Extract from DNA article title "A school that teaches through experience" Published: Monday, Nov 24, 2008, 3:25 IST BySurekha S
Amid the academic rat race to get children geared-up for the frenzied life that awaits them, The Besant Montessori school provides a haven for those who want to learn about life
A colourful room, filled with material of different shapes and sizes and little innocent children, each one engrossed in their own toy. This is what a classroom at the Besant Montessori School in Juhu looks like. This is the essence of the Montessori method of education at work.
The Montessori method of teaching, developed by Dr Maria Montessori, is considered by experts to be one of the most effective ways of educating young minds. Besant Montessori is one of the oldest schools, of its type, in Mumbai, having recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.
Part of the Theosophical Colony, the school and its faculty, believes in the philosophy of brotherhood and truth, above all religion. The students' day begins with a universal prayer that does not conform to any one faith. "The school has children from rich, as well as poor families. We teach the children not to discriminate on any grounds, and to learn the joys of sharing and helping others," says Dolly Wadia, the director of the school.
Here, almost every festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm, and the children learn about all religions. The students regularly have music, art, and yoga lessons as well. The school enrolls children till the fourth standard, but the Montessori method of teaching is only practiced up to the age of six, ie till they get into class one.
Instead of going through the rigmarole of daily lessons, books, stationary etc, the children engage in different activities and games through which learning becomes a welcome and fun experience. "In a Montessori school everything is taught practically. They learn by experiencing things," says Wadia.
The word 'Montessori' is supposed to convey the image of a "house full of children". And hence it comes as no surprise to see children running around, calling teachers "aunty".
"To give the children a feel of home, to make them feel at ease, they are told to call all teachers 'aunty'," says Arundhati Chaudhary (fondly known as Bulbul Aunty), headmistress, Montessori section. According to the school's teachers, discipline should come from within and cannot be enforced. "We are very lenient and the children do get away with a lot of things," says Wadia, smiling.
At the core of the teaching method, lie the Montessori materials, which are differentiated into four learning categories: EPL (Exercises of Practical Life); Sensorial; Language; and Arithmetic.
In EPL, the kids learn things that they can use in their daily life, like dusting, folding napkins, polishing, etc. "It helps improve muscular co-ordination and the child becomes more independent in his daily activities," says Chaudhary. To develop their senses, children have materials like sound boxes that help the child understand and match different sounds touch boards to differentiate between sensations, tasting of sour, bitter, sweet foods etc.
In the Language category, children are made to trace sandpaper letters. And English is taught using phonetics, which proves to be extremely beneficial to the child in the future.
There cannot be a better way to learn Math than by practically understanding it and the children have access to rods to understand length, knobbed cylinders to understand dimensions, spindle boxes to learn numbers, beads to understand addition, subtraction etc.
While all these materials are at the child's disposal, he is free to use the material of his choice for as long as he wishes. "Repetition of the exercises helps develop concentration and the child is also happy," says Chaudhary.
The Montessori system of education aims to make a child's school-going experience fun, rather than an ordeal. After all, a happy childhood will translate into a happy adult. And therein lies the focal point of the school's credo: Today's child is tomorrow's man.
We have found that Montessori trained children are more independent and used to thinking on their own. They are good at spelling and also Arithmetic. From an early age they are encouraged to think on their own.