Minimuthu Montessori is a pre-school project run by ICA Sri Lanka. It lies in the remote Morogollagama village, about 200 kilometres from Colombo (see map).
The village is in a dry area, in Kurunegala district of the North Western Province of Sri Lanka. Most of the villagers are farmers who depend on the monsoon rains. During droughts, cultivation is abandoned and the population face severe hardship.
When the school was built, there were no other facilities for child care or training in the vicinity. Villagers and the staff of the school volunteered to help clear thick uninhabitable jungle land for the school building, and subsequently for a playground and a garden.
Funding came from a few entrepreneurial Japanese women from the Zonta foundation, in partnership with ICA Japan. They helped us to start the school in 1996 and funded it for a number of years. The school management was transferred to ICA Sri Lanka in January 2014. We consider the school as our main community development project, and hope to expand our work into community outreach training initiatives in the near future.
The villagers, who did not initially value preschool education, are now aware of the importance of educational discipline, as well as nutrition and hygiene. Today, we have around 70 students. They are divided into two groups which come for classes either in the morning or in the afternoon. There are three permanent staff members- Seetha Kumarihami, Nilanthi Mallawaarachchi and Ranjani Kumari, and a few volunteers.
For the first 10 years, we did not charge any fees. Now, after a series of discussions, parents have agreed to a minimal monthly fee, which we consider a great achievement.
We are the only pre-school to offer the Montessori Method of education in this rural area, Children come from more than 15 villages to the school. About 1,500 students have graduated from Minimuthu and most of them are doing well in primary and secondary school.
The Montessori preschool classroom provides an environment designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child. It is a “living room” where all the furniture and materials are scaled down to child size. This learning programme includes typical Montessori activities such as the Exercises of Practical life that show the child how to sit in a chair without making a noise, rolling and unrolling mats, pouring water and grains, sweeping the floor, dusting and washing a table, polishing shoes and tying bows and laces, buttoning and zipping clothes, to mention a few. Then there are Sensorial activities which help the child explore the world. They use specific scientific material that helps the children to understand their environment and distinguish between different shapes, sizes, colours, dimensions, form, sound, touch, taste and smell. The sensorial Montessori materials enable them to clarify, classify and comprehend their world. In addition, they learn Language – from spoken to written, Arithmetic- from concrete to abstract as well as Geography, Botany, Geometry and Zoology.
Nature is given priority in the learning space. Watching the drama of rain, wind, birds and butterflies flying, and leaves falling sparks their curiosity and is encouraged as free play. Growing a mung bean plant in a coconut shell was an activity that showed them how to grow and take care of plants. The children are also directed towards hands on activities like watering the plants in the vegetable patch and other plants in the school premises.
Meditation is a daily activity which helps them experience a quiet time that brings a noticeable calmness in them. This lays a foundation for peace and harmony within themselves and their environment.
We also develop and promote individual aesthetic talents and creativity through classes in traditional Sri Lankan dance forms, singing, drumming and arts and crafts. We hope to create an opportunity for the older children in the village to take part in this programme as well.
We hope to have programmes as Minimuthu Community Outreach initiatives for the parents, youth and children on how to value and accept feelings to have an emotionally healthy and resilient community. This we hope to do through reading of books, focused conversation, drawing and interactive workbooks, street dramas, role play, song/music, emotional games and activities.
We have many interesting activities such as a “Singithi pola” . This is an annual children’s fundraising fair, where they sell vegetables and fruits to their parents, relatives and friends.
Celebrating the Sinhala and Tamil (Avurudhu) New Year in April is a traditional festivity in Sri Lanka and Minimuthu celebrates this occasion every year. This includes many traditional games, drumming, singing, wearing traditional, colourful costumes and the preparation and sharing of special sweetmeats. Vesak full moon day which falls in May is celebrated by the Buddhists in the country as an auspicious day. On this day, the students visit the temple and offer flowers, and also decorate the school with colourful Vesak lanterns.
Educational field trips are also organized once a year to places of historical and cultural significance, the seaside and the zoo. Most of the time, these visits are the first such experience for both parent and child.
Minimuthu is proud of its achievements with regard to the school programme. The community has accepted us as one of the most sought after pre-schools. We have gained their recognition and support by offering a comprehensive learning environment to their children. We want children here to have in place a better constructed building offering more learning spaces with improved facilities. Minimuthu needs support for this.
This post was first published in Winds & Waves, December 2015.