We chose The Netherlands as our summer destination primarily to visit family. It had been a while since I saw my uncle, aunt and cousins who live there. Plus Rahul and the kids had never been to what Rahul teasingly refers to as uncle-land! As soon as we landed, we were enveloped in the warmth of family, but the highlight and the most amazing demonstration of family love was the way Udai’s tenth birthday was celebrated; in his own words, “the best birthday ever!” The large share of the credit, of course, goes to Liduine who the kids call Oma, Dutch for Grandma. But everyone chipped in. Follow the fantastic day in this photo essay of the “best birthday ever”!
On day 5, when you’ve decided to stay put making one place base camp, the vacation takes on a different nature, a slower rhythm, a relaxed tone. A pity day 6 is when we head back, though a part of me also yearns for routine and I sense the holiday coming to its natural end.
But look at the kids, they have a natural knack for filling in the time with make believe games and role plays. They begin to enjoy a vacation in its true sense when our pitifully logical adult minds start to tire! Not for then tick mark tourism nor planned outings, though they have no choice but to comply.
Post breakfast today, while those of us yet to get ready did so, the three musketeers decided to run around the resort lawns. I did not understand their complicated game, nor was I invited to participate. Udai was the director, the two girls Aadyaa and Maayra playing their parts happily in a story full of magical creatures, war, weapons and rescue! Those are the essential keywords I gathered while wandering around the garden watching them!
The first half of yesterday was spent attending the school PTM. Fortunately, in Shikhantar, its not a typical deal where you hear what the teacher has to say about your child, where she can improve, how good or naughty she is, etc. We usually have a short group session in each classroom where general observations and concerns are shared and curricular goals discussed. Then parents of a single batch are brought together to discuss something relevant to the age group. I always complain that many of these sessions become criticisms of modern parenting methods and laments on current lifestyles and not much constructive emerges.
This time was different as the session was conducted by E K Shaji from Jodo Gyan, an exemplary non-funded, non-profit organization that focuses on making math fun for kids. They work with kids in government schools and train teachers at some private schools including Shikshantar, which is a liberal institution, one of very few in perhaps the entire country that isn’t scared to break the mold and act in the true interests of children.
Shaji is an entertaining teacher, using humor, drama, narration and discipline in equal measure to hold his audience. He demonstrated simple ways to teach grade 3 kids the concepts of fractions and multiplication.
Here is some stuff that struck me particularly:
- Concept of math for children is totally different from the adult conception of math
- The entire objective of primary school math education should be to make children fall in love with math
- To make kids understand math, it has to be set in a familiar context and have some emotional content. Also, the problem has to be worth solving. He demonstrated by narrating a story of a kid who loves cake going to another child’s birthday. There he finds several tables, each with identical cakes on them, but with different numbers of people, 3, 5, 7, 9 seated at each table…Where does he sit? I tried it at home and bang on…the kids knew the table with the least number of people would mean you get the biggest piece of cake! Ingenious 🙂
- Challenge is what drives kids to learn. The idea to expand their horizons and make them see the limitlessness of math, not give them repetitive problems to solve…..
Shaji emphasized the role of practice in being able to develop math skills. He also enlightened us about recent research that shows that even right brained people, previously thought to be not as good at math at the left-brained variety, go on to become brilliant at math if they have good math teachers during pre-primary schooling.
Essentially, the foundations of good math are being laid in nursery and kindergarten, through conceptual clarity. I picked up a couple of Jodo toys yesterday for Aadyaa who is 4 and I’ve had several at home for Udai as well. They are simple and allow young children to make endless patterns, strengthen their fine motor skills, make connections and have a lot of fun while at it. Its like having many variations of Lego-type blocks (which I think are the best ever toys for kids!).
For grade 3, they have games focused on place value, fractions, multiplication, division…strengthening concepts that are essential to moving to more abstract mathematics and algebra in middle school.
We spent our Sunday at home playing another math game, that coincidentally my mum got back with her from a recent trip to the Netherlands (that’s where one of the institutes that collaborated with Jodo Gyan is based; 55% of their content is adapted from R&D in Netherlands, Scandinavia and Belgium). I played Rummikub too as a child and it’s great for developing the concept of sequences and its super family entertainment. Like Scrabble, it will challenge all age groups. In the first round today, Udai seemed to be just abut getting comfortable, but I predict many hours will be spent playing Rummikub in the soon-to-commence summer vacations!