Croquet – what’s that?

We recently watched the movie ‘The Theory of Everything’. The movie was a great way to understand how one man’s life had played out against all odds. My parents had come along and on the way back we could not stop my father from talking about croquet, a game he had played while in England.


Croquet shots: “Wired.” A palpable “catch.” by UBC Library Digitization C

A lot of people might ask ‘what’s that’? It’s a game, albeit an old one. It was super popular in England around the 1860s and then spread, so far in fact, that we have it even in America. It’s origins are obscure – maybe from an old ball and mallet game from France called pall-mall  or from Ireland’s crookey.

Wherever the game came from it was so popular that it spread to many of the Anglophone countries, with slight variations in rules.

The American version

The game is governed by the United States Croquet Association. Two sides play this game. One side plays the blue and black balls while the other side plays red and yellow. One can play a singles or a doubles game. The lawn (dimensions as well as the grass length is fixed) has six wickets and a stake. The teams compete to move the heavy plastic balls through the wickets in a particular order and into the stake at the center. A 3 foot tall mallet is used to strike the ball. The entire set of rules can be looked up here.

Increasing popularity

To increase the popularity of this game which has no gender and age bias, new rules have been introduced. It is also being promoted as a game which helps people stay fit in a gentle way.


It’s a New Year – let’s talk calendars!



It’s the start of a new year and we got talking about calendars and I had to blog about it!

What does the start of New Year signify? The one thing we tend to overlook because it’s so automatic and therefore mundane, is the start of a new calendar. That’s right, a calendar. With calendars on our phones, computers and digital devices, a paper calendar is a rarity. Some of us still have table top calendars of many varieties.

Calendars have existed for thousands of years. Various civilizations developed their calendars and even morphed them on the basis of new learning. Many of these calendars were based on the cycles of the Moon or the Sun, making them lunar and solar calendar respectively.

The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and it is tied tight to the phases of the moon.

The Persian calendar is a solar calendar based on the seasonal changes of a year through a year based on the apparent motion of the Sun.

The Hindu calendar is an example of a luni-solar calendar which is based on a combination of both solar and lunar changes.

Interestingly, some of the ancient Egyptian calendars were based on the movement of Venus.

All this goes to show that human have been grappling with measuring and keeping track of time via a variety of calendars which use other planetary bodies.

Around the World with Penguins

I recently discovered that teaching kids about countries and cultures can be made fun with the help of movies and games. I did a test drive of sorts with the recently released Penguins of Madagascar. Maybe it was beginner’s luck but I got the kids talking about four countries across four continents, plus one! I am sharing some of the interesting conversations we had about cultures and animals.

Antarctica – This gave me the opportunity to talk to them about the animals that are found there, including the penguins, and how they adapt to their environment. Seals, glaciers, ice bergs are a few of the subjects we touched upon.

Madagascar – We only got a brief glimpse of the Madagascar island, but the kids had already watched the Madagascar series and my elder one was quick to quip (and mighty pleased about it) that lemurs were mostly found here. I was pleased too that he remembered that little fact!


Lemur” by @Doug88888 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

New York – The kids were pretty excited about the Big Apple because it is closer home and their Aunt Janie lives there. So we know where we will be going when we visit her.

  • Central Park – This one started a debate about keeping animals in zoos or if they should be left in the wild and if, perhaps, a wildlife sanctuary is a more humane way to keep animals in captivity.
  • Coney Island – I explained to the kids about various land-sea formations like isthmus, island, gulf, etc. They eagerly poured over a few family photographs of the theme park that I pulled out.
  • Times Square – I must be honest, Times Square excited me more than it excited the kids. I managed to get some videos of the New Year’s Eve celebrations at Times Square and that piqued their interest!

Venice – This caught my little one’s attention and imagination with its canals and gondolas. We talked about how Venice is in danger of sinking because of the rising sea levels. This led to other places that are at risk like the Maldives and Amsterdam, and how the latter also boasts of canals and how its bicycles outnumber its population!


Red boat – Venice” by MorBCN is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Shanghai – The kids wanted to know about the food one gets in Shanghai and this needed some research. We looked at photographs of all the water parks around Shanghai. We may even visit the nearby Chinatown to taste some authentic Chinese food!

Seeing how this really got my kids to ask questions and talk, I think I will be taking this route more often when I need to get them to learn and, more importantly, when I want them to interact with a subject the way they did with this movie. Next up on our list by popular demand is Rio, so I need to brush up my Brazil know-how!

Good resolutions and the New Year

Long resolution lists don’t work for me. I inevitably get lost thinking about the list and all the things I have not done – leaves me stressed and unhappy. Instead in the last two years, I take up a simple thing that I can change in my life.


Young men playing in the Park by alobos Life

Over the years the time I spend on play has decreased. Last year I made two resolutions – to play more and to start a blog. Both were open ended resolutions, which I could achieve. This year I am going to extend my resolution – play more with my kids and spend more time on the blog.

The resolution translates to playing more games appealing to kids. Kids play fewer organized sports and more of free play which is great for their development. Via games they learn sharing, integrity and a good sportsmanlike spirit. These things are great to build a good attitude which help kids through their lives.

5 great things kids learn from play:

  1. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Different players bring in different strengths into a team which all together help a team to win.
  3. A hard fought game, even if the team loses gives the players a great sense of achievement.
  4. Practice does make perfect – repeated play improves skill.
  5. It teaches kids that some can be better than others at certain skills.

Play has a very important role in the lives of kids. Let’s see if I can stay true to my resolution and play with my kids!

4 Things That Work Well in the Penguins of Madagascar Movie

Blame it on the Holiday Season, but I decided to write about something different – a movie we watched in the last few days.

One of the most eagerly awaited animated movies of this year for us was unarguably Penguins of Madagascar! From being just supporting cast members in the Madagascar series, the adorable penguins – Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private – have been upgraded to playing the protagonists in this latest offering by DreamWorks. Their cuteness and cuddliness was evident in the trailers and the teasers had set the stage for a perfect Christmas! When we finally headed to the movie hall, kids in tow, to watch the Penguins on the big screen, it was easy to see that the kids had a lot of expectations, and fortunately, we weren’t let down. Needless to say, my kids loved the movie and so did we. Here are 4 reasons why I think everybody must watch it!


Image Credit:

The Penguins

Never before have penguins looked so swashbuckling as in Penguins of Madagascar. The movie starts with little Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico who take it upon themselves to look after the little bird that hatched from a stray egg, and name it Private. With this simple act, the flightless birds steal our hearts immediately, gearing us up for all the unconventional choices and thrilling adventures they have in store for us. With their characteristic charisma, they team up with the elite spy agency – the North Wind – and outwit Dr. Octavius Brine, an octopus in the guise of a man, who is out to turn lovable penguins the world over into ugly monsters. Their antics and never-say-die attitude is a definite show stealer!

The North Wind

Not even the world’s greatest spy, James Bond, is as arrogant and elite as the North Wind! Comprising a pretty little female owl named Eva, a witty harp seal named Short Fuse, a mammoth white polar bear named Corporal, and led by a wolf named Agent Classified (because, you see, his name is classified), the North Wind’s objective is to “help the animals that can’t help themselves”. Their state-of-the-art gadgets and machines would put any contemporary sci-fi thriller to shame. Don’t forget to check out their simulation device which projects 3D images with the snap of two fingers!

Octavius Brine/Dave

The beauty of the Penguins of Madagascar movie is that there is a human element and emotion even in the evil Dr Octavius Brine. The audience feels his pain when when he reveals the reason behind his actions – The octopus was kept in a zoo where he used to be the center of attraction for a long time. Kids and adults would throng the park only to have a look at its celebrity octopus who would keep the visitors mesmerized with its clever tricks. His monopoly was soon toppled when the park had new entertainers – the Penguins! There on started Dave’s downfall. He was soon moved to a corner in the park that didn’t witness much footfall, and then eventually he was removed from the park to another place. That day onwards he ate and lived to only avenge his downfall!

There are comic elements added to his nature as well, making the moments he is on screen as entertaining as when the penguins are on.

The Messaging – Looks are deceptive, and everybody is capable of big things

There’s a strong message that my little ones came home with, after watching the movie – looks are deceptive. It’s little Private (the youngest penguin) whose wit and presence of minds save the penguins all over the world and lend the movie a befitting climax. The small and puny Private plays a plot-turning role in the Penguins of Madagascar movie and makes us fall in love with him!

With the kids liking it a lot, I guess we’ll watching it again sometime soon!

Play is important for Kids

You would think everyone would know this, but parents sometimes do not comprehend the importance of play. They get caught up in keeping jobs and schedules, completely overlooking the fact that their kids need to play outdoors when the weather permits or indoors.

5053031336_57b348cb08_m I got dizzy by guilherme jofili

According to the American Association of Pediatrics, the media diet for kids must be designed and monitored with care by the parents. Kids spend an enormous amount of time in front of screens – TV, computers and other devices. Parents feel they are safer when inside a house and playing a game rather than actually going outside and playing. With busy lifestyles parents also find it difficult to take their kids out to play and monitor them.

It was not so just a few decades ago, when kids had to be pestered to get home. In fact the inventiveness of kids at designing toys comes through in books and movies like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ where the kids from the Great Depression era do just that. This improves imagination and lets kids do a lot of free thinking.

In fact kids under two years need to spend more time with people than screens for the development of their brains. The physical aspect of play is also very important. Exercise is great for kids to build stamina and strength. Hunger is built naturally and fussiness over food is reduced.

In fact in many of the online games, heroes have gone from the colosseum into a mobile game! The interest in such spectator games has not reduced, just changed. Sport is wonderful for spectators, but it cannot be compared to actual play. The thrill of participation is something else.

One aspect of play, which is rarely spoken off is what kids learn from games. They learn balance – the healthy attitude of you lose some, and you win some. Play teaches kids in a demonstrable fashion about how practice can improve skill. Kids learn to take defeat well – they move on instead of letting loss bring them down. Sportsmanship is a skill that helps on and off the field.

Football Games for Kids – Who Plays Them?

Surprise, surprise. Football games for kids are no longer just for kids as older folks get on the online football bandwagon. What is it about football games that has caught the attention of grandkids and grandparents alike?

Playing Safe

Football games for kids are safe and easy to play, offering the excitement of the game while keeping aside the physicality of the game. This is good news for young children who are too young to play the rough game on field and older folk who cannot afford to risk injury.

The Tech Factor

The rise of interest in online games is also because more and more people own mobile phones, tablets and computers. Hence, the games are easily accessible. Factors that hamper going out like weather and distance don’t come into play when one is playing football games online. Technology also benefits folks who may be homebound due to health reasons.


Owen teaching Dad…” by Jordan Brock is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Social Angle

There was a time when online gaming was considered a solitary activity. But this really depends on the choice of games. Many seniors play football games online on multiplayer platforms as it allows them to connect with other people across the world from the confines of their home.

This is also a great way for grandparents to bond with their grandkids who may not be living nearby. Kids can actually show them how to play and turn playing online games into a shared experience that strengthens their relationship with their grandparents.

Time to Play

Seniors have more time in hand. Due to their accessibility and easy controls, online games are a convenient option and a fun way to spend time. They are more interactive than reading books or watching telly.

5761881001_f7d1605505_z (1)

computers” by Jody Morris is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Health Kick

Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from playing online games. Older folk also reap many benefits from playing games like football. Regular social interaction even if it is via games can boost the happiness quotient.  Online football games can improve executive functions, cognitive skills, memory, coordination, quick response and also offer mental stimulation.


More talking with Grandma” by Lisa.B is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Apart from these football games for kids, for those grandparents who are looking for something more cerebral, there are plenty of puzzles to explore. They can also challenge their grandchildren to a game of Scrabble, DrawSomething and other games. Technology, once again, has emerged to bridge rather than widen the generation gap with gaming.

All About Games for Kids

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