Stepping Stones to a bright future
By Shanika Perera

Headed by Mrs Charmian Colombage and ably helped by 5 trained teachers, Stepping Stones Montessori in Pitakotte is one which truly follows the spirit of what Dr Montessori envisioned and advocated many years ago. While play is important, at Stepping Stones emphasis is given to learning and moreover to learning together. The child's individuality is the most treasured aspect. The role of the teacher is merely to guide and create an environment in which the children can grow body, mind and spirit.

The standard of learning is extremely high and this is partially because students of various backgrounds, various levels of understanding and various capabilities all work, and play together as well as help each other out.

Heartened by the success seen at the Stepping Stones Montessori, which started out 7 years ago, its Directress Mrs Charmian Colombage was encouraged to venture out into offering extra curricular activities. The English class, which is for children aged 5-8, instils correct grammar and a love for English literature from a young age. Swimming classes are also conducted. The newest venture however is one that will no doubt change the dynamics of Kindergarten in Sri Lanka.

Having received accreditation from the Australian Gymnastics Association, Mrs Colombage will embark on a project known as Kinder gym from January 2011. It is ideally suited for children from as young as 6 months (conducted together with a parent) to 6 years. Movement is vital for all learning. From the point of conception a human being is moving to learn. Kinder gym encourages this with fun and imagination by focusing on a theme for each session, Sri Lankan children often lack good gross motor skills due to our way of life. At Kinder gym their cognitive skills and lateral thinking is stimulated. The trainer is able to pick up on any under developed area of the child's motor skills. Often the cross patterning of movement is confusing for children. Correction of this is vital for later learning, speech and writing to name a few. Kinder gym enables children to move, and to move correctly.

The annual carnival organised by Stepping Stones seeks to generate funds for the various remarkable charity projects undertaken by the Montessori. Under this, the Bamse (Successful Swedish Cartoon Company) sponsored preschool in Ratgama deserves special mention. The beautiful school situated within a serene Buddhist temple premise, is fully equipped with the best teaching materials and well-trained staff. 65 children from this Tsunami affected area have grown to develop in unfathomable ways in the 4 years since the school was started.

Stepping Stones also supported a Montessori in Makkaldeniya which has under the guidance of a dynamic and dedicated teacher prospered beyond imagination.

The Montessori hopes to build a campus in Anuradhapura to train teachers from rural areas and equip them to go back and start their own schools. This campus will cater to 30 teachers every 2 years (2 year course) and will be conducted by Sri Lankan lecturers as well as foreign lecturers- during whose visits the teachers will be required to live in campus. During such time the running and management of the campus will be entirely in the teachers' hands, thus encouraging close relations and inter community development among teachers from all over the island. Subjects such as health, hygiene and nutrition will also be taught as well as elective subjects, which can be utilized to make profits such as agriculture. The second phase of this project will see an Arts centre dedicated to reviving lost art forms and nurturing the ones that already exist.

Stepping Stones may be a small unit, teaching young minds, but they have certainly set their sights on the stars.

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