A team of little yellow tots flow out of The Bridge like dots of sunshine. It is Yellow Day, and each child is dressed in the color of the sun. Learning by first-hand experience is the motto of this playschool.
Started by Nissi Ruth in 1999 in a small house in a residential neighborhood of West Marredpally, The Bridge is filled with toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3. Playgroup has kids aged 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 years, and Nursery is for 2-1/2 to 3-year-olds. There is also special care given after school hours to the Daycare group, whose parents can pick them up on their way home from work. There are a total of about 40 children at a time, with a maximum of 25 in each group, handled by three teachers.
The atmosphere of The Bridge is home-like and relaxed, and there is no rigid teaching curriculum or agenda. Anil Alexander, the man in-charge, says, "The formulae you learn in your 10th standard will hardly be remembered after your Board Exams, but what you learn here stays with you forever." And it's true… ask anyone and they will easily be able to recite Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, but who knows what (a+b)2 equals?
Apart from playful learning, visual aids, music, TV time and naptime, the kids are taught breathing exercises, which help sow the seed for a healthy body and mind. Stress is laid on hands-on learning, as can be seen from the walls lined with colorful posters, soft alphabet tiles on the floor, and the swing-set out in the backyard.
But is a lack of structure really such a good thing? The after-school scene is somewhat unsettling. With only one teacher left, and a small, miscellaneous group of tired children, chaos seems to reign in the TV room. Scattered toys, leftover food, crawling babies, a 2-year-old throwing a tantrum on the floor, and a toddler stuck in the high chair and being ignored despite wailing his vocal chords out... this does not seem to be the picture witnessed by the Indian Express when they gave The Bridge the title of Best School in a poll conducted by an independent survey in 2005. After all, who would like to see their child in this situation?
The disturbing scenario raises the question: are playschools and nurseries run from within a converted home really optimal? Shouldn't teachers have specialized qualifications in child-care and psychology as well as sufficient personal experience before they even think about taking charge of a playschool?
Teaching toddlers is no easy job. But those who have signed up for it need to take responsibility for the very first foundation laid towards the child's education. Perhaps The Bridge should come to terms with the truth that bridging the gap between home and school is not as easy as A-B-C.