Spreading the word of non-violence

2012-11-21 00:00

THE children screamed excitedly when the car arrived at the Matimatolo Preschool. “Sy-ko-mo-to … sy-ko-mo-to,” they chanted, clamouring around the vehicle.

It sounds like the name of a vehicle, but it is actually the name of an early-learning programme, psychomotor, which is showing promising results in rural Umvoti. According to parents and teachers of the children who have been participating in the programme, the children are less aggressive and more compliant.

News of the calming effects of psychomotor has reached the ears of Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of one of the world’s great advocates of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. She was part of the entourage who was greeted by the children on a visit to their school last week.

Psychomotor is an educational programme from Europe that was introduced to preschools in the KZN Midlands in the nineties by two women living in Pietermaritzburg. As a result of Michele Kocheleff’s and Rossella Meusel’s efforts, the programme is now followed by 28 schools in the Midlands and Durban.

Several years later, Kocheleff and Mary-Lou Kemp have been training teachers in two rural preschools outside Greytown to apply psychomotor techniques. The project was initiated last year by regional World Vision co-ordinator Sayinile Mzolo, after she read about psychomotor in The Witness.

Mzolo, who was born and raised in a rural environment, said she was intrigued by the programme and thought that the techniques could help children in Matimatolo and Eshane, places that have been identified by World Vision as the most affected by HIV and violence.

Ela Gandhi is equally intrigued by the possibilities of this programme with its non-violent component, and her organisation, the Gandhi Development Trust, is looking at possibly introducing psychomotor in pre-schools they work with in Phoenix.

The trust promotes Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, and Ela is very peturbed by rising violence in schools and the high incidence of teenage pregnancies.

She was impressed as she watched the teachers work with the psychomotor technique. “We would like to see our children learning how to control themselves while having fun. Our schooling system needs a fundamental change,” she said.

“It is quite a culture shock to see something that really seems so simple, but the results are unmistakable,” said Mzolo. “The behaviour of the kids changes and they also develop pride in themselves from a young age.”

Mzolo said that as a child she was used to violence in her school and society, and she believes psychomotor can give children a good start.

“Parents have noticed that their children are behaving differently at home and one mother told me her child had intervened when the father had hit her, saying: ‘We do not hurt each other’,” she said.

The programme has already benefited the intake of Grade 1 pupils this year and a teacher has reported that the children are more obedient and compliant.

Kocheleff explained that the children are allowed to play in a room with equipment that is designed to help them explore their physical limits.

They must listen to music signals, which indicate playtime and quiet time, and during a riotous 20-minute session in which they had enormous fun on the equipment, incredibly, there was no fighting and no one got hurt.

There is great emphasis on creativity and sensory development. Children hug huge balls and others bounce on them. Some lie on the mattress, while some jump off them. The teachers don’t tell the children what to do, but allow them to explore the equipment.

“Children are all about movement. It’s their life,” said Kemp. “Studies have shown that they need to explore all kinds of movement before they get stuck in a classroom all day.

“Movement aids in discovering and reinforcing a variety of perceptual motor and academic concepts. It also contributes to the enhancement of positive self-esteem. Our modern lifestyle has meant that there is less opportunity for children to experience movement, because they watch television, or they cannot climb trees or they live in restricted spaces.

“Psychomotor education allows the child the chance to develop all the physical, mental and emotional steps they need to be ready for school. They learn self-confidence and they learn to control aggression by channelling it appropriately.”

In one corner of the room was a small tent filled with soft toys. Kocheleff said a child who is feeling a bit sick or emotionally fragile may seek out this space.

We observed some children make a house from soft blocks and hide in it. They were given scarves of brightly coloured material, which they draped over themselves, feeling the softness of the fabric or admiring the colours.

The adventurous children climbed up the ladder and jumped onto the mattress below. When the teacher banged the tambourine, the children tidied up the equipment and sat in a circle. They proceeded to find great pleasure in sniffing old cosmetic jars and perfume bottles.

Calming the children down after their play session is part of the programme and they emerged energised and focused. A few of the observers commented wistfully that they wished they were children again. I was one of them.

THE programme follows the method of Bernard Aucouturier, a French professor of physical education, and

links physical activities of young children at play to intellectual and psychological development. It also helps to instil values such as non-violence, self-discipline and open communication.

Children play freely with specific equipment, in a non-violent and non-prescriptive environment. Their freedom is conditional on a double rule: “We do not hurt others and we do not hurt ourselves”. Psychomotor educators respect and trust the child’s own unique “inner programme” of development.

Intended for the children up to the age of six or seven, psychomotor education takes full advantage of the “golden age”, when a child is known to be most receptive in terms of neurological, psychological and social development.

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