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In the Wild

Posted by admin on 4th December and posted in Book Club

In the Wild

Supriya Raja


Environmental conservation is the responsibility of every individual.  This is best achieved when the idea is ingrained in childhood.  We, at PRAYATNA, thought it would be wonderful if we could introduce this concept through our book club.  Fittingly, the session, centred around Dr. Jane Goodall, who is a primatologist, environmentalist, humanitarian and United Nations Messenger of Peace.


The book we chose was Me …Jane by Patrick Mc Donnell.  Through simple words and pictures, the book conveys the inspiring story of a young girl who loves animals and always dreams about going to Africa to live with animals.  This girl grows up to be Dr. Jane Goodall.


During the session, kids walked in with a stuffed toy animal and spoke about their little friends.  They also shared their own ambitions in life.  After the story reading, we discussed the differences between humans and animals, with children’s active participation.  We then gave the kids a short sketch of Jane Goodall, including her work with chimpanzees in Africa.  Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program was also discussed, with the children inquisitively asking questions about the program.


Finally, kids were asked to ponder on how each of us can conserve our environment and protect animals in our day-to-day life.  The children came up with practical and effective ideas about how each of us can make a difference.  The session ended with a quiz where children were shown pictures of uncommon animals and asked to identify them.  Line drawings of animals were given as take-away gift.


(Supriya Raja is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

All Creatures Great & Small

Posted by admin on 1st December and posted in Strengths

All Creatures Great and Small

Gita Nambiar


Hearing a commotion, I rushed out of my house, to see children from a nearby school pelting stones at my dog.  She was chained to her kennel and barked helplessly.  After threatening them of dire consequences, including complaining to the principal, I brought my dog inside.  What made little children mete out cruelty to these mute creatures?


All God’s creations share the earth with us and have an equal right to live here.  Then why do we humans have the urge to demonstrate our superiority by inflicting pain on other living beings?  The recent heinous act of chopping a little pup’s ears raised an outcry from many members of our society.  One wonders which is the animal here!


As parents and teachers, we need to educate and sensitize our children on the necessity of treating animals with compassion.  Some of these animals are fortunate enough to live with loving families; for others, the streets are their abode.  Just because they cannot protest, it does not mean we maim and injure them.  They feel pain just as we do.  Instead, giving them a little love and affection guarantees that they reciprocate the same in manifold ways and remain faithful to you for life.


We do have our little heroes; the seven year old girl who, on seeing the building watchman beating a stray dog that had loitered into the compound, rushed home and dragged her mother out to stop him.  Her anguish saved the poor animal’s life!  Mother and daughter took the dog home and nursed it till they arranged for it to be sent to a shelter.


It is heartening to see families coming forward to adopt these animals at the adoption drives regularly held in the city.  There is no doubt that the entry of these pets into households brings a positive change in the lives of its members.  The addition to the family brings immense joy and satisfaction to everyone.  At the same time, it is also saddening to see pets being abandoned by families who are relocating to other places or are unable to take care of them.  Would they do the same to their own children?


Apart from being a source of love and companionship, animals are increasingly being used for other purposes.  Dogs have been an indispensable part of search and rescue missions for centuries.  Their strong olfactory senses make them great assets to the police force, who use them as sniffer dogs to solve crime.  In the field of medicine, pets are being used for their therapeutic effect on patients, both young and old.  The heartwarming stories of dogs bringing miraculous improvements in the lives of autistic children cannot be ignored.  Guide dogs for the blind have served their masters tirelessly for years.


Treating animals with respect is a lesson all children need to be taught.  Simultaneously, we need to allay their fears too, as adults commonly transfer their apprehensions to children.  The motto our society can adopt is ‘to live and let live’.


(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Telling Tales

Posted by admin on 24th November and posted in Book Club

Telling Tales

Chanchal J Nair

The epic Ramayana has been heard through countless generations.  More than three hundred versions of the Ramayana are known to exist.  It is generally believed that the oldest version is that of Valmiki’s in Sanskrit.  But this Book Club at PRAYATNA, we learned that Lord Hanuman had written Ramayana even before Sage Valmiki!  The book we chose for this session was Hanuman’s Ramayan, retold by Devdutt Pattanaik.  When sage Narad told Valmiki about Hanuman’s Ramayan he was devastated.  He went to the banana orchards of the Himalayan valley and saw that Hanuman had composed another version of Ramayana.  Valmiki anticipated that the beauty of Hanuman’s fabulous transcript would cast a shadow on his own Ramayana.  Realizing Valmiki’s anguish Hanuman told him that he had written Rama’s story only as a service to his Lord, not for anyone else and Hanuman destroyed his Ramayana.


As the story was read aloud, the teachers performed a mime.  Kids were amused to see Hanuman, Valmiki and Narada come to life as the story unfolded.  The children participated enthusiastically in a quiz based on Ramayana.  We explained what an epic is and also conveyed the idea that there can be more than one version a story.


The board depicted drawings of the main episodes in Ramyana that concern the expulsion of Rama from his kingdom, the abduction of his wife Sita by Ravan and her rescue and finally Rama’s eventual restoration to the throne.


The book Hanuman’s Ramayana has illustrations by Nancy Raj based on the style of Mithila folk paintings.  A teacher explained the features of this style of painting which is also known as Madhubani painting.  They were also thrown a tricky question of finding this painting style at PRAYATNA.


As the Book Club happened around Diwali, we explained how the festival has its roots in the Ramayan.  Diwali is celebrated to mark the victory of Ram (good) over Ravan (evil).  Kids then came up and spoke about how they celebrate Diwali.  As a take away gift, children were given diyas to celebrate the festival of lights!


(Chanchal Nair is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

How Good is Your Memory?

Posted by admin on 12th November and posted in Book Club

How Good is Your Memory?

Bindu Patnala


This book club, kids at PRAYATNA, Bangalore met an elephant named Forget-Me-Not, through the charming book The Elephant Who Couldn’t Remember by Taylor Brandon.


The kids were first asked to look at the pictures on the board for two minutes, after which they were divided into two teams.  They were again given two minutes to recollect the pictures on the board.  The children tried their best to recall the items on the board so that their team could win.


The book was about Forget-Me-Not, a good-hearted little fellow who has just one little problem — he can’t remember much of anything!  The children joined him as he went on an important journey, meeting new friends and dangers along the way while, all the while trying to remember just what he had gone out for!  In the end, true to the saying “I am not what I have done; I am what I have overcome” Forget-Me-Not proves that handicaps can indeed be overcome.  The rhyming couplets and the colourful illustrations made the book a fun read for the children.


A quiz followed the book reading which the kids enthusiastically took part in.  The kids were then taught strategies to promote recall.  They were made to understand that an easy way to remember things would be to categorize objects or items into meaningful groups.  The kids were able to redo the first activity of remembering the items on the board with increased success.


This was followed by a small game where the children had to remember increasingly complex multi-step instructions.  The older children effortlessly followed the multiple steps assisting their younger friends at the same time.  “I went to the Market” was then played by the children who enthusiastically came up with new goodies they would like to buy from the market.  The game was well played and the kids exhibited impressive short-term memories.  They were also taught the Method of Loci, which is remembering a long list of objects by mentally arranging each object along a familiar route.


The children were introduced to the concept and benefits of using a planner.  They were then given a planner for the month of November.  The children left with their respective planners tucked under their arms already thinking of things to jot down.



(Bindu Patnala is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Do you understand?

Posted by admin on 28th October and posted in Strengths

Do you understand?

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First published in Education Plus, THE HINDU, 27 October 14


Many articles on education, including previous ones in this column, urge students and teachers to place a premium on understanding as opposed to rote learning. Instead of merely regurgitating the text in exams, students are encouraged to understand the content. At the same time, educators are being asked to test for understanding. Thus, in addition to straightforward questions, most exam papers nowadays have a few HOT (higher order thinking) questions that are meant to stimulate and promote students’ grasp of material. But as a student, how do you know whether you have understood a chapter or lesson?

The concept

First, you need to remember that understanding is a process rather than a fixed end state. No matter how basic a concept is, our understanding of it evolves and gets more refined with age and experience. Look back to a rudimentary arithmetic concept that you learnt in primary school. Most children are introduced to the idea that division is repeated subtraction, around class II. Then they learn the procedures for short and long division. As children get more practice performing division in classes III and IV, they gain a deeper understanding of terms like ‘quotient’ and ‘remainder.’ Children also realize that some numbers are exactly divisible by others, while others are not. Once they have acquired a hold of division of whole numbers, children’s understanding of division becomes even more layered as they are exposed to fractional numbers. With whole numbers, a child knows that you end up with a smaller number when you divide it. How does the child make sense of the fact that when you divide three-quarters by a quarter, you get three? The concept of division gets more nuanced as children are introduced to decimal numbers and the world of rational and irrational numbers.

Thus, as the child progresses through higher grades, his/her understanding of division gets more complex. Likewise, if you are studying the structure of carbon or polynomials or the relationship between inflation and interest rates, your understanding of these concepts will be rudimentary at first but will grow more refined as you encounter it in different chapters and study related concepts. So, while understanding is never an end-state, you may still improve your current understanding by using the following techniques.

When you read a chapter from your chemistry or economics textbook, ask yourself if most of it makes sense to you. If you understand the meaning behind what you read, then you should be able to state it in your own words. You may realise that you comprehend the gist of the chapter but are confused by certain details. A second reading often helps clear up confusions. In order to make sure that you understand and remember factual and supporting details, you may read and summarize one subsection at a time.

Another effective way to bolster your grasp of the material is to ask questions as you read the text. If you are able to frame questions, your ability to answer them will also improve. Moreover, see if you can devise different types of questions including some that require higher-order thinking. Typically, these questions cannot be answered directly from the material given in the text. Rather, the student has to apply what is described in another context or make an inference that is not explicitly stated.

One of the most effective methods to improve your understanding is to teach the material to someone else. You may either study with a friend and explain sections to each other, or you may just pretend that you are teaching someone else. As you try to explain a concept to another person, even an imaginary one, you may notice gaps in your own understanding, which you can then fill by asking your friends or teachers relevant questions.

Further, for some subjects and concepts, you can only gain understanding by doing. Maths is a prime example where you learn primarily by working out sums. Passively reading the examples in your text or notebook is simply not enough. Likewise, you have to balance equations in chemistry, and solve physics problems on your own.


According to educationists, Tina Blythe and David Perkins, “understanding is a matter of being able to do a variety of thought-provoking things with a topic, such as explaining, finding evidence in examples, generalising, applying, making analogies and representing the topic in new ways.”

Thus, you can enhance your comprehension of a subject by looking at it from various angles and performing different exercises that allow you to penetrate it at varying depths.

Further, as you fathom a topic at increasingly deeper levels, you may find that your curiosity about it also increases. You will then realise that understanding is an eternal journey filled with hurdles but laden with umpteen surprises.

The author is Director, Prayatna.

Ignite Your Imagiantion

Posted by admin on 13th October and posted in Book Club



The amount of time children spend using various technology, including computers, cell phones, video games and MP3 players among others, is setting off alarms.  The fear is not only that this technology is replacing physical and imaginative play, but that it also may be diminishing development of social skills.  Further, kids rarely get bored these days as all they have to do is click a mouse or press a remote if they have nothing to do.

 The September session of the book club in Chennai was explored boredom and creativity, and how the two are linked together.

The book for this session was What Will You Give Me? by Nandini Nayar.  As the story was read, the teachers handed over materials like papers, strings, cardboard paper, clay, etc.  The protagonist in the story keeps asking his mother, “What will you give me?”  As his mother keeps providing him with ordinary items like a paper, cardboard, crayon etc., the boy transforms each item by working imaginatively.  Likewise, the kids at PRAYATNA were also deeply engaged as each one cut, stuck and coloured.

This was a fun gathering not only for the kids as they were experimenting with the materials, but for the teachers as well to watch the kids come out with attractive forms and shapes. Children’s faces brightened up towards the end as each one realized that getting bored is actually not boring!

(Radhika Menon is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)


A Mind of My Own

Posted by admin on 11th October and posted in Book Club

A Mind of My Own

Karuna Davis

Most of us read stories from the beginning and then make our way to the end.  Some of us on the other hand, are of a different bent of mind.  We would rather find out how the book ends before we decide that it is worth our effort reading it.  Which way appeals more to you?  Is there more than one way of doing it?


In the book Chester’s Way, by Keven Henkes, Chester has his own way of doing things.  He always cuts his sandwiches diagonally and only gets out of his bed on the same side, everyday.  He never leaves his house without double knotting his shoes and has a myriad of other such practices.  While his mother concludes that he certainly has a “Mind of his own”, his father points out that that is “One way to put it.”  His friend, Wilson too is exactly like him and that’s why they are friends!


Lilly is different.  When she moves into their neighbourhood, Chester and Wilson assume they can’t be friends with her because she seems so strange to them.  She always carries a squirt gun and never leaves the house without an ingenious disguise.  Soon enough, one day her bizarre way of doing things saves them from bullies.  Something changes.  Chester and Wilson begin to find that Lilly isn’t as odd as she seems. They are similar in some ways but it isn’t just that, they discover that sometimes her ways of doing things turns out to be such fun.  She adds a new, fresh perspective to their outlook just as much as I suppose they add to hers.


During the book club, we read out the story and put up pictures representing different languages, cultures, religions and interests.  We conveyed to the children that differences are okay and in fact they bring us variety, novel solutions and enrich our lives.  To recognize the value of having friends who widen our view, the children of the PRAYATNA book club brought to the session a picture of themselves along with a friend and made a frame for it.


So we discovered that differences needn’t always be viewed with distrust.  After all each of us has a mind of our own and would like to be accepted for who we are.  Respecting the uniqueness of others adds value to our own lives in many ways.


(Karuna Davis is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Write Your Blues Away

Posted by admin on 30th September and posted in Strengths

Write Your Blues Away

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First Published in Education Plus, THE HINDU, 29 Sept 14

Each day, your anxiety ratchets up a few notches as you await your exam results. Being one of the few who were not recruited during campus placements, your morale is at an all time low. Over the past few weeks, you have been having frequent skirmishes with your parents who are equally worried about your future. You try and keep your cool but sometimes life can be overwhelming and stress can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being.

But what can you do when circumstances are beyond your control? Talking with your parents and peers only seems to stress you out further. You do not want to present a dour face to your friends who are doing well, and your parents are too agitated themselves to counsel you. So how do you deal with the gnawing tension that is simmering within you? The answer is so simple that it almost seems nonsensical. Write about your problems. Yes, you read it right. Research by psychologists suggests that writing about life experiences can have cathartic effects and can promote well-being. Sounds far-fetched? Read on.

Psychologist James Pennebaker has been investigating the therapeutic power of writing for over two decades. In a 1997 article in Psychological Science, where he provides an overall review of various studies, he claims that individuals who pen down their thoughts about emotional experiences, show “significant physical and mental health improvements.” Most studies follow a basic paradigm where individuals are asked to write about a given topic for 15 to 30 minutes for three to five consecutive days. Those who write about emotional events require fewer doctor visits than they did prior to the writing exercise; this effect has found to last for up to six months to a year in different studies. In contrast, a control group that writes about superficial topics does not show similar gains in health. Likewise, writing about upsetting events, while initially distressing, promotes well-being in the long term. Interestingly, students who were in the emotional writing group got better grades in the months right after the study.

In another overview of expressive writing studies, published in 2005 in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, authors Karen Baike and Kay Wilhelm list specific health benefits like better lung and liver function, lower blood pressure and enhanced immune functioning. Other benefits involve less absenteeism from work, enhanced performance in sports and better working memory, which refers to the number of items a person can hold in his or her mind so that they can be manipulated if required.

In order for expressive writing to have positive outcomes, you must ensure that what you write remains confidential as you do not want to be judged by it. Further, do not worry about the technical aspects of writing like spelling, grammar and punctuation. What is important is that you process your deepest feelings and thoughts about emotional issues that have impacted you.

While all of the above studies used a similar writing paradigm of asking subjects to record their heartfelt and intense responses, there is another form of journaling that is also associated with beneficial outcomes. In a paper published in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology in 2003, Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough found that people who maintained a weekly gratitude journal, where they listed five things, either great or small, that they were thankful for, were more optimistic about their life. Further, when participants did this exercise daily, they were more likely to report that they helped another person. In another study, published in the Journal of Writing Research in 2009, Steven Toepfer and Kathleen Walker examined the impact of writing three letters of gratitude over an eight-week period. Participants, who were all college students, were asked to write letters to people who they felt grateful to in a significant way. The researchers found that students who engaged in this exercise experienced greater subjective well-being.

Now that the evidence has been presented for you, perhaps it is time to make those diary entries and write more thank you letters. For the next few weeks, try maintaining a journal where you jot down what you are grateful for. It could be anything from the lofty to the mundane. Or, surprise a family member or close friend with a letter where you voice your heartfelt appreciation. If you feel your well-being improves as a result, it won’t take much to keep up these exercises. However, if you feel that your miseries and misgivings are causing mental mayhem and preventing you from acting in positive ways, don’t hesitate from seeking professional help.

(The author is Director, PRAYATNA.)

Touching Lives

Posted by admin on 15th September and posted in Book Club

Touching Lives

Bhavna R


Teachers play a pivotal role in a child’s life.  They are present in all spheres of the child’s world.  With Teacher’s Day right around the corner, we at PRAYATNA, Chennai, decided that we would highlight the importance of our mentors.  As a teacher you are expected to fulfill many duties.  Mere teaching is not just the sole purpose of an educator.


This book club our team decided to spell out some of the responsibilities of teachers.  We spoke about our favourite teacher and how he or she touched our lives.  While speaking, we stressed on how they performed an action that has earned them a special place in our hearts.  One of us recounted how her teacher’s reassuring grace helped her through dejection when she was denied participation in an annual day show.


Verbs denoting various expectations and duties of a teacher were put up on the board and they were explained through a reading of the book “If I were a Teacher”.  The books illustrations brought alive the purpose of an educator.


The kids at the book club were enthusiastic and spoke of their favourite teacher.  They explained why they liked him or her.  We learned from this that innovativeness is a quality loved by students.  Our kids seem to stress on this fact repeatedly while talking about their favourite teacher.  We touched upon another important fact as well that, teachers are humans too.  Their moods often affect how they react to people around them.  Children engaged in an interesting role play.  Roles were reversed and the children became the teacher.  They enacted how a teacher in a good mood and a bad mood would react to situations encountered in a classroom setting.  This brought out latent acting talents of the kids.


The book club wrapped up with the kids making a greeting card for their teacher.  The children left PRAYTANA excited.  They were keen to celebrate the efforts of their teachers on 5 September.


(Bhavna R is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Globe Trotting

Posted by admin on 28th August and posted in Book Club

Globe Trotting

By Supriya

As the title suggests, this book club was inspired by the classic tale of Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.  The session started with a skit wherein the scene where Phineas Gage makes a wager that he can traverse the world in 80 days was enacted.


The purpose of this session was to convey the idea that travelling has evolved over the ages.  In earlier times, travelling around the world was a herculean task.  However, advances in technology over the centuries have made it easier for us to navigate around the world in a shorter span of time.  To order for children to understand how we have progressed with regard to travel, we used a time line.  We traced this journey starting from the humble potter’s wheel to wheels of carriages to motor cars to airplanes.  During the book club, we also highlighted the various modes of transport on land, water and air.


For children to appreciate how much we have progressed, we asked them to estimate the time taken to travel between metros in India by road, rail and air today.  This activity was very interactive with each child wanting to have a turn.  Another interesting activity involved dividing the kids into three groups.  Each group was given a globe.  Their mission was to set an itinerary for a voyage across the globe.  They were asked to describe their route and modes of transport.  This game saw enthusiastic participation with one group in Egypt and another in London.


Keeping in mind the theme, the board depicted various modes of transport including animals, hot air balloons, ships, trains, helicopters and airplanes.  Travelling around the world widens our horizons as distances have shrunk and faraway places have become more accessible.  As a take-away gift, children were given a world map.  The world indeed has grown smaller with time.


(Supriya is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)


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