Monday, February 28, 2011

Paneer Pulao & other adventures in the kitchen

Friday night I was reading through Tarla Dalal's recipe book on Rice dishes & Chellu came to me to ask what I was reading. I told her my intention to cook something from the book and asked her what she would like to eat. She immediately chose Paneer pulao ( she loves paneer) from the choices offered. She then expressed her interest to cook with me and we proceeded.

The moment I said yes she turned into this excited, full of enthusiasm, fully-charged person! Its so obvious in kids- they never hide their emotions and its never hard to find out if a kid is interested in something or not. They show it too obviously!!!

I read the recipe for her & and for myself ..she asked for explanations of words like  " saute", " thaw", " steam", etc..We then started cooking the dish. She got out all the veggies , condiments & other stuff from the fridge, cut the tomatoes , onions & green chillies, washed the corn, thawed the paneer & took out the required rice . She put all the stuff into the cooker while it was getting cooked and just loved the aroma from the cooker. She kept saying " yummy, yummy"  just from smelling the stuff. Then afterwards helped me clean the platform and put all the stuff back in its place. Ofcourse needless to say the pulao turned out  very very yummy and we had a very satisfying dinner. Satisfied with the taste of the pulao and with the experience of making it. As for chellu she seemed very pleased withe herself and kept telling kunju that she was the one who made it. Kunju ofcourse seemed very impressed and kept saying "Mmmmmmm..." while eating..It really made me laugh!!!

Being in the kitchen is very very exciting for kids. Its a highly sensory experience for them and kids love anything that's sensory. They want to touch, feel. smell, taste, hear all the time and in a sense the kitchen provides  for all these sensory experiences.  Chellu knows a lot about food in general- the spices, the vegetables, ingredients of certain dishes etc..She loves playing the blindfold & smell/touch/ taste game with things from the kitchen. She will always guess most if not everything correctly. I guess its also about being involved in everything that goes about in the house. I read in a book called "Positive Discipline" that children get a big kick out of being given reponsibilites that adults also take up in the house. They don't want to be sidelined to " children" activities like clean-up your toys..They want to do what we do....Its basically about being involved, thus having a sense of belonging.

Today in the morning she said a big yes for chikoo milkshake and very very swiftly got out the chikoos , peeled them, cut them, helped me pour the milk, took out the elaichi and pounded it ..Her sister added the sugar and a yummy milkshake was soon ready!! Chellu then divided the milkshake into "equal" amounts for the three of us. As always the look on her face said it all....;)) Same thing for lunch. I said "Pav-bhaji" and the sisters immediately dragged their  stools to the kitchen to get into the action. Chellu pulled out all the vegetables and then cut the potatoes, cauliflower while kunju worked on the capsicum & some onions till her eyes started to water!!  Then for someone reason Chellu's stomach ache started again and she herself said she coudnn't continue...
I am always amazed at how adept the girls have become with cutting with a knife. In most households children are never allowed to handle the knife but in mine I've seen that actually they hardly cut themselves & if they do its very very minor- they themselves don;t react to it. They are capable of handling a knife and cutting beautifully! Initially I thought that its probably Chellu alone who has this skill but now Kunju does the same & Im starting to think if all children are capable of handling a knife very carefully...My belief was further ratified when I attended Jinan's workshop on how to learn from children..He had shown videos of rural children cutting, sawing, hammering etc with not a hint of fear or injuries...

When we include children in our cooking/kitchen it becomes a different ball game all together. Its no more about "Im cooking" & "Don't disturb me"  but lets all cook together. It certainly brings the family together ! I have started to love cooking with my kids ..just enhances the HSing experience and they learn a lot for sure. For starters their tactile skills are stenghtned like crazy, they learn about food/ veggies and the best part is the one on one conversations..Its like being with them /spending quality time with them, yet not doing a child-activity..And once we start allowing the kids into the kitchen so many new ideas prop up. Like one day, I had been to the local market & bought a lot of veggies ( to avoid running short of beggies since Shankar is in the US since Jan). We sat together and spent a good 45 mins just sorting them out. Since I had got a lot of beans type of stuff like french beans, ladies-fingers, gavaar, peas took them quite some effort to figure out what belongs where and do the sorting. Isn't this a valuable educational activity? Sorting out similar shaped, similar colored objects into different catogories? Then Chellu proceeded to count  all the bigger veggies..She asked me how many kilos I had bought of each vegetable and then by counting kinda saw how many tomatoes consititute a kilo..Then the sisters helped each other in collecting each category of vegetable and putting it into ziplock bags and loading the same into the fridge. The whole activity took us 1 and 15 mins or so..I bet they learned a LOT !! And I too got a huge chunk of work done....;))

Friday, February 25, 2011

How do your children learn?

One of the other zillion Qs I'm constantly asked about. Aaap bachon ko kaise padaathey ho? ( how do you teach your children?) Did you take any training for HSing? how do you know what to teach when?

Well for starters I consider myself to be a gentle facilitator of my children's learning needs. I am their MOTHER . And that qualifies me to be the best teacher they could ever have.  I know them in and out. My body bore them, birthed them and provided them with the most nutritional food exclusively for 6 months and for much longer.

I am my children and they are me. Nature has tied us into an unbelievably strong bond. So this makes us an ideal pair to continue to the next stage- education.    I read somewhere that little children merge their identity with their mother.  I believe in this strongly.  And the fact that I believe that my children will let me know very clearly when it comes to being offtrack gives me immense confidence in what I do. There is no way one can force a child to learn. If that happens then its not education. Its some robotic , automatic stuffing of facts and ideas into the child's brain. There is no true learning happening here. 

So how do my children learn ? For Chellu its by doing things. She is very very hands-on  & very kinesthetic. And she showed these traits right from birth. She is constantly doing something or the other with her hands - she started to eat on her own by 7 months or so. Her desire to experiment with her hands makes her a very mischevious child.  Cutting, peeling, mixing, playing with water ( actually learning a lot about science in the processs), playing with mud & play-doh ( thats her hot hot favorite), opening drawers and checking out all the "fun" stuff that her parents hide away, drawing, pasting, plucking leaves from plants and examining them, collecting stones , inspecting everything thats on the ground including insects ( one of our family favorites is treasure hunt where we collect everything that seems interesting & then examine them) , mixing/ applying soap on everything and what not..Her hand-eye /small movement/ finger coordination is perfect. She loves being in the kitchen for this very reason. She started pariticipating in kitchen related work from a very very young age. When she was a baby I used to give her the really blunt butter knife & some veggies so that she would let me cook and that used to hook her on for like an hour. Ever since she could stand well, she used to help me empty the dishwasher while singing rhymes at the same time. She is now a pro at cutting veggies. She can do thin slices ( round or long), big slices, can peel  any vegetable and most importantly the conversations we have during cutting veggies is the best part. Last week when we made a strawberry milkshake she taught me how to cut strawberries into beautiful thin slices.  She loves to mix atta for chappattis & rolling them , LOVES washing vessels, makes simple soups & pasta ,wash clothes ( its much fun to watch the fervor with which she applies soap!! ),  sweeping and doing pochaa ( wiping the floor with a wet cloth) , wiping glasses with Colin ( she gets a kick out of the "spraying" part) & all the household work.  OMG! She is the happiest person on earth when the maid dosen't turn up.

And she will come up with all sorts of innovative ideas ! Like once when she was washing the bathroom floor with the plastic broom she applied the soap on the broom and not on the floor. That way she claimed the soap will spread well on the floor!! She does experiments all the time. Her favorite is the strained tea leaves after her mom makes her chai. She will mix it up in all sorts of concotions -with soap, with water, with other leftovers from the sink and once she put away such a concotion in the freezer to see if it turns into ice just the same way as plain water does. The next day she mixed soap with water , wanted to boil it and then do the goes on & on like this..My house is a veritable lab where things are constantly spilt, mixed, thrown, torn, shredded, cut etc etc..For most of it the floor is covered with paint, shredded paper, sticks, mud , water & what not! You guessed it! My house is anything but a clean , neat pretty looking thing. In my family I am the shabbiest homemaker. But for me my house is a heaven for my HSing family! I allow my children to be children and not miniature versions of residents of "Hilton" hotel. The kitchen is not my kitchen but theirs too.  I thank God a million times for making me the bindaas types- not the perfectionist with mild to severe versions of OCD ( Obssesive cleaning disorder). " Don't jump on the sofa, don't do this, don't do that"- my Q: if they don't jump on the sofa now when will they? If they don't play with mud when will they?" I remember the famous song from 3 idiots " Bachpan tho gayaa , javaani bhi gayee..."!!!

So this inclination of Chellu to not sit in one place ( & I think this is true for most children) and to constantly keep experimenting with her hands makes it easy for me to tailor her learning methodology. For us learning is mostly kinesthetic ,  tactile. And by keeping up with her natural learning styles ,what needs to be delivered how & when ceases to be guess work . When she expressed interest in reading we started to do the phonetics . And guess what ? Unlike most other children who read first and then write, Chellu did the reverse. Because she is tactile learner! She learned the aplhabets by writing them down. For 10 days or so we kept playing alphabet games, watching  alphabet videos, making the sounds , drawing & painting the alphabets, tracing it on a grains, making the shapes from play-doh and then one fine afternoon she picked up the pencil and wrote down all the letters on the wall one after the other ! Chellu loves songs too. So anything thats sung to her is etched in her memory forever. So we make up a lot of songs. Ive become a composer of sorts after the birth of my children!!

If on the other hand I asked her to sit in one place and repeat after me she will give me the "are you crazy" look and never do it! Another thing she hates is repetitive work. She will never do tracing alphabets line after line, page after page. So how will she perfect the alphabet? How will she have that beautiful handwriting? I think these are the things that we give undue importance to. First of all its unfair to ask children to write in small spaces. They just can't. Their little fingers are made to write big. Observe any pre-schooler and they will tend to scribble big, write big. They can't be constricted into small spaces. So I let it be and we banished the A-4s from our house. We do everything on big sheets, big papers.  I believe that as she gets bigger she will start writing more coherently, will start understanding what's good handwriting and just this whole idea of writing beautifully will be easier to explain to a 8 yr old than to a 4 yr old.

Another thing I've observed with Chellu is that she goes through phases of intense interest in something & that eventually vanishes. During that particular phase she will learn a lot. Right from the age of @ 18 mos or so she has gone through phases of intense interest in cutting paper ( everything she could lay her hands on including my hair!), pasting, drawing, painting, playing with play-doh, singing ( OMG I remember those days, begging God for 5 mins of slience), beading, lacing, cycling, playing dress-up, cutting veggies , tracing, doing workbooks, building blocks & so many more..I can't seem to keep count these days. And when she goes through these phases she is focussed like crazy. She will sit in one place for more than an hour!!  I used to get worried initially that she dosen;t seem to pursue her interests in anything for forever but then it dawned on me that such an inclination if that of an adult's. A child's curiosity is very high ..they want to explore everything around them and when they are satisfied to an extent with something its time to hop onto another. Permanence is an adult virtue, not a child's.

And one of the good things about HSing is that children demand our attention & get it one way or the other. Once when I fell sick an entire week Chellu realized that the only way to make me do something with her is to get her workbook out-that way I get to rest and she gets to do HSing. She never showed any interest in it before. But that entire week she has done her workbook for 1-2 hrs everyday. Certain nights I have begged her to let me sleep but she wouldn;t let go. "Amma 2 more pages.."!! So I think learning keeps happening all the time.  My children are upto something 24/7. The important thing is to create the environment and let children be children!

What about the younger one? Well she too has started to show patterns of intense interest in activities ( I;m starting to wonder if this is a common trait amongst all children?) . @ 2 weeks back all she did night & day was to keep cutting play-doh into thin slices with the butter kinfe. Play-doh was all over the house . Now she is into cutting paper. She started with the small scissors and now she handles the big one with much ease. Kunju learned the sounds of the alphabets with her sister, listens to all the stories, sings the rhymes /song, cuts veggies, washes vessels, paints , writes, " reads ", counts , fights with her sister over correct spelling ( this one really drives Chellu up the wall- " Amma she spells MAD as CAT & is fighting with me for it !! ") and in general is a miniature version of her sister. Yes but there are certainly clear distinctions. Chellu loves art, kunju dosen't ( she loves pouring water over her sister's art! ). Kunju loves puzzles, Chellu dosen't . Chellu is a risk-taker, kunju plays it safe.

Now does this all this happen with a ever smiling, loving mom? Many people ( especially my neighbors) think that Im an exceptional , super mom. How do you tolerate children 24/7? How do you not get angry? How patient you are!!! Oopss..a lot of misunderstanding there! Do I yell? Yes, spank? Yes,yes,  scold? yes, yes, lose my temper  ? Yes, yes , yes ( shankar is the best testimony for this) . I can be a monster of a mom , very short-temepred ( Im an Aries!) on certain days when I can't seem to tolerate my children . The constant mess, constant noise , fights ( seriously do all siblings want to kill each other like mine do?), having a hubby to deal with ( its the reverse for Shankar too ) can drive me up the wall and make me wonder " How the hell did I get into this?" . I dream of a neat & clean "Hilton" like looking house, children in school , me at work- sitting in one place for more than 5 mins , having adult conversations , going shopping WITHOUT children ( God I've almost forgotten how that feels!!) and doing adult stuff in general. I am certainly not a perfect mom by any measure nor are other HSing moms. We have our mood-swings, our temper outbursts and are very much like other moms..... But yes for most of us we are  HSers at heart and whenever the above feelings of "life on the other side of the fence" prop up its very temporary ... Like most other HSing moms Im soon back into the madness and fun that this journey offers ! And I've started to realize that its not necessary to be a perfect smiling mom 24/7 when HSing..Being a HSer is  good enough !!! :))))

What do you do in HSing?

This is the first question that pops up when we reveal that our children don't attend school.  Followed by what curriculum /routine do you follow?

I am a relaxed HSer meaning I take things easy or rather I let the children have the upper hand when it comes to learning. I do believe in structure and a loose routine more so to spend quality time with each other rather than to force learning onto my children. I am strong believer in " create the environment" & the children will pick it up. Ofcourse if they are not ready for it then they will not. In a sense its like drawing our own huge boundaries and then letting the children do what they want to do within those boundaries.

So what is it that we do in HSing? We do a lot of stuff - sing, dance, paint, do arts & crafts, have started to learn  reading &  writing, play math games, read, read, read stories like crazy,do puzzles, build stuff, do household chores like cutting veggies, cleaning vessels, participating in cooking, enact stories , do preschool workbooks, tracing/ coloring/ cutting & pasting, have playdates with other HSing children, talk a lot, ponder a lot, spend a lot of time outdoors doing fun things like treasure hunts, bug hunts etc.. and ofcourse PLAY, PLAY, PLAY, PLAY, PLAY & keep plaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaying..........................Thats one of the things I absolutely love about HSing little children- they get to play a lot. Infact most of the learning my children do is through play. Chellu would never sit down to learn math since she isn't the types to sit down in one place at all. But when math games are played she would jump in immediately.

We do a lot of theme based learning. I take up a theme and then we do a range of activities based on that theme. Starting this year we follow a theme based on each alphabet .So Jan it was A with animals, Feb its B with bugs & balls etc..So each week we do a range of activities on each theme. I follow this book called  The Absolute Best Play Days which lists a variety of things to do on different themes. And many other books based on the Montessori method, learning with nature etc.. And then I weave in a lot of my own stuff based on what I know the kids will enjoy. What we do on a particular day is unto the kids. I only start off the day with an idea of the activities . Sometimes Chellu will pick on the activities very well, sometimes not with so much interest and sometimes she is absolutely disinterested. The whole point is to be flexible, have an open/learning mind and have faith in the child's learning needs/ styles. And it makes a lot of logic to me. If learning is considered an intrinsic need just like eating, sleeping, walking etc..then it will certainly vary according to the day & time.
And why should it be restrcited to the x to y hrs "routine", "discipline" ,"learn this right now " regime? Why should knowledge be categorised into history , maths, science & such boring demarcations? Isn't knowledge just a flow? A continuous flow of experiences ? emotions? facts & what not...So we could be learning any subject anytime ! We read a book on 2 elephants whose ears are shaped like Africa & India and immediately we point to the countries on the map...we could start to talk about thier cultures, the animals that live in that country etc...

So does she know what she ought to know for her age? Well yes for most of it. Much more for some of it and less for some of it. I don't see her glaringly behind any supposed "milestone"....Infact she seems to be racing ahead full-speed when it comes to absorbing all the wonderful stuff that this universe offers to teach her!

How do I know that she is "learning " for sure? That she is remembering /understanding everyting we do?  Well this is where the beauty of real-life learning /application vs. exams comes in. Her understading/remembering is constantly reinforced by "connecting the dots". Since we have a learning mind the entire day & not just during school hours ,  every single /small fact is being absorbed, regurgated on a constant basis. Whenever I take up recurrent themes ( themes that have been done the previous year) she can remember all the details/facts from a year back. Even how we did a certain activity. We will  be visiting some place and she will suddenly remember a detail from a story & connect it to the present environment. And given the umpteen number of stories that we read everyday I think it's quite a feat! I find it hard to keep up with her..The other day we had been to a friend's college and were having lunch. She looked at a short white buliding with a blue door behind us and immediately said" Amma dosen't that building look exactly like the stable that the baby horse lives in ?" This was from a story called "Don't Be Afraid Little One" . And this has happened many many times. I am quite suprised that she even remembers stuff from the HSing routine that we did in NJ in 2009!
Her pictorial memory is fantastic. When driving she will point to shops - what we bought from where and when. Like this is where amma got her make-up from during Anu chitti's wedding, thats where we got the car, this is where appa slipped on his two-wheeler, this is the building where the rangoli competition during Ganpati was held. She even remembered who made which rangoli when no one from our family participated!! When we celebrated Sankranti at home I pointed out the states that celebrate the same and she immediately picked it up. She can point @ 10 states on the Indian map and a few countries on the world map. And this is not from drilling on an everyday basis but through casual conversations / stories/connecting the dots. Chellu remembers conversations, peoples' reactions, the weather at some point of time , what we wore when, what we did when, lines from stories , the type of birthday card she made for which friend, what happened at some playdate and my goodness the list is endless.............................

Even Kunju has started this. The other day Chellu & I were sounding out the L alphabet saying la, la, la lamb  and immediately kunju shouted amma " Mary had a little lamb". We were leaving for the BCL ( British Council Library) and Kunju said "Amma they hit us, shouted at us / shot us! " and I was like " what????"..couldn't understand and then she goes "Amma British!"  During the week of Republic Day we had taken up Indian Independence theme and had enacted the march-past, freedom struggle shouting "karo ya maro ", " British leave the country" etcc... and she was thus connecting that to the British in British Council Library!

One of the things I've noticed in all HSing families is that parents talk a lot/ all the time to their children. The children are involved in al the activities and thus they automatically learn all the time. If I'm taking the kids to the BCL I say lets go to the British Council Library and then the dialougues immediately start. Whats the BCL? Who were the British etc...thus learning is continuously happening 24/7 and because the parent is also involved 24/7 the exchanges between the parent & the child is continous . Rather than my child learns something in school, I don't know what was she thinking then? what was she pondering about then? did the teacher answer her question ? and then did she remember to come home and ask me about the little Q several hours later? And most importantly is this happening in our lives currently that she can learn real-time ?

For many this sounds ideal but too impractical. Well for Shankar & myself the real fun starts when the ideal & the practical start to merge..................;)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Housework is such fun!

The beauty of Hsing in a sense is that everyday brings it own suprises. Learning is life oreinted and not textbook oriented.
One fine day the maid didn't turn up & the girls jumped in to help in every sense.
Here's the list: Elder- Cleaned 2 wash-basins & their platforms, scrubbed & washed the bath tub, cleaned the bathroom floor, folded clothes,peeled pumpkin & cut it .

Younger- passed on washed vessels to be put in their racks in the kitchen, passed on clothes to be folded, collected all garbage & threw in the trash,passed on all the folded clothes to be put in the closet, desseded a big peice of pumpkin.

Together- scrubbed a huge mirror, put away all the toys in their place, watered the plants , peeled boiled potatoes! All this while absolutely enjoying it!! 
Today's education totally underestimates the value of household work in our children's lives.. If anyone is wondering what they " learned"  here's the list : Discipline, hard-work, patience ,  how much soap & water to apply to clean something ( math/science), following orders ( listening skills), co-ordination/teamwork, sorting, small & big hand-eye coordination, how to clean varied surfaces, cooking and most important of all " A DAY IN THE LIFE OF MOM" & " EVERY DAY BRINGS ITS OWN SUPRISES AND WE MUST LIVE UP TO IT- nothing is a given"!  I absolutely enjoyed the day and so did the kids.We talked together  , sang together, danced together while doing the chores. Every day is a beautiful day in a homeschooling family!!

Enacting a book

Yesterday was a perfect example of how one can have keep planning on what to do on a certain day and then the child surpises you with her own plans. We started off the Hsing routine with prayers and then proceeded to enact the book " The Hungry Caterpillar ". We set to do a small chart with the days of the week and then draw the corresponding stuff that the caterpillar eats on each day.   I phonetically spelled the days of the week for the first three days of the week while Chellu (Shruthkirti)  wrote it down & then we did the reverse. I've observed many times that Chellu would ask me to do the same as I ask her to. Its not about being lazy or not wanting to do something but in a sense they want us to participate in  an activity in the same way as they do. So then she attempted to phonetically spell the rest of the days while I wrote it down ..I could see the satisfaction in her face- like as though she was the parent & I was the child!  I drew all the stuff that the caterpillar eats on each day and she proceeded to color/paint it. But from the look of it , it didn't seem like she was too interested. She generally does an amazing job of painting anything but yesterday she wasn't in it. We let it be ..there was no point pushing her.

She seemed very enthu to start the drama which we eventually did. She enjoyed enacting the drama but somehow she didn't seem her usual self! While we were doing this chart, Kunju ( Shreedhari) was very keenly cutting paper. Its amazing that the sisters seem to show the same interests at the same age. Chellu was exactly like this-cutting away paper like crazy around 2.6-3 yrs. I was observing Kunju and she seemed to have such beautiful finger coordination. She was holding the scissors perfectly & more importantly absolutely enjoying her activity.

Just before naptime in the afternoon we proceeded to our daily spelling exercises and Chellu  really suprised me with her speed. I guess she needed to be restful . I've always observed that she seems very tuned in just before napping . And the habit of being focussed before naptime has probable been cultivated by reading.

And then she woke up in the middle of her nap saying that she needed to do potty and then ended up doing so thrice..Her stomach was upset! No wonder she seemed distracted  before....And then after her third attempt she came out and said "Amma  Ive made up a song on caterpillars!" We then proceeded to write it down, while spelling the words.. We enjoy writing down the children's songs and stories ..Its such fun seeing them going about composing their interesting stories about everything. The poem goes about like this..
" Caterpillar (2), how are you?
   I am good (2)  who are you
   I am a tiny caterpillar and who are you?
   I am a  big girl and what's your name
   My name is Shruthkirti Shankar and what do you eat?
   I eat some green leaves , thank-you (2)
   Sleep ( 3) in the coccon and  sunday
   He becomes a beautiful butterfly.
She then  drew 4 butterflies representing each of us with a flower to suck nectar from !

I personally believe that kids learn a lot from books. Though  Chellu can't converse fluently in English yet she seems to get better at it everyday. The above poem is an example!