I first heard about Redwood Montessori from a friend whose opinion I highly value. I had a 9 month old and had just found out I was pregnant again, and was understandably nervous about what was in store. I was a hands on mom who had neither a nanny nor a family member to help out, but I didn’t think I could sustain this once the new baby came along. As we pushed our children on the swings, my friend gave me a pitch that would change the course of my life, as well as my children’s.
Every day we see another school that claims to follow the Montessori system, but Redwood has the only certified Montessori toddler program in all of Tamil Nadu. This means they take children as soon as they are walking, which may seem too young for many parents but was ideal for my situation. I knew I wouldn’t be able to give my older son my full attention but wasn’t keen on him spending so much time with a nanny.
The Redwood Toddler Environment was the perfect solution and ended up offering more to him than I ever could have on my own. The teachers and akkas all seem like Zen masters, with calm and loving demeanors that don’t waver in the presence of even the most piercing toddler screams. At the interview and orientation the parents receive a crash course in Montessori principles, and it is clear that this school believes in those principles with their heart and soul and not merely for the name’s sake.
The main thing they wish to cultivate in the child is independence, which is especially important in Indian culture where there are usually several people around a child, ready to help them with anything before they can even attempt to try themselves. The level of detail the teachers get into is impressive, with instructions from how we are to drop off our child on the first day of school (no lingering goodbyes, just a cheery send off and then out of sight) to how we can adhere to the Montessori style at home.
First, I’ll enumerate the features of this program that will make any parent’s ears perk up with interest, and then I will get into the emotional aspects. The toddler program is 4 hours a day, Monday through Friday, with drop off between 8:30 and 9:00 am and pick up at 12:30. A new batch of kids will go in for 30 minutes, then 45, then an hour, and so on until they have settled in. This process can be difficult for many parents as there is lots of crying, but after 2 to 4 weeks most children settle in nicely and will clap their hands and grin as their car approaches school. We send multiple changes of clothes and underwear on Monday, and the children are placed on the toilet every 20 to 30 minutes for potty training. Accidents are normal and swiftly cleaned up, with slightly older children helping out with the mopping.
The children spend 45 minutes playing in the garden, and the rest of the time in the classroom doing activities and eating. Ah, the eating! Perhaps the easiest thing to brag about in this program is the fact that the children are fed 2 meals and a snack, all organic. The menus are sent to us every week and are a delight to peruse, with lots of variety and all the food groups well represented. Equally impressive is the way the meals are executed. The children pick up their own placemat and plate and seat themselves around adorable tables with the serving dishes in the centre. The teachers help them initially, but before long, they are serving and feeding themselves like little ladies and gentlemen. Again, this is another especially useful skill in a culture where it is the norm to hand-feed children while chasing them around.
The room is organised according to activities with puzzles, instruments, paints and easels, books etc. all in their respective areas. The children are taught to place a mat on the floor before bringing their activity there, and to put away everything afterwards. Eventually the activities include helpful household chores like peeling potatoes with their hands and sweeping. Redwood encourages us to continue these practices at home by involving them in daily tasks like unloading the dishwasher or filling the laundry basket.
Here are some pictures of the school
As for the touchy-feely stuff: this is a school that cares so deeply about its students. Each student has a diary that we send in their backpack daily, and every day the teacher fills out a detailed info sheet that tells us what the child’s mood was, how much they ate, how much water they drank, how many times and at what times they went to the bathroom, what activities they did, and any other interesting tidbits or anecdotes.
When we have one on one meetings, they give us feedback that reveals how closely they pay attention to each child’s traits and habits. When I interviewed for my second son, my older one had been attending another school for 6 months, and I confessed that I had let go of a lot of the independent habits he had picked up in Redwood. The principal spent a great deal of time urging me to revert to those habits and giving me detailed instructions on how to do so, and I was so touched that she remained so invested in a former student.
My children are not attending Redwood past the toddler program because we live too far away for this to be our school for the long term, but I loved it so much that I insisted my second son attend for at least one year even while my older son attends a school nearby. I had tears in my eyes when I wrote the email informing them that we would not be continuing, as this school is one of a kind and I don’t know if my family will ever again experience an educational institution that is so devoted to its students’ wellbeing.
About the author : Priyanka is a happy mom to two boys. She is an upbeat American in Chennai and loves to blog about her life in the city. Check her out at Chennai super queen
For more details about the school click here.