Tag Archives: school

A vent on children’s day (or the day after)


I don’t know if you have read the poem, The Hundred Languages of children by Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini), Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach. Here it is:

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

And it is so true…if you look at children before we truly throttle them with our sense of socialization; they are artists, singers, performers in the purest sense. They express themselves through songs and dance and words and pictures and gestures and silence.  And then it is time to box them…to put them into cookie cutter molds that they dare not tumble out of.  We do exactly what the poem accuses us of doing…We take away their different ways of being and have them conform to our one expected way of life.

It probably hits me the most when I visit classrooms…the very place that they come in to bloom and grow and become dreamers and thinkers…it is often this very place that snuffs out the burning embers of creativity, that shuts the doors of imagination and turns the little artists into mindless automatons. They come in ready to reach for the stars but all we have them do is sit down with their arms crossed and their fingers on their lips. They are issued instructions and reprimanded for the scrawls their fingers struggle to produce – fingers that should instead be molding a ball of dough or sliding through paint or sand. They get rapped on the head for looking out of the window at frog in the corridor in stead of at the blackboard where the teacher mindless repeats the same sentence ten times before having the children do the same. Bodies that should be running free or swinging from branches are crammed into tiny hard wooden benches and told to stay still. And the bodies rebel, legs swing under desks, finger tap tap a tune with a pencil on the table, eyes peer out of the gloomy classroom and minds take flights of fantasy to happier places and times. But only for a while as a stern look, a harsh word or a rough tap brings them back to doing what they are expected to…NOTHING.

And so, on this day when we are celebrating children, I am putting out a plea to teachers and school principals. Whether you are working at a high end school or a budget school or a government institution…You have a very very important job to do. You have been entrusted with possibly the most precious resource this world has to offer…you have been entrusted with innocence and purity and the most beautiful human beings. Each one of them is different and brings his share of magic into your world. Recognize his beauty and respect him for who he is. Don’t smother his passion to learn with rote memorization and harsh words and a tight box that you want to fit him into…he wasn’t made to fit in there at all. I know you try hard…maybe it is time to try differently.

Let’s all come together and let our children reclaim their hundred languages…reclaim themselves and truly reach for the stars they were meant to reach for!



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


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.

Letter to a teacher


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


many a slip twixt cup and lip


The title of the post pretty much sums up what i observed in one of the early childhood centers i visited earlier this week.  The center, a part of a larger chain of preschools, boasts of a standard curriculum that has been tested. it claims to draw from various philosophies and pedagogies…talks about the importance of focusing on the child, keeping a good child-teacher ratio…the coordinator at the center definitely spoke the talk, used the right terms and displayed a fairly good understanding of early childhood, developmental benchmarks and appropriate practice, the need for the right kind of program etc.

The center was well set up. There was enough space, the furniture was child friendly, the class had a ton of displays on the walls, there were 2 teachers per class and each of them had a maximum of 4 kids (per teacher).

And yet, somewhere between the very wonderful ed-speak, the seemingly well thought through setup and the actual implementation and delivery there seemed to be a deep incomprehensible chasm.

The class functioned entirely on rote learning, constant repetition of every piece of information. The children had absolutely no opportunity to talk or respond, let alone to process or question. The group i was with were all 3 yr old and throughout the session the only movement i found them allowed to do was a trip to the washroom before and after lunch.

There was no art, no craft, no work with gross motor skills. There was a decent and well equipped play space outside but i was told that they got to use it only twice a week. The remaining days were for “music and movement” which as my observation showed translated into everyone sitting in their places and listening to two teachers singing (droning monotonously) repeating everything twice. That was certainly not music and there was absolutely no movement.

Surprisingly even lunch was an extremely quiet affair. The kids barely tried to interact. If they did they were asked to be quiet and quickly finish their food.

They did writing (yes- at age 3) using chalk and a slate. The teacher basically held each child’s hand and had him write alphabets.

I walked out depressed…i was clearly part of a system that is failing our kids…badly. I agree that most of the population cannot access resource rich school because of financial considerations, i recognize that the gaps are huge, the road looks and is bumpy, that there is so much work to do to prepare the child for grade school. Yet, the only thing i see us doing is completely stealing their childhood, depriving them of the right and the ability to think, process, assimilate and grow. The industrial revolution has come and gone and we are still struggling with the aftermath…struggling so much that we see this approach as the only way to help our kids!?

And I feel that the system, the parents..we are all to blame. I see parents pushing kids into classes, parents demanding teachers to get their 3-4 year olds to do formal writing … i see preschools not thinking twice about their fancy philosophies and pedagogies and they do rapid turnarounds to have children start reading and writing as early as they possibly can…even if that means holding their little fingers and forcing them to do it. Plato would shudder, Rousseau too…and i am certain that Dewey, Montessori, J.Krishnamurthy (who everyone is happy to call their inspirations) would be aghast at what their philosophies not look like. Reggio Emilia is an approach – not just a room called an atelier, there is much more to Montessori than the learning aids..and don’t even get me started on project based learning, inquiry or experiential learning.

It’s time for us to take a step back…all of us – parents, teachers, school leaders, educators and policy makers…what do we really want for our children? Because it really fails to make sense right now. And it all starts in the early childhood years…that’s the crucial foundation. Let’s give ourselves and our kids a chance. Let’s allow them to be kids while we are at it. And let us make ourselves and the system accountable to our children – we need to recognize and demand much better and more meaningful early childhood care and education…because we can make that change if we really want to. DSC02670


First day at a new school


New city, new house, new friends….new school. Yet another chapter started today as the twins had their first day at their new school in Bangalore. After announcing upfront that nothing could be as nice as By the Sea where they went to school in Mumbai, the twins accompanied us on a few school visits to help decide on their new preschool. We narrowed it down to 2 and then finally selected one that we all liked a lot. Gaia (which means mother Earth / a goddess of creation in Greek)…it looks like a lovely place for the kids. A stand alone house with a nice garden (not manicured but fairly organic in its growth)…fruit trees and space to run around, a generally warm staff. 

The kids were super excited about their first day and almost as soon as we entered Nish ran inside to look at a purple trike. Sid was slightly more apprehensive and stood by me asking me not to leave. I let him stand for a bit then gently explained that i was only going to go home for a bit and then be back to pick them up..just like at By the Sea. After about 10 minutes, he suddenly decided he was ready to let go and so he turned around and said “ok…see you later”. He then went and asked the coordinator for his bottle, took a few sips and waved goodbye. 

They were fine after that. When i asked them what they did, Sid reported that they had yummy carrot sticks and cucumber for snack…and he enjoyed a story that was read out. Good to see them enjoying the new school. They are looking forward to tomorrow as well. 

The little one (Amu) on the other hand is a little upset that his brothers are not around. He hardly splashed around in the bath this morning. But we got a good chunk of time to read together and do some puzzles. Normally he hardly gets any alone time with me so I guess this is good for both of us too! 


Week 4 of school…a much better monday!


 Both kids were under the weather last evening. The air has been so polluted after the navratri visarjan fire crackers and Nish has been especially miserable as he has allergic asthma…so the poor fellow was wheezing and coughing and throwing up last evening. Sid decided to keep his twin company by also throwing up (don’t know how he managed that because he was not coughing or wheezing or sick).  We had to use the nebulizer twice last night for Nish and i let the boys sleep in till about 7:30 this morning. I had decided they could just stay home but Nish woke up and very loudly announced that he wanted to go to school. Since he was fine and not wheezing in the morning I decided they could go. 

I was dreading Sid’s whines about not going to school but surprisingly he said nothing. He even spoke about what his teacher would say about his haircut! The car drive was peaceful…still no whines…

 And then, once we were in school, Sid and Nish both hopped out quite happily and waved goodbye.

It was such a happy feeling to drive out of the school gate without the heart wrenching sounds of Sid’s crying. It gave my day a jumpstart and I am so happy to see that he is finally settling in!!! 


Day 16…Monday strikes again


Monday 2  / Mommy 0

or maybe mommy scores 1 (since Nish was not crying and was excited about school). Sid on the other hand burst into tears as soon as i tried to get him out of the car seat. he clung tight to me and was gently pried away by the teacher. I am at home now and will go back in a bit to pick them up. quite heart wrenching! 


School Day 11


Yes..i skipped Day 11…it was actually very peaceful with not much to report. But today again was not great. The kids were ready early and wanted to get to school as soon as they could because they wanted to get the cars before the other kids. Today i was to drop them off and then return directly to pick them up. Tragically, today Nish decided he wanted to go home instead and Sid followed suit. Had to drag them out of the car and that did not feel nice at all. I have not got a call from the school, so am assuming they are ok now but left school feeling quite crappy. As i drove home i tried to think of what i could have done differenty in how i reacted. I did not mind the crying as much as i minded pulling the boys out of the car (believe me…it wasnt easy…two boys acting like dead weight and not budging). I think i could have easily driven around a little and calmed them and talked to them before driving back to school. Since we were early i could have…any thoughts?


School day 10


Back to school after the weekend and once again we were casualties of the infamous monday morning blues. The boys were excited to go back to school, but once again, Sid was most upset about me having to leave after a little time. The good thing that came out of it was that Nish decided to take charge of helping his twin adjust and cope and so he apparently kept walking up to a cranky moping Sid and telling him that “Aai has just gone for a meeting. She will come back soon. She always comes back. Don’t cry” The teachers were most moved by this conversation and at least 4 people told me about it. In fact, when i came back to the classroom area two hours later, Nish came running upto me and told me that Sid was sad and had been crying. “Aai, first please pick him up na! He has been crying!”


Weaning at school – day 1 and 2


Thursday was the first day we were going to try weaning at school. I was asked to leave the premises for 10 minutes after telling the twins. I had already prepped them earlier by telling them that i may need to step out to meet someone and pick up a couple of books. At about 9:20 am I walked up to the boys who were busy with some play dough and told them i would be stepping out for ten minutes and that i would be back soon. Nish quite cheerfully waved goodbye but Sid broke into a bawl. I walked away leaving him to be comforted by the teacher. 10 long minutes later i walked back in. Nish was busy playing while a rather tearful Sid was waiting for me to return. After i got back, he clung to me or stood right by me. Nobody tried to pull him away. The teacher came up a couple of times and said “See, I told you mommy would be coming back! She came didn’t she?”

On our drive home that day I asked Sid why he wasw crying. He did not really have a response so i reinforced what I had heard his teacher say – that i would always come back if i had to step out. When we reached home we were met by an upset 10 month old amu who was sulking at having being left at home without his brothers. Sid looked at him and said “why are you sad baby amu? i have come back! I had gone to school to do some important work…ata me aaalaaa! (now i am back!). 

Day 2 of the weaning (day 9 of school – friday) was much much better. I stepped out again, telling the twins i had a meeting to attend. This was surprisingly easy and neither of them cried or protested. As i waited with my book on the other side of the school building, stealing glances at my watch to see if it was 10 am (time o go back in) the helped came out to say i could stay away till 11. Came back in at 11 and the boys were busy at play, just finishing some cake and cleaning up! 


Now it’s the weekend again. Let us see what monday looks like!