Friday, 30 March 2012

Mythological Tales with a Twist

We have all grown up listening to mythological stories and watching episodes and these day cartoon shows about them. So one is never too inclined to pick up a mythological story book. But, what if there was a book that created new funny short stories from the large epic, and the short stories bound back to the epic in some way. Wouldn't that be interesting?

I found one such book yesterday - Tail Tales (Volume 1) by Hema Vaidyanathan. It's a small story book with beautiful illustrations. Through the book, Hema tells us two short stories, and each is derived from the mythological epic, Ramayana. 

At first glance, I was skeptical about the book, because I assumed it would be another retell of the Ramayana story. But I was quite surprised when I flipped through the pages. Hema has beautifully taken characters out of the Ramayana and built stories around them. And the stories link back to the roles the characters played in the Ramayana. After I read both stories, my verdict was "simply fantastic!”

I read the book to my three-year old and she enjoyed the story and loved the beautiful illustrations. When she grows up and hears/reads the story of the Ramayana, she'll be able to understand how certain characters in the epic got their powers.

If you'd like to revisit epic stories and see them through a new perspective, check out

Monday, 26 March 2012

What Makes a Green Tree go Pink?

This weekend my 3-year old and I took a nature walk in our locality. The little one noticed that the tree outside our apartment building was beginning to turn pink. Small pink flowers have sprung up and have given the otherwise green tree, a pink glow. While we walked, we observed other changes in the trees around us. And she had questions about why the trees were changing at this time of the year. I realized that this was a good time to introduce the concept of seasons. When we came home, I quickly browsed through the book cupboard and picked out story books related to seasons.

First we read The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree, a short story about a boy Arnold and his apple tree. Through the story, children observe how the Apple Tree changes throughout the year and how Arnold comes up with new play activities for each season. Then, we drew four empty blocks on a sheet of paper, one for each season (spring, summer, fall and winter). In each block we drew a picture of how the tree looks at that time of the year. Finally, we drew another picture of the apple tree and named its basic parts (roots, trunk, branch, leaf and fruits).

Then, we read another book, Spring Is Here!, a cute story about a Mole and a Bear. The story takes us through the Mole's journey of discovering that spring has arrived, and his efforts to wake up his friend Bear. The book has wonderful illustrations and sound words that make it a complete entertaining read for children.

The little one now has some understanding of seasons and spring is her favorite season (as of now). Do your little ones know about seasons? 

Check out these fun titles that introduce the science behind seasons.

  • Tell Me a Season by Mary McKenna Siddals
  • The Reasons for Seasons by Gail Gibbons
  • Sunshine Makes the Seasons by Franklyn M. Branley

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

World Sparrow Day

It was World Sparrow Day yesterday (March 20). The day is celebrated to raise an awareness about the declining population of the house sparrow. We did our bit by putting up a bird feeder and a bird house for the sparrows. My three-year old was excited seeing the sparrow feeder and waited in the balcony all day for the sparrows to arrive. They haven't discovered the feeder or the house yet.

The next step was to Google sparrows, to learn about them and to understand their behavior. Read somewhere that the house sparrow is not a water bird and bathes itself in dust (didn't know that). It was interesting to find out amazing facts about the tiny little brown birds that chirp on my window in the afternoons. And, now, I can give them the"I know all about you" look.

The three-year old was disappointed at not seeing any sparrows in the balcony. So to cheer her up, I decided to read her some bird stories. We read The Perfect Nest, a funny story about a cat who builds a nest to attract a chicken, and then dreams of making yummy omelets from the eggs that the chicken lays. Things go as per plan and the chicken comes to live in the nest, but later a duck and a goose also arrive. And crazy chaos follows thereafter.

Next we picked up a picture book about birds - About Birds: A Guide for Children. The book has beautiful illustrations and simple text that introduces birds to children. Finally, we wrapped up our day by drawing some bird pictures.

Birds and other creatures always fascinate children. It's wonderful to watch them gape in awe as they realize how different these creatures are from them. 

If you want to introduce your children to the wonderful world or birds and animals, check out some of these interesting titles.

  • Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
  • Edward the Emu  
  • Owl Babies 
  • Take Along Guide Series - Caterpillar, Bugs & Butterflies, Frogs, Toads & Turtles, Snakes, Salamanders & Lizards
Visit to read about World Sparrow Day.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Little Curious Cats

You know how growing up toddlers always have a "But why..." question. They always want an explanation for everything that's happening around them. 

Research says that curiosity helps children explore and discover the world around them. They try out things and in their own way understand "cause and effect" - if I press the bunny's tummy it will giggle or if I turn the bottle over, the water will spill. And, when they don't understand why something happens, then they ask "Why".

A curious child is always searching for answers, which is good, because curiosity stimulates their development. Of course, after a certain point, their curiosity would lead them to try things that are not safe. This would mean that they would need constant supervision if we let them explore everything around them, and that, is not always possible. 

So, most parents tend to prevent their children from exploring things beyond a "safe environment", for the safety of the children. Also, many times children ask us "Why", and we may ourselves not know or not be sure of the answer, and won't be able to give them the information to quench their thirst. Thus, in some way, knowingly or unknowingly we become the "barrier" that prevents them from being curious.

Wouldn't it be wonderful, if there was a way to keep them curious and fed with information, while ensuring that they are safe? Is there such a way?

Yes, there is! The answer lies in books! And, I am not talking about the "Tell me Why" or "Encyclopedia" series. I am talking about story books that engage them through a story, and in the process they learn facts about the world around them.

Here are some fabulous titles to carry in your bag or keep in the car:
  • Oscar Science series - There are many titles in this series. Each title tells a story about how Oscar the curious kitten explores things around him and learns science facts.
    • Oscar and the Frog – A book about growing
    • Oscar and the Cricket – A book about moving and rolling
    • Oscar and the Bird – A book about electricity
  • Let’s Read and Find Out Science series – The books in this series are ideal for 5-years and above. The books have stories and hands-on activities that children can try.
    • Forces Make Things Move
    • Gravity is a Mystery
    • The Moon Seems to Change
  • Amazing Science series – The Simple Machines titles in this series are a great way to learn Physics fundamentals. Each title describes how simple machines work and their uses.
    • Tires, Spokes and Sprockets – A book about wheels and axles
    • Pull, Lift and Lower – A book about pulleys
    • Scoop, Seesaw and Raise – A book about levers
So, go on and give your children books that fuel their curiosity and development and watch them grow into little experts!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Learning through Stories from the Past

Convincing children to study history is a challenge most parents and teachers face. History as a subject is a narration of events that happened in the past. Most curriculum books simply state the events in a chronological order and briefly describe the event. And, leave the student with the difficult task of memorizing the information.

Last week, my niece was struggling with memorizing a history (state board) chapter for her Class 8 exams. The topic was The Rule of the Marathas of Thanjavur.

To help her with the lesson, I decided to read it. T
he textbook chapter provides a short brief about when each ruler took charge of the throne, the activities they did during their reign and who their successor was. I had to read it three times to understand how all the Maratha rulers were connected and how each successor came to be. I had to also do some bit of Internet research to fill in important links that the textbook had left out. What I achieved at the end of my three-hour research was the plot to an interesting story.

Once the picture was clear in my mind, I built a family-tree structure that listed the name of each ruler and their relation with their predecessor. I also added the period for each ruler, so I automatically had an order to the events in the story. The final part was being a little creative in writing a narrative of the lesson. 

In my narrative, I added personality traits for each character and added interesting information about the place (setting) where the event occurred. To bring a little more excitement, I added some bit of drama to describe the downfall of a ruler and the circumstances that led to the selection of the next successor.
 The whole narrative fit in two sheets of paper (A4 size). Finally, I added the family-tree on the cover page and put a flow-chart on the last page.

When my niece read the story I had built, she was thrilled. She didn't feel like she was studying history, because she was not reading a history lesson, she was reading a story! At the end, she could retell the story, which meant that she was easily able to recall the names of the rulers, the events and the causes.

History is a story, a story of the past. If it is simply stated, as in textbooks, it fails to engage children. But, if the same story is narrated in an interesting way, it can change the way children perceive history as a subject. 
It's not possible for parents or teachers to research and rewrite every chapter in an interesting way. But, you can have children read historical fiction story books. They provide a great way for children to visualize the setting and understand the cause and effect of wars and other historic events. 

Check out some of these titles:

  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
  • Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp
  • King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the American Revolution

Friday, 9 March 2012

Dr. Seuss = Entertained & Delighted Children

Do you know the sound of a hippo chewing gum or two gold fishes kissing? Well, if you don't then you need to read Mr. Brown can Moo! Can You? by the one and only Dr. Seuss!

Dr. Seuss books are wonderful for every age group. Last evening I read two to my daughter - Mr. Brown can Moon! Can You? and Are You My Mother? We've read these books before and they are still fun when we read them again!

Mr. Brown Can Moo is full of silly noises; as I read the book, my three-year old repeated the noises that Mr. Brown can make. And my one-year old son watched us with amusement. Later, we went around the house exploring different objects and noting the sounds they made. 

The next book for the evening was Are You My Mother, a little adventure story about a baby bird searching for his mother. As the bird searches for his mother, he meets different animals and things and wonders if they are his mother. Through the little bird's adventures, children learn a little bit about visible characteristics, and can quickly understand why the cat or the cow cannot be the little bird's mother.

Dr. Seuss books are always on our bookshelf, in our bag and in the car. And when I see my daughter, cuddled up in a corner, reading a book and giggling, I know she is reading Dr. Seuss. 

So, if you thought that only TV shows and tablet Apps can entertain children these days, you ought to check out Dr. Seuss, and who knows you might be entertained yourself!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Learning via Summer Workshops & Camps

The meaning of summer vacations changed for us, as we grew. Up to grade four, summer vacations meant fun and play. But after grade five, it was more about preparing for the new term in advance. I remember how some part of our story book and outdoor activity time got replaced with the new term books (usually passed on from cousins or friends who were in the higher grade) and worksheets.

My mom would insist that I read one lesson each day, and make notes about it. That way I would be a step ahead when school term began. In some way, I could understand that she was suggesting this for my benefit. But, I did not like the fact that my story book and outdoor play time were being replaced by textbooks.

With school studies and pressure increasing each day, I am sure many parents today, would also want their children to prepare for the next term in advance. But, what if we could make this preparation activity fun?

As summer arrives, so do summer workshops and camps. A little bit of research will help you find a list of activities going on around your area. You can find out the details and enroll them in the one's that will not only be fun but will also help them hone some skills.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Language learning workshops - Learning a new language as part of a fun workshop will help them brush up their second or third language subjects.
  • Project modeling workshops - Making aerodynamic model toys or creating Lego houses and bridges will help them learn some geometry and science skills.
  • Science workshops - Science workshops teach science through experiments and activities.  
  • Summer camps - Summer camps provide a great opportunity to hone social skills, and make children independent. Plus, summer camp means lots of physical activities. 
  • Sports workshops - Sports workshops, such as swimming or rock climbing help develop self-discipline, teamwork and confidence. 
  • Storytelling workshops - Theme-based storytelling workshops are a great way to learn about places and cultures. Check out Around the World in 7 stories (our storytelling summer workshop) on our Facebook page. 
Summer workshops and camps allow children to interact, explore, do and learn, and it's all centered around having fun!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Talking Boards & Teachers = Fun Learning

This is continuation to our earlier post Talking Books or Storytellers. In this post we explore the combined role of Talking Boards and Teachers in making learning a fun experience.

Today, the blackboards in schools are being replaced with
digital interactive whiteboards. But does that mean that the real class teacher will also be replaced by a digital teacher? More importantly the question is "CAN" the class teacher be replaced by a digital teacher?

In my opinion, the answer (undoubtedly) to that question is "No!" Interactive whiteboards are not here to replace the teacher, but, they are here to enhance the learning experience for students.

I see the interactive whiteboard as a fantastic assistant to the teacher. Most lessons delivered via whiteboards attempt to teach concepts by showing detailed audio-visual animations. Thus, taking away some theoretical teaching workload from the teacher.

This means that the teacher has more time to prepare projects, worksheets and other activities, which gives students a chance to apply their learning. Since the audio-visual content is available on a central server, and is usually broken into small-length topics, teachers can combine topics and subjects and make learning more fun.

For example, the pattern of electronic configuration (Chemistry) can be co-related to Arithmetic Progression (Algebra). Or, a Geography lesson about p
ollution (acid rain) can be combined with a Chemistry lesson that explains how acid rain is formed. Or, a Geometry lesson on lines and angles can be combined with a Geography lesson on bridges and building architecture.

By itself, the interactive whiteboard would just be an audio-visual kit. It is the teacher who can use his/her expertise to create endless combinations, and make the digital experience more relevant and fun for the students. 

Friday, 2 March 2012

Talking Books or Storytellers?

In the movie, Moneyball, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) uses the phrase "Adapt or Die", while convincing his team to embrace the new baseball player selection system.

I believe that the phrase "Adapt or Die" applies to everyone, everywhere and even to storytelling. The trend of storytelling began even before the time of our grand parents. We've all grown up listening to grandma's stories. As times changed, books replaced grandmas, and today digital content is replacing books.

But does that mean story telling is dead? Not really, even today we still like to listen to a story, if it is told well. 
However, the method of story telling can be changed to adapt to today's digital generation preferences.

Storytellers can choose to use 
digital media as a supporting tool to enhance their story telling experience. They can create a slide show of visuals and change slides, as they narrate a story. And, audio effects can be added to enhance the experience.   
But the media can only be a supporting tool. Because, the media cannot replace the giggles and chuckles that are heard when a storyteller makes a funny or grumpy face, or rolls his/her eyes or does funny moves to enact a character's style or changes his/her voice to change the mood of the story, or interacts with the children and makes them a part of the story.

Do you agree?

Which would you prefer - a child watching a story or a child being part of a story?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Let's Honor the Pigs

Did you know, March 1 is celebrated as National Pig Day in the United States? People celebrate this day by tying pink ribbon pigtails around trees, in honor of the pigs!

What do you plan to do on this day? Here are some suggestions:

Read some pig stories: 

  • Three Little Pigs: The classic story of how three pig brothers build a house using different material, and what happens when the Big Bad Wolf attacks their house.
  • Babe, The Gallant Pig: The story of Babe, an orphan pig, who gets adopted by Hogget, a farmer. The book takes readers through Babe’s adventures and misadventures in the farm.
  • Pigsty: A funny story about a boy, Wendell Fultz, who keeps his room messy all the time. But things take a complete turn when some pigs show up and make a bigger mess, making Wendell realize the importance of living in a clean place.

Make some pig craft:

  • Make a pig ear hair band: Cut out pig ear shapes and stick them on a hair band.
  • Make a piggy bank: Cover an old tissue box with pink paper, leaving a small portion of the slot open. Draw a pig face on another card paper and stick it to one end of the box, and stick a curly tail on the other end.
  • Make a pig wall hanging: Cover an old CD with pink paper. Make paper cutouts for the pigs eyes and ears and stick them on the CD. Dip a cotton ball in pink colour and use it for the nose. Put two small circles on the nose for the snout.