Monthly Archives: October 2014

A school full of memories

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It has been six months since we left Mumbai but still, when we took a short trip down last week and I asked the boys where they wanted to go and who they wanted to see, they both almost instantly said “By the Sea!” And so, almost like a pilgrimage, we went back to the school where my boys had started preschool last october. They attended school at By the Sea for about 6-7 months and in that short period of time formed such amazing bonds with their teachers and friends…something that made them call out their school’s name as one of the first places they wanted to go to in Mumbai.  In fact, even when we moved from Mumbai to Bangalore and went looking for preschools, the benchmark that By the Sea had set for us was simply too high and very little seemed to measure up to it. As i turned away from yet another school looking dissatisfied, my husband finally said “babes…let it go…we are not going to find another By the Sea here!” Even Sid and Nish used BTS as a yardstick for schools they visited with us. “This does not have cars like BTS!” or “There are no paints set up here!”

We finally found a school we liked but it was difficult to move on from BTS. As a parent and an educator, I could not think of a single instance when i was dissatisfied with BTS. The approach, the setting (literally by the sea), the space and the way it was done up, how open and welcoming everyone was, and most most importantly…the absolutely WONDERFUL and capable team of teachers and staff…the school was like a dream come true for me. I felt connected to the school, its philosophy, the team, other kids and parents. It was warm, friendly, non-threatening and safe. And so did my kids…they bounced off to school everyday, singing on the way there and chattering away about their day on the way back. They have made friends who we are still very much in touch with.

For people in south and central Mumbai…this is a preschool you really must look at. They start only when the kid is 2 1/2. The principal and teachers will bend backwards to help the child settle in and get comfortable. I loved how the environment nurtured my twins who are so very different as individuals and learners. The school has an inclusive approach and they are very open in general. The principal and teachers are very impressive..and warm, genuine caring individuals. The teachers know every kid and understand their pulse. There is space to run around outdoors. The indoor space is beautiful. There is a focus on art, music and free play and it is basically a lovely space that allows kids to be kids.

I realized how much the boys missed their old school when we went there last week. Although school was closed, the principal had opened up the classroom and set out their favorite trikes and cars…the boys were zooming around the school and it was almost like we had never left…I though we would be their for 10-15 minutes but the kids did not want to leave and we were there for almost an hour and half!

I am glad we were lucky to be part of this wonderful experience and while I am sure that the boys will love their other schools too I am so thankful that their first experience at formal schooling was as magical as this!

You can check out their website: http://www.bythesea.in  or visit them on FB

10 of my favorite picture books for toddlers

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Before I start on the post, let me try and define a picture book. Very often, when I use the term picture book, people mistakenly think that I am talking about any book with pictures..like a lot of the vocabulary type books that one gets in the market. I am personally quite averse to those. They are good for perhaps introducing kids to names of things in a very matter of fact and unimaginative way. A hard cover book with Baby’s first animals…pictures with the names given under…sure..it can help the baby identify an animal with the correct name but can’t one do the same thing in a more creative manner? I am not being prescriptive..this is merely my opinion as a parent and an educator.

So, when I say picture books, I am referring to a book with text and illustrations – where the illustrations not only complement the text but also supplement it. The picture book is a literary form in itself. The text and the pictures are both equally contributing to the story…the images add to the text and there may be cues and elements that the pictures bring in that the story does not even state.

Picture books are great for collaborative reading, the fact that so much of the story is told by the illustrations helps the child be a co-reader/co-story teller as he looks at the images to co-construct meaning as the story is being read aloud to him.

My three boys absolutely love books and reading and it is an important part of our daily routine. We start and end our day with books and very often they feature several times along the way as well.  We read and read and re-read the same book a zillion times and then they “read it” on their own or to each other as well.

When a friend asked me to put down a list of 10 picture books that I would recommend, I realized it was going to be a tough choice. Anyway, I have tried to put down the ones that came to my mind. These are all books that I have used with my boys when they were toddlers (one of them still is a toddler) and while at first glance you may feel they have more content than you expected, trust me when I say that they will learn to love the books in time. Start with simple ones that they can relate to easily and then gradually bring in the ones with more content matter.

A couple of the things to remember:
Make reading time special…create a small reading corner, get the child excited about a new book, pick something he will relate to or find interesting/funny
Engage the child – sit in a way that he can see the book, let him hold it, explore it in his way; ask him to find something in the picture or describe what he sees; don’t expect him to say what you want him to
make it fun and non threatening. make reading a part of your daily routine
there is no such thing as too early! start as early as you can!

Here is my list:

No David! (by David Shannon)

What is probably the most frequently heard word for a toddler? NO! No    climbing on the sofa, no digging you nose, no throwing food…NO! And that is pretty much what this beautiful book is about. Simple, repetitive, hilarious and with absolutely stunning illustrations, No David has been a favorite with all my boys. (Other books in the same series are also great)
Moo Baa La La La (By Sandra Boynton)

Another hot favorite in our home! This book is super simple with lovely illustrations…a great starter for a nice long Sandra Boynton journey! I introduced my boys to this book when they were about 8 months old. With my third boy, he took to it suddenly when he was about 10 months old and it was his absolute favorite book for the next 3-4 months. In fact, even now (at 23 months) I catch him ‘reciting’ the book to himself as he plays. My kids enjoyed mooing and neighing and making whacky animal sounds as we went through the book. Boynton has a whole bunch of books for infants and toddlers..our favorites, in addition, to this one are: Belly Button Book, Pajama Time, Barnyard Dance, What’s wrong Little Pookie?  There are many more that you can try and doscover!

Brown Bear Brown Bear What do you see? (By Bill Martin Jr. Illustrated by Eric Carle)

This is like a legend with the boys! The book is simple, repetitive and so allows the kids to participate in the reading almost instantly. It helps them recognize animals and birds, introduces them to colors in an absolutely stunning manner! Eric Carle’s artwork is beautiful and his style is one that kids enjoy and relate to. We have done follow up activities with my boys where they tried creating collages in a fashion similar to Carle’s. (This is of course something I have tried with my 3 yr olds…toddlers may not be able to do this but it is a a great exercise nonetheless).  My youngest loves this book and knows it by heart. He even makes his own variations to the story, introducing his own animals and characters – something you can have your toddlers do. This is also great to use in a classroom. Eric Carle has a lot of books that you can aloud to your kids!

Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose (By Julia Donaldson)
I love Julia Donaldson’s books. Again, like with the other authors I put down, this is one of the many books we love by her. The book has a lot of animals, talk about table manners (or lack thereof) and has a nice rhyme scheme. The book is great for predictions while reading because each page has a part of the next animal on it and my kids loved guessing which animal was coming up next. Gorgeous bold illustrations by Nick Sharrat. (other books which are good for the infant/toddler age group – One mole digging a hole, Hippo Has a Hat). The books are available in paperback as well as in board-book version.  Another hot favorite is Cave Baby by Donaldon…absolutely incredible book and pictures!

Goodnight Moon (By Margaret Wise-Brown)

This is a book that has mixed reactions from people…I love it…my boys love it. In fact we read it almost every night for almost 4 months straight. Yet, I see other friends have a very different reaction to the book. So I guess this one is up to you to try. It has been acclaimed as a classic in this genre and it is the simple process of a baby bunny saying goodnight to everything in his room before he falls asleep.  Illustrations are simple yet there is a lot of meta-text to look for if you like. My boys turned the book into a ritual as they also started saying goodnight to the various things in their rooming before finally falling asleep.

Where the Wild Things Are (By Maurice Sendak)

“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind…or another…his mother called him Wild thing! And max said ‘I’ll eat you up’ “…and so his mother sent him to bed without his supper. “That very night in max’s room a forest grew…and grew” And so the story goes…getting more and more fantastic with each page….just like a child’s unbridled imagination. An absolute work of art, the illustrations and text are very intelligently juxtaposed…each holding a very important place of its own. As Max’s imagination grows, so does the size of the illustrations on each page, till finally the illustrations replace words altogether! And what i also like is the fact that Max’s supper is waiting for him when he is back from his ‘adventure’…His mother may have sent him to bed without supper but she loves him too much to really send him hungry! We LOVE this book as well as In the Night Kitchen by Sendak.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (By Eric Carle)

OK…I know I already put down a few books by Eric Carle earlier on this list, but this is one that needs a separate mention. Done in Eric Carle’s incredible illustration style, the book is a story of a very hungry caterpillar and in an early introduction to the process of metamorphosis. While the book can be read to a toddler, it works really well with first graders too as it looks at how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. It introduces days of the week, numbers, fruits and other food items, as well as the process of transformation. I still remember how one of my twins gasped in sheer wonder at the last page which had a stunning butterfly!  You can engage kids in the reading, have them retell the story, help them create a variation using food and fruits of their choice!

A bit Lost (by Chris Haughton)

A heartwarming story of a baby owl who falls off his perch when he is sleeping and is now can’t find his mummy. A very helpful squirrel helps him out and the two set off to look for mummy. The illustrations are simple yet striking and complete the story. Each page leads to the wrong animal (who is only shown through the illustrations and not mentioned in the text) till finally the baby owl is reunited with a very worried mummy owl.
In the Bath (by Leslie Patricelli)

I recently discovered Leslie Patricelli – more specifically a book called In the Bath. Given how much my youngest likes books and bath-time i figured this would be perfect for him…and it is! Although very very simple in content and style the book takes us through bath time for a little baby (who could be any baby anywhere). The illustrations are fabulous and contribute well to the story. This is great for co-constructing the story while reading aloud and has a lot of space for kids to add their ideas and descriptions. My little fellow loves it and identifies with the story really well!  Other books by the author are also great for this age group.

When Sophie gets Angry- Really, Really Angry (by Molly Bang)

We have heard of the Terrible twos and probably experienced them first hand too! Tantrums and getting really upset over small things isn’t something new in our house…and a year ago it was pretty frequent. With 3 boys under 4 that is hardly surprising. Fortunately, with the book, my boys are able to see that getting angry is an emotion a lot of kids may experience…and there are ways to deal with feeling upset. Sophie does not want to share and when she is already upset about giving a toy to her sister and ends up tripping over a truck it is the last straw. Sophie storms out of the room, slams the door and runs and runs till she finds a tree to climb. There she cries for a bit calms down, then comes back home where everyone is waiting for her. The artwork is beautiful and very clever. It is interesting to see how everything becomes tones and hues of red and orange when sophie is angry but then slowly moves on to cooler blues and yellows as she calms down.

So that is my list of top 10 books for toddlers. This is a starting point and there is so much to discover in the world of picture books. Good picture books are very cleverly done, the illustrations tell a whole story on their own and the books are great for read alouds, shared readings, story constructions, descriptions, re-tellings, predictions, etc. They can be used with different age groups in different manners and are wonderful for adults to read as well!

Preparing for a sibling

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For those of you who know me…please don’t panic..this is not another baby announcement. I already have my hands full with my boys. Actually I am writing this because I happened to have conversations with two different friends today on how to prepare for a new baby in the house..more specifically how to prepare for a new sibling.

Actually, I had a really simple time doing this. Maybe i was just plain lucky or maybe some of the stuff we did and talked about with the kids helped. My twins boys were all of 20 months when our younger son was born and from the first day on all I saw was lots of love and care. Sure they fought for attention every now and then…of course they were boisterous and noisy at times around the baby…but no pinches, no hitting, no pushing. They made sure everyone around them knew they had a baby brother…they chose his name and and clothes for him…they tried to give him their toys and they made sure no one came to pick him up without sanitising their hands first. Honestly i could not have asked for anything more.

Here are some things that helped us make this a fairly easy transition for the boys and the whole family. For one, we started talking about the baby once I was about 6 months pregnant. I started looking pregnant and alos started to tire out more easily. The twins who were less than a year and half then loved to jump on me and horse around and some of that was about to change. It really helped that a good friend of ours who has a daughter their age had just given birth to a baby boy. The boys loved going over to see the baby and were most fascinated by the whole thing. So when I told them that we were going to have a baby too, they actually seemed excited. I don’t think that at that point they realized it meant that they would be sharing me and Dad with this new creature.

Every evening as we lay down and read our books before bed the boys wold take turns touching my belly, talking nonsense to the baby, singing songs and more often than not, making funny farting sounds with their mouths on my very large tummy!

We made a list of girls and boys names and had them pick the ones they liked. They only chose a boy’s name as they said it was definitely going to be a baby brother. We started picking up a few small things together and every time we got the baby something we made sure to get something small for the twins as well.

My boys all love books and so I figured that would be a good way to talk to them about the baby. Here are some that we read:

1. Will you Still Love Me by Jean-Baptiste Baronian, Illustrated by Noris Kern.
This is an extremely delightful and touching book that articulates in the simplest of manners the fears and worries that a child might have about a new sibling arriving into his/her life. The most basic question on all captured perfectly in the title of the book : Will you still love me.
A story about a little polar bear who feels that his parents are behaving slightly differently. He talks to his friends about it and finally talks to his mother who tells him that she is pregnant. And my children’s favorite lines from the book: A mommy’s heart is as big as the sea. And a daddy’s heart is as big as the sky. I will always love you. Even when you are a big brother, you’ll still be my little one. And I’ll love both you and our new baby with all my heart”

2. My New Baby illustrated by Rachel Fuller
Another extremely simple book with lovely illustrations. The book is very different in style and approach from the first one I have put down but it beautifully juxtaposes what the older sibling and baby are doing and able to do. It shows acceptance, sharing and how in spite of the new baby the parents are still there for the older sibling.

3. Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats
Written by Caldecott award winner Ezra Jack Keats (For Snowy Day) Peter’s chair beautifully captures some of the struggles an older sibling goes through. This is a story about a boy called Peter who has a younger baby sister. His parents are trying to reuse a lot of Peter’s old toys and things for the new baby and Peter resents that. He does not like his crib being repainted or his stuff given away to her. He takes his favorite little chair and hides with it…that’s when he realizes that the chair is actually too small for him. This is the story of a young boy trying to deal with the struggle of having a baby sister and accepting her and sharing with her. Peter is someone my kids could related to very easily. The illustrations are stunning too and Keats use of collage with cutouts is simple yet beautiful!

4. I also put together a simple story book for the boys. (https://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/book-for-introducing-a-new-sibling/) You can check it out on my earlier blogpost if you like. The twins absolutely loved it and we read it many many many times!

Once the baby came, I tried as much as possible to involve the twins. They got me diapers, sang songs to the baby, picked out his clothes for him and chose his name. They called me when he woke up, they checked to see if his diaper was full. They climbed into the baby cot and cuddled with him right from the time he was 3 days old. I bit back the NO on my lips as much as I could and just made sure they did not hurt the baby accidentally.

Of course things are different with each child and this post is in no way prescriptive. I have simply put down some of the things that worked for me and I hope this is useful to some of you out there 🙂

the colour of my skin

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In a land of the skin colour obsessed, in a time where ‘fair and lovely’ creams are now ‘fair and handsome’ creams for men…one cannot escape from the reality of the colour of our skin. And in a house where surprisingly little has been made of the hues of our skin, the conversation has suddenly crept in…slinking in through the back door like an uninvited guest.

I noticed some conversation between the boys earlier about skin and colours when they were talking about a classmate who is very fair. “He has different skin” said Nish. “Aai and I have the same skin” he added. “Sid has different skin too.”

I talked to them about how each one of us is different in so many ways and skin colour is just one of those many many things. What matters is who we are. I showed them how even my parents had different colours of skin and hoped the conversation was over.

It was…for a few weeks. Then, this morning as I got the boys ready for school, Sid stared intently at his legs and knees. “Why am I dark brown?” he asked “my knees are almost black” he continued. “You are a lovely colour” I said. “I love the different browns you have!”

“But Nish is not this brown…he is a very very light brown” Sid replied

“I am like Aai and Amu” Nish confirmed

“You are like your ajoba (grandfather)” I told Sid (he adored his ajoba)

He looked a little longer at his legs. “It’s ok?” he said/asked

“You’re beautiful” I replied.

I love his gorgeous colour and I really don’t know where he is getting this colour complex from. It is so easy to pick up on sub text and random conversations, to sink into the mire of societal constructs of beauty and value. I just don’t want that affecting his self worth in any way. My Sid is a stunning boy just the way he is and I hope that with time he learns to appreciate himself for all that he is…a bright rebellious little spirit who is empathetic and caring and affectionate…my thinker outside the box, my destroyer of boxes for that matter…I hope he breaks out of this box too!

wisecracks from Sid

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I was watching the boys play in the sandpit last evening. There are a few simple rules for the sandpit:

1. no throwing sand

2. No taking the sand out of the sandpit

I don’t care if the boys are rolling in the sand or covering themselves with it. I am however particular about my 2 simple rules because sand can get into someone’s eyes if you throw it and it makes a difficult to clean mess on the walking path when it is taken out of the sandpit.

Anyway, Sid my little rebel filled his dump truck up with sand and then proceeded to climb out of the sandpit, onto the walking path and then he started ‘zooming’ with his truck, tilting it with loud noises as he dumped the load onto the path. I called out to him and said, “Sid, sand play in the sand pit please” to which he looked up with a deadpan expression and replied…”Sorry aai but this truck is completely out of control!!!”

Anyway, got him back in. Later as he was doing something else he absolutely wasn’t supposed to, I walked up to him looking annoyed. Before i could say a word he quickly smiled and said..”I am not a bad boy right…I only did a bad thing…I don’t know why but my hands just suddenly did a bad thing. But i am not bad!” (best rationalization for smacking his brother that he could have come up with). And then as an afterthought he yelled “sorrrrryyyyyyyy Nish”.

And of course, psych 101 comes back to bite me in the butt!