Sunday, July 30, 2017

Montessori and Me: Part V The Elementary Course Experience

Disclaimer: I would like to clarify that by Montessori, I mean the philosophy that Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor, put forth for helping the young minds of the world live in this World. I use the word live here because after all, quoting Dr. Montessori, education is a way of life.

The above disclaimer shall be repeated keeping in mind new readers who might chance through this blog :). So plough straight ahead the next time :).

While my first Montessori diploma was an eight month long Marathon, this Elementary course was a different race to be run. Spread over a scheduled four modules and 8 weeks of Observation/Teaching Practice, with ample breaks in between, the course was to run from September 2015 until November 2016. Alas! With floods in Chennai, the carefully planned schedule was sabotaged and we finally completed in February 2017.

Each module was a six week sprint. And not the kind of sprints that IT companies (well mine used to have one) have for targets. Every week was a hundred metre dash, with barely any time to breathe. Tuesdays were submission days by default and whatever happens from Monday to Friday in class had to be fair-typed (Yes - only typed :'( ) and submitted with appropriate illustrations. My tryst with computers had to continue and I had a tough time keeping up with the deadlines, thanks to -my procrastination, printer and well, the internet - in short me.

As for what happened during the course, I wrote it as a poem when we were planning our convocation. The major chunk of the course is for us to understand how, when, why to show the materials to the children, interspersed with theory on how we should prepare ourselves. This pattern, in essence, was very similar to the earlier course. But there was no order in which each of these subjects were presented, which is exactly how it will be with Elementary children as well. But within the subjects, there are certain progressions from one difficulty to another and that order was maintained throughout. 

(To those who are familiar with the Sun and Earth song, that was the inspiration.) Here is the poem I wrote:

Language, Math, History and Biology,
along with Geometry and Geography
All have a story and play their part
In the development of a child in Elementary

Math it starts with WHM
Winding its way down to Proportion
Be it any subject, Math remains
Causing us lots and lots of pains.

Language, its structure is intricate
Keeping every subject up to date!
With names of yore and lots of action,
Giving every Part including emotion.

History, it is old and new,
Even though civilizations have been few
Humans Satisfying needs all along
Helping each other for years at long.

Geography, it is short and sweet
With lots of charts and experiments in it
Showing how humans depend unaware
On sun and earth and water and air.

Biology is all about life
Starting with how lives at strife
Live with finding whatever their needs
And finding time for some good deeds.

Geometry is an abstract class
Starting way back even before Pythagoras
Relating lines back and forth
Leading shapes to what they're worth

Music and Art, they play their part
Inspiring the children to go far at heart.
The patterns and combinations flow
Always asking the question of how!

Theory it is for the adult to know
Helping him or her how to show
Observing the child at every stage
And pacing the ideas at any age.

(For those unfamiliar, WHM refers to Wooden Hierarchial Material - a material that impresses the idea of families of numbers.)

While each of these areas were being covered, the concept to be covered was already in my mind. But how Dr. Montessori meant for the children to arrive at it on their own was the most intriguing part. So, while the materials and lessons were shown, there were several 'Aha!' moments. The one that I vividly remember was one with division of fractions by fractions. Children are always familiar until then that division always refers to sharing equally and the answer is always what a single whole unit gets. This was beautifully materialized in the Fraction material that I exclaimed in joy while the presentation was being shown to us! I even had the perfect moment to present it to children during my teaching practice and was a wonderful, satisfying experience.

While the breaks were dedicated to my work at Jamunamarathur with RELIEF Foundation, the course otherwise kept me occupied full time. When I look back at the past year and a half and more, I still somehow found time to cook (thanks to my Dad as well who came in whenever he could), attend some close friends' weddings in several places North and South, attend the Mumbai Montessori Conference, run a full marathon and a couple of half-marathons all along this time. 

While we were being given the presentations, like our trainer Ms. Ann Dunne used to say, there were always unsaid things. It is those things or thoughts that the Elementary child can easily imagine, reason out and pick up. And the joy of picking them up on their own is what really cements the learning. It is always those thoughts to which we put our mind to work and execute, that retain as our experiences. Be it a mistake or a success, we surely learn from such experiences. The idea of Dr. Montessori again here is to maximize the possibility of having such experiences for the children of the second plane (6-12 year olds), and that is what we learnt we should be doing as an Elementary Director or Directress.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Freelancing for FirstPost: ISL 2016

Firstpost were willing to give me another chance to cover the Indian Super League for this year. I was not sure of attending all the home matches, but covering by watching on Television was still alright with them. So I began my second stint at Freelancing with a preview for Chennaiyin FC for ISL 2016.

Just before Chennaiyin FC had their first match, Firstpost asked me to pick some players to watch out for and I wrote on three players who could make a change to Chennaiyin FC this year. Soon the first Chennaiyin FC game was upon me. This was away at Kolkata. Chennaiyin came back from a goal down to take the lead and finally conceded a penalty to end the pulsating match in a draw. I wasn't happy with the Chennaiyin formation and actually wrote it as six takeaways. The headlines from now were not mine mostly.

My misgivings in the first game came true when Delhi Dynamos FC thrashed us soundly in the first home game. The Mendy-Riise partnership had to end. The defense, goalie and the manager were all under fire in the five takeaways that I wrote from the match. I couldn't make it to the stadium that day as I had some submissions to work on for the next day at my Elementary course.

Firstpost asked me to write on some early trends emerging from the first two rounds of ISL 2016. Initially I wrote it in a hurry and it turned out to be too short. So I beefed it up a bit and it came out after my analysis on Chennaiyin's home victory against FC Goa. I attended the match and was there at the press conference. Zico was flustered about signings made in his absence and was bullish about Goa's chances of recovering.

Marco Materazzi on the other hand, when I questioned on how Jeje and him felt about Jeje's omission, went on a tangent to explain some journalists all over the world aren't happy about team selections. It was a day when Chennaiyin, for the first time for any team in ISL, had Mehrajuddin Wadoo as captain and ended the game with 7 Indians. He later gave me a nose-cut when I called his formation a 4-2-3-1. It was a 4-4-1-1 apparently. Credit is due to him though for getting his formation right and I wrote my analysis praising him for the changes.

Then came two away matches. The first, a hard fought win against Northeast United FC for the first ever time in ISL history for Chennaiyin FC. The new found solid defense played a huge role and I had four more positives to write about from the match. Then came a 1-1 draw against FC Pune City. That match really emphasized that Chennaiyin FC can threaten with anyone really. This match saw the sixth different goalscorer from a sixth different assist provider  for what was Chennaiyin FC's seventh goal of the season in just 5 matches.

P.S: I will keep adding to this post as and when I write more.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Montessori and Me: Part IV Anecdote from Elementary Course.

Disclaimer: I would like to clarify that by Montessori, I mean the philosophy that Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor, put forth for helping the young minds of the world live in this World. I use the word live here because after all, quoting Dr. Montessori, education is a way of life.

The above disclaimer shall be repeated keeping in mind, new readers who might chance through this blog :). So plough straight ahead the next time :).

I'm in the middle of teaching practice as part of the Elementary Montessori course. This Friday as on all Fridays, the class I was assigned to, had a writing workshop. This is conducted by the adult who is the assigned Montessori directress or 'class teacher' of that environment.

This week, the adult talked about words changing when we simply take out a letter from it. One of the examples she gave was 'Without the 't' train becomes a rain'. She gave few such examples and when she read them out again the word 'becomes', she pointed out, was repetitive. She gave a couple of suggestions as to how she can change them. 'Without the 't' train falls like rain' was a change she suggested. Soon the children, who by the way are all six to nine year olds, quipped several ideas.

One of the youngest actually suggested the reverse. He said owl becomes a bowl. More ideas started spilling. Once the adult felt the children got the hang of it, she quickly disengaged and asked them to pencil down their thoughts.

After half an hour we got to read several sentences like 'Without the 't' hair flies in the air'. Another wrote 'Without the 'b' it rains but with the 'b' I have brains'. The children were busy writing. Those few who can't write fluently also tried hard.

This was in several ways a typical elementary approach to a lesson. The adult stayed long enough to give the key aspects of the idea. The children's imagination then took over to exploring the Language. Their ever strong 'herd instinct' pushing them to try even when they may not be ready. We were probably writing several dictation tests when we were that age.

I was sitting and listening to the adult and soon my pen wanted to try out a few lines. I thought 'Without the' was also repetitive and so started writing lines like that of a poem. And lo! When I re-read the first eight lines I thought of our favourite panda Po and finished the poem with him in mind.

Though, an endless thought
Read a mouldy bread
Prays to the rays of sun
Sways to normal ways.

Rides a cart to make an art
And grow a row of hair
Steep went step after step
To an abode that Bode well.

Ahead with a head on top
Came a pot, oh not! Po!
To fall in front of all
And they all bowed to Thy.

If this is what happened to a twenty-eight year old who didn't have such rich early experiences, I wonder what to expect off the intellectual explorers of six to nine when they grow up.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Freelancing for Firstpost: ISL 2015

Thanks to Vinayakk, I got an opportunity to write for Firstpost. I have added the links to the posts that were published. The posts mostly cover Chennaiyin FC's performance in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2015.

The first one is a preview about Chennaiyin FC for the ISL 2015. Next, is the match report of the first match between Chennaiyin FC and Atletico de Kolkata which Chennaiyin lost 2-3. I also wrote an analysis on the first game between Chennaiyin and ATK. I was all excited to get three articles published in a period of about four days.

I got a pass to cover all home matches and was expected to cover away games through television as well. But I didn't know that. After missing the first away game, I wrote eight takeaways from Chennaiyin's first win of the season against FC Goa. I watched the match at star sports website, which was delayed but still good enough.

For the win against Mumbai City FC, I saw the match, but couldn't write much about it. It was already being covered by Pulasta from Firstpost, so we decided to leave the report and analysis to him for this one. The next match I had slept off after my first major set of submissions for the Elementary Course, and caught up with the game only in the last few minutes.

I then finally wrote a tactical view after the second home game against Pune City FC which Chennaiyin won 2-1. This was also the first time I spoke in a post match press conference. It was an interesting experience. There were hardly a dozen guys at the presser, so looked weird with so much lighting and cameras.

The next game against Kerala Blasters was a drab draw and I could hardly think of anything to write. It was the first test to write something out of nothing and I failed miserably. The next match was a home game against FC Goa - the return leg. I wrote about four factors that handed Chennaiyin an impending loss.

The home match against Northeast United dovetailed with several things. The rain came down pell mell right from the start and lightning as well meant the match got delayed by an hour. My submissions due next day for coursework left me with no choice but to skip writing on the match in spite of spending three hours covering the match. The away match against Atletico de Kolkata gave me a chance to present this abysmal report card on Chennaiyin's performance just before the home stretch of the league.

Finally there was a swing of fortune. Three consecutive home wins followed. First it was Kerala Blasters who were thrashed 4-1. I wrote on what changed Chennaiyin's fortune. Next up, taken to the cleaners, were Delhi Dynamos who gave Chennaiyin their first ever home clean sheet. I picked five key players from the match and harped on why Mendoza can never be dropped. Then the final home game against Mumbai City FC was another blank for the visitors as Chennayin scored three in the pouring rain to knock on the play off spots. I picked three talking points from the match. The turnaround was complete with the win against Pune City FC and true to the manager's words it was a team performance. I wrote on the characteristics of that team performance. This after putting attendance at Avinash's reception (or atleast before it started).

Then came the heartbreaking news for the Chennaiyin fans that the first leg of the semifinals was moved to Pune in wake of the floods in the home city. More so because the Marina Arena was a major warehouse for relief materials. I lamented on what we'd all miss. Chennaiyin nailed the first leg 3-0 and Vinayakk was forced to cover the match in Pune. I didn't write on it. Then came the cracker of a second leg. I wrote about ten points of discussion after Atletico de Kolkata perfectly pulled a Chennaiyin of last season.

Then came the Grand Finale at Goa. The match lived up to the billing and was a cracker of a game. I finished off with the complete story of Chennaiyin this season. I thank Firstpost for the opportunity and would also like to thank Pulasta Dhar and Vinayakk for helping me along whenever needed.

Friday, February 13, 2015

To be or not to be, that indeed is the question.

Everyday we face a lot of questions. Whether to wake up now or later, whether to have breakfast or not etc These are more trivial and more pertained to the individual. Then come the questions at a social level. Whether to drop your mother at her work or not, to overtake the car in front or not, whether to overshoot a signal or not. How do we decide the answers to these questions?

While we are on the bed, we enjoy the comfort of the mattress and take the route of procrastination. The question of breakfast, even though it depends on whether we got up early enough or not, is decided by the time factor. Then the same applies to dropping our dear ones. Ultimately time seems to be the devil that presses us on the roads. We try to compensate by trying to beat the traffic, overshoot signals and putting all around us in danger. The funny thing is it all starts with an impulsive decision to simply sleep longer.

Once I said to myself I am reaching my workplace an hour early come what may. I did and the difference was striking. I found myself keeping calm and travelling the same route in the same time. This time, I kept my cool to let those in a hurry ahead on the road, wait for all the signals as required before the stop line and still spend the same travel time. What was so different this time?

The mere thought that we are in the comfort zone lets us be gracious, courteous and at the same time punctual. I also found myself calm in handling those questions pertaining to possible chores to be done on the way. So if this zone is so good, why can't we maintain things in the comfort zone? The problem I think is once we are in that comfort zone we soon start to get laid back in our approach. We push the limits of the comfort zone unintentionally for the worse and ultimately get back to that place where we blame time, time and again.

So flitting in and out of the zone - how does that work? Well, I used to work in a school. My timings are as fixed as they can be. I have observed myself that whenever I need to do something extra in the morning before school begins - could be something as simple as bringing few papers from the store cupboard - I consciously plan to leave early and even though I may not leave by the exact required time, I still fall in the comfort zone. The thing is this work has to be something absolutely urgent for the day and you really care about that being done. So you have to do something that you usually don't do,

So how often do these days occur? Again for me, these are days after long vacations where I need to be early to pull the covers off the shelves and fold them away neatly. These are more forced upon rather than self-motivated. so the right question would be "How often do you want these days to occur?" Even though the answer "Everyday" may escape our mouth, the difficulty behind that is not seen.

I mentioned that we tend to push at our comfort zone with regard to our travel plans. I think the pushing of our comfort zone is the key, but at a more broader perspective - the work we do at home or anywhere else (even travel is part of this work). We need to constantly think and do what is that one extra thing we can do to make whatever we did or are doing better. Working out of your comfort zone is an often used phrase. I've found that whenever I do that keeping in mind the capabilities I have and not worrying about the end result, the job seems to go on well enough. To be or not to be working out of your comfort zone - that is the question you need to answer for yourself!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Montessori and Me - Part II: The Montessori Course

Disclaimer: I would like to clarify that by Montessori, I mean the philosophy that Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor, put forth for helping the young minds of the world live in this World. I use the word live here because after all, quoting Dr. Montessori, education is a way of life.

The above disclaimer shall be repeated keeping in mind, new readers who might chance through this blog :). So plow straight ahead the next time :).


I had preliminary talks regarding the fellowship around December 2012 and was advised to get started with the books on Montessori which are published by Kalakshetra Foundation. I started with “The Child in the Family” and later “Education for the New World” before moving on to the heavy ones - “The Absorbent Mind” and “The Secret of Childhood”. Frankly, at the beginning, I was too skeptical if I'll get through even a single book. I somehow hadn't read much of non fiction books by then and I used to find it difficult to complete them. But with these books, I hung on to them from day one. My reading was protracted as it was confined to train journeys (I still had to work you know). So I found myself flipping back interestedly every time I restarted. I figured that I could relate to many of the thoughts and examples mentioned in the books in my own life. I found myself nodding along at many a point. The more I read, the more I was convinced of doing the course and the fellowship.

The books talked about the need for the child in a family should be treated as an individual working at his own self development. They spoke about the amazing powers that children have at an young age which helps them to adapt to this World into which they are thrust upon. They also dwell on the Sensitive Periods that children have, which when harnessed methodically, can enhance the child's development manifold. But all these together drove down the truth that children learn by themselves. All adults can do is help them in the process by providing a conducive environment. The child is very similar to a seed which when given the appropriate conditions at the appropriate time and in appropriate amounts can grow into a fully blossoming tree.

The fellows had an orientation in June 2013 through book reading sessions and also certain preparations needed for us to work with children of the 3-6 year age group. The preparations predominantly focused on how we need to be humble and let the children always have the spotlight in the environment. The mantra was to always “Follow the child”. We also had sessions that helped us to be conscious of our own movements which will be always watched by the ever absorbent children. We brushed up our language skills and also were given tips on prioritizing which helped us later during the actual course.

All geared up for the Mumbai leg, three of us fellows began the actual course there. The first few days of the course was spent on the aspects of children that I spoke about earlier and how children change physically and emotionally as they grow up. We also had lectures on the human needs and tendencies that drive and help the children in their process of self development. Then more particularly, we understood the characteristics exhibited by the children of the three to six year age group. Once this foundation was set, we proceeded towards how the environment needs to be prepared for the children to develop. The usual materials that form the part of this environment were broadly classified as Exercises of Practical Life, Sensorial and Culture. Culture included Language, Math, Botany, History etc. The major part of the course was covering these materials on why they are used, how they were designed, how they are to be shown to children, the major aims of them and when we should show them to the children. The reinforcement of the earlier theory can be seen in the designing of these materials and this can be felt only by our practice with them repeatedly.

During the course, I slowly realised how things that I liked to do came in handy. I had to juggle between travel, cooking, running to schools, attending lectures, running a marathon, reading, loads and loads of writing, illustrating, material making, painting and some football as well. I used to be an active participant in the Craft classes in school – ever enthusiastic to paint or stitch. These were called for during illustrating or material making. Running was a wonderful time to listen to your body and gave me the calmness that was needed to live in the moment. This helped me greatly to think and consciously act. My tryst with ink pens was re-ignited through the need to write my albums worth a 1000 pages. My constant obsession to plan or organise helped me manage my time and energy during the course. The ever constant craving to live away from parents on my own made me cook as well!

It was towards the end of the course that we had to write the essay on Indirect Preparation. But I had seen it coming all along that like I predicted there wasn't any lecture on that. This was the essence of Montessori according to me. The cherished experiences in life at one point will come back in your life at the hour of need later. These past experiences, if they were ones that were underwent willingly and with concentration, serves you as a boon. You seem to do things that you never considered you will do, but seem to be always prepared to do it. It was a coming together of several seemingly unrelated things. The Montessori environment for the children is based on this very essence. When the children are probably in the environment you may or may not see the changes happening, but when they do blossom out, it seems a miracle.

Our trainer always used to say, the Montessori course is just the First Period – an introduction, to understand Montessori. The Second Period – period of association, is much much longer. The Third Period is the one of mastery. I have just stepped into the second period...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Montessori and Me - Part I: How it all Started..

Disclaimer: I would like to clarify that by Montessori, I mean the philosophy that Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor, put forth for helping the young minds of the world live in this World. I use the word live here because after all, quoting Dr. Montessori, education is a way of life.

The above disclaimer shall be repeated (hoping against hope that this will be a first of many posts) keeping in mind, new readers who might chance through this blog :). So plow straight ahead the next time ;).


I have been repeating myself over the past year and half as to what I am doing with my life, so I plan to dedicate this first post to try and explain myself and how my tryst with Montessori began.

It was my second year in college when I was all enthused and very eager to attend my first lectures on Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE) at the fabled National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli. I hung on to every word (that I could make sense of) the first  few weeks. But soon I found my interest slipping away. One of the things I am proud (not all times though) of inheriting from my parents is I think too much. So with one such retrospection, I wondered how I could not like the lectures I so wanted to be in (getting into ECE there is another story).

The cross examining of myself led to the fact that my seed of interest was probably not brought up in a conducive manner. I have to admit. I was not one to read books on my own to learn something new. Maybe, I never cultivated the habit or maybe I didn't realise I had to. So school passed, thanks to all the wonderful teachers I had at Bhaktavatsalam Vidyashram and the last two years at DAV, Mogappair (not all at DAV). But now, I was all at sea in college. The lectures seemed droning, barring one or two (there were more in the later years, but it was too little too late). I was barely clinging on to my interest. It was hard to self-learn when the interest passes away. But somehow, I scraped through the year (and the later ones as well for that matter).

The other line of thought focused on the lecturers. They hardly seemed to care about what they were lecturing on. They had certain things to say and they said that, but not with any kind of passion or the will to pass on some knowledge. (More on this can be found here at my earlier post.) I started to think how difficult it would be to actually say what you knew in a manner that was liked by the rest.

Opportunity presented itself in the form of C++ (Oh! I love C++ from school days) classes for juniors through a club in college. I tried my hand, though with only few juniors to listen. I thought it went ok. (it was only for 3-4 days though as we had a very low response towards the end)

The other opportunity was through SPIRIT-ED which was more of a challenge. Handling 30 enthusiastic 6th to 9th graders once or twice a week to pass on knowledge about computers in about 45 minutes, was a lot about planning and managing time. Again the children seemed to respond well (which was more due to the fact that it was about computers and not because of me).

The experiences felt good for me and so the idea of a teacher got stuck. But three years of scraping through meant I hardly knew about ECE. Predictably my GATE results fell flat. (Also, thanks to my desires for voluntary work in innumerable situations). One thing was sure. I should not be a lecturer in ECE department in any college, if anyone else should not suffer what I did. The idea temporarily shelved I joined Athenahealth.

Then, I looked for more such opportunities once I started working. Then MAD (Make A Difference) and Bhumi happened. I took up teaching English rather than Math (which is always my favourite) as I believed my favouritism to Math was in-born, thanks to my parents -both working in banks. I always was naturally attracted to numbers and geometry and I never can recall how I learned them or imbibed the interest in them. But English was different. I had to struggle to improve my vocabulary, my speech and general conversation. Having fairly overcome this, thanks to innumerable opportunities at Bhaktavatsalam Vidyashram and NIT Trichy, I could understand some of the difficulties, if not all, that young minds faced with regard to learning English.

I was impressed with the curriculum and training at offer at the NGOs and how they were supposed to help the children initially. I was a regular, saturday 10 am to 12 noon teacher at centers in Chennai for the first two years. I was fairly able to execute my lesson plans during the first two years and again the children seemed to reflect the effort - a proud moment then being one of my class children winning a spelling bee contest across all centers we were handling. At the same event the first seeds of doubt were sowed with regard to the needless competition we seemed to have created. Some tears were being spilt while I was proudly looking at my child.

The third year at a center, I took up friday evening classes, thanks to some volunteer shortage. Man, that was challenging. Children who were knackered after school had to be taught English and our lesson plans were to be executed. First two weeks I remember closing classes at 7 40 pm (scheduled being 7 pm) simply because they had come late. I knew soon, it wasn't working. I had to re-invent myself to keep their interests and needs in mind and in class. I found Mosquito bands that were a need and converted them as an opportunity to get them to class early. But children showed me even better. I used to limit the bands to five to reward early birds. But halfway through the class, they naturally began to share. I was amazed. Meawhile, I started to find out each of their interests and tried to work the class around them, trying to give individual attention and group attention at the same time. It worked to some extent. More importantly, I finally seemed to have caught their attention. They actually looked forward to my class. But I felt that was still a work in progress. That year end I just made sure we did not have any competition but just a workshop from which all who attended (budget constraints meant we had to choose only a few per class) benefited.

A long time ago, a friend of mine had mentioned in passing about the Montessori philosophy in a CRY volunteer meeting. On further questioning him then, all I came to know was that it was a philosophy that avoided competition and arouse the interest of the children naturally. The organisation which he was working with then threw open a fellowship in December 2011. I saw it the first time and was interested on the outset and my eyes lit up when it mentioned a year is to be spent on Montessori training, but failed to grab the opportunity then. My third year at the NGO (2012-13) turned out to be the last nail that spurred me onto apply for it in December 2012- January 2013. And that is how it all started...