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Alternative Life | Meera Ashar

Alternative Life | Meera Ashar
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First Published: Sat, Oct 13 2007. 04 20 PM IST

Fun gym: Ashar (left) puts a child through the paces
Fun gym: Ashar (left) puts a child through the paces
Updated: Sat, Oct 13 2007. 04 20 PM IST
At the end of a class, a child will come up to me, give me a hug and say, “Thank you, teacher.” That, for me, is evidence enough that I am making a difference to a child in particular, and to society at large.
Jelly Beans, my centre for physical development for children between 18 months and six years, is only a few weeks old. I have big plans for it—more centres definitely, maybe more cities—but I am not even calculating the financial ramifications of that. What I do now is a passion, not a money-making venture.
Fun gym: Ashar (left) puts a child through the paces
Strange, because I have a finance background: After a B.Com from the University of Mumbai, I got a postgraduate degree in equity research and analysis from the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India, Hyderabad. Since equity research was unheard of in Bangalore, I started a firm with two partners, buying and selling government securities for corporate provident funds. I made a lot of money sitting at the desk but, somewhere along the way, the excitement was beginning to pall. I think I was quite happy to give it up when my son Sahil was born six years ago.
Till then, I had given little thought to childcare or development. As I became more and more involved with Sahil—ours was a nuclear set-up, with no in-laws around—I began to notice differences in his attitudes and behaviour in comparison with my cousin’s kids, who were growing up in the US, and even children from other countries. I slowly realized that there are fundamental shortcomings in the upbringing of urban kids in India today.
Their world is vastly different from the one we grew up in; with entertainment a flick of the remote away, they have far fewer incentives to go out and play. Games such as langdi or pittu, which we played as kids, are becoming extinct. The lack of physical exercise was something that hit me, really, because I had always been active as a child and as an adult: I was a left arm spinner in college, cycled whenever I could and chose holiday destinations on the basis of the activity options they offered.
With this in mind, I began researching preschool child development. While on a holiday in the US in May 2005, I visited a children’s gymnasium. In Japan and China last year, I realized how far they had moved ahead in scientifically assessing and providing for a child’s optimal growth.
During my research, I learnt of a course in innovative teaching of movement skills in preschool children conducted by Carol Leitschuh of the School of Kinesiology, Centre of Early Childhood Education and Development at the University of Minnesota. I signed up for the course and shared my ideas on foundation physical skills with Leitschuh—while confessing that I had no qualifications to follow through with my ideas. She, however, was most encouraging, saying that the experience of being a mother was a good place to start.
While I was doing the course, I came to know of BazGym, a Singapore-based gymnastics school specializing in children aged three and above. Both these interactions proved extremely useful—after all, I had no one to consult on the subject in India—and validated my idea that about an hour of structured physical activity, introduced in early childhood, could lay the foundations for an active, healthy life. When I invested all my savings in launching Jelly Beans, BazGym became my technical consultants. They helped design equipment, curriculum, skill-development activities and safety parameters, but I also incorporated Indian elements such askalaripayattu and the tabla and flute into my lesson plans.
The idea is to allow children to explore different physical activities—locomotor, stability and object control—appropriate to their age in a stress-free, non-competitive environment. At the earliest stage, this involves body-part identification, jumping, hopping, climbing and twisting, swinging, swaying, etc. Once they turn three, we move into skills such as throwing, catching and dribbling, all of which go to build coordination, self-confidence and spatial awareness and prep them for group activities.
Subsequently, the focus shifts to cooperative play, patience, sharing and problem-solving through age-appropriate gymnastics and group games, thereby laying the foundations for a sport—basketball, football, golf, hockey or volleyball—at a later stage.
As for my son, at six he is rather too old to enroll for the classes. But with taekwondo, swimming and skating built into his life and free access to Jelly Beans, I can see he is a happier child, a listening child. To be able to give other children what I saw missing early in his life—that’s the passion that drives me now. Money has taken a back seat.
Before:Physical activity that’s incidental or accidental.
After:Movements inculcated early, building a foundation for physical activity.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Write to lounge@livemint.com.
Homi Adajania’s column ‘Lost Dog Tales’ will return next week.
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First Published: Sat, Oct 13 2007. 04 20 PM IST