At Comini, we believe in the centrality of play in childhood. We believe children discover their own unique path to independence and adulthood through play, developmentally appropriate practice, and peer-learning. While these beliefs have been shaped by our lived experience as parents and professionals, they are also firmly anchored in neuroscience and early education pedagogy.
The alternative label naturally raises a few eyebrows and questions. What is it an alternative to, and why is one needed? The document you are reading is our ongoing attempt to articulate these and other what, why, when, how, and where queries we have encountered on our journey with Comini.
Conventional schooling with age-group segregated classrooms and passive, one-directional instruction were suited for an earlier era. The world has changed -- rapidly -- and so has our understanding of it and what makes adults and children tick. All of these point to a need for a radical rethinking of schooling and education. There are many existing alternative schooling approaches. Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia are a few of the better known examples. Many have long and storied histories, and passionate parents and educators for enthusiastic advocates. We think there is plenty that is great in each of these approaches, but also areas where we would sample one over the other.
Comini draws on lessons from all of these approaches, but also updates pedagogy by looking at what neuroscience tells us about learning and the growth of the mind. Many well-known, early-education pedagogical approaches have now been around for several decades. But our understanding of how a child’s brain develops is much more recent. This new and increased understanding guides what is called developmentally appropriate practice.
What this translates into, in daily life is this: Every child has an incredible biological capacity to learn from the world, and a curiosity to seek and experiment with the world and the many different things in them. Psychologists call these things affordances. The cognitive, emotional, and social faculties that help them with this learning may, however, develop at a varied pace. A child may be a natural at one, but need more practice with the other.
Play is the wondrous activity that enables practice with peers and practice with affordances across all sensory modalities. It even powers higher-order cognition. If that sounds like academic mumbo-jumbo, consider this: you have already witnessed this miracle of learning in action if you have ever participated in your child’s pretend tea party or imaginary sword fight.
The most important thing we can do is make sure we are not getting in the way of play.
Learning is not a process one applies to children to transform them into skilled adults. It is an ever-present facet of everyday life. We are learning with every conscious experience. We are learning when we see, hear, touch, smell, and feel. Learning cannot be siloed into discrete disciplines. Learning cannot be detached from its environment. It happens within it, and is part of it. Our emphasis is on providing a safe, happy, loving place to enable this. We do want happy kids at the end of the day :)
The micro-school will have multiple cohorts of mixed-age group kids who will come together to play, sing, dance, ask questions, read, paint, build, and craft together. They will get all the space, encouragement and love to blossom into the people they want to be. This should not conjure up a vision of self-indulgent kids with a misplaced sense of privilege, but confident, purposeful, kind folks who will leave the world better than they found it.
The vision is to establish Comini as an option for parents looking for alternatives to conventional education.
We will also open-source our learning material so that it can be used by anyone who is interested in adopting our pedagogy because in-person education, with an emphasis on low child-facilitator ratios, unfortunately limits who can access it. We believe the material itself can and should be available to all. We want to consciously work towards making this curriculum and pedagogy freely accessible to interested families, Balwadis, and government schools.