Helping children blossom

Paulomi Deekonda

They promise to keep your child creatively engaged after school, they offer your child the space to explore, entertain and discover himself, and they assure you that your child will learn while having fun. Whether they call themselves experience centres, recreation centres or activity centres, after-school centres for children are mushrooming in cities everywhere. With the majority of schools now becoming places solely for academic growth, and parents having little or no time to spend with their kids, a market for such centres has opened up.

lpt Khadeeja Mohammedali, one of the founders of Little People Tree, a children’s library and recreation centre in Hyderabad says, “We felt there was a strong need for a space for children, especially those below 5 years, where parents could come and spend quality time with their children. Almost everything in the city caters to children above this age group. We found this quite strange as it is these years of a child’s life that are most important in shaping his or her future personality.” Khadeeja founded Little People Tree with Vijayalaxmi, a corporate lawyer from Mumbai.

Little People Tree combines a library and activity space, where children can read a book, play games, or colour, or paint. The playroom designed especially for this age group comes complete with toy food, a cooking range, and dolls.

library Treasure House is another children’s library and experience centre in Hyderabad. Padma Rudraraju started Treasure House in 2009 to inspire children to read.

“As there was no place in Hyderabad where kids could come and make a habit of reading, I took the effort to start one,” says Padma. While staying true to its primary aim, Treasure House has now expanded to become a family centre. Parents are encouraged to come here to bond with their children over books and games.

Both Treasure House and Little People Tree offer workshops and programmes for older children and parents apart from their ongoing activities for the under 5 age group, thereby allowing entire families including the grandparents to spend time together.

For parents who prefer to send their children to a learning centre instead, there are places like Butterfly Fields and Yardstick. These centres aim to help children discover the fun in learning. “The mainstream education system fails in giving a practical approach towards any particular subject, focusing only on the theoretical aspects. We do not exactly have an education system, rather we have an examination system. So, Butterfly Fields is an attempt in providing children with experimental learning,” says entrepreneur K Sharat Chandra, Founder-Director of Butterfly Fields.

bf Children can come to Butterfly Fields to experiment, innovate and discover scientific concepts like electromagnetism. While at the centre, children have managed to build motors, parachutes, invent musical balloons, xylophones, etc. Butterfly Fields aims to get children to think out-of-the-box, take up a challenge and ensure that they complete the task they set for themselves. “Children get knowledge with fun apart from scoring marks in the exams. A striking difference between children who come here and those who study only the theoretical concepts is that children who merely learn theory from textbooks will take three hours to complete a topic, while the children who learn in this centre take only one hour to learn that same topic,” says a parent whose child is a regular at Butterfly Fields.

Apart from encouraging children to use the centre, both Yardstick and Butterfly Fields have taken their “learning by doing” concept to children in schools. They have successfully partnered with several schools to get children to enjoy learning math and science and to develop in them a spirit of inquiry. Such centres are, according to their originators, small steps towards improving our education system. However, Sarath Chandra adds, “If we have to revolutionize our education system, our teachers must first dare to go beyond the conventional methods of teaching and try innovative methods to reach out to students.”

Aditi Mathur and Ratnesh Mathur, who run a school, Geniekids Learning Resource Centre, in Bangalore started the school with the same idea – to use innovative teaching methods to cater to the needs of today’s children. Geniekids teaches children through body games, visual and verbal games, math and logic games, people and group games, music, movement and dance games, and also by taking children out on field trips. Children are allowed to learn on their own in a natural way, just like they learn their mother tongues, naturally. Geniekids is more than just a school. It also conducts workshops for parents to give them a deeper understanding of what their children are learning.

Parents are enthusiastic about what these centres are doing. “I appreciate the zeal with which these people run this centre,” says Falil Kaader about Little People Tree. “I am happy with the children’s library here, as it has books in regional languages too, allowing children from various backgrounds to come and experience this place,” he adds. Little People Tree stores a wide collection of books both national and international for both children and parents to read. To attract children to books, Little People Tree has regular storytelling sessions with creative interpretations of books through art and movement. Treasure House too invites well-known personalities including children’s authors to interact with children and parents at their library. Khadeeja says, “We make a conscious effort to help children experience the book beyond its pages and design creative activities around this goal.”

Reading, playing, and exploring are most natural to children and these children’s centers offer kids that space. Says Vijaylakshmi who co-founded Little People Tree, “In times like these, when there is so much pressure on children, a place like ours is essential for them to reconnect to the simple pleasures of childhood. We see our space as a place where kids can do different activities including creative activities, theater, learn new skills and also just play.”

With busy parents, a hectic lifestyle, and academic pressures from school, centres for children are fast becoming the places where children can relax, enjoy, and also discover themselves. And judging by their growing numbers, it looks like these centres are succeeding in doing that.

The author is a student of MA Communication (Print and New Media) at the University of Hyderabad. She can be reached at paulomi.deekonda@gmail.com.