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Musings of a Pioneer: Our Little Ones… Our Future

 I was concerned when our Morning Glorie, a preschool in South City 1, Gurgaon, started by my daughter and wife in 2011, had to close operations in March this year due to the pandemic lockdown. We were not alone. There were many others in a similar situation. The parents of toddlers were also concerned. They did not know what the future held for their little gems.

To be honest, I was sceptical when the team decided to start online interactive sessions for their toddlers in April. I could not comprehend 2-3-year olds sitting in front of their screens, even if it was only for one hour in a day. They needed someone to sit with them during the session – who would that be? Obviously, one of the parents – a mother or a father. Classroom days seemed to be a thing of the past. How would the educators design activities which would ignite little minds virtually? More importantly, were the educators themselves trained in imparting the required stimuli to the little ones through an online mode, where both had the invisible barrier of a screen between them? Were all of them ready for this transformation?

In the earlier days, pre-pandemic, I had seen little ones entering the premises, a little timid, unsure of themselves, a little scared of leaving the shelter of their familiar and known faces – the mother, the father, the house help, sometime the grandparents.

But this uncertainty would not last. Slowly, a little tentatively, the children started looking at their new environment, the new faces, and other children who looked familiar – they were the same size. The transformation had started and in a little less than six months, little monsters (😊) owned the place. The place did not belong to the educator now. Every child was now a social being - they were hugging each other, occasionally fighting also.

In that physical space, the educator ensured that every child sat with her for some time and told them stories and made them repeat activities to develop their cognitive and other skills. The parents were also happy, content that there was someone to take care of their loved one when they needed their own space for professional pursuits. They also felt the need for their child to step out of home for all round development.

I was concerned. How would that physical space be replicated on screen?

I need not have worried.

The child was the first to work out the entire equation. They saw other children of their own age on the screen. Gradually they started recognizing the other being – it was facial recognition. They then started associating a name with that face. Then they started addressing their friends by name. In weeks, they also realized that the other children were not necessarily living in the same city or even the same country. They started understanding a bit about new places, their language, their food, and so many other things. They would all wish each other happy birthday online.

The educator helped through developing fun activities and exercises for these 2-3-year olds which the child could do without assistance. It was more fun – creating something with their own efforts. The educator was guiding each child to explore their own limits.

The parent or the grandparent sat with the child only as a facilitator. But it was a satisfying feeling for the adult – to be participating in their child’s growth – even if it was only for one hour jointly with the educator. But then the accompanying adult also learnt how to engage the child over the day. The adult was, for the first time, an active partner of the child as well as the educator.

Both the parent and the educators were collaborators in motivating each other in this new endeavour. The entire effort was to give the child an unlimited exposure to other horizons out there in the world - all except the physical touch with their peers. That only the physical space can provide.

Encouraged, the educators at Morning Glorie also started an online activity club ‘MG’s Eggheads’ for older children up to 7 years of age. It is more fun for an older child to make friends from distant lands. It is also more fun for them to perform an activity with these new friends.

They are now also preparing a drama to be presented online. Wow!

The vaccine is here – maybe in the next few months. The physical spaces may reopen thereafter.

I am now again worried. What will happen when physical spaces (like Morning Glorie, preschool in South City 1) open? How will the children make friends beyond their own geography and then learn new things about those far places from their own friends? It is one thing for the educator to show this in a book, and yet another when they learn from their own friends.

Can we have a hybrid of physical and online learning in the future? The educators and parents need to work on this. I hope they do. For our little ones. For our future.

***

This article is written by our guest collaborator Sanjay Chandra. He is an author and blogger. You can reach him at pioneermusings@gmail.com.

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