Friday, April 22, 2011

Hanuman Jayanti

This week we celebrated Hanuman Jayanti for a couple of a days. The first day saw Kunju dressed as Hanuman and Chellu as Trijata (the friendly raakshasi who took care of Sita in the Ashok Vaatika). Shankar's mother who is visiting us also participated in the drama as Sita. We took all our sweet time in dressing up . Trijata turned out very beautifully and Hanuman looked extremely cute. I've always seen that the kids loved to get dressed up..thats why dressing up and drama features regularly in our HSing routine.
We enacted the Hanuman giving the ring to Sita scene. Chellu seemed tired by the time the drama started. She preferred to sit near her grandma and quietly watch the drama. But Kunju was in full form. She told the dialogs very well and aptly chose to eat the banana while sitting on the tree!This was followed by other scenes like Hanuman returning to Ram with the choodamani and building of the bridge scene. Kunju participated very well in everything.
That afternoon we also worked on making the Himalaya mountain. My MIL made a nice paper mountain which Chellu then proceeded to paint. The kids also watched the movie on Hanuman that day.

The next day Chellu wanted to become Hanuman and enact lifting the Himalaya mountain scene. So we had a fun time dressing her up as Hanuman and Kunju as Laxman. We proceeded to do the scene but the only hitch was that Kunju refused to play unconscious. From then on we a lot of other scenes including giving the ring to Sita, building the bridge, war scenes with Ravan, first meet of Hanuman with Ravan and burning of Lanka, waking of Hanuman's inner strength , Hanuman's refusal to return from Ayodhya after the coronation of Ram, waking up of Kumbhakarna etc...The kids had a gala time and we kinds spent a good 2 hours enacting all the scenes. The kids then watched the second part of the Hanuman movie in the evening....

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Of Castles and Royalty

Last week during the RamNavami week we decided to build a castle. It started as that and ended up being a castle for Ram and Sita and the rest of the family. We built it entirely from cartons and thermocol. Chellu's zest at building it was really worth noticing! She was into it a 110%. She provided with most of the ideas. I mainly contributed in giving the idea of a wall surrounding the palace and a basic structure of two boxes side-by-side to start with.. She carefully selected each piece of thermocol for whatever she conceptualized in her mind. She mostly took it on from there. Her Castle included the following:
1. Two gates at the entrance
2. A high wall that would open to allow friends of the king and block enemies. The enemies have to climb over the wall which she thought was an impossible feat
3. Two layers of fountains on the roof of the palace. The kings and queens could roam around in the evening on the roof.
4. Behind the palace I suggested the idea of a bath for the queens . They would come out and proceed through a narrow slit in the wall to a changing room. She initially didn't think about the changing room , then I gently reminded her that queens can't obviously change in the open!
5. After the changing room she then placed a high seat and watch a puppetry show. The piece of thermocol selected for the puppetry show was really interesting. It was square like piece with a big hole in the center. She said the puppeters would stand on the top and do the puppetry such that the puppets would dance in the circle provided.
6. Two fountains to the left of the puppet theater
7. A garden to stroll by . I provided benches for the tired parents and grandparents to sit on
( from personal experience of course! ;)) and a wide tiered bench for babies to sleep on ( I've always wished for that in all the parks)
8. A planetarium with steps that took the royalty at the base of the structure. They would watch the stars and if sleepy would then sleep in a nearby bedroom. Otherwise they could proceed to their royal chambers
9. I provided a huge piece of thermocol nearby claiming it to be the kingdom of Ayodhya
10. She then made a tea stall near the entrance for the tired guards
11. Finally she placed a paper alligator that we had made months back to attack any enemies who would climb the wall.

At the end both of us were extremely pleased with the result. When Shankar arrived in the evening she showed him around enthusiastically and explained well each aspect of the palace...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Festivals and Holy Days

We have been doing the "Rama Navami" theme for this past week. This is one of the things I love about HSing. Festivals and Holy days can be celebrated grandly instead of the usual " get things done fast " style. We celebrate every festival in a child-friendly way. Thats the best way to get their interest. I used to always find it funny that the elders in the family would do their own little puja and include the kids only for the prasad part. In our house the kids are part of every aspect of the celebration. This is where Divinity based education gets deeply ingrained in. Where festivals are not simply for eating prasad but for reliving the characters and learning from them.

We have had wonderful HSing runs of Janmashtami, Ganpati, Navraatri , Ram Navami, Pongal, Republic Day , Diwali to name a few. The Ram Navami theme has included amongst others the following over the past few years:
1. Dress-up as Ram, Laxman, Sita
2. Reading a lot of the Ramayana
3. Listening to Ram's bhajans
4. Enacting various parts of the Ramayana. Sita being captured, Hanuman giving Sita the ring, building the Sethu while singing " Sethum vande Sethum vande Sethum vande Re O Rama", Bharat refusing the throne and worshiping Rama's sandals as the King, conversation between Laxman and Rama before leaving Lanka ( "Janani janmabhoomishcha..."), Jatayu saving Sita, Sita dropping her jewels while being captured by Ravan etc...
5. Drawing of Rama , Laxman and Sita and coloring . This year Chellu took the picture and copied it herself over the black board. She also drew Ravan.
6. Making a cut-out of Ravan and hitting him .

We have had our share of funny moments. While Sita ( my niece ) was captured by Ravan ( myself), Shreedhari ( Laxman) started to cry! "Laxman" after drawing the Laxman Rekha chose to hop over it and stay with "Sita" instead of running for the rescue of " Ram" ( Shruthkirti). While "Bharat" ( Kunju) was asked by Kaikeyi ( myself) to take the throne she readily agrees to it jumping and saying " Yes yes I will be the Raja!!" ;))..The sisters constantly kept arguing over sticking with Sita since Sita is their favorite cousin sister!! Much to the chargin of " Ram" ( Shruthkirti) who kept telling that it is Ram who loves Sita and not Laxman!!

Last Ram Navami Chellu ( Shruthkirti) mastered the art of bow and arrow. She would practice for days and finally could shoot the arrow exactly wherever she wanted to.

During Janmashtami celebrations this past year we had tried to inculcate Lord Krishna's virtues through daily activities. After enacting the " stealing of butter" scene we did a small drama where two kids weren't given butter while Chellu was. She then proceeded to share it with them. After enacting the Kalika destruction we tried to do a huge A to Z puzzle to learn what it takes a little kid to do something much harder than her capability. We dressed as gopikas and danced, we acted like as though I was Yashodha and the kids Krishna and Balram for days ..It was like we were reliving the days of Gokul......

During Ganpati we talked about what it is to have God Himself as guest in our house, did plenty of lovely art and crafts on Ganpati, watched the movie on Ganpati, by-hearted two shloks and a bhajan ( and sing it till date during morning prayers), did an elaborate theme on the elephant as a sequel to Ganpati week , talked about the significance of the elephant's head, made play-doh modaks. Wow that was such a fun week..Ditto for Navratri.

During Republic Day celebrations we have practiced march-past, enacted the freedom struggle with shouts of " Karo ya maro", listened and watched "Vande Mataram" and "Mile Sur Mera tumhara", studied the India map and learned to locate England , talked a LOT over love for country and culture, the pain of the freedom fighters etc.

I love this aspect of HSing and can see how much my children enjoy it. A western oriented school education does very little for cultural education. And by cultural education I mean education that throws light on " Way of thinking, Way of living and Way of worship" ( Source: Pandurang Shastri Athavele) . And one of the best ways to inculcate such an education is to celebrate festivals in a deep and meaningful way. Children in general love stories. They love to hear stories from the past, stories about their Gods but we pitifully neglect this aspect in our zest to teach the alphabets , the rhymes ( and that too ONLY British rhymes- the British have left this country long ago but we still sing the rhymes they taught us completely forgetting ours which are far more beautiful. I mean have you ever heard " Rock a bye baby " ?- its cruelty at its best) , the numbers and other academic stuff. Ofcourse how can we forget discipline, grooming and all that general nonsense which little kids are least interested in anywayz? School is so boring in a sense excludes the daily happenings of the real world and puts education in a two-dimensional frame inside the four walls of a classroom. The British have changed their education system but we haven't yet!! We haven't learned to live it. It dosen't matter anymore that it is the birth of the greatest kings and human being who ever lived ( RamaNavami) but we think its more important that our children attend school and learn whatever the syllabus demands for that day.

Of course school also very successfully imbibes a strong sense of " I don't care" attitude for anything cultural or divine. After independence did those who carved out syllabuses really think about making it unique? Unique to India ,unique to our culture? Is patriotism even " thought " about? Do we learn anything beyond the British aspect of our history? Do we examine our kings , our rishis, our avatars, our architecture, our systems ( administrative, political, social) ? Do we know anything about them? And thus care to really know about ourselves? If the original greatness of our culture or for that matter any culture is not taught to its children how will they ever be proud of themselves? How will their self-identity shape? It will only result in the present "whoever is economically progressed is the better culture / better country? "..Thus the school system successfully imbibes the notion of the white-skin being better than us.
And what about Sanskrit? It is shameful to say the least that its declared as a dead language. We cannot really lament on the brain drain of our country. Cause our education system imbibes neither love for culture nor love for country. Cultural education is not considered " education" at all. The school thinks that its the job of the family and the parents think that if something is not taught at school then obviously it does not merit any value in their child's life. Gone are the days pf the joint family system when grandmas not hooked to TV serials passed on stories of moral values and of our past to their grand-children. Cartoons have replaced grandmas and with it an extremely valuable systems of knowledge management has gone down the drain.

My children are different from others. I can say that very proudly. My children play "Sita, Sita" instead of "Cindrella, Cindrella" or other cartoon characters. They beg to hear about Ramayana and love the Amar Chitra Katha. They can rattle off names of characters from Ramanyana, Mahabharat.Some time back when we went to watch ISCON's broadway like show on the Life of Lord Krishna , I was amazed at how Chellu could recognize most of the characters and could follow most of the story even though the show was in marathi . She knew characters like Jarasand and Rukmi who are hardly heard of. My children will pick up photos of Gods and copy them and color them. They find books like Great Women of India fascinating. They start their HSing day with prayers and Saraswati Vandana, with slogans of " Karenge karenge HSing saath mein Krishna ki bakthi haath mein".. They will name each other " Janaki", " Yashodha", " Kaushalya", " Shree" and such other names during their doll-doll plays. They will fight constantly with each other to be Sita and have finally concluded that both of them can be Sita.
Shruthkirti will look at a beautiful flower and exclaim " Wow amma look how beautifully God has made this." Chellu at the age of 3.6 yrs chose to stay alone at home for more than an hour while we visited the doctor nearby within Magarpatta city. She said she never got scared since God resides within her anywayz. " Don't we say that everyday before starting to HS?" she asked ..she was referring to the auto-suggestion we do.

Divinity based education which puts the Divine or God in the center of everything is our goal of HSing. Infact it is one of the strong reasons to HS. Our children have to have the curiosity and the love for their culture..They need to examine their history thread bare and not just skimp over history that happened just in the past 150 years. And what a way to learn ! To understand the systems , the environment, the thinking that shapes our collective Indian culture. I can't wait for those days to start when we shall pour over Chankaya Neethi for days together till our curiosity is quenched...when we shall dissect chronologically the happenings of the Mahabharat and the Ramayana and study the architecture & the political systems in place , when we shall hunt and hunt for any piece of information that can be available to us about our golden past...This is the way to learn ourselves, this is the way to learn history and this is the way to blaze a new path for the future. A future that stems from an EXTREMELY proud past. A future that stems from the thought of " I belong to a mind-blowing culture/country that lived the thought of "Aham Brahma Asmi".

And we owe everything we know , we aspire for to our teacher Pandurang Shastri Athavle or Dadaji. He is the one who infused us with patriotism, with the courage to go against the system. He is the one who made us think about divinity based education, to think logically , to think WITHOUT fear and believe that we can make the efforts and thus our dreams come true. He gave us a new way of looking at life and thus a fresh lease of life . And most importantly the courage to go after it.
"Dadaji a million thanks to you for everything"..we can only hope that our lives will justify the inspiration you have provided!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School

Came across this really interesting article ....Read on..Affirms many of my views on how young children should learn or be left to learn.


Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School
New research shows that teaching kids more and more, at ever-younger ages, may backfire.
By Alison Gopnik
Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2011, at 2:15 PM ET

Ours is an age of pedagogy. Anxious parents instruct their children more and more, at younger and younger ages, until they're reading books to babies in the womb. They pressure teachers to make kindergartens and nurseries more like schools. So does the law—the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act explicitly urged more direct instruction in federally funded preschools.

There are skeptics, of course, including some parents, many preschool teachers, and even a few policy-makers. Shouldn't very young children be allowed to explore, inquire, play, and discover, they ask? Perhaps direct instruction can help children learn specific facts and skills, but what about curiosity and creativity—abilities that are even more important for learning in the long run? Two forthcoming studies in the journal Cognition—one from a lab at MIT and one from my lab at UC-Berkeley—suggest that the doubters are on to something. While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution.
What do we already know about how teaching affects learning? Not as much as we would like, unfortunately, because it is a very difficult thing to study. You might try to compare different kinds of schools. But the children and the teachers at a Marin County preschool that encourages exploration will be very different from the children and teachers in a direct instruction program in South Side Chicago. And almost any new program with enthusiastic teachers will have good effects, at least to begin with, regardless of content. So comparisons are difficult. Besides, how do you measure learning, anyway? Almost by definition, directed teaching will make children do better on standardized tests, which the government uses to evaluate school performance. Curiosity and creativity are harder to measure.
Developmental scientists like me explore the basic science of learning by designing controlled experiments. We might start by saying: Suppose we gave a group of 4-year-olds exactly the same problems and only varied on whether we taught them directly or encouraged them to figure it out for themselves? Would they learn different things and develop different solutions? The two new studies in Cognition are the first to systematically show that they would.

In the first study, MIT professor Laura Schulz, her graduate student Elizabeth Bonawitz, and their colleagues looked at how 4-year-olds learned about a new toy with four tubes. Each tube could do something interesting: If you pulled on one tube it squeaked, if you looked inside another tube you found a hidden mirror, and so on. For one group of children, the experimenter said: "I just found this toy!" As she brought out the toy, she pulled the first tube, as if by accident, and it squeaked. She acted surprised ("Huh! Did you see that? Let me try to do that!") and pulled the tube again to make it squeak a second time. With the other children, the experimenter acted more like a teacher. She said, "I'm going to show you how my toy works. Watch this!" and deliberately made the tube squeak. Then she left both groups of children alone to play with the toy.
All of the children pulled the first tube to make it squeak. The question was whether they would also learn about the other things the toy could do. The children from the first group played with the toy longer and discovered more of its "hidden" features than those in the second group. In other words, direct instruction made the children less curious and less likely to discover new information.
Does direct teaching also make children less likely to draw new conclusions—or, put another way, does it make them less creative? To answer this question, Daphna Buchsbaum, Tom Griffiths, Patrick Shafto, and I gave another group of 4-year-old children a new toy.* This time, though, we demonstrated sequences of three actions on the toy, some of which caused the toy to play music, some of which did not. For example, Daphna might start by squishing the toy, then pressing a pad on its top, then pulling a ring on its side, at which point the toy would play music. Then she might try a different series of three actions, and it would play music again. Not every sequence she demonstrated worked, however: Only the ones that ended with the same two actions made the music play. After showing the children five successful sequences interspersed with four unsuccessful ones, she gave them the toy and told them to "make it go."
Daphna ran through the same nine sequences with all the children, but with one group, she acted as if she were clueless about the toy. ("Wow, look at this toy. I wonder how it works? Let's try this," she said.) With the other group, she acted like a teacher. ("Here's how my toy works.") When she acted clueless, many of the children figured out the most intelligent way of getting the toy to play music (performing just the two key actions, something Daphna had not demonstrated). But when Daphna acted like a teacher, the children imitated her exactly, rather than discovering the more intelligent and more novel two-action solution.
As so often happens in science, two studies from different labs, using different techniques, have simultaneously produced strikingly similar results. They provide scientific support for the intuitions many teachers have had all along: Direct instruction really can limit young children's learning. Teaching is a very effective way to get children to learn something specific—this tube squeaks, say, or a squish then a press then a pull causes the music to play. But it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions.
Why might children behave this way? Adults often assume that most learning is the result of teaching and that exploratory, spontaneous learning is unusual. But actually, spontaneous learning is more fundamental. It's this kind of learning, in fact, that allows kids to learn from teachers in the first place. Patrick Shafto, a machine-learning specialist at the University of Louisville and a co-author of both these studies; Noah Goodman at Stanford; and their colleagues have explored how we could design computers that learn about the world as effectively as young children do. It's this work that inspired these experiments.
These experts in machine learning argue that learning from teachers first requires you to learn about teachers. For example, if you know how teachers work, you tend to assume that they are trying to be informative. When the teacher in the tube-toy experiment doesn't go looking for hidden features inside the tubes, the learner unconsciously thinks: "She's a teacher. If there were something interesting in there, she would have showed it to me." These assumptions lead children to narrow in, and to consider just the specific information a teacher provides. Without a teacher present, children look for a much wider range of information and consider a greater range of options.
Knowing what to expect from a teacher is a really good thing, of course: It lets you get the right answers more quickly than you would otherwise. Indeed, these studies show that 4-year-olds understand how teaching works and can learn from teachers. But there is an intrinsic trade-off between that kind of learning and the more wide-ranging learning that is so natural for young children. Knowing this, it's more important than ever to give children's remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free rein. That means a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play. Not school for babies.