Ish by Peter Reynolds

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We already had a book by Peter Reynolds – and it is a much loved book in our home – The Dot…which i may have blogged about earlier…about a girl who thought she could not draw and how just a really simple thoughtful interaction with her teacher changed all that…

I came across another book by Reynolds last week when I swung by my favorite bookstore in Bangalore (The Lightroom Bookstore) – Ish.

Intrigued by the title and encouraged by the author, I picked up the book and started to go through it. As I started reading, I could almost picture one of my twins being like the protagonist – Ramon. Here was a boy who liked to draw…Anywhere, anything, anytime…and just a simple thoughtless comment by his older brother makes him question his ability to draw. And so begins a journey of fail.ed attempts and frustration, as each work of art is crumpled up and thrown on the floor because it does not look like what it is supposed to. Suddenly, for Ramon, art is no longer a fun thing and he cannot stand his own own drawings. But there is someone else who has a different lens, someone who loves what Ramon does and sees value in his art. His younger sister Marisol, who quietly picks up the crumpled art to put up in her room. And it is little Marisol who looks at his attempt at a vase and tells him that it is actually ‘vase-ish’! ANd so it is! And as Ramon drops his need for perfect representation, making peace with the ‘ishness’ of his drawings, he lets himself go and starts painting again.

This reminded me so much of one of my twins – who loves to color, but often nowadays lokst at his brothers art and finds his own not quite ‘there’. He tends to get upset and feels like his drawings are not good. At times he winds himself up over this, getting more and more upset if his drawing does not come out ‘right’ and of late I have noticed a hesitation to try to draw something that he feels might be difficult. And so i thought maybe recognizing that ‘ish’ drawings are fun as well, and it is his representation that matters not the perfect image as one would conventionally have it – would help him. I told him that I thought of him when i saw the book but I did not tell him why. However when we were done reading it, he looked at me and said “i know why you thought of me!”

I don’t think that just reading the book is going to help. We will need to work on him and his confidence at various levels. Having twin boys who are so radically different is so many ways is fun, but also challenging..because more often than not, they master different things at different paces, and in our society, unfortunately, academics or lovely art is looked at with more admiration than hanging upside down or turning a somersault (which requires skill, practice, calculated risk taking, etc).

Anyway, as a follow up to our reading, we did a little art where the boys decorated a brown paper envelope to put a gift in for a friend. And the art was lovely…and Sid tried too and produced something pretty gorgeous – which I am sure has helped him feel at least a litle better about his art! This art is inspired by the book Cave Baby by Julia Donaldson – a book the boys used to love and one that their friend now has has his favorite. The first pic is Sid’s version of a fun tiger and the second pic is Nish’s interpretation of woolly mammoth frolicking in the paint!

A Kaleidoscope of Children by Jayanti Tambe – Book Review

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It’s been a while since I wrote…the days have gotten busier and more packed with the boys and work and I seem to hardly find the time to write.

But today I decided I simply had to…have been meaning to post something about this incredible book that was published recently – a little earlier this year.

A Kaleidoscope of Children written by Jayanti Tambe is an absolute must-read for anyone working with early childhood…by anyone I mean parents, teachers of infants, toddlers and preschoolers, early childhood care-givers, students of early childhood and education…It is a book that simplifies this rather complex age and process…that makes it accessible to a range of economic backgrounds too. The ideas here are not simply for the elite private preschools with loads of funding but for the poorest of Anganwadi centres that wants to make a difference in the way they look at children and learning.

Jayanti Tambe, the author, is the Executive Director of Early Childhood Care and Education at UCLA. But more than that, she is an incredible teacher who has worked extensively (and most creatively) with young children and preschoolers in the United States and India as well as for a short while, in South Africa. Her experience, creativity and passion make the book really engaging and difficult to put down. it gives the reader the unique perspective of a teacher and a professor – a rare combination of theory and praxis. It also has lovely color photographs to better illustrate what the author is saying.

The book addresses different domains of development – physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive. Each domain is broken up into short chapters that come alive with Tambe’s narrative style. While there are a lot of pedagogical and theoretical constructs subtly and seamlessly interwoven with the narrative, the focus is on real life examples and discussions. As you read the book, you can actually hear the voices, see the colours, imagine the children jumping and playing, drawing at an easel or building a tower…and this time when you hear the voices and see the children you have the key to decode what they really are saying and doing and that makes it all the more magical.

You will have ‘aha’ moments and times when an example will resonate so strongly with you that you truly begin to relate to the book. It is replete with interesting suggestions and ideas and does not hesitate to bring up and talk about a range of things that emerge from children’s conversations – questions on colour and gender and sex, obsessions with potty talk, same sex parents and even death.

The short chapters in the book make it easy to read. The chapters are complete in and of themselves and can be read in isolation. So you can choose to read the book sequentially or simply open it to a chapter you find relevant. Whatever works for you…but there is something in there for you for sure!

I have recommended this book to a few educators and friends who have children in the this age group and I would strongly recommend it to those who are reading this blog post (assuming that most of you who are reading this do have kids in this age group). 51yJrD1MS2L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

Dealing with tantrums

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The boys are playing peacefully, building with their lego blocks and chatting as they build. I am enjoying a book, reclined on a sofa with a glass of chilled sweet lime water. The big boy is catching an afternoon nap and everything seems just perfect.

Suddenly, one of the twins (almost 5 yrs) screams while the younger fellow (now 3) runs off with his brother’s lego plane, bits of it dismantling as he runs.

Nish: He is breaking it!

Amu: These are all my pieces, you can’t use them.

Might prevails (for the moment) and Nish manages to wrestle some pieces back from Amu. I hold Amu firmly because I see him lunging forward to attack his brother. Now Amu is mad and as his lower lip pouts out and his eyes glare at me I know the storm is about to hit and another tantrum is ready to be unleashed. Amu yells, throws the remaining pieces of lego on the ground, yanks my cushion off the sofa and flings it down. Still full of energy and anger, he looks around the room for something else to throw. I rescue my lime water just in time and he gets madder. At this point I am glad he is looking at objects and not his brothers to direct the anger at. There are times when he scratches and hits them and that is not pleasant.

Over the last month I have changed strategies. I used to hold him and tell him to stop what he was doing, i would point out to how things were being broken or someone getting hurt…usually it had very little impact.Or i would lose it and yell.  And yelling at him did not help. he would get more upset and angry and destructive.

Now, i try to pick him up gently and talk to him. I say things like: I know you are really upset sweetie…why are you so angry?

Or, “Hey can we fix this together? Do you want a little help putting this back?”

Or “why are you crying and shouting? Are you angry? Or upset? or sad about something?”

This sometimes helps him stop and think a little bit which buys us some cooling down time.

I try and help him calm down first, maybe focus on something else till he is a little cooler to discuss what had upset him. I find that sometimes showing him something interesting helps distract him a little too. But usually i simply hold him close and very gently try and talk him through his temper.

And slowly introduce strategies that he can use – words instead of hands is one of the things we have been talking about.

Last night as we were in bed getting ready to sleep, he asked me and dad: “hitting is not good is it? it can hurt people. It’s not nice”

Dad agreed with him.

AMu: but sometimes i get very angry and people bother me – then i hit

Me: yes – i know …what bothers you?

Amu: when they take my stuff or bother me

Me: yeah – i know you get upset, but we just have to figure out a better way to tell them that.

He agreed…so at least he is slowly processing things. The tantrums are still very much a part of our day – multiple ones at this point. And  I am not saying my approach has changed that. However, if at least he can channelize his anger better, slowly be able to voice his feelings and also recognize different ways of venting it is a step forward. And the important message that I feel this approach gives him is that we understand..we get that he is angry and we respect that and we still love him to bits… which is where i feel that the yelling and reprimanding or punishing just seems to fail. 

If i were to yell at that tiny 3 year old bundle of dynamite for every tantrum thrown I don’t even want to think about what that would do to his self esteem. He is at an age where he getting more and more independent, and yet is in control of such few things..he is the youngest of his brothers,  always trying to catch up and probably does not know how to vocalize, reflect on what he feels – of course this is upsetting (how many of us adults have mastered that?).

And i know (i hope) that this phase too shall pass!

Preschool prisons

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I was in a couple of preschool classrooms this week. I have never been inside a prison (the only ones i have seen are on TV), but i think these classrooms came pretty close. The rooms were small and crammed with benches. Six in a row and one along the side wall. Each long bench and desk seated six children taking the total number of kids to 42. Dressed in white uniforms, the children formed a stark contrast to the dark brown oil painted walls around them. The walls were bare save a couple of cartoon character cutouts and one string of beads that hung from a nail on the wall. A tall metal shelf was piled with books and the blackboard had a lot of written matter on it for the children to copy…questions and the correct answers were both provided. All 42 children were bent low over their notebooks, scrawling away and copying mindlessly from the blackboard. I asked a couple of the kids what they were writing and they had absolutely no idea..none.

The teacher sat on one side, a long ruler her hand which served as a pointer, a threat and a weapon when needed. During my 15 minutes she managed to lightly smack at least 4 children in the room…2 who were fighting over an eraser, one who was trying to say something but did not know how to in English, and a fourth (hold your breath) for allowing her knee to move off the bench. For a room full of young, fun and curious minds, if this was not prison then what??

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So much learning takes place when children explore, discover, interact and engage with each other and their environment. Dewey’s approach to education was one of experience, as was Maria Montessori. Today the emergent curriculum is based on the child’s experiences and Reggio too engages the learner and his different senses in so many ways. How does sitting cramped on a bench all day mean learning? What is a preschooler truly learning on that bench from a blackboard that a conversation and play cannot teach him? How is rote repetition of rhymes making him more proficient in English? (I heard a class singing a song about a bear and a bollafulla huh-neee – bowlful of honey). Why are the walls dark brown or grey? Where is the art and craft? Who decided that 3 year olds needed textbooks and had to do homework? Who gave us the right to stifle their bodies and minds and steal their childhood? Do we truly truly believe we are ‘teaching’ our children?

While this experience was in a low fee private school, the scene may not be that different in our higher end schools too….sure- the space will be brighter and the resources more abundant. But honestly – what happened to free play and fun? What happened to music? What happened to conversations beyond instructions, rules and reprimands? It is time to give our children back their childhood and freedom. It is time to unlock the prisons and open our minds…and allow children to truly develop and grow into the wonderful individuals they can be if only we let them!

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Beading with the boys

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We have a lot of beads at home..big chunky plastic ones, slender tube shaped paper ones, translucent beads that gleam magically in the light, beads with tiny beads, hand painted ones and salt dough beads.   We started out with large platic ones and shoe laces because I thought the boys would enjoy those. However, after an initial couple of days, they were relegated to the back of the shelf and my three boys soon lost interest in them.  Then, sometime last year (the twins were shy of 4 and the little fellow was 2 then) we were together in an art and craft store when we happened to come to the bead section. Nish’s eyes totally lit up. He ran his fingers through the gorgeous glittery beads and asked me what they were. When I told him they were beads he was confused – the only ones he knew were the chubby plastic ones. Then it clicked for him – “Can we make real necklaces with these?”

And that was the starting point for our exploration and fairly long relationship with beads.  The boys amazed me with the amount of time they spent with the beads. They made necklaces, bracelets and earrings with them.  They used beads of the same color, beads in random orders, beads in very clear recurring patterns.

They started counting as they created…12-15 beads for bracelets, two for the earrings, etc.

They separated the beads into big and small, bright and pastel colors, into shades of pink and purple, into color families (as one of my boys called it – colors he thought went well together). This was a wonderful way to talk about shades and patterns.

They also realized that big does not always mean heavy…that too many colors does not necessarily lead to pretty.

They learned patience because it takes time to bead and perseverance because ever so often you let the end slip from your fingers and lose a bunch of beads from your strand…and you need to start over.

We figured easy solutions like making a big knot for the bracelet to stop the beads from sliding off, or the trick of tying the string to your toe so it is easier to manage and frees up one hand.

I am now thinking of using the beads to do more math concepts…tens and ones, understanding concepts of more and less. Let’s see how that goes.

foam pieces, tessellatations and a discovery

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We have been playing with cut up foam pieces for a long time now. But recently I came across a few sets of foam created by JodoGyan called Rangometry (www.jogogyan.org).

The foam is thick and sturdy and the pieces lend themselves to endless tessellations and combinations. Initially I let the boys simply explore the sets. They made all kinds of things using the pieces. The set has squares, triangles of two different types, diamonds, and hexagons.

Finally this morning as we were enjoying a chilled out morning in the balcony, I thought of pulling out the rangometry kit. This time we first played a game (an activity I learned about at the JodoGyan workshop called Sajaana). I drew an outline of a bus using a marker on the plexiglass sheet along our balcony railing. Then using a large dice each child rolled, identified the number rolled and picked out the matching number of pieces of rangometry foam which they placed along the outline. (Note: we had poured the foam pieces into a bowl of water. The made them wet and they adhered easily to the plastic sheet we were playing on) Since the twins are comfortable with numbers upto 10 we used a 12 sided dice (dodecahedron) which has numbers from 0-10 (5 is repeated once). It was great because here is what was happening as we played:

  1. the kids had to identify the number on the dice face correctly
  2. They had to then pick out the corresponding number of foam bits from the bowl
  3. They had to then put those pieces in continuation on the outline of the bus (fine motor skills)
  4. They quickly figured out bigger and smaller numbers, getting most excited when they got high numbers like 8 or 9 or 10 and a little sad when they got 3, 2 or 1
  5. They – especially the 3 yr old got the meaning of zero – it means nothing!! as he exclaimed when he rolled it and could not put anything on the outline. (It is useful to follow JodoGyan advice here – when a kid rolls a zero, do not give him another turn because not giving him another turn allows him to understand and appreciate the value of zero)
  6. We got quite a pretty outline with the kids trying to make patterns as they went along.

After we were done with this, I started playing with the pieces and started out a tessellation type design. I found Nish (5 yrs next month) was most interested. He observed carefully while I made pattern and then asked if he could help. With a tiny bit of guidance he started out and then was so fascinated that he went on and on…quickly inspiring his twin to join in too! I had not thought they would get it so easily but it was a pleasant surprise and they totally enjoyed it too!

And, since I have mentioned JodoGyan a few times here – you must check out their website. They have developed a math teaching and learning program preschool up that is pretty incredible. With a strong focus on the child, developmental appropriateness and simplicity, the program is actually very interesting and I would strongly recommend educators – especially in the preschool space to look at it. In stead of trying to cram the preschooler with endless numbers to read, identify and write repeatedly, moving into tens and hundreds and place value and complex operations, the program focuses on making math a concrete and enjoyable fun learning experience where comprehension is key. Given the general experiences in math learning across age groups it is indeed time to stop and look at math learning differently. For schools that are interested – they actually do detailed and very practice based training for teachers who plan top use their materials.

Note – I am not a representative of JodoGyan nor have I been asked to talk about it. However, I have recently come across their material and have been quite impressed – hence sharing this here with you!

Cardboard carton carpenters!

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Cardboard carton carpenters!

Sid felt like doing some carpentry last evening after school. He wanted to use my toolkit, but given that Amu was keen on joining in the action, I decided against pulling out the hammer because I was a little tired and not feeling ready for random accidents. So we decided to do something different (we have not really done any carpentry at home before…this was a first of sorts). I found an old cardboard carton, some nails and screws and then got their tool set out. (we have a gorgeous one I had picked on Amazon by Hape toys a while back). Their kit has a solid wooden hammer, screws, a screw driver, nits and bolts among other tools…however, in addition to the screws from their set, we used real nails and screws as well.

Surprisingly the toy saw was tough enough to cut through the carton and the boys totally enjoyed that. They also hammered real nails into the top of the carton and then pulled them out and used the plastic screws and wooden screw driver to put the screws into those holes too.

Unfortunately Sid fell asleep while we were setting up, but Nish and Amu had a wonderful time and spent close to an hour doing ‘carpentry’

 

The magic of gorgeous art supplies!

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We love art…ok that is probably an understatement..but my boys and I enjoy painting and crayons and coloring and glitter! A few months ago a family friend gifted the boys the most gorgeous coloring materials…we had fancy artists’ water soluble pastels, oil pastels, color pencils, watercolor pencils…a whole lot of shiny new art supplies! Needless to say we were over the moon.

Initially, the boys explored the color pencils..and then last week they moved on to the water soluble pastels (they have not yet played with the water soluble aspect of the pastels but have simply been dabbling with the pastels as they are).

The smooth almost delicious colors produced many oohs and aahs…but a better reflection of how much they appreciated the colors came through the amount of time they have been spending coloring everyday. Over the past few days they have spent close to an hour each day with their pastels..till we finally ran out of paper day before yesterday. For the first time since I can remember, we had nothing more to color on..no art paper, no one sided sheets, no used envelopes…So i sent and got them a sketch book each.

Nish sat for a good twenty minutes working away at something. When he was done he stretched, looked at me and said “look! I have made a sail boat in a storm”.

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It was stunning! Sid looked at it and literally clapped! he asked Nish to help him make his own sailboat in the storm and the two of them got busy as nish advised sid on how to proceed.

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Not to be left out, Amu wanted his sailboat too which nish obligingly drew an outline for. Amu of course wanted to do somethingh a little different so he called his art a fire boat.

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Today we have planned to take a wet brush and explore how it interacts with the pastels. should be fun and am looking forward to some more gorgeous art.

 

Santa’s helpers

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Elves??…no! Reindeer?? No….Christmas trees! Yup according to Amu my 3 yr old, those are Santa’s helpers!

To put that epiphany into context…last night Amu was busy making Christmas trees using felt traingles and popsicle sticks. He was busy decorating his felt triangle with lots of sequins and glitter and foam bits and other stuff from our craft box. I was generally chatting with him as he worked. I noticed that he was sticking thin long triangular scraps of felt on his trees along with googly eyes. Surprised at this interesting choice of decoration given the many buttons and sequins we had, I asked him what the extra triangles were for.

Amu: Oh – that is a nose (isn’t that obvious???)…and these are eyes (in case i did not get that either)

Me: ok…that’s different! How come you chose to put those on the tree?

Amu: Because Christmas trees have eyes and a nose! (very matter of factly)

Me: Oh really?

Amu: Yeah..they have to tell Santa who is being naughty and nice. How is Santa going to know otherwise?

Duh…silly me..asking such basic questions! Floored once again by his incredible imagination!!!

Photo on 23-12-15 at 10.26 PM

 

 

 

What is a ‘virgin’?

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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!