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)

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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

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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

Why Is The Giraffe In A Box?

kill-your-television_218590

Missy is a little over two and a half years. The world is brand new and magnificent! A walk in the neighbourhood holds endless adventure and she is curious about everything she encounters.

She loves ants and can spend considerable time observing them. She throws down crumbs from her snack box hoping she will get a chance to see them carrying the crumbs in one long row.

Caterpillars too hold special fascination for Missy, as do cows (India has plenty of these gentle creatures on her roads), dogs, butterflies, beetles, squirrels, birds, cockroaches (yes, you heard right, cockroaches!) and every other animal that we co-exist with in our urban environments.

Yes, Missy’s world is a fascinating place.

Television, the i-pad, the computer and other varieties of screen time are not a part of Missy’s life.  But sometimes Missy encounters these.

Recently she was visiting one of her relatives who was watching a ‘childrens’ movie on television. Missy was riveted to the screen – singing, talking animals!!! Who Knew?

But if this was it, I wouldn’t be writing about a giraffe in a box, now would I?

That night, her mum was awakened to Missy crying! She was inconsolable. When Missy did finally calm down, she asked tearfully, “Why was that giraffe in a box?”

Missy was referring to the snatches of the movie she caught that morning – a giraffe was in a box and was being forced out with repeated prods from a log! It was supposed to be a slapstick and humorous scene, mind you – but to Missy it was the stuff of nightmares.

How was she to process what she saw? It was terrifying and sad.

Here’s another conversation with a child who just turned three. We shall call her Miss B.

Miss B: “You know one day I went to a f-a-a-a-a-r away place. It wasn’t here – it was f-a-a-a-r away. I met Tom and Tom could stretch his face up and down”

Adult: “Is Tom a cat ?”

Miss B: “Yes, I saw him in a far away place. It was scary – I got scared”

There are a million and one excellent reasons why young children should not have any screen time. For this post I will  stick to just ONE.

Aptly highlighted by the above anecdotes, young children have a difficult time distinguishing the real from the not real, fact from fiction, reality from fantasy.

They have found themselves on a brand new planet. From experiences in their environment they make generalizations about how things work and transfer these to their everyday life. What our young are doing is building their ‘road map’ to navigate their surroundings.

Nature helps them by ensuring their brains are wired in a way that they can go about their great work . Their great work can only be done through active exploration of their environment. Through this exploration the child will ‘incarnate’ their environment. Big word – incarnate. But, that is exactly what young children are doing everywhere in the world.

Television and other forms of screen time, are too abstract and confusing for the young child.

Not only is the child a passive viewer, but television often provides an inaccurate and counter productive picture of reality and the child uses this as their raw material to navigate their world! Fears and unrealistic ideas of cause and effect are served up to the young child through television and other forms of screen time.

Added to this is the fact that the images and sounds children encounter on television, the computer and other forms of electronic devices, do not stop when the button is switched off. They continue to ‘play’ in the child’s mind. Montessori called this ‘flight’.  The child is physically present but mentally is in some ‘f-a-a-a-r off’ place. Flight further distances the child from her present, here-and-now, environment.

Everywhere I go I see tiny mites, some still in diapers and prams, fiddling with phones, I-pads and other electronic devices. Often I see adults push these gadgets into their child’s hands so that they may continue with a conversation. At restaurants I constantly observe children with a  screen in their hands. The immediate environment instantly recedes. There are no people, no objects, no voices, no activity –  just finger poking and swiping and beeps and twangs.

Screen time places hurdle after hurdle for the young child.

Like I said in an earlier post, Urban India needs to wake up, turn their television sets off, put their computers to sleep and take their children out for a walk !

How Does Our Garden Grow? – Part One

Each time I heard about the food forests that were planted, the townships that had metamorphosed into edible landscapes and the wonderful things people were growing on their tiny terraces, I felt intrigued. I also felt ignorant. My experiments with gardening were limited and at best, free form. I had done some planting with the children in previous years but not as a sustained effort.

I knew that we really ought to be gardening with the children… growing veggies, herbs and other plants. Through this contact children would be inspired to observe and understand the interconnectedness of all things; to experience the power of nature and her cycles. Even with my most cursory readings on the topic of permaculture, I could see the connection between permaculture, cosmic education and education for peace that we strive to follow in Montessori schools. BUT I felt inadequate to guide the children. I hesitated and failed to follow the enthusiasm and fascination children display in natural processes. This was a big, gaping missing piece at school.

Thanks to committed and passionate parent volunteers who have taken on the job of preparing our outdoor environment the missing piece has been found and put into place. They have opened up new ways for us to look at things – educating and guiding us.

I have only just started learning about different aspects to permaculture and am excited with this door that has been opened.

This is my attempt to document our learning and our plans.

A week ago we made three raised beds along a passage wall outside our kitchen.

First bags of cocoa peat, compost, soil and rolls of cardboard and tarpaulin were brought in.

compost

Wood from our woodworking room was converted into frames for our raised beds. Additionally, discarded coconut shells were purchased from the neighbourhood coconut-water seller to make even more raised beds. The first time we saw this was during a school visit to Vanastree where they also used the coconut husks to make steps around the farm!

To make the raised beds we first lined the concrete on which the beds were to sit with tarpaulin, then inside the wooden frame sat a layer of corrugated cardboard and in went the rich soil, compost and cocoa peat.

3 beds

All that was left to do was the sowing.

sowing

We planted all manner of treasure – 2 varieties of chillies, brinjals and tomatoes, lemon basil, turmeric, sunflowers, maize, marigolds, capsicum and drumstick, using companion plants as much as possible.

packets of seeds

On top went a light layer of mulch.

mulch layer

It was such a happy experience for us.

Already the corn, capsicum, tomatoes and chillies have germinated.

Corn

Corn

In the meanwhile  we have found that the soil in the gardening patch for the children is seriously depleted. It lacks aeration and has too much of clay. We have done a ‘double dig’ and planted leguminous seeds to do their magic. Observing the soil and how things are going, the patch is going to need some more time and care to get things going. Eventually we plan to have a ‘keyhole’ design utilising the edge effect.

Most of our hanging baskets are no more filled with just ornamental plants. They have been converted to herb baskets, holding plants like ‘Jalla Bhrami’, Mint, Thyme, ‘Ajwain’ or Bishop’s Weed, interspersed with a few ornamental flowers.

Around the coconut trees we have planted gourds which should climb up toward the sun.

And then there are other features planned:

water body in the front garden made using a recycled child’s bathing tub. Hopefully it will demonstrate an aquatic eco system and bring in the frogs and birds. I have been promised some papyrus cuttings from a friend which should do nicely in it. (The children are going to be thrilled with the papyrus. Not only because of their fascination with all things ‘Ancient Egyptian’ but also because it has a triangular stem!)

A spot for our cacti and succulent garden. This is will grow slowly, getting filled over time.

A tiny tepee in the back garden, sitting close to our banana plant. Creeping and entwining through it will be a bean plant.

In phase two we will look at recharge wells to replenish ground water.

Some of the plans may work and others may not. It’ll be interesting to see what happens and why and then think about what we should do next.

Watch this space for more updates of our experiments at school.

“How often is the soul of man–especially that of the child–deprived because one does not put him in contact with nature” – Dr. Maria Montessori  (from Childhood to Adolescence)

Our Journey At School

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A school as an institution has its own path of development. Just like the child and the teacher, a school too has developmental stages.

From the very onset, we were mindful that the many choices we made in our initial years, would create the story of our school; Being the foundation from which our school grew it would impact the path of the school in the many years yet to come.

Reflecting back over the academic year just passed, I have come to realise that we at The Earth School are entering a new phase of development! Pondering further on this, I couldn’t help but liken schools development to the stages of development of children.

Indulge me, dear readers, if you have the time and inclination, to explore this thought further.

Today, we are gradually leaving our years of ‘creation’ – of infancy and toddlerhood and entering a phase of consolidation – the childhood years. We are much like the 6-year-old child, straddling two planes of development.

The first years of The Earth School was a heady mixture of unrestrained enthusiasm and optimism – even through the miscalculations and setbacks that are inevitable during the initial years of an institution. With the Montessori pedagogy as our guide, we were creating something that simply did not exist before. We were pure ‘potential’. Each experience carried with it ‘new’ learning and there was much exploration. Slowly, we formed a base for our understanding of the various aspects of a school.

These initial years were prone to many ups and downs.  There was some instability due to the fact that everything was so nascent.  Through these years help always poured in from family and friends in a myriad of forms. They understood our passion and had witnessed us work toward the dream of The Earth School.

For the first time last academic year, we found the ‘umbilical cord’ cut. We felt it the most when two of our dear friends and colleagues left us to pursue other dreams. It was a time of some insecurity for us.

In retrospect, these changes came at the right time. We had grown enough to sustain ourselves – we now had the resilience for the many ‘reality checks’ that the year was to bring. It gave us the preparation to step into the next stage of growth.

Over the last year, without us realising it, we have changed ever so subtly.  Our understanding of people and human nature has grown. Our understanding of the child has strengthened. We are able to ‘see’ the developmental continuum of the child more clearly. We have come to be more accepting of ourselves and of each other.

We have grown in confidence and born out of this we have started looking more outward, just like the elementary aged child. We have started actively building a more involved larger community. Having had the confidence to open ourselves up, we have been blessed with a supportive and insightful parent body, who have taken our hand to walk along with us. Now each active member is  colouring and shaping the path of our school.

Though the bigger picture of our work has always been in the forefront, I find us asking larger questions more frequently. We have started asking more questions regarding our role in a larger community as well. Today, even our small, seemingly inconsequential actions, sets us thinking about the ‘bigger’ picture. The similarity with the elementary child is hard to miss here!

We have barely begun our journey.  I do not know what tests await us in the future, what learning’s are in store for us. There is much to do and more to build and a long, long path to walk on.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening : Robert Frost)