aspects and toward the divine consciousness. I have seen kindergartens which excel in their focus on social development, or on cognitive skills, but rarely a kindergarten which achieves a balance between all the aspects of the growing child, including the psychic and the spiritual.

One of the specific features of the kindergarten which I found admirable is the body work in movement which Joan and Aloka are doing in all the Aurovilian schools. I surprise myself at how readily the superlatives come to mind when I see their work. From the youngest to the oldest children they have developed exercises and activities which draw out and strengthen the non-verbal qualities in the developing child. And they do it all with what seems an intuitive sense of timing, of building from one small accomplishment to the next and the next, in ascending levels of difficulty. Children become conscious of their bodies, of where they are in space, of how they move, and of where their centre of gravity is, by many different activities. They may experiment with walking in different ways, fast, slow, dragging, skipping, walking on a line, walking on a plank, walking up and down over a series of obstacles, walking up
a ladder, walking blindfolded, walking to music; each time I am there it is something different, and yet each time I can see the connection between activities and the increasing competence and self-confidence
in the children.

Joan and Aloka have combined their backgrounds in dance and physical therapy and created a synthesis which addresses the developing physical skills of the growing child. Here, I think, the word unique may properly be applied. I have never seen such care and concentration in movement among children in other schools. I have seen a similar understanding and control of the body sometimes in dance and gymnastics classes, but never across the board with all the children who happen to be in the school. (Note: the Body Awareness work is described in more detail in SAIIER’s Research Letter #2 for 1997-98.)

Their achievement may be aided by the fact that Auroville children are raised in an active environment. They cycle and walk for the most part to get around,
and generally have a great deal of freedom in movement both within the house and without. There is an emphasis on sports and healthy outdoor activities, and Auroville is a relatively safe place for children; they may roam freely, and often do.

Another admirable feature of the kindergarten is the respect for language differences. All children learn to speak in English, but they also have classes in French, Tamil and Sanskrit where they learn songs, games and simple phrases, enough to begin learning how to form the sounds of the language when they are at the optimal age for hearing, reproducing and remembering linguistic sounds.

Although this is a rather brisk tour through the kindergarten, I hope it will provide enough of a guide for readers unfamiliar with the kindergarten programme to assist them in making comparisons during the philosophical overview which follows.

Introduction  |   Chapter 1   |   Chapter 2  |   Chapter 3  |   Conclusion

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