Category Archives: independent children

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!

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A school full of laughter

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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.

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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Playing with trains and tracks

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It looks like a box of toys…it is actually a whole world of curious exploration and experimentation. I see a track laid out that is being adjusted and fixed for no apparent reason…three brothers arguing and rearranging the tracks and trains and props…If i look closer there is so much more going on. it’s not just a game. I see conversation and collaboration. The three of them are deciding the best way to lay out the tracks. They agree on some things and argue about some other things. It is a process of experimentation. The track can be long and open ended. It can be curved and looped, it can be an oval or a perfect circle. How many pieces make the circular track? Why are some pieces left over? How can we make a track using all the pieces?

Can two trains run on it simultaneously? Nish figures out how to make the trains chane tracks and then takes on that role very seriously, sending Thomas on one route and James on another. Sid experiments with the speed of trains…does it run faster going straight on on a circular track. Does the carriage attached at the back affect the speed. He notices that the engine with the carriage attached tended to derail at a sharp turn. He removed the carriage and noted with satisfaction that James was now chugging along without accidents. He then asked Nish to ensure that James and his carriage stayed on the straighter route with no sharp turns. Amu realized that if he stuck his toe out the train slowed as it touched it and made a loud whirring sound. He kept trying it every time the engines came near him. He also took upon himself to place bridges and tunnels along the way, replacing them every time they were knocked over. As they got into a sort of rhythm with their respective rules an elaborate conversation and imaginary play also started. The boys discussed passengers, freight the trains were carrying…transferring their understanding of trains from books and real life experiences to the conversation and play.

They practiced words that they otherwise did not get a chance to use…derailed (which Amu kept calling delayed much to the amusement of his brothers), caboose, siding and coupling. The words were consistently used correctly including by the youngest fellow who was not to be left behind.

So like i said…it looks like a box of toys…but is it??? It looked so much more like a collaborative experiment in physics!

(Thank you dear ‘maasis’ for the wonderful gift!!! And yes – i finally got batteries!)

Playing with foam

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I had blogged about this activity earlier (https://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/art-in-the-bathroom/)…but the foam pieces in our bathroom had been sitting closed up in a box for the last few months. Day before, when my cousin got us a huge BAGFUL of cool art and craft stuff – including pre-cut colorful foam sheets, i decided it was time to pull out the foam pieces once again. Earlier I had cut up blue and purple sheets of foam but this time I decided to be generous with colour and cut up a bunch of geometric shapes in green, bright yellow, crimson red and orange too. Instead if the bathroom i moved the venue to the balcony – where we have a plexiglass sheet running around the railing. i put the foam shapes into a bowl and filled it partly with water to get all the pieces wet (otherwise they will not stick to the plexiglass … in the bathroom, the wall is wet so i don’t need to wet the pieces). I called the kids and they were so excited that they got to work straight away. My youngest fellow who is now 2 yrs old joined in too…and unlike a few months ago where he was just happy about putting random pieces on the wall and pulling them off, this time he was suddenly into making things.

What I really liked about the activity this time was the dialogue that accompanied it. The boys discussed what they were making, talking aloud through the process.

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They made suggestions to each other, and a few times Amu called out to Nish for guidance when he was not sure about something.

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I was quite impressed to see the little fellow come up with quite a realistic cement mixer. He even put a smaller wheel onto the larger wheel to make it look more authentic (i think this was partly inspired by a felt board fire-truck we have made that they can construct on their own).

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In general the activity was great for: (1) fine motor skills (2) imagination (3) planning and implementation of a concept (4) collaboration and cooperation (5) scaffolding (6) familiarization of shapes and colors

As i picked up the pieces and was about to take the box back inside Sid called out and said “Let it stay here…we want to do this again tomorrow”

While the kids had all enjoyed this activity before, I felt they were able to get something different out of it this time. I am sure this can be used with older kids too …it’s a lot like block play I suppose…starting with randomly attaching blocks, to building simple structures to making more complex creations and having conversations evolve around them as kids engage in making meaning!

Lego logic and Tangrams

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So much conversation happens around simple things like playing with blocks. And so much learning too! Blocks are not just building materials..they teach patience and perseverance, push kids to imagine, plan and execute…they are an introduction to basic physics and math.

I saw so much of this playing out a couple of days ago when the three boys were playing with their Lego blocks. Amu was trying to make the tallest possible structure he could. He kept adding to his tower of blocks and then tried to walk with his completed structure only to watch it topple over. “it’s too big amu!” said Sid a few times to his baby brother. Amu tried again and again, persistent in his efforts to create his own colourful high-rise. His look of triumph when he finally made it upto the chair i was sitting on with the building breaking was worth a million words. “Look so big! Amu make big building!” he announced proudly incase i hadn’t noticed!

Nish was trying something different. Using the duplo blocks he was trying to make a truck. He made a really fancy looking one but when he placed it down on the ground it toppled over backwards. His acceptance of the fate of his blocks was not quite as sporting as Amu’s and he got really upset. Sid was once again quick to jump in “Look the back it too much!” he said. “make it less”. He was right…Nish had got so carried away with building his fancy truck that he had put quite a few blocks on the rear of the “truck” making it lopsided in how the weight was distributed. With a little help from Sid, Nish restarted on his ‘vehicle’ and soon they had a modified truck that balanced quite well. It was really nice to see the thinking and use of logic and common sense as the boys worked with their Lego blocks!

I also introduced the boys (the twins not Amu) to tangram yesterday and they absolutely loved the concept. Using simple shapes (squares, triangles, diamonds, circles, rectangles and semi circles) i had them make composite shapes (we used ready templates but i am sure that with a little thought one can create templates to use with these shapes). We got through about 16 templates, each one a little harder than the earlier one. I had expected the boys to get bored or give up but they enjoyed the challenge and have already decided they want to do more! (for more ideas visit http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/tangrams)

It is good to see how many things something as simple as blocks end up facilitating…so far we had negotiations, sharing, patterns, role play and imaginary play and now we have planning, ideation, discussion and logic with blocks! (and it keeps my little monkeys occupied for a good 45 minutes or so at least if i am lucky!)

Felt board stories

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All three boys love to sit and sing their songs and rhymes together. The twins like to tell each other stories or pretend read and I am constasntly seeing elements from their books incorporated into their other play. So i decided it was time to introduce them to the felt board.

This meant a trip to an art and craft store and boy was I happy when I stumbled upon Itsy Bitsy, a hobby store not too far from where we are in Bangalore. I picked up some felt sheets from there.

All the other stuff I was likely to need I had lying around at home.

I started by taking a sheet of blue felt (of the softer more flannel kind that i had from before) and gluing it onto one side of a cereal box.

Then I chose to cut out 3 baby monkeys, a bigger monkey, a strip for a bed,a crocodile, some small fish and a tree. (picked things that featured in more than one rhyme the kids know).

It was actually much simpler to cut these out than I imagined it would be and it was fun! I stuck to simple shapes that were easy to draw and cut and i guess the next round i can work on making fancier cut outs because i can see how much they are getting used by the boys.

Then we were set. When the boys got back to school, they saw the cereal box covered in blue felt and were immediately curious about it. So I introduced them to the concept using the monkeys and the rhyme 3 little monkeys jumping on the bed (i was a little lazy and made 3 not 5 for starters!) They absolutely loved it and we did 3 little monkeys swinging from a tree next followed by a fish and crocodile song they know.

A little later, I came out of my room to see Sid totally engrossed in recreating the fish rhyme while Amu watched with great interest.

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Next on the list are 5 ducks (and mommy duck) and the Three billy Goats Gruff!

This is really super easy and lends itself to so much! Retelling, singing, making up your own stories, sequencing events…just plain fun!

At the beach

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The ten days we spent around Christmas in Goa were principally spent at the beach. There was so much to do and so much to discover! And I really feel like one looks at things through such a different lens when one is with kids. The very first day, Sid and Nish made a wonderful discovery…They were both watching the waves and the water with joy and fascination. When i asked what they were looking at, Nish said “The sea is brown and white and blue and grey” And Sid, who was intently staring at the setting sun added “And orange!” It’s true..the sea is these colors and more…much much more. But I never quite thought of it quite so poetically without even being asked to!  

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Then, chasing the waves became another fun thing to do…the boys would let the waves lick their toes and would then chase after the retreating wave squealing and singing! Once they decided that the water wasn’t really that cold, we went in and enjoyed the water waiting for each wave to come upto us and break! At one point Nish turned around with his back to the breaking wave and announced that he was getting a “bum massage”

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We saw a lot of birds too…other than the usual crows and sea gulls, we saw a lot of kites and some eagles too! The boys were amused to see the birds leaving their talon marks on the beach like the boys’ footprints.

We saw crows feasting on fish that has been washed ashore in the morning…we saw gulls and other birds pulling fish out from dead jellyfish and making a nice meal out of them! The jellies that had been washed ashore one morning was also interesting to see and we spent a lot of time observing them. 

Digging of course was something we did a lot of. Amu discovered the joy of sitting in holes in the sand and also of destroying sand ‘castles’. He figured out how to dig and enjoyed himself at it. The twins dicovered that if they dug deep enough they would hit water and that was an exciting activity that kept them hard at work. 

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We discovered seashells too (with and without creatures in them). This was lovely for size and color sorting and they made great decorations for the sand castles we were trying to (very unsuccessfully) build. 

We saw fishing boats and large fishing nets and we were lucky enough to be there one morning as they fishermen were pulling their nets ashore! 

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We discovered that we could fill our pails with sea water and then watch as the sand slowly settled to the bottom leaving clear water on top.

And we saw dogs and pigs and boats and anchors too…

Yes, the beach was treasure trove…a mine of stuff out there just waiting for us to stumble upon! We’ve come back a few shades darker, with the smell of the sea and the taste of salt on our lips, so much in love with the ocean of many secrets and colors! 

 

walk in the woods

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We spent 10 days in Goa..christmas on the beach with sun, sand and so much fun! Anyway, on one of the days – thursday to be precise, we decided to take a trip to the bondla forest reserve and zoo.  It would have probably been a good idea to check their website first but we didn’t and after an hour and a half of driving we came to a sign that announced most tragically that the zoo was closed on Thursdays…why thursday??? beats me…but i guess it’s as good as any other day to be closed. Sid was asleep when we got to this sign and Amu could not care one way or another…but Nish was most upset. He had been sitting patiently through the long car ride, excited about all the animals he was going to see and finally at the end of it all, there was nothing to see! My father in law got out of the car and had a word with the guard at the gate and he was kind enough to let us drive through. Nish was super excited again and we were really lucky because we got to see lots of birds, a monkey and three deer! Then, we took a little walk in the woods and just to make it interesting for the twins, i asked them to look for different colored leaves, different shaped leaves, berries, flowers, fruits, etc. We found some lichens, identified a few plants and trees, watched a few butterflies, observed some ant hills, spotted a giant spider in a web and saw simple and compound leaves.

 

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Nish found a dry dead leaf that only had its venation left (is that what it is called?).

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So, although the main attraction was closed we did actually manage to have a good time! And at the end of our walk we sat and had some nice ice-cream in the canteen (which was technically closed).  Quite a nice day all in all…but the next time we go there it will definitely not be on a thursday! 

masterchef 2

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Given the boys interest in cooking and kitchen activities we decided to surprise them with a present.  While my husband and i were browsing through the ELC section at Mothercare we came across a really nice kitchen set as well as a tea set. It was at a 40% discount and seemed well worth it so we picked it up. This was on Saturday.

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Since the time we got it home there has ben non-stop excitement. The kitchen set has some lovely fake food items too..there are pieces of cauliflower and broccoli, sausages, burger patty and buns, tomato slices and salad leaves as well as chicken leg. There are pans and spoons and a cooking top that has a stovetop on one side and a grill on the other. Put in a pair of AA batteries and the cooking range provides very realistic sizzling and boiling sounds when a utensil is placed on them.

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This has already provided hours of endless fun…they have been busy cooking, making tea and serving us or each other.

Definitely a great buy…now i am off to have some sausages and fried eggs that Nish is making for me.