Category Archives: Learning

Are you growing up with your child? Or are you getting left behind?

Just the other day, a close friend of mine called up. “Sunita,” she  said  hesitantly, “ I want to talk to you about my son, Rohit. He has suddenly changed so much. I don’t know what to do.”  I calmed her down and told her this is something I often hear from parents of adolescents

It is not easy being a parent. And the challenge is much more when our babies turn into teenagers. It seems just yesterday they were holding your hand and learning to walk, and now it seems as if they are challenging every word you say.

You hear things like , “Why do you want me to make my bed? I’ll just sleep in it again tonight.” “MOM! Please don’t embarrass me!”

Your little baby girl is suddenly more interested in chatting with her friends and worrying about nonexistent pimples on her face. Your son is more interested in his friends’ opinion than yours. And don’t talk about mood swings. One day they do not want to talk to you at all and the next they want to tell you every single thing that is happening in their lives.  If you hug them, you will be pushed away and the very next day you will be engulfed in the biggest bear hug in the world.

Yes, being a parent is tough and in today’s environment it is even worse. As parents we are not only responsible to see that our kids grow up with the right values, but we also need to equip them with  the skills that will help them withstand negative influences and keep them safe.

In such a scenario, maybe it is a good idea to learn from the experts as well. People who have been parents, who have been teachers and who have been teachers to parents. That is why, through practise with my own daughters, through a lot of reading, through courses, I have learnt a lot and over a lot of years, what it takes to be a good parent. I have realised through the years that parents of teenagers face some unique challenges.

That is how and why I created my Teenology course. Ping me here or on 9892939062/ 8080825785 to know more about it. You can send me a mail on sunita@shikshapower.com as well. https://www.facebook.com/events/531112666958273/

How Important Is It To Find Your Element?

I managed to read the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything over the weekend. The book, written by Ken Robinson, talks about the importance of finding the one thing that you like the most and then pursuing it passionately for a fulfilling life. Paul Graham more or less says the same thing in his famous article How To Do What You Love.

Robinson’s book triggered a number of thoughts in my mind. It is full of examples of people from various fields, including sports, dance, music and entrepreneurship; the people who made it big. When I was reading about these people, I found an unmistakable similarity among all of them. They all wanted to live a meaningful life. They all wanted to achieve something. They were also determined to put in the efforts, and were passionate about the things they chose to do.

What separates these people who are so full of life from the ordinary people is not that they found their element as Robinson puts it. I think it’s the zeal for perfection and the passion for life and the passion for everything that they choose to do is what makes them extraordinary.

Our education system is designed in such a way that most of the students hardly get an opportunity to try out anything in their school days. It also defines a very linear path to success. Perform well in academics, go to a decent college, get a degree and you will get a decent job. It is only after college that people realize that it doesn’t work that way. You need to have much more than just a degree to not only get a decent job, but also to live a decent life.

Our society fosters a false notion in children’s heads that to succeed in life, you only need to clear exams with good marks. Forget extra-curricular activities, even learning and understanding of subject matter is considered secondary. Independent learning is not encouraged. Students are provided ready-made notes, have tuitions outside schools and are taught formulas to clear exams. This approach proves very dangerous as students remain weak academically as well as do not develop important life skills such as communication skills, critical thinking, or appreciation of art.

I agree with Robinson that you need to find where your interest lies and then pursue that interest for a happier life. But I do not agree that this interest is innate, or it can not be created/manufactured, or that we can not have multiple interests. As a child, I was not exposed to either reading or writing. But I still developed an interest in them. Most of the people who go on to become artists have a natural interest in those arts, along with the talent of course. But I also know many people who develop an interest after they get exposed to something. One of my friends took up Fine Arts because his uncle told him to. Before that he had never thought of it as a career option. But in his fourth year in college, he said that he was really enjoying it, and liked the idea of pursuing a career in it. You develop an interest in things as you dabble in them.

I think having an interest is secondary to developing a passion for something, because it can be manufactured (provided you have talent and have taken enough training for that particular thing). What is important is the positive approach to life, zeal for perfection, being open to try out new things, open to learn new things and not caring much about the conventional definition of success. Life does not have a final goal (Death can not be a person’s final goal. If it was, everybody would have committed suicide). There is no such thing as an ultimate success. We can only have short term goals. But it is very important to enjoy the process as we strive to achieve them.

Ice Master – Short Story (Creative Writing Camp, May 2013)

This is a story written during The Residential Creative Writing Power Camp that was held at Igatpuri between the 24th and 26th of May, 2013. Hope you like it.

A quick note. Barf (pronounced to rhyme like Turf or Surf and not as Scarf) in Hindi means Ice.

It was only those few seconds when they unloaded him from his personal fridge to move him into the ice-cream godown that had left half his left ear looking eaten up. And he made no qualms showing his displeasure! He squinted his black button eyes in a way that made the trolley workers look at each other and wonder whether they were dealing with a cute snowman or an abominable one.

All of four feet and three fat globes of snow, including the smallest one on top for his head, Barf Master, as the new kids in Mumbai called him, was the least favourite of his master, back in the more comfortable climes of Greenland. A comfortable minus four degrees on warmer days and nippier on cooler ones, Mumbai in May was not Greenland at all! All he had got for coming here was a name he didn’t like, a melted ear and probably a heat boil on his bum.

His master, although he didn’t quite like him, had been a rich spoilt brat. He had made about a hundred snowmen last year and Barf Master was one of the earlier ones. While the newer snowmen had custom made noses and human looking eyes complete with the white of the eye and irises in various hues and colours, Barf Master was the old school kinds. Cucumber nose, old coat button eyes and three ping-pong balls for buttons on his trunk. When his master’s father’s company had decided to send snowmen for children in hotter climates to play with, Barf Master had been one of the first ones to be given away.

The children in Mumbai had loved him! Scrawny, dirty and so dark, Barf Master had never seen children like these! He had cringed the first time they came to look at him and when the naughty ones had tried to touch him. He still cringed each time. He now lived in an old and huge refrigerator that had once been used as an ice-cream godown. It was situated in the middle of a huge slum complex and the children swarmed from all over it to look at Barf Master. They had seen so much snow for the first time in their lives!

>May and June had turned out to be when the most number of kids visited him. While he cribbed and complained and cringed, he reveled in the attention he was getting. He didn’t like the kids touching him and leaving brown finger stains on his once spotless white body, but he loved the “Ah!”s and “Ooh!”s he inspired. That is why when July and August saw less of them because rains had flooded the storehouse in which the refrigerator was, Barf Master had been almost heartbroken. So imagine his relief when the kids started coming back to see him in September! He had thought, he would never see them again! Barf Master had smiled from ear to melted ear when they came to meet him and he hadn’t even cringed when a little kid had tried to lick him.

All of this changed in October. October in Mumbai was May all over again. But this time, apparently it was worse. Fewer and fewer kids had come to see Barf Master. One day when only two kids had turned up, Barf Master heard them talking about it being so hot outside that kids had been falling sick, some were even in the hospital. This was just horrendous! Barf master remembered how painful it was to lose part of his ear. He could only imagine how it would be for the poor kids. But what could he do for them?

>As night fell, he came up with a plan. He had already made friends with all the cool air in the refrigerator. He knew the cool air was just the hot air from outside that was better off. All he had to do was to tell the cool air to tell the hot air to cool off! And he did just that. While he couldn’t move from where he was, he directed all the cool air in his huge refrigerator to go off from the vents and cracks, outside, and to let the hot air in instead. While the hot air cooled in the refrigerator, he spoke to it and asked it to do the same! And boy, did that work! While it made him sweat and melt a little everyday, the kids started getting better. More of them came to see him everyday. October was getting worse, but the kids were getting better.

Till one day when the hot air came in and for some reason Barf Master started sweating and melting a little more than usual. It was a little after noon and the watchman had gone for lunch. That is when these bunch of kids walked in. There were four of them and one of them looked very sick. For all the dark she was, she looked pale. Tiny, frail thing, she couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. Listening to their talk, Barf Master came to know that she couldn’t bear the heat outside. So, they had gotten her to Barf Master’s fridge, to sit till the evening. Barf Master was sweating and melting quite a lot. He noticed the kids had left the door open. Hot air blanketed him. He could feel his cucumber nose slipping from his face.

The kids stayed there till the watchman came and shooed them away. It was almost dusk. The air was still warm and for Barf Master it was like he was in a volcano. He had melted to half of what he was. He kept sending out cool air while hot air came back in. He knew he wasn’t going to last for long, but he had to send the cool air for the kids. He couldn’t even remember what it was like at Greenland anymore, even when he tried hard.

The next day the kids came to see Barf Master in the morning, there was nothing but a pool of water, some ping-pong balls, buttons and a cucumber. They complained to the watchman who came in and saw that there was a crack in the back wall of the refrigerator. It let outside air in. And on a day when there was no electricity in the entire city, what else could happen to a useless snowman but this, he pointed to the dirty pool of water and asked the kids.

-Anish Vyavahare

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Where fountains sneeze and watches snore

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I just love my Sunday mornings, especially the ones when I have my Poetry Sundays, where I meet about a dozen kids between the age group eight to 14 at “Just Book clc” at Hiranandani Meadows, Thane every fortnight.

These Poetry Sundays are special because they are such fun! There is so much learning and there is a lot of joy! Here the children learn to express their feelings, thoughts and ideas through the medium of poetry and then gain the confidence to share these ideas and emotions when they read out their poems to others.

This week we were looking at personification as a tool to enhance our poems. As part of the exercises, we got the kids to match nouns with words that were randomly picked from a box. The results were hilarious and laughter filled the library as children looked at combinations like waves sleeping and the sun crying.

What was amazing is that not one of the kids questioned how clocks could snore or fountains would sneeze. Instead the conversations went something like this.

Yash: How and why will dragons run?

Shrushti: Maybe they are baby dragons and they are running to the edge of the cliff in a race and they will go whoooosh off the edge and fly.

Sunil: What could make the sun stand in one place?

Srikant: Because it was noon and he had already reached the top of the sky. He was tired and wanted to rest?

Shrushti: Okay, then why would the sun cry?

Janice: Because he was eclipsed

And thus did mini stories emerge about how the clock was so tired of waking up the child in the morning, that it too went back to sleep and snored and how it was so cold that the chilled water made the fountain sneeze.

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Isabel (Poem)

This is a poem from Shiksha Power’s poetry competition held in various schools in Thane. The poem is written by Sakshi Udavant, a class sixth student from the D.A.V Public School, Thane. The topic was The Bicycle Race. Hope you enjoy it.

Once there was a bicycle race
It started off with a fast pace

First was Isabel
But in between she fell

She fell in the dirt
And got badly hurt

She called her mother
To care, there was no one other

Unlucky was her ride,
So Isabel finally died

The writer in me, the writer in you!

Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with stories, all kinds of stories. It didn’t matter whether it was a short story or a novel or a poem. I can still remember my mother reading out the poem, “The evening is coming “out of this big colourful book that she had. As she read, the pictures in the book came to life and I was transported into another beautiful world.

As I grew, I became fascinated by how the stories evolved. I wondered: How did the author think of creating this character? Did he or she dream the story? How did he see the place in his mind’s eye? How did he or she know what would happen next in the story?  How could he or she make the story come alive for so many people? Can I also do the same?

It was the book “Little Women” which finally made me start writing. I so fell in love with Jo and so totally related to her character that in my mind we were the same and so writing was something I just had to do.

I still remember the first poem I wrote. I was just 12 then and I wrote a poem for my little sister who was just two. To my surprise, everyone liked it and praised it. And I was addicted!

Being a writer is not difficult at all. In fact it is a lot of fun. All you need to do is to let go of your fear. Let go of your fears about whether you can write or not. Let go of your fear of what people will say. Just let go and write!

Write for yourself! Write what you like! Write from your heart! It’s okay to write silly stuff and make mistakes, you will get better, but only if you keep writing. Today I squirm at the first few poems I wrote.  Even the little seven year olds who come to my creative writing class write better than that!

But that was just the start and I have grown and so will you.  So just pick up a pen and write.

And for all of you who want to write that poem, that story that is in your heart and has to be expressed, and don’t know where to start, here is a lovely learning vacation in a lovely location. Check out the residential Creative Writing Power Camp being held by Shiksha Power at Igatpuri on the 24th, 25th and 26th of May, 2013.

We taught ourselves to teach to write so that you can learn too! And for a teensy summer vacation out of the hot city, why not?

Out of the mouths of babes

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I love the summer holidays! I absolutely love them! This is the time when I have my holiday camps for the kids. Every year the kids amaze me! Every year I feel that there is still so much we can do for our kids who have the most amazing minds. There has been so much potential just waiting to be used.

This year, the theme for our Chutti Power Summer fun was “Expressions”. This was especially for kids between the ages of 5 to 11. We encouraged the kids to express themselves through art, dance, drama and creative writing.

Yesterday, we were creating characters in our creative writing session.

I introduced the children to the words “protagonist” and “antagonist”. Before telling them what it meant, I asked them what they thought it meant. The answers were varied.

“It means a person who eats a lot of protein!” Said a little 5 year old.

“I think it means someone who is powerful, like Iron Man,” said another.

“I think it sounds like a mixture of a protractor and an injection” said a third.

It was amazing how they all seemed to link the “P” in the spelling of protagonist to something that started with a “P” – protein, power, protractor.

After explaining who a protagonist is, I asked them to think of someone they would like to create as a protagonist in their story.

The questions were immediate. “Does it have to be a human being?” “Can it be an alien?” “Can it be a monster?” “Can it be an animal?” “Can it be an imaginary creature?”

But the best question was from a little boy named Armesh. He asked, “Don’t you think we should create the antagonist first?”

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because the antagonist causes the problem and the protagonist supplies the solution. The antagonist is the fever and the protagonist is the medicine, the Crocin.”

Oh how I love my summer camps!