Let it snow!

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My boys have read about snow..sung songs about snow..but they had never seen snow. Not till a couple of days ago at least. So after days of singing about Santa dashing through the snow and Frosty the snowman my little guys actually got their first experience of “snow”. Once again thank to my cousin jnt who was like Santa Claus 2 weeks early! She got the boys something called artificial snow….basically a white powder that you add water to and stir away till it forms first a slushy snow and then…yup you are correct – snow!!! SNOW!!!!

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It looks like and feels like snow! I stuck it in the freezer for a bit and then it even was the right temperature. I made a bowlful for the boys (which involved 1 tsp of the powder and 2 cups water).  The reactions were incredible. Nish stuck his hands in, shivered with delight and squished the snow between his fingers. Amu dropped some down his tshirt and squealed in surprise and joy. Sid, my little bundle of dynamite, took barely a minute to figure out that he could scoop fistfuls and fling them at his brothers…and therein lay a prize snowball fight!

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I have unfortunately just a few bad images…did not want to risk my camera lens in that frenzied snow play….but i doubt i could have captured the moment in any case!

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Making music

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Music has always been an integral part of our day…along with reading and art I think music is something else that the boys and I come together around. We listen to a mix of music…kiddie stuff, marathi songs, classical music – usually hindustani vocal, bhajans, old hindi songs and a lot of beatles, carpenters, etc.

Anyway, one thing about music is how easily it engages kids and gets them listening, moving, participating. Nish cannot stop himself from moving to the beat, Sid loves to accompany on any noise-making device available and Amu tries so hard to sing along. And this is not just the case with my boys but with most kids (and adults!).

It’s great to tap into this and engage kids in music. A lot of songs for kids help children participate in different ways in the songs and music can be used to count, to give rhythm, to learn parts of the body, to dance, to learn and practice vocabulary in a fun and meaningful way.

Last week my cousin (thanks jnt) gave us a lovely collection of songs and the kids already have two hot favorites. I am starting with those two and sharing a few more that my kids love …am sure yours will too.

1. One little finger – This is a very catchy tune …basically goes through parts of the body from the head to the feet but the manner in which it is done is fun and interactive. Had all three boys singing this with me and doing all the actions. This is great for 1 kid or for a classroom of 2-3 yr olds!

2. When I build my house (Album – Circle of friends). This is a song about someone building a house (and its nice that it is a lady who is doing the building!). The song lists the different things the person does while building her house…saw the wood, hammer the nails…etc.. Again – great beat and easy actions. The actions are done to the rhythm of the song. This is something you can do using just your hands or you can alternately use two sticks or spoons so that the rhythm sounds better. Great for 2-4 year olds!

3. Pass the Beanbag (Tumble Tots, Action Songs Vol 2): This song is literally about passing the bean bag…so ideally it would be more fun to have 2-3 kids sit in a circle for this. You will need a small bean bag or soft toy that gets passed around as the music plays…but watch out…it changes pace and goes faster and slower so you have to listen carefully to the beat of the song! Great for teaching rhythm as a concept

4. We’re going on a Bear Hunt: An all time favorite with the boys, I have to credit my other cousin Binks for introducing them to it. If you have not heard the song, look for it on youtube. It is based on a book by the same title. Very engaging and interactive and along with the beat it helps the kids learn new vocabulary, get into the mood of the song and generally act out a fairly detailed plot!!! While my 2 and 31/2 yr olds love it, so do I…so I guess older kids would enjoy it too!

5. Shake my sillies out: Great song to get everyone moving! A super song to do post lunch or on a lazy day with kids in the classroom…I completely enjoy going through the actions with the kids and my boys are great sports and play along beautifully. This morning in fact Nish stretched and said he was “yawning his sleepies away”!

6. Open Shut them: Amu’s hot favorite…this is often the perfect way to get him to calm down when he is hyper or worked up. A simple action song it helps the child focus on the hands and watch as the hands do different easy to follow and copy things!

7. Looby Loo (Wee Sing collection) : A variant of the Hokey Pokey with a catchier beat..for some reason my boys like it better than Hokey Pokey

8: Clap Clap Clap: This is a rhythm song…getting kids to clap to the beat of the music. The beat keeps changing and kids have to listen and follow the beat.  It starts simple and gets more complex. This is good for 3 yrs and older.

9: Wheels one bus

10. 5 little ducks went out one day: We do this one with actions and also with felt board

11. 5 Little Monkeys swinging from the tree

12: I am bringing home a baby bumblebee: Ok so my little fellas LOVE this one…especially as we go through all the gross stuff…bringing home the bee, squishing the bee, licking the bee, having a tummy ache and throwing up.

These are just a few…have only put down the ones that my boys really like. But you can look for more online! I rarely sweat about whether they sound perfectly in tune, etc…It is more about the process… stuff like this gives them a chance to explore the world of music, interact with it, be a part of it and have a blast!

I don’t want to be brave!

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This afternoon I took my youngest fellow for some blood tests that he needed to get done. He was quite OK for the first test…a little wince..a little ouch and a couple of quick drying tears. He admired the bandaid he got and was all set to show it off to his ‘big brothers’. However, when we told him that he needed one more poke, the little fellow did not look so convinced. “But you’re such a brave boy!” thte nurse told him. That kind of did the trick for a bit and he lay down…if only for a few seconds. “I don’t want another band-aid he argued” “this will be quick we told him” And, the nurse added, I am so impressed with you! You are such a brave boy!”

Amu lay back down and allowed his other hand to be taken. I was holding the arm with the band-aid already on it and i tried to keep him focused on it. However, a small poke later as we were in the middle of the test, he looked at me and loudly yelled “we’re done! I don’t want to be a brave boy!” and then he bawled. My poor baby!

I have to say he waws quite a good sport though. He thanked the nurse for the band aids, blew her a kiss and is now waiting to show them to his brothers when they get back from school!

Playing with foam

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I had blogged about this activity earlier (http://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/art-in-the-bathroom/)…but the foam pieces in our bathroom had been sitting closed up in a box for the last few months. Day before, when my cousin got us a huge BAGFUL of cool art and craft stuff – including pre-cut colorful foam sheets, i decided it was time to pull out the foam pieces once again. Earlier I had cut up blue and purple sheets of foam but this time I decided to be generous with colour and cut up a bunch of geometric shapes in green, bright yellow, crimson red and orange too. Instead if the bathroom i moved the venue to the balcony – where we have a plexiglass sheet running around the railing. i put the foam shapes into a bowl and filled it partly with water to get all the pieces wet (otherwise they will not stick to the plexiglass … in the bathroom, the wall is wet so i don’t need to wet the pieces). I called the kids and they were so excited that they got to work straight away. My youngest fellow who is now 2 yrs old joined in too…and unlike a few months ago where he was just happy about putting random pieces on the wall and pulling them off, this time he was suddenly into making things.

What I really liked about the activity this time was the dialogue that accompanied it. The boys discussed what they were making, talking aloud through the process.

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They made suggestions to each other, and a few times Amu called out to Nish for guidance when he was not sure about something.

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I was quite impressed to see the little fellow come up with quite a realistic cement mixer. He even put a smaller wheel onto the larger wheel to make it look more authentic (i think this was partly inspired by a felt board fire-truck we have made that they can construct on their own).

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In general the activity was great for: (1) fine motor skills (2) imagination (3) planning and implementation of a concept (4) collaboration and cooperation (5) scaffolding (6) familiarization of shapes and colors

As i picked up the pieces and was about to take the box back inside Sid called out and said “Let it stay here…we want to do this again tomorrow”

While the kids had all enjoyed this activity before, I felt they were able to get something different out of it this time. I am sure this can be used with older kids too …it’s a lot like block play I suppose…starting with randomly attaching blocks, to building simple structures to making more complex creations and having conversations evolve around them as kids engage in making meaning!

Words of wisdom

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Sometimes kids make the smartest of observations…in the simplest of ways. This evening all three boys were sprawled on their floor on their painting mat. I had given them large one sided paper from an old wall calendar and they were busy drawing and coloring and scribbling all over it. Since the three of them decided to work on a single canvas, it gradually moved off the painting mat and onto the floor. Just a little while earlier, i had asked them to color on the mat as they were using my markers which could potentially stain the floor. When i came to see their art work I saw a lot of bright magenta streaks on the floor. “Who did this?” i asked. ” i just said to NOT color on the floor” “not me!” “not me!” “not me” came three replies almost instantaneously. “Maybe Amu did it?” Sid asked tentatively. “I don’t think so” i replied. These don’t look like strokes he owuld have made. I let the matter rest there and went to the sink to rinse something. “Aai”, called Sid a moment later. “It was me. But it was by mistake …i was coloring the paper but i also colored the floor”. “That’s okay Sid” I said as i started to wipe the floor “Thanks for telling me”. Nish put his pen down and looked very solemnly at Sid. “You know” he sad seriously and with deliberation, “it is better to make a mistake than to tell lies” i was quite surprised at the pearl of wisdom from my 3 1/2 year old. “Did your teacher tell you that at school?” I asked Nish. “No” he said…”i just think so…it’s ok to make a mistake but it’s not ok to lie” Sid nodded in agreement while Amu, oblivious to the deep philosophical discussion, made the most of the lull in the coloring to gather as many felt pens as he could possibly hold in his two tiny hands!

Discovering cocoa butter

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The Bangalore winter is here…it’s getting pretty cool and rather dry. Our bodies, so used to the Bombay humidity are not used to this and the kids skins have started looking a sorry sight. Lotions and moisturizers don’t seem to be doing anything much and poor amu is forever asking me to scratch his back and ‘bum-bum’.

So, I finally decided to whip up some body butter for my little fellows. Entry – cocoa butter…why had we not met before!? I found a bar of cocoa butter in a baking store. Then, I went and got some organic almond oil and organic apricot oil from Vriksh (our neighborhood organic store). Making thre body butter was actually very simple.

I used roughly 75 % cocoa butter and 25 % oils. First, i started out by letting the cocoa butter melt in a sort of a bain marie. Once it was completely melted, I added the oils, gave it a stir and put it into the freezer for about 10 minutes. Then i pulled it out and using an electric beater I whipped it up a bit. Once that was done, I put it into an empty container and it was ready to use. it hardens up again and basically melts when it comes into contact with the skin. When I rub my finger over the butter, it melts onto my fingertips and I can apply the body butter. it does not leave a sticky or greasy reisude, makes the skin feel really soft and pampered and as my boys put it “smells yummilicious!” The cool thing with the consistency of the body butter is that it is not runny or greasy or messy in the least. It goes from being a solid substance to a very easy to spread butter when it comes into contact with skin. The body temperature is perfect for getting it to melt. Otherwise it remains solid. So the kids can’t really play with it or mess it up either!

Let’s see how effective it is over the next few days. Amu used it this evening after his bath and has gone to bed feeling super soft and smelling delicious! Let’s see how his skin looks over the next few days. if it is indeed as effective as it appears to be then I am going to try all kinds of things with cocoa butter and oils!

(I got my recipe from http://ourlittlegreendot.com/homemade-body-butter-recipe/)

Look! The moon is moving!

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We were in the play ground yesterday and the twins were swinging fast and high, enjoying the breeze and the thrill of the swings. Nish bent his head back to stare at the sky as he was swinging. Suddenly he called out to Sid in excitement :Look Sid! The moon is going back and forth back and forth back and forth!!! It’s swinging like us!” Sid threw his head back too in order to better appreciate what his twin was saying. Then after a few minutes of deliberation he responded..”it’s moving yeah…but the moon doesn’t have a swing. I don’t see one!” Nish gave this some thought. “Maybe it’s just happy that we are on the swing and so it’s moving back and forth” he concluded.

A few minutes later Nish yelled out again “Sid look! actually everything is moving…look at the trees and the building! it’s all moving with us!”

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I did not jump in, did not question, did not correct. It was simply too fascinating and too perfectly adorable to add my two wise scientific bits. As far as they were concerned…everything was moving and the moon was happy they were having such a good time! Oh, the small yet wondrous joys of childhood!!!

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some thoughts on school and self respect

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Last evening i was sitting down with the kids as they had their dinner. My two year old took a bit of his kheema and paratha and looked up with a smile saying “hmmm…deeelishus!” Nish of course, wanted to add to that and he said..”you know..it’s actually scrumptious!” “i like how you are using different words in stead of simply saying yummy” I said to them. Not to be left out, Sid immediately jumped in, nodding his head in a new funny way he has recently acquired. “you can also say it is yummilicious! Aunt S told me that” (i remember my sister in law telling Sid this during our recent holiday together. Then it was back to dinner as they happily giggled and took “baby sparrow bites” and some “humongous bites”

I smiled to myself as I thought about how much these kids were learning and picking up all the time. Exposure, a safe space to explore and try things out and as much as i can manage- respect for them as individuals…these are things which i feel helps them become continuous and engaged learners. Just a couple of days ago when I was short with one of them, I sat down and deliberated on how to react differently because I did not want to hurt their self esteem. In the end, they pick up so much from what they see, the last thing I want to expose the kids to is rude disrespectful behavior.

My morning visit today to a low income private school lead to an invariable juxtaposition of two realities. On the one hand were my boys and I could see them grow and learn so organically. I was careful how i talked to them and I looked for a school that would respect them for who they are, hear them out, allow them to stumble and yet be there to give a hand…On the other, I was in this classroom where a teacher pulled a kid up for having “such big big handwriting”. She took a red pen and made an ugly slash across his paper, held his book up for all to see and then asked him to stand through lunch break and rewrite the whole thing. This was just a few seconds before she yelled at a kid, told him he was lazy and always causing problems…she compared him to his neighbor in class and basically ran him down in front of everyone. Her instructions were short orders pretty much barked out. This was 6th grade….

4th grade was not much different. The teacher was giving a pop quiz to the class and did not hesitate to ridicule a child, his spellings or drawings publicly. Punishments were arbitrarily meted out…stay inside during recess and rewrite all the spellings, remain standing and so forth.

The 6th grade class got me teary eyed. If this is how much you respect a student then why are you expecting him to turn out into a self respecting and people respecting person? How do you expect him to succeed when you don’t even believe he can? How does reducing his self worth in this manner provide any impetus for him to succeed? How are you teaching respect and discipline in this way?

I few months back I was upset because a teacher told Sid that his crayoning was like scribbling. It upset him and it really bothered me that someone could affect his self perception and confidence with a small un – though through statement. And then here today…what I saw was so much worse…so disturbing.

It is time for us educators and parents to recognize and appreciate a child for who is his and respect him for that. Sure we want them to learn and grow and become lots of things…but for me, it is important that before any of that stuff, my child needs to be comfortable with who he is, happy with how he is, respectful of himself and the world around him. Everything else will follow in due course…

Going easy on my boys

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There are days…and there are days. On some days I feel like I am going crazy…on others I realize I already have. Seriously, while it is fun being a mom to three boys there are times when I feel ready to pull my hair out. And then, every little thing piles up till I finally lose it!

I hate yelling at my little chaps. But at times, although I breathe (deeply and a lot) and try to keep calm I can’t. The shouting, fighting, crying and tantrums culminate in me just snapping and then I raise my own voice up a few notches and let loose!

But then, after I do that, and I see my boys’ bright little faces crumple I stop and feel worse than I was. I cannot expect them to not yell if that is what they see me do when I am upset. And I think, sometimes as an adult i get overbearing in terms of what they should do. Just because they are little kids does not mean they don’t have the ability to choose for themselves. And I really need to pick my battles and reserve my judgment for issues where they can hurt them selves or others and not over what they have to eat or wear. I realize that it is more important for me to treat them with respect because they will truly learn to respect themselves and others if that is what they see. I expect them to sit still in restaurants, not touch things in shops, not talk loudly, not argue or get upset when we are out….there are seriously so many NOs.

Today my 2 year old came up to me when I did not respond to something he had asked. “Aai!” he said in a serious and firm voice “Now, you listen to me please!” I realized exactly what I sound like and decided that i did not quite like it.

I am going to try harder tomorrow…because I want my kids to be loving, respectful, kind human beings..and for that I first need to try and be a better human being too!

Birthday Party!!!

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Okay…don’t get too excited by the title of the post. This was a super peaceful and low key birthday party. I did not go overboard, did not spend hours prepping and decorating and did not get any clowns or entertainers.

I decided to focus on the reason for the party…our 2 year old bundle of joy. The party was about him and for him…not about all that I wanted to turn his day into. And honestly, I have realized over the years that it takes really simple things to make a child happy. While bouncy castles and jugglers and puppeteers are fun..so are simple thing like just being with your friends and family and playing together. After much thought, I decided that I would plan the party around what Amu likes.

I have this thing for themes…so I figured I would go with that. Amu absolutely loves Eric Carle’s Brown Bear book…he has since he was a little over a year old…and while a lot of the other books have been passing favorites, this is one that he has carried forward even as he has moved on to longer more complex paper back picture books.

The twins thought it would be a fun theme too and so we sat and designed a simple invite that i got printed on photo paper. I take no credit for the idea…it was from the wonderful world of pinterest and google images but basically it had a pic of the brown bear and one of Amu, and it read: Brown Bear Brown Bear, What do you see? I see a birthday boy looking at me”

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Going along with the general Eric Carle theme, I painted a canvas with balloons that had HAPPY BIRTHDAY on it. I picked up cute polka dotted plates, cups and napkins from a local party shop and lots of round colourful balloons. That along with 5-6 cloth buntings (made by our company Printed Elephant Designs) gave the room a really festive cheerful feel. It took hardly anytime and I felt like instead of using paper streamers this was faster, easier and really pretty too!

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Snacks were again around what Amu liked…freshly popped corn (popcorn is of of Amu’s all time favs), ragi/nachni crisps with hummus and salsa, pizzas (bought whole wheat pizza bases and made the sauce at home), jello set in individual cups and of course the birthday cake (which this time we ordered from a place called Aubree).

I picked picked out some of Amu’s favorite music CDs, made a big batch of glitter play dough and set it up with a baking tray, rolling pins, silicone cup cake molds, cut up straws to use as candles and bits of colored plastic beading string as sprinkles. In addition to that, we set up blocks, a reading corner and a puzzle mat. My cousin drew outlines of the animals from the Brown Bear book which we kept in the balcony along with little cups that had crayons.

Once the kids came in, they went straight for whatever activity they chose. Since these were all Amu’s school friends, everyone knew each other and they seemed very comfortable. The playdough was a hit…they were all playing with it. A couple of kids sat in the reading corner while another girl focused on the puzzles. Amu waled excitedly round the room on his tiptoes (a sure sign of being happy-excited for him) and showed off his territory to his friends.  Sid and Nish helped collect the presents and put them away inside. They showed the little kids around and tried to engage with them too. it helped having their friend from school there too so that they had one more person in their age group.

The cake was a big success…All the kids stood there excited as we waited for Amu to cut it. The cake had a big brown bear sitting on top and lovely fondant animals from the story all around the sides.

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Popcorn and jello worked really well too.

All in all the kids had a blast and Amu was super happy through the party. It meant less stress and more fun for all of us!

The return presents were these really lovely eric carle style flash cards made by Art for Akanksha! (www.artforakanksha.org)