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Beware of the wolf!

Disclaimer: Names of people, whether children or adults, have been changed to respect their privacy.

I’ve recently come across a number of adults in positions of authority who seem to use certain questionable methods to assert that authority. One that is sadly common as a “disciplinary hack” that has come to my attention in multiple scenarios is “I’ll tell your parents”. Here are a couple of examples of scenarios – the usage and their effect.

1. 7 year old Leena was running around when she was supposed to be standing still. One of her teachers saw her and said “Leena, if you misbehave, I will complain to your father!” Leena spent the next one hour sobbing, and consequently missing a fun activity in one of her favourite classes.

2. 8 year old Rohan was eating his lunch slowly, and missed 5 minutes of his first class. The teacher monitoring scolded him, saying “I will tell your mother!” Rohan came home and told his mother himself, but also told her that he was scared to tell her because the teacher scolded him and said she’d tell his mother in the same vein. Rohan usually readily tells his mother about his day, both the good and challenging.

3. The 2nd grade class had a fun activity in one of their classes, and it was a noisy one! There are many methods to calm down. The method chosen by the teacher was “If you make noise, I will call Divya ma’am!” (Divya ma’am being their vice principal).

I’ll leave you all with a moment to think about these 3 distinct incidents, their effects, and how they could have been handled differently.

Some effects of the incidents:

  • The person to whom the complaint was being made (mother, father, vice principal) was indirectly being vilified. With this, a false sense of fear is created around this person.
  • Understanding the true consequences of their actions are lost -be it the child missing out on a class due to running around or going hungry from lunch due to not eating.
  • Without understanding the consequences, the same actions get repeated.

What could have been changed about each of these situations?

  1. For starters, the buck of discussing consequences shouldn’t be passed to parents and others!
  2. Consequences should be discussed on the spot (not postponed), in a matter-of-fact, non-confrontational manner.
  3. Use do’s instead of don’t’s. (Example: “Let’s sit and do this together” vs “Don’t run around”)

What else do you think we could do in the above situations to replace vilifying and fear with constructive criticism and positive reinforcement?

Aurinko Sports Day

The Aurinko Sports Day came and went this weekend. Aurinko does it again! The format of the Aurinko Sports Day is unlike any other I’ve personally seen. Children are led on the path of enjoying recreational sports, as the first requirement in being skilled at sports (or anything really) is enjoying what you’re doing.

The focus is on ensuring every child enjoys working out and playing sports, rather than focussing on winning (and invariably focussing on losing). Every child participated in a number of games. Every child was recognized for their participation through the audience’s cheers and being awarded a medal. Thereby, every child was given an opportunity to believe that they are capable! Even the children who were nervous prior to the event about their performance, ended up saying that the Sports Day was the most fun event ever and feeling proud of themselves for participating!

Why is it so important to focus on participation, you may ask. When the focus is on winning, often participants give up when they realize someone has already won. At Aurinko, every child completed the race, even when they realized that someone else had already reached the finish line! The cheers too did not stop till every child completed the race! The value of finishing what one has started thereby transfers to other life events. This also brings out the notion of aspiring to be good at what one does, irrespective of how others are doing.

Another lovely aspect of the Aurinko Sports Day was family participation. Participation, not competition. We family members did zumba, played tug of war, and also played a very interesting game designed and built by the Aurinko students. Our children watched us try hard, cheer each other on, enjoy the sweating and panting, and keep going on! In doing this, we adults literally practiced what we preached!

It was such a joy to be a part of an event where everyone in the school – teachers, staff, children and families enjoyed together so much. The day ended leaving all of us in the Aurinko Family feeling relaxed, content and happy to have spent time together playing and laughing.

Good pride or bad pride?

What is pride? Why do we feel proud? When should we feel proud, and how can we express pride in a positive manner? Are there different kinds of pride? These are deep questions to ponder for a fully grown adult, and yet Aurinko approaches them, as always, in true Aurinko style – simply, naturally, and in a way that children will always remember. For those who aren’t in the know, Aurinko Academy, the school my daughter attends is truly a progressive, child-centric, joyful school located in Bangalore, India.

After a long and severe viral fever for 10 days, my daughter Ananya, Grade 2, was overjoyed to return to school. (I should add that Aurinko children LOVE going to school – they will work hard at making fevers go away just so they can get back to school!) She had some positive recognition last couple of days – including being selected for the International Reading Olympiad. When she came home she said she felt happy. Being a mom, I naturally gave her a big hug and told her I’m proud of her! 

After some quiet time, she told me, that there is good pride and not-good pride, and good pride is when she feels pride for herself or her parents feel proud of her, but bad pride means showing off, saying “I’m the best!” and making anyone else feel bad. She also said that just because she is good at something, doesn’t mean that someone else also can’t be good at it, and that’s why she shouldn’t say “I’m the best”.  She said that they discussed this last year in Rama ma’am’s class, and that she always recollects this when she feels happy or proud of something she did. 

She also told me she wishes all her friends got selected with her for the Olympiad. This is another wonderful demonstration of the Aurinko philosophy, where children always want to share their joy rather than keep it to themselves. Of course, learning is at the core of this joy, where children believe in cooperation, helping and guiding each other rather than viewing learning as a(n unhealthy) competition. Learning, and education, is meant to be shared with all, and not kept selfishishly to oneself. I see this in every Aurinko child I’ve been lucky to meet – that they are always eager to share their joy! 

This conversation with her, just made me feel so proud to be a part of Aurinko ❤️ Do visit Aurinko by clicking here to know more!

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A dedication to our Guru, Professor Sadagopan

Yesterday, I took a drive down memory lane, both literally and figuratively, as I went down Hosur Road (safely masked in my own vehicle!) to my alma mater, iiit-b. I have been a part of iiit-b as a student since 2004, when as a tender freshly-graduated B.E. I entered the campus for the first time. Little did I know, what an impact this wonderful organization would have on my life. 

The campus one would visit today (in safer times of course) is very different from that which I entered in 2004. The structure has grown, burgeoning into new buildings. Gone is the window-canteen, where we would drop in for a cuppa noodles at midnight; and the small patch of lawn behind the erstwhile women’s hostel, where we would play badminton in the evenings.

However, in all these years one pillar has remained constant – Professor Sadagopan, our esteemed and beloved director. 

There is no lack of articles on the internet that embody his achievements. What I could tell you about his accomplishments, you would already know! I could write about his long list of awards, but you would have looked those up! I instead choose to write about the teacher, who has influenced many, many students. 

I remember the talk he had with our M.Tech batch on the day that we joined in 2004, near the erstwhile pond. This was my first interaction with him. For those of you wondering which pond I am speaking of – seventeen years ago, when our campus was brand-new, there used to be a pond to the left side as soon as we entered, inhabited by ducks, with rabbits hopping around on the lawn. As we unloaded our belongings into our new hostel rooms, we were summoned to the pond for the director’s address. I can still feel in my heart the warmth of the director’s welcome on that day. As he spoke to us of new beginnings on that warm summer day, it was the first spark that lit our journey of learning at iiit-b. 

The most life-changing impact the Director had on my life was at my Ph. D. graduation. I had recently moved to the US, awaiting my Ph. D. defense. When my time to defend arrived, I could not fly out to India, due to medical reasons – my little A was due to arrive a mere few weeks later! I shall be eternally grateful to Professor Sadagopan, and my two mentors Prof Chandrashekar and Prof NJ Rao, for having enabled me to defend online via Skype. Professor’s innovation and support in allowing me to do so came at a time when online defenses were not common, in fact I was the first from iiit-b to do so. Further, as I could not attend my convocation, he arranged to have my father personally collect my degree from the chief guest, in a true partnership of kindness and innovation. Professor, I am so proud to be a graduate of iiit-b, twice over. 

I could write about so many more ways he has influenced our lives, such the time he visited my home on the occasion of Navarathri Golu. To have my Guru visit home on Saraswati Pooja is a blessing I will cherish forever. During the first week of my M. Tech., when he requested all of the new students to write an essay on their expectations of their time at iiit-b – and yes, he read them all! Today, personalized learning is a buzzword, one which every educational institution strives to achieve through any means. But Professor Sadagopan has always known each and every one of his students for their individuality, no small feat across so many decades! For as long as I have been a part of iiit-b, his doors have always been open to all his students to drop in for a quick word or a long conversation. Yes, I could write on and on about all that he has done for us! 

Dear Professor, we cannot thank you so much for all you have done for our institute. You have guided me, and so many others and built our institute from the ground up. Your kindness and support are always remembered with gratitude.  Our namaskaarams to you and Madam. 

Thank you,

A recipe book for kids

I have an idea.

One of the constants during the pandemic has been food. Food has brought us comfort, joy, satisfaction, learning and more. When the weather has seemed gloomy, we fry pakodas, seating Ananya on the kitchen counter to gobble ’em up while they’re hot and crispy. When we need something to chew our brains on, we prepare a feast from a new cuisine, such as the middle-eastern feast we made, complete with home-made falafel, hummus, pita & muhamarra. When we need a dose of adventure, we spend the day making all the elements of a dish from scratch, such as pav bhaaji, filling our home with the aromas of freshly roasted spices and home-made bread. Ananya has loved this journey, eagerly awaiting dinner-time each night and learning to measure out ingredients for pav, roll out papdis for dahi papdi chaat and assembling her chaats just the way she likes.

The impact of this learning experience on Ananya has hit me a number of times. When I snagged a beautiful fresh baguette to make bruschetta, she asked me “which country is a baguette from?” I was also amazed when she casually mentioned to me learning about a “bibimbap” (a Korean rice bowl) from one of her books. I was once again in awe what a sponge for learning children are.

One of the roadblocks I’ve had on this journey is the sheer lack of good cookbooks for children that suit our tastebuds. I should mention here that both my daughter and I are those oddballs that can’t handle sweets- we do enjoy the occasional dessert, but love our savory food. We’re also vegetarians, and love trying ethnic food from everywhere- from close to home to around the world. But when I searched for cookbooks for kids, I frequently found dessert-themed books, or books with savory dishes that weren’t vegetarian, or good ethnic cookbooks that had great food but just weren’t accessible in language to a child.

This got me thinking. What if there were a cookbook that ticked all these boxes? A vegetarian, savory food cookbook written for kids. A cookbook full of colors and beautiful visuals. A cookbook that tells a story about each dish, the history and how the dish came to be. A cookbook that teaches children the science behind the food. Did I mention, a cookbook designed just FOR KIDS?

So this was my idea. This is the concept. To plan properly, it needs a series of recipes, stories behind the recipes, steps that children can accomplish independently and guidance on when they require adult assistance. Clear, concise, comprehensible instructions.

What do you think? Would you, or your child, love this?

Homeschool Day 1 – plans vs. reality

Let me preface by stating that today would be our second day of isolation. This means, no playdates, no meeting anyone outside of home unless absolutely necessary (such as a grocery store visit) and following all precautions even if we do step out.

The day started off well. We managed to stick to our schedule for the most part. I was very proud of A for grabbing her workbook and working independently at the same time that she would when in school. The morning went smoothly, with us sticking to the general plan with minor delays/alterations. In addition to the math worksheets, A chose to draw and make stories today, an activity full of whimsy as she dreamt of squirrels and kids playing in the forest.

This afternoon, our county along with other counties in the Bay Area announced a complete lockdown. This means, all 6.7 million residents of the Bay Area are ordered not to leave home except for food and medical reasons for the next 3 weeks. This is a difficult and crucial step in order to contain the spread of the virus. While that debate belongs on a different platform, it did derail our afternoon education plan. Anyway, more tomorrow!

Homeschooling Day 1

Today will mark day 1 of homeschooling.We’re hopeful, dare I say ambitious? 

Here is the schedule we have put together for ourselves: 


Ananya’s Activity




Call grandparents / Read


Shower, pooja


Writing activities – workbook – alternate between Language and Math


Learning activities – alternate between Science and Arts






Reading / Playtime


Milk / Snack

4:30 – 6:15

Outdoor time (if weather permits) OR Game time OR Exploration time (music/dash dot/ pick a topic)




Call grandparents



So this is our ambitious timetable. As the week unfolds, it will be interesting to see how much of the schedule is replaced with screen-time. However, my daughter is great at self-regulating and doesn’t do well with a lot of screen-time. The thing she is truly going to miss is playing with her friends, but right now it’s all about the bigger picture. She’s been a champ at understanding the impact of coronavirus and COVID-19. She’s read through / watched clips including this one from Washington Post, and the episode “How do people catch a cold?” from Storybots. More on this in another post. 

Some notes on my homeschooling philosophy/curriculum: 

  1. I shall ensure my teachings align with Common Core and NGSS as applicable, and continue to work on developing A’s critical thinking abilities. 
  2. I intend to follow an integrated approach to her learning. This means that I will try to develop simple projects and activities to do at home which will guide her learning in Math, Language and Science. In this regard, cooking and baking remains a favorite especially considering we are confined to home, but we’ll see what else we can come up with. 
  3. My biggest challenge so far is possibly incorporating a Montessori approach to her Math lessons. 

Signing off for now. Wish us luck!

On the Montessori Method and why it is my preferred educational philosophy…

A couple of years ago, when I started looking around at schools for my daughter, I was overwhelmed with the options. Should we look at an home daycare vs. a center? What kind of educational method was I looking for? What should the learning focus be on? I read about the Montessori method, Reggio Emilia approach, Waldorf education, and more. Superficial research told me that Montessori was a popular choice. Not to be convinced by a popularity vote, I delved further into my research and tried to work out why Montessori was so popular.

The first thing that I understood, and a very important point that I believe every parent should comprehend prior to enrolling their child in a Montessori school, is that Montessori is a philosophy, not a curriculum. Before proceeding, I had to learn all I could about Montessori and decide whether I believe in the philosophy or not. I could not put my daughter in a school unless I believed in their practices. So, let me explain to you what I learnt, why I believe, and then you can decide for yourself whether this is something you believe in too.

The Montessori method was definitely the oldest method of all that I had researched. It was developed by Maria Montessori over a 100 years ago. It has been tried and tested all over the world with a lot of success. In fact, Maria Montessori’s methods were verified more than a 100 years later through new techniques in brain research and MRIs with young children! A lot of the other methods I saw were newer with comparatively less field studies, and I wanted to go with a more tried and tested approach.

More importantly, Montessori follows a constructivist approach to learning. This means that students are actively involved in the process of building knowledge and learning, as opposed to passively receiving information. For example, lecture-based instruction is a passive form of learning. Now, think from a child’s perspective. Would a child below the age of 5 prefer to be active, using their hands and moving, or passive, being asked to sit in one place for extended periods of time and listen? I know my child would prefer the former, and I can imagine most children preferring the former too. I have believed in a constructivist approach for many years and worked on incorporating more forms of active learning at all levels, so it was obvious that I would want my bouncy, happy toddler to learn in a constructivist manner too. Children should be allowed to participate in their learning, and not be chastised for it. Montessori ticked that box.

Not only do children participate in how they learn, but they also, to an extent, choose what they learn. In a typical Montessori setup, students choose their activities from a prescribed range. This encourages a child to direct their own learning. By doing so, we ensure that the child is more engaged with his / her learning. Making such choices also improves their decision making skills at an early age!

I was also impressed with how activities were setup in the Montessori way. I learnt from A’s teachers that in Montessori terminology, activities are called “jobs”. A “job” consists of everything required to complete an activity from start (including selection and set-up) to finish (including cleanup). The jobs are setup in small trays or bins, and placed at a child’s height level. For example, when my daughter was in the “toddler room” one of the jobs was to pour water from one small beaker to another. This job, obviously, involves some spills and messes when performed by a 2 year old. The tray also had a small cloth, and children learnt to clean up their own spills! This ensured that children learnt complete ownership in all their activities, and also developed discipline to keep their surroundings clean.

This sense of ownership and discipline prevails in all things Montessori. Montessori rooms are designed for children – safe spaces, items placed at convenient heights, enabling children to be independent and allowing them to explore without restrictions. With this, children also develop a sense of responsibility such as cleaning up after themselves and organization.

It has been a year since my daughter started her Montessori education, and I have found a sea change. I have also found that for Montessori to be as effective as possible, one needs to comprehend that Montessori is a philosophy and not a curriculum, believe in it, and implement it outside of school as well. In the past year, we have worked on incorporating many Montessori practices in our day-to-day life and found that it has made it a world of difference. In a series of posts, I will be describing the ways in which we have started leading a Montessori life. Stay tuned for more!




First pizza!

Recently, I had a breakthrough. A ate her first pizza! Now, you might wonder why this is such a big deal. Why would I want my kid to eat “junk food”? Well, as I’ve mentioned time and again, A is a picky eater. She eats a handful of dishes prepared in exactly a certain way, often force-fed with bribes. Combined with our love for travel, it gets inconvenient with lugging around a rice cooker and ingredients everywhere.

I’ve come to realize that pizza is common denominator food, available world-wide, and isn’t as unhealthy as we think when we have control over the ingredients (from trust-worthy sources and home-made as far as possible).  A has taken an interest in cooking and baking recently, and I’ve taken advantage of this by encouraging her to participate in preparing dinner and have her eat the same food as the rest of the family, with no screens or bribes. I fight my motherly instincts to make her eat more everyday! We follow a Montessori philosophy at home (more on this in a future post) and she uses a ladder to reach the kitchen counter and participate in the daily cooking, an activity she loves. This has been a worthwhile effort.

I’ve also observed that she has a love for strong bold flavors. For example, she will always choose a pesto pasta over a mac ‘n’ cheese. So I decided to have her make her own pizza, choosing her own toppings. First, I asked her what she would like on her pizza, showing her a few options. She made a face and rejected the more traditional option of marinara. No worries, I asked her if she would like a pesto pizza. While she was suspicious (“Do you mean pesto pasta or pesto pizza?”) she did agree that she would like to make a “pesto pizza with cheese”. Brilliant! Step 1 had been accomplished – that was further along than we’d ever gotten with pizza before. And I ensured that she was involved with every step that followed.

Next, we had to buy ingredients. Trader Joe’s is a family favorite, where we all love shopping for our treats, in a trust-worthy, vegetarian-friendly environment. I asked her to please help me shop for ingredients. Since we were in a hurry that day, we chose to buy our ingredients rather than make the pesto at home, but that worked out very well as she loved looking around and finding the pesto and cheese off the shelves.

Finally, it was time to go home and make the pizza! By now, the excitement had amped up and she was extremely excited to make her own pizza. This turned out to be one of the easiest cooking experiments I had ever done with her. Other than getting the pizza in and out of the oven, she could do everything herself. She patted and rolled the dough into a circle, eagerly “painted” the pesto on the base, and got a kick out of heaping on cheese on the pizza (of course with chef’s treats of bits of cheese to snack on!) She watched eagerly through the oven door as her pizza baked. When the pizza was done, she bounced between her feet while we sliced it for her. She was so proud of it! And, best of all, she ate  satisfactory amount of it!

It just goes to show that kids are way more capable than what we give them credit for. In fact, other than a light dusting of flour on the counter, the entire activity proved to be mess-free with A developing a sense of cleanliness and order as well.

The importance of “I did it!”

“I did it!” These three simple words are possibly the most important ones that your child will ever utter. For, not only has your child achieved a task, but they have also identified that they have accomplished said task, and feel proud about it! It is a crucial milestone that a child recognizes achievement, for this is an important factor in motivation. And without motivation, where would more achievements come from?

In order to help a child achieve something, one has got allow the child to make mistakes. I mean, if you get something right the first time you try it, chances are you probably haven’t gotten a chance to learn it well. This is something we forget often when we are working with little ones. In their process of learning, children need to be allowed to make mistakes. You don’t need a child who’s a mini-Picasso, the next Shakespeare, or a Ramanujam Junior. All you want is a child who enjoys learning!

One of the most important things to keep in mind to help a child achieve a goal and feel proud about it is to set attainable yet challenging goals. For example, for a child who knows his alphabet and reads sight words and other simple words, this goal could be to read a picture book with up to one sentence per page. A book with several sentences per page may prove to be too challenging, yet a book with mere word identification may not interest the child enough to pursue the task. This is something that schools should keep in mind as well as they design instructional activities for their students. If the child requires a parent to do a task assigned, then the instructional activity has not been properly set. After all, we want the child to say (proudly) “I did it!” not (disinterestedly) “My mom/dad/grandma/grandpa/someone else did it!” Especially at a young, tender age, such assignments set a precedence that a child can get someone else to do their assignments!

In this regard, it is also important to increment goals gradually to keep them challenging. One of my favorite tools in this regard is the competency map. Simply put, a competency map is a tool used to determine the order in which goals are set. For example, a child should learn to identify the alphabet before being asked to read a word. Increment goals sequentially and ensure the child has accomplished pre-requisite goals before pushing them further. Forcing a child to work towards a goal that they aren’t ready for may have the dangerous effect of making them averse to learning – we definitely do not want this!

It’s also crucial to keep goals interesting. No matter how good a child feels to accomplish a goal, he/she needs motivation. Interest is a huge factor in motivation. Offer a child a bright colorful picture book with images interspersed with text and a book with just text, and the child will show more interest in reading the picture book. It’s also important to align goals with the child’s interest. It’s okay for the child to pick arts and crafts over music, or sports over dance. It’s important for parents, caregivers, and teachers to align goals with the child’s interests.

Of course, another great way to motivate is to incentivize. Children (anyone really) do great when they are rewarded for their efforts! One great way to incentivize is to maintain a “reward chart” that recognizes efforts. For example, you could give your child a star for a job well done, and a reward for every 5 stars. While this method seems like you’re making your child work harder, it is a great way to positively reinforce and boost your child’s confidence, and encourage accomplishment.

Most importantly, have fun! We always want our children to enjoy learning and have fun in whatever they accomplish. Play games to learn, allow for wiggles and giggles and simple joys, and you will find your child picking up the joy and pride of accomplishment in no time! I wish you and your child the best of luck and joy, and a life filled with “I did it!”