Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Back To School

Indian kids are back to school this week. I don’t really know how most of them feel about it but the few that I know are basking in their new ‘back to school’ stuff and hoping for some fabulous extra-curricular activities this year. Our days were so much simpler. Going to a new class every April meant simpler joys like fresh mangoes in the lunch Tiffin, best friend from last year as a partner, new class books and maybe a little more respect for the one year that we had grown. I went to a fairly popular convent school of Delhi, one that imbibed a deep sense of commitment to personal achievement and performance. Every year there were new academic challenges, new books to conquer, new teachers to appease and new schools to visit for the million things we participated in. I rarely hear children speak of such plainness when they talk about school. Maybe my recent exposure to school children is limited to private schools in and around Gurgaon but I really don’t see genuine joy in their faces. The quandary lies in the fact that though we have provided a multitude of opportunities in the past 15 years it seems like we have taken a lot away too. I can name and quantify all the new provisions in schools like alternative subjects, international school trips, fencing, horse riding, archery, film making, script writing etc. I can’t put my finger on what we have taken away. Whatever it is that is devoid from our children’s lives, one thing is for sure, it is taking them away from basic and necessary entertainment like reading and the outdoors!

Our children think the outdoors require peripherals, perhaps a picnic or at least a pony to ride on. Whatever happened to bug hunting (Oh shush to PETA …. Bug hunting, knee deep in soil is the core of childhood discovery plus the bugs multiply way faster than our kids can kill them!), playing ‘house’, climbing trees (there are a few left, at least in Delhi there are!), playing catch, hopscotch, throw ball (is that even a sport?). All that was fun, maybe not awe inspiring and deeply intriguing but it did leave space for human contact and conversation. What do two kids playing video games together actually ‘do’ together …. Nothing! They have digitized alter egos communicating for them. All the joy, energy, excitement and fun are actually relayed through two unfeeling illustrations. How frightening is that? Please don’t get me wrong, I am a big one for video games albeit the old fashioned arcade variety but I swear I can put a 12 year old to shame when it comes to ‘Pacman' but it’s still not something I will invite a bunch of friends over for, not now and not 20 years ago.

Since I don’t have a generalized solution for this heavy issue, I have decided to make a few changes on the home front. I am at the threshold of some serious motherhood, my daughter just turned 2 and I am beginning to see meaning in the term ‘terrible twos’. Before I begin, a small piece of advice for mommies to be – the first 6 months are not the hard part …. Everything after that is! Now that my daughter can communicate in complete sentences I plan to practice mini plays with her through the week, just ½ hour a day, then we will perform it for the family on a Sunday. I have written 3 plays with just two characters, one scene and 5 dialogues, she seems to love it so far! She can also walk and run confidently, so we will race every day, if it’s not with me then with her dad, her maid, her granddad or even one of her adorable little friends. She can now hold an object steady, so she will draw me one image a day, yesterday is was a very poor looking cow and today I received a suspicious looking snake, I think it started out as a flower! She will spend 2-3 hours outdoors provided the weather cooperates, while she is there she can play in the mud (off late the mud is contained within the hands, so this is a plausible situation), she can look for ‘safe’ bugs (what I mean is preferably imaginary), she can try to tell colors of the flowers, she learn a few of their names, she can meet everyone in the park, she can run free, the options are endless. She has never been into toys and I don’t see the value in a $50 toy that she will either destroy or hate within a week. There were times I felt buying fewer toys was a level of deprivation but now that my daughter is such a confident, highly communicative, imaginative and funny little person, I don’t think I was entirely wrong. No two kids are alike but I think the basic nurturing they need is absolutely similar. Children need time, love, security and routine above all other things and this is something I have learnt from experience.

So whether your child is 2 or 12, their needs remain as basic, the way we fulfill them becomes different that’s all. This year let them roam free, let this year be their ‘pseudo year off’, let this year be the year all activities are organic and involve either one parent. As parents we are all used to sacrifice, this is yet another manifestation of it. School was always meant to impart education, let’s not look at them for everything. We hope our choice of school provides good education and good discipline the plus on that can be motivation, inspiration, confidence, independence and courage. So if your child’s school lacks in any of those areas it is better to start providing the missing traits at home.