In Sync with Kids

Parenting & Teaching Today’s Kids

Watch This Space

By: Bhavna R

The story of Henri’s scissors illustrated the meaning of a second life. The board with the bold letters, “WATCH THIS SPACE” intrigued the kids, as it was the first time they had seen a blank board for a book club. Without wasting time we jump started the book club with the tale of Henri. The story revolved around the famous avant-garde artist Henri Matisse and his transformation to an artist who painted with scissors. His tale showed that age is no bar for being creative.

Children were shown fascinating art work by Matisse. The art works comprised of copies of his earlier oil paintings and paper collages that he made during his old age. They were really involved while the story was read out and were able to answer most questions easily during the quiz based on his life. We delved deeper into Henri Matisse’s life. Through his story we highlighted to the kids, Matisse’s rebirth as an artist despite being unwell and limited to a wheel chair.

The exciting part of the afternoon kicked off with the paper collage activity. The kids were given the opportunity to do paper collages in pairs but there was a twist. They were only allowed to use a single arm throughout. Despite the simulated handicap, the pairs exhibited superb team work and created their own masterpieces. Their artwork was then put on display on the board. They learnt from this simple activity that disability cannot come in the way of creating and doing something meaningful. Children were given greeting cards with paintings by foot and mouth artists. This gift during the festive season was a reminder that no disability can extinguish the human spirit.

(Bhavna R. is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

A Big Imagination

Karuna Davis

“Sorry I'm late, Miss. I set off really early but on the way to school I was captured by a squid.  I wriggled and I struggled till a turtle came and rescued me." 

Tiddler the tiny fish told tall tales of why he was late to school everyday.  One day it was a sea horse he was riding, another day he was trapped in treasure chest and a mermaid rescued him.  Julia Donaldson’s Tiddler, The Story Telling Fish, was this month’s read at the book club in Bangalore.

Just in case you’re wondering, our aim was not to promote dishonesty.  However, a big imagination is what we were hoping to encourage in the context of story making.  We all love a good story and one that’s cleverly written can be especially engaging.  Story making and telling help build a multitude of skills including communication, language, problem-solving, reasoning and creativity. 

While most other skills are given fair attention, we don’t always exercise our creative musclesStory making is an excellent exercise to practice using our imagination.  All you need is characters, a setting, a plot, dialogue and action, pictures and of course a generous helping of sounds, tastes, sights, smells and textures.  The experience is rewarding and refreshing.  As with anything, the more we practice the better we get at it.  Write a story for your children and hopefully they will be inspired to write one themselves!

(Karuna Davis is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA)

A Spot of Poetry

Karuna Davis

Try this simple magic trick- pick a story in the form of a poem, full of rhyming words, read it out to a child and watch her eyes light up in wonder!  It works every time.  Of course a little exaggeration in your expressions always adds a cherry on the top.  You will probably find that the experience was quite pleasurable for you too.  Everyone loves a spot of poetry.

What makes poems grip our attention with such force?  Poets use various poetic devices to express thoughts, feelings and observations.  Using these devices aids our understanding of their imagination and also makes reading absorbing.  Here is a brief description of a few of them.

Rhyme is the most well known of poetic devices.  It implies that the ending sounds of two words are the same.  Like, snow/go, day/play or rule/school.

A simile isa comparison between two things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.  For example: “My horse has a tail like a trailing black cloud.
The War God’s Horse Song’ (Navajo chant) adapted from Dane and Mary Roberts Coolidge

A metaphor, much like a simile, compares two things.  However, it actually asserts that one thing ‘is’ or ‘was’ the other.  For instance, in the poem Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, he says, “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,”

Repetition of a word or phrase adds to the rhythm of the poem and also emphasizes meaning.  This comes through vividly in the lines “And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” Taken from, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Alliteration refers to repeating of the beginning consonant sound.  As in the tongue twister:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
Onomatopoeia is a word whose sounds make you think of their meanings.  For instance, Tick-tock, oink or meow.

Now that you are armed with some poetic devices, try filling these sentences with an appropriate simile and metaphor.
My _____________ is like __________________.
My ______________ is a ____________________.

During the last month’s book club, one group of children filled in blanks to make this poem.
It took the rabbit a long time.
To walk, he thought was a crime
And fetch a carrot just to dine.

Reference: Instant Activities for Poetry That Kids Really Love, Grades 3-6. (1997)  Scholastic Professional Books

(Karuna Davis is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Book Club Anyone?

Karuna Davis

In the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a book club for children, at PRAYATNA, Bangalore.  It has turned out to be a most gratifying experience.  I’m astounded by the variety of books available and the rapt expression on the faces of children as they listen to these cleverly crafted, creative books.  They are a delight to read. 

A book club is a wonderful activity for numerous reasons.  Apart from cultivating the habit of reading, it allows children to meet their peers outside school, thereby building their social skills.  Also, it can assist adults in their communication with children.  As children interpret books, we gain insight into their minds and thinking.  Children pick up comprehension strategies, diction, expression, vocabulary and so much more.  They learn how to engage with books and analyze them, encouraging the growth of their imagination and expression.  Most importantly it is fun for everyone.

So how do we start? Choose a place and a time.  Gather a group of preferably eight to twelve children.  Have a selection of books with a variety of themes and genres within the capacity of the group.  Think of novel ways to make each book come alive.  Plan activities linked to a theme in the book that will stimulate discussion.  Each session may take an hour.  An adult could read suitable sections of a book if it is long or even the entire book if it is a short one. 

Take for instance, ‘The Gruffalo’ by Julia Donaldson.  This is a story of a witty mouse that faces his fears and cleverly saves himself from the predatory intent of animals he encounters.  One theme to take from this book is how to deal with fear.  Set up a room like a forest or take the children to a forest-like area and read the story there.  Initiate a discussion relating to fears that children have and possible ways that they could deal with them.  Perhaps a simple relaxation technique or just the realization that everybody has fears can help children deal with their own fears better.  A possible activity could be to have the children make a collage filled with pictures of people they feel are doing something brave.

A book club does involve effort and innovation.  It requires enthusiasm and commitment.  At the end of the day, it is a satisfying experience and therefore worth every bit of effort.  Take a plunge and aim for the best.  The adults end up loving the book club as much as kids.


(Karuna Davis is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Diverse in Diverse ways


Chester’s Way explored friendship from a different perspective.  The story about the mice Chester, Wilson and Lily looked at how friendships are formed between extremely different personalities.  “Diverse in Diverse ways” was the theme of the day.  Chester’s Way teaches us that being different is good.  Diversity provides the opportunity to learn new things and develop new perspectives.  The message that kids took away from this book club was exactly that.
The events of the book club were designed to make the children understand that it was important having friends different from you.  The teachers at PRAYATNA highlighted some of the activities that we did with our friends i.e. playing, sharing food, chatting, sharing secrets etc.  In a show-and-tell activity, children showed the audience a picture of their friend and spoke about him or her.  The book reading of the fun and light hearted story Chester’s Way kept the kids engaged.  The quiz following the story highlighted the theme of the day and the children were enthusiastic with their answers.
Kids were asked to pair up and discuss three things that were similar and dissimilar with their partners.  In pairs, they spoke about what they had discovered about each other.  From favourite colours to favourite sport, children discovered some surprising similarities with their partners.  The concept of homogeneity and heterogeneity was discussed through a collage highlighting differences in individuals.  People differ from one another in terms of languages spoken, appearance, religion, likes and interest etc.  This diversity was examined through an interactive session.  Children were enthusiastic and the younger kids actively participated as well.  They shared information about their friends who were dissimilar to them. 
Take home gifts of paper plate photo frames with the words “Like but not alike” were given hoping to remind them how special and unique each of them were.

(Bhavna R. is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Forget Me Not

Bhavna R

This term’s first book club kick started with a book about a one of kind elephant named Forget-me-not.  Unlike other elephants, he had trouble remembering.  Keeping with the theme of the story, the activities revolved around the topic of memory.

As the kids settled down in the room, they were curious to know what was behind the covered board.  Their curiosity was satisfied when the covers of the board were lifted.  On the board were twenty five pictures of various things ranging from food items to automobiles.  The children were asked to remember how many ever items they could in a span of one minute.  After that they were divided into two teams A and B.  They had to recollect as many things they could from the board. With a little bit of assistance from the staff, they jotted down all the items they could remember.

The kids were then treated to the book reading and miming of the story by the staff at PRAYATNA. The children were engrossed in the story of how Forget-me-not surprised himself by remembering his mother’s instructions.  They were particularly in awe of the animal cutouts worn by the characters.  The children passed a quiz on the book with flying colours.

Following that, the kids were guided on techniques to promote recall.  They were told an easy way to memorize list of items by categorizing them into meaningful groups.  The children redid the activity of remembering items on the board and both teams performed dramatically better than before.

“I went to the market game” was played, to see who could remember increasingly long lists of items; most kids displayed exceptional memory.  Different techniques to recall and retain information were discussed. The method of loci, a smart tool to remember long list of items by mentally arranging them along a familiar route was demonstrated.  Using a planner to aid organization and recall was then discussed.  Children took home a copy of a planner for the month of July to schedule and remember activities.  

We hope they now remember the tips on memory that we shared with them!

(Bhavna R. is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

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.)


Radhika Menon

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.)

Inventive Minds

Shweta Venkat

The new term began with yet another much hoped for book club.  The theme, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” was based on a perfect-picture book, Jack and the Flumflum Tree, by story-teller extraordinaire, Julia Donaldson.  The flumflum tree was recreated on the board with the tempting purple fruits hanging delicately.  Pictures of a paperclip, water bottle, box, plastic bag, and straw were attached to the fruits. 
The book club began with a discussion on the different places that the kids had travelled to and they were asked what things they pack in their suitcases when they travel.  After their exuberant responses, the book was read aloud and children heard the story that bounced along at a cracking pace.
Jack has a granny and his granny has spots.  Not any old spots, either - she's covered from head to toe in enormous purple lesions and the doctor's prognosis is grim.  There's only one cure for Granny - she needs the fruit of the flumflum tree and she needs it NOW.  Otherwise it's curtains for the old dear.  So intrepid Jack builds a boat and sets sail for the only place where the flumflum grows - the remote and dubiously-named island of Blowyernose.  With him are his impetuously-assembled crew of Stu and Rose who are certainly not much help on Jack's quest and get him into all kinds of difficulties.  Luckily, he has a sack full of seemingly-useless-but-actually-quite-handy household objects to ensure the success of the mission.  The little ones adored the kind of wordy repetition, the glorious detail in the pictures and unexpected hurdles in Jack's adventures on the way to Blowyernose.
This was followed by a fun quiz which the kids utterly enjoyed.  Soon after the quiz, children were shown unusual uses of three objects- an umbrella, cushion and pen. The common use was first shown and children then came up with the other uses.  Children were then divided into two groups and each group was given two objects each from the board for which they had to come up with different uses.  The final activity of the day’s worthwhile book club was paper bag making.

(Shweta Venkat is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)


Anagha Bharat

As a small number of book club members strolled into the room for this month’s book club at PRAYATNA, Chennai, they seemed rather confused about what they saw on the board.  ‘Is Seeing Believing?’ was the puzzling question thrown open our members.  As we together tried making sense of it, “The Spectacular Spectacle Man’ by Vishakha Chanchani was read out. 

This led to the discussion of questions, some of which were based on the book and some which got the kids to wonder about how they see the world.  The most interesting questions were whether they wanted to see the world bigger or smaller than it actually is.  Strangely, none of them wanted to see it exactly the way it is; while some wanted to tower over everything and be giants, others wanted to see the world through a midget’s eyes.  Another point the book brought out was whether miracles exist.  Surprisingly, a few even doubted their existence.  But their disbelief was soon challenged as four miraculous phenomena and concepts were taken up for discussion.  The concepts were mirage, camouflage, illusion and ambigram.  Most kids had seen a mirage and were fascinated to learn the explanation behind it.  As they learnt about the popular Ponzo’s illusion and the Muller-Lyer illusion, they were intrigued to discover that the length of the two lines were in fact the same although one of them looked longer.  Examples of chameleons and army men in khaki uniform were cited for camouflage and a couple of examples were displayed for ambigram (words when written in a particular style can be read in more than one way).  Children were even made to write the ambigram ‘mom’ which also reads as ‘wow when the paper is turned upside down. 

This was followed by an activity where the children had to stick three incomplete circles at three points on a paper and saw a white triangle emerge on the paper.  Thus, even without actually sticking a triangle, they saw one.  Is it not spectacular that our mind sees wholes rather than parts and hence completes the incomplete circles by superimposing a triangle on them?  Hence, we see what we want to see.  Further, we cannot always trust our eyes.  At the end. children were left to ponder over the mind boggling question- ‘Is seeing believing or is believing seeing?’ 

(Anagha Bharat is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

A Home for All

Karuna Davis

Who gives you the most enthusiastic welcome when you get home?  Which family member never scolds, criticizes, or commands?  Who is unreservedly affectionate, never irritated and always has time for you?  Who never gets bored of your company, overlooks all your shortcomings and forgets the times you haven’t kept up your end of the deal?  If this sounds unimaginable, maybe it’s time to consider having a pet dog (I can’t say the same about cats!) Nevertheless, pets in general are known to be therapeutic to us selfish human beings. 

It is common to spot stray cats or dogs wandering the streets.  Even a cow sitting in the middle of the road is not that much of a novelty in our country.  After last month’s book club at PRAYATNA, Bangalore, we became aware that taking care of all living beings is very much a part of our constitution.  Therefore, being kind and taking care of stray animals is a responsibility that each of us has. 

In the story, Madeline and the Cats of Rome, by John Belmelmans Marciano, the well meaning ‘orphan’ of the street, Catelina, steals from tourists to feed hungry stray cats.  Stealing is clearly wrong and so Madeline comes up with a plan to help Catelina save the cats.  They put up the all the cats for adoption and everyone is happy! 

Since we most frequently come across stray dogs in Bangalore, they were the focus of our session.  Through a role play the tough life of a stray dog was portrayed.  Being attacked, inclement weather, no food and ill treatment are some of the issues stray animals face.  We explained reasons for general dog behaviour like panting, digging, biting, barking and jumping.  For example, did you know that when dogs jump, it could be to show their dominance over you?  Biting could be due to fear or pain.

Children are especially at risk to dog bites and so they were educated on how to approach a dog and read the body language of the dog to avoid getting bitten.  For instance, playfully sneaking up on a dog or bothering a sleeping dog is unsafe.  Similarly, sudden movements or approaching a puppy around its mother could cause a dog to bite.  Those who owned dogs were encouraged to take good care of their pets by giving them adequate exercise, affection and discipline.  We concluded by handing out the number of an animal welfare organization for children to call when they come across a wounded animal or if they wanted to adopt one.  We have taken the first step towards being kind and considerate of stray animals.

(Karuna Davis is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA)

Many Hands…not quite alike

Divya Suresh

It’s vital for children to understand as they grow up that although the compulsion or temptation to imitate somebody else will probably be there, it’s alright to not act on it and be your own person because everyone’s different and everyone is unique. 

The PRAYATNA team at Bangalore considered it important to get this message across to our children and chose the book, ‘No Two Alike’ by Keith Baker, which conveys this message wonderfully.  The book turned out to be a true visual treat for children.  The story traces the journey of two playful avian characters that make their way through a quiet, winter landscape to discover that things are not quite the same.  “No two nests, / so soft and round, / no two tracks upon the ground. / No two branches, no two leaves,/ no two forests, full of trees.” 

The book club started off with children being shown two pictures and asked to spot as many differences between them as possible.  The kids enthusiastically came up and spotted differences.  This was followed by a skit revolving around a boy who wanted all the same things his friends had.  His parents make him understand how boring the world would be if everybody dressed the same, looked the same, had the same things, ate the same food and so on and eventually the boy agreed. 

The children then filled up a very interesting questionnaire about themselves which gave them a fair understanding as to how different they all are, starting with their names to their heights and weights, likes and dislikes.  This activity led to another where differences across nations were highlighted.  In depth details about four children from four different countries were provided and parallels between their lives and the children’s were drawn and it dawned on them that in their similarities, they are all so different. 

Like all sessions, the culminating activity was filled with maximum excitement.  The kids dipped their palms in vibrant colours and left their impressions on paper for all to see and wonder… “Are we the same—just alike? Almost, almost…but not quite!” 

(Divya Suresh is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Old is New

Radhika Menon

The June session of the book club in Chennai celebrated the notion of “hand-me-downs.”  Each child was asked to bring something that was handed down to them by an older sibling, cousin or parent.  The kids streamed into the centre, holding objects, either big or small.  We started the session by asking children what “hand-me-downs” were.  Even though we live in very consumerist and wasteful times, all children said that they had received hand-me-downs sometime in their lives.  Then, the teachers surprised the kids by showing objects that were handed down to them.  One teacher wore a sparkling green necklace that was given to her by her mother who had inherited it previously from her sister.  Another teacher shared a tale of two dresses ended up as a teddy bear’s outfit.  The children then briefly explained what object they had got, who gave it and how valuable it was to them.

The book for this session was Ju’s Story by Paul Zacharia.  As the story was read, the teachers mimed the emotions and actions of the main characters.  The children watched and listened entranced to a touching story of a child from an impoverished background who rarely gets anything new.  All her clothes, textbooks, bags and stationery are bequeathed to her by richer kids.  The only things that Ju gets that are new are her notebooks, which she has to use very frugally. 

After the book was read, we had a discussion on the joys of receiving old versus new things.  We wanted to convey the idea that old things also have value, be in the form of a story, a sentiment or a family history.  However, we also discussed why we like new things and what it would be like not to have anything new.   

The book club also explored another theme that was sparked off by the book—the old-fashioned letter that is delivered by post.  The bulletin board displayed pictures and terms related to post.  In the Internet age, where it is possible to exchange information in a jiffy, we explained how post works and how people communicated in the days gone by. 

Finally, kids were given post cards and asked to write or draw to themselves.  Most kids took great pains in composing letters to themselves.  We told the kids to await the post card in the mail.

(Radhika Menon is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

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.)