Reliving my childhood at Learning Matters

When my daughter joined playschool, I began my journey of unlearning.

My daughter in her classroom at Learning Matters

“We are not here to educate children. We are merely guides, in their journey of exploration and discovery.”

Sonya Phillip | Founder, Learning Matters

These words have stuck with me two years after my daughter left Learning Matters. As a child, I went to a Montessori school in Calcutta and then to an all-girls school. I have very vague memories of my early year’s education. When I moved to the ‘big school’ I remember desks, chairs, sharpened pencils and learning how to read and write.

I have a memory of our teacher reading a book in upper kindergarten. There was a word I didn’t know how to spell — THE. I thought it was pronounced ‘tuhee.’ When I read it out loud there was a chorus of giggles and my teacher gently correcting me — “its pronounced thuh, she said. I have no idea why, but this memory is deeply etched in my mind.

I met Sonya, founder of Learning Matters, nine years ago for some design work she needed to be done. I enjoyed my initial conversations with her and loved her outlook towards education and children. It was free of expectations, judgement and milestones. Over the years, we continued to engage in small design projects and I had a chance to see the beautiful world she had created for young children.

So naturally, when my daughter was ready for playschool, I enrolled her at Learning Matters. What I realised (albeit in retrospect) was that I learnt more than my daughter.

By the time Lila joined Learning Matters, the school had shifted from Defense Colony to a larger space in Qutub Enclave. The walls were painted in blue, green and yellow shapes. Tree branches hung from the ceiling and the paintings and artworks were all put up at a height of 3 feet. I heard Sonya telling another parent,

“Everything in this school is designed keeping the children in mind. This space is not for adults, so you will find yourself bending to look at the art in many places.”

What a beautiful perspective, I caught myself thinking. In a world where we are continuously trying to retrofit our children into our lifestyle, our routine and our way of doing things, here was a school that did the exact opposite.

Over the two years that my daughter went to Learning Matters, I learnt how to understand my own triggers, how to let go and truly let free play be the backbone of childhood, how to introduce open-ended materials, how to encourage mess and exploration in a constructive manner and how to not look for an end product.

Lila thrived in school. She began calling herself an artist and at the end of her first year had a massive portfolio of drawings, colours, material explorations and work that she had created.

What I loved (and still love) about the school is that it welcomed parents as co-educators — involving us in our child’s daily routine & rhythm. We built a beautiful community that helped and supported each other.

The school held coffee mornings where parents could come and interact with Sonya and the teachers. There were talks held on early education, the importance of play, reducing screen time and other topics. At the end of each semester, the children’s work was displayed with pride.

I come from traditional education and schooling. For me, everything that Learning Matters stood for was the exact opposite of what I had seen and been taught. So while my daughter played (as all children should in playschool), I began my journey of unlearning.

I let go of my need to control my daughter’s movements. I let go of the ‘right way’ to do things. I let go of milestones. Instead, I started putting away my phone when I was with my daughter, giving her all my attention.

I stopped interrupting her when she was working, drawing, painting, playing and creating. I talked less and listened more. I took her to the park every day, instead of sending her with her nanny. I told her a million stories from my childhood and I marvelled as she made the most wonderful observations about her life.

I wish there could be a Learning Matters for parents — a space free of judgement where we could explore, question and discover. Because as we grow older, we lose our ability to think beyond societal structures, rules and our ideas of right and wrong.

Over the years, Sonya has become not only an educator I turn to often for advice — but also a guide, mentor and friend. I will always be grateful for the space that Learning Matters gave me — a space where, along with my daughter, I could also fail without consequence, learn without an end goal and discover childhood all over again.

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