A fun and simple birthday party

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I like small birthday parties…simple ones that focus on the birthday child and his friends and the things he likes. I am not big on party entertainers and fancy decorations…it’s not about being frugal..it’s about looking at what one really needs ..and in our case simple works just fine.

The boys turned 4 this weekend and we did a small celebration at home. About 10 kids (and our 3 boys)…al the kids at the party were neighbors – children the boys see and play with everyday. The set up was simple. We had a sort of theme – superheroes because all three boys and into super heroes. So, I basically cut up adult tshirts to make capes and used felt to make masks for all the kids. I put these into a tub at on a chair at the door so each kid could pick one up as he/she entered. We had red, blue and yellow balloons all over the room and a spiderman bunting that I picked up in a party shop.

I put out our tractor mat, car mat and a lot of vehicles to go with those in addition to a kitchen set and some yummy scented playdough (a ball of chocolate playdough and another one that was orange colored and scented – https://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/delicious-scented-playdough/ , https://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/all-that-glitters/ – two playdough recipes) and we were set.

Food was again – simple…mac and cheese, raagi crisps, carrot and cucumber sticks and hummus, fresh popcorn, juice, potato chips, jello…and of course, cake! Everything (except the potato chips and juice) was made at home. We used the children’s everyday plastic ikea plates and glasses instead of disposable ones to minimize wastage.

The cake was easy to make and great fun to decorate. Made an enormous chocolate cake (round), made icing with butter and icing sugar and drew a spider web in white on the cake. Then, using marzipan, i colored the marzipan red, rolled it into a ball and then flattened it to make a spiderman face which again i decorated with white and deep blue icing. Placed the spidey face in the center of the web and then wrote happy birthday Sid and Nish across the web in blue.

Very tragically I have no pictures…because (ok i kicked myself enough already) i had taken the memory card out of my cam earlier that day and forgot to put it back in. So we took tons of pictures…but did not actually take them!

The kids had a blast. Since the majorty were boys, they were super happy with the tractor mat and cars which they played with for a long time. Then it was onto the play dough and I am so glad that I had kept the play dough out in the balcony because boy did we have a play doughy mess at the end of the party! But the kids kept busy and the adults could sit down and have a sane conversation without having to bother at all with the children!

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We also had made a spiderman pinata and I gave the boys plastic raquets to try and break it. Lots of jumps and whacks later one of the mums punched the pinata and it exploded confetti and candy all over the kids…of course there was a scramble to collect as many as possible! I loved how one little girl ignored the cansy and chased after the flying confetti instead.

After the pinata was broken

After the pinata was broken

The boys were so happy and excited all evening – i am glad we kept it simple and focused on them! I enjoyed every minute of it too!

I am asking my friends for pics…some of them were taking photos on their pones…so hopefully i will have a few to put here in a day or so!

Stealing childhood? A rant

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I was in a bookstore the other day when I came across flash cards for 1 month old and 3 month olds. That was not a typo…I did not mean to say years…i wanted to say months…as ludicrous as it sounds, we need flash cards for newborns and infants. So they can identify 58 pictures by the time they are 5 months old and read a hundred sight words by the time they are 2…or whatever. Why on earth? Is there any research that shows that a baby who can identify pictures at 5 months is likely to be more successful than one who doesn’t even start trying to do this till much later?
Apps on the Ipad, television shows, early tutoring classes, flashcards and workbooks, special help for preschoolers…what are we trying to achieve? Our kids have so little time outside of the world of formal school and then structured living by societal rules and norms, why can’t we let them have their few years of free play and exploration? Their time to discover the world by lying on their backs and watching the sun and the moon and the stars…the birds on the trees and flowers and plants? Why can’t we allow them to be who they are, to discover themselves through the experiences with all that is around them..why define them to fit into the boxes we want them to fit into?
As we rush between school and tutoring and classes, between a zillion camps and flashcard piles and competitive exams..are we forgetting what and who they are? children! Can we plesae step back a little bit and give them their childhood back? Please?

What makes a superhero???

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The boys are big time into super heroes…spiderman, superman, batman and a bunch of other ones. It’s more because of their peers I guess – they have not watched a single super hero cartoon or anything and we don’t have any books with them either. yet, the boys love these men of steel with their incredible powers and cool outfits. They dominate so many of their conversations and often creep into their imaginary play.
Sid loved the batman costume our friends gave him and sometimes even wears it downstairs to play. This year for their birthday they wanted a party that had superheroes as a sort of theme. I decided to go with it and have tried to work the theme into their little party tomorrow with all their friends from our building complex.
Since Sid was so keen on Superheroes, I tried having a conversation with him about them. Here is how it went.

Me: So you like superheroes
Sid: Oh yes I love them!
Me: What is a super hero?
Sid: He is like spiderman or batman..he can fly even
Me: So, what makes him a superhero?
Sid (with absolutely no lead time): His clothes…he has a cape and a mask
Me: That’s it? Just his clothes?
Sid: Yes i think so
Me: So anyone can be a superhero if they wear the superhero outfits?
Sid: Yes anyone can be a superhero
Me: If you wore a superhero costume you think you could fly?
Sid: Yeah…i think so…but i will be a super hero then
Me: What do superheroes do?
Sid: They fight bad people…they catch them and then shoot them sometimes or tie them up (sudden pause and deep thought) Then…does that make them bad people too? Because shooting is not a good thing right?
Me: Yeah i don’t think it is a good thing
Sid: So superheroes are actually BAD? (deep thought again) But they only catch the bad people so that we stay safe and don’t get hurt so they are not so bad.
Me: So you think they are not bad then?
Sid: Yeah … i can be a super hero too. If you push me high on the swing then i can fly.

And cut….end of the discussion as other conversations took over! However, it was interesting to see how simple it was to turn into a superhero…decided to take that and tie it into the plan for their birthday party…so have made superhero capes and masks for all the kids. Let’s see how many metamorphose into superheroes tomorrow!

S

Tractors…farms and play mats

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While our boys have a lot of different things to play with…we have dolls, tea sets, cooking equipment, books, puzzles…they seem to very naturally gravitate towards CARS. These chaps LOVE their vehicles and they have been going through different phases. When the twins were a little over 2 they started asking us to name every car they saw till, in a few weeks they could name (and correctly identify) probably a lot more than I can. Living on the car corridor was a plus.

Then began the fascination with construction vehicles…diggers, dumpers, cement mixers. We had an ever growing collection of cars. At that point I saw a really nice car play mat with roads and stores and what not on it and decided to paint one for the boys. It was (and continues to be) a hit with my little fellows and they have spent many hours taking their cars all over the roads on the mat. They found it especially fun because it was an attempt to make it a map of the neighbourhood we lived in…all the parks and stores they knew…the police ground, the fire brigade, etc. (https://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/a-canvas-for-cars/)

Now that their dad works with a company that makes agricultural machines, it is only to be expected that tractors and harvesters are the new craze in our home. Indulgent dad picks up a die cast model for them on each trip and so over the last year they have accumulated a decent number of farm machines and last week Sid expressed that it would be a wonderful idea to do a ‘tractor mat’. The tractors are too big for our regular car mat and i guess it made sense. So we got to work. We decided what we wanted on it and then i painted a large canvas. We have fields roads, a pond, fields with some vegetables/crops, coconut fibre that we pretend is hay, a house/barn (work in progress) and we have put some animals on it too. (most props are movable and the canvas can get rolled up and put away. It’s not complete and we still need to do pens and barns, etc. but the boys are really enjoying it. They have detailed conversations, they are happy to play together or by themselves, they are using the right equipment for the right processes and it is really really fun to watch. I like how the vocab is getting integrated into their play as Nish lift ‘bales of hay’ and Sid correctly talks about what the harvester does. They even added a small toy plane into their box and have decided it is a Crop Duster.

Sure it took several hours to work on it and there is a lot more to be done…but it was well worth it to watch them use it and play with/on it. It is nearly 5 feet x 3.5 feet so it’s pretty large and so they can really move around on it! IMG_8014 IMG_8019

Sensory Tray

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I read about sensory trays on The Imagination Tree and decided to try it out with the boys. First, I colored some salt using Wilton food coloring (a lovely aqua shade). I kept a tray ready for the boys for when they got home from school. In the tray i kept a paint brush as well as a blunt pencil in case they wanted to use tools to write and not their fingers. I wrote S and N in the salt and kept a few alphabets there for reference. Keeping in ming that Amu (now a little over 2yrs) was probably going to wreck the tray in an instant, I also kept another small baking tin for him with some blue salt, pompoms, a tea strainer (tongs) and my pasta tongs. In addition I kept little plastic cups of different colors and sizes in case he felt like sorting the pompoms.

The boys reaction was great…they were super excited and got to the tray as soon as they walked in. However (and thank goodness I had my plastic sheet spread out under the trays and for them to sit on), they were so excited that they did not use the tray to write in at all…they played with the salt, enjoying the texture, drew a little in it, passed it through the strainer, poured it in and out of the different colored cups…added pompoms to the salt in the tray, tried picking the pompoms up with the pasta tongs as well as using clothes pegs. All in all they had a blast though they really did not use the sensory tray for writing like I had intended.

The next day, I set it up again for them (i had collected the salt and saved it in a jar so we can reuse it multiple times and it is not wasteful). This time round, the reaction was quite different. Amu got to work with his pompoms…but theis time round he was busy sorting the baby pompoms, the medium ones and the ‘giant’ pompoms. He did this using his hands, a spoon, chopsticks (one in each hand and very unsuccessfully) and the tongs.
Nish and Sid on the other hand actually tried their hand at writing in the salt tray. So i guess the second time round was a lot more in control and manageable. But i guess they needed that free exploration on the first day to really understand the different possibilities the tray offered.

Going to use this again in a few days because I think they seem to enjoy it…it is tied into various skills…fine motor, sensory exploration, sorting, sequencing, letter recognition, copying, etc.

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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!