Monthly Archives: February 2016

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!

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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!