‘A Little Magic Can Take You A Long Way…’

The year 2016 marks the centenary of the birth of British novelist Roald Dahl, touted by many as the world’s number one storyteller and rightly so. To mark the occasion, the Oxford English Dictionary decided to add a range of new words connected to his writings to its ever-increasing repertoire of words – such as ‘splendiferous’, ‘Oompa Loompa’, ‘human bean’ and ‘Dahlesque’ amongst others (read more here). These reminded me of my favorites when it comes to Dahl.

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Image courtesy: Pinterest

Here are three of his classics, which I love to read even today.

‘It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.’

 (The Witches)

This fantasy novel for children elicited the following response from the judges who presented the author with the prestigious 1983 Whitbread Award for his work: “Funny, wise, deliciously disgusting, a real book for children. From the first paragraph to the last, we felt we were in the hands of a master.”

From the very beginning, this story had me chuckling at every other line. ‘Deliciously disgusting’ hit the nail right on the head – how else could you describe a tale that involved witches with claws in the place of finger nails, enormous-sized nostrils, blue spit and heads with no hair? Endearingly deliciously disgusting, I would say. Add to it the wonderfully done up illustrations by Quentin Blake and you have the perfect package of a story; a brave young boy battling England’s witches along with his Norwegian grandmother.

‘We must hurry! We have so much time and so little to do! No! Wait! Strike that! Reverse it!’

(Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

Here is a kids’ story which is silly and fun, as well as dark and serious. Instances of silly and fun – pillows that are made of marshmallow and are edible, chocolate bars that are invisible and hence can be eaten right in front of the teacher in class, a swimming pool filled with fizzy lemonade and many similar objects that will invariably catch any child’s fancy. My younger one remarked the goodies in the story were quite similar to those of the virtual games he plays and was pretty excited to add a couple of new ones to the list.

Talking about dark and serious, one of the chapter’s names itself is ominous in a way; it is called ‘The Family Begins to Starve’ and goes on to talk about how Charlie’s family members are hungry, poor, destitute and cold. But then there are the chanting ‘Oompa Loompas’ – orange complexioned and green haired dwarves working in the chocolate factory who eat cacao beans; punishments perfectly befitting the bad behavior of the kids and pretty comical caricatures alongside the story to keep the kids laughing all through the read.

‘Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.’

(Matilda)

In 2012, Matilda found pride of place in the top 30 all-time popular children’s novels in a survey carried out and published by the School Library Journal. The story revolves around the protagonist – Matilda Wormwood – who is a child prodigy; awe-inspiring, brilliant and unconventional all rolled into one.

Then there’s the much-loved Miss Honey who makes sure newcomers in her class feel at home; the nutty and supposedly wicked headmistress aptly named Miss Trunchbull; the girl with two plaited pigtails who goes by the name of Amanda Thripp and other amusing characters. The story of the little girl is heartwarming yet unpredictable; all in all, a compelling and creative tale which is both a bit funny and a bit sad, in ‘Dahlesque’s’ characteristic way.

Try as I might, I still find it hard to put down any of Roald Dahl’s masterpieces once I begin reading one of his novels. And this line continues to resonate with me even now, years after I read it first:

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Image courtesy: Quotefancy

A Heartwarming Story of Animal Friendship

‘The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell – as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world.’

As I read aloud these lines to my kids at bedtime, a vivid picture gets created in my mind – of farm smells and horses, friendly cows and dilapidated yet sturdy barns. Ring a bell, anyone? These lines are from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, considered an all-time classic of children’s literature. I admit I still enjoy reading the book; perhaps even more so than when I was a kid. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction that the kids seem to enjoy these farm pets more than the virtual pets they usually spend time on. Time and again I have turned the book’s pages, and the pictures are crystal clear in my mind, almost like a world in itself.

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Image courtesy: Harper Collins

The Heart-Warming Story

The story is all about a rambunctious little pig called Wilbur who is born a runt. When Mr. Arable, the little girl Fern’s father decides to let the helpless little pig live (thanks to her), he becomes a lovable pet. As time passes, he again finds himself in danger. However, the hero of our story steps in and Charlotte’s twinkling spider web, which comes into notice first in the morning fog, saves the day for our dear Wilbur. This is a story about life and death, about how friends help each other in times of need, about how one is always sad to lose a good friend but needs to move on.

3 Fascinating Facts about Charlotte’s Web

  • ‘This is a story of the barn. I wrote it for children, and to amuse myself.’

Not many know that the author E.B. White himself owned a farm in Maine where he reared geese, sheep and pigs. Hence, the farm envisioned in the book was as real as it can get, based on his actual farm with a red barn and a swing which found a place in the story as well.

  • ‘At the present time, three of Charlotte’s granddaughters are trapping at the foot of the stairs in my barn cellar, where the morning light, coming through the east window, illuminates the embroidery and makes it seem even more wonderful than it is.’

The author was talking about the offspring of a spider in his barn which made an egg sac; Charlotte, the protagonist, actually took birth in the book from the idea of that real spider.

  • ‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern.

The story begins with these lines from the little girl, Fern. It later came to light that Fern almost didn’t find her place in the book till much after most of the story was written! White contemplated for a long while how the story should begin – with Wilbur, with Charlotte or with someone else but nothing seemed to be working out. Along came Fern and the opening lines which have taken pride of place in one of the most widely read children’s books ever.

Why I Still Love It

I have no clue but Charlotte’s Web seems to have woven a web of magic over me, back from when I heard the story first. I’m fond of the way the geese speak, I laugh at the mishmash of eats Wilbur enjoys, I love the idea of how friendship blossoms between an innocent little pig and a clever, kind-hearted spider. I guess my love for the story finds an echo in others too; that’s why three films (watch the trailer here), a musical and even a video game have come up based on the story’s characters.

And last but not the least, I love it when Charlotte says this.

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Image courtesy: QuotesGram

Kids will be Kids!

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Image courtesy: Glasbergen

The other day I was reading about some of the funniest statements kids have made to their parents and teachers and a couple really cracked me up; I just had to share them here. Read on…

  • “My 2-and-a-half-year-old set up a wall of toys around her in the kitchen and was lying down amongst them. Her stuffed giraffe kept falling on her face-first, and I just heard her saying: ‘I’m not food, giraffe, I’m not food. I’m not food!”
  • “When my child came home from school on the bus, I paused the work conference call I was on to ask her how her day was. She responded: ‘Shhh go back to work. I have a list of things I want you to buy me with the money you’re making.’ She’s five.”
  • “My twin sons came running to me in a panic… and one says: ‘Ma! I CANNOT SEE MY EYES!’”
  • “My 3-year-old came inside and announced: ‘I peed outside.’ My husband asked if his underwear was wet and my son proudly replied: ‘Nope, I peed on Luna. It was like a shower for her.’ Luna is our Saint Bernard.”
  • “One day my daughter leaned in and said to me: ‘Don’t worry mommy, I love you and would never kill you.’”
  • “I used to teach preschoolers. One day I was sitting on the floor with a 3-year-old squatting next to me. She’s talking and talking and suddenly she just falls over. She gets up, looks at me, and says: ‘That wasn’t supposed to happen.’”
  • “I’m a preschool teacher and the other day a little girl was standing next to me and stroking my eyebrow with her finger. When I asked what she was doing she said: ‘I’m your eyebrow petter.’”

I love them! :D

This is the way we brush our teeth…

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Bedtime” by ArtsyBee is licensed under CC by 2.0

It is an unwritten rule at home that the kids need to brush their teeth before turning in for the night. Now they have got used to it and don’t create a fuss of it. But back when they were younger, I remember resorting to various ways in order to get them in the habit.

Here are a couple of ideas which might come in useful if you’re facing the same predicament.

  • You could make it a bedtime routine by standing side-by-side in front of the bathroom mirror together and asking your child to mimic you as you yourself brush your teeth. Let this be an everyday ritual before bedtime.
  • Let brushing teeth signify something they look forward to; for instance, in my case it was story time. I made it clear that bedtime stories would only be read out on the pre-condition that they brush their teeth before coming into bed.
  • For younger kids, a good idea would be to allow them to choose their favorite color/design of toothbrush (and change it every 45 days or so). What toothbrush to buy can be their choice, and they can feel more grown-up this way.
  • Print out a fun quote in big letters and put it up alongside their toothbrush stand in the bathroom. We have one saying: ‘Even superheroes must brush their teeth’ up on our bathroom wall with Batman on it.

Happy brushing!

Gaming: The Real World vs The Virtual World

At this moment, chances are high that you’ll probably be scouting around lanes and by-lanes in your neighborhood, playground or shopping mall, with your nose glued to your smartphone. Your goal: To capture as many Pokemon (short for ‘pocket monster’) as you can. Welcome to the world of Pokemon Go – which has taken the whole gamut of the gaming world by storm.

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Pokemongo” by AnaBanana413 is licensed under CC by 2.0

For the uninitiated, here is what the Pokemon Go fever is all about. This is a game which uses the GPS and mapping capabilities in your smartphone to find endearing little pocket monsters lurking on the streets and other places around you. Why catch them? Well, to train them for battles of course. You get to incubate eggs by walking a particular distance (walking as in physically walking in the real world, not virtually), you are given the option to visit special ‘gyms’ to train and condition your Pokemon to be combat ready and the more Pokemon you catch, the further you progress in the game as a Pokemon trainer.

Welcome to the brand new world of gaming as we know it, where virtual games and the real world come together. Here are a couple of reasons why even those who are usually detractors of the gaming world are vouching for the game:

  • It gets even the erstwhile couch potatoes moving. One needs to ‘travel across the land, searching far and wide’ — in short, it acts as a catalyst to get people to walk around instead of staying indoors playing their favorite game on the tablet.
  • It leads you to discover new places around you and meet new people with similar interests, providing opportunities for heightened social interaction, which otherwise would not have been the case.
  • It is a game which is played universally both by children as well as their parents (read: adults). The same technology tension that is usually thought to divide different generations plays a positive role here in bringing parents and children to spend quality time together, bonding over the same game.

However, there are certain downsides of it as well. For instance, there was news recently that a man crashed into a tree while driving since he was staring into his phone looking for Pokemon while at the wheel. Another road accident occurred where a person suddenly slammed on the brakes to his vehicle in the middle of the road because a rare Pokemon appeared on the screen of his phone, and as a result the car behind bashed into him. What’s more, since the game uses location services, it is a possibility that unknown folks may be tracking your whereabouts while you play; not a very pleasant prospect at all.

All in all, this location-based augmented reality mobile game is entertaining and fun, especially because it provides a fresh new interface between the real world and the virtual world. However, even as these lines of this popular Pokemon jingle hold true while you play the game: “Never know what’s ‘round the bend, We go up a hill, Then down again…”; the following lines of the same song need not always hold true in the real world: “And when there’s trouble we’ll get through, We always have and we always do!”  So, allow your child to play the game by all means, but just keeping a watchful eye through it all is advisable.

Why Homeschooling Works for Our Family

There was a time when I felt I was a part of the minority, having chosen not to send my kids to a traditional school to learn. But recently, I read this article containing research facts on homeschooling which claims that ‘Home education – an age old traditional education practice that a decade ago appeared to be cutting-edge and alternative is now bordering on mainstream in the United States’.

I’ve been asked by many parent friends on different occasions why I chose to homeschool (or unschool, as I like to put it at times) both my kids from such a young age. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that they need to learn something in a particular subject, just in order to pass a test. I was of the view that I would like my children to take learning as something they love doing, at their own pace.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with the thought of my kids sitting down with their homework at a designated time each day, willingly or unwillingly poring over their books. I wanted to be able to gauge my kids’ interests and capabilities, and thereby design their own curriculum as I wished to. Learning shouldn’t be all about books and homework; it should be about learning naturally – be it taking a walk in the farm, planting flowers or learning how dough rises by getting your hands messy.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with the prospect of one single school curriculum catering to varying kids of a particular age. Some kids are good at math, some are exceptional in painting. Would it be right to judge both of them on a single common scale of math, or painting? No. With homeschooling, I could get the independence of individualizing each of my kids’ learning.

Homeschooling is a choice we’ve made for our family and till date, we’re very happy and satisfied with our decision. I admit there was a time right at the very beginning when I had this sudden doubt over my capabilities: Would I be able to do justice to this role of being a mom and a teacher? Would my kids turn out to be successful and at par or even better than those children who attend public schools? Wouldn’t their social skills suffer if they didn’t go out and mingle all day with other kids their age?

Today, it’s been over five years since we embarked upon this journey. And I can proudly say that all my fears and doubts have been happily laid to rest.

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Child” by picjumbo is licensed under CC by 2.0

At our place, four days a week are dedicated to planned lessons as in relatively scheduled learning activities and the remaining three days we are free to do our own thing as a family. Mornings generally begin with a prayer to the Lord above, followed by a leisurely breakfast and then we sit ourselves down in our playroom (which is a study-cum-reading-cum-painting-cum-playroom). We usually start with the basics of Math; on certain days I begin by explaining a new concept followed by sums on the same. Each of my two kids has his and her own learning time. If I am explaining concepts of addition and subtraction to the little one, I’ll make sure the elder one is busy solving a math problem worksheet of the concepts explained the previous day, and vice versa. Math generally goes on for an hour or so and then we take a ‘power break’ as we like to call it, when we take turns reading a story book together out loud.

This story-reading activity is usually one of the best times of our day. The kids love it, I love it and I’ve noticed that they are at their chirpiest best while reading. I’ve noticed how my elder one is getting better at reading out sentences without halting in between; three months ago she would have to stop a couple of times in between a single simple sentence to figure out words but now there’s a world of a difference. The best part is she’s learning without realizing the fact that she’s doing so! My younger one is still busy trying to string out correct spellings of words and we play interactive reading games like these together which are simple yet fun. I’m positive it’ll eventually help him build up his vocabulary and help him get more excited about reading.

By now, it’s time for a light lunch. I usually make sure the kids give me a hand while I go about getting the meal ready. Be it tossing up a salad in a large bowl or setting the table, measuring the volume of water that would go into a spaghetti recipe or practicing basic multiplication by counting the rows of cookies which have come fresh out of the oven, they happily do all this and more.

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Little Girl Reading” by jill111 is licensed under CC by 2.0

The supervised instruction period ends with lunch. Post a short siesta, it’s nothing about studies per se any more. About twice a week we make it a point to visit the neighborhood local library which has a dedicated kids’ section and my daughter loves to pick out a book or two for bedtime reading (seeing her hooked onto Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series gives me unparalleled satisfaction; I was inseparable from the said author’s books for a major part of my childhood). Sometimes we spend time reading together in the library itself. The librarian is kind enough to allow my son to carry along his coloring book and crayons while daughter and mom quietly immerse themselves in their books. On the way home, we usually stop at a pond where my son loves to feed bread crumbs to the ducks and the daughter has managed to make friendly acquaintances with the gang of kids who play hide and seek in the evenings at the adjoining park. That is ‘me-time’ for me; I sit back, take in my surroundings and relax.

On Monday and Thursday afternoons, a neighborhood mom holds basic baking classes for children at her own place, which both my kids love to attend. My daughter behaves all grown-up when she proudly instructs me on how to better my baking skills at home! And just recently, my son baked a chocolate muffin ‘all by himself’ and was so thrilled that he didn’t take a bite of it and insisted all of us taste it time and again in order to tell him how magnificent it was!

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Coloring” by kaboompics is licensed under CC by 2.0

Sundays are meant for family church visits in the mornings, followed by a crafting club class for the kids, as a result of which the children’s room walls are all plastered with handprints and mountains and waterfalls and glitter and stars and stuff. In the evenings, we have family movie time at home where we all take turns to pick a movie of our choice each weekend. My son recently picked the How to Train Your Dragon film and was thrilled when he learnt that there are dragon games based on the movie too with his favorite characters in it (and I was thrilled because the dragon games had a scientific tilt to them – he was learning science while racing his dragons through mountains and valleys and had no clue!).

We parents have formed a close-knit homeschooling group too and meet once every fortnight, to share notes and have fun. It is pretty fascinating how one gets to learn so much from like-minded parents out there who are in the same boat trying to figure out the same things as you in their homeschooling journey. Makes one feel pretty confident that yes, one is on the right track and the kids are doing well.

I recently came across this quote from Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s mentor and friend; she couldn’t have made a more explicitly correct statement than this:

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less “showily”. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his expressions for himself… Teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”

Agreed, a little guidance along the way, a little push in the right direction is essential. Unschooling gives one the liberty to gauge one’s child’s interest and bent of mind, do away with a uniform pre-planned year-long curriculum and set the course for just the right mix of a more wholesome form of learning, replete with DIY science experiments that can be performed at home, craft activities that can be done together as a family, picnics to a nearby zoological park or farm to learn more about nature and lots more.

Would your child be able to enjoy and have the time of his life doing all that he loves and learn alongside, had he been a part of the traditional form of schooling? The answer would be a resounding NO. As Albert Einstein very rightly put it: “I never teach my pupils. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

Through my homeschooling efforts, I try to do the same. And the sense of contentment I get as a mom and a teacher when I see them blossom on a daily basis in front of my eyes, cannot be explained in words.

The Unpredictable Flu

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Influenza” by OpenClipartVectors is licensed under CC by 2.0

To say that the last fortnight was hectic would be nothing short of an understatement. Both my kids decided to catch the flu at the same time. To put it in a nutshell, here’s what we at home were up to over the time span of the last two weeks:

Trying to sleep: Humidifiers were tried in order to release moisture into the air. Hot showers were a daily ritual. Gargling with warm salt water was experimented with too, successfully to a certain extent with the older one and not so much with the younger. All these activities were carried out with one primary goal in mind – to try and get a good night’s sleep; which was still hard to come by (both for the kids and parents).

Hot soup: Before and after breakfast, lunch and dinner, since the kids complained of a runny/blocked nose at all times, taste buds not working and practically no appetite. Chicken noodle soup helped on such occasions.

Fluffy blankets & a tissue box: These two pretty much summed up what we did the entire day, almost three days in a row. I would drag the kids outdoors to at least take in some fresh air on their evening walk but apart from that, they just wanted to sit in their comforters and sniff, sniff and sniff.

Touch wood, both the little ones are better now and have slowly started eyeing doughnuts and cookies, which I’m taking to be a good sign. Hopefully, this flu will take its own course and fizzle out soon.