Teaching the Kids…

The amount of material that kids have to study these days is staggering. My nephew Ashwin has just completed his kindergarten and will be in the first standard from the next academic year. The amount of homework he used to bring home everyday was staggering. I used to feel sorry for him whenever I saw him struggling with pages and pages of homework he had to complete.

Kindergarten is supposed to be fun and learning is supposed to happen through games and activities. But nowadays, the kids are being taught words and sentences that many of us learned during our fourth or fifth standards. This raises the issue of having talented and qualified teachers in the primary schools and kindergartens. But one cannot expect a skilled professional for Rs. 2500 per month. Anjali has written an excellent post on this—The Sister Act.

In my opinion, we should give more importance to the early stages of the education of the kids. If we teach and train them well during the formative years, they would be self-sufficient and will have the necessary skills to find their way on their own when they grow up. But one of the problems with our education system is that we don’t give importance to the kindergartens and primary schools. The compensation package and hence the quality of the teachers at this level is abysmal. This has to change and the quality of the teachers has to improve (and they should have special training in teaching the kids). Otherwise the kids will learn many bad and wrong habits, which will be very difficult to correct later.

Now coming back to my nephew, he will be in the first standard this year. Before vacation, the school had started teaching cursive writing but could not complete it as there was not enough time to fit that too into the already crowded syllabus. So they took the easy way out. The wrote the alphabets on a book and send it with a note saying the kids should learn cursive writing during the holidays as the teachers will be using it in the first standard.

I was entrusted with the task of teaching my nephew cursive writing as well as revising the lessons of UKG. One problem that Ashwin’s teacher mentioned was that he was slow in writing and would not write more than a few pages at a stretch. But she was unable to find out the reason.

I asked Ashwin to write a few words and I could see what the problem was—his grip was wrong. He was gripping the pencil in the wrong way and was applying too much pressure on the pencil and on the paper. Since he was applying too much pressure on the middle finger, he couldn’t write for long at a stretch as there would be pain. Since he was applying too much pressure on the paper, the writing was slow.

I gave him a bigger pencil—a special three-sided pencil specifically designed for teaching the perfect grip (the tripod grip). Then I asked him to write without applying too much pressure. To show that he was applying too much pressure on the paper, I put a carbon paper a few pages below the page he was writing and after he wrote a sentence showed him the impressions of what he has written on the fifth page (this is a tip I got while searching the Internet).

Ashwin was finding this difficult. First he had to unlearn what he was doing till then. He had to maintain the correct grip and also concentrate on the pressure. To motivate him, I designed a token system. After each day’s session (between 6.30PM and 8.30PM), based on his performance, I would give him tokens. He could use these tokens to buy TV viewing time (only Cartoon Network and Pogo and there too only certain cartoon shows —Tom and Jerry, Oswald, Bob the Builder, Kipper, Popeye, etc.) or could use it to see a movie (animations from Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, Dreamworks, etc.). He liked the idea very much.

To make study interesting I broke down the two hours into 10 minutes sessions. First 10 minutes we will study and the next 10 minutes I will tell a story. But here I faced a big challenge. I have been telling him stories since he was 3 years old and he knew most of the stories and in most cases, at least 5-6 variants of each. I had exhausted all the usual ones like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, etc. long time back. I had also told him stories from Ramayan, Mahabharat, Bhagavatam, and Bible. He was familiar with Aesop fables, stories from 1001 Arabian Nights, Panchatantra and so on. He would make me tell a story 3–4 times and when he went to my home he would make my mother tell these stories again and again. So, this time I had turned to Greek mythology and started telling stories of Pegasus, Prometheus, Hercules and his 12 tasks, and so on. So every day I had to come up with new stories.

Our learning program was going smoothly. Some days, when he is not in the mood it is very difficult to make him do anything. He will withdraw into a shell and would not do anything. Yesterday was one such day. As soon as we started he showed signs of restlessness. He wouldn’t do anything I asked him to do. He started yawing and was totally disinterested.

After sometime, I got angry. I told me him to write, he refused. Then I told him that it is for his benefit the entire exercise is being done. I told him that I have better things to do and definitely don’t want to waste my time if he is not cooperating. Still there was no positive signs from his side and I became really angry and told him that if he doesn’t want to study, that is fine with me. So we stopped the class and I didn’t give him any tokens or told him any stories. I told my brother about it and went to my room to finish a chapter I was writing.

My brother called him and tried to explain the importance of learning and how I was trying to help. My nephew calls me ‘aachachen’ (his version of Alex achachen when he was young) He told my nephew, “Aachachen is very busy and has a lot of work to do. So when he tries to teach you, you should cooperate, because if you don’t learn to write fast, then you will have problems when you go the first standard.” He added “Aachachen was very sad with your behavior” to which my nephew replied “No, he was angry and he shouted at me!” After some time my nephew told my brother the following story:

First, we (aachachen and I) died and went to heaven. When we reached heaven we became angels and we were of the same age. Aachachen’s hair was black as mine, he was young like me and he could walk. As angels, we could travel at the speed of thought and we could be anywhere anytime we wanted. We could choose to be invisible or visible.

God was sitting in an air-conditioned room. We were made guards of that room. There used to a stream of dead souls from Earth. God will test each soul with a pointed needle and the good souls were allowed to enter heaven and the bad people were sent to hell. It was our duty to push the bad people into hell.

It was very hot outside as the sun was very close to heaven. The heat was unbearable and both of us were sweating profusely. So we entered God’s room and stood there as it was cooler inside. Then a drop of sweat from my forehead fell on the floor of the room. God was angry and he asked both of us to go and stay outside. Once outside, we again started sweating. We wiped the sweat and it fell down to the Earth. Once it entered the Earth’s atmosphere, it became rain. Since we were sweating excessively, the rainfall became very heavy and soon there was a huge flood and people and animals started dying. Seeing this God called us and allowed us to stay in his room and the flood stopped.

Aachachen was bored of being an angel. He wanted to eat good food, drink Coca-Cola and SevenUp. So one day he jumped down to the Earth. He landed in velliyammachi’s (grandmother’s) stomach, came out, and grew up. All this time I was serving God. When you (his dad) and amma got married I also jumped down, landed in amma’s stomach, came out and is now 6 years old.

So, the age difference between aachachen and me is because aachachen jumped from heaven 35 years before me. Because I was not selfish and served God for 35 years more, aachachen is my uncle and I am his nephew. But we were colleagues once and were of the same rank, so aachachen has no right (and there is no need) to scold me!!!!

This story is derived from many sources—Bible (the flood), Rayamana and Mahabharat (the previous life, life after death), Movie City of Angels (angles jumping down from heaven to become human), Movie Mission Impossible (the drop of sweat falling on the floor), Glucometer (he has seen a demo of the product, when we were planning to buy one for my mother) and God only knows what others.

So, today, I am looking forward to teaching my old colleague from heaven, treating him with respect he rightly deserves…


  1. MC said,

    May 6, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    does “cursive” writing look something like this:

    A little boy was doing his math homework.

    He said to himself, “Two plus six, that son of a bitch is eight. Three
    plus four, that son of a bitch is seven….”

    His mother heard what he was saying and gasped, “What are you doing?”

    The little boy answered, “I’m doing my math homework, Mom.”

    “And this is how your teacher taught you to do it?” the mother asked.

    “Yes,” he answered.

    Infuriated, the mother asked the teacher the next day, “What are you
    teaching my son in math?”

    The teacher replied, “Right now, we are learning addition.”

    The mother asked, “And are you teaching them to say two plus two, that
    son of a bitch is four?”

    After the teacher stopped laughing, she answered, “What I taught them
    was, two plus two, THE SUM OF WHICH, is four.”

  2. Anju said,

    May 6, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    Reminds me of the time I was telling the story of Red Hiding Hood to my nephew with his 2 year old sister close by. Three days later she blurts out to her mom “So sad, the wolf ate ammachi!”. Kids are like sponges. And your nephew is already showing a lot of creativity which kids his age show if their mind is stimulated enough. He will be a blogger of repute 🙂

    I am shocked at his curriculum though! We never had homework till 4th std. Now my school has stopped exams too till 4th std. You are right, KG teachers should be the best! But then sadly our pre independence education system is meant to churn out ‘jacks of all trades masters of none’. And it applies to KG kids too. ‘Start em young and watch them grow into better babus’ is the motto of our Education System.

    It is unbelievable that we still follow the system. And oh yeah you better show your old colleague some respect 😛 He is so cute!

    Good one!!

  3. chekku said,

    May 6, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    very imaginative kid..infact how ideas come up when u are young is so evident here..and the way he reasoned with you is very creative.. ;-P

    And like you said kids of this generation are subjected to too much pressure..they are made to believe that you are a loser if you dont stand up to the first rank guy in the class..rather than kindling creativity in them..and helping them pursue their passion the education system we have now is very narrow minded and more often very rigid..

    Kids are not allowed to enjoy the learning process..kids feel it like a chore..which basically destroys the essence of education..

  4. Paresh said,

    May 6, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Aachachen was bored of being the angel. He wanted to eat good food, drink Coca-Cola and SevenUp. So one day he jumped down to the Earth. He landed in velliyammachi’s (grandmother’s) stomach.

    Proves that you are a person who is yet to overcome your basic instincts & Ashwin being a spiritually awakened soul should teaching you a few things. 🙂

  5. Alexis Leon said,

    May 6, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    MC: Long time no see. Hope all is well. …son of a bitch is… ROTFL. Nice one bro.

    Anju: So sad, the wolf ate ammachi! That is a nice one 🙂

    Yes the curriculum is made tough and the blame mostly should be on the parents. What happens is that the parents complain that the kids are not being taught anything at school. They will compare with other schools and will make complaints to the school management “school X is teaching this in LKG,” “school Y is teaching that in UKG,” so why are not teaching the kids and why there is no homework. So, most schools are forced to include a lot of stuff to satisfy the parents. Only a few school managements have the courage to tell the parents to leave teaching to the people who are qualified to do that. Since it is a business to the managements, they don’t want to lose their ‘best school’ status and will do whatever the parents or PTA wants them to do.

    The environmental science paper in UKG has topics like ozone layer depletion, global warming, greenhouse effect, etc. and the teachers who teach this subject does not have a clue and will repeat what is in the text book, confusing the kids. Here students are not allowed to think or use their mind, but to memorize and repeat what they have memorized. And at the receiving end is the poor kid who has to do tons of work—class work, home work, projects and so on—at an age when he/she should be playing, singing songs and leading a carefree life.

    But one voice among hundreds is ignored. So we do what ever that is in our power to ease the burden and make study interesting, make him think, improve his knowledge of everyday things and situations, love and explore nature and so on. And we always tell the kids, don’t study to become first in the class; that is not important. Study when you feel like studying and study to learn new things; study so that you can read good books and write a few and so on.

    You are fortunate to have studied in a school where the emphasis was more on making the learning process enjoyable.

    Today we declared a truce, I apologized for scolding him, he apologized for making me angry, but he won. Now for every 10 minutes of study, I have to tell stories for the next 15 minutes 🙂 You can’t win an argument with a person who has served God 35 years more!!!

    chekku: He is a good storyteller and has a good number of stories in his repertoire. So he can mix and match and come out with as many stories as he wants. There should be a drastic change in the education system; children should be given work load that should be proportionate to their age. Yes, learning process should be fun and enjoyable. But most of the parents and schools think otherwise.

    Paresh: LOL… I am already learning a lot form the awakened soul.

  6. Rajesh J Advani said,

    May 7, 2007 at 10:31 am

    Wow. That kid has a classy imagination!

    If he starts “writing” at an early age, and you ensure that this creativity is not lost, he could become an accomplished author 🙂 After all kids are publishing books at 15 that are made into movies a few years later (Remember Christopher Paolini?)

  7. poison said,

    May 7, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    thats one of the better stories that i ve heard in a long time.

    when i was young my mother was exhausted of repeating stories that she finally came up with a whole new fantasy world, where we would both weave the fabric creating plots new. please give your nephew his chance at neverland. 🙂 i am positive that we have a tolkien hidden in that little angel.

  8. Anju said,

    May 7, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    What you say about teachers having no clue of the subject can be illustrated by something that happened with me. I asked my Civics teacher why England had a Queen and not a King. She went into a tizzy! Later I reasoned out that the Queen had no brothers and hence there was so King!

    What is so sad is that we are a nation of people who do good in studies but we have one of the worst education system and teachers around. Think of the many talents nipped in the bud due to this. What a colossal waste!

  9. neermathalam said,

    May 8, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Regarding the work load..it is quite natural…with the times we live in…to stay ahead in race…they have to…and after all…happiness and enjoyment is a very relative term is in’t…
    You feel bad for him..and he is also feeling bad…the same was the case for me and parents when i studied…I would dismiss this as a case of changing times.
    And yes 101 percentage i agree quality of teaching and compensation to a teacher should be revised heavily..in all

    2ur nephew
    ” Because I was not selfish and served God for 35 years more, aachachen is my uncle and I am his nephew. But we were colleagues once and were of the same rank, so aachachen has no right (and there is no need) to scold me!!!!”

    Oh God…never heard such an interesting story in recent times….
    you have mixed it so well..and it is so very believable…and how well did you portray ur “aachachen ” as a judas who ditched God for a can of coke….”

  10. Manju said,

    May 9, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    I am zapped listening to the story of your nephew. He really has a vivid imagination. He can right away find work as a scriptwriter as almost all our films lack original scripts 🙂

    Its really a sad state of affairs regarding education of the little ones. Its a pity to see them carry school bags heavier than them and being saddled with tonnes of homework that they don’t have time to play.

  11. Alexis Leon said,

    May 9, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    Rajesh: Thanks Rajesh, I will pass on your congratulations. We are trying to ensure the creativity and love for words is not lost.

    poison: Thanks buddy. That is a wonderful idea that you have suggested. Have already tried it out and it works and my nephew loves it.

    Anju: It is ironical that we pay very high salary to the college professors who does not have half the effort to teach while the teachers who are faced with very challenging task of teaching and grooming the young and curious kids are paid so little. I am sure that if good compensation package is provided, the schools won’t have any trouble in getting well qualified and properly trained teachers. But since, everyone is in this business to make money; I don’t see this happing 🙁 Yes, our education system has killed many a creative minds and turned them in robots.

    neermathalam: Regarding the work load it is not quite natural. I don’t know why they have to stuff so much so early. Have you seen the Std X CBSE syllabus? There is hardly anything. A reasonably intelligent student can learn it in 3–4 months. What I am saying, increase the work load as they grow up. I learned Hindi in the fifth standard. May of my classmates learned English also in the fifth standard, because in those days, in Malayalam medium schools, English was only from standard V. But that have not affected the vocabulary or language skills of the concerned persons. So let the kids have fun during the early stages and as he/she grows up, increase the work load. Till them read them stories, poems, make them read stories and poems, tell the interesting facts and make them do activities like planting a tree or maintaining an aquarium, make them tell stories and so on. These are activities that are interesting, fun and at the same time will improve the knowledge and shape the personality of the kid.

    From Ashwin: Dear Neermathalam uncle, Thank you for your comments. But I didn’t portray my aachachen as Judas. I think you have got the fundamentals wrong 😉

    Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 Silver coins. My aachachen did not betray God; he got bored, resigned and found another life. It is same as you resigning from one company and joining another.

    Manju: Thanks Manju. He already has a few scripts, but most of them are copyrighted material from Walt Disney and other sources 🙂 Regarding the education system, it is sad but true.

  12. venus said,

    May 11, 2007 at 1:02 am

    GOD!! homework in KG!?! this probably may also be a reflection of our society, socials expectations. I feel really bad for your nephew that he has to undergo so much of stress at this tender age when it’s the time for him to play and laugh and learn.

    Your nephew told you a nice story 🙂
    yeah, it can be very difficult to explain them the concepts of birth and death. This is good way to make him familiar to these eternal truths!

  13. Suji said,

    May 12, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Wow! What a great story. Your nephew is a very imaginative kid. I am sure if you keep nourishing his young mind in the same way he will grow up to be a great writer and a good human being. My regards to Ashwin.

  14. flaashgordon said,

    May 15, 2007 at 7:33 am

    Hi Alex
    Really the imagination is so vivid…..he is going to be a famous script writer/ best seller writer in the future..Reminds me of my niece who asked during Good Friday mass on being narrated the story of jesus beaten and nailed on the cross…”Why didnt Jesus have spinach???

  15. Chacko said,

    May 15, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    LOL .. thats a wonderful story u r nephew told :D..

    from now onwards u cant scold him :)).. u r his colleague na… maybe u can say an excuse that u got promoted :P.

    And regarding the holiday cursive writing , i still remember that i was told to study Hindi alphabets during the holidays..i think it was in 5th or 6th std. i didn’t do anything.i enjoyed my vacation at my mothers house…and when the school reopened only few were there who couldn’t write Hindi alphabets..and our Hindi teachers didn’t give much time to study the alphabets… and from that day onwards i hate Hindi 😀

  16. veenaa said,

    May 28, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    hi…i enjoyed ur lil nephew’s story tht i called up my friend and actually read it out to her. I also read MC’s story abt the maths recitals !!! So many joyful incidents with kids come to my mind and its difficult to put all joyful experiences here. I’ll jus write one such experience…..

    My friend’s son recites our national anthem this way…..
    Jana Gana Mana ………
    Dravida ucchhala Nanga (instead of Ganga)
    lol!!!!!! and says it with all innocence !!!!!!

    We not only burden the lil ones with lotta studies but give them less time to play. I remember myself playing in the mud, falling, getting hurt ….bleeding but still running to play….well u guessed it right i hve lotta glorifed awards (scars) on me which i’m happy abt. But these days kids are given remote control toys and are far off frm Mother Earth.


  17. Kesi said,

    May 30, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    I don’t remember now where exactly I took the photo but it was in Kottayam somewhere…all I can still remember is what the old man was telling the little girl(in malayalam)because I was standing near enough to hear them.

  18. bindu said,

    May 31, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    from the mouths of kids…..
    i had an almost opposite experience with my son’s LKG teacher. for coloring he was given a picture of five flowers and was asked to color the first one yellow and the last one red. he colored the left one red and the extreme right one yellow and the teacher had given him excellent. when i asked her, the teacher said it is only fair since she hadn’t told him first and last from which end!! no wonder all the kids just adore her. hope he gets someone similar in ukg too.
    and by the way, your wish for me came true verbatim – safe and fast delivery, very short hospital stay – got admitted at 3 in the evening and Naomi was born at 9.07 pm- and a long holiday with lots of karimeen and little bit of thaaravu. back today to the hustle and bustle of city and feeling very depressed.

  19. Alexis Leon said,

    June 1, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    veenaa: The ganaganamana version was really hilarious 🙂 Yes you are absolutely right. Today’s kids miss the magic and innocence of childhood as they are bombarded by too much information from TV, games and a lot of other sources. They will never feel the sheer joy of playing in the paddy fields, singing in the rain, catching fish in the canals, etc. As you said they are given remote controlled car and other electronic gadgets that take away all the links with nature. Sad…

    venus : Yes, I completely agree with you. And the irony is that when they reach the VIII, IX and X standards, there work load is considerably less. I know since I have helped by sister’s son for his class X exams. There are only 5 subjects and very little to study. Explaining life, death and even life after death to my nephew was easy. He got the ideas and concepts very quickly and is very stoic about those things. He is more terrified about vampires, demons and so on.

    Suji: Thanks Suji. I will pass on the compliments.

    flaashgordon: Thanks flash…“Why didn’t Jesus have Spinach?” That is great. Surely Popeye must have been a great inspiration 🙂

    Chacko: We managed to reach an agreement that works well 🙂

    Kesi: I think it is somewhere in the Aleppy district, but I could be dead wrong. But that was a nice picture.

    Bindu: Congratulations!!! Glad to know that everything went well. Hope you and Naomi are well and healthy. Naomi–nice name with a equally nice meaning–Delightful. I wish that Naomi make your family more delightful and pleasant.

    Your son’s LKG teacher is one of the few exceptions. If there were more teachers like her, then the kids would love studying rather than consider it a necessary evil.

  20. anu said,

    June 1, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    very true.. i had a tough time with my kids when they were tiny. now i have no say. its tutions and coaching classes.. what a relief..!!

  21. Bad Dog said,

    June 4, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    My mother has experience of teaching LKG and UKG students for the last 20 years. She even takes tutions for them, not day care, tutions.
    Parents wont have it any other way. Go figure

  22. anju said,

    June 16, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    You are tagged with the The First Kiss Tag! 🙂

  23. starry nights said,

    June 19, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Love that story.your nephew has an imagination.someday he is going to write stories.it is hard for kids nowadays.I DO THINK THEY ARE OVERWHELMED WITH SO MUCH STUDY AND SO YOUNG. How are you doing Alexis.