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Pre-school education: the very first building block

3 October 2013 04:19 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Fondly known as “Aunty Violet” among kindergarten kids, Violet Siriwardena’s whole life has been about educating and nurturing kids. Having been working as a pre- school teacher for over 44 years she has seen numerous kids getting through pre-school and growing up to be responsible adults– she says, “ I can’t imagine doing anything else other than being with kids”.
Currently working in the upper nursery of Musaeus College, Violet has taught many kids from different walks of life. Even after getting an opportunity to sit for the University Entrance Examination after completing her education at Musaeus College and Devi Balika Vidyalaya, Violet has chosen to attend a pre-school training institute in Havelock Road. She said her training  included child psychology, child development principles and practices of nursery education and added that she was at the top of her batch that graduated in 1968.

"First of all a pre-school educator should be warm and caring. You are not just a teacher but a mentor who has the power to turn the kids’ childhood a happy and a memorable one"

“After getting the diploma from that training institute which was run by Late Mrs. Manohara, in 1968 I started working at the nursery administered by the same training institute. There I got to teach kids of professors, judges etc and after a while I started teaching kids at my own house. Then even kids from nearby dwellings who were not very economically well to do would also come. It was a fulfilling experience and no matter where they came from all the kids wanted was love and attention. “That is a primary rule a pre-school teacher has to understand,” she said. She also spoke about  parents’ awareness in raising their kids with healthy attitudes and how pre-school education has changed over the years.




Paying attention is vital
With the busy lifestyles today with both parents having hectic work schedules, children are often with their grandparents or a caretaker until the parents return home after work. Violet was of the view that it is vital that  parents pay attention to their child to fullest extent with the little time they spend with their kids.
“I understand how tired the parents are after work. Probably they will have housework also to cover up and when a child comes with a story of something that happened during the day or to show a drawing they did at school, the parents obviously can’t afford to pay much attention. But amidst all this work it is important to listen to their stories because their self esteem increases if they are praised and appreciated by their parents,” she said.
She pointed out that certain parents don’t pay enough attention that even if their kid’s drawings on a clear bag and send it home the next day the child comes to school saying that the parents did not have time to look at it. Violet said that how insignificant or silly it might seem it is important for children to hear their parents pay attention to their work.
“Sometimes I cannot even make out what the drawing is about. But when I applaud and say it’s very good the little kids’ faces lighten up. It is good encouragement for them to improve because then they strive to do something even better to receive more praise,” she said.

Education starts at home
After the child starts going to nursery, almost all parents expect their child’s academic achievements to be fulfilled by teachers. It could be learning to write the alphabet or to do a simple math … but Violet stressed on the fact that parents need to take the initiative of educating their child at home in basic discipline and behaviour apart from his or her learning at early childhood education centre or a nursery.
“When we were in Montessori all we learned the alphabet and learned to count. But today pre-school education has evolved into a more holistic methods without just concentrating on academic aspects. From writing letters to learning to have self-confidence children are taught different activities now. But the approach will only be successful if parents encourage the children at home” she said.
From her wealth of experience Violet expressed that the education and moulding a child to be a better citizen is a continuous exercise and cannot be done only at school. She noted that good habits they learn in school should be practised and continued to be inculcated.

Don’t give in
Commenting on a parent’s worst nightmare about having to raise an unruly child, Violet advised that the best possible method to deal with that is to be calm and try to explain things to the child when he is trying to throw a tantrum.
“I have come across many children who are stubborn and go into fits when they are not given what they want. But the important thing is that parents should learn when to say no. It is ok to indulge a child but not every time he or she wants or not on his or her terms. The child should be taught to wait for his turn or to listen to his parents when they say no. Most parents buy the kid an ice cream or what ever he wants to silence him because it is embarrassing to carry a screaming child across a supermarket,” she said.
According to her, parents should wait till the tantrums subside and explain to the child why his behaviour is not acceptable.
“Talk to them when they are calm. If you have trouble feeding them, don’t force feed them? Wait till they are hungry. When they want to be fed they will come and ask. Or tell them why it’s not good to throw tantrums if they cry asking for something. The more attention you pay when they go into  tantrums, the more they learn that it is one of the methods he can use against  parents to get his own way. The child needs to feel that parents are in control of the situation and that’s when they learn  to obey,” Violet said.

Early childhood educators are born not made
What Violet constantly emphasised throughout the interview was that she was born to be a pre- school teacher. She noted that she would never be happy if she cannot be among children.
“You do not feel time passing by and once when I fractured my leg I couldn’t go to school. When I went to school after the recovery all the children surrounded me and tried to carry my bag and one child tried to give her school bag as a gift to me. They came and hugged me. This type of welcome you will not receive from any other job. Children love you unconditionally if you love them and care for them. They don’t love you with grudges or resentments. A pre- school educator should have the ability to receive this love and his or her personality has to be such that children should feel comfortable getting closer to their teacher,” she said.
Being in the field for 45 years Violet said that she has met some young pre- school teachers who are not very comfortable with children especially when they get dirty or sick. She said that a pre- school teacher should be like a second mother and not be like just any other teacher who only takes care of the child’s academic well being.
“First of all a pre-school educator should be warm and caring. You are not just a teacher but a mentor who has the power to turn the kids’ childhood a happy and a memorable one.” Violet said.

pix by Waruna Wanniarachchi
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