Saturday, 30 August 2014



A message every adult should read because children and youth
are watching you and doing ‘as you do’, not ‘as you say’.

When you thought I wasn’t looking you threw a wrapper on the street and I learned never to use the dustbin.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you insulted a waiter and I learned not to respect people who serve us.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you sped through a signal and I learned not to respect rules.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you bribed a policeman and I learned my first lesson in corruption.
When you thought I wasn’t looking I heard you buy a seat for me in college and I learned that education is not to be respected.
When you thought I wasn’t looking you planned a holiday on election day and I learned that elections are a holiday.
When you thought I wasn’t listening I heard you say that India is useless and I learnt not to do anything for this country.
When you thought I wasn’t listening I heard you berate politicians and I learned to always blame others for everything.
If only you had known  that I was looking, listening  and learning when you thought i was not …….I would have grown up to be a stronger person , a better human being and a responsible citizen.
It’s not too late…….. I am still looking and listening ………………maybe I can still learn most of life's lessons that I need to know,  to be a good and productive person when I grow up, so this time around don’t think I am not looking or listening.
A provocative thought by-
Mrs Swati Popat Vats
Educationist- Parenting Mentor- Author

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Laura and her cup of tea

Laura and her cup of tea!

Laura Henry an early childhood expert from London is spending some time with our core team to strengthen our curriculum and assessment practices at Podar Jumbo Kids. Laura likes her tea and she likes her tea to be just right. For the first few times when she was served tea Laura politely sipped it but was not satisfied. She first gave instructions to the peon about how she wanted her tea to be made, ‘less milk please’, ‘more water please’, ‘no sugar please’. Laura’s tea was still not the way she wanted it. So Laura asked her way to the kitchen and then she demonstrated to the cook exactly how she wanted her tea to be made and soon Laura was sipping her cup of tea just as she liked it.

Laura’s cup of tea is very important, as this episode teaches us about the teaching-learning process, be it in adults or children. It starts with verbal cues and then physical cues. Whereas as teachers and parents we tend to do things for kids, we fail to give clear instructions, we never break it down into steps and then we do not demonstrate how it should be done, instead we go straight to doing it for them and thus never giving them the opportunity to be immersed in the task, the opportunity to experience the ‘aha’ moment and the opportunity to nurture their self esteem. No wonder then children do not like to learn from adults but would rather learn from friends and through play.

What Laura did is called ‘coaching’, so essential in the teaching-learning process. Coaching classes have become the bane of our existence today because the coaching they offer is not what true coaching is about. Coaching if not done correctly can become drill and training but coaching in the real sense of the word is about educating and demonstrating.

Maria Montessori talked about the 5 steps of learning, they start with children observing a demonstration, so ‘I see what and how you do and then I learn’. A good mentor, a good teacher and an involved parent understand the importance of this step. Skipping this step can lead to a host of stress related issues like children not understanding, teacher/parent having to repeat the instruction multiple times, getting angry, child getting frustrated and most importantly child feeling a sense of failure which can impact both brain development (as negative experiences can destroy brain connections) and emotional development as sense of worth is diminished leading to lack of confidence.

Coaching or demonstration in the Montessori Methodseeks to “free a child to learn through his own effort”. The guiding principles of the method are liberty for the child complemented by organization of the work by an adult. This then leads to the next step in the child’s learning process that of ‘participation’. The child now has the confidence and interest in trying out the activity, being actively engaged in the activity.

Coaching is not a one time activity. If Laura wants to perfect her cup of tea then she may go back to the kitchen and as the cook now makes the cup of tea may guide or instruct the cook by asking relevant questions or giving relevant pointers. Similarly as the child practises the new activity the teacher/parent can guide during the practise stage, which is the third stage of learning.

If these three stages are handled well by the teacher/parent then the most important stage will be that of the ‘eureka moment’, the ‘aha’ moment when the child experiences success coupled with a feeling of ‘I did it’. This stage is the most important stage of learning and how the first three stages are handled by the adult will define if every child experiences this stage. If the adult drones, shouts, gets frustrated during the first three stages then the child will not experience the ‘aha’ moment and will instead do the activity out of fear and stress. Stress as we are aware leads to diminshed brain activity leading to knowledge not getting converted to long term memory thus leading to this child forgetting how to do the activity and the adult having to teach, remind again and again.
If Laura had shouted at the cook or criticised his efforts then the cook would not like to make tea for Laura again. But the cook experienced the ‘aha’ moment and Laura is happy with her tea. The cook is ‘performing’ the task well, and ‘performance’ is the last step of learning and is infact the goal.

Now when Laura visits us again the cook will not have to be taught how Laura likes her tea, because the cook learned to make the tea by being coached and is now performing to perfection. So have a cup of tea today. Don’t know how to make it? Find a coach, find a mentor and experience your ‘aha’ moment!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

why does my child not listen to me

 In today’s world teachers and mothers need to be leaders and not bosses. In Piaget’s words they must work for the goal of ‘autonomy’ (intelligent and ethical decision making) rather than obedience.

There should be no such thing as ‘discipline’; it should be behavior management or modification. Discipline, is fixed, like in the army, but behavior can vary and with it varies the methods of handling misbehavior. 

Children in the first 6 years lack impulse control, they react without thinking.  Impulse control is developed with the growth in the pre frontal cortex, so the more the prefrontal cortex develops, the better will be the logic, reasoning, attention, focus in children. Play games to develop impulse control, simple games like ‘Simon says’, ‘Red light, Green light’, all develop impulse control. In Simon says, child has to concentrate and wait for the word ‘Simon’ to do the action, so he controls his impulse to do the action, until he hears the word.

After the age of 6 behavioral problems continue sometimes because kids lack self control. It is important to understand that- 

·         Children are able to focus only on one thing at a time. And so during a tantrum they are unable to see the other point of view.
·         They are unable to figure out the impact of their actions on others in a logical way.
·         Kids have a hard time working out how to get from one state of affairs to another. So it takes them time to work out their emotions. 

The best time to change children’s behavior is not during a tantrum, as the brain is in a shut down mode during a tantrum.  It is often when children are not in the heat of a tantrum that they are best able to think and learn about it.
It would be ideal to have an agreement of behaviour both at home and school- rule # 1 should be, ‘hitting and hurting is not allowed and so we will use words instead.’  Show kids a socially accepted avenue to show their anger and frustration; don’t stop them from experiencing these emotions.  Use sentences like,’ I know you are angry because I did not give you the toy, but instead of beating me, you can beat the pillow’. Don’t react to kid’s misbehavior with your own, if we are telling children, not to hit others when they are angry, then how can we hit them when we are angry? 

Any form of whacking or smacking is still child abuse. You may justify spanking by saying you love your child and want him to improve but you are only teaching the child that hitting is a form of showing love, and they will then grow up accepting violence and violent people. Domestic violence stems from such childhood experiences. Children who are smacked associate love and violence to be the same and so they turn violent or accept violence towards themselves.
What works is conflict resolution. Conflict resolution can be taught in the following steps-
1.     Seeking help- by calling for an adult or going to an adult and informing him that someone is troubling him. Here adults need to understand that this is not tattling and the child should not be blamed for coming for help as this is the first step of conflict resolution, when the child’s efforts at this step fails then he ‘fails’ to believe in any kind of resolution and will then resort to violence.
2.     Taking turns or sharing- an important social skill that is needed to survive with friends and siblings and children should be motivated and complimented for doing it.
3.     Using language instead of hands- teaches children to talk about their needs, their likes and dislikes. Teach them to communicate it to their friends and siblings. ‘Please don’t push my toys’, please don’t push me, you are hurting me’. Etc
4.     Teach children to walk away- a very important technique which can be very helpful when dealing with bullies, instead of standing and arguing or appealing to the bully, walk away from him.
5.     Discussing and planning with adults- telling the parents about a certain bully or how some of her friends tease her etc. then the parents can sit with the child and help her plan what to do and when. This helps the child understand that there is always a way out of the problem and also helps her self esteem and confidence as she is assured in the safe feeling that her parents are there for her.

For repeated instances of misbehaviour, it is important to see children who experience repeated serious conflict not as problem children but as children with problems who need guidance.
So try the following- 
n  Identify and specify instances of misbehavior
n  Observe what happens before and after the behavior
n  Measure how often it happens
n  How long does it last
n  Find a pattern in the behavior
n  Bring about the Change and implement it.
n  Continue measuring the behavior
n  Every time the child exhibits the new behavior, Encourage new behavior.

How we modify our kids behaviour when they are at their most vulnerable has a tremendous impact on their personality, coping skills and our dreams for them. When we believe in positive behaviour management it fosters emotional growth and logical thinking is nurtured. They learn about cause and effect, they learn to trust adults and respect and love themselves.

Adults should remember that children do not misbehave we misinterpret their behaviour.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Today is Rabindranath Tagore's death anniversary. This story written by him as a satire on the education system is sadly relevant even today.   


Once upon a time there was a bird.  It was ignorant.  It sang all right, but never recited scriptures.  It hopped pretty frequently, but lacked manners.

Said the Raja to himself.  “Ignorance in costly in the long run.  For fools consume as much food as their betters, and yet give nothing in return.”

He called his nephews to his presence and told them that the bird must have a sound schooling.

The pundits were summoned, and at once went to the root of the matter.  They decided that the ignorance of birds was due to their natural habit of living in poor nests.  Therefore, according to the pundits, the first thing necessary for this bird’s education was a suitable cage.

The pundits had their rewards and went home happy.

A golden cage was built with gorgeous decorations.  Crowds came to see it from all parts of the world.

“Culture, captured and caged!” Exclaimed some in a rapture of ecstasy, and burst into tears.

Others remarked: “Even if culture be missed, the cage will remain, to the end, a substantial fact.  How fortunate for the bird!”

The goldsmith filled his bag with money and lost no time in sailing homewards.

The pundit sat down to educate the bird.  With proper deliberation he took his pinch of snuff, as he said: “Textbooks can never be too many for our purpose!”

The nephews brought together an enormous crowd of scribes.  They copied from books, and copied from copies, till the manuscripts were piled up to an unreachable height.

Men murmured in amazement: “Oh, the tower of culture, egregiously high! The end of it lost in the clouds!”

The scribes with light hearts, hurried home, their pockets heavily laden.

The nephews were furiously busy keeping the cage in proper trim.

As their constant scrubbing and polishing went on the people said with satisfaction : “This is progress indeed!”

Men were employed in large numbers, and supervisors were still more numerous.  These with their cousins of all different degrees of distance, built a palace for themselves and lived there happily ever after.

Whatever may be its other deficiencies, the world is never in want of fault-finders; and they went about saying that every creature remotely connected with the cage flourished beyond words, excepting only the bird.

When this remark reached the Raja’s ears, he summoned his nephews, what is this that we hear!”

The nephews said in answer: “Sir, let the testimony of the goldsmiths and the pundits, the scribes and the supervisors, be taken, if the truth is to be known.  Food is scare with the fault-finders, and that is why their tongues have gained in sharpness”.

The explanation was so luminously satisfactory that the Raja decorated each one of his nephews with his own rate jewels.

The Raja at length, being desirous of seeing with his own eyes how his Education Department busied itself with the little bird, made his appearance one day at the great Hall of Learning.

From the gate rose the sounds of conch-shells and gongs, horns, bugles and trumpets, cymbals, drums and kettledrums, tomtoms, tambourines, flutes, fifes, barrel-organs and bagpipes.  The pundits began chanting mantras with their topmost voices, while the goldsmiths, scribes, supervisors, and their numberless cousins of all different degrees of distance, loudly raised a round of cheers.
            The nephews smiled and said: “Sir, what do you think of it all?”

            The Raja said: “It does seem so fearfully like a sound principle of           Education!”

Mightily pleased, the Raja was about to remount his elephant, when the fault-finder, from behind some bush, cried out: “Maharaja, have you seen the bird?”

            “Indeed, I have not!”  Exclaimed the Raja, “I completely forgot about the bird.”

            Turning back, he asked the pundits about the method they followed in instructing the bird.  It was shown to him.  He was immensely impressed.  The method was so stupendous that the bird looked ridiculously unimportant in comparison.  The Raja was satisfied that there was no flaw in the arrangements.  As for any complaint from the bird itself, that simply could not be expected.  Its throat was so completely chocked with the leaves from the books that it could neither whistle nor whisper.  It sent a thrill through one’s body to watch the process.

            The time, while remounting his elephant, the Raja ordered his State Ear-puller to give a thorough good pull at both the ears of the fault-finder.   The bird thus crawled on, duly and properly, to the safest verge of inanity.  In fact, its progress was satisfactory in the extreme.  Nevertheless, nature occasionally triumphed over training, and when the morning light peeped into the bird’s cage it sometimes fluttered its wings in a reprehensible manner.  And, though it is hard to believe, it pitifully pecked at its bars with the feeble beak.

            “What impertinence!” Growled the kotwal.
            The blacksmith, with his forge and hammer tool his place in the Raja’s Department of Education.  Oh, what resounding blows!  The iron chair was soon completed, and the bird’s wings were clipped.

            The Raja’s brothers-in-law looked black, and shook their heads, saying: “These birds not only lack good sense, but also gratitude!”

            With text-book in one hand and baton in the other, the pundits gave the poor bird what may fitly be called lessons!
            The kotwal was honoured with a title for his watchfulness, and the blacksmith for his skill in forging chains.
            The bird died.

Nobody had the least notion how long ago this had happened.  The fault-finder was the first man to spread the rumour.

The Raja called his nephews and asked them:  “My dear nephews, what is this that we hear?”
The     nephews said: “Sire, the bird’s education has been completed.”

“Does it hop?”  The Raja enquired.

“Never!” Said the nephews.

“Does it fly?”


“Bring me the bird,” said the Raja.

The bird was brought to him, guarded by the kotwal and the sepoys and the sowars.  The Raja poked its body with his finger.  Only its inner stuffing of book-leaves rustled.

Outside the window, the murmur of the spring breeze amongst the newly budded Asoka leaves made the April, morning wistful.

Saturday, 2 August 2014


Play needs to be constructive and healthy for children. ‘Monster’ toys like battery operated toys, computer games are not toys as they lead to many socio-emotional and cognitive problems. So then what kind of toys should teachers select to enhance the play experience kids?
The Te Whariki curriculum framework for the early years, a New Zealand government framework is one of my favorite. I have been inspired by it and have designed the following criteria based on it to help teachers select the right toys and play material for early childhood classrooms. I call them the 9 Navratna’s of toy selection-
1.    Empowerment- toys should make children independent rather than dependent, so avoid battery operated toys.
2.     Holistic development- try choosing toys that develop more than one skill.
3.    Family and community- it is seen that the level of children's play rises when adults join in the play with them. However, a word of caution- "joining in" should not be about controlling the play because controlling creates stress and will not lead to any cognitive development.  Choose toys that are like group projects
4.    Relationships- toys such as role play kits are good for dramatic play. When children follow the rules of make-believe and push one another to follow those rules, they develop important habits of self control.
5.    Well being-  toys should make children feel safe. Any kind of games of play that bring about fear or anxiety would not be good for the well being of the child.
6.    Belonging- toys must belong to the child, let him put them away, let him decide and let him take care. Toys that always need adult supervision while playing will not inculcate a sense of belonging in the child.
7.    Contribution- the child should be able to contribute in the play or in the use of the toy, toys that work on their own will breed boredom that leads to frustration and violence.
8.    Communication- language development is one of the important skills developed through play and toys ensure that correct toys are selected to enhance this.
9.    Exploration- allow children the chance to explore the entire toy, do not interfere or lead the game. A sense of exploration and excitement, is an integral part of all learning and play
With brain research facts available to teachers today, it is important that teachers make the right choice of turning their classrooms into learning and nurturing spaces and not drilling and coping spaces. When enough people raise ‘Play’ to the status it deserves in our lives, we will find the world a smarter place for kids.