Earthworms are Superheroes

earthworm

All too often children get mixed messages about nature.

On one hand adults romanticise nature to children and expound liberally about how important it is to ‘save’ mother earth and we wax lyrical about the beauty of nature. On the other hand we all too often prohibit them from playing in the rain and slush, use the word ‘dirt’ synonymously for ‘soil’ and cringe when we chance upon a ‘bug’ or worm or ‘creepy-crawly’. When a young child instinctively bends down to pick up a tiny creature she comes across we hasten to get it out of their hands!

The fact is children come unconditioned about the creatures they share this planet with and slowly take on the prevailing attitudes of those around them. This is an important evolutionary step. It is how we learn about our world from the experiences of others. We learn what to stay away from and what to seek. In times long past it was the line between life and death itself!

A parent who delights in the simplest things of nature usually has a child who delights in nature too. I have a young friend, just past 3 years who LOVES ‘bugs’. She enjoys looking at them, handling them and talking about them. They make her world interesting and magical. You don’t have to look far to find out where this fascination comes from. You just have to meet her mother!

Upon hearing the word, ‘worms’ most people cringe, right?

Walk into school and you will find an entirely different mind set when it comes to earthworms! They inspire awe and the children are truly fascinated by them. The child who has found an earthworm wriggling about on a cloudy, rainy day, feels s/he has chanced upon true treasure.

The internal anatomy of the earthworm has been sewn onto cloth and made into  soft toys with the shiniest beads used to denote their 5 hearts. Clay models have been fashioned, poems have been written and thick books completed, paying homage to the earthworm.

They are the ‘new’ super heroes at school.

Upon hearing about the great work that earthworms do one child pondered, “Just like earthworms don’t know the important work they do for earth, do we humans also not know some great work that we are doing?”

Earthworms

by Valerie Worth

Garden soil,

Spaded up,

Gleams with

Gravel-glints,

Mica-sparks,

and

Bright wet

Glimpses of

Earthworms

Stirring beneath:

Put on palm,

Still rough

with crumbs,

They roll and

Glisten in the sun

As fresh

As new rubies

Dug out of

Deepest earth.

Cosmic Education – nourishment for a lifetime

touching-the-universe

I recently gave the first great lesson – the story of the universe to the elementary children. This is a period of great excitement, questions and ponderings for the children and well, for me too.  I am always especially excited for the children who are hearing this epic tale for the first time. An entire universe is unlocked and ready for their explorations.

The entire Montessori ‘curriculum’ during the elementary years is dubbed as ‘Cosmic Education’. Cosmic Education connects all players in the Cosmic Drama, both animate, as well as inanimate. It is an opportunity for the child to unify themselves with the very cosmos!

Lofty ideals these, but Montessori is ALL about lofty ideals. The primary aged child has the gift of developing a ‘unified self’, the elementary aged child has the gift of ‘unifying with the cosmos’ and the adolescent, ‘unifying with ones fellow beings’.

Each and every year I see these stupendous ideals fleshed out into practical experiences that guide the children on their path.

This year, soon after I presented the story of the universe to the children I saw the movie ‘Agora‘. It’s the fictionalised story of the life of Hypatia– the Alexandrian mathematician and philosopher who lived during the 4th century CE. Living through times of religious strife, Hypatia managed to hold on to her beliefs and till the very end dedicate her life to probing the secrets of the universe. At a time when the mere thought that the workings of the cosmos was anything less of pure perfection was considered heresy, Hypatia anticipated that the earth went around the sun in an elliptical orbit. Now an ellipse was considered an ‘impure’ shape – a base figure as compared to the ‘perfect’ circle, where the centre is constantly equidistant from its diameter. Hypatia was a woman far beyond her times.

While viewing the movie (which had it’s good and bad points, but this is not a film review) I couldn’t help but see a parallel between Hypatia and the elementary child. Both probe the secrets of the cosmos and ‘touch’ it with their gift of imagination, are sensitive to issues of fairness, cannot help but ask BIG, philosophical questions and attempt to find answers guided by their reasoning mind.

I often meet adults who have completely lost touch with the child they once were. Philosophical questions, the awesomeness of the universe and all the many splendours out there, leave them unmoved while they plod along life’s path miserable in their day-to-day existence.

My hope is that children who have received cosmic education will, no matter how old they get, always have the child they once were alive in them. No matter what difficulties life throws in their path, and there surely will be many challenges, they will never cease to feel wonder at this truly majestic universe that we inhabit, never cease to ask questions bigger than themselves and never fear to look for answers.

In short, my hope is that the Cosmic Education they receive will last them a lifetime.

“Cosmic Education is intended to help each of us search for our cosmic task as a species and as individuals. To do this, we must understand ourselves in context. It is only against the background of our place in the universe, our relationships with other living organisms, and our understanding of human unity within cultural diversity, that we can attempt to answer the question, ‘Who am I?’”

~ Micheal Duffy and D’Neil Duffy – Cosmic Education – Children of the Universe

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

~ William Blake

School Culture

United_Hands1

This past week I have been thinking about the culture of a school. Through all my visits of various schools I can safely say that no two schools are exactly alike. There may be threads of commonality but each school is unique and an expression of many variables.

A school culture is formed intentionally and often times, unintentionally by all the people who are a part of it. Some of the culture of a school is visible: the care with which the physical space is arranged, the attention to little details, the daily schedule, and so on but most of it is invisible. It resides not in  a physical space or time but inside each one of us who are a part of the school. It defines how we think about ourselves and each other, how decisions are made, what kinds of ideas and actions are given importance, how we do our work, what our shared expectations and values are and these become the  norms of the school.

A school culture not only impacts teachers and other staff but research shows that it has a huge impact on children as well. Well,no surprises there!

Often we say that a school is only as good as it’s teachers. But today I have been thinking if the reverse is true as well?

While the culture of a school is a result of the mind-sets of the people in the school, inversely it also ‘shapes’ the people in the school; the value given to ones work, our idea of ourselves and each other. I have seen it have a big impact on teachers, especially teachers who are just starting out.

School culture can be the wind beneath a teachers wings or the strings that bind and keep her from reaching her full potential and truly following the child.

The thing with school culture is that it is dynamic and forever changing. Each stage of development brings with it defining moments : new challenges and questions that test the kind of culture that exists and the path the school will take in the future.

Ode to The Lost Russian Book

For many of us who were kids in the 80’s, the mere mention of Russian books instantly brings a light into our eyes.

As a part of Soviet propaganda they were made available all over India, touching the lives of many children growing up in the 80’s. The books were highly subsidised and inexpensive with hardcover books being no more than a couple of rupees. They were translated not only into English but also into the many regional languages of India.

Reading them we were instantly transported into a rosy Russia. Mishka, Natasha and Yuri were familiar names. Baba Yaga was known to many of us. The jewelled colours of Russian folk art coloured our imaginations, as did the turrets of Moscow.

Even now, in many second hand bookstores around India, you will chance upon some of these books. This is becoming much rarer though. Up until 5 years ago, booksellers selling their wares on footpaths still had many of these Russian titles but not so much any more. Russian books in India are getting harder to find.

Re- reading these books of my childhood makes me marvel at how well the Soviets made their books for children. The illustrations are absolutely stunning, ranging from decorative Russian folk art to more minimalist graphics. The content of the books too are of good quality.

All in all, the books demonstrate respect for the children who read them.

In fact, some of the non-fiction titles we have in the library are used year in and out by the children at school for referencing!

Bringing the Russian books of the 80’s to the children of today, makes the child that I once was, sing.

A Ticket To Ride - Nikolai Osipov (Raduga Publishers)
A Ticket To Ride – Nikolai Osipov (Raduga Publishers) Illustrating seed dispersal via animals
How People Discovered The Shape Of The earth - Anatoly Tomilin (Raduga Press)
How People Discovered The Shape Of The earth – Anatoly Tomilin (Raduga Publishers) Illustrating the Indian view of the world. The world being an enormous tortoise floating in a sea of milk, with 4 elephants on the turtles back that raised the round, flat earth on their mighty backs
How people Discovered The Shape of the Earth - Anatoly Tomilin
How people Discovered The Shape of the Earth – Anatoly Tomilin (Raduga Publishers) Illustrating the ruler of the Maldives Islands and his beloved and lucrative Seychelles Palm
Barankin's Fantasy World - Valery Medvedev (Raduga Publishers)
Barankin’s Fantasy World – Valery Medvedev (Raduga Publishers)
Barankin’s Fantasy World – Valery Medvedev (Raduga Publishers)
Barankin’s Fantasy World – Valery Medvedev (Raduga Publishers)
A Ticket To Ride - Nikolai Osipov (Raduga Publishers)
A Ticket To Ride – Nikolai Osipov (Raduga Publishers)

BOOKS WE LOVE – PART 2

Here are some books loved by our older children aged 5 1/2 years to 9 years. This is certainly not a definitive list, but some random pickings from the ones that the children seem to go back to time and again.

If like me, you enjoy reading ‘children’s’ books, these are delightful. Like CS Lewis said, “No book is really worth reading at age 10 which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at age 50”

Is-a-Blue-Whale-the-Biggest-Thing-There-Is-Wells-Robert-E-9780606142373

IS THE BLUE WHALE THE BIGGEST THING THERE IS ? by ROBERT.E.WELLS

Just when you think of the Blue Whale as BIG, the book takes you on a journey from BIG to STUPENDOUS …  Mount Everest, Earth, our Sun, to Antares – a red giant star, the Milky Way, right to the size of the universe itself. All are depicted as relative sizes and children are absolutely fascinated by the book.

This book is perfect for elementary aged children who are making sense of their world, and indeed the universe, through their imagination. Imagination for the elementary child is akin to touch for the younger, primary child. They want to know about everything that they cannot see but still need concrete clues as aids to their imagination.

The other two books in this series that the children love are:

pygmy

HOW SMALL IS THE PYGMY SHREW?

Takes the reader from a pygmy shrew, to the ladybug, to drops of water, to the protists living in those drops of water, all the way to the parts of an atom. Going from small to tiny to miniscule appeals to the elementary childs imagination.

can_you_count_to_a_google

CAN YOU COUNT TO A GOOGOOL?

Anyone who has worked with an elementary aged child knows that they are enamoured by big numbers. This book gives children an understanding of just how big, the big numbers they like to throw around actually are.

dragons

ERIC CARLE’S DRAGONS DRAGONS AND OTHER CREATURES THAT NEVER WERE by ERIC CARLE

The elementary children LOVE mythology and poetry. Dragons Dragons has both! It is a collection of poems of mythological creatures that features fantastical beasts from all parts of the world – from the Phoenix to the Yeti and the Garuda. The children seem to instinctively know that the book isn’t talking ‘down’ to them and has no flashy, cutesy enticements. It is what it is – excellent poetry, great visuals and a world of fantasy.

ABC3dABC 3D

Pop-Up books have a special place in the hearts of children and this one runs away with the prize. It is intelligent, witty and simply delightful.

I don’t know how to embed a video yet, so follow the link below to see the book in action.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnZr0wiG1Hg

Sidewalk

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by SHEL SILVERSTEIN

Quirky, funny poetry – just up the elementary child’s alley.

totochan

TOTO CHAN – THE LITTLE GIRL IN THE WINDOW by TETSUKO KORONYAGI

Toto Chan’s classroom is a discarded train boogie! Toto Chan herself is whimsical and quirky and children relate to her instantly. They find many similarities between Toto Chan’s school and ours and are always ready for our next story reading session. The nice thing about the book is that each chapter is a little incident complete in itself, and is ideal for read aloud sessions.

all_small_poems1

ALL THE SMALL POEMS AND FOURTEEN MORE by VALERIE WORTH

Valerie Worth is simply brilliant! Her poems encapsulate simplicity at its best! Her poems open our eyes to the beauty in the most ‘ordinary’ of objects.

Custard-and-Company-Poems-Cover

CUSTARD AND COMPANY by OGDEN NASH

An often requested book. The children enjoy these funny poems, much like they enjoy the poems of Shel Silverstein. The two most loved poems in the book are, ‘The Boy Who Laughed At Santa Claus’ and ‘The Tale of Custard the Dragon’

Ionesco - Story Number 2 (Failly)025

STORY NUMBER 2 by EUGENE IONESCO

Having been recently donated to our library by a friend, I was curious as to how the children would react to the book which reverses usual relationships. When we started reading, first there was disbelief, followed by some giggles and then belly-hurting laughter. Needless to say, there is a long list of children who now want to borrow ‘Story Number 2’.

INVITATION by Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer,

If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire, For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.

Come in! Come in!!

Less Is More

montessori-resources-pink-tower-04

Having made several visits to various Montessori material manufacturers over the last month, I have noticed a marked increase in the range of ‘supplementary’ material that is on offer.

Most of these materials are inessential, silly baubles that serve to detract rather than enrich the child’s work. Moreover, they seem to be carelessly made, using uninspiring material. Often times they also convey misleading information.

In addition to the ‘supplementary’ material, there are a host of materials that were previously hand made by the teacher – reading material, nomenclature cards, math charts and so on. Though the store bought materials are ‘shiny’ and so much more convenient for the adult, I couldn’t help but observe that the connection between the hand and the material had been instantly severed.

The teacher made material is a slow cooked meal, while the store bought materials are fast food!

From what little I know of market economics, there is obviously a demand for this supply, which I have observed steadily increase over the last few years. Take it one logical step further and it means that there are many Montessori schools out there that are placing these materials on their shelves and having children work with them.

I am a Montessori purist. I haven’t always been this way, but as my understanding of the child and the method grew and as I gained more experience, I found myself becoming more and more of a purist. The open ended nature of the material and the connections between them are so cohesive that it is only rarely that I find the need to ‘create’ a material. When this happens it is usually in response to an individual child or children rather than to the whole group.  These materials rarely, if ever, stay on the shelf through the year. Again, these materials are more often for the elementary aged child.

This is not to say that the method and our understanding does not change. Of course it does and should. Montessori always said that her work had come only so far and it is was now for the others to take it forward. And I believe it has changed. These changes however need to be guided by the deeper principles of child development and need to be well thought out, improvements.

Every material that is added has the potential to take away from another. Also, as Barry Schwartz discovered a complete lack of choice leads to demotivation and reduced involvement, while on the other hand, excessive choice serves to decrease satisfaction and happiness.

There is a golden mean. It serves us well to remember the Montessori principle – ‘give only what is necessary and sufficient’

Here is an article by Angeline Lillard, “How important Are Montessori Materials” that reflects on staying true to the original Montessori material vs adding supplementary materials into the classroom.

 Excessive quantity of the educative material; may dissipate the attention, render the exercises with the objects mechanical and cause the child to pass by his psychological moment o f ascent without perceiving it and seizing it.  … such objects are then futile.

Over-abundance debilitates and retards progress; this has been proved again and again by my collaborators.

~ Maria Montessori (Advanced Montessori Method I,   Kalekshetra 1965)

How Does Our Garden Grow? – Part Two

To continue the documentation of our garden experiments at school, here are the sketches of our plans that were designed by our wonderful parent volunteer. She shared them with us yesterday and in turn I am sharing them with you. I want to mention here, that these plans might change as we start implementing them, just like the plans for presentations we make for ourselves in the classroom.

RAISED BEDS ALONG THE KITCHEN PASSAGE

Kitchen Passage
Kitchen Passage

List of plants in the raised beds in the kitchen passage:

Box 1:

Corn – 2 varieties (Rainbow Corn and 1 other); Bhindi (Okra) – Sri Lankan; Brinjal – 2 varieties ( Apple Green Brinjal and ‘Hiltalu Brinjal’); Capsicum – Prima Bella

Box 2:

Tumeric; Drumstick; Sunflowers; Marigold; Chilli – 2 varieties ( Cayenne and 1 other); Garlic; Tomatoes – 2 varieties ( Round and Cherry)

Box 3:

Beans; Celery; Cosmos; Radish; Cauliflower

SEMI-CIRCULAR RAISED BED NEXT TO THE WATER MOTOR ENCLOSURE

Next to the water motor enclosure
Next to the water motor enclosure

Here we have Dill, Onions, Beetroot and Cabbage

AROUND THE COCONUT TREES

Around the coconut trees
Around the coconut trees

Coconut tree one (or the tree with the parrot)

This tree has a pre-existing boundary ledge in concrete going around it in a square, which means we have little choice but to stick with the square shape.

Here will be ‘maggay’ cucumber; nutmeg; lime and ginger

Coconut tree two ( or the tree with the sandalwood!)

This tree had no pre-existing boundary in concrete so a ‘yin yang’ design was made.

Much to my delight, when we rented the school space there was a sandalwood tree growing next to the coconut tree. It was just a sapling but now has taken firm root and is growing well. This is a much sought after plant in India, and is used widely in religious ceremonies. The tree further reached mythical proportions in popular culture thanks to Veerappan, a notorious dacoit who poached sandalwood and evaded the governments of 3 states for 20 years! Thefts of even the smallest sandalwood trees are quite common.

We plan to plant some sponge gourd as well. Loofahs are made out it’s fruit when dried. You find these loofahs in most cities in India, often times with seeds still in them!

Stinging nettles! – The nettle plant found us rather than the other way around. So, they have a bad name and yes, the plant at school is a little toxic but they are also loved by some caterpillars, butterflies and moths and us at school! The children are fascinated by their red cherry-like fruit and their leaves that sprout thorns along their mid-ribs. The nettle definitely stays.

Additionally we will plant lettuce and carrots.

CHILDRENS GARDENING PATCH OUTSIDE THE ELEMENTARY ENVIRONMENT

Children's Gardening Patch
Children’s Gardening Patch

This area is just below a splendid rain tree with a sprawling canopy, which means that it probably does not receive enough sun to grow vegetables and flowers. But herbs and leafy greens should work well here.

Yesterday we laid out a keyhole design. The herbs and greens that should do well in this area are listed below. Being the first round of planting, we have done the planning without the children, keeping the soil, sun, water conditions in mind. By the time the second round of planting comes around, having tended the plants and observed the space, the children will be able to participate in the planning stage as well.

Basil; Rosemary; Lemon Grass; Parsley; Sage; Chakramuni; Red Amaranth; Spinach; Corriander; Thyme; Oregano; Fenugreek; Mustard; Golli Soppu; Green Amaranth; Mint and in the centre – Cosmos.

To better understand what will grow and won’t in this area we will plant some veggies in pots and place them around the patch. If they don’t do well then we can always move them to a sunnier spot.

Here are the proposed veggies for the pots. When the children come from their summer break, we will plan which veggies to plant together:

Tomato; Lettuce; Capsicum; Beans; Brinjal

“When we understand that man is the  only animal who must create meaning, who must open a wedge into neutral nature,  we already understand the essence of love. Love is the problem of an animal who  must find life, create a dialogue with nature in order to experience his own  being.”  ~ Ernest Becker