Monday, July 28, 2014

Starting a book club

I've said this before and I'll say it again, often something good stems from something not so good.

N plays every evening with a bunch of girls. Since it's a mixed crowd across age groups, they often end up simply 'hanging' out much like teenagers : chatting, arguing and sometimes fighting, often ending in tears for at least one of them.

Many times I have tried to make peace but convincing a group of 11- 12 year olds to give up prejudices, however temporary, is hard. After N came home on two consecutive days crying since the girls had 'boycotted' her for some reason I decided to do something about it. In no way am I implying she's always a victim. I am sure there are days she's at the other end too.

I've often shared here, how I've been trying to get the kids to take to reading and also that that I've had little success.

I'd been toying with the idea of a book club for a long time and I thought it would be a great diversion for the girls. It would give them something constructive to think about and talk about. And so The Book Club was born and inaugurated this Saturday, without any fanfare, I might add!

Here's the plan

1. The children meet each Saturday for an hour. They get a story to read which they have to finish till the next meeting.

2. Since none of them are into heavy reading, it shall be short stories first. If the story is too long it'll be broken up into parts. Or we'll take up excerpts.

3. When we meet the following Saturday we'll talk about the book.
- one of the kids will do a short recap.
- we'll pick some tricky words to talk about.
- pick some characters to discuss - their favourite ones, what they liked or didn't like
- we'll discuss alternative endings or anything else that takes our fancy

4. And - this one's purely to keep the kids hooked - we'll do an activity based on the book. It could be drawing a scene from the book, or acting out a sequence, or dressing up like the characters.

5. Oh and one last thing to keep the kids coming - there'll be some snacks too!!

We'll have a few rules

... For what's a club without rules?
1. Read the book before you come to the meeting
2. No interruptions. Raise your hand if you do have to interrupt.
3. Listen to each speaker
4. Address the group not individuals.
5. Be polite
6. Any problem? Suggestions. Do discuss. 
(I find the stories too long, too short, too simple, too tough. 
I have exams I will not be able to read the story.)
7. If you cannot come to a meeting let us know in advance.

So this Saturday we had our first meeting

Since it was the first class and the kids hadn't been given a story I asked them to draw a scene from their favourite story and let the others guess what it was. We had a Mermaid, a Rapunzel, a Cinderella, A Red Riding Hood, an Alice in Wonderland and even a Supandi.

Then I gave them the story for the next week. A simple one called 'The Dragon Rock' (I have to keep H enthused also, you see). Since we had time I got each of the kids to read a paragraph from the story. They had so much fun that we might make book reading a regular feature.

I am keeping it an open exercise as of now because I don't know what the kids will like. I don't even know if they'll keep coming but I sure as hell am going to try.


On next week's agenda

..is a craft activity : Making a dragon
and a brand new story.

Now here's where I need your help... 

This is a first for me and I'm pretty much on my own so I'm hoping you guys can be my sounding board. 

1. If you have any tips about book clubs do let me know.

2. If you can think of book related activities drop me a line.

3. If you know of any short stories that would appeal to the age group of 6-12 ping me please, specially ones from other cultures - Chinese folk tales or Russian stories. I'm leaving out Panchatantra and other Indian stories since the kids might have read them and the novelty factor is essential to keep them hooked. Links would be hugely appreciated since I can print out the stories.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The happy butterfly

"Look mama what a strange butterfly," said the little girl staring in awe. This is no place for a butterfly, thought her mother, mopping her brow.

Their's was a dreary home, stuck between scores of others, between open drains and garbage, soot and filth, not a flower in sight. Yet the butterfly hovered.

The little girl reached out and it landed gently, right on her palm. There she sat opening and closing her delicate wings glowing with an ethereal light. 

The mother watched her girl's face lit up with a smile and found it reflected on her own, wiping out the tired sad lines even if for a moment. 

As they smiled the tiny creature seemed to get stronger, to glow even brighter and two new colours shimmered on its wings.
Off she flew, off towards the school, to the sobbing boy clutching his mum's hand. "I don't want to go," said he with a wail. She floated close by calling out to him. He listened, he stared, tears forgotten, a smile appeared. And then he let go, following her with his teacher, uncomplaining.

And another colour appeared on her wings.

On she flew to the busy marketplace. "What's that!" wondered the old vegetable vendor distracted for a moment from the thought of that blanket he needed to buy. She fluttered around waiting. The smile appeared soon and so did the colour.

And off she flew. This time to the busy executive cradling a phone in the crick of his neck. Oh this was tough but she didn't give up. She lingered between his files alighting for a moment right on his laptop, catching his attention, finally. She drifted gently by the drooping bouquet, made with love by his daughter but carelessly discarded. The thought of his daughter brought him a smile, a trifle regretful, but a smile nonetheless. 

The butterfly got her colour and off she flew.

The crusty landlady, the lonely student, the unhappy socialite, the overworked maid - she flew by each one. Some were easy, some so tough. But a smile she drew from each one of them. Innocent, happy, joyful smiles, smiles without malice, smiles of love. She gathered them all upon her wings. And with each one of those she grew more beautiful, ever more strong and ever more determined.

Yeah she'd do it, she'd change the world. She'd make it happier a smile at a time.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Checklists work for me

Some days you just wake up with a sense of happy anticipation - like something wonderful is going to happen. And nothing seems to be able to dampen your spirits. Not cranky kids, not the power cut in the gym, not the fact that the husband has to travel... Nothing.

Well that's what yesterday was. Rains have arrived here, finally, so the weather was just perfect. At least four wonderful people I know were celebrating birthdays and the warmth and love from Facebook kind of spilled into my day and made it even sunnier.

Feeling very inspired and determined to hold on to this feeling I went over the day trying to identify possible trouble areas.

One of the most testing times of my day, I realised, is when the kids get back from school. They are tired and probably hungry, yet are bursting with things to tell... both of them simultaneously. I have a hard time keeping up two full fledged often very different conversations.

Then there's the issue of lunch. For me the top priority is that they get cleaned up and get to their lunch/snack FAST, since it's four by the the time the bus drops them. For them that's about 100th on the list. 

I end up hurrying them, barking out a bunch of instructions which seem like an unending list - a huge and painful one at that. They dawdle and bicker and end up in tears.   

A few days back a friend shared the idea of having a task checklist. Well I decided to come up with mine..... with an incentive too.

A tick in each column for ten straight days gets them a small gift. 

When I showed them the list they seemed cynical at best. Sure sign that they're growing up! I refused to let my enthusiasm were off cajoling them to at least try it.

It was a slow start (why do we have to put our shoes inside? Whey do we always have to wear chappals. But soon they were running around the house doing stuff, giggling, ticking it off - oh it was fun and they got most of it done.

Of course it's just day 1 and they might/will tire of it and that will be fine, because the idea is NOT to turn them into tiny robots but to get the basic habit in place. It's like 'oh today I forgot to put my tiffin for washing.. Rather than see ma today I remembered to put it for washing.

Monday, July 14, 2014

An experiment in freedom

Saturday began on a very very sour note. H threw a huge tantrum bemoaning the fact that he had to follow too many rules. Washing his hands before eating, wearing his chappals all the time, putting his clothes for washing after changing, wearing his night suit, brushing his teeth, not getting enough screen time (computer/TV) ..... Apparently I was forcing him to play, to eat, to sleep... 

To be fair to him he is a pretty independent child. He enjoys his studies and is very meticulous about them. He's not a fussy eater either. In fact I have few complaints other than his computer addiction and his resistance to rules. He likes to do things his way which is often not the right way, of course according to me. And he argues! Gawd how he argues!

The Husband and I reasoned with him for about an hour. Then we both gave up and left him crying.

Freedom Day declared!

I got chatting with friend and blogger Shailaja and she directed me to a blogpost here by Sangeeta Sundaram on Freedom Day - a day with no rules, which children could be left to do what they wanted. Since we were at the weekend and as a mum I am always ready to try anything for a happier more peaceful home I decided to go with it. Besides, it was just a day, I reasoned, how bad could it get?

So Saturday was declared Freedom Day with just two rules.. No fighting and no messing the house.

H was ecstatic, though a bit unbelieving. N also thought it was a super idea. 

The computer was switched on right then and H flitted between the television and the computer all day without signs of fatigue or boredom. He would come to check on me periodically to make sure I wasn't angry. He'd dart in for a hug or an 'I love you mama,' every hour or so.

N meanwhile ran off to play throwing an 'I-can-come-whenever-I-want-na, mama?' over her shoulder. 'Yes,' said I and that was that.

At lunch time...

I have to admit I am a bit of a Nirupa Roy when it comes to food. I strongly believe that half of the crankiness of kids is either food or sleep related. A little after 1 pm H was hungry and just as I was about to suggest lunch he said he wanted to eat mangoes. So mangoes it was. By 2, though outwardly calm, I was pacing up and down mentally.

N turned up after 2.30 and sat down to watch TV.

I'd made their favourite Aaloo-puri in a sly bid to tempt them to eat on their own. I even filled my own plate, pretending to eat and sat watching that wretched Doremon with them to no avail. Finally H picked up pooris, just pooris, and munched on them sitting on the sofa while watching TV... And I kept my mouth shut. 

N, the non eater was celebrating by not eating at all. Finally at 3.30 I left them to the tele and walked off.

Freedom is not everyone's cup of tea

A little later N came in.. Crying. 'My head is hurting ma', she said, 'may I sleep with you?' I agreed then suggested.. 'Maybe your head is hurting because you haven't eaten anything'. That brought around a fresh bout of tears..
'I don't want this freedom say sobbed N. May I have lunch?'
I have to admit I felt a smug kind of happiness!!
And that was it for her.

But some truly take to it

Televiion junkie..

H continued to have a ball till about 10. He refused his friends when they asked him to come down to play. N crashed by the television. H had major plans of staying awake till after 12 but exhausted by the marathon computer session he too agreed to go to bed when The Husband suggested it.

What now?

Now I am a bit confused about the outcome of the experiment. N told me pretty categorically.. She preferred an 'Angel Day' .
But what about H?
I have to admit there was total peace at home. The children didn't fight at all which is just so rare, it might be the single reason I try this out another day. They coordinated with each other taking turns at the comp and the tele. In any case since N is a more outdoor person there was barely any clash. 
However, is it okay to let H spend the entire day at the comp? Or for N to stay outdoor for four or five hours at a stretch? Maybe it is, since it's just a day... I'm not sure at all. What do you say guys? Is it okay to have a Freedom day say once in a month?


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