What is a ‘virgin’?


Yeah..that’s right..that is the title of this post. (and it is the third post of the day…have not blogged in a while so decided to go the whole hog)
Anyway, Nish came to me yesterday and asked me this very innocently: Aai, what’s a virgin?”
I was not expected to field these questions at 4…

Me: Why do you ask?
Nish: S (his friend) was telling me that he knows another virgin
Me: What do you mean another virgin?
Nish: I know one too…but he know another one
Me: Which virgin do you know love?
Nish: I don’t know what virgin is Aai! But when I was singing “When the Saints go marching in” S said that he knows another virgin. The tune is a little different.
Me (whew): Yeah…that song has many versions (i said the word slowly and clearly). It means that there are different ways that the same song has been sung. You have versions of games, of cars, of many things.

And then then 4 yr old tripped off happily to his room singing his ‘virgin’ of ob la di ob la da …yeah and life goes on!

looking at the world through my almost 3 year old’s lens


Amu is a few days shy of 3…the terrible twos seem to using these last few moments of his twos to manifest themselves and make up for lost time. From a cheerful kid with a fairly sunny disposition, Amu has turned into the king of tantrums. He wants his brothers to share (you have to learn to share nish” he preaches) But try asking him to let someone else dip into the (common) tin of cookies and we have a total melt down. “he cant take a biscuit…it’s my tin” “No” i reason, “it’s our tin”. “Ok…but the biscuits are still all mine”

Last evening as he rapidly dismantled a complicated lego car that his brother had made, I intervened saying “Don’t think that is such a great idea Amu. Sid and Nish made that car. check with them first”
Egocentric boy replies “No I want to break it. They want me to break it Aai” (yeah sure they do love!)

Here’s what a trip down to the play area looks like….we get to the ground floor, I help him wheel his rather unwieldy bike to the door. I prop the door open. “Why did you do that???? I wanted to open the door!!!!” (loud scream)
I figure the simplest thing to do is to close the door
Me: Sorry about that Amu. I did not know you wanted to open the door. You don’t  need to yell. You can just ask me to close it
Amu: No! You can’t just close it. Now we have to go back up again and come down and I will open it
Me: Why dont we just open it again from here?
Amu: No that’s not fair. I wanted to do it own my OWN! We have to go up again.
The other two boys are waiting with their bikes and looking at us. I ask them to go on ahead and start playing.
Amu: Come back up!
Fortunately at this point he was distracted by some friends who had also come out to play. However,  half an hour later he remembered and came back to me with the same ridiculous request.

He sometimes even asks me to return his snot, to unwipe the water from his body, to give his pee back to him (how could I flush it without checking?)

I am struggling with the balance (and my sanity). Do i give in to some of it, stay firm and not give in at all and deal with the loud raucous tantrums (it is IMPOSSIBLE to rationalize at that point), fortunately my 4 yr old twins recognize the madness and are fairly decent in dealing with it…though the broken lego constructions and jigsaw puzzles leave them hopping mad too!

Oh, and the negotiations!!! Boy can he negotiate …and he is super persistent too! I am truly hoping that this is just another phase that will pass (soooooon). It is teaching me patience (much more than I ever thought I would need), helping me with skillful use of vocabulary (cause I certainly can’t start cursing) and definitely highlighting the need for meditation.

But then, on a different note, the tight hugs he gives me so generously, the big fat juicy kisses, head massages and cuddles, general advice on life (finish all your tea ok..it’s good in cold weather) and his loud proclamations of “best mama in the whooooole world!” put the sunshine back into my day, help me see what a precious little bundle of joy he is and helps me get through the next few tantrums!

Of course, any advice on this stage and phase would be much appreciated!

Time for some gingerbread


IMG_8896Diwali has gone by and the cool weather is arriving in Bangalore. The rains have been regular daily visitors and the boys have moved from shorts to track pants and light sweatshirts. They are a lot more excited by the smell of baking and are generally super snacky when they are at home.

Yesterday i decided to make some gingerbread cookies. I got the recipe from Martha Stewart’s site (http://www.marthastewart.com/343445/gingerbread-cookies)

Anyway, long story short..a little tedious but turned out absolutely delish! The boys woke up from their afternoon nap like puppies with their noses in the air sniffing around in the kitchen. We pulled them out, I  let them cool and did a simple icing on top. Then before i knew it, the kids had taken them off the cooling rack and made off with a gingerbread man each.

Sid looked at Amu who was admiring his cookie in general and said “eat it up quickly before the gingerbread man runs away!”

Nish my ever musical boy immediately broke into the gingerbread man refrain “run run as fast as you can….”

Amu of course had us all in splits a minute later. He promptly chomped at his cookie and then held it up saying “no worries, i have eaten up his legs…now he cant run!

A school full of laughter


Everyday when I go to pick up the kids from their preschool, the first sound that hits my ears as i as get out of the car is the sound of laughter…lots of laughter…giggles, gentle laughs, loud and boisterous laughs…and happy voices engaged in all kinds of conversations. I love to take a peek over the corner of the compound wall. It’s like a 30 second power packed entertainment video clip. There are children on swing-sets, children on slides, some wearing dress up clothes, others busy with some paper and colors. A few kids whiz around on trikes while others are occupied coloring on the paved area with chalks. Paper rockets zoom around but not half as fast as the excited bodies that fling and chase them. Sometimes there are kids arguing about something, the occasional tumble and scrape (i would be surprised if that did not happen!) but in general the place is alive with curious, engaged and really happy souls! I see kids chatting with each other, children chatting with an adult, some with fresh guavas off their guava tree, others observing the pet school rabbit. I sometimes worry that there may be some pressure for things like writing which for the younger kids is definitely developmentally inappropriate…but conversations with the team have helped and then when I see the myriad of other things happening – especially the interactions and time for free play I know I can relax…my boys are in the right place! For a setting that allows kids to be…to explore, play and discover is one where I know my boys will become the more rounded human beings that I would hope they will be….they get to experiment, practice, develop at their own pace…they negotiate, fight and make up, resolve conflicts or deal with them. I have been thinking about this for quite a few days…had to put it down and share.

A meltdown…quite literally!!!


My almost 3 yr old is having serious tantrums…over the craziest stuff. sometimes it is easy to talk to him through them sometimes it is plain crazy and I have to keep reminding myself of how this is to be expected so that I don’t burst a vessel.

Here is what happened as we were getting ready for bed last night…

Me: Ok guys, it’s time for bed. Each one of you pick a book and settle down. I am going to read to you if you like

Boys all run and get a book of their choice. Twins get one each. Amu gets 3.

Mine are all small he announces. Possibly valid rationalization and I am in no mood to split hairs at this point.

First we read amu’s book …something about a brave caveman…he wants an encore and the twins oblige.

Next Nish picks out his book on dinosaurs. Amu gets upset…he wants to read his second book first. Twins oblige again and we read his second book. Then back to the one on dinosaurs. As we are reading it Amu puts his hand on the dino picture on the cover and yells loudly “OUCH!!!! he bit me! the T-Rex just bit me”

We smile at him and continue reading while he proceeds to let out the most realistic cries of pain.

Amu: I need ice!!! ice!!! ice!!!! quick give me ice!

In the interest over getting the book read, i give him the ice.

He come back into the room with his bowl of ice (which he has ‘selected’ from the ice tray)

As we are reading the story there is another yell from him.

Amu: it’s gone!!! it is all gone and now i only have water!!!! i want it back

The meltdown he had after that was crazy and i really was about to lose it too. As I raised my voice and firmly told him to stop yelling, Nish reminded me that “he is just tired and being a baby aai. Don’t get angry!” I needed that little reminder. We tried to find him a solution – more ice? Nope he wanted the same ice back. Maybe we could refreeze the water? Nope – he wanted the same ice back JUST NOW. I told him to stop being ridiculous, i asked him to sit in another room so we could read and then realized how mean that sounded. I don’t think it made any sense to rty and rationalize with him at that point in any case. So i picked him up and hoped that some cuddling would help. Not too sure that worked!
Finally he cried and fell asleep and I felt hassled, tired and a little miserable about getting angry.

This morning I came across this article on FB…it came at a time when i certainly needed to read it!

Splashes of color on a rainy day…literally!


I have not blogged in a while…it’s been busy…but I wanted to share a couple of art related things we did last week when the sun wasn’t shining and the skies were quite grey.

First of all, we had a blast with all our broken crayons. We took old some crayons and using cello-tape we attached them to the top of a plain sheet of paper. Then we clipped the paper onto our balcony railing and got started. Using a hairdryer we melted the crayons and watched them drip down in blobs and streaks. They melted faster when we turned the heat to the highest mark. depending on how and where we held the dryer we could make the streaks change direction. We could either let them flow down as individual colors or have them mix as they came down. At one point, one of the crayon bits got detached and slid down the paper leaving as really bold trail. This brought lots of oohs and aahs and the boys took turns trying to dislodge another chunk.



It was amazing because not only was it art but it was a lot of observation, experimentation and science too. And we got a cool piece of art at the end!

Another thing we did was to grate the bits of crayon onto butter paper. We folded the butter paper and then I used a hot iron on it. The crayon shavings melted and we used that paper to cut up pretty shapes that are now decorating the children’s bedroom window!

We also did some fun art with wax crayons and water colors. While we had done this before the boys enjoyed it a lot more this time as their art looked more defined. They drew with bolder firmer strokes and made actual forms – a tiger and a leopard (inspired by our visit to the zoo i guess).

IMG_8764              IMG_8763

They first drew on the blank paper with wax crayons and then painted over it with watercolors.


The results were stunning (so says the very biased mother) because the crayon work really popped out from under the water colors. We had a bit of a discussion on why the water colors kept ‘disappearing’ from the wax crayon colored parts and I guess one could take that discussion further if wanted. All in all it was a lot of fun with a bit of science thrown in too!

Gender stereotypes, conditioning and the loss of self expression


It was Ganesh Chaturthi yesterday and we were in the throes of all the action. After setting everything up, I left hubby dear to get the puja stuff ready while I changed into my sari and pulled out a little jewellery…a bit of a cvhange from my usual avatar :)

The boys watched as i draped my saree, admiring the color and design and then Sid was completely mesmerized by my jewellery box (as a bit of context, i usually wear studs in my ears and rarely wear any other jewellery). He ran his fingers over the bangles, picked up and examined the necklaces, peered curiously at the intricate work on the earrings.

“I want to wear this!” he finally declared as he pulled out a delicate gold necklace from the box. “And some bangles too!” He selected a few. Deb (hubby) came into the room and watched with a little amusement as Sid played with my necklace.  “I want to wear this” Sid explained. Deb obliged and put it around his neck and fixed the clasp. “Now the bangles” said Sid. “No” said dad. “That will be silly”…and he went back to the puja preps.

Sid sat fingering the bangles and finally decided he wated to wear them. “I love these!” he said “when i am bigger can you give these to me?”

“Sure” i replied.

He wore the bangles and looked really pleased. “Ok” I said, “why don’t you go outside and help your baba (dad) while I put this away?”

“No no” said Sid. “I can’t go out. Everyone will laugh at me and say I am a girl”

I looked at Sid, at 4 already worried about what the world would say…already torn between what he felt like doing and what social customs demanded. “Hey!” I  said, “it’s just bangles and you feel like wearing them. It’s fine. You don’t really have to worry about what anyone says as long as you are ok with what you are doing. If you are doing something bad or wrong or something that will hurt another person then you need to worry. Not otherwise.”

Sid thought about it. “but if i go out like this others will hurt me…they will say something and hurt me”

A lot of wisdom from my little fellow…and something that brought to the forefront for me how much conditioning was happening all the time…and maybe i wasn’t doing it (maybe i was?). In a world of hate crimes, terrorism, war, poverty, malnutrition…is this seriously what we spending our time drilling into our kids??? Seriously???

Where there is a will


I have been visiting a lot of preschools all over the place…mainly schools which are working with kids from low income backgrounds but also a few that are catering to the middle class as well as a couple of high end ones. In general, I walk out of the preschools feeling low, disappointed at the disservice we are doing the future of this world. the teaching is below par, very rote based, with a strong focus on discipline (sit straight, don’t talk), shows little evidence of thought in the planning and is more often than not, developmentally inappropriate (highly so). You have 3 yr olds writing – well, the teacher grips the kid’s hands and ‘makes him write’. I have not seen differentiation and catering to kids with special needs is too way out to even think about.

However, in the midst of all this disappointing developmentally inappropriate teaching and (lack of) learning, I was pleasantly surprised – actually blown away – by a wonderful model on the outskirts of a tier two town. A non profit too! This was a preschool center that had 21/2 to 51/2 year olds from the community coming in. The fees were nominal. There werre 2 teachers – both veterans who had been teaching for the past 20 years or more.

The building was nothing fancy…two large whitewashed rooms. There were a lot of displays on the wall…some kids artwork and then stuff with numbers and letters and animals, etc. Nothing fancy…nothing expensive…but very appropriate for what was happening in the class.

The day started out with a prayer and then the kids did 2 minutes of planning before their 40 minute slot of work time (free play!) Together, they went over the different ‘centers’ in the room and each child chose what they wanted to do. There were blocks and puzzles, peg boards, stacking toys, a corner with books, one with musical instruments, an art corner, a home corner and another spot with laces and beads. The children spent the next 40 minutes busy with what they had chosen. They moved from one center to another (the only rule which was articulated at the outset was to put away one thing before taking out another).The teacher provided occasional scaffolding where she thought it would help. The material at the centers was all inexpensive, locally sourced, culturally relevant and often hand made by upcycling things….keeping the cost pretty low and yet ensuring that there was enough variety as well as material for all the children.

At the end of the 40 minutes, the kids regrouped and debriefed what they did in a circle. They learned about the concept of hot and cold through the example of making tea and a discussion around. The conversation built on past knowledge and experience and was very student led.

They did a little counting using stones and shells and then moved on to art.

Then they had story time where although the teacher did not read a book, she told them a story using cut outs and manipulatives.

The children were engaged, interested and having a good time. They showed a good degree of independence and ownership – they helped lay the mats and clean up after play. They chatted comfortably with the teachers and were all mostly on task without any reprimands or references to disciplinary consequences.

All in all – a wonderful experience that shows us what is indeed possible if only we recognize how important it is to get this right. As educators we owe it to our children to believe in our philosophies, to stand by them because of the commitment we have made to these kids…even if parents themselves demand bad early childhood education…asking for rote repetition and early reading and writing and homework and tests. We own it to the kids and to ourselves and it is so refreshing to see a school that stands its ground and does what it truly believes.

On teachers’ day, i had to put this down and congratulate all these wonderful people who are doing the most incredible work ever….and being the change!

Happy Teachers Day!!!

And it all comes together…



In a lot of earlier blogposts, i have stressed on how, for me, the process is more important than the product. Whenever we set up things for the kids to do, I try to keep the focus on the process…the thinking involved, the experimentation, allowing kids to try things out, ask questions, work at a pace and in a manner that they are comfortable with (and as long as they respect their siblings who are also engaged in the activity).

These past few weeks have been rewarding for me, in that I am seeing how the focus on the process has culminated in my kids taking ownership of their work, enjoying the process and demanding more.

We tend to do a lot of art at home. Every day sees us dabbling with paints or crayons or markers or another medium. I usually set stuff up and let the kids be. While Nish always has been into drawing that tries to represent specific forms (he started out with a car when he was about 2 – a curved line with 4 wheels under it) Sid has been more of a scribbler. He has always steered clear of form, preferring instead to do broad, dark strokes on the paper, and if it is paint then on his body – generally his canvas of choice. He went went through a phase of not doing art at all (or very little of it) after a trainee teacher at his school openly remarked that his art was not the greatest (kaccha puccha – or half baked if you please).

However, i continued to put stuff out for him, not forcing him but asking him to make a card, or color something for me. I rarely praised it with a simple – wow that looks great…instead, i asked him to describe what he was doing, what he was thinking of and it became a great opportunity for a dialogue that involved very creative thinking and verbal expression.

The past month, he has been regularly asking for paper and crayons and likes to spend time drawing and coloring. He finishes and proudly comes up with his work. Sometimes it still looks like scribbles, but sometimes (more often than not) there is little ambiguity about the crux of his art. And he continues to have a narrative with every piece! Today he spent close to an hour making multiple pictures for different people, including a mixed media project with sequins.

Amu, not to be left behind, spent an equally large chunk of time sticking mirrors and small sequins to make bright circles on a paper.

Similarly with music…all that singing and listening to music has now suddenly led to bursts of spontaneous singing by the kids – ranging from old hindi numbers to the carpenters to new hindi movie songs. Amu loves pretending to sing into a mike as does Sid.

It feels nice…satisfying to see that it helps to believe that this approach does work…that you don’t need every one to be in boxes doing the same thing at the same time whether they want to or can.  Now can some of our preschools recognize this and start thinking about what this means to their classrooms?


many a slip twixt cup and lip


The title of the post pretty much sums up what i observed in one of the early childhood centers i visited earlier this week.  The center, a part of a larger chain of preschools, boasts of a standard curriculum that has been tested. it claims to draw from various philosophies and pedagogies…talks about the importance of focusing on the child, keeping a good child-teacher ratio…the coordinator at the center definitely spoke the talk, used the right terms and displayed a fairly good understanding of early childhood, developmental benchmarks and appropriate practice, the need for the right kind of program etc.

The center was well set up. There was enough space, the furniture was child friendly, the class had a ton of displays on the walls, there were 2 teachers per class and each of them had a maximum of 4 kids (per teacher).

And yet, somewhere between the very wonderful ed-speak, the seemingly well thought through setup and the actual implementation and delivery there seemed to be a deep incomprehensible chasm.

The class functioned entirely on rote learning, constant repetition of every piece of information. The children had absolutely no opportunity to talk or respond, let alone to process or question. The group i was with were all 3 yr old and throughout the session the only movement i found them allowed to do was a trip to the washroom before and after lunch.

There was no art, no craft, no work with gross motor skills. There was a decent and well equipped play space outside but i was told that they got to use it only twice a week. The remaining days were for “music and movement” which as my observation showed translated into everyone sitting in their places and listening to two teachers singing (droning monotonously) repeating everything twice. That was certainly not music and there was absolutely no movement.

Surprisingly even lunch was an extremely quiet affair. The kids barely tried to interact. If they did they were asked to be quiet and quickly finish their food.

They did writing (yes- at age 3) using chalk and a slate. The teacher basically held each child’s hand and had him write alphabets.

I walked out depressed…i was clearly part of a system that is failing our kids…badly. I agree that most of the population cannot access resource rich school because of financial considerations, i recognize that the gaps are huge, the road looks and is bumpy, that there is so much work to do to prepare the child for grade school. Yet, the only thing i see us doing is completely stealing their childhood, depriving them of the right and the ability to think, process, assimilate and grow. The industrial revolution has come and gone and we are still struggling with the aftermath…struggling so much that we see this approach as the only way to help our kids!?

And I feel that the system, the parents..we are all to blame. I see parents pushing kids into classes, parents demanding teachers to get their 3-4 year olds to do formal writing … i see preschools not thinking twice about their fancy philosophies and pedagogies and they do rapid turnarounds to have children start reading and writing as early as they possibly can…even if that means holding their little fingers and forcing them to do it. Plato would shudder, Rousseau too…and i am certain that Dewey, Montessori, J.Krishnamurthy (who everyone is happy to call their inspirations) would be aghast at what their philosophies not look like. Reggio Emilia is an approach – not just a room called an atelier, there is much more to Montessori than the learning aids..and don’t even get me started on project based learning, inquiry or experiential learning.

It’s time for us to take a step back…all of us – parents, teachers, school leaders, educators and policy makers…what do we really want for our children? Because it really fails to make sense right now. And it all starts in the early childhood years…that’s the crucial foundation. Let’s give ourselves and our kids a chance. Let’s allow them to be kids while we are at it. And let us make ourselves and the system accountable to our children – we need to recognize and demand much better and more meaningful early childhood care and education…because we can make that change if we really want to. DSC02670