Author: Gauri Kshirsagar
There comes a time in the second year of your child’s life where you are faced with the question of whether or not to send your child to a playschool. Since the standard of playschools or play groups vary in our country from a “one-room” playgroup managed in the backyard of a home to a highly recognized and corporate system playschools, it keeps us thinking that are these playschools recognized? Is there an official body to keep a tab on the safety and working of these playschools? Now, the official entrance age for the lowest level of education, i.e Class I in India is six years, like many other countries where age of admission is six or seven years. The difference between India and other developed countries is that informal Education system in India starts at a very early age, like play groups, nursery etc. It is now-a-days so ingrained in our society, that not sending a child to playschools make parents left out compared to their counterparts.
I live in a nuclear family, comprising of me, my husband and my two twin daughters who are now more than two years of age, hence the age old influence of a joint family has somehow ‘missed out’ on them. Also I have noticed the freedom of open spaces which I enjoyed in my childhood have somehow have decreased over the past years. No doubt living in a house filled with people has a very positive influence on the growth of a child than living in a condo or a flat, hence sending my kids to a playgroup was a good option to develop their social skills. Please do not confuse the reason of sending a child to a playgroup so that the mother gets ‘at least 2-3 hours off’. I have seen parents doing that at the cost of emotional neglect of the child; hence the decision of sending your child to a playschool should be only taken for the betterment of the child, keeping in mind the emotional maturity of the child and safety.
Also there is a question of “Day Care”. I have a very different opinion about a woman balancing a career and rearing a child. In my opinion the child should have an undivided attention of the mother for the first one year. I know there are many feminists around, who won’t agree with me, but I have noticed that even though my husband takes the same amount of care of our kids; my maternal instincts are far more superior to his, hence I am inherently better at taking care of my kids. Therefore, choosing a career over a child who is less than one year of age should only be taken in extreme financial difficulty of the family. Care by a “nanny” or a “grandmother” doesn’t mean that you are balancing a career and home, it only means someone else is filling in your shoes, your absence or presence does makes a difference.
Coming back to the topic of playschools, there were many issues that I had to tackle down when I got admission of my twin girls (then, age 1 year and 8 months) to a high ranking playschool in Pune. I always had this thought about playgroups that it’s more of “play” than teaching and the first priority for the toddlers of 1.5 to 2.5 years was to enjoy themselves. I never send them to school to have “ a free time by myself”, all I did was to wait outside the gates for a whole 2 hours every day for 2 months till I was comfortable leaving them indoors. My decision was always based on the fact that my twins will enjoy themselves, make new friends experience a sharing, caring and become more social and outgoing.
As you know each child has a different set of emotional and intellectual make up. I personally experience it every day with my twins, who even though are identical twins (i.e of same genetic makeup) are totally different in personalities. One is a fun-loving, outgoing and extrovert whereas the other twin is calm, hesitant and introvert in nature. I cannot use the ‘one size fits all’ technique regarding care and understanding of my kids.
Having said that, I suggest the following points to be noticed and inquired about a playgroup (1.5 to 2.5 years) before admitting your child in one:
What is separation anxiety? It is the anxiety provoked in a young child by separation or the threat of separation from its mother or main care giver. The first and foremost observation I noticed in mostly all playgroups was the method of locking the doors and shutting the parents out from the very first day itself (most of the schools insist this is the correct method they are following since years, without any reference). Instead the method which did help me in handling separation anxiety issue was doing it in a very systematic way, i.e with a lot of parent-teacher co-operation. Now, I am still considerate with the “closed doors” technique if the child is a nursery or a KG student where the child is at a better age in understanding language, logical thinking, and processing information and has better sense of time. I noticed that most of the playgroup children cry till they are too tired to cry or almost dehydrated. Even after 2 weeks some of the children did cry for almost 2 hours and are repulsed by some of the teachers or helpers (since they developed the idea that the teachers and helpers are the ones who keep them inside away from their parents) There is no doubt that may be after about a month or so they will settle down, but the method in doing so in my opinion should not be a psychological stressor. Hence do discuss the method which is used in handling ‘separation anxiety’ with the management of the playschool where you are intending to send your child. Do remember Ability to handle anxiety depends on ones temperament (Reference: Rudolf Steiner- children’s temperaments- Sanguine, Melancholic, Phlegmatic and Choleric) hence each child will react in a different way to anxiety, which sometimes may lead to long term effects.
Child Proofing: This is a very important factor which is neglected in most playschools in India, do check out the following safety points in a playschool:
- Electric socket if mounted higher up on the wall. Loose wiring in and around the compound
- Unattended loose nails, metal wires etc protruding out of outdoor toys like slides, sand pit, see-saw etc
- Door stoppers on every door, kids have tendency to push and pull doors which is very dangerous if another child is playing with the hinge of the door.
- Door barricades really do help, in making the classrooms less claustrophobic and lessens the chaos in opening and shutting doors, many playschools prefer low barricades instead of shutting doors.
- Stairs should be carpeted and gated.
- High tables kept in the classrooms where the children can easily climb and touch electric sockets.
- Hygiene of bathrooms or toilets.
- One of the things which I observed was inefficiency of maintaining safety during class hours like unattended toys strewn around, which leads to tripping, spilled water on floors, scissors kept in the reach of children, small toys or chalk pieces which may lead to choking. These things are properly taken care if the teachers are highly trained in this regard.
- Locking of the main or compound gate is very important (not just latching) and presence of an attendant at the gate throughout the school timings.
- Ratio of teacher to child and also number of helpers in each classroom. At least it should be in the ratio of 1:12.
- Safety in outdoors playing areas: Prefer a playschool which has a carpeted outdoors which avoids injuries and keeps out small pebbles/stones which is are a CHOKING HAZARD.
- Some of the playschools are rented in houses or bungalows which may have coconut trees in their compounds, routine cleaning of these trees is a must since dried coconuts or their leaves have a tendency to suddenly fall.
- Some of the schools have a very unsafe pantry or kitchenette (which is used by staff) consisting of stove, hot beverages, glasses, without properly segregating the area. Do check out the safety.
Children in unauthorized care: Always make sure of who and how many individuals will be handling the child. For example I once noticed that a particular child was crying and the teachers were busy handling other kids so the child was handled by a security guard who in my opinion was unauthorized personnel.
Training of teachers:
- Most of the and teachers and helpers in Indian playschools are not trained in proper physical handling of children like lifting by shoulders, elbows, arms, which may lead in dislocation of joints. Do discuss this with the management. Sometimes when the helpers get over worked with 2-3 crying kids they get irritated and start pulling around the kids and yes, also sometimes the teachers also do the same. (This happened with my kid on the first day because of the distraction caused by the ‘first day chaos of crying kids’)
- Safety of child, like not keeping the child unattended on a table, high chairs, cots etc.
- Some of the playschools do follow a strict instruction manual of handling which is pasted on, in every classroom
- Formal education and training in case of emergency situations like choking, epilepsy, drowning, burns, injuries and first aid
- Training in child psychology, child development, emotional development and brain research.
- Adequate knowledge in distinguishing separation anxiety DISORDERfrom separation anxiety, which is a condition that causes a child or adolescent extreme distress when she is separated from her parents or caregivers. Difficulty in separating is normal in early childhood development; it becomes a disorder if the fear and anxiety interfere with age-appropriate behaviour, whether it’s an 18-month-old who can’t bear to be out of sight of his mother or a 7-year-old who can’t tolerate a school day apart from his parents. Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder commonly become noticeable in pre-school and early grammar school, but in rare cases it becomes problematic later, in early adolescence. An estimated 4% of children have the disorder, which is very treatable when it is caught early.
- Knowledge about Maslow’s hierarchyof needs does help a teacher as it clearly shows the requirements in an individual before any kind of focus, attention and learning can take place.
- Parent-teacher trust, cooperation and interaction for the betterment of a child:Most of the teachers have been ‘trained’ to calm anxious parents by positive inputs, but it should not be at the cost of emotional neglect of the child.. Moreover I would want the teachers to tell me what the child is exactly doing inside the classroom (crying, not coping, taking active part or no etc) and not that she is absolutely doing great. More than her achievements I would love to know her flaws, paucity in doing things, her shortcomings and weaknesses.. More than the craft she does in the class I am more concerned about how she is dealing with her anxiety (Which is the right and more important milestone to achieve at this age), after all we are preparing them for nursery class.
CCTV Surveillance: Always opt for a playschool which has round the clock CCTV surveillance.
School Transport: I did not opt for the school van, since I considered the age of 1.5 to 2.5 years as a very young age to travel without safety belts in a school bus/van. I have always preferred to drop and pick up my child personally from the school. Still if it seems that taking the school transport is the only alternative for you, then do click on the the link and check the safety guidelines : Mandatory School bus safety guidelines in India
Anxiety and stress in kids can lead to learning problems and behavioural issues. Even in the Anne Copley method of a dynamic structure called the Learning Zone Model, out of the four behavioural zones in which students and teachers operate, the first one includes The Safe Zone:where students feel a sense of safety, self-worth and physical and emotional security.
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