By Kiran Meena
The global pandemic has brought a sharper focus to the need to keep kids engaged and learning at home. With our platform often interacting with parents and teachers, I get to hear/read of the triumphs and tribulations. Below are the five mindful activities that have given tremendous leverage to parents:
Grow a vegetable garden
Gardening and being in intimate contact with plants is a magical gift of nature. Children of all ages (the younger, the better) must experience this joy and the life lessons vegetable gardening teaches.
As a beginner, one does not have to go out and purchase the seeds. One could begin with the peas, capsicum, or melons from their own vegetable consumption. The ritual of preparing the soil, planting the seed, and regular watering is an exercise in learning the art of nurturing. The joy of watching the sapling sprout and grow into a plant, the care for the plant, with a look out for any insects or pests, are powerful lessons. The sight of baby vegetables growing larger and ripening are sheer joy, especially for kids who are excitedly witnessing their own phases of growth. Savouring the fruits of labour in a dish cooked at home and proudly proclaiming it to be their own creation brings immense satisfaction to the young ones. The levels of satisfaction reach their peak when they command 100s of views and likes on Instagram and YouTube.
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Learning opportunities also include making choices, learning the pitfalls of over or under nourishment / inputs, learning to guard against future dangers (insects, disease, excess rain, excess sunlight etc.), taking responsibility for negligence, and documenting the process.
Recycling and composting
Recycling is a three-part process of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The learning here at a household level for kids is in all three parts. Reducing the use across all categories is an important learning in this consumption intensive economy, and a necessity in the times of the pandemic. Careful consideration by kids in the amount of water they use for brushing, bathing, keeping clothes clean to reduce the washing cycle, finishing the food on the plate to minimise wastage, maintaining and using shoes for a longer period, and many such decision areas are important learnings.
For younger kids, consider having them label and decorate the bins. For example, spell out and colour labels for each category like glass, plastic, metal, and paper. Then draw, colour, and cut out examples of each category. For example, for glass, it could be glass bottles and jars. The entire drill imparts important education towards segregation, grouping, organisation, and a keen sense of both ownership and accountability.
This is a natural follow-up to vegetable gardening. The natural loop is phenomenal – vegetable gardens need fertilisers, the fruits and vegetable peels need disposal, and are very compostable, creating the needed fertiliser.
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With climate change and pollution overdose, recycling is a discipline that is already being taught theoretically in schools. Practising the same at home will create a life-long habit of recycling and conservation.
Composting can be done even in our kitchen, balcony, terrace or roof if we do not have a lawn or free outside space. The process leverages segregation of compostable waste into dry and wet waste, and alternate layering of both in a container with ventilation holes. This needs to be kept moist and more dry waste can be added in case of foul smell. Once the container is full, let it stand for a few weeks till it turns into brown dirt-like consistency with no foul smell.
Learning for kids is the decision making, general awareness, environment consciousness, staying consistent in a process, observing closely, and learning to deal with foul and unpleasant tasks for greater good.
A scavenger hunt brings to mind a large engagement area generally outdoors, yet for younger kids, our houses can be enough. The process of excelling in a scavenger hunt awakens many of the human characteristics that have made us the dominant species of the current era – curiosity, deduction and winning over the environment are the most obvious ones. Of course, the fun element of the hunt cannot be stressed enough.
Two possible hunts that can be fun for 3 to 12-year olds are detailed below:
Ball Hunt: Collect six balls of any size (tennis balls, TT balls, golf balls or even marbles for kids older than eight years). Hide them in different rooms in both easy and tough to find places. This will also depend on the age of the kid. Set a good prize for completing the task in prescribed duration (with minimal disruption to the house) and blow the start whistle. If the kids are older and you are using marbles, then the hunt can also include clues to the hiding places given before-hand in simple language (toaster) or slightly cryptic format (I heat the slice and get it ready for breakfast).
Photo or Picture Hunt: Provide your kids with a list of pictures or photos and ask them to trace and collect similar items throughout the house. Nothing too complicated, everyday things like a pencil, a toothbrush, and a comb would do.
A variation of this model would include creating boxes of different colours and asking kids to locate different things around the house that belong to that colour family. For example, ask the kids to find blue objects to be filled in the blue box.
The learnings here include reading skills, the process of sifting, the process of being thorough, so the same spot does not have to be repeated, putting things back after disturbing them, deciphering clues, associations, etc.
Start a YouTube Channel
We are in a visual world and the art of presentation has become one of the most important skills. Getting kids to start their own YouTube channel could even be a beginning of a lucrative career for some talented kids, and for others, the process can be experiential, with immense learnings.
Instructions to start a YouTube channel are available as YouTube videos, and the process is easy to follow and implement.
Kids can showcase their own art and crafts talent, dancing, singing, acting, cooking, and even gardening. In addition to honing their showcased talent, the kids also become experts in the usage of YouTube and videos. They learn about lighting, sound quality, editing, subtitling, and special effects. Older kids also begin to understand copyright and leverage of social media to promote their content.
It is essential that a parent is involved in such activities to guide them and limit unwanted exposure.
Help neighbourhood senior citizens
Being of service to others is perhaps the best lesson towards lifelong happiness and success. This is all the more important in this nuclear family era when the habit of empathising and caring with ‘actual deeds’ and not just lip service escapes the learning graph of children.
Social distancing norms will have to be kept in mind when we embark on this activity. The starting point in this activity is to create a list of 5 elders that the kids will talk with twice a week (these must be from close relatives or known neighbours). This twice-weekly engagement and conversation with senior citizens, will prove to be pleasurable for elders, and inculcate understanding, patience, and focus in kids.
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The service requests can range from writing “stay happy”, “get well soon”, “I love you” cards, to procuring medicines or vegetables from the market (kids age dependent).
The learnings for the kids include conversation skills, listening, problem solving, and empathising. Knowledge enhancement will be evident with their conversation with seniors, where many interesting, current affairs topics, old fables, and history may get discussed as part of the process.
I hope you enjoy implementing at least one of these strategies. Do share your own experiences and suggestions.
(The writer is Co-Founder & Head of Content, SchoolMyKids.com)
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