Here are some things that, in all probability, you have been doing completely wrong all your life. Thinking that your child is averse to what is around them; considering them a ball of fluff that is only capable of giggling, spitting up, taking naps, and maybe scratching your eyes out when they aren’t doing any of the above; and the most criminal one of the lot – talking to them in classic unintelligible goo-goo-ga-ga tongue. Chances are, the child replies in gibberish only because you talk to them that way, and not the other way around.
Maria Montessori spent 20 years of relentless research only to decipher that babies can learn thousands of words, in possibly four to five different languages, if you spend time teaching them and employ the right technique. And today, you have the opportunity to meet the India messiah of this science, Zarin Malva, who has dedicated her lifetime to ensure that we shift our focus in parenting from simply feeding our children’s mouths, to feeding our children’s knife-sharp minds.
At 72, she runs the show at the Sir Ratan Tata Institute in Mumbai with more vigor and passion than most of us could muster at the age of 22. One would find no less than three or four tasks on her plate at any given point in time. When Zarin is not blowing the minds of a class of 60–80 with her revelations about toddlers for the AMI Teacher Training course she spearheads at the institute, she is busy scampering from one end of the wide and airy corridors of the institute to the other, answering phone calls, arranging meetings, coordinating talks, events and seminars – currently, the upcoming star-studded IMF Conference – or speaking her heart out to curious souls who walk into the institute brewing change every so often – all to forward the cause that Dr. Maria Monetssori initiated herself.
Although she has inspired many to spread the word in the country, she vividly remembers the days when she was shouldering the responsibility of introducing India to this concept all by herself.
“I grew up in Colaba, studied right here in Bombay and had started my career giving tuitions to children – I always wanted to work with children. Although this was the early 50s and 60s, the education world has always had its doors wide open for female teachers. I worked with children for 20 years when I came across Maria.” Intrigued by the concept, she had the honour of being trained by Maria herself. She went on to spend many years across Canada, USA, Thailand, and China yearning for knowledge on this supremely crucial subject.
Her dedication led her to work with some of the greatest minds, like Mother Isabel, JRD Tata, and Bhabha, the latter of who sought her expertise and invited her to start this program in India.
“Parenting is so very essential. Our course isn’t how to become a teacher, it more about how to become better parents, because, it is not the children who need help, but the parents who do. What people think about children even today, despite being educated and accomplished, is so off the mark,” she says.
“The brain of a child from when a baby is born till he turns two,” she explains, “has an open cranium. We only use four to five per cent of our brains even today, but children initially have a constantly receiving and expanding brain, that needs to be fed. It is called the ‘Absorbing mind.’”
“The child is continuously collecting information, but what do we give the child today? Nothing. A child is capable of learning 1000s of words, but we teach him 30 at best – restricting his limitless vocabulary to words like ‘fan’ and ‘dog’. His sensibilities – that is, his mind, language, movement, and order – need to be generously fed. Today’s world is calling it windows of opportunity. He is like a sponge. Alas, if the water is dirty, he will soak in the dirty water. We are servants of the child. Study the child, follow the child, the child will show you the path to follow,” she says.
Along the way, she played a key role in founding the Indian Montessori Foundation, which is the apex authority for Montessori education in India today.
“The ultimate aim is to foster the philosophy of our very being, isn’t it? Whatever I have done in life, you will find its roots firmly based in philosophy. You are here to help god – and since it is God’s job to help people, help him do his job by helping everybody around! Another philosophy I have always sworn by, Dr. Radhakrishnan’s way of life. Whatever one does, one must do it with the most sincere humility. You have to learn to accept what people are like, how everybody is on their own journey of life, and everybody’s journey is as significant and sacred as your own. Keep this thought at the heart of everything you do, and you will never fail at stepping up to help make someone’s life better.”