By Vidya Pradhan
There may be considerable debate about the wisdom of high level academics for children under 5, but for Indian Americans used to the system back home, it is inconceivable that their children will learn their ABC’s only in kindergarten. Like most Indian parents, if you are wondering if you are doing enough to educate your young child, look no further. In a humble strip mall in Newark is Safari Kid, a place that will satisfy the most rigorous desi requirements. Sarada Viswanathan’s son Gautam, who started at Safari Kid when he was nearly 3 years old, is now reading and doing math at 2nd and 3rd grade levels. He is 5. Safari Kid, a half-day preschool program, is run by Shahdokth Mudakavi, known as Miss Shy to all the parents and children. Shy, who has a law degree from India, has had no formal training in early childhood education. She trained with Rennu Dhillon of Genius Kids for some time and partnered with her on the new school before setting it up independently. The pre-school, which started off as a program for toddlers called the Turbo Toddler University, now educates kids till they are about 5. While the curriculum owes its origins to the demanding academic regimen of Genius Kids, Shy has modified it to include other non-traditional subjects. The program goes something like this – the youngest children start out in the Turbo Toddler level. This level runs for 1.5 hours every day and covers basic phonics, shapes, colors and as much general information as the child can handle. Then come Levels 1 through 4 which are scheduled to end about the time the child is ready for kindergarten. These last a little longer, clocking in at about 2.5 hours a day. By the end of Level 4 the children are fluent readers, able to read newspaper cuttings and paragraphs from encyclopedias. They are also able to do a fair amount of mental math, for which they start training in earlier levels. In addition, they have had exposure to reading comprehension, creative thinking, history, geography, science and moral science. The achievements of these kids are all the more remarkable when you observe the Safari Kid classrooms. The younger kids have free rein of the place, wandering around where they feel like and sitting down when they want. Caring teachers, all credentialized, gently guide the children without enforcing a great deal of discipline. Or perhaps this is the secret to their success. As Shy puts it, “We let the children learn at their own pace. There is no pressure and no timeline to move from one level to another. Every Friday the teachers sit down to evaluate the progress of each child and decide which level he or she belongs to. Children who are struggling with a certain concept are pulled out and given individual attention to help them master it. You might say it is ‘customized learning’.” Another method is to encourage even the youngest student to perform on stage. “When the voice gets amplified, the ego gets amplified,” suggests Shy. The littlest ones are prompted by the teachers to say their names, ages and sing little nursery rhymes on stage. Sonali Thakkar’s daughter Saheli was one of the kids to have really benefited from this aspect of the program. A very shy little girl, Saheli blossomed under Miss Shy’s care. “What I liked about the Safari Kids program is that it is all so informal and there is no pressure on the children,” says Sonali. “I also appreciated the fact that when Saheli was struggling with two vowel words and irregular vowels, Miss Shy taught her one-on-one and helped her understand.” “My kids get a very strong foundation. They are totally prepared for the most challenging kindergarten curriculum,” says Shy with confidence. But are they too prepared? I asked her if it was necessary to teach them so much in such a short span of time. Did she encounter resistance from the kids? “None at all, she says emphatically. “They are ready for it and they are capable of achieving a lot,” she says. “Their brain connections are all set before they are 6 years old. That is why you see such an emphasis on government programs like First Five and Head Start.” The low key approach taken by the teachers ensures that the kids are not stressed out by academic expectations. I still had a doubt about whether the children would fit into regular schools after being so well educated in their first five years. After all, teaching a fluent reader the alphabet might completely turn the child off school. “Safari Kid graduates do tend to go on to private schools,” agrees Shy. “But wherever they are they find that academics are a breeze and they can have more time for extracurricular activities.” I spoke to Joy Dulay, whose son Jaeden also graduated this summer. Jaeden only joined Safari Kid last year but the transformation in him has been ‘amazing’, says Joy. Jaeden had found it difficult to adjust to previous preschools because he was bored. At Safari Kid he was challenged constantly and thoroughly enjoyed school. His innate shyness also improved thanks to the presentations he made every week on the stage. “He is at 4th grade level in many subjects,” says Joy with pride. “We are considering home-schooling him because at this advanced level of education he would not fit in a regular school.” “Safari Kid teaches kids that it is okay to be smart,” she adds. “These are the kids who will change the world.” As for our little genius Gautam, he has been welcomed with open arms at Harker College Preparatory. His mother Sarada is pursuing a course to become a preschool teacher herself and join Ms. Shy at Safari Kid. More information on Safari Kid can be found on their website . A summer camp program that runs through August 24th is a good place to test the program for your preschooler. Safari Kid Inc 6180 Jarvis Ave. Suite F Newark, CA 94560 Email – firstname.lastname@example.org Ph: (510) 739 -1511/(510) 676-3401
When we started looking for Pre-k schools for Milli, we were not sure if we will ever be able to get a Pre-K school we were looking for. One thing we knew that children between the ages of 2 and 3 years have a voracious learning abilities. With this in mind we started to look for Pre-K schools which will help build our daughter’s capabilities around this learning abilities.
We found that Safari Kids will be able to do just that. We enrolled Milli in Safari Kids. At that time she was 2 year 3 months old. Apart from her English, Math skills being developed, we personally saw Milli’s other skills getting developed. One such incident was in a park, when Milli was 2years 6 months. After she came down a Tot slide, I got involved talking to a friend who happened to pass by. When I got my attention back to her, I found her talking to a Chinese person in her broken English. She was communicating with such confidence as though she was a pro and in full control. The Chinese person approached me and asked “How old is she?”. I said “Two and a half.” He was awed and asked “Which school she goes to?” I said “Safari Kids.”
Conversations like above were not uncommon. We found the Friday public speaking class of Safari Kids to build Milli’s confidence and her stage fear was gone. She was able to go on stage in front of an audience of 3000 people and sing “Jana Gana Mana..” the Indian National Anthem.
Today, Milli is still not in Kindergarten and she is able to read chapter books. She is able to do addition, subtraction and double digit additions. She has good understanding of shapes and colors and does a very good Art work.
We believe Miss Shy has done a wonderful job, in imparting learning to Milli.
My daughter Iris Marie started in this school in 2004, she was 2 years old then. Before reaching her 3rd birthday, she was able to read one-vowel word and some sight words. Just recently (June 2007), she graduated completing the school’s Level 3& 4 Reading and Math Programs. Her reading level if compared in other school kids would be between 1st grade and 2nd grade while her math level would be same as those kids in Kindergarten/1st Grade. The school offers an accelerated learning program and this is the main reason why many parents are putting their kids here. Now, my daughter is turning 5 by August and is already a fluent reader. She is now excited to meet her new classmates in Kindergarten and will use everything that she learned in this school in her future journey. Thank you Miss Shy for a wonderful 3 years of providing joy in learning. We will miss you!!!
Safari Kids has played an important role in my daughters life for almost 31/2 years . Way back when Saanya was 18 months old we were looking for a school for her. Saanya was a premature baby and at 18 months hardly spoke a few words, so as parents we were extremely worried, got all tests done and one of the suggestion was to put her in an accelerated learning program and social atmosphere. SO thats how she started going to Safari Kid at 18months. Every year she blossomed and moved leaps and bounds in not just academics but self confidence, public speaking and her social skills.
Today if you meet Saanya she is a confident 5 year old – all ready to go into kindergarden- and all this is thanks to Ms Shy and her crew- she has blossomed into a kindergardner ready to take up challenges at her new school. Thanks so much to Safari Kids, we will miss you!!
love safarikid, it was the best decision i made for my son. My son has been a safarikid student since he was 18 mths, recently graduated and is going to go to kindergarten in sept. My husband and I had a great experience at safarikid. I would definitely give all the credit to the teachers. They are simply wonderful. Everytime we enter the class they make him feel special. Always full of energy even when I pick him up. They always make us feel like family,always very caring and very loving. He reads very very fluently, and is excellent at math. He is very confident and even more independent than my older one. Thank you safarikid for a wonderful environment:)
Iam desperately looking for a pre-school for my 3 yr old daughter,i live in newark,do you have any openings,what is the cost for weel=kly rate,or monthly,also do you do potty training.I am looking for a nice freindly ,clean enviroment for my daughter , to learn and grow.
Please send me deatails.