I forgot to put up my wife’s post!

Slap forehead!

My wife wrote this and asked me to post it. Before Valentine’s Day. The only Valentine’s Day I have left is next year’s. Yeah, yeah I messed up. In a major fashion. How do I fix this? By posting something a little too early for Next Year!

Maya’s second post:

Happy Valentine’s Day! As your kids are busy creating Valentine’s Day special crafts or doodling with Valentine’s Day special coloring worksheets in the class, they may have asked you several questions at home about the day and how exactly it is celebrated. It is important to explain the day to the kids so that they grow up to celebrate it in its true spirit. Here are a few ways in which you can explain Valentine’s Day to kids.

Break the Story

There are two popular stories that trace back the origin of the day. First, there was a priest named St. Valentine who would secretly marry soldiers as their marriages were banned by the government. The government presumed that a soldier with no familial ties would serve the nation better than a married soldier. The second story is about a man in jail who fell in love with the daughter of his prisoner. Before he was executed, he sent her a letter and signed it “Your Valentine” and that has perhaps become a legend now. Children love stories, so these are two great legends that can help them understand the origin of the day.

Crafts and coloring pages

There are plenty of Valentine’s Day crafts and coloring pages online which may be a good way to introduce kids to the day. Each type of coloring page can be a clue to teach an important part of Valentine’s Day – Cupid, a way to introduce kids to the God of Love, roses – a way to explain how Valentine’s Day is symbolized by the flowers, hearts – a way to explain the representation of love, etc. Social media websites like Pinterest are replete with kid-friendly Valentine’s Day crafts that will not only help the kids understand the day better, but sharpen their hand-eye coordination just as any craft does and develop their aesthetic senses. Encourage them to doodle with Valentine’s Day coloring pages and crafts to learn more about the day.

The spirit of giving

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Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkoshy/4352827375

Explain that the true spirit of Valentine’s Day lies in giving because love in other words is giving. Encourage your child to give their old clothes and books to the needy, make greeting cards for their loved ones, or weave friendship bands for their best friends. Let your kids know that Valentine’s Day is about expressing love through giving and kindness. Most children will know what you are talking about. Bring about examples like that of your relationship with the kids, their relationship with their favorite aunt, etc., and explain the spirit of giving.

Avoid treating kids like they don’t know any more than what you tell them. Answer their questions patiently and be as honest as possible with them.

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Teach Kids about Animals

This is my wife Maya’s first post. I hope we see more of her writing here. Read on….

The animal world is fascinating. It is amazing – the variety of animals that walk, swim, fly on earth and how different each one is, from their appearance to habitat, from what they eat to how they move!

My kids tune into Discovery and National Geographic and that gives them more than a cursory peek into the wilderness. Recently, we had an impromptu lesson in animals after watching the Penguins of Madagascar and playing Madagascar games, which featured animals the kids loved learning about. Here’s what we learnt!


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Emperor Penguins” by Christopher Michel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Penguin – The movie’s stars are the penguins. These birds are found mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. They can’t fly but can swim. They do use the flappers while diving in and leaping out. While the movie shows the penguins in China and Italy, the kids learnt that this was not the penguins’ natural habitat, while Antarctica is. There are many species of penguins and emperor penguins are just one of them.

Seal – In the movie, we see the seals trying to get the penguins as they fall into a shipwreck. Seals are their predators as are sea lions and whales. The seals as we learn are carnivores and live mostly in water. They are hunted by whales and polar bears. They are found in many parts of the world.

A harp seal makes an appearance later as the demolitions expert from North Wind called Short Fuse. They are usually found in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, and live on smaller fish. Unlike the seals we first see in Penguins of Madagascar, these seals have a snowy white coat.

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Octopus dance” by Morten Brekkevold is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Octopus – The octopus Dave disguises himself as a cunning scientist and the kids were surprised to learn that the octopus is an intelligent creature though Aristotle thought them to be stupid. We also see the octopus blending in the background before launching an attack. They are similar to chameleons. That is, they are masters of disguise and can take on the form of an underwater rock or plant. Of all the animals we learnt about, the octopus was the one with the most surprises!

Gray Wolf – The gray wolf is a secret agent who heads North Wind in the movie. Gray wolves are known for their howl, though Classified does not let out any of those infamous howls. Found mostly in North America, Asia and Europe, these wolves are usually found in packs. Wolves have a reputation for being crafty and dangerous but in reality they are not so. They can be secretive – a preference we see Classified exhibiting in the movie.

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Snowy Owl” by Brad Smith is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Snowy Owl – The only female character in the Penguins of Madagascar is Eva, a snowy owl. It is understandable why an owl can make the cut as a spy because they do have a great sense of hearing and excellent eyesight. They are usually found in the Arctic tundra. A distinguishing trait from other owls is that snowy owls can hunt during day and night. The females are darker than the males.

Polar Bear – Corporal is the polar bear who is super strong but has a weakness for cute things. They are found in the Arctic and there is no doubt about their strength. Known to be the largest carnivores on land, these bears are fast on land and water, and love to feast on beluga whales and seals. Something surprising we learnt was that these bears actually have black skin and the transparent fur appears white because of light!

We had to save Alex, Melman, Marty, Gloria and King Julien for another day as we covered a lot of ground in one day.

Movies also offer the opportunity to bust the very stories they create. For instance, pandas prefer bamboos over noodles. And boy, were my kids astonished!

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.

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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!

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From: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/Hindu_calendar_1871-72.jpg

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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Image Credit: http://www.jumpstart.com/penguins-of-madagascar/mobile-apps/dibble-dash

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!

All About Games for Kids

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