Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bon-JOUR Madame A-meeee

Amy Walter is an education consultant based in Antananarivo. She has been helping the pre-school section of Akany Fitahiana for the past few weeks. Read about her experiences...

In the preschool classroom at Akany Fitahiana, the excitement of 29 two-to-five-year-olds is contagious. From the moment I walk into the classroom each week and am greeted by a resounding chorus of “Bon-JOUR, Madame A-MEEE!” continuing through the two hours that follow, the children read, draw, sing, create, play, and participate with enthusiasm. 

Thanks to an introduction from Susanne, I met with Alex and Lalaina, the preschool teacher at Akany Fitahiana, last November. As an early childhood educator, I asked what they needed and expressed my interest in getting involved. They identified the dire need for basic materials – books, educational toys, and art supplies– and support for incorporating them into the classroom. Since Lalaina teaches the foundational maternelle subjects of literacy and numeracy, the idea of our work together is to build on her instruction by providing materials and implementing activities that extend the children’s learning and play. This is the first in a series of blog posts and photos on our collaboration.

Block turning into cameras
Block play enables the children to develop their math sense and creativity. From the first day I brought them in, the children began building and naming their creations: “Madame Amy! Trano!” “Charrette!” “Camion!” (House! Cart! Truck!). With my limited Malagasy, a lot of gesturing, and help from Lalaina, we improvise and pretend that the blocks are cameras, windows, and other objects. The children see how high they can stack the blocks and experiment with balancing them in different positions. We also use them to talk about quantities (counting and comparing), colors, and shapes.A group of children work together to see how long a chain they can make.
Through books, the children connect their letter reading and writing skills to the written page, build their vocabulary, and expand their imagination. Each time we read aloud (translating from English or French to Malagasy), the children sit rapt and respond eagerly to our questions. On my most recent visit, I brought enough books for the children to look at on their own or in pairs. They looked intensively and turned the pages, shared what they observed, and exchanged books with one another.

Right now, we use borrowed books and toys, games that I make out of recycled materials, and basic supplies. I will be creating more games (ex. puzzles, bingo, sorting cards). 

Help wanted
If you are interested in supporting this work, we would welcome donations, monetary and in-kind, for the items listed below. We seek materials that are open-ended (i.e., have many uses), child-safe (non-toxic and not too small), and easy to transport, clean, and store. If you have any ideas on activities to try or materials to incorporate, we would love to hear from you!

*  Blocks of different shapes and colors, no more than 20 cm long each
*  Large Legos (ex.Duplos or Mega Blocks)
*  Plain or colored paper for drawing
*  Thick colored crayons
*  Old picture calendars to make into puzzles
*  Board books with large pages, vivid drawings or photos, and simple language, preferably in Malagasy or French

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Amy L. Walter is an independent education consultant based in Antananarivo.