Saturday Fare

Atelier – A Studio of Tiny Tots (Much More than a Pre-school)

Parenting and early childhood education have never been a cake walk. As much important an effective parenting is, a focused and strategic early childhood education is that imperative. One of the ways of effective parenting is choosing a pre-school for the tiny tots, which doesn’t just focus on course books, but also work towards stimulating all the abilities of the children and both the sides of their brain as well. This is exactly what “The Atelier” does. It is a pre-school located in Sarumotoria, Guwahati. Learning has always been fun-filled and innovative in its lush green and eco-friendly campus, where you would see vehicle tyres being used artistically for various purposes, including swings.
The little artists here, are always at work led by their heart & mind, as is the concept of the school, i.e. giving them liberty to have a free-hand-approach towards life & learning. Here, you would find ghosts and pirates singing; and Spiderman & a magical witch sharing a bench. Not just the role plays; children are also given an exposure to a lot of materials like slimes, clay, etc. for touch-feel explorations; among various other development related activities, addressing cognitive, social & creative growth. The Saturday Fare team reached out to this paradise of Y-generation artists, where spillage of liquid is also a mark of an art-in-the-making, to know their story.

Tell us about The Atelier. What led you to the creation of The Atelier, the preschool?

“The Atelier” was founded in 2014, with the thought of providing a child led & exploratory environment for children to experience their first steps in education.

The Atelier is a sister concern arm of Sanskriti The Gurukul, an educational institution, which has been renowned for bringing in quality and holistic education to the North East.

The founders, Neena Aggarwal and Rythm Aggarwal designed the Atelier way of learning. Using Neena’s experience in the education domain of over 30 years and Rythm’s perspectives of having worked in a corporate and her views on flipping the education system towards more meaningful learning, The Atelier way of learning ensures that children build strong foundation skills while they learn by doing, experiencing and living their education journey..

The two have since grown The Atelier umbrella to schools in two cities, Guwahati and Bangalore and are working with over 150 children. The Atelier currently caters to children at the preschool age to primary years (Grade 2) and plans to grow vertically up to the secondary years in the future.

Please throw some light on the importance of pre-schooling for a child. What are the important elements of elementary phase of a child, that needs optimum attention?

The early years matter because in the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. Neural connections are formed through the interaction of genes and a child’s environment and experiences. These are the connections that build the brain’s architecture – the foundation upon which all later learning, behavior, and health depend.

The most important factor, that we at the Atelier focus on, is the emotional security of a child. If a child feels comfortable and emotionally nurtured, the chances of an uninhibited exploration are much higher. Secondly, the physical environment (one which is rich with stimulus) is the backdrop of all learning. Concepts without context would lead to half- baked engagements, which in turn would affect the eventual outcome of the learning. The trust that the adults show in a child’s sense of self, is the best support system that schools can create to foster meaningful engagements.
How does The Atelier, address the pre-school learning?

The first step is to not treat a preschool as a preschool, but instead as a space where individuals can come and experience, engage and express; a space which respects their individuality and fosters relationships with the environment and among people. We, at the Atelier, do not believe in imposing pre-structured curriculums or syllabi upon children; instead, the whole ideology is free and exploratory. We follow an emergent curriculum which evolves and builds through the years based around the interests and innate abilities of each child. We draw inspiration from various educational ideologies from around the world, ranging from Goethean sciences, to Howard Gardner’s works and are built around the Reggio Emilia way of teaching and learning.

The “Reggio Emilia Approach” of learning is an inspirational and innovative approach to early childhood education. It values a child as someone who is strong, able and pliant; rich with wonder and knowledge. And, all of it needs to be explored. Each and every child is unique and brings with them a mind that is deeply curious and potential. This innate curiosity catalyzes their interest to understand their world and their place within it.

How do you nurture the right brain of the children?

The two sides of the brain are intricately co-dependent. The myth holds that a right-brain person is generally creative, intuitive, artsy, while a left-brain person is more of a problem-solver, more linear, logical. The myth arose from genuine science, but new imaging technology has shown that the brain is more interdependent than once thought.

The two hemispheres are, in fact, highly complementary. For example, language processing, once believed to be left-hemisphere-only, is now understood to take place in both the hemispheres: the left side processes grammar and pronunciation while the right processes intonation. Similarly, experiments have shown that the right hemisphere does not work in isolation with regard to spatial ability: the right hemisphere seems to deal with a general sense of space, while the left hemisphere deals with objects in specific locations.

What is the students’ daily routine at Atelier like? What sort of activities do you organize at your school?
We don’t have a strict routine that we go by. The day starts by assessing and understanding where the children are in relation to the previous day’s activities, and then designing engagements to lead on from where we left off and start something entirely new. There is a bit of pre-planning with regards to the usage of our different spaces & achieving basic literacy and numeracy milestones.

The entire structure of learning at the Atelier is designed around engagement, simple construction- based play to more intensive research- based explorations, discussions and hypothesis. Even literacy and numeracy milestones are reached by engaging in meaningfully designed activities that allow children to understand the very logic and structure of the subject in a creative & stress-free flow.

Tell us about the campus.

The school is built around a beautiful old Assam-type bungalow with a large outdoor space and play areas. The classrooms are designed to be flexible and modular to be able to morph into different backdrops for different contexts of exploration. The heart of the school is a studio where all the messy art/constructions/movement based learning happens. There is also a water exploratory area and a music wall for varied sensory engagements.

Lego plays an important role in the constructive thinking of the children. Your remarks on this.

Lego, blocks, mechanics, putty, clay, semolina, leaves, branches, twigs, stones, paint, color, scrap or whatever the medium be, are all great for cognitive, creative and social development; as long as children are allowed to express themselves without the fear of judgement, and without the need to achieve a pre-set aesthetic landmark. Creating a constructivist mindset begins with empowering children with a secure emotional environment where they are allowed to imagine and manifest. A lot of times, during such explorations at The Atelier, great collaborations are formed, when multiple individual ideas merge and come together as a group expression (much like adult life, when people work together on a commonly shared idea). The greatest failing of 20th century education has been the highly competitive environment the children are made to thrive in, making them more intolerant and disruptive rather than communicative and aligned.
How does storytelling affect the personality of the children?
Stories create the very fabric of learning at The Atelier; with each engagement activity, the children form new stories of how they experienced their world. Similarly, reading to children makes them receptive of a fictional universe, which in turns allows them the freedom to create fictional plots of their own through each subsequent engagement.

How many branches of Atelier are there and where? And, since you’re venturing into the primary schooling further, we would like to know what led you to expand your business model?
We come from a combined experience of over 75 years in Education and the primary years is not new to us. As a matter of fact, this isn’t an expansion of the model, but a reduction or focussed interaction with possibly the most important years of a child’s development.

Currently, we have 2 centers; one in Guwahati & the other one in Bangalore. We have no immediate plans of any further expansion. However, we are currently studying the franchise model and assessing it’s viability for a hands on methodology like ours.

Which course format will it follow, IGCSE, ICSE? How are you planning to carry out the operations? Will it be adhering to general study-play-crafts format or something new that you’re planning to add up?
For the education of the primary years, we plan to continue with our own methodology, built around the emergent curriculum and of course, being on track with common core deliverables as followed by other educational boards and brands.

We are not planning to follow any one particular board as of now. Up until grade 8, most of what all boards prescribe is foundational concepts in different subjects, delivered through a slightly different approach using different texts. We wouldn’t want to restrict ourselves to one such offering. In due course of time, we plan to enable different course options to our children, based on their individual needs and growth paths like IGCSE, IB, and NIOS.
What are the core values of The Atelier?

At The Atelier, the only thing we strive for is being authentic with this process and throughout. It all starts with forming a clear image of the child and by respecting and trusting the child.

We have trust in each child’s capability and their natural ability to be learners. We believe that children are active, competent, powerful, motivated to articulate, interested in exploring abstract and complex ideas, and seeking to co-construct knowledge. We respect children, listen to them, share and debate ideas, and support them in defining a sense of purpose. This relationship of trust and respect allows children to feel uninhibited and build their self identity.

The Atelier’s serene environment is the resultant of collective effort put into by its workforce. Therefore, as inquisitive we are, we thought of asking them about their composition.

What is the composition of the workforce?
Our team comprises of diverse individuals with experience in education, strategic design, film & photography, actuarial consulting, marketing & communication, visual & performing arts, spatial design, technology, hospitality and parenthood.
Textbooks don’t teach how you feel when you touch a wet clay dough; how to identify your creative abilities and hone them; and more. Many parents and schools don’t understand that a holistic development of a child begins in the early chilhood, not with the textbooks. The Atelier understands the meaning of doing justice to 360-degree development of a child, and when to begin with it.