Ana Maria de Araújo Mello
Fellow Since 1990
This description of Ana Maria de Araújo Mello's work was prepared when Ana Maria de Araújo Mello was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1990.
Ana has designed an educational curriculum for daycare centers which can transform custodial care into valuable educational and social situations for preschool children. Ana plans to spend the next two years applying this curriculum in 10 daycare centers in the city of Sao Paulo, and writing "how-to" pamphlets.
The New Idea
Modern theories of child development and education have established that from the moment of birth individuals are social beings who, when stimulated, can and do interact with their environment. Based on these premises, which refute the age-old belief that very young children interact only on a one-on-one basis usually with the mother or surrogate, Ana has designed a system of situations that create opportunities for interaction, turning daycare centers into valuable educational environments for children up to three years old.The basic principle at work is that children learn through imitation and play. Ana's curriculum works with three elements: spatial arrangements, objects, and the attitude of the caretaker, all directed towards stimulating play and imitation. The caretakers' attitude is basic to making this work. Ana feels that it cannot be expected of caretakers, especially in public or community daycare centers, to have or acquire the theoretical basis needed to understand the curriculum. However, a few simple facts and theories can be passed on. Also, simply applying the curriculum itself produces dividends; since the babies largely entertain themselves, the caretakers have more time for the necessary chores, and more energy to intervene when necessary. The curriculum helps create mutually rewarding environments.
In Europe where daycare centers first emerged during World War II, they (and the care theories associated with them) have been developing for 40 years in tune with post-war history. Today, Italy and France are the leaders in daycare education. In these and other first-world nations, daycare centers and paraphernalia are highly specialized and are a well-structured and a widely-available part of education.Brazilian daycare centers have not undergone the same historical development. Daycare centers emerged, slowly at first and later with increasing momentum, with women's entry into the workforce about 20 years ago. At first these centers were community, philanthropic or religious daycare centers that catered to the needs of the working class. In the last 10 years or so, municipal daycare networks and private daycare centers have also been established. Nevertheless, in the absence of local expertise and know-how, all these centers were modeled on existing institutions, that is, health institutions or orphanages.The result has been that the main focus of daycare centers has been on feeding and tending to the children. Ana and her group performed a survey in 35 daycare centers and saw that of the eight hours children spent at these institutions, four were spent waiting to be fed, washed or changed. Even in centers where the adult-to-child ratio was low, the routine meant children were still spending long periods simply waiting. Ana's curriculum, which actually turns the focus of daycare centers around using resources already available at these institutions, is a simple and cheap way of turning "custodial" centers into educational environments.
Ana's strategy is simple. First she will be producing a series of "how-to" manuals directed to caretakers and administrators at daycare centers to be distributed to several municipalities in Sao Paulo State. These outline the curriculum, which operates as follows: one focuses on children in the nursery phase (up to one-and-a-half years), and one on children between the ages of 18 months and three years. In the nursery, children are arranged in mixed-age groups of six. The large nursery room is divided into small environments, one for each group. These environments are marked off with simple materials (cardboard, boxes, etc.). The idea is to limit interaction to that occurring within the groups, while allowing the caretaker to supervise more than one group. Each week, the spatial arrangements or shapes are changed; rooms are cornered off, or U- and F-shaped environments are designed. Also, each week the play objects are changed. Rather than have many different objects distributed amongst all the children, a few specific objects are distributed in sufficient number: balls and rattles one week, blocks and dolls the next, and so on. The results are children of slightly different age-levels interacting in groups, pulling toys away from each other, sucking on another's toy, and imitating each other, etc. With the children thus entertained, the caretaker cannot only supervise and intervene when necessary, but can go on with duties such as diaper changes, baths, bottle preparation, etc., all of which take up an enormous amount of time.The curriculum for the one-and-a-half to three-year-old is based on the same principle of imitation and play but is adapted to suit the young one's greater mobility and more sophisticated requirements. Spatial arrangements at this phase are more structured; when possible, entirely separate rooms are used. There are four rooms: a make-believe room, a library, an art room and a "lab" (actually a space immediately outside rooms where children work with sand, water, and plants, etc.). In this phase, children's imitative play turns into representation and the spatial situations provide for this. Again, children are grouped, now in larger groups of eight, as they learn to interact with more individuals.Second, she will be changing the environments of 10 daycare centers in the city of Sao Paulo. She will be working directly on training the caretakers and producing work materials.As the state of Sao Paulo has created a daycare system in several municipalities, it is looked upon as a model. Ana hopes to change the systems of all Sao Paulo municipal daycare networks and in this way effect changes nationally.
Ana, one of 14 children, says she belongs to a family of educators. Several of her siblings are teachers. Ana began her educational experience in a preschool founded by one of her sisters.Ana's mother was housekeeper in a school for the handicapped. Ana spent her adolescent years living in the institution. She helped organize parties and made pocket money working in the backyard workshop which made educational toys for the children at the institute. Ana remembers being fascinated by these objects.For several years, Ana has been working at a daycare center where she has been able to apply and test her educational practice and which has become known as a model center.