A rave and a rant

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My boys are not even four, but there is so much they are able to do. Nish and Sid have started trying to read…albeit 3 and 4 letter words…Amu is picking up from them. They can narrate stories, tell you what they like about a book, identify names of authors, count to ten, follow and copy patterns, identify different plants and birds around us…they even have as rudimentary understanding of gravity. Not even 4 and yet they have had access to so much in these super important formative early childhood years. Its like exponential growth happening all the time…language development, curiosity and learning by discovering and doing, readiness for formal school, socialization processes…the list seems endless. So much that i take for granted till i wake up and look at the reality around me…

every visit to a low income school, an interaction with some of the school teachers from govt aided schools and the GAP hits me in the face. When a teacher of a group of 5 year old expresses to me how low her expectations are of her class, her lack of belief in them or their abilities (and ironically and sadly she actually means well), her complete dismissal of any social or cultural capital that they come with..it hits me…and i understand the meaning of privilege and feel its weight.

The right to education act is a step and i really hope that we are able to work towards it. It needs significantly more though and needs to be implemented in a way that makes sense. At least kids between 6-14 will have access to education….it is supposed to be quality education…and quality is the key, important and yet missing and elusive word.  But by the time kids are 6 would they not have missed out on significant opportunity for development and learning? What about those formative years? They are not on a level playing field…there are huge gaps between them and their significantly affluent peers…even if one does not compare the kids to their peers, they are significantly below the expected learning levels for starting first grade. Also, sure -the private schools have a responsibility to educate our less privileged children..but what about the government’s responsibility? Simply palming it off to the private sector seems to me almost like a dismissal of the possibility that government run schools could achieve this basic right for our children.

I don’t have  answers..just questions that make me uncomfortable, observations that make me upset…and I am trying to do my little bit to work at it…but at this point it is too little and I know I can do more.

As a country, I feel we need to focus so much more on this basic issue and basic right – education. Not just by building schools and equipping them with toilets…but by creating a true learning environment that gives kids a chance to realize and optimize their potential, a system that values them for who they are and works with them and for them, teachers who are trained and who recognize the enormity of the task ahead..yet who take each day at a time …each child at a time…to truly liberate us through education. I feel that we need to look at more than just starting at age 6…that is much too late already…we need to start younger and sooner. And while individuals and corporates have a responsibility, the government needs to recognize its responsibility too and work towards this too…on an urgent footing. This is (yes i know it is a cliche) the future of our country and this is what we need to invest in…invest not just money, but serious thought, energy, training into. We need to focus on quality, on really making a difference…not because of a law or an international mandate on literacy and education…not because of some statistics that declare a state or country literate, not as a political vote garnering gimmick…but because we truly believe that this is the way forward, because we finally recognize that our human capital is what will actually define us as a nation, because we know at the end of the day that we owe it to our kids and ourselves.

Each one of us can make a difference and needs to start…There are public private partnerships that are showing us that things can work, models like teach for India are bringing highly motivated and trained young leaders into low income schools to work with kids and make a difference, there are individual volunteers and non profits that are working with children from low income backgrounds as well…but I sincerely hope that the government also really gets this as an urgent and important area to look at and honestly focuses on more than buildings, toilets and mid day meals. Those are important accessories …not the actual thing we have to focus on.

We need to rethink our objectives, up the ante as far as teacher training courses go, invest in looking at models that have worked around the world and really learn from those as well what we already have that we can draw from. We need to take responsibility, be accountable for our kids and their learning…and by learning I am not talking about merely performing on exams…We need to start early and sustain our efforts. We need to be able to step back and reflect, give each other feedback and learn and grow. Let us not stop at gleefully declaring ourselves literate because everyone can now sign their names…there is much more work to be done and we all need to get started.

Any thought and ideas?

When I’m ready mom…when I’m ready

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I know it is unrealistic to expect kids to do things when you feel they should be doing it. Right from the very first day, my twins started training me to stop thinking like that. Yeah i know developmental psych tells you that each one will develop at his pace…and yet it sets developmental guidelines that we keep looking at and referring to.  So when one of them is walking and the other isnt, there is a little niggling worry at the back of my mind though i often tell myself to let it go. The balance between being laid back, informed, aware and over-cautious…a difficult trap for a parent to not fall into.

Sid and Nish started working on me early. From the day i delivered them…Sid was in a hurry to get out…barely a couple of pushes and out he came with loud lusty wails…Nish continued to chill out in his little universe inside me…he had to be rudely plodded and guided out…barely a sound from him much to our worry and consternation.

They did everything at different paces…one started crawling early, one walked very late. One was gregarious, the other clung to me when in company of strangers. and it continues even today.

I would worry about Sid not being interested in books and now he is totally into them. My youngest Amu thought hardcover books were for teething and I wondered how we would change that…today he never lets a day go by without getting any available adult (or brother) to read as many books as he can get us to.

I was thinking of this last evening when we went out with friends to a play gym. Usually, in the past, Sid has always kept sticking to me, running off to play but returning like a homing pigeon to ensure that I was right there watching him…and then, last evening it was like he took flight. As soon as we reached the play area…a completely new space for us, he barely waited to take off his shoes and then he was off, running and playing with his brothers, not remotely worried about whether I was around or not.

It’s been like this with so many little things…music and singing (i kept asking the boys to sing along with me as we strummed the guitar and they never would, instead asking me to sing for them. Now Nish is happily belting out Beatles and Carpenters and grooving to the music and the beat. Amu sings incessantly as he goes about his day and Sid enjoys rhythm and beats).

Every now and then, i need to take a step back, breathe…and simply allow them to be. they will do what they have to do…When they are ready!

Some books you can use with young kids in school

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I was putting this list down for a friend who asked me for suggestions for books to use in his school. Sharing the book list here as well in case anyone else finds it useful :)

List of recommended Picture Books for K-4

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
Ages: Pre-K through Grade 2
The book can be used with different age group as the teacher can choose to focus on
 multiple aspects – days, numbers, names of different fruits, collaborative reading,
 writing based on the book, life cycle of a butterfly and metamorphosis.
It looks at pre-math and math skills – sequencing, counting
, Literacy skills,
 Writing,
 vocabulary,
 science – life cycle
Can be connected to art activities based on Eric Carle’s style, an actual study and  exploration of metamorphosis
Can use puppets for retelling

No David – David Shannon
Ages: Pre K- grade 1
Great as a beginner book for emergent readers and perfect as a read aloud for non-readers.
Can be used to set up class rules and expectations
Can be used as a model to create your book book of “No” things
Great to elicit dialogue based on the illustrations

Swimmy – Leo Lionni
Lio Lionni has some spectacular books for kids and Swimmy is a great introduction to his writing and illustration style. 
Can be used with K-4
Introduction to the concept of working together as well as the power of One
Can be used as a study of his art techniques as well
Can be used as an exploration of marine life and an introduction to some sea creatures
Another book to talk about Marine life is Mister Sea Horse by Eric Carle

Books by Julia Donaldson 
The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale, etc.
Ages: K-3
Great for introducing the concept of rhyme
Deals with sharing, imagination, friendship, exploration, etc.
Can be used to discuss creative thinking, looking for solutions, following one’s dreams

When Sophie gets angry – Molly Bangs
Ages: K-3
A
great book to talk about anger and managing one’s temper.
Looks at temper tantrums and is an interesting way to talk about anger, conflict, resolution, etc.
Can be used to model writing
Great as a discussion tool for circle time

Something Else – Kathryn Cave
Ages: Grades 2 and up
Deals with difference and inclusion
Great to start a conversation in class about difference and acceptance
Also to focus on the individuality of each person
A good teacher training tool as well – something that can be on a reading list for teachers
Can be used for class discussions and for an exploration of difference and how to accept it

Will you Still Love Me – Jean Baptiste Baronian
Ages: PreK – 2nd grade
A heart warming story of a young polar bear who is expecting a sibling
Great for prek – 2nd grade – typically ages when siblings arrive!
Good book to initiate a conversation on siblings, insecurities and change
(My New Baby and Peter’s Chair are two other very nice books to discuss this topic)

One – By Kathryn Otoshi
Ages: PreK – grade 3/4
Great to introduce colors to younger kids
Interesting way to discuss the importance of One and how each one of us stands for
 something

Books by Sandra Boynton
Ages: PreK and K
Silly fun and lovely rhymes – Sandra Boynton books are great for introducing children 
to books.
Poetry by Shel Silverstein

Pot luck!

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What are little boys made of?

Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails…..

Not to sound like I buy into a lot of the gender stuff but…yesterday we baked delicious bread at home. My youngest asked for a nice hot slice, had it generously buttered, spread with marmite and then he proceeded to run to the loo and dunk his toast straight into…yup…the pot before proceeding to chomp a bite off. I was blissfully unaware, little imagining how much the fellow was enjoying the freshly baked bread….till a shriek (and a most unnervingly fascinated face) from Sid drew my attention to this!!!

Sorry…gross but had to share…

Note to self: never (NEVER) assume the little boy is innocently and quietly enjoying a bite…if he is that quiet then there is definitely a STORM brewing (you may not want to find out about it and simply enjoy the calm…but then again…maybe not)

Happy brothers

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My boys are playing so well together nowadays…and in spite of their fighting and complaining, they really do look out for each other. Nish has been under the weather these past few nights…after being asthma free for almost a year, suddenly it resurfaced and with the onset of a a bad cold, and the poor fellow has been coughing, gasping, throwing up at night…day before was particularly bad and he threw up right after dinner. As he was bent over coughing, Sid who had been reprimanded to our time out corner for being rather obnoxious to Nish a few moments ago, came running up to pat his brother and ask if he could help or get him anything. He was so super concerned about his twin that it nearly made me cry :)

Yesterday, I kept Nish home. Amu was at home too, down with a nasty cold and cough. So Sid went off to school all by himself. I was surprised he even did, because Nish told me he would not go if his brother were not going to be there. But Sid went. When I picked him up that afternoon and asked him how his day was, instead of his standard reply (FUN! I played and played and played…) he simply said “OK…I was a little Sad because Nish wan not there”

“But did not play and play and play?” I asked him.

“I did…but it not fun to play without him. I was still sad”

When we got home, Sid got a spectacular welcome from Nish who was waiting for his brother to get home. They gave each other giant hugs and then sat down in the family room as Sid filled Nish in on all that had happened in school that day…right down to what they did at circle time and the song that they were singing together.

Nish asked about everyone and Sid dutifully replied to all his questions. Then he produced a crumpled paper from his pocket…a drawing he had made for Nish.

I left the two of them, sitting next to each other, their heads touching, as they continued with their very involved conversation!

Tea Party

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For a while now, the boys have been into trains and trucks and cars. Their imaginary world revolves around detailed construction site related conversations, bikes and the world of Thomas and friends at Sodor.

Our tea set and cooking set have been lying neglected in the cupboard since quite a few months. Yesterday, when I opened the toy cupboard to take out some puzzles for Amu, Nish looked at a box that I very carefully moved to one side in order to get to the puzzles under it. “What is in that?” he asked. “Your glass teas set that Sangana aunty gave you and the other one that Baba got form Ikea last year” i replied. “It’s the glass one?” Sid piped in…fascinated as he is by all things that he usually is not allowed to handle without supervision – glass being one of them. “real kachecha?” (glass in marathi). “yes kachecha” i replied. But with Amu around I am not sure you can play with it right now.”

“He won’t break it Aai” Sid assured me. “Please can we play?”

I was surprised yet happy to see this sudden renewed interest in the tea set. I pulled the two boxed out, lay a rug on the floor and set them up. The boys arranged the cups and saucers on a tray I gave them and then got the glass teapot and sugar bowl. It started out with lovely “tea-time” conversation between the three boys (all pretending to be Baba – dad)

A few minuted into it, Nish came and asked for some pretend tea in the teapot…”You can put water” he told me. “And some sugar in the sugar pot please”. Now equipped with a few small plastic spoons from their other kitchen set they set up a veritable tea party. Sid came to the kitchen and  took a plate of strawberries and grapes that I had kept out as a snack for them.

The three of them poured each other many many cups of tea (and coffee) and discussed their day in great earnest.  They ate the fruits off the little glass saucers and pretended to dip cookies into their tea as well.

It was truly wonderful to watch my three boys so busy…they did not even want to go down and play with their bikes. Finally, they settled for taking their sand toys down and continuing with the world of make believe by making cakes and sand pies :)

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What color am I?

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We were sitting and painting / coloring the other day. Sid was doing a self portrait. After drawing his face, hands and legs with a black crayon he decided to color it in. He thought hard as he chose his crayons. “I think i want blue eyes today” he announced and colored his eyes a stunning blue. Then came the dilemma…”what color am i?” he asked aloud as he rummaged through the box of crayons. “Not peach” he decided, discarding different shades of peach. “Try brown” Nish proffered. “What brown am i?” Sid picked up a bunch of browns and help it against his hand. “Not this one…this is like coffee…this is like mud…this is very dark…this is also not right” Finally he looked like he had nearly given up. Then suddenly he said..”But i think coffee colored brown skin looks lovely!” Decision made, he quickly colored himself a ‘coffee brown’ and proudly handed his work to me :)

I am planning to have them do a few more portraits and think through colour a little more. Maybe read Shel Silverstein’s poem on Colors to them and see how that goes :)

A holiday to remember

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With three little boys, we land up thinking long and hard about where we take a holiday. It needs to be accessible, there needs to be enough space for the kids to run around, we would like it to be nice yet not overly fancy where I am worried about what is getting destroyed next as my boys tumble about the place.  It needs to have some basic facilities like a microwave, etc in the room and also nice food at the restaurant. And it most certainly needs to be kid friendly. It’s tough enough traveling with the mad brood of high energy fellows without getting annoyed looks from waiters and hotel staff.

Anyway, since we recently became members of Club Mahindra Holidays we decided to take our first Club Mahindra Holiday last November. And since my parents had their wedding anniversary then, we planned a trip together along with them and my brother and his wife. All of us drove together from Bangalore to Madikeri, Coorg. The drive was long but nice…about 51/2 hours with a decent halt for lunch,etc.

When we got to the resort we were tired…but just getting in was refreshing and rejuvenating.. The staff was warm and welcoming, the kids absolutely fell in love with the place. They walked around the reception, mesmerized by the little pool of water in the center. They enjoyed the attention and welcome drinks that they were served and all three of them had broad grins plastered on their faces.

The welcome was just the beginning of the warmth and attention shown to us by the Club Mahindra staff. Polite, warm and always ready to help, they truly made us feel ‘at home’. The resort itself was stunning. There were things for everyone to do. Play areas for the kids, lots of lovely trails to walk on, 2 pools, activity centre, movies you could rent, books to read, a space for toddlers to play indoors. There were adventure sports as well and very nice staff members to help with them…so we did a lot of stuff…bungee jumping, quad biking, zip lining, adventure trails…i was surprised that even Sid and Nish felt enthused enough to try out the adventure trail…it was at quite a height and did not seem like something a 3 1/2 year old could do.

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The resort had lots of gorgeous plant and bird life and so, for bird watchers it was really wonderful. We managed to get some stunning pictures of birds and my mom and brother spent loads of time on walks and following birds!

The restaurant was also really nice and kids under 5 eat for free so that made sense too! And the chef and his team were greta in terms of checking with us on what we liked and wanted. In fact for my parents anniversary they even set up a lovely pooliside dinner with us with coorgi cuisine!

There was lots to do around the resort as well and we went nearby to see the abbey falls and an elephant sanctuary among other things.

The spa was incredible too!

But more than anything else, the kids had a really fun time. they ran around, enjoyed the fresh air and plants and birds. they made friends with the staff and generally had a blast. Since there was so much for them to do, so much space to run around, climb and explore I did not have to worry about what they were going to do holed up in a room or having to entertain them.

All in all it was a super holiday and the kids already want to go back. Going to try another Club Mahindra resort soon. I think it was just perfect for a holiday with the whole family and kids!   IMG_6920 IMG_6881 IMG_6683 IMG_6600

Playing with trains and tracks

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It looks like a box of toys…it is actually a whole world of curious exploration and experimentation. I see a track laid out that is being adjusted and fixed for no apparent reason…three brothers arguing and rearranging the tracks and trains and props…If i look closer there is so much more going on. it’s not just a game. I see conversation and collaboration. The three of them are deciding the best way to lay out the tracks. They agree on some things and argue about some other things. It is a process of experimentation. The track can be long and open ended. It can be curved and looped, it can be an oval or a perfect circle. How many pieces make the circular track? Why are some pieces left over? How can we make a track using all the pieces?

Can two trains run on it simultaneously? Nish figures out how to make the trains chane tracks and then takes on that role very seriously, sending Thomas on one route and James on another. Sid experiments with the speed of trains…does it run faster going straight on on a circular track. Does the carriage attached at the back affect the speed. He notices that the engine with the carriage attached tended to derail at a sharp turn. He removed the carriage and noted with satisfaction that James was now chugging along without accidents. He then asked Nish to ensure that James and his carriage stayed on the straighter route with no sharp turns. Amu realized that if he stuck his toe out the train slowed as it touched it and made a loud whirring sound. He kept trying it every time the engines came near him. He also took upon himself to place bridges and tunnels along the way, replacing them every time they were knocked over. As they got into a sort of rhythm with their respective rules an elaborate conversation and imaginary play also started. The boys discussed passengers, freight the trains were carrying…transferring their understanding of trains from books and real life experiences to the conversation and play.

They practiced words that they otherwise did not get a chance to use…derailed (which Amu kept calling delayed much to the amusement of his brothers), caboose, siding and coupling. The words were consistently used correctly including by the youngest fellow who was not to be left behind.

So like i said…it looks like a box of toys…but is it??? It looked so much more like a collaborative experiment in physics!

(Thank you dear ‘maasis’ for the wonderful gift!!! And yes – i finally got batteries!)