Udai is crazy about Lego. He has been that way since he was say a year old. He made the choice to visit Berlin, inspired in part by the German lessons in school that are still a novelty and mostly by my mention of a Lego Discovery Centre in the city. We found ourselves at the stunningly beautiful and modern Potsdamer Platz at the end of our excursion to the Berlin Wall. It was evening time and we dashed to get into the Lego place, barely stopping to admire the architecture of the Sony Centre, in which the Lego deal is located. Rahul opted out owing to the high ticket charges (Euro 18 per person, unless you book in advance) and I spent two hours with my super excited Lego-crazy kids.
What was inside? Well, I really liked the lego reproductions of Berlin city. They were amazingly detailed and vibrant. I didn’t care much for the Star Wars section and even the kids weren’t captivated by it, though there were spacecrafts moving around and everything was made with Lego. There was a dragon themes ride that puts you in a car and takes you into a castle, with ogres and dragons and knights, all mads of Lego again. There are Lego figures standing around- batman, Hagrid and Harry, you get the drift…
It’s a small place and the highlight for Udai most certainly was the zillions of Lego pieces at the workstations and time to sit and make stuff. What did he make? Airplanes…duh! Aadyaa just ran around and explored the place. And we topped this all off with a short Lego film at a built-in theatre they had inside.
It’s not a very large place and perhaps not exciting for grown-ups, but little detours like this is what keeps children engaged. Especially when we travel to cities that are high on culture and sightseeing, we’ve found to useful to mix it up a little. Once the kids know that we’re willing to do ‘their’ stuff, they are quite happy to do ‘ours’!
PS- I did get some shots of the Sony Centre plaza once we got out of the Lego place, and here they are….
Ever since Aadyaa got invited there for a birthday party last month, she has been raring to go back to the Stellar Children’s Museum. This is located on the 2nd floor of Ambience Mall, Gurgaon right under Haldiram’s and works really well to keep kids between 3 and say 7 well occupied for a few hours.
I think it is overpriced, though, at Rs 500 per child for unlimited time, which does not mean much considering kids get tired after a few hours anyway. The extra Rs 200 per accompanying adult is really overkill, considering the adults will end up buying themselves eats and drinks inside anyway, which are priced high as well for rather passable offerings.
But that being the downside, the museum itself is a fantastic place for children to immerse themselves in many fun activities while getting exposure to many principles of physics. Basic installations and do-it-yourself tasks based on gravity and magnetism, gear movements, the power of moving air, etc allow children to repetitively perform simple experiments that offer huge amounts of excitement for little children.
Another space offers opportunities for unbridled creativity in the form of art, including glass walls that kids can paint. Watching wet paint dribble down a vertical facade, creating its own interesting formations is a lot of fun indeed! I also found interesting a pin board that allowed kids (and adults) to push in their hands or faces on one side and see the impression emerge out on the other. Simple magnetic jigsaw puzzles, overlapping perspex sheets that slide over one another to explore the mixing of colour and pattern were also a great set of activities, perhaps more suited to the kids.
Other fun features were a water play area, a found object wall where you can tap all the objects to create different sounds, a travel room where you could explore a series of tunnels that took from one ‘continent’ to another, explaining interesting facts of geography (perhaps for older kids who can read) and a cute pretend play zone replete with a down-sized supermarket (amazing detail), medical room, house and the like.
Aadyaa and her friend Maayra, after exploring a little bit of everything else, zoomed in on these gigantic interconnecting blue blocks. They created one ‘skull-ture’ after another and it was really funny to watch as the installations were larger than them most of the time!
If you have young kids and live in the NCR, do spend a day at Stellar. Despite the steep price, it is precious to see children so excited and engaged in such healthy fun. Watching the children, I was reminded once again that it is not fancy toys, but simple things that children love most. The helper didis at the Museum are well trained and patient. Aadyaa bonded with them immediately and hardly needed me to be there with her. For mommies or daddies who want to relax in the cafe and read a book or catch up on work or a phone call, this is entirely doable!
We are driving through a really pretty part of Rajasthan from Kota to Delhi via Sawai Madhopur and Dausa. The fields and water bodies plus the very decent roads of the Mega Highway scheme are inspiring innovation.
For the last hour, Udai, Rahul, Amma and me have been betting on distances to the next expected town. The one whose guess is closest to the distance shown on the next milestone wins. The score is as of now three each for Rahul and Udai, one for Amma and none for me!
Every now and then, Udai is thrown a small mental math challenge, usually to calculate the total distance covered since morning. Or some other random division sum, that being the latest lesson learnt in school and something that really excites him.
As I write this post, Rahul and Udai are competing to tell the poorest silliest joke. Those that appeal to an eight year old are particularly ridiculous. They take me back to our childhood days when jokes were a vital part of how we spent our time. We made our parents buy joke books and pored over them in a bid to find and memorise rare ones that we could share with our friends and family. Antakshari, another favourite travel pastime is being given a miss today. My kids don’t have enough of a song vocabulary yet.
Aadyaa in the meanwhile has been snoozing away, perhaps the best pastime of all on a long drive!
Ever since I stopped working full time and slowly adjusted myself to serious mommy hood, one of my most enjoyable experiences has been to watch children at play. Aadyaa has a veritable girl gang and watching them, even while continuing to work, read or cook offers the most entertaining moments of the day.
This morning, the kids and me were visiting friends. There were other kids over and it became a gang of six. For a while, the division was the five girls against the lone boy, Udai. That involved the gals ignoring him for a bit, then immensely enjoying pommeling him in a pillow fight! He had strict instructions not to use anything but pillows. Outnumbered and restricted he had to submit to the girl attack and he did so sportingly.
Briefly all six came together as they looked for the missing rabbit. Fudge, the rabbit, was found under the bed but the process of looking was immensely enjoyed!
Finally, the group split into the three older kids and the three younger ones playing separately and there was peace for a bit.
Another great memory from this week is all of Aadyaa’s park girl gang going round full speed on the merry go round screaming their lungs out! Sheer joy of abandon and the carefree spirit of childhood. We adults have to spend oodles of money or bungee jump to get a high somewhere close to this!
Almost on cue, today’s ‘Open House’ at the school (Shikshantar) my kids attend addressed the importance of play for children. The connection of the school’s presentation to my experience at SPA yesterday was astonishing and I’m attempting to draw some relationships here between early education, higher education and professional practice.
‘Play’ is loosely defined as an activity that children (and I think it applies to young and older adults as well) want to do, use their imagination and creativity in, do spontaneously and has an objective (in itself) that may not be apparent to those not involved. In essence, play is an open-ended exploration of whatever the child has on her mind. Instruction deters play and parents were being urged by the school to try and provide the time and space for open-ended, unsupervised play, offering a safe environment for children to simply be! Research has demonstrated strong correlations between this kind of unstructured, open-ended, spontaneous activity and cognitive learning. Children who engage in play are better socially adjusted, have better critical thinking abilities, are more tolerant, etc.
Open-ended, unstructured learning reduces as students move into middle and senior school and, strangely, further reduces during undergraduate courses. To me, that seems ludicrous and I remember a group of us hotly debating this with our teachers back when we were in SPA. The explanation we got was that students would not produce any work if there is no deliverable, no deadline. It was an issue of a lack of trust in the capability of students, but also the knowledge that students have not been oriented to this sort of self-motivated learning from school.
So there you have the problem and a partial answer. To expect undergrad students who can ask questions, be tolerant of conflicting opinions, debate and discuss openly, we need to give children the opportunity to explore and develop their minds through their education cycle as well as in the home environment. Sounds simple, but in a world driven by competition, results and the urge to constantly instruct, it’s one of the toughest things for parents and educators to implement.
Why were things slightly better in our times? Because we had slightly less stressed parents, less isolating lives at home, other children (cousins, friends) to play with, our early lives were not filled with back-to-back instructions-brain-o-brain classes, tennis coaching, dance, music, tuition and what have you. We didn’t have ‘play dates’, we simply played.
Kids are cornered from both ends. While we had structured school, but plenty of unstructured time at home, many children nowadays have structured school and home time. It’s a frightening situation, where they are cornered with no time of their own. Don’t we adults crave me-time, to indulge in pleasurable activities? Then why do we dare to presume what is ‘desirable’ (read appropriate) to our children instead of letting them be and letting them choose for themselves?
I guess the only thing we can do is recognize the need for open-endedness and unstructured time and trust that learning will happen if these were to be provided along with some good inputs and exposure!