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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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The tooth fairy’s raison d’etre :)

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Our twins are a few months shy of turning 6 and the current excitement in life is around shaking and falling teeth. Both of the them lost their first incisors a couple of weeks ago – within a couple of days of each other.

I decided to introduce them to the tooth fairy – also because she seemed to have visited pretty much all their friends who lost their teeth in the past few months.

So, I had the boys put their tooth under the pillow when they went to bed. The following morning, they woke up and checked under the pillow and discovered that the tooth was gone and they had 10 rupees and a generous offer of a new book from the tooth fairy to boot.

As one of the twins relayed this fascinating bit of information to his grandmother, she asked him why the tooth fairy was taking teeth. He barely thought for a few seconds and pat came the reply…”i think she does not have any teeth of her own and so she needs to fill her mouth with teeth” I thought this was quite an interesting take on the tooth fairy…because honestly, why on earth would someone want random fallen teeth??

Of course – in case you want more information on the tooth fairy and various myths around this fantasy figure who is found across various countries in Europe, you can look on wikipedia…i am quite content with the toothless lady explanation 🙂

Biases and stereotypes that I struggle with

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IMG_0620We have tried to be open as parents. We have avoided gender stereotypes. My boys have dressed up in dupattas as saris, used make up, painted their nails and mine. They have played with dolls and cars and tea set and dinosaurs. I have never consciously tried to push them into “boy” stuff or “boy colors”. My five year old’s favorite color is purple and in the past, I have had to buy him shorts from the girls’ section because most stores did not have boys shorts in pink or purple. So i am fairly open and not particularly biased at least in my conscious actions right?

Wrong!

I was at a shoe shop to get new crocs for amu our youngest fellow. Just shy of 4 yrs, the little fellow had outgrown his shoes and desperately needed a new pair (his brothers’ hand me downs were still too big!). So we went off to buy new shoes – Amu and me.

At the store, Amu walked around, looking at the different shoes and styles. He finally looked excited and gravitated straight to a gorgeous lavender-purple pair of crocs. “I like these” he announced. And that is when my bias hit me. Some part of me resisted the color. Most surprisingly (to myself) I found myself wondering whether he would be teased by the older kids he played with. And so I was relieved when they did not have his size. But never mind…he next went for a gorgeous pink-fuscia shade. (un)fortunately this was not available in his size either and he settled for a navy blue, telling the store owner to get pink and purple in his size in the future.

I was surprised at myself and spent some time thinking about it. A couple of days later, as i was putting the new stock of children’s clothes I make into packets for an exhibition, he came into the room and picked up a little dress with a cute bow in the front. “What’s this?” he asked. I told him it was a frock. “Can I try it?”asked Amu. Sure…and so he tried it on. Super cute! He looked at himself in the mirror and smiled. “I love it!” he announced. “Can I wear this to school tomorrow?” he piped. “Let’s see” i replied…again my own narrow mindedness hit me. I was not sure I wanted him going to school in a dress. He forgot all about the dress the next morning and I did not remind him either.

But i did not forget. It has been a week and I am still thinking about it. It is so easy to talk about being open and allowing children to explore..and then I find myself not walking my own talk.

Any thoughts? This is bothering me 😦

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!

Mirror mirror on the wall

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There is something magical about mirrors and little kids. It’s not the vanity of a pouting lady putting on lipstick or a well buffed dude surveying his six pack. It is an innocent and curious discovery of self…a peek at oneself from the outside…a world of exploration that exists for preschoolers and little ones that is fascinating to watch.

Which is why it has always been important for me to have a full size mirror accessible to the boys.

Amu provides us with endless entertainment in front of the mirror on his book cupboard. If one were to peek into the room when he is busy at play, chances are you will spot him making faces at himself in the mirror, or turning himself this way and that to see if he can get a look at his own back.

Today was one such evening. I walked into the room to see him wearing tons and tons of glittering beads and posing away, checking himself out and even kissing his reflection. The expressions were classic!

After a while (thankfully) he moved away from himself and the mirror and spent the next half our decking up his trucks with the beads and having long imaginary conversations! The beads were cords, chains, treads, decoration as he wove his story around them and the trucks.

Mirrors are an important part of the environment for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. They help children develop a concept of self, a construction of one’s own image. They are a great tool for perception too and provide an array of exciting exploratory experiences for children. Mirrors can easily become a center for fantasy play, inquiry, discovery and experimentation! In fact mirrors are an important part of the Reggio environment!

Please don’t tell my child ‘how’ to draw

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You know that beautiful beautiful poem called the Hundred Languages of Children? What the Reggio Emilia approach is based on?
About how the child has a hundred languages…a hundred ways of expressing, of being, of looking at the world? And how the school and culture take away ninety nine?

That poem always touches a chord in me…and today as i looked at a couple of “worksheets” in my 5 year old son’s bag, saw the corrections marks on it, his lopsided scrawled words underlined with a bold pen, “aided work” as a comment next to another that labelled him as a slow and hesitant reader, i teared up, thinking how this was already starting to happen. They were taking away the 99..I saw how a picture he had drawn of himself had been reshaped with a pen, detail added in, legs where they should be and hair on the head. There was a prescribed way of being, of writing, reading and seeing. And that was all that mattered here.

This child has just moved cities. He has watched his home disappear into boxes, he has said bye to his friends, his neighbours and teachers…even to the park and his favorite frangipani tree. He has changed homes and schools and not even had the time to settle down or make friends. He has started the in the middle of a term in a school so different from the one he has been in and I find these comments and remarks on his sheets. There are instructions for me to work with him on reading and better writing..sure, all that i can do if i really must. But please, can you let his drawing be? Please don’t tell him to look at the world through your eyes. Ff his person has crooked legs, let that be. he may need to work some more on his motor skills but allow him to express himself as he is able to. And whatever you do, remember he is fragile…do not damage his self esteem. I want him to grow up to be a good human being, comfortable with himself and happy.

Home to house

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Just like that…a few hours and a few paintings off the wall and our home starts to transform into a house. it sinks in..we are moving..and what we have been planning and discussing for so long suddenly seems real..right now…it’s happening. This is what it looks like.

Sure, we’ve moved before. But every time it is a different experience. Each place becomes a part of us and it is not easy to just leave it all and move on. And yet we manage. With as simple an action as taking a much loved painting off a wall. The painting that caught the sun’s rays in the morning and cast a warmish orange glow onto the bench below it. The rosewood bench with cane seating that took up that warmish glow and invited me to sit down for another cuppa warm ginger tea.

And the boys with their ‘nice’ and ‘marie’ and ‘parle g’ biscuits, waiting to dip into my tea and drop half the soggy biscuits into it.

The walls look so bare today and our stuff is beginning to occupy the floor of a couple of rooms in neat segregated piles for convenient packing. The art supplies sit perfectly placed in two large plastic tubs, the art papers in envelopes…the kids art is off the walls too…their tell tale fingerprint smudges are being wiped off with soap and sponges like they never were here…like they did not belong.

I sigh as i pluck each glow in the dark star off the wall, thinking of the many nights of excitement when the boys would wait for the lights in the room to go off and the stars would start shining. I watch as the painter quickly plucks the mirrors and sequins off the wall in our reading corner. The turquoise blue tree we had painted there, with brightly colored leaves and funky plumed birds is scraped off and painted over in half an hour and the reading corner makes way for just another corner by a window. Shel Silverstein’s poem ‘Listen to the musn’ts’ that is painted under the tree resists the makeover and the lines peer out faintly from under a hastily applied coat of paint. But i am sure they will disappear tomorrow when the painter comes back.

The boys watch, a little worried, as I create a pile of things to give away – things i feel they are ready to outgrow – but they don’t seem as sure, and every now and then a random baby toy is quickly pulled back from the ‘give-away’ pile. They check and double check that all their books and their lego are making the trip with us and I try to assure them as best as i can. It is less about the object and more about the stories that they hold…even the smudges on the wall have a story to tell and i try to remember them before they get erased and deleted.

I know that we will move into a house and soon it will turn into a home as well…as we put parts of ourselves into it, a painting here, a piece of furniture against a wall, a corner that we will cuddle into to read our favorite books…but a part of us will be left here and a part of this house will forever be a part of our memories and selves.

This home has been wonderful for us..we have loved every part of it and it has loved us back!

Letter to a teacher

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As my boys are getting bigger and now starting big school, i look at them with pride and some trepidation. So much is about to change for them and so quickly. They are going to move from a very informally structured preschool that focused so much on play and interactions and conversations and discoveries to a more structured school that marks the end of the preschool era for them. As they start kindergarten, i worry about how they will cope, how they will perceive this new world around them.

For they have been brought up a little differently. They have barely watched TV, we have no toy guns or swords at home, they have spent hours with cardboard cartons and paints and beads and glitter. We have read and reread a zillion book, spent hours listening to and making music. We have celebrated them for the individuals they are for they are very very different…and that is exactly what worries me as they start formal school. While one of the twins is more conformist to what one would expect in a classroom, the other is a free spirit…for him relationships are really important and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He is naughty, always has a twinkle in his eye and loves to tease. He can think laterally, draw connections, remember all kinds of details about people and places. He takes time to settle down and prefers being asked to being told. As he starts this big journey, a part of me wants to hold him close and protect him for he is incredibly sensitive…and yet i know i need to let him go, because he will find his feet and his own.

Here is a letter I have put down, which is just to put my feelings down:

Note to my child’s teacher

I am entrusting you with something incredibly precious – my child.
He is a free spirit and loves to learn. He has a hundred questions, about the wind and stars and trees and birds and waves and people. He does not ask them to annoy you but because he wants to learn. He loves to touch things, feel them, hold them, smell them, try to turn them upside down or open them to see how they work. He is not being badly behaved or destructive, simply curious about the way the world around him works. He forms close bonds with people and sometimes takes time to settle down … he is not being difficult, simply taking his time for something he knows is important. You can’t hold the wind in your hand or wave in the sand…my boy’s spirit is like that, it aches to roam free. But that does not mean he cannot be still for even the ocean is sometimes calm and the breeze pauses till the air is so still. Let him appropriate and understand what he is doing and he can be focused and calm, content to work on mastering a task. He is a thinker and a person who loves others, who gives of himself more freely that most others. Focus on that side of him that smiles and shares and you will see his other sides blossom too. Don’t compare him to his brother or neighbor who may listen better or do his sums faster. It hurts him and though he does not show it I share his pain when I look at his eyes that reflect the hurt deep within. He is easy to misunderstand if you don’t slow down and take the time to see what he has to offer. Because he is not willing to sit in the box you may want him to.  Don’t label him because you don’t understand him and labels stick much more than you might want them to. Believe in him and he will show you that you were right in doing so. Just because he fidgets does not mean he isn’t listening, just because he not raising his hand all the time does not mean he does not know…he may not feel the need to demonstrate his learning right there just when you want it. I know you feel it is important for him to conform, to do things exactly when you feel he should be doing them, for I understand that as a teacher you have the whole class to manage, to take along with you on this wonderful journey and you don’t want to leave anyone behind. But please make sure that the journey does not imprison this bird or cut his wings, allow him to be the child he is, allow him his speed to learn, his curiosity, his wonder at the world, his slightly messy scribbles, his funny ways of showing affection.  The world is full of high achieving competitive people, the world has so much mistrust and hate and war. I think we need more free spirits who can stand up to wrongs, who can take their time to be happy, who can take the time to hug another or share a cookie.

I am entrusting you with something extremely precious…my child…IMG_8172

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_