The Sunday morning round of golf starts late for Anand Krishnamurthy, co-head of global banking at HSBC. Before he can get to the putting green, Krishnamurthy must keep another appointment—with the roller-skating rink, where his six-year-old Sahana attends a weekly class. Every weekend at 7am, 20-odd kids descend on suburban Mumbai’s Hiranandani complex, to twirl, loop and spin with various degrees of proficiency, as their parents look on, read the papers and hand out water at break time.
Several kilometres across the city, in Andheri, writer Chatura Rao does the same with her six-year-old. Only the venue changes to the cavernous state-run Andheri Sports Complex. And Rao uses her daughter’s skating session as a chance to go for a run at the stadium next door.
But if Krishnamurthy and Rao seem to enjoy carting their children around, there are plenty of folks in the opposing camp. As summer sets in and the list of kids’ activities climbs mercury-like, the class lovers and class haters are slugging it out with quiet ferocity. To the observer, it sounds like a case of the Joneses. A “My son goes for chess, swimming and computers. What does yours go for?” sort of thing. Or of the mommy wars: “Working mothers have to send their children for back-to-back classes. I believe in being there for my child” (That’s when the other party sniggers, “Yeah, we know her child watches Toon Disney every day while she vegetates. At least our children learn life skills in a fun way!”).
But it’s really more than that. Most children enjoy painting and pot-making at the classes they attend. And there are additional benefits as well. “Kids learn discipline,” analyses Krishnamurthy, having watched Sahana progress and have fun with skating.
Certainly, parents, like good penguins, can be extraordinarily discriminating about the things their children do. Rao, for instance, has tried other classes with her daughter Pratya. Some, like pottery, proved enjoyable. Others didn’t. “Keyboards as an activity was a complete flop show,” she confesses. “At six, Pratya was probably too young to be learning music, she’d be climbing on to the back of the instructor’s chair,” she laughs.
Talking to parents like Neepa Shah can be akin to getting a crash course in kiddie classes. After much qualitative and quantitative research, Shah has settled on a mix of classes for her six-year-old son. On Mondays, Aditya and his group of friends go to a reading class, where they pore over Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl and play word games. On Fridays, they have a Geeta class, in which they’re introduced to Hanuman Jayanti or taught the significance of certain shlokas. Other days are for swimming or football (“We tried the Leander Paes Academy of tennis at The Club, but it didn’t work. There were just too many children in a batch, and Aditya doesn’t enjoy cricket that much,” explains Shah).
And while Aditya’s football teacher is a “talented-with-kids” sort of personal trainer, his “Swimming Sir” is another story. Unlike most coaches, Farzad Billimoria (Tel: 098211 61595) takes on just three to four kids at a time. “I get down to their level,” he says. He also uses underwater strikers and props like colourful fish to encourage the children to try out new things. “Before they know it, they’re diving into the water, but otherwise ask three-year-olds to put their head down into water and they’ll scream.”
Billimoria is an example of the new generation of teachers—an expert who believes in incorporating fun and games into children’s education. Like Bangalore-based IBM engineer Kuntal Kapadia of Creative World (Tel: 093428 22369), who returned from the US 10 years ago, and now runs a creative centre for toddlers and children. “She’s amazingly energetic and sources the best pottery teachers or dance instructors to conduct sessions for the children. I wouldn’t even know how to look for such things,” says Suparna Mitra, the marketing head for Titan, whose nine-year-old daughter, Shreya, regularly attends workshops and summer programmes at Kapadia’s centre.
Kapadia’s of the same mould as partners Amrita Singh and Bindu Bhide of The Little Company in Bandra, Mumbai (Tel: 098202 54642). One is a business school graduate from Symbiosis, Pune, the other, a BITS Pilani engineer; they got together to set up a daycare and activity centre after their children were born. Besides a wide range of music, dance, yoga, and art and craft, they offer several “on-the-move” programmes such as visits to a planetarium or a museum.
Or like Jyotsna Shourie of the Dance Centre, Delhi (Tel: 011 2411 3454), who’s used her classical training in Bharatnatyam to teach children different styles of music and dance; Shourie’s troupe has performed their specially designed ballets all over India and other parts of the world.
There are several more, like and unlike these—from specialized individuals like Billimoria to franchised chains such as those of Shiamak Davar (Tel: 022 2353 7930) and Raell Padamsee (Tel: 022 2287 1851), to more common brands like the YMCA (Tel: 022 2307 0601). Ballet to Bharatnatyam, name it and there’s a kids’ version available. So much so that city folk sometimes seem to look down upon this abundance of choice. But to an outsider like myself, who grew up in small-town Jamshedpur, where our piano lessons came to a premature (and permanent) halt when the town’s only teacher eloped with her lover, such scorn seems rather presumptuous.
Mumbai’s prestigious Cathedral and John Connon School endorses and participates in various summer camp activities, such as the annual eight-day summer camp organized by alumna Shyla Boga at Manori Bell, a seaside town outside Mumbai, in April and May. Forty-five students from Cathedral attend this workshop, along with 25 children from Manori fishing village. “It’s very different and loads of fun, with activities like chocolate-making, kite-making, astronomy, music, magic, birdwatching and football,” says Boga.
The most important aspect of the workshop is the interaction between the kids from the village and those from Cathedral, as they make nets and gaze at stars on Manori beach. “The children at our school are in a privileged position through no merit of their own, and this is a good way for the two groups of the same age to interact,” explains Meera Isaacs, Cathedral’s principal.
If such interesting extra-curricular activities exist, then why aren’t they accepted as something every child needs, an opportunity for exposure to activities parents and day schools can’t provide? Why are they a bad word, insinuating pushy parents or, worse still, neglectful ones? Or even seen as an expensive indulgence?
Clearly we, as a society of nuclear families, need them. Working or even stay-home parents can’t do it all; neither can day schools. “The curriculum is too strenuous and too many children have to be attended to,” explains Shourie of the Dance Centre.
Besides, where in a city are the gardens and open spaces that children can play in? All too often, they veer towards watching TV. “You want a situation where children are not sitting at home watching TV,” explains Kapadia, echoing the concerns of some 50 parents, who send their children to her summer classes.
Education experts like Shalini Advani, former principal of the British School, Delhi, concedes an “ambivalent approval” of such classes. It is triggered by many of the new brain/learning theories, which prove how new neural connections develop with exposure to new kinds of activity. “The physical brain development triggered by a karate class is different from that of an art or chess club,” explains Advani.
If that sounds reason enough to diversify, to add that extra speech and drama class to an itinerary that already includes dance and tennis, it isn’t quite enough for the critics.
“It’s peer pressure,” says lawyer mom Neeta Joshi. “There’s a subtle competition among the mothers. Then there’s always the flavour of the season, it could be chess or basketball or anything. And if your child doesn’t go for it, you feel why am I being left out? Why is my child being left out?”
And if pushy wasn’t bad enough, there’s worse: preoccupied and pushy. The latter sort of parents are widely vilified for having little time for their kids because they are too busy doing their own thing. “Parents want their children busy, occupied and out of their hair, and they’re pushing, pushing. The children have to achieve, but why should that be their only business, why not relax?” exhorts Cathedral’s Isaacs.
Psychologist Sonya Mehta agrees, and wonders about the “angry dynamic that comes with parents programming and packaging their kids to be more and more competitive, by shuttling them from one class to the next”. Peer pressure and pushy behaviour—they’re both usually bad for kids, but a few years from now, these could very well be credited as the reasons why Indian children are successful adults (much like the Indian education system is today applauded for the success of the Indian IT industry).
As for the ‘shuttled’ children, most seem happy enough with their pottery, painting, dance and drama. “I like all my classes,” says five-year-old Vikram Singh. “I go for swimming, I go for drama class, I go for piano class, I go for drawing class and then I go to school.” Seven-year-old Sanya Khorana is more selective. “I like my swimming class and my computer class, but I don’t like tennis. They make me run and my legs pain,” she complains.
Ten-year-old Bhavya Vora, who attends a mix of back-to-back extra curricular activities (at least one for every day of the week), has a two-step approach to help decide his activities. “My mom tells me about the different classes, and then I decide,” he explains. So, would he prefer to drop Wednesday’s Science Experiments class, the one activity he doesn’t like? “No,” he says promptly. “Sometimes it’s boring, but then sometimes it’s nice. And in June, my friends are going to join, I’ll have fun with them.”
Swiss company Les Elfes organizes international camps for children aged eight to 18, in Verbier and Zermatt, Switzerland. The two-week camp includes plenty of skiing instructions, other outdoor activities and games. With Indian representatives all over the country, these camps have become quite popular with the children of Indian business people.
Cost: Two-week programmes cost Rs1.2 lakh per participant, plus airfare.
Start dates for summer 2007: 21 April, 28 April and 12 May.
Contact: Bibi Rani Nangia in Delhi Tel: 093133 59945 or 011-2921 3155, or Anju in Mumbai 098922 18888 ( www.leselfes.com). Also ask about representatives in other metros. Other camps: www.viamonde.com (Rs60,000 for seven days, plus airfare). Also visit www.summercamps.ch.
Caution:kids at work
Journalist Priya Srinivasan and graphic designer Lavanya Varadrajan bring in art, theatre, writing and film professionals for the 10-day Pomegranate Workshops for 7- to 14-year-olds. Their aim is to encourage creative thinking.At Prabhadevi, Bandra and Ghatkopar. Rs3,500 for 10 days. Contact Priya on 098922 10539 or visit www.tpw.in.
Darshana Gala conducts a three-day workshop in the technique of quilling or paper filigree. Kids are taught to roll paper and form intricate patterns or pictures on cards, scrapbooks and tags. For ages 10 and up. At Matunga (E). Rs500 for a six-hour workshop, over 3 days. Contact: 098196 85601.
Let your kids learn about gardening, cavemen (or both) at Erika Cunha’s workshops on 23 and 24 April. Day 1 focuses on planting and caring for house plants. On Day 2, kids make clay models of a cave, to learn about prehistoric man. At Malabar Hill. Rs275 for an hour and a half. Contact: 098210 26287.
Get smart at chess workshops conducted by Bournvita Best Coach Award Winner Lavi Khanna. For fun or serious tournament preparation. At Andheri (W) and Juhu. Rs750 for 10 sessions or Rs500 for 8. Contact: 098201 34800.
JB Petit School’s art teacher, Purnima Sampat, conducts workshops on learning through art. Activities include visits to the National Gallery of Modern Art, slide shows, drawing cartoons, recycled art and fairy-tale enactments. At Bajaj Art Gallery, Nariman Point, and at Worli, 7 May onwards. Contact: Purnima Sampat on 098203 28113 or visit www.purnimasampat.com.
Renuka Taneja organizes summer classes for 3-1/2- to 14-year-olds. Children learn to use waste products such as bottle caps, Styrofoam and pencil shavings to make creative objects. At Panchsheel Park, Rs2,000 for nine classes. Contact: 011 2649 6302, or email email@example.com.
Beeru Sehgal runs the Captain Kundan Singh riding school at Delhi’s Race Course Road and says: “Mamas and Papas are not allowed near the kids. Let them make friends with horses.” Sessions start at 6am and children eight years old and above can take lessons twice a week. Eight lessons on the basics of riding cost approximately Rs1,500. Contact: 011 2301 1891.
Stuti Chandhok runs Little Mastiz: The M3 Mantra. The school uses “music, mimicry and movement” to introduce children to Hindustani Classical music. For the summer, Chandhok plans a musical production with 40 children (six years and above) who will be required to attend three hour sessions, five days a week starting 7 May for a fee of Rs3000. At Kalkaji. Contact: 9811447919.
(The author runs a Maths Cats group which has a good time mapping buildings and roads on the stretch that leads from the house to the beach two streets away, and then checking their coordinates on Google Earth. Or playing Fizz-Buzz and Number Snap.)
(Write to firstname.lastname@example.org)