Saturday, October 5, 2013

Formal, informal, hands on, edutainment - are you pulling your hair out?

When anjali was one year old, I stumbled upon the Glenn Doman books for teaching babies to read. those who have followed this blog since those days will know, I tried it out, to husband's annoyance, spending hours every morning making doman inspired flash cards.

It is probably the tinkerer in me rather than the Scientist, but when i see something that sounds promising, I would try it out instead of thinking it through and evaluating the pros and cons of doing it.

Well, the Doman business had its issues and flaws and we all know that it didnt really work in the way it was described in the books, but it did initialize our interest and ability to take control of the girls' learning.

Well, from Doman, we moved to homeschooling, unschooling, music based education - you name it. We read "einstein never used flash cards" and decided to just let the kids grow. I dug up onn montessori, Reggio Emilia and walfdorf - after finding a beautiful book on Waldorf inspired toys in the library and concluded that all that education was about was not content, but environment. Here are some of my personal mantras

=> No matter how good a school a child  is in, if the child does not have a good learning environment at home, the child is not going to be interested in learning

=> A good learning environment is not a neat desk and chair in a corner of the place, with books neatly on the bookshelf. A good learning environment is one which is filled with people who are themselves learning. I got this out of freakanomics where there is a chapter about how kids who have more books at home read more than kids who go more often to the library. The analogy being that kids who have more books at home have parents too who are interested in reading. Ofcourse I wonder if that applies when I have few books of my own on the shelf but thousands on my kindle.

=> The responsibility of the adult is to provide a learning environment and to demonstrate an interest in learning. I have seen this in both kids, especially in Sophia. if I show her something Sciency and then move on to cook dinner, she loses interest pretty fast. On the other hand, if she sees me sitting with my arduino hacking set, she will come over, press a couple of buttons and make conversation about what is going in. Personally, I would prefer to handle the work before the girls wake up so that I can focus on things properly, but it turns out that it is much better (for the kids) to watch and interact with you when you work.
 So go ahead and let your kid make pancakes. It will only take double the time, and, maybe cause a couple of stressful moments, but all of you will be more enriched at the end of it.

A friend of mine, who coordinates Hackidemia in Singapore wrote about the last Hackidemia at Science Centre.  There are even a bunch of pretty cool videos at the hackidemia Singapore website.

I think it shows quite clearly what a stimulating environment and a bunch of co-learning adults can do to the exposure, awareness and learning interest of children. So, as we work with our kids, let us not take on the role of teachers. Lets take on the role of partners and learners and do something enriching for both of us, instead of doing a cloze passage for the thousandth time. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

formal schooling - an outsourcing solution?

The last few weeks have been rather stressful for the family on account of the girls' Kindergarten. The changes in the kindergarten have led me to question a lot of the choices that we have made as parents and how we would continue them as the children grow.

Let me start at the beginning. When we put both of girls into Canossian Convent Kindergarten, the kindergarten came with very high recommendations. It  gained check marks against pretty much every single requirement we had from a school  - discipline, spiritual education, primary one readiness and a beautiful environment for the children to play with.

Last year, the children had the additional benefit of having an excellent principal who built together a great team of teachers. I was involved as a parent volunteer in a number activities and got to know the teaching team really well. Infact, I was so happy with the school that I recommended it very highly to several friends who also put their kids in the school.

This excellent principal left this January mostly due to internal school political matters.

One by one, the great team of teachers disbanded and almost every one of them left the school.

Sophia's class was not too affected by the situation, but the situation in Anjali's K2 class got so dire that they changed four teachers in three terms.

Things came to a head two weeks ago when parents received a notice from the school describing the implementation of a new curriculum, which gave Canossian an opportunity to increase their fees by three fold corresponding to a 2 hour increase in contact hours.

We went for a briefing on it yesterday. I wont repeat most of the conversation here, nor the justification of the school's adopting the same curriculum. However, some of the things that were brought up in the forum made me raise my eyebrows until they were all the way up into my hair.

First: Parents made a choice for a school. They should subsequently leave all decisions to the educators. 

I dont believe that this is true. When parents choose a school, they do so because something about the school appeals to them. When the thing that appeals is being questioned, parents have the right to question and even oppose the decision.

Second: There is very little time in the three hour kindergarten programme to support the full development of a child. It is therefore justified to increase curriculum hours to 5.5 hours

I dont think that this can really be a public statement unless corroborated by proper research and statistics. Are there benchmark studies done on children who attend kindergartens with long hours when compared with those who donot? Most of the parents that I have spoken to, who have sent their children to childcare, often complain about how tiring the long hours are for the kids.I spend less than three hours a day with my kids and do quite a lot of things with them.

I also got irked because when I opened my mouth to protest this, I was told that they are in a better position to advice because they are with the kids while we are not. Excuse me? I never thought till now that I was a martian alien looking down at the preschool from a spaceship.

Third: Teachers are leaving the school because they are not being paid enough. 

According to ST jobs, preschool teachers are paid a starting salary of around $2600. If we make a computation, based on the figures shared, the total amount to be paid for teacher salary is around $52000 per month. Lets round it up to 60K or even 70K, since there are administrators and principals to be taken care of. Based on the current fee structure, school fees paid by the students gives the school around 96K per month. I guess it would be possible to barely break even in this scenario.

Based on the new fee structure, and given that they only run single session, the monthly revenue would be around 125K. Given that the kindergarten is on church premises and they donot pay for taxes, utilities, rental etc, and since they claim to be non profit, is this structure really valid?

Furthermore, based on the reasons given at the forum, only one teacher left due to a salary deficit. The rest of them left due to political or personal reasons.

Fourth: We were also irked at being told that the kindergarten was in the red and therefore it was either that the parents should adopt the new programme or the kindergarten would simply close down.

Well, from what I could see, the programme was good, it could be the next Montessori or the next Glenn Doman (what do I know?). But I dont appreciate being forced to take it under threat of closure. Besides, we got the feeling of being kept a bit like a mushrooom - in the dark until it was too late and, yes, at the risk of repeating myself, it did irk us.

One off the things that came up as we were discussing options was the possibbility of homeschooling Sophia for two years is no other alternative could be found. After all, it is August and most of the good preschools are filled up.

It was rather quickly dismissed.

But it did sort of let me to think that we tend to put our faith in a school system where "professionals" handle the education of our children and make decisions on how they want the children to progress. It is fine, in principal. But how comfortable are we, as parents in outsourcing our children's future? Isnt that what we are doing when we send them to school - leaving the most important part of ourselves in the hands of a stranger? 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What is the difference between work and play

Since the last couple of years, i have been hearing the word play based learning pretty much everywhere I turn. Schools talk about informal learning, learning beyond the books, courses have sprung up online and offline on creating conducive learning environments for children. Terms such as grounded living and learning by doing have become synonymous with learning.

Last year, I went through a mild episode of depression. Much of the work I did, I did on auto pilot. Call it a kind of mid life crisis or something, but it took a lot from the world to satisfy me. The whole episode lasted some six to eight months, during which period, I also went through several personal changes - as husband said, 2012 was a year that took a lot out of us in one way or another.

But two things helped me a lot through out the year. The first was this blog and the second was making. Going through the archives I have made and facilitated making more in 2012 than I have ever done any time previously. At the end of last year, when I was asked to MC at the girls' kindergarten for their graduation, the principal Mrs Chan said "I really wanted to meet you - everytime Sophia walked into school with a craft, i really wanted to meet her mother". Of course, I didnt tell Mrs Chan then how totally messed up my inner life was.

But looking back, I can see that there was something very nice that came out of all this making, and it is that, somehow, inadverdantly, I had been an inspiration for the kids to get into this self directed learn every moment through making spirit. Right now, Anjali and Sophia are in the kitchen, making cup cakes. An hour earlier, when we had gone grocery shopping, Anjali, who had a bread talk craving, took her notebook into bread talk and wrote down the name of the bread that she wanted to buy with the promise that we would make it at home. This morning, Sophia wanted to go out to kick scooter in the lift lobby. Anjali wanted to accompany her to bike. On their way out, they discovered that the handlebars of the bikes were dirty, owing to Thursday's mud pie making session (a story for another day). So they began a spree of wiping down their bikes with wet rags, ending with a bike- bathing session in the bathroom.

They didnt end up going kick scootering in the lift lobby in the end, but they had a load load of fun and quite possibly a few lessons in responsibility and probably some lessons in Science. Does inferring that boiling water on bikes can be used to kill germs count??

I can go backward and give many examples of how Anjali and Sophia are being empowered into making their own activities and how it teaches them, very observably important skills like Math, Science, Imagination and language. Just for fun, I took out a primary one practice Math book and Sophia can do quite a number of the questions.

I am reminded of a TED talk where this lady from a school in India talked about how she empowered her students with the power to make decisions and the power to change and these children, aside from changing the world also scored good results in the national exams. Maybe that is what learning is all about - getting empowered and the national exams are a byproduct which has become the core product.

Just random thoughts. I am off to eat cupcakes.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I made it myself

The girls are constantly trying our new things... and once in a while, the things they do tie in what
skills on I have been pushing to get Anjali to aim for the stitcher badge but she just ddoesnt want to finish her embroidery.

"Cant I put my knitting on" she asks. Her knitting, by which she means a knitting nancy on which she had spent two months working, doesnt quite fit under stitcher, but can go under weaver. I introduced weaver to her and we looked at some of the challenges up there.

I did geear her towards the hula hoop doormat because it sounded fascinating, but it was her thought to see if some kind of recycling could be incorporated into the work. I then told her about using plastic for weaving and we decided on that when we made our plarn hula hoop. Anjali finished the hoop yesterday evening and went in the bedroom to take a picture of it. This morning I found a video in my phone. It said

"This is a mat and I made it myself!" There was a distinct pride in her voice that made me catch my breath at the empowerment that one gets when one does things by themselves in a world where we outsource everything from our bread to our weddings.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Updates and blogging

I have been so busy in many other fronts that there has not been much time to write here. And then I realized, before I could even wink my eyes, that it has been almost a month since I last wrote in this space. My facebook profile has also been rather quiet.

However, this is not really because we are not doing thins, but because we are doing things faster than we can report on them.

 I have shared elsewhere the project space of Anjali and Sophia on, a social platform for kids who have a maker mindset.  The girls go by the name PrincessCuric:

Yesterday, husband was cooking fish and Anjali decided to dissect one of the fish and see what was inside. With alarming coolness and Scientific curiosity (enough to make thattha's vegetarian mentality queasy, Anjali cut open the fish with a butter knife and made a thorough exploration of its innards). i must admit that I too was fairly queasy by the time the process had finished and I had some not too fancy caviar on my hair when the process was completed. Here is the video feed of the process. 

More coming up. Got to sign off to go to the playground, hopefully to find multiple puddles for the girls to jump in. Feel free to check out the rest of the crazy and not so crazy projects. There is one where the girls try to give husband a cone icecream with toothpaste disguised as vanilla icecream, which is rather priceless

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Happy Earth Day!

I know that this post is a bit late in coming, but everyday is earth day, is it not?

We celebrated Earth day by putting the finishing touches on our fairy garden

 And making a little tree house where the fairies could shelter in
 ofcourse, the fairies are free to move around
 And when darkness settles upon the world, they come out and party around their bonfires
 laughing and dancing through the night
 In the mornings, you cant see them anymore,

But if you look carefully, you can see them peeking out from behind their hiding spots

And of course, we are entering the fairy garden contest

Monday, April 22, 2013

A fashion designer in the making: The maker mindset

Since Anjali has seen me use the sewing machine a lot, she has been asking me whether she could use it. I have been hesitant, for many reasons, but given her increased responsibility in things like carnival organization and pages, decided to let her have a go.
 Since it was her first sewing project, i decided to let her have the rein of the project, only stepping in to advice when there were serious design flaws. So when the project transformed from a quilt to a top, I kind of rolled with it.
 Here she is measuring out the straps of the dress

Finally, the dress became a very sweet midriff showing top (which she possibly wont be allowed to wear if she were 10 years older, but as it stands, it was really beautiful and well suited to the weather)
 We explored a lot of fastenings before settling onto this one.