CHENNAI: Regardless of where I live, cooking Tamil- style meals at home every day, listening to Tamil FM radio channels, celebrating festivals the traditional way, flaunting my unique identity by wearing a pottu, irrespective of the attire, are some of the ways through which I’ve kept my Tamil spirit alive, begins Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) certified teacher and author Monisha. Through her initiative, Tamil Montessori, the US-based Tamilian aims to fuse all things the language, culture, and the education method has to offer, to enable child development and age-appropriate learning.
Giving all the credit to her late maternal grandfather for introducing her to Montessori, she shares, “My early childhood education was in a Montessori environment; I transitioned to mainstream education after that, since it was the only available option. I never knew I was in a Montessori environment until later. Some of the aspects from this began to manifest in me.
One such aspect is caring for the environment — be it tending to plants, caring for animals, keeping my area organised and clutter-free.” During her full-time work stint in Chennai, Monisha explored ways to work with children. “I learned about the AMI Montessori assistant course from one of my aunts. I fell in love with the philosophy and understood why my early childhood classroom experience was different,” she says.
Reading Maria Montessori’s books, connecting with other Montessori educators around the world and pursuing certifications for 0-3 and 6-12 years of age group, the program manager at Microsoft, equipped herself to be a “prepared adult” for her child someday. “Child development is close to my heart. Since the birth of my daughter over a year ago, I’ve been sharing snippets of our Montessori way of life, demystifying its principles and providing practical ways to incorporate the philosophy at home,” she informs.
Dearth of resources
However, the journey wasn’t a breeze. A dearth of resources in the Tamil language and lack of visibility of existing resources was a challenge, she shares. “When I was pregnant, I was looking for age-appropriate Tamil language and cultural resources. I was disappointed to see only a handful of children’s books in Tamil. I sourced children’s books from Australia and a few language materials from Singapore through my family. I aim to use my platform to bring the hidden gems to the surface so that more families can benefit,” she informs.
To further bridge the gap, Monisha has also embarked on a journey to take the Tamil language and culture to the next generation through Montessori- friendly children’s books. Her debut book, Vazhai Ilai Virundhu, a Montessori numbers book, was released recently. “The number of children’s books available in English is huge and the free public library system here makes those books more accessible to us. But there are only a handful of Tamil language books for children and they’re not easily available. Also, in terms of diversity and inclusion, there is minimal representation of the Tamil culture. We need books that act as mirrors and windows. That was one of the reasons I wanted to write an inclusive book, so children can relate,” she emphasises.
Monisha enjoys f inding interconnections between Montessori philosophy and Tamil culture. One such is the traditional Tamil push walker/ nadai vandi, which promotes freedom of movement to the child. “Conventional baby walkers are not encouraged in a Montessori environment because it confines the baby, puts them in an unnatural position which is not an appropriate walking position, and also forces them to walk before they’re developmentally ready,” she shares.
On the contrary, using a push walker, the child is in a natural position to walk. The child can pull up to stand using the bar and can decide whether he/she wants to move or not, by pushing the wagon. “The child has the autonomy to explore the environment. They don’t need the help of an adult to get in or out, thereby promoting independence. Also, there’s a wide range of motor skills which a child develops as the child moves from various positions of holding the wagon. It’s fascinating that the nadai vandi falls under the push walker category,” she says.
For Monisha, another challenge in the journey was debunking some of the common Montessori myths on social media.“Montessori is not just about the wooden toys or shelves. This required educating parents in several instances and different formats (blog posts, reels). It is disheartening that a post about materials draws more attention than a post about practical life activities. Children need purposeful work and they love to mimic what adults do. This is why practical life activities appeal to children. For instance, when my one-and-a-half-year-old is in the kitchen with us, she contributes in her meaningful way, by rinsing ulundhu to make idli/dosa batter. She knows what follows next and goes to the grinder, points to it, and says “idli” She has made these connections just by observing what we do,” she shares.
A way of life
From language, music, toys to the environment in which the children grow up, Monisha discusses myriad aspects on her Instagram page. Her larger vision is to offer online Montessori parenting courses. “There have been so many requests for online courses in Tamil. I’d love to do it when I can carve some extra time out of my daily schedule. I want to provide authentic, meaningful and practical content through the course, and this will take time. I don’t want to compromise on the quality of content in the spirit of offering something quickly,” she shares.
Discussing the negative effects of the prevalent rewarding system in schools, the need for a more holistic approach in education — one that prepares a child for life, offers conceptbased learning and problemsolving skills, and feeds their curiosity, she adds, “Every child meets their developmental milestones at their own pace. Every child has different interests and as a prepared adult, it’s important to follow them rather than forcing something upon them. Every environment, where the child grows is different. What works for one child may not work for another. This is why the focus should be on intrinsic motivation, where children are driven internally and empowered to do their work. This is why every Montessori journey is unique; Montessori is a way of life.”
TAMIL BOOK RESOURCE
Vaaranam Books (Australia)
Tulika Books (India)
Pratham Books (India)
WakeUp Books (India)
For Montessori language materials in Tamil: Tamil with love (Singapore).
For details, visit Instagram @Tamilmontessori or www. tamilmontessori.com. Priced at Rs 249, ‘Vazhai Illai Virundhu’ is available on Amazon.in