Published: 22nd October 2020
This pre-school teaches children without curriculum but with whatever is available around us. Here's how
We spoke to the founder of The Atelier to know about their teaching methods, how they don't follow a strict curriculum and more
Early learning should focus on the stimulation of all sides of a child's brain and give them a free pass towards learning on their own. Imagine a lush, green and eco-friendly campus, where children play with re-purposed vehicle tyres, slimes, clay, and use them artistically. Imagine kids role-playing often as pirates, or one of their favourite superheroes like Spiderman or even characters from their favourite storybooks.
Now, that would be fun, wouldn't it?
That's exactly what The Atelier does. Founded in 2014, first in Sarumotoria, Guwahati and then expanded to a learning space in Bengaluru, The Atelier is a pre-school that provides early learners with the ability to grow and learn in a natural, exploratory environment without just feeding them textbook knowledge. "We strongly believe that all of us humans have an innate sense of motivation, curiosity and the ability to grow and learn. In the early years of life and curiosity, infantile wonder is something that all the children are born with. It is our responsibility as educators and parents to be able to preserve and aid that sense of wonder rather than it getting stifled by traditional ways of looking at education," says The Atelier Founder Rythm Aggarwal.
All the activities at The Atelier are focused on a child's cognitive, behavioural, social and creative growth and development. The Atelier set up its space in Bengaluru in 2016 and is working with over 150 children. They currently cater to kids from the preschool age to primary years (Grade 2) and have plans to take in children in their secondary years in the near future. "Our constant endeavour is to offer children an environment which is conducive to their interests and needs, allows them to make small and big discoveries, and respects them as individuals capable of owning their learning process," says Rythm.
At The Atelier, they follow the Reggio Emilia way of teaching and learning. The pre-school does not impose a strict curriculum or a laid down syllabi upon the kids. According to the universally accepted definition, the Reggio Emilia approach is an "educational philosophy and pedagogy focused on pre-school and primary education. This approach is a student-centred and constructivist self-guided curriculum that uses self-directed, experiential learning in relationship-driven environments."
Here's how it works. "Even before we actually got the space and started construction for the school, the first thing on our minds was to get an idea of our education pedagogy together and that's the time when we researched different approaches used across the world. That's when we came across the Reggio Emilia approach. And why this approach became a primary source of inspiration is because the regime the schools in Reggio Emilia practice matched exactly the ideas that we had in mind. So, we found a lot of resonance. We found a lot of respect for children in this approach and that it's really unique," explains Rythm. Children start learning words, alphabets, numerical etc with the help of small and long-term projects. "From the age of three and a half-four years upwards, children work on projects and long-term projects, which is very different from how we see learning in the preschool years is, it is not dumbed down to just lines and bright colours," says Rythm.
So, what do the children do on a regular basis at the pre-school, we ask? "We use what would be called an emergent curriculum. Typically, the day would start by assessing and understanding where the kids are in relation to the previous day's activities and then figuring out the engagements to lead on from where we left off and start something entirely new so they learn something new each day. There is a bit of pre-planning involved in terms of the usage of our different spaces and achieving basic literacy and numeracy milestones that an early childhood learner requires," adds Rythm.
This is a transcript of a conversation between a mentor (an educator) and a group of children, during a project experience involving growing plants.
Mentor: Do you think the roots grow first or the shoot?
Child 1: The roots grow first, I watched it on a video.
Mentor: How can we investigate this and test if this information is true and accurate?
Child 1: Ask God.
Mentor: Hmm, is there another way that we can find out what happens to the seed under the soil?
Child 2: We can’t find out, because we can’t see the seed under the soil.
Child 3: Maybe we can plant the seed upside down.
"The group of 6-7-year-olds goes on to delve in several experiments and form many theories about the potential of a seed. If we create an environment, which urges children to think, they can create their own hypotheses and test them in many ways, and arrive at their conclusions. This makes learning an ongoing, active process of asking questions and having discoveries rather than a passive process of acquiring and remembering factual information," explains Rythm, citing the above example.
The team at The Atelier comprises of diverse individuals from various fields of study who have experience in education, technology, communication, photography, visual arts and a plethora of other skills. The educators, whom The Atelier calls mentors, don several hats throughout the day to approach their role to the fullest potential. "As a listener/observer, the mentor listens to and observes children’s expressions of interest, feelings, and thoughts as the children engage with the environment. They question the child’s gestures, expressions, thoughts which are verbalised and those which remain unsaid. In their role as a documenter, the mentor systematically documents children’s conversations and representations, adding anecdotes and reflections. The mentors also play the role of researchers by learning as much as children do - through their own active participation and inquiry of the children’s learning journey," adds Rythm.
The environment plays an important role on campus and in the learning processes. Students are taught to respect the resources and learn about their surroundings while learning to read and write. The school is built with sustainable and upcycled materials and it's kept as open as possible for children to express themselves freely. Lego, blocks, mechanics, putty, clay, semolina, leaves, branches, twigs, stones, paint, colour and scrap material are used by the children to create what they want. "Sustainable construction and architecture is a value we really want to pass on to children and letting them grow up in an environment which is centred around sustainability is the key. The material that we used is plenty of recycled cardboard and there's very little concrete. There's a place for rainwater harvesting nine months of the year. The architecture is also planned in a way where we have plenty of ventilation and sunlight and we almost use no electricity over the main part of the day. We don't believe in fancy, expensive toys. Yes, they have a place in children's lives, but not all of it. We give them every day recycled materials, so we actually do more of our purchases from hardware stores rather than children's toy store. And it's amazing the kind of creativity that children have in them. We also don't have enclosed spaces, children go around pick up things and learn," concludes Rythm.