Language Games And Activities For Kids To Pick Up The Vernacular

This is a guest post by my wife, Nivedita. She runs an experiential outdoor travel enterprise for kids – Dirty Feet. She gets to interact with lots of children in an informal environment and know them from close quarters when children are chilled out and just being themselves. Basis these real-life experiences, she is penning down thoughts on how to keep children engaged and entertained whilst indoors during the coronavirus lockdown. Here goes one for the language games and activities.

The Backdrop

Dirty Feet has been impressing on the need for kids to explore nature and outdoors and to engage with communities through experiential activities and real-life interactions. As the focus shifts indoors and you explore ways to bond with your kids, we wanted to share some thoughts based on our travel insights which might be handy.

Whilst briefing our young travellers about the Dos and Dont’s on Dirty Feet trips, we always suggest that they speak in the vernacular to the extent possible. This is not just to ensure a connect with the communities who only speak the native language but more so because of our realisation that opportunities for kids to pick up vernacular language skills have been increasingly compromised in recent times.

The most alarming part is the reaction that we get from the kids time and again across all age groups – disinterest and dislike. It is not that they don’t love languages. They take great pride in sharing their foreign language skills. German, French, Spanish have many takers but Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Tamil are frowned upon.

So we thought why not use this family time at home to kindle a love for our home-grown tongues! Sharing with you a list of simple and fun language games and activities which could get you started in vernacular/regional languages.

Ready To Go

1) The game of the ending letter or simply put word antakshari in the vernacular. The first player says a word. The next player picks up the last letter of that word and has to say a word and this goes on. Any number of players can play this game.

2) The start sound game. Say for 30 seconds or a minute, the players in the group, one after the other are required to share words all starting with that letter. Say for instance ka, ki, pa, pu, anything would work.

3) Categories, will you please name some names of………. Clapping and snapping fingers whilst sharing words of a particular category. A game that builds hand-eye coordination, a sense of rhythm, vocabulary and general awareness skills, all in one go. Begin with simple categories and move on to more interesting and whacky ones. Just remember to do all in the vernacular.

4) Multi-language word game. In the first round, the first player says a word in one language and the rest of the players should follow by stating the word in other languages that they are aware of. The second player gets to begin the next round by saying a word in his/her preferred language.

5) Challenge each other to speak for one minute in the local language.

6) Together, try translating English stories into the vernacular or suggest vernacular subtitles for English movies/cartoons; better still play-act a story in the vernacular.

7) Enjoy the rich variety and beauty of rhymes, action songs and folk songs of different languages by learning and singing together

8) Enjoy the bliss of introducing kids to the songs, books, stories, movies in vernacular that you have grown up with. Also what better time than now to encourage them to call up their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and chat with them in their mother/father tongue(s).

9) Draw out numbers and pictures and tell the names in the vernacular.

10) Roll the dice and make a sentence with that many numbers of words in the vernacular.

11) Read together vernacular storybooks at Pratham and arvindguptatoys.com.

This is just a suggested list to get you started. Trust you are all very resourceful and creative to add many more to this list of language games and activities.

Please do let us know your thoughts. We would love to hear from you.

Mrugavani National Park: Feed A Sambar Deer For The Whole Day

Mrugavani National Park is recommended for a visit should your children/you can spend an entire day feeding one sambar deer. Now, one may wonder if feeding one sambar deer can be the sole purpose of visiting a so-called national park? Yes, it is. And, children can love the experience. Just that, it could have been a lot better.

Do not believe me? Read on. The below is basis the Mrugavani National Park visit in February 2020 with my five-year-old twin daughters.

The Area

Wikipedia page says that this national park covers an area of 3.6 square kilometres or 1211 acres. Telangana tourism website reiterates the same number. I suppose, 1211 acres have to be huge, really huge. Well, the visitors are limited to about less than an acre, or an acre or whatever, that one can walk through in 8-10 minutes, all possible directions.

No hard feelings, though. Nature is better left alone, away from humans. In which case, there is no point in going if the visitors are limited to such a small space.

The Flora and Fauna

Telangana tourism website informs that the park has been home to 600 species of plants and animals. It also mentions that the fauna is as varied as they come. It mentions about some animals as the most striking species for the curious traveller.

Well, they have to be taken at the face value. There is nothing to satiate the curious traveller, that s/he could walk in 10 minutes flat. Whatever trees that are present in the visitor area, none are named. Leave aside, further information about them.

My daughters asked me about the flora and fauna, that they were promised basis my google search. I told them that nature’s gems are better-kept secret. They asked back, then why are we here?

Jungle Safari, Watch Tower, Environmental Education Centre & Museum

We asked for the jungle safari. The driver told us that we will not be able to see anything apart from dry trees. In his suggestion, it was a waste of money and time. We dropped the idea.

We went to the watchtower. The steps were dilapidated and the railing was broken on both sides. It was not safe to climb for five-year children. We dropped the idea.

We went to the Environmental Education Centre. It was locked. There is a Forest Department office within the visitor area. Upon enquiry, we were told that the centre is opened only when someone asks for it. After some 10 minutes, it was opened. A person kept snooping behind us to ensure we do not know what. The information inside looked like a google copy-paste job, fit for a school project of 12-14-year-olds but not for the consumption of five-year-olds. After looking at some animal replicas, the children lost interest in 10 minutes, we walked out and the doors were locked again.

Wikipedia page mentioned a library, a museum, an auditorium and nature walk with guides. I suppose all these were hidden and locked from the visiting public, should they run away with them.

The children and I were getting exasperated.

The Sambar Deer

The girls noticed a sambar deer in the enclosure in the visitor area. They rushed towards the animal. The deer looked expectantly at them. The girls asked if they could feed the animal. I asked a staff person walking by. He shrugged his shoulders and asked us to proceed with leaves as food.

That was it. The girls started. They would have started feeding around 1030 or so. The next time, I looked at the watch, it was 1630. They went on and on and on. There were numerous leaves on the ground, they tweaked some leaves from shrubs, I pulled some leaves from the trees and that is all that we did for six full hours. I fed the children during lunch, and they fed the animal – breakfast, lunch and snacks, all rolled into one.

The sambar deer obliged for the entire time. S/he kept walking along the enclosure railing, but not even once went inside. The girls kept getting company throughout the day from other children in feeding the animal. The other children came and went, and B +ve and O +ve were nonstop.

The Children

It was tiring for me. But, for the girls, it was sheer delight. As an adult, for me, it was like can you please stop now? As children, for my daughters, it was like there cannot be anything better than this.

This is what and who the children are. I got them to visit the national park and all its paraphernalia. Not a single aspect worked, as promised. The adults screwed it up. The children found their amusement, what they ought to be doing as children, which we adults would never comprehend.

We left at 1630 as the guard pushed us out. It was Mrugavani National Park closing time, at 1700 hours.

The girls felt blessed to have got an opportunity to feed one sambar deer for the whole day.

What’s more to life than that?

PS: If it is more for you, please do not visit Mrugavani National Park, it is an outright dud. Trust the Government to be a complete killjoy by making it zilch experiential and ensuring that nobody takes any interest in knowing about the environment, leave aside the conservation.

Labeling Children – Needless Childhood Hazard

He is aggressive. She is shy. He is studious. She is mischievous. Whenever there are children around, even a single child, one is bound to hear the above statements. These statements are made by adults, at times, by parents too, in front of children themselves. This is labeling children.

Labeling is a simplistic way of expressing what a person is seeing of a child’s behaviour. A child is acting in a certain manner, the observer is making a statement basis the evidence available, that too in the presence of the parents themselves and not clandestinely. What can be wrong about it?

Well, all of it. As far as I am concerned, everything about labeling children is outrightly wrong.

How about labeling adults?

We hear all about the children. How s/he is and how s/he is not. Does anyone talk in similar words/terms about an adult? An adult, who is present and is a part of the conversation. Will anyone ever refer to an adult that s/he is stubborn, is a hypocrite, not having certain manners and all such stuff, in her/his presence?

We know as an adult that one should not talk about the other adults regarding their personality traits in their presence. In that case, why do we mete out such a treatment to children? Just because the children do not retaliate and do not describe the adults as a return favour.

This is a double standard of the perk of being an adult – getting away with labeling children but not a fellow adult and surely, not one’s self.

Adults have diverse characteristics, so do have children

One can argue that grown-ups have many facets to their personality. We may not even know about the majority of them as a part of knowing a person. If we do not know the person in entirety, how can we go about describing the person in labels?

This is a valid reason for not getting into labeling adults. In that case, what makes an adult think that s/he knows children in total, in simply one interaction, and ends up branding them?

One might say that s/he spoke about children after multiple interfaces. Again the same question. Do we speak about a fellow adult even after numerous dealings? No. Then, why do we speak about children as a know-all?

Adults have varied moods, so do have children

We know that one can have a bad day at work, freak incidents happen, or maybe, one just got out of the wrong side of the bed. In this case, it is very much possible that we may not see a side of the adult that we are used to. Face it, we behave differently basis our mood swings.

It is not exactly breaking news, but even children have mood swings and not just temper tantrums. Simply put, children are not expected to show-case the same behaviour throughout the day and to all the people, they come across.

Similar to the benefit of the doubt to adults basis their frame of mind, children also deserve respect for their disposition. And, one may not come to a conclusion basis one incident or even several.

There are no good labels, only bad labels

One may say that labeling is a well-meaning exercise if positive labels are used. I beg to differ. Any label, constructive or not so charitable, strait-jackets a child. There is no need for children to behave identically, all through-out.

A responsible child wants to have a good time but being told that s/he is responsible feels under obligation to not be an over-the-top. A studious child wants to play but being told that s/he is studious feels under stress to finish the homework first.

The worst of labeling children – Being told good girl/boy. Adults can always compliment the behaviour of children if they like and be descriptive about it. However, from where does “good” come into the picture?

Getting refered to in a certain manner, even if affirmative does not let the child develop into a multi-faceted personality. Life is all about shades of grey and not black and white; which labeling is contrary to.

An adult looking for acknowledgment of labeling

I find the labeling of my twin daughters annoying, even by well-intentioned adults. What is even more infuriating is the adult passing a remark and then looking expectantly at me for the favourable reception to what s/he has just said.

Seemingly, the adult is pleased with one’s self for making a sense of the child in front of her/him in a single word and wants an affirmation from the parent.

Suffice it to say, I find these conversations most difficult to handle. I have never dared to tell the speaker that few things can be said about her/him as well.

If the parents are right in their way, why not children

It is often said that parents know best about their children. A parent cannot go wrong in the upbringing of their children. Nobody can and should comment about a parent’s parenting.

Similarly, why cannot we contemplate that children are also fine in their way? Why cannot we consider that children should not be commented upon? Why cannot we just be with children without labeling?

Adults, take a break. Give the child a break.

A Visit to Indira Park And Life Learnings For Children

We, five-year-old twin daughters and a stay-at-home father, visit parks often. One of our favourite destinations is Indira Park, Hyderabad. O +ve and B +ve love the place, spend 3-4 hours on each visit and they have to be dragged back home. Indira Park is one of the places for which I wrote 5 must-do activities for 4 year olds in parks.

Now, I am writing about Indira Park again. I never knew that a visit to a park can be so educational and informative for children about the country, the government and the people. It is always good to teach the children about the reality of the country that they are inheriting and going to live in. And, a visit to Indira Park ensures that this learning for children is fast-tracked, all-around and consistent in messaging.

Here go the learnings of B +ve and O +ve from the Indira Park visits.

Corruption

A ticketed entry leads to excitement for the twin girls. They love to give money, take their tickets, and proudly carry it around.  Indira Park ensures that the girls will learn even from this mundane occasion.

I give the girls Rs. 2 coins each and ask them to buy their tickets individually. They hand over their coins to the lady sitting on the chair and look expectantly at her to receive their coveted treasure. The lady nonchalantly takes their coins, shoves it in her drawer and nods at the girls, asking them to leave.

The girls are confused. They look back at me. I am also confused. I walk up to the lady and request for the tickets in return for the money that she has just taken. She coolly says that we can enter the park and need not worry about the tickets. It is all right.

I cannot believe this. I have no idea whether she is a government employee or on a contract or from a private agency. She is just taking away Rs. 4/- that should go to government coffers and expecting us to contribute to her loot.

I request for a ticket. She says that she has not been provided with Rs. 2 tickets, so she cannot give. I insist. She says that the tickets will be delivered in some time and we can collect when we leave.

We enter the park without the tickets for my daughters, though we have already paid. The girls witness the entire episode. They ask me why the aunty did not give their tickets.

The girls learn an important aspect of Indian Governance – Corruption.

Non-delivery of services

We enter the play area. The girls are looking forward to making the most of their time. They survey the surroundings. Most of the swings are broken, if not all. Most of the slides are broken, if not all. All the see-saws are broken. Merry-go-rounds give them no merry at all, they are beyond repairs.

The girls look around perplexed. They do not know what to do. And, then similar to Indian Citizens that they will grow up to become, they make use of whatever is available. They learn that they are lucky to get what is left and that they should make no fuss about it. Not that there is anyone to listen to their complaints in the first place.

The girls learn that Indian State shall not bother about the upkeep and the delivery of promised services.

Pushed out by the crowd

The girls are trying to make use of whatever is left. But even that is not possible. There are grown-ups around, half of them couples and another half of them bunking their classes. All of them wanting to enjoy their time, but nowhere to go. Hence, descending on Indira Park play area.

The girls request them for their place in the sun. They oblige but continue to their merry-making as well. I request the adults not to use the equipment that they have outgrown. They casually scorn at me and carry on. I try to find the park personnel around to raise a complaint but find nobody in sight.

I fear for the physical safety of my daughters and we leave the play area.

The girls learn that they will be shoved and jostled out of what is rightfully theirs by the fellow citizens.

Chai-Pani

I find someone – probably a supervisor of some sorts. Not sure though. I complain to him about the non-issuance of tickets. He says that maybe tickets have run out. I complain to him about non-functional play area equipment. He says that the government has raised a tender. I complain about the adults making use of children play area. He says that these adults do not listen to them when asked to leave.

I realize that I am just wasting my time. I turn my back. And, to utter amazement, he asks me money for chai-pani. The girls are awe-struck.

They learn the connotations of chai-pani and what it stands for in the Indian context.

Swachh Bharat

The girls have to use the wash-room. We approach the place. Alas, it is closed for repairs. It was closed last time too. Wonder how much time it takes to put a functional wash-room in place.

The girls relieve themselves behind a bush. And to think of it, Hyderabad has been declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). My daughters and I disagree.

Indira Park – Beehive of Learnings

A visit to the park is second to none when it comes to real-life learnings. My daughters learn a lot about India, the Government and the People from their park visits.

Do take your children as well to Indira Park or for that matter, any other public park. The learnings abound.

Our Children Do Not Go To School Because They Are Children

Our five-year-old twin daughters do not go to school. We are asked by acquaintances and strangers, alike, the reasons that they do not go to school. My wife and I also keep asking ourselves, at times, why we have not enrolled our children in a school so far.

The answer is simple. Our children do not go to school because they are children.

Just that, this reply does not seem to resonate with the person raising the query. The question gets repeated. I am unable to understand where and how we are getting it wrong.

Adults and Childhood

“We really enjoyed our childhood and miss those golden days of our life”. “I have cherished memories of my magical childhood”. “Why can’t I get to be a child again?” “I would love to relive those carefree and joyful days of my life”. “Nowadays, children miss their childhood”.

I am sure the majority of us would have come across the above statements/emotions in several discussions about children and childhood. Leave aside a conversation, when a person thinks about her/his childhood, I suppose the feelings would be the same as above.

Now, if this is what an adult feels about her/his childhood and longs for the same; why would the same adult feel completely the opposite about the childhood of the next generation?

Why would the adults have different parameters and yardsticks about being a child and enjoying childhood, compared to their own? What kind of memories about childhood would the parents want to have for their children?

Long live the lost childhood.

Schools

There is a well-marketed notion that children enjoy themselves in a school. We have been told time and again that we are snatching the joys of the childhood of our five-year-old twin daughters by not sending them to school. We heard this for the first time when our daughters were about a year and a half old and we have been hearing it ever since.

I do not get this. Since when childhood and school have become synonymous with each other? What kind of a childhood is this that is not possible outside the confines of a school? Why cannot we visualize children, who have a long way to go to their sixth birthday, outside a school and enjoying their childhood? This is what our parents and grandparents have done for sure and even some of our current generation has done if not all.

Another answer could be that times have changed. Children better get a head-start else they will be a left behind in the coming age. Do you want the children to have a better future or not?

Educational System

Does anyone remember 3 Idiots by any chance? Majority of us do. When the movie went on to be a super-hit, almost everyone spoke and agreed that our current educational system stinks. Everybody concurred that our schooling system needs change. One and all said that a child’s potential cannot be defined by what s/he scored in JEE (now, there are two JEE to beat the stress of one).

All of us have the same opinion that rote learning taught to children in schools does not do any good in real life. Each one of us says that each child is unique and s/he should get an opportunity to excel in what s/he is good at / has an interest in.

Then, what happens? A child gets straitjacketed into the same schooling and educational system that the parent was cribbing till now.

The childhood in a place where it was never meant to be.

The Sham

The adults miss their childhood, after they have lived it, and they want their children to miss their childhood before they live it.

The adults criticize the current educational system and the schools and ensure that their children become a part of the same, at the earliest.

For us, yes we do want a better future for our children but not at the cost of their present and we disagree to be a part of the system we do not believe in.

As on date, our children do not go to school because they are children.

What would be your thoughts on this subject?

Travelling In India With Children, Alone, Is Not For The Faint Hearted

India is not a place for the comfort and the safety of the elderly, infirm, differently-abled when it comes to travelling alone (though surely there are exceptions). So, when I whine about the issues faced by me as a father who wants to travel with my children – five years old twin daughters, I know that I come at the end of the priority order for the convenience expected.

Washroom

For the Girls: This is not about travelling per se. However, the fact is that travel cannot be done in isolation without an accessible and hygienic washroom. Finding a functional washroom is a task in itself. Even if I find one, I have realized that it is of no use for me. The girls are not at the age to use the washroom independently in a new place. Also, the washrooms are not designed to cater to the needs of girls going around with their father, alone.

For me: A man cannot travel alone in India with his young daughters and expect to use a washroom. The simple reason is that there is no place for his daughters’ safe-keeping whilst using the washroom.

Bus / Trains

The RTC buses in Hyderabad have back-door ear-marked for men and front-door for women. The seating is also demarcated – women in the front seats and men in the rear ones. With my two daughters, I fit nowhere. We did try to travel in non-peak hours in relatively empty buses. I realized that the steps are very high for the girls to manage by themselves. So getting in and out of the bus for us takes too much of time for the driver’s comfort and we just get honked out.

With people hanging out of the local trains, there is no way that we can even think of sneaking in.

Once I did successfully undertake a 3-hour journey in a train – general class 2S. Just that, I could not get in and get out of the train on my own. The trains arrive late and people rush in hoards to get in even before the passengers get down. Where is the place for a man with luggage and two kids in this mad rush? I have come to understand that unless travelling with a full-fledged family, Indian Railways do not welcome children.

Metro

Hyderabad Metro ferries 3 lac travellers per day in 800 trips in trains comprising 3 coaches. This gives an average of 125 people travelling in a single coach. So much for the profitability of Hyderabad Metro, not for a traveller other than an able-bodied adult.

 Auto

Due to the difficulties we face in travelling by buses and trains, autos are our go-to option. Hyderabad autos don’t work on the meter. When the auto drivers see a man with two young girls, they see a victim vulnerable, who can be taken for a ride – figuratively and literally, as they understand the option less situation that we are in.

Crossing the road

Hyderabad traffic police have declared Zebra as endangered species. Hence, for its protection, Zebra crossings have been removed at all traffic junctions.

I have my heart in my mouth whenever I have to cross the road with my children. Roads are too wide and the time allotted has gotten way less for crossing unless you are a 100 m sprinter, which we are not. And whilst we are racing across to cross and save our lives, there have hardly been occasions without a vehicle jumping the signal and coming straight for us.

Walking on the road

Whenever we are out, the girls prefer to hold my hand whilst walking which means that I have to keep them on my either side. This means that one of the girls is always on the side of the traffic and it is just so scary.

Arterial roads are not designed for even two people walking next to each other and here, we are three people walking. Even the main roads do not have the footpaths or wherever they are, it has been occupied by the hawkers. So, we are perpetually walking on the road trying to protect ourselves from the onslaught of vehicles.

Anyways, as mentioned in the beginning, we are the last priority and if our nation does manage to make what comprises travelling – washrooms, public transport services, roads, footpaths; truly accessible to the old and the differently-abled people, then we will surely suit ourselves in.

What is your opinion about travelling in India with children, ALONE?

PS: We have refused to buy a vehicle. Conscious of our carbon footprint and also not wanting to add to the traffic chaos, we have always been ardent believers of travelling by public transport. And now, I am just a father with twin daughters who finds it way too difficult to exercise our freedom of movement, safely and securely.

Every Walk With Children Is A Nature Walk

The most engaging activity with my twin daughters. The activity that never fails to amuse them. The activity that the girls are never tired of. Also, the activity that shows up my inadequacy as a parent. It is actually not an activity at all. It is just a walk. We start the walk outside the house and the activity begins – The Nature Walk.

Our five years old twin daughters do not go to any formal environment, not yet. We do not have a TV at home, either. So, what do we do? We just go outside the house and the girls keep themselves busy at least for an hour, if not more. We go out for running errands and we bring back much more than what we had gone to buy. Every time we step out, the girls make a new discovery or build further on their last. What is it? The Nature Walk.

To be honest, the girls do not even see this as an activity. They are not even conscious of it. They just do it. There is, after all, nothing better to do than this for them.

A Disclaimer: When I mention Nature Walk, Nature refers to any and everything that is not man-made. Nature does not mean that it exists in isolation, it is pure and pristine, it is difficult to reach. Rather, nature is any and everything around, that adults take for granted; at least I did earlier.

Clouds and Wind

Earlier, we stayed in an apartment on a busy main road. We used to go to the terrace and the girls had a great time looking at the clouds, their colour and shapes, their moving around and different hues of the sky.

The most under-rated aspect of nature – Wind fascinates the girls. How and why the wind blows? From where does the wind come? The wind also brings them their collection – leaves.

Trees and Plants, Any Vegetation

Large trees are few and far in between in big cities. Whatever and whenever we see, the girls keep asking questions about the trees and its eco-system: leaves, twigs, branches, buds, fruits, flowers, birds, insects etc. They collect whatever they find underneath the tree.

Not as much as trees, they have made great friends with plants around in our new neighbourhood. They find Beggars Tick in plenty and use their thumb to make it fly around. They love to swirl the Pinwheel flowers. Yellow Bells and Oleander flowers are a must to collect for them.

They love to eat Wild Sorrel. Also, to drink nectar from Ixora flowers. I was stunned the first time I saw them doing this. Later, I got to know that my wife, who runs an experiential travel firm – Dirty Feet, had taught them this.

 Animals and Insects

Again, like trees, animals in a metro city are hard to come by. However, moving around with my daughters, I have learnt that the fun and the size are unrelated. The smaller the animal/insect, the higher the interest levels of our daughters.

How long can one look at a millipede/centipede? The girls find them fascinating to keep a tab on them till they crawl out of sight. I never find a crawling creature on my own, but somehow the girls have a knack for finding them all around. Be it a snail, dung beetle, ants, spider, mantis, grasshopper, caterpillar and host of others whom I do not know to identify.

As soon as they see one, the girls take out their magnifying glasses to have a sneak peek into the lives of their discovery.

Birds and Butterflies

In our new neighbourhood, we do get to hear bird sounds once in a while. Though, sighting them is very difficult. Girls are learning to guess the bird from the sounds they make. Pigeons are the only birds they get to see in the city. No sparrows, no mynahs, no crows, no other birds; apart from their books.

The girls have a collection of peacock feathers. They are planning to make a dye out of blueberries and write with the feathers. Let us see how the plan unfolds.

The bumper prize – Sighting of the butterfly and running after the butterfly until it flies out of sight.

Stones and Pebbles

The girls have been collecting stones ever since they started taking their tiny steps outside the house. Whenever we go out, almost always, the girls come back home with a stone each in their hands, if not more.

The girls pick up stones from the footpath, from the road, from construction sites, from demolition sites, anywhere and everywhere. If we step out of the house twice in a day, then we have double the collection.

We have boxes and tubs filled with stones at our house. At times, I fear that municipal officers might levy penalties on us for our girls’ stone-lifting.

The Nature Walk

My wife and I believe that the nature walk keeps the child in our twin daughters alive.

I hope and pray that their fascination with nature continues. Fingers crossed.