Summer Camps – an ally of a consumerist society

circus

Another academic year has come to a close, here in India. All schools are off for the next 2 months.

This is the time when flyers, billboards, e-mails, radio advertisements, banners, and other modes of advertisement that seem to be eluding me at the moment, streak our city with promises of ‘fun, exciting, educational, creative, life-changing’ summer camps!  Schools, malls, libraries, even large-ish apartment complexes are hosting them. A google search for summer camps 2013, Bangalore, throws up 798,000 results!

Parents are frantic to find the perfect summer camp for their child. Bombarded from every side they wonder if their child will be ‘missing out’ on something stimulating – essential even, if they don’t enroll. Many of these camps are inviting children as young as 3 years!

Most of these summer camps, which are increasingly calling themselves, summer carnivals, are a mish-mash of activities. They are usually a month long and children spend 2 to 3 hours a day being directed through activities ranging from robotics to yoga, to eco-awareness. The camps often promise to build the leader / scientist / artist / socially aware individual of tomorrow, in a fun way.

Summer camps often sell themselves as an anti-thesis to the traditional school system that prevails, BUT, also promise to enhance skills that children can use in this very same school system! They are, in my humble opinion, an extension of the prevailing traditional school system – the one that is failing our children and thereby, us – as a society.

More importantly though, I feel they are symptomatic of an increasingly consumerist society – a society that is failing our children.

Let’s look at some of the implications of a ‘summer camp’.

  • children need to be kept busy by adults
  • children need to be entertained to be happy
  • children learn only in structured, labelled, adult directed situations
  • learning needs to be sugar coated for children to happily accept it
  • the activities offered by a summer camp cannot be a part of the regular school curriculum

I’m sure there are more implications which I have not thought of as yet.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure, most people who conduct these summer camps are genuinely interested in children and enjoy sharing their knowledge and craft. This is not a rant against the individual who is conducting a summer camp. It is however, a rant about the fact that each year a circus born out of a consumer driven society, failed school system and a myopic view of what children really need, is played out. Each year we lap it up, putting ever increasing amounts of time and not to mention,  money into it.

If an elementary aged child is interested in learning more about something, by all means, join a workshop. But let’s strip away the sugar-coated entertainment, mish-mash value of these summer camps.

At the end of the day, let’s give our children more credit.

I wonder what ‘Dandelion Wine’, the wonderful book by Ray Bradbury would look like had he grown up in todays world.

Do children belong in summer camps during their summer break, is the question that not many are asking, but should.

Journey of a Montessori Guide

via hodgepodgery

Much has been said about the development of the child.

Lately though, my thoughts have turned towards the development of the adult in a montessori environment.

Let me start by sharing my journey.

Fresh out of my training, I couldn’t wait to get into the classroom. I had read and re-read every Montessori book I could get my hands on and I had a deep desire to serve the child. I was enamoured with what could be and with the child.

I spent hours upon hours practicing presentations, planning and preparing the environment but the lack of experience showed. My first year of teaching was a whirlwind and many-a-times I felt lost at sea. Nothing worked with the ease that I thought it would. During the first year, my focus was much on what I was doing. I distinctly remember sometime towards the end of the year being struck as if by lightening by words I had read many times previously –  “Instead of giving out what she has in herself, the teacher must bring out the full possibilities of the children” (Advanced Montessori Method – Volume 2).

Over the following years, there were times when I remembered these words and times when I had forgotten them.

I was lucky to have the support of a more mature, seasoned teacher at this fragile stage, who encouraged and gently guided.

In conversation with many teachers over the years I have found the experience of feeling lost at sea, mirrored. Many, however have felt too overwhelmed and left the classroom to move on to other things.  The role of guidance and the opportunity to work in a caring, authentic Montessori environment is so important for the new teacher.

In the ‘The Whole School Handbook’ a NAMTA publication, written by David Kahn, Sharon.L.Dubble and Renee Pendleton, The first year teacher is refered to as a Neonate being, where the ultimate task is that of survival.

As I continued on my journey, slowly, things became clearer. Each experience carried with it an immense potential for learning. I clearly remember, my third year of teaching. I was making connections every other day. The ‘A-ha!’ moments were many and frequent. This was a time I was constructing my understanding of Montessori in practice. My most valuable teacher at this stage, was the coming together of a 3 year cycle with the same children. I started out as seeing things as black and white. Slowly the ‘craft’ of montessori, those wonderful shades of grey, requiring discernment and a balance of head and heart, became more apparent to me.

In the ‘The Whole School Handbook’, this is referred to as the ‘Consolidation’ phase‘, whose task is that of fluidity- of an integration of practice.

By the sixth year of teaching, my often repeated question was “what now?’. I knew that  my life’s path was connected with working with children and having the montessori philosophy guide that work. This is when I left the school I worked at and briefly tried my hand at consulting and co-conducting workshops …  but I missed the classroom. I longed for the daily rhythm of the environment, the daily watering of a seed sown and most of all – the children. This is when I started ‘The Earth School’.

In the ‘The Whole School Handbook’, this is stage is referred to as the Renewal stage. The task of this stage, if positively navigated is that of, well, renewal.

The stage after this is called ‘The Seasoned Teacher‘ and the task of this stage is a re-dedication to one’s work at a deeper level with a heightened sense of purpose.

The making of the montessori adult in some ways mirrors the development of the child. Each stage lays the foundation for what is to come and is only as strong as what has been previously built. Just as daily living and working in the prepared environment is essential to the development of the child, so is it for the development of the Montessori adult.

What developing teachers need is love, scaffolding, the opportunity to complete a 3 year cycle with the same children and most of all, faith in who they are becoming.

Ode To The Prepared Environment

Prepared-Environment-000980

Today I would like to share a beautiful post written by a dear friend and fellow Montessorian.

Her post about the prepared environment really resonates with me.

There are so many aspects to a prepared environment. The most readily available aspect is of course  the physical environment. But this is just a starting point. The prepared environment is an answer to the whole child, her physical, social, emotional and spiritual needs.

Hope all of you enjoy the post.

Montessori Sojourns – The Prepared Environment

“People are what they are as a result of their own specific environments. The life force adapts itself to fit the environment.”

Nurtured By Love – Shinichi Suzuki

Why The Kangaroo Hops

About a month ago, we at the elementary were lucky enough to catch a splendid, magical show, ‘Saltbush Cheering Carpet‘, that was visiting our city. It is was about 2 aboriginal friends that journey across Australia and learn the secrets of their land.

Since then the elementary children have been researching all things Australia and a web of Australia has filled our environment.

The children have studied human migration routes, paleogeography and crustural plates, Australia’s political and economic geography, it’s the flora and fauna, how people satisfied their fundamental needs – then and now, indigenous Australian art, and of course, dreamtime myths.

Finally, as a consolidation of everything they had been working on, the children produced a play.

They chose from the stories they had written in the style of dreamtime myths, through a secret ballot.

The story they voted for was “Why The Kangaroo Hops”.

Each afternoon for a week, they practiced their play. Each evening they worked with their parents to make their costumes.

Finally, they performed the play for the entire school on the day of our christmas celebrations!

Though I have worked with the elementary children for 10 years now, I never know where an experience will take us. A month ago as we sat mesmerized by the show, ‘Saltbush Cheering Carpet’,  no one had any idea that our christmas celebrations would have in it rainbow serpents, kookaburra’s and goannas!

 

Chossing from a list of aboriginal art symbols o paint on their faces
Choosing from a list of aboriginal art symbols to paint on their faces for the play

narrator
Once upon a dream time, there lived a kangaroo that loved to race with his friends. But because he was so slow, he always lost.

After a race in which he lost again, the kangaroo went to the Rainbow Serpents home in the outback and begged the Rainbow Serpent to give him speed. The great Rainbow Serpent agreed, but warned that the kangaroo should never use his speed to make others feel bad.
After a race in which the kangaroo had lost yet again, he could take it no more and made his way to the great Rainbow Serpents home in the Outback. He begged the Rainbow Serpent to give him speed.

The Rainbow Serpent agreed, but warned the Kangaroo to never use his new speed to make others feel bad.
The Rainbow Serpent agreed, but warned the Kangaroo “Never use your new speed to make others feel bad. Remember to always be kind and gentle to others”

It was the day of the great race and guess what? Much to the surprise of everyone, the Kangaroo won! Though the others were happy for him, the Kangaroo forgot all about his promise to the Rainbow Serpent and started making fun of the others!
It was the day of the great race and guess what? Much to the surprise of everyone, the Kangaroo won! Though the others were happy for him, the Kangaroo forgot all about his promise to the Rainbow Serpent and started making fun of the others!

The Rainbow Serpent soon heard about the Kangaroos rude behaviour and at a conference with the carpet snake, kokaburra and goanna, cursed, "From this day forward, all kangaroos will be destined to hop and not run. Yes, they will be able to hop fast, but each time they spring into the air, they will be reminded to be kind and gentle to others!"
The Rainbow Serpent soon heard about the Kangaroo’s rude behaviour and at a conference with the carpet snake, kookaburra and goanna, cursed, “From this day forward, all kangaroos will be destined to hop and not run. Yes, they will be able to hop fast, but each time they spring into the air, they will be reminded to be kind and gentle to others!”

That's all folks! Hope you enjoyed the show!
That’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed the show!

Lucy and the Green Man

lucy

Sometimes things just come together.

I had been looking for that ‘perfect’ chapter book to read to the children at school and then quite unexpectedly, in the mail, I received the answer to my search.

Lucy and the Green Man by Linda Newbery is a delightful book perfect for children ages 7 and up.

We finished our reading yesterday and all the children were happy with the ending but also a little sad that the book was over.

With masterful language and pen and ink drawings, Lucy and the Green Man, slows us down in our fast paced lives, imbibes the ‘simple, everyday’ with magic, is firmly rooted in wildness and has a depth of emotion that children can relate to.

If you are looking for a book to read aloud to your children, here is a gem!

A Searching We Go

What are they looking for?!?

In Mr. K’s words, “Something older than dinosaur bones!”

That’s us on our moss hunt!

Recipe for Moss Milk (to grow your own moss)

from The Evolution Book by Sara Stein

1 cup of spore capsules

1 cup of milk

Put in a blender. This should break open the capsules and release the spores. The milk will provide some nutrition for the young moss.

Put liquid in a spray bottle and spray into crevices, rocks and other places that are constantly damp.

Spray water on these places for a while to ensure constant moisture.

In time you should see your own moss grow.

cooking and healthy eating

Never before have we had so many food choices and never before have we eaten so poorly!

Healthy eating habits are inculcated in the child’s youngest years.

Eating nutritious food together as a family, including children in the preparation of meals, allowing a child to follow her natural appetite in terms of the quantity of food she eats and saying NO to junk food are some of the ways we can inculcate lifelong healthy eating habits.

One way we are trying to encourage healthy eating habits at school is by having the elementary children try their hand at cooking nutritious snacks.

According to studies conducted overseas, children are more prone to eating fresh vegetables and fruit, after a cooking session.

I do not not know if our cooking sessions at school have resulted in children making better food choices in their daily lives, YET. However, what it has definitely done, is generate a conversation of what is healthy and what is not.

In the past  few weeks we have made a beetroot and mushroom salad, a carrot cake (with whole wheat flour) and a healthy version of aloo chaat (Indian potato salad).

The food is served to the entire school.

Besides being a wonderful exercise of practical life, it also provides opportunities to build community.

It is a time when we make our way out into the neighbourhood  to do our grocery shopping. We have become well known faces at the push cart of our neighbourhood vegetable vendor and at the corner store.

The children spontaneously apply the grace and courtesy presentations received. From the “please’s” and “thank you’s” when buying something, to how to serve courteously; how to politely decline a snack and how to respect the declining child’s wishes.

The older children love being the bearers of these gifts of food and the younger children enjoy being the recipients of these gifts.

One never knows how and when a seed will germinate. To follow Dr. Montessori’s advice – let us sow as many seeds as possible and let the rest be the child’s work!

 

Story of the Universe – Part 2

Following on from my previous post, here is another project completed by one of the children after the Story of the Universe – a stitchery book depicting the birth of the universe and formation of earth.

I wanted to share this work with you as its such a wonderful marriage of handwork, an impressionistic lesson and science.  It reads a little like a fairy tale.

Though I am sharing the ‘product’ here, it is the process through those days that was truly beautiful.

It required a lot of planning and perseverance from the boy. For 9 1/2 days he sat with the sewing box,creating page after page in deep concentration. He applied his previous learning and noticed the refinement of his skills over the days. By the time he had reached the last page in his book, he required no help and even ‘created’ his own weaving stitch. He realized his own independence and commented on it several times. It was self-direction at its strongest.

Apologies for the quality of the photographs, but they were taken on my phone, just before the boy borrowed the book from the library to show his folks at home.

UNIVERSE HISTORY BOOK

First there was NOTHING!

But a tiny point of pure energy that contained the entire universe.

Suddenly the dot of pure energy exploded and out came the universe

The energy cooled down to make tiny particles of matter

After 300,000 years the first atoms – atoms of Hydrogen gas were formed. Clouds of hydrogen swam in space.

Hydrogen and dust pulled together because of gravity to make stars

Earth was formed. It was really hot and it was a ball of gas

1000’s of volcanoes erupted on earth and covered earth in a big cloud of gas, dust and ash

Sun is covered and the earth cooled down

Earth is flooded by rain

Earth gets water. Now there are solids, liquids and gases on earth. The sun is uncovered

Story Of The Universe

We are a month into the new academic year and the children who have recently joined our elementary environment have received their first great lesson – THE STORY OF THE UNIVERSE. The story is accompanied by many experiments, including a show stopper – blasting a volcano! This year around, we used ammonium di chromate in the volcano for some real BANG, instead of the tame baking powder and vinegar routine. Needless to say it was all very exciting.

Along with the younger children, the older children too had the benefit of receiving the story again and like every year, it has sparked off great work!

Today, one of the many projects undertaken by the children after the telling of the story was completed.

After reading the awe inspiring book, ‘Born With A Bang – The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story‘ by Jennifer Morgan and Dana Lynne Anderson, two boys decided to make a timeline depicting some of the major events in the Universe’s history.  There is a concise page at the back of the book that lists some of these major events and was just the right morsel for the boys.

Here is the long and short of their timeline.

They did some finger knitting and converted its length into a timeline. Each foot on the length of their finger knitting accounted for 1 billion years.

The timeline in our library corner, above the light box. Below is the much loved volcano. The timeline goes all along the wall ….

… and wraps around …

… to the other side …

A brass bell signals each major event. With it is a card that explains what happened at that point in time. The first two events are so close together that they have been strung one on top of the other – but – true to the need for precision that characterizes the elementary child, they are just ever – so – slightly, askew.


BIG BANG – less than 1 second old – In a fraction of a second the universe went from the size of a dot to the size of a galaxy …1 second to 3 minutes – the universe cooled down to 3,000 degrees and that was enough for the neutrons and protons to form …300,000 years after the Big bang it cooled down enough for the first atoms to form. The first atoms were of Helium and Hydrogen … 

1 billion years after the Big Bang galaxies formed. Mother stars were born. After stars die their stardust makes new stars that have complicated elements …

2 billion years after the Big Bang the Milky Way formed. Older star clusters joined new star clusters

7 billion years after the Big Bang our mother star might have exploded. There might have been more than one mother star that might have created our solar system …

8 billion years after the Big Bang our sun formed from clouds of gas and dust which came from a supernova of our mother star. Gravity made the clouds squeeze together. Atoms of Hydrogen joined to make Helium. This made the cloud shine. It was now a star…

8 1/2 billion years after the Big Bang the planets formed. One planet was perfect – not too hot, not too cold.

For the sake of convenience the timeline has now moved to a new location – above the science material.

“let us give him a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality and an answer to all questions. We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” ~ Maria Montessori (To Educate The Human Potential)

Follow Your Bliss

It’s three days to the start of a new academic year.

To wrap up the last academic year, we sat down today to a meeting of reflection. We usually do our reflection soon after we close for the summer break, but this time around it got postponed. Last year was a difficult one on several levels and by the end of March all of us were burnt-out. Centered again, we were now ready to re-visit the year past.

There was a lot of sharing and some insights arrived at. One point especially was brought into focus that I thought more deeply about.

My dear friend and colleague mentioned that she had realized that besides the environment belonging to the children, it was her environment as well and she was hoping to enjoy it more in the coming year. Occasionally, she would sit down in moments of quiet and do the things she loved doing, while in class. She was going to enjoy the space just like the children do.

Towards the end of the last academic year, the environment that I work in was so settled that I had many opportunities for this. The low hum of activity, the materials all at my disposal, the music in the background and the flood of natural light, all called to me and I found myself wanting to experience the day the way the children did.

At those times I put down my observation sheets and joined them. I drew, embroidered, symbolized poems, did design work with the equivalency insets, practiced some math presentations and made material in class. It was something that happened spontaneously. Initially, the children were curious about what I was doing. After a couple of occasions, they started saying things like, “I did some symbol work yesterday” or “After you, I think I’ll work with the long division”.  I remember a parent who had come in to observe the environment, later tell me that her child had mentioned that she should observe my work as well – because I had finally started working too! 🙂

There were some changes I observed in class. The children had started becoming more careful with the material and their movements around others working, they started re-visiting some presentations that I had worked with, they were eager for the materials they saw me making to be put on the shelves so that they could have a go at them…

Montessori has spoken about indirect presentations and any Montessori guide will tell you how powerful they are. Presentations that you give by doing certain things and being a certain way, yourself. They aren’t overt presentations to individual children, but rather subtle ones to the group.

The most valuable indirect presentation I think the children received here was the joy of work! It is different from the teacher enjoying what she is presenting to the child, or verbally expressing enthusiasm for an activity – it was the quiet, personal joy felt when one loves what one is doing.

So here it is folks – do what you love in front of your children. Follow your bliss and let them witness your joy at work!