KOCHI: When Lakshmi Prajath, a twenty-something mother, went to enrol her son in a play school in Thiruvananthapuram, studies and enforced discipline were the last things on her mind. But to her utter shock and dismay, the four-month or so her four-year-old son Pranav spent at the playschool had been all about studies and discipline, and little about play or games.
“I had clearly told them not to teach my son anything now. Let him be, give him the freedom to play, allow him to interact with other kids,” she says. “It was not a good experience for us.”
After shifting to Kochi, Lakshmi learned about ‘Bhoomi’, a Waldorf-inspired school in Kochi through one of her friends. “Since it was located near the place we stayed, I decided to have a look,” explains Lakshmi.
Bhoomi was everything Lakshmi wished for her child’s early education - an environment of harmony where the kids play around, create things using their imagination, be it painting or making handicrafts. “It’s been a wonderful experience for us,” says Lakshmi, who has also joined the kindergarten as one of the teachers.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Bachan Anand, from Thiruvananthapuram and wife Rahmi Hidayat, an Indonesian native, set up Bhoomi at Unnichira, near Edapally, after finding the kindergarten schools here focused more on teaching to read and write, almost nothing in helping the kids finding their space or freedom to do what they like. The idea of ‘Bhoomi’ came when the couple thought hard about the schooling of own three kids, reveals Bachan.
Bachan had quit his well-paying job at Wipro in the US and returned to Kerala with ‘Bhoomi’ in mind.
“The objective of Bhoomi and other school is similar or the same - to help children learn, to create an environment of harmony so that they can have meaningful interactions with people of their age-group and support their growth into adults who can successfully integrate into the larger society,” explains Bachan.
The school has 15 children, and through constant interaction with the families, key decisions are made via ‘sociocracy’, or through the use of consent rather than majority voting in decision-making, and final decisions are arrived by parents and the teachers, who know each other.
For ‘Bhoomi’, the couple joined hands with like-minded families. More than anything, the couple did not want their three children to go through the stress of addition and subtraction or the ABC chants much before they learn to play and enjoy their childhood.
“Our objective is to build a community. The pre-school is not a preparation for the first grade, and we are not married to one system,” explains Bachan. “We teach them to write and read only at the right time; when the child is ready. And this makes it easy,” chips in Rahmi, who is also a teacher at Bhoomi.
“We trust the child, believing that when adults do things children will do things as well and learn from it. We also believe that less teaching will lead to more learning,” she says, at ease with the Kerala setting, though from Indonesia.
The couple also makes a constant review of their school system by visiting similar-run schools in Bengaluru and even in the US. “Only two months back, I visited a similar school in the US. We try to incorporate the good things we like,” he says. So, at Bhoomi the children enjoy a campfire, go out to the post office to post their letters, enjoy the movie at the night in their school premises, paint their own classrooms, besides going out for several field trips to various public places, such as a farm, a village or a public market. But, visits to the malls or use of gizmos are strictly avoided.
The effectiveness of the system is reflected in the children’s faces and the way they behave at the kindergarten. “The difference is very much there to see. At social gatherings, while other kids misuse the freedom, I can see my son enjoying the occasion,” testifies Lakshmi. Bachan informs that the school expects another five to 10 more students to join this year. To accommodate the bigger size, ‘Bhoomi’ will be relocated to Kerala History Museum premises at Pathadipalam by May 15 and the school will open for children by June 4.