The puppet show presented by the parents involves hand-made puppets and stories centering around the theme of each year’s exhibition. Pics/Anurag Ahire
Cenzer house sits amidst a heaving Parel neighbourhood, but manages to hold a quiet cove within. Inside, a group of parents are working with yarn, felt, and crochet-needles. A freshly-made unicorn puppet sits like a trophy among multicoloured crochet cats that gambol over the table. This is the toy room of The Golden Spiral School, a Waldorf institution, which is gearing up to host its annual fair on December 15 and 16. The much-looked-forward to affair is as old as the school: 10 years.
The theme this year is the Medieval Era, which celebrates the Middle Ages from cultures around the world. It will feature the school's speciality: A puppet-show with handmade marionettes and hand-puppets; As well as medieval-themed workshops and games, all designed by the parents of students. One of the workshops is on the art of making mosaic tiles, and there's a javelin-throwing game to enjoy. In a delightful topsy-turvy of sorts, it's the parents who conceptualise, organise and execute the fair for the kids.
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The hands-on parental involvement goes beyond this December soiree, and sits at the very core of the school's philosophy. Waldorf education, also known as Steiner education, after Rudolf Steiner, a German who instituted the system of learning in the 20th century, believes in aligning learning with early childhood development: "educating the head, heart, and hands", as parent Huzan Mistry puts it.
"When my child was born, I was looking for an education that felt right for us, as a family," she explains. "The approach, for us, is a way of life. It meets my child's developmental needs while keeping his creativity alive." Mistry recalls walking into the location where the school was established - the ground-floor room of an old-age home in Breach Candy - and feeling like "a breath of fresh air hit [me]". Her son is now in Grade 5.
The pedagogy of the school is based on play and imaginative learning in the early childhood years. Alphabets and numbers aren't taught in kindergarten, which includes kids aged three to six. They learn through physical movement and storytelling. There are no textbooks; they write their own notes. They also choose the uniform they want to wear every day - one colour for five days of the week. Hindi, English, and Marathi are taught concurrently, from Grade 1 (age seven) onwards. Kids learn to make their own food, knit and crochet, and grow plants. And, no exams. "This educational programme is unique because it stems from a deep understanding of human development," says Tasneem Quettawala, co-founder.
At The Golden Spiral School, parents conceptualise the workshops and exhibits for the fair held each year. This includes creating toys for the toy room, harking back to the philosophy of play in the Waldorf-based system of learning
Insiya Husein, her sister and one of the six co-founders, explains that the school was founded by a group of parents in 2013. It demanded rigorous research and training them; They were inspired by the Annual Waldorf Seminar held in Khandala, that was conducted by a group of Indian and international mentors and trainers. Initially, it was just the children of the founders who attended - the first batch had seven students. Now, there are 200.
Neel Kamath's twins study in Grade 1. The business aviation professional learned to knit after his kids joined the school four years ago. "I learned that knitting involves both the left and right sides of the brain, which is interesting," he says. "The idea behind having children work with their hands is to engage their brain in different ways."
Parent Ankita Thakkar agrees. Children should learn when the time is right, which is why she moved her six-year-old daughter to the school this year. "The syllabus at her previous school was strenuous for a five-year old. Here, they use their hands and body to learn all academic subjects."
The school which runs classes from kindergarten to grade 10 takes its name from the geometric concept of a golden spiral. "In philosophy, there is the principle of the cosmos: that the human being is a reflection of the cosmos, and the cosmos is a reflection of the human," Husein says. "Many principles of growth in the natural world have a spirallic formation, whether it's the birth of a star, or the way flowers unfurl their petals. At the base of everything is a spiral."
Kamath says, "During Diwali celebrations, the Grade 1 children do a Spiral Walk. We draw a spiral with flowers around a ceremonial lamp, and the children hold diyas and walk into the concentric circles to light the lamp. Doing so and then walking out of the spiral with the lit diyas signifies that they have received the light of knowledge."