“Know your library” was the theme of our book club at Prashantnagar. As children sat curiously not knowing why they were asked to maintain complete silence, our book club began with an introduction to a library. Children were asked if they could name some things they can and cannot do in a library.
To give an insight as to how a library works, the book Curious George Visits the Library was read out. This story is about a monkey named George, who is lucky to arrive at the library just in time for story hour. But it’s not easy for the little monkey to sit still for too long and he just has to get his hands on that one dinosaur book. George quickly finds so many books he wants to read and fills his library cart with them. He can’t wait to take them home and is in a hurry. He finds himself in trouble when he topples his cart and all the books are on the floor. With help from friends and the librarians, he is able to clean up his mess. George later selects his books and gets his very own library card.
The book reading was followed by the reading of the Library Poem by Julia Donaldson. The children were then introduced to ten words related to a library and were asked to find which picture on the board related to each word. This was followed by a discussion on the benefits of a library after which, each child had to come up and talk about their favourite book and why they liked it. At the end, book marks were given to the children and the importance of maintaining and treating books well was discussed. Overall, the book club revealed the excitement of visiting a library and sharing books.
(Sneha is a special educator at PRAYATNA)
Walk into an average office today and you will see umpteen fingers tapping away on keyboards while screens flicker in front of tired eyes. In addition, people will glance at phones beeping with updates, and answer calls with an unmatched urgency. With chattering mouths and flying fingers, most offices are charged with energy. Yes, everyone is veritably busy but is anyone truly working?
Not according to essay-writing.net writer and Computer Science professor, Cal Newport, who has coined the term ‘deep work’ to describe “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” Students, who will be embarking on a career soon, and young and seasoned professionals, can all benefit from developing ‘deep work’ habits. By understanding how the tugs of daily workplace demands can actually hamper more significant aspects of productivity, they can make a conscientious effort to optimise their time so that they don’t feel that they haven’t accomplished much at the end of another busy day.
According to Newport, our current work habits, which for most of us involve periodically checking our inboxes and phones, are eroding our ability to work in a focused manner for extended durations thereby degrading the quality of our output. Furthermore, in today’s fast-changing world, jobs are metamorphosing at increasingly rapid rates. To stay relevant in such an economy, we have to continually upgrade and learn new skills. And, as any experienced learner can attest, “to learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction.”
Foremost, Newport cautions us against equating busyness with productivity. How often have you felt that you were so caught up in the humdrum of everyday things that by the end of the day you felt you still hadn’t accomplished much? It’s not like you were goofing off by lying in a hammock. On the contrary, you may have been at your desk, responding to emails and messages, talking to colleagues and sorting out day-to-day problems.
But most people’s jobs also demand that they produce something of value. It could be a lesson plan for a teacher or a market forecast for an executive. But very often, these responsibilities, which are core to our productivity, get sidelined as other activities compete for our limited attention. The reason we tend to postpone these jobs is that they demand more intense focus than attending meetings or answering emails. Newport thus cautions us against conflating ‘busyness’ with ‘productivity.’
Furthermore, not only does working with focus make us more prolific or inventive, it also enhances our overall well-being. He quotes science writer, Winifred Gallagher, who learnt a profound truth about life satisfaction the hard way. Upon receiving a diagnosis of cancer, Gallagher boldly pledged that, “This disease wanted to monopolise my attention, but as much as possible, I would focus on my life instead.” Indeed, at a most elemental level, the quality of our lives is determined by what we choose to attend to.
In fact, renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term ‘flow’ to describe the experience of intense focus where people lose sight of all else but what they are working on. And, surprisingly, people report feeling deeply satisfied when in this state.
Have a routine
So, how do we engage in deep work when innumerable demands tug at our attention right through the day? Newport sagely reminds us that we can’t simply will ourselves to work deeply all of a sudden. Instead, we need to cultivate routines and rituals that promote our ability to work on meaningful tasks with razor-like focus. Depending on the type of job you have, you have to decide how you can carve out time for deep work. For example, a professor may decide to take on a heavy teaching load one semester so that she can work almost exclusively on research another semester.
Choose whatever works for you based on the demands of your current job. But once you decide on a routine, stick to it in a steadfast fashion. Try to work in the same location every time with a ‘Do not disturb’ sign outside your door. You also need to decide whether you will ban Internet connectivity altogether or limit it to sites that you will need for your work. Make sure your phone is away and you don’t access other sites that will intrude on your focus.
Of course, engaging in deep work does not have to make you a monk. In fact, new ideas and inventions often spring from collaborations and serendipitous interactions. But for these ideas and inventions to take root, you also need time alone with your thoughts. Also, it’s important that you have well-defined goals, when it comes to deep work. If you are running a start-up, your long-term goal may be to have an app running within six months with a client base of at least a few thousand people. Your short-term goal may involve developing various facets of the app and pilot testing them with a small number of people.
In order to motivate yourself, Newport urges you to keep a visible scoreboard where you can chart your progress. Keeping a tab of the hours you spend in deep work each week can goad you into optimising your potential essay writer. In addition, you may put a star when you achieve a particular milestone.
Finally, he also reminds us that we need to schedule downtime so that our brains can unwind and recharge. Here’s wishing you a happy and hopefully more productive 2018.
(The author is director, PRAYATNA)
Santa Claus does not exist. Or does he? PRAYATNA, Prashantnagar embarked on a mysterious trip during our December book club as we read the Polar Express and journeyed to the North Pole . During this ride, the little boy learns one of the important lessons of life i.e., “the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.”
The book begins with a roaring train whistle. The boy finds a train waiting for him. He finds a conductor who explains that the train is the Polar Express, and is journeying to the North Pole. The boy then boards the train, which is filled with chocolate and candy, as well as many other children in their pyjamas. The train takes the children to the centre of the city, where Santa and the elves have gathered for the giving of the first gift of Christmas. The boy is chosen to receive this first gift. Knowing that he can ask for anything in the world, he decides on a simple gift: one silver bell from Santa’s sleigh. When the children return to the train, the boy realizes the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. Heartbroken, he is returned to his home. In the morning, his little sister finds one small box with the boy’s name on it among the presents. Inside is the silver bell! The boy continues to believe in the spirit of Christmas and is able to hear the sweet ringing of the bell even as an adult.
The book club began with an explanation of the significance of Christmas and the story behind it. Children were also told about North Pole, where Santa ‘lives’. This was followed by a narration of the book and a quiz based on it. Later hot chocolate was served to the children and Christmas carols were played. Presents were kept under a Christmas tree and every child was asked to pick one at the end of the session.
(Nanditha is a special educator at PRAYATNA)
The October book club at PRAYATNA, Chennai, buzzed with excitement as children brought pictures of their grandmothers and fondly shared anecdotes about them. We spent some time discussing how parents were different from grandparents and the kids shared some interesting perspectives. For instance, one child said, “Parents look after grandparents and grandparents look after grandchildren.”
We chose to read an excerpt from the book Swami & Friends by R K Narayan. Set in an imaginary south Indian village called Malgudi, the story revolves around a boy called Swami. Like any other schoolboy of his age, Swami daydreams in his class, likes to loaf around with his friends, enjoys the pampering of his mother and grandmother and fears the discipline of his father. Listening raptly to the excerpt, children felt a sense of familiarity as they connected with the two main characters– Swami and his grandmother. The excerpt vividly described Swami’s relationship with his grandmother and recounts the events of a particular day.
Following the book reading, the kids enthusiastically participated in a quiz. We then introduced the concept of mono-acting, and invited children to come forward and mono-act scenarios presented to them. The scenarios were primarily based on the child, and their parents and grandparents responding to them. The scenarios included the child wanting to eat ice-cream, being asked to fold clothes at home by the mother, wanting to buy the latest watch etc. There was lively participation as kids incorporated out-of-the-box ideas into mono-acting their scenarios.
Towards the end children were asked to share one adjective that they thought best described their grandmothers. Each child was given a card to draw on or write and give to their grandmothers.
(Andrea Nirmal is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)
Ann Sarah Paul
Leading a healthy life is integral to the holistic development of children. With this in mind and to introduce the concept of a “healthy lifestyle”, the book Crocodile Smiles, was read to the children on 11 November, 2017 at PRAYATNA, Prashantnagar. This story is about a crocodile who was popular with nature photographers for his lovely set of teeth and good physique. On once such assignment, he is given a truckload of chocolate as a reward. Elated, he eats chocolate for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even between. Despite his friends’ counsel to think about the consequences of eating so much chocolate, he continues and finds that his teeth, health, physique and eventually his fame get affected.
The book club began with a narration of the story, followed by a quiz based on it. Later, the children were shown random pictures, which had to be categorised as either ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. The children were then divided into two groups and asked to enact scenarios exhibiting healthy and unhealthy eating habits. At the end, the children went home with fruits that were given to them and the value of leading and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
(The author is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)
RITHIKA GRACE ZACHARIAH
Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our nation was born on 2 October, 1869. Every year, his birthday is celebrated across the nation as Gandhi Jayanti. This September, we decided to give the children a brief insight into the life of Gandhi. My Gandhi Story, by Rajesh Chaitya Vangad, Nina Sabnani and Ankit Chadha gives us a visual and creative take on the life of Gandhi. The book is adapted to cater to the understanding of young children. In the book, there are three voices- the narrator, a child who questions the narrator and Gandhiji himself.
During the book club, the book reading was performed initially. A quiz was conducted to examine whether the children have gained an understanding of Gandhiji from the book. The children were given scenarios and were asked to come up in pairs and enact their response to that particular scenario in a non-violent and violent manner. The staff had modelled a few scenarios to enable the children to gain a better understanding. After the activity, the children were told that it is better to respond to situations in a non-violent manner. To wind up the book club, the children were asked draw a simple caricature of Gandhiji which was demonstrated by the teacher. Each child was given a small packet of rock salt to highlight the significance of the Dandi March.
(Rithika Grace Zachariah is a special educator at PRAYATNA)
“You love Anna, you don’t love me”, is an oft heard refrain in families with two or more children. Parents are generally at a loss when it comes to handling sibling rivalry. The reasons are many – ranging from physical appearance, prowess in sports to excelling in academics. It is inevitable in most households; however, the severity varies from home to home. Whereas in some cases it is mild and manageable, in others, it takes on gigantic proportions, even culminating in bodily harm or seriously affecting the personality.
This is a sensitive issue and needs to be handled with caution and in an empathetic manner. Parents need to give it a thought even before the second child is born. The first child would have monopolized all the love and affection for a long period and become accustomed to receiving the undivided attention of parents and other family members. To be suddenly deprived of all this and be thrust aside, while the newcomer is welcomed into the fold, can be traumatising.
It would be a wise move to prepare the firstborn for the arrival of a sibling, in a positive manner. That he or she will have a playmate and companion and would soon be given the esteemed status of an older brother or sister, with someone to take care of and protect. Each parent can take turns spending time with the two children. Other family members too can ensure that the older sibling is not deprived of attention.
It is quite natural for the arrival of the newborn to be viewed with apprehension and sometimes rejection by the older sibling and these feelings need to be handled delicately. Parents who are themselves the older of two siblings may recall their own reactions at the birth of a younger brother or sister. It would be a good idea to involve the older child in the care of the younger one so he does not feel left out. He could be a participant in all play activities and given responsible roles to play in the nurture of his sibling.
Bringing up two or more children in a family should be a pleasurable experience for the parents and not considered a deprivation of freedom and private space and time. The happiness automatically transfers to the children, who grow up emotionally secure and content. The way we scrutinise our children determines how they look at each other. The most important factor to remember is that each child is a unique creation. Once we absorb and internalise this idea, it makes the going easier.
Children are unlike peas in a pod. No two are alike, even among identical twins. As parents, we cannot rest on our laurels thinking if we can bring up one child, the second should be a piece of cake. Each one is different and has varying needs. As they grow and learn, we grow and learn too, and it is an enriching experience. We need to be alert and sharp in order to identify each one’s highs and lows. A requirement that is absolutely essential in their nurture is ‘acceptance’ – for what they are and what they turn out to be. While the former is beyond our control, the latter is well within our means. We need to revel in their victories and strengths and be supportive in their defeats and weaknesses.
As much as we are aware of each child’s pluses and minuses, we also need to make each sibling aware of the other’s strengths and weaknesses. They should respect each other’s qualities. We, as parents, should encourage each one’s pursuits and refrain from comparing one with the other. Quality time should be spent with each separately, doing what they like. Household rules should apply equally to both and each should be given his or her share of responsibilities. The atmosphere at home should be conducive so that each child feels free to share his concerns and emotions. Children should be encouraged and appreciated for helping and caring about each other.
In families where there is a special child, there is a natural tendency to focus more on this child. The typical sibling may feel neglected and bitter, but this attitude can be turned around by counselling him or her on why the other child requires the extra attention in view of his inadequacies. A feeling of empathy can be created, which could prove beneficial in the care of the special child.
Sibling rivalry is a problem that can be worked on and solved with sufficient forethought on the part of the parent. As most parents would agree, even a one-year old child has a mind of his own. Bringing up two or more very different individuals is definitely challenging, but the right measures of patience, understanding, tolerance and appreciation can mould well-adjusted and mutually accepting kids. We can then pat ourselves on the back for a job well executed!
(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)
Who would not like to go on a trip around the world? The sea snail’s wish is fulfilled by the humpback whale, who offers her a lift, for a voyage around the world. She is amazed by all that she sees in different parts of the world. Unfortunately, the whale gets stranded on a beach when he loses his way. The sea snail seeks the help of young children in a school nearby. They, along with the local firemen, help the whale get back into the sea and resume his journey. The humpback whale returns the favour to the snail by taking all the sea snails on another trip around the world.
The Book Club began with the narration of the story “The Lion and the Mouse”, where again the tiny mouse frees the king of the forest from the hunter’s net, to prove that size does not matter for helping somebody. Children were given pictures of the story, which they had to arrange in sequence. Subsequently, scenarios were presented to the children, where a young person helped an older one. They had to guess who had helped whom.
The book, The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson, was read out and the children ably answered questions on a quiz that was presented to them. As the story was in the form of a poem, rhyming words were placed on the board, which they had to match. They also had to provide a third rhyming word to the existing pair. The children exhibited their poetic skills by coming up with sentences that ended in the rhyming words. It was an interesting conglomerate of verses!
(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA)