Playschool time!

3:16 PM

Ishita having turned 2 last July, the time to  think about school came, not that I had ladies ask me about whether she was in school or waitlisted in one since she was 18 months of age. As her 2nd birthday approached ladies were telling me I HAD to start looking or else all the good school would be gone, and me to reply that since we were to go to Mumbai I’ll start then.


Now with the move behind us and our being settled, I am just about ready to have Ishi with kiddos her age and out of the home for 2 hours day, but that doesn’t mean just sending her to any school. The one thing I’ve been quite concerned with for the longest time is the school system in India, it’s academically driven, the competition is fierce and simply put I don’t need to have that kind of spirit taught to my daughter at an age she should be playing and socialising. The other factor is that having no car, I need a school that isn’t too far, beside, a toddler shouldn’t spend too much time commuting to school.
Anyway turns out I live in an area that is full of pre-schools, some right smack in our society, so I started looking for info online as most of these are part of chains and franchises and I was pretty clear about what I wanted out of playschool in the first place: play and social skills learning…no amount of boasting academic excellence start up for me thank you very much. 3 of these schools are in my immediate vicinity, one boast Montessori education, and states that kids start math and writing at age 2.5…red flag! The other boast a mix of Montessori and International system but add “Adapted to Indian Standard and culture”. Which pretty much means “Same old techniques but branded toys and an international feel to charge you more money”, that one came advertised to me in the form of a leaflet slipped into the newspaper, full of pictures and detailed curriculum, days start with prayers, kids learn to recite one in particular, there is basic counting and alphabet learning, a few festival but more importantly they seem to brag a lot about their cushioned floor and imported playground indoor toys and that they are the ONLY school in the area being in a commercial building and that they stay near to a clinic in case of emergencies, the “adapted to Indian standard and culture” was my red flag, not that I’m anti-Indian culture, but for a school to feel they have to point the fact, I get only to question whether people from another culture are welcome, the other red flag was the whole prayer thing, call me nut but while I think it’s nice for kids to celebrate Diwali, Navaratri and other cultural event with a religious background, I don’t think making kiddos pray before school is fair and appropriate, and certainly not at age 2.
The last one is apparently an international school, mainly based in India but with some branches in Dubai, following a method essentially based on play, integration and multi-intelligence nurturing, kids are welcome as they are, and get to be well kids, this one raised no red flags in me based on their website, the only apprehension is that since they claim to be an international school the fees could be steep, but since it’s the one my gut feeling told me was the most suitable, I decided to start by visiting that one first and see from there if I would go check the others.

And so yesterday I stopped by the school to just enquire a little more about the place, the principal wasn’t there, but I was put on the phone with her immediately by one of the other teacher who was still there. The lady on the phone told me I was more than welcome to join a class the next morning along with Ishita as they were having a Dandiya to celebrate Navaratri , and she would be happy to talk with me after the school session. So this morning we both headed to school, and Ishita was very very shy at first, refusing to let go of me, clinging to my chest as Velcro but eyeing the premises with a curious eye, we arrived at the time when all the kids were playing with building blocks, and she agreed to have a closer look but still seated on my lap, refusing to leave them, played with some of the blocks from the comfort of my knees despite being warmly invited by the teacher to come on the play mat, then we all sang bye bye to the toy and Ishi timidly waved to them, unsure what to think and another teacher gathered all the kiddos to watch her pull things out of the “magic box” which was full of animal puppets, each of them had a special song, some of the kids knew the songs, some stayed silent, and Ishita started really being fascinated by the whole thing and started singing (in gibberish but singing). Then it was dandiya time. Dandiya for the non initiated is a folk dance from Gujarat that has become a prominent even in the whole Navaratri festival and is heavily celebrated in Mumbai, the dance is done with participant holding two sticks, one in each hand and hit their partner’s sticks while dancing. Done by grown up it is a very elaborate dance, beautiful to watch, for kids that’s just lot’s of fun.
Back to the school dandiya shall we? I forgot to mention that it means dress up for the kids, and most kids in school today had pretty ethnic wear (Ishi was in normal wear though), the teachers handed out dandiya sticks to the kids, some having been made in school by the kids themselves, and some for guests like Ishi who were store bought. By then school had Ishita’s full attention, she was watching all the kids playing with sticks very intently though refused to wander further than a 4ft radius away from me. The music started and she looked at the teachers carefully trying to imitate the way they hit sticks, did venture toward some of the other kids to hit their sticks, and by the end of the hour she was torn between going and have fun all the way and maintaining her shy girl image and stick to mommy. She got to keep the sticks as a gift along with some munchies offered to her at the end of the class, and I got to talk to the principal.
The school organize festivals, special days and field trips almost every week, the teacher/kids ratio is high so that kiddos get attention and proper supervision when out. And it is indeed all play and fun learning, exactly what it should be for a 2+ year old. The fees to my surprise were not as steep as I thought they would be, 21k for a 6 month term, and 5k admission fee. I got to talk to another lady whose daughter attend the school, and she told me pretty much what my gut feeling stated, the other schools around are more about academics, and some are very tiny with too many kids crammed in one room. So much so I might actually enroll Ishi in the one I visited today and give a miss to visiting the others. A school that think singing nursery rhymes, playing with blocks, dancing and having regular field trips and special day, is just what I am looking for in a pre-school, Ishita can start in November, finish the school year in playschool and join the next year in Nursery class in the same school. Fine by me.


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