Category Archives: Children at play

Books and a board game

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This summer has been filled with books for us. In fact, since the past 4 months, we have dived headlong into the fascinating and magical world of Roald Dahl. And while the boys  boys are reading quite a lot of stuff on their own, we have been reading all our Roald Dahls together, snuggled by the book cupboard on our reading rug, or curled up comfortably on the bed before turning in for the day. We have gone through James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate factory, BFG (our favorite so far), Esio Trot, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, and of course, The Enormous Crocodile. Each book has been a roller coaster ride and the BFG especially has given us so many fun things to joke about.

I came up with the idea of working with the kids to make a board game based on these books. The kids loved the idea and we started thinking about it very seriously. We sat down and first thought about the type of game we wanted. We decided on something similar in concept to Snakes and Ladders…with the snakes and ladders replaced by characters from the books.

The three boys had many discussions and we maintained a list in a notebook. We put down the good and “bad” characters and chose between different characters on the list. So, for example we chose between several Giants from the BFG and decided to go with the Blood Bottler. We felt we really needed to have Trunchbull to toss a player far far out and down. The board was to be a track …a chocolate river with different characters on different numbers who would wither help us move ahead or pull us back. The planning part took several days which were spread out over a couple of weeks.

Finally, once we felt satisfied with our choices of characters and different elements we made a rough sketch of what we thought it should look like.

Then I sat and sketched it out on a canvas and painted it with acrylic. The boys helped too and did some bits of the painting.

Finally it was ready and the boys could not wait to start playing. They have been playing on it constantly since it got done a couple of days ago and are still coming up with thoughts and ideas for potential additions.

This was a great exercise because it allowed the boys to think much harder about different characters, about their specific likes and dislikes in the books as well as their ability to contribute to making the game more exciting. We had healthy (and not such healthy) discussions on the choice of giants and witches and the colors to be used but we completely enjoyed the process. And now the boys are so thrilled with it..they are proud of their ideas, super kicked when someone gets stuck on Veruca Salt’s old bubblegum or gets flung by the Trunchbull. It is even more exciting to land on a spot where the BFG gently blows you with his dreams into a sweeter spot or when you can jump on jelly beans to a higher number. It is great for practicing math skills too – as the kids are recognizing numbers on dice counting, counting on, adding, subtracting and strategizing. But more than anything else, is is plain and simple fun!

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process based art

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I have recently found myself in an array of preschools across the country…on a spectrum of affordability and quality. With a few (very few) exceptions, through all the differences of socio-economic backgrounds, space, resources and quality, one feature remained alarmingly constant. Creative art …or rather, the lack thereof. Most preschool classrooms I walked into had cookie cutter art (if at all). 40 similar looking cats stared down at me in one class from the display wall, 35 identical paper plate faces dangled from a string running across the classroom. Green trees with brown barks and red flowers with green stems stood predictably next to square houses with triangular roofs with chimneys (certainly not something a Bombay kid sees outside on the streets). And I am sure next will have diyas with golden cut out paper flames adorning the walls. The work is measured, dictated as a task, the lines too neat to be cut by children, the vision too narrow to have come from a preschoolers imagination.  Where was rthe art of self expression? The splash of color as a child discovers how his brush can glide across a paper? Where are the bold strokes of an artist just finding himself, the smudges as he erases and tries again? Where are the polka dotted tigers and the men with three eyes? Why does art have to end up as a product to be displayed neatly on the wall?

I got talking about this with a friend who has a toddler of her own and she sheepishly admitted that she was guilty of the same thing at home.  Sitting down with her toddler to paint, she wanted something to show for it, something that looked pretty, something that could go onto Facebook or Instagram or the wall. A paper bruised and tearing with watery paint did not make the cut even if the child labored over it. And a crookedly cut greeting card with jagged edges and part of the painting cut off could not be sent to a doting aunt. And so it is that we forget the reason for children doing art and focus on what the adult gets out of it…a product.

I keep saying this on my blog and to people who care to listen…art is a process…there are no samples or instructions for the child to follow – it is an opportunity for toddlers and preschoolers to experiment with materials and media…to watch the ‘magic’ as blue and yellow merge to make green.

There are no mistakes and nothing an adult needs to correct or change. The art is an experience the child chooses and owns.  There is no “color quickly, color within the lines” or “use the correct colors”.

And while it may look like “nothing” it is something the child has created on her own. Process based art helps children relax and enjoy art, it allows them to express themselves and not feel judged.  They move from whole arm movement to finer motor skills as their muscles get ready to do more complex work.  And eventually you will get your masterpiece…but while you wait, allow them to enjoy their million masterpieces – for each one holds meaning of some kind, and even if it does not, it is a free and joyful expression that builds confidence, motor skills, creative thinking and a lot more!

How can you  facilitate process based art at home?

  1. Have materials accessible: paint, markers, crayons, color pencils, stamps, paints, sequins, glue, play dough or clay, collage materials.
  2. Keep a large plastic sheet or old shower curtain handy to spread on the floor for art – protects the carpets and floors and simplifies cleanup
  3. Set up an easel. If that is not possible use tape to put papers up on a plastic cupboard or glass door – painting vertically is important for kids this age.
  4. Allow the child to explore and discover different media
  5. enjoy the process – keep it about the process and not the product

 

 

 

Odd and even

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Odd and even

Amu our youngest boy, soon to be four in a few months, loves numbers…counting forwards and backwards, attempting his brothers word problems and making up ones of his own, he generally seems happy in the world of numbers. This morning I set up the felt board for him and gave him felt numbers to play with. He neatly arranged them from 0 – 10. This was actually a great start for our activity. I then gave him colored tokens and asked him to represent the numbers using tokens (under each felt number). As he started out, I requested him to put the token in pairs. He quickly announced that there would be nothing under zero and moved on to 1 and 2 and so on till 10. Soon each number had pairs of tokens lined up below it in two neat columns.
Amu surveyed his work with a sense of pride. Now I gave him a bunch of big black and white buttons. I asked him to put a black button above every number where a token did not have a pair, and a black button where every token had a pair.
And so we started…white above 1, black above 2. I helped him get started and after he caught on and started putting the buttons all the way to 10.
When he was done, I asked him to look at the black and white buttons and tell me if there was a pattern that he could find. He was quick to say “YES!!!! White, black, white, black, white, black”
So then we looked at the numbers, tokens and buttons and established that 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 all had tokens with pairs while 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 did not. Now, taking it a step forward, I asked him what came after 10. “11” he answered promptly.
“So”, I said, “if you continue this pattern, what color button would you get on 11?”
“White” was the answer.
Me: And then, do you think all the tokens under 11 would have a pair?
Amu: Nope!
Me: What about 12?
Amu: That would be a black button…so yes it would have a pair.
That was our mini-lesson to introduce the concept of odd and even. We did not get into the terms at all…this was just a starting point for further discoveries. For a few days I will simply set the felt mat out for him with the numbers and tokens and let him continue this journey before taking it further.
This took all of 10 minutes and was fun for both of us. Amu wants the felt board counting when he gets back from school too!

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.

 

Splashes of color on a rainy day…literally!

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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.

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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).

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

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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!

And it all comes together…

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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?

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More conversations!

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Once again my boys were busy playing ‘doctor doctor’. This time Nish was the doc, Sid the patient and Amu the nurse cum person who brought the patient in.

Doctor, armed with stethoscope, otoscope and syringe: What happened? What is the matter?
Amu: This is the patient ok? I am bringing him to the ‘hopsital’

Sid (lying down upon an old wooden chest that serves as our center table in the living room) – i will sleep here and you examine me pl. I am dead

Nish: I need a nurse. Amu you are the nurse now. Give me my bag

Sid: Doctor, coould you please hold my bowl of peanuts and give them back to me later?

Nish: OK

Amu: it is a girl patient doctor…she has a purse. Please give your purse also to the doctor. He will not take it…he will give it back

Patient (female) Sid obliges.

Doctor: OK what happened?

Sid: I am dead doctor. A car ran over me on the road and I had a lot of blood!

Nish: Wow – so you could actually see the underside of the car?

Sid: Yes i saw the underside!

Nish: OK now i will give you an injection and a kissie … tyhen you feel feel much better

Sid: Thank you

Nish: What car was it? The underside looks cool?

And then the doctor, nurse and fully recovered dead patient discussed BMW models and motorbikes…

THE END