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Vasudha Bachchan

IWB Blogger

Helen and Darshana’s Norwegian-Style Kindergarten Is Helping New Moms Go Back To Work

  • IWB Post
  •  May 3, 2019

Helen and Darshana, Co-Founders of Papagoya, a Bangalore Kindergarten, believe that India could use a more egalitarian outlook while raising their children and stress on using the methods of play to make toddlers grow.

Helen Issar and Darshana Rajaram are the support that is needed not only by the children but also by their parents, especially young mothers, whose professional careers often take a hit due to lack of provisions for proper childcare. Mothers often have to make the choice between work and their children, but Helen and Darshana are working hard to avoid making them choose. And they’ve found the perfect answer in Papagoya! Excerpts from a chat:

Do you remember your own kindergarten? How much would you say the experience shaped you?

Helen: I do, and incredibly clearly at that, because it really holds some very fond memories. It was the most homely little place in the heart of Bangalore. My best friend even today is someone I met in Kindergarten and we’ve now been friends for over 30 years. The experience was one that left an incredible mark on me. I learnt to climb a tree, tasted mud and learnt how to care for a coffee plant all at my Kindergarten. That carefree childhood is what I hope to continue providing children through Papagoya.

Darshana: I actually don’t remember too many details about my own Kindergarten experience. I know there was a large tree that we often climbed, that my dad would take me sitting in front of his Yezdi motorbike and that I was really excited and happy to go every day. I have however had the opportunity to visit many Kindergartens across the world and believe that a little bit of the best from everywhere has made it through to Papagoya.

What inspired you to start Papagoya?

There is much intrigue around why two Indian women started a Norwegian-style Kindergarten in India. We have had the privilege to live, study and work in Norway and be exposed to a very progressive Scandinavian way of life where women represent 40% of all Board seats, men take pride in going on Paternity Leave and toddlers grow to be confident, independent and gentle little people. And the common thread that results in such a fulfilling life is the Norwegian Kindergarten. And so, we thought, why can’t this be so, even in India?

How is a Norwegian Kindergarten Curriculum different from ours?

When we spent time in Norway, we got to see firsthand the benefits of the Norwegian Kindergarten model. Papagoya is our endeavor to create a safe and welcoming environment for children where they are met with the recognition and respect for who they truly are. It is our space where we can appreciate the intrinsic value of childhood. This is our effort at supporting working parents and particularly mothers, to pursue their ambitions and passions. Where we hope to encourage true gender equality and see more involved fathers. Papagoya is our long-term dream to influence early childhood practices in India. This is our way of making an impact, by creating an ecosystem that supports the new Indian parent and child. The curriculum allows all this to happen by being relevant, being play based with a large focus on the outdoors and by ensuring a very high ratio of qualified adults to children.

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How is this new form of learning better for children?

This is really not a ‘new form of learning’. If we think back to the childhoods we had, or our parents had, there is a huge similarity in the simplicity yet joy of our early years. As a country, somewhere along the way, we lost that. Academics became more important than play. Lung space and play areas shrunk and sadly the world got more dangerous. So, a large part of what we do at Papagoya is to preserve the sanctity of childhood and make it truly memorable for the child. We find the world has changed and continues to change at a rapid speed. Education in India sadly has not. If the ways of learning, what we learn and the skills we need to acquire to adapt to a changing world are ignored, how do we expect our children to be able to cope? This is exactly where the Norwegian curriculum has made a difference. They constantly revise and adapt to ensure the relevancy in what they deliver to children.

One of the learning areas core to our framework is technology – how you introduce it to children, how do they learn to use it effectively and efficiently. In most pedagogies technology is a bad word, but really how can we not introduce our children to it given the way the world is progressing?

I hear you have Penny the Labrador at your school! Does the presence of a dog around children positively affect their education?

Yes, we find that the presence of an animal (particularly a bouncy Labrador) creates empathy in children, confidence in interacting with animals and learning how to respect them. We’ve had children come in who were terribly scared of a dog and that same child in a matter of weeks is lying on top of Penny on the grass. We’ve seen children convert parents who were petrified of even touching a dog to affectionately cuddling her. The bond created between dog and child is truly a special one. And Penny really brings out the best in the children.

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What is your fondest memory of working with children?

It’s really hard for us to say the fondest memory as every memory we create with a child is so special. We love it when children tell us stories about dragons and dinosaurs, when they pretend to host a tea party in our tree house, when they climb our tire swing on their own, when they are polite without prompts and thank our support staff for the work they do. It’s the little moments that are the fondest, and we find that we have many every day.

How does a normal Papagoya day usually go?

A typical day at Papagoya starts at 8:30am and finishes at 5pm. Papagoya days are structured to match the natural rhythm and routine of young children, as well as aid the working parent. Our days are filled with free play, music and story time and two activities that our educators plan with great care. Children eat three meals with us and also have their afternoon naps with us. It is very common to hear children laughing out loudly or squealing with delight during games they are playing, and other times just swaying to Jack Johnson while colouring away.

What are some of the kids’ favorite activities?

Field trips are one of their most exciting days. One of our learning areas’ focus is Local Community and Society which believes that it is important that children understand the local environments around them and how they function. We do this via monthly field trips and the children can’t wait to explore. We’ve taken them to a supermarket, a coconut vendor, a lake, a local park and even on auto rides. Other activities they absolutely love are music and movement sessions and anything messy involving paints, mud, and water. Overall it is very hard to find children not excited about activities as they are naturally curious and creative.

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Are there any specific moments when you feel really proud of what you’ve accomplished at Papagoya?

There are so many – when you see your dream become a reality the milestones and accomplishments are very special. But the joy is truly in the little changes we see every day. When our one-year-olds eat an entire meal by themselves, when our children are kind, gentle and caring to other children and educators or when parents tell us that they see how their children are becoming the best versions of themselves because of what we do – these are some of the most profound moments when we feel like we’ve really made something incredible.

What are some of the changes you’d recommend to parents and to other schools to incorporate for an even better education for children?

The way education is imparted has changed in India. We have forgotten the way schools were run and the importance of certain elements that made for effective learning. We find that smaller classrooms contribute to the educators knowing children personally, which then allows for educators to create personalized learning for each child and allows them to learn at the pace that is comfortable to them. And most importantly, keeping the child at the center of it – transparency and alignment between the parent and the school is absolutely integral to ensuring that the best is being done by both for the child.

What makes your job worth it?

The children! The joy, the laughter and their accomplishments, their curiosity, and their creativity are what makes us jump out of bed every morning and ensures we never have ‘Monday Blues’. Also, the knowledge that we are creating a change in the early childhood space in India (as small as it may be right now).

What’s the next big adventure for Papagoya?

Our big dream is to really give children their childhood back and we plan to do this in a variety of ways through Papagoya and of course by having many more Papagoyas. We are also incredibly passionate about equal parenting (getting fathers in India to play as vital a role as mothers do, like Norwegian dads) and supporting mothers in India to go back into the workforce. Through Papagoya, we also want to inspire parents to pursue their dreams and passions.

This article was first published on January 25, 2018.

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