Friday 27 April 2018

Problems of Screen Time - Talk by Yograj Patel, IIT-B Alum & Co-founder of Gyankriti

At the time of the admission interview, many parents hear a detailed talk on why Al Qamar Academy strongly advocates a No-Screen policy for its students.

Over the years, we have observed children with certain habits - inability to concentrate, memory issues, behavioral problems, lack of interest in learning, hyperactivity, difficulty in reading etc. Kids have health and sleep issues, eating issues and tantrums.  

In many cases, we can directly co-relate these to exposure to the screen from an early age.  The unfortunate fact of the matter is that in many cases the damage seems irreversible.  The problem is exacerbated  with children accessig screens at a younger and younger age.  Almost 100% of our new applicants state their kids spend 1-2 hours daily on some sort of a screen!!  I shudder to think what's going to happen as these kids grown older.

Parents are the ones who introduce children to devices.  For a variety of reasons - ranging from not having adequate time for the kids, as an incentive for eating, as a e-babysitter. Some parents think that devices help the child acquire or consolidate learning.  The price is paid later - by the child and the parent - when the child fails to learn academically and socially.

So, how do you detox the kids? 

The first - don't even start. Your phone, computer or tablet are your property. Not the child's. The child should not have access to these. As an analogy, would you let your child have unfettered access to your kitchen - with the knives, the gas stove and the matches? The answer is probably a resounding "No". Treat your devices with the same caution.

If the child has already started using devices, start slowing restricting access and reducing the time.  And ensure that when s/he is on the screen, you are right there with him/her - watching and interacting.  

Then provide alternatives. At Al Qamar we emphasise chores for kids - however young they may be - folding clothes, washing dishes, tidying rooms, sweeping. All these activities help build independence and a sense of responsibility.

Another way is to develop the reading habit - have books at home, read often to your child, spend time reading yourself, visit libraries and bookshops. There are many second hand book sales happening constantly in Chennai. A Rs. 30 investment in a book pays huge dividends later.  

Let the child have lots of time for free and unstructured play - painting, blocks, card board boxes, waste paper, home made dough, craft activities, running, cycling, walking - all the stuff we did as children prior to the arrival of the all pervasive screen.

Spend time with your kid conversing. This is a great way to build life long bonds, instill self confidence, provide "real" life exposure and pass on your personal / family culture and values.  

Do watch this wonderful video by Yograj Patel, an IIT-B alumnus and co-founder of Gyankriti - an alternative school in Indore.  Clearly and succinctly he explains the various issues with screen time and how to detox your child.

Thursday 26 April 2018

No Homework, Schoolbags, Exams or Tuitions - That's policy at Al Qamar!

We at Al Qamar strongly believe that homework, exams, schoolbags and tuition are completely detrimental to education.

So the next question - "How will kids learn?"

Al Qamar kids work really really hard at school. They are constantly challenged to apply their own minds (not copy off the blackboard), to articulate their own thoughts (not parrot), to discover knowledge (not rote memorize). On a typical day, a 5th grader may have written a highly creative science fiction story, researched volcanoes, solved math puzzles, understood animal classification, conducted experiments.
This independent work, guided by a teacher who doesn't give answers, but encourages the child to think for himself, helps the child gain confidence in his own learning ability. The child is given ample opportunities to consolidate learning - because things move at an individual's pace. And because the learning is independent, it is deeper than when its spoonfed to the child.

When such challenging work is done at school - the home needs to be a place for brain downtime, for relaxation and spending time with the family. Not to spend more time redoing what was already done at school. Result - stress free homes and healthy mom-child relationships.
As work is completed at school, children do not need to take books back home. Hence, no schoolbags! All books are kept in lockers at school. This also prevents well meaning parents from trying to "get the child to complete the schoolwork" by dictating answers or worse still actually doing the homework for the child.

Tuition - the bane of modern schooling - is banned at Al Qamar. Kids need to learn at school, not at tuition centres. . If they have difficulties or issues with a particular concept - teachers explain in one on one sessions.

Exams - the bete noire of education. Track our blog for the next post on why exams are detrimental and unnecessary.

Friday 20 April 2018

Party Time @ Al Qamar

While most kids were sweltering in the horrific Chennai heat & swotting for exams, Al Qamarians were partying. Yup! Partying! Remember, they don't have to write exams. Nor do they need to do homework.
Here's the list:
Read-a-thon party for Upper Elementary - for kids who read, read and read during the last 2 months. The highest points for a book were 6 points. So the young man who topped the list with 360 points, read - yes 60 books! Or more. So, our bookworms went off to the Anna Library, spent the day - yes - reading! Followed by a Pizza Party ðŸ˜‹

Read-a-thon party for Lower Elementary - same concept. Kids landed up reading 20-30 books. These guys voted to go for an ice cream party at Baskin Robbins ðŸ˜

Ecology Class party - sponsored by Teacher #1 - Tariq Akbar - kids were marched off to Hot Breads for the last class and a Cake & Juice party. 

Science Teacher ice cream party - for the 7th grade - by their science teacher, who felt they were missing out ðŸ¤”

Lower Elementary party by the teachers - who just wanted everyone to have fun.😉

And then all this was followed by the *real* end of year party in each environment - with food, games, party favours! ðŸ˜ƒ

And the nicest thing - the Montessori kids pooled their party money and gifted it to Shanti Akka for her daughter's marriage. ðŸ˜

And the final farewell to the 10thers - lunch at Zaitoon!!

*Burp* Al Qamarians !! School with a difference

Friday 13 April 2018

5th grade parties away the last week of school!

Most children spend the last week of school busy taking final exams. Not at Al Qamar.  Al Qamar'ians spend their time partying!!

Not one, not two, but the 5th graders landed up having 4 parties.  

The first - a party for the Read-a-thon - which included a visit to the Anna Library and pizzas at Dominos.

Then an ice cream party sponsored by the Science teacher for the mock test. Any excuse for ice cream, right?

Then the Ecology teacher decided to march them down to Hot Breads for a surprise cake and juice treat.

Then finally their own class end of year party - complete with party games, party food and party favours!

I'm jealous - I didn't get invited to *any* of these.  Hmm!!

Read-No-Screen-a-thon comes to an end

As with all good things, the Read-No-Screen-a-thon also came to an end last week.

The Read-No-Screen-a-thon started in early February to encourage children to read books and to avoid any type of screen time. Children received points for each book they read, provided they did not use any screen - tablet, mobile, computer or TV. They were responsible for maintaining their own book log and getting verification signatures from their parents.   

At the end of each week, the points for the week were totaled. Mr. Reading Pot, an ancient heirloom from our Correspondent's family - was brought in, loaded with gifts in his belly.  As children squirmed with delight, Mr. Reading Pot spoke to each and every one of them - sometimes in a deep gruff voice, sometimes in a high pitched squeaky tone - admonishing them for reading "too many books" and "grabbing all the lovely gifts" he had stored in his belly.  But he'd let them reach in and swirl their hands around, feeling for just the right gift.  Older children elected to save their points to buy a gift from Amazon at the end of the Read-a-thon. 

With such incentives, children read with gusto. They stretched and pushed themselves. They borrowed books like there was no tomorrow.  Forget a book a day, some were reading 5 Enid Blytons a day!  For a select few, the confirmed bookworms, there was an additional stipulation - they had to only read non fiction books to win points. "Daddy Long Legs", "Ancient Romans", "Horrible Geography", "Wind in the Willows" were some of the books devoured by the kids. 

At the end of the Read-a-thon, all children scoring above a cut off were taken out on a treat.  The Upper Elementary elected to go spend the day at the Anna Library followed by a pizza party.  The younger ones chose to go for an ice cream party at Baskin Robbins.  

And now all the gifts they selected from Amazon are arriving daily.  Uh Oh! More books to read........

Thursday 12 April 2018

Hamza, Grade 2, wins the 3rd Prize at national Bright Sparks competition

Absolutely delighted - just got the news that Al Qamar Academy Grade 2 student, Hamza Mohamed won the 3rd prize in the Poetry Category (Grades 1,2) in the RobinAge: Weekly Children's Newspaper Bright Sparks national competition. Children from 1500 schools across India participated. Thrilled to be a part of this wonderful initiative.
Congratulations Hamza! May you soar!

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Open Day - A Day to celebrate children's research & originality

Student explaining a Mars colony

Did you know that girls give negative feedback differently from boys,  that Ibn Al Hytham got the idea of a pinhole camera when he was under house arrest or that the ancients used notches on bones to mark numbers? These and more questions were answered by Al Qamar students who presented their research projects on the Annual Open Day held on March 31st 2018.

Open Day is the annual showcasing of student projects – projects independently chosen, independently researched and independently written by children from Grade 2 upwards. The choice of projects reflects each child’s personal interest and passion.  This year, Open Day was attended by over 150 people.

Prof Ramdas examining the pinhole camera

Grade 2, the babies, really impressed with their vast array of projects.  While Ameen took us through a history of cars and related an interesting anecdote about Bertha Benz, Athiya, narrated the many stories she has penned about castles, princesses and adventure. Samara’s Pinhole camera and her detailed explanation was a runaway success while Hamza’s lucid explanation on hurricanes and tornedos were impressive.

Ashfaque explaining his storytelling art
Riina, Grade 3, did her whole project on demonstrating the different kinds of shading used in art and taught the skills to her visitors. Hamdan had an exciting presentation on the history of cameras – using information he had garnered at the Museum of Photography – including a 200kg World War camera.  Zoya & Hajira were commended by visiting doctors on the clarity and detail of their explanation of the human digestive system. And Ashfaque’s horror stories about “Bloody Mary” with bone chilling illustrations sent shivers up our spine, followed by amused grins.  And finally, to provoke our conscience came Muiz’s research on pollution with a focus on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Demo of science experiments
Grade 4 had a bunch of interesting research projects. Asad was a veritable encyclopaedia on Rockets and Space travel, and Dakshin wowed us with the History of Mathematics which showed how different civilizations created and used numbers.  The Science Corner with experiments on Water and Air was dominated by the 4th graders who engaged the visitors with their scientific explanations.  Hafsa’s project was unique – on codes and cyptography, Al Kindi and the Enigma machine.  She even created sample codes for visitors to crack.  Sarah’s project, executed while she was sick with viral fever, was an incredible explanation of static electricity – a concept unknown to me till middle school!

On Abstract Art
Fifth grade projects were even more detailed and advanced. Fareeha conducted a research at school on whether girls give negative feedback differently from boys. “Girls tend to hide their true feelings while boys just blabber out what they think” she explained. Abdullah talked about the World Café held at school to identify ways in which children would like to be made environmentally conscious. “We kids can write books for other kids, we can create “Walls of Mercy”, we can donate our textbooks to the lower grades” were some of his ideas.  Ishal had a lovely project explaining Abstract Art, “which isn’t the same as modern art, because Abstract Art has emotion and feelings, not form”.  Hasna talked about her rights as a Muslim girl – how she has rights to her own money, marriage decisions and education, while Mariam showcased inspirational modern Muslim women.  Anam, our resident bookworm, had a project on books with curious anecdotes – did you know books were so precious once that they had to be chained to the library shelves? And Majid – our future astronaut – discussed a projected human colony on Mars.  Hiina had a lovely project on the mosques in Chennai complete with a map marked with locations.  Rayya’s project on Islamic Geometric Art with challenge cards for readers to use basic geometric skills to draw tessellations, geometry stars and 5 point roses was fascinating. 

Amongst the 7th graders, Aathif showcased his tech models made using junk – plastic bottles, ice cream sticks etc. He also demonstrated how variables are important in scientific investigations by using pendulums.  Iman’s had us drooling with her project on the history and global connections of biryani while Asma & Fathima showcased the Arabic books they have written for children. 

"JAM or Tongue Twister for you, Sir?"
Children had also organised activities for visitors. One hot favourite was the Potpourri Room – with fragrances, pleasing decorations and nasty challenges – JAM, Word Charades, Idiom Hunters and Tongue Twisters. The visitors had a wonderful time trying each challenge out amidst great laughter. 

Visitor trying math puzzles

The Spark Math Club corner with its strateg games and math puzzles – from Pentago, 7 cubes, pentominoes and others had visitors scratching their heads and trying out different puzzles to win chocolates. 

“Fabulous”, “Fantastic” was the feedback from the visitors. Many commented on how articulate and confident the children were in facing the public, answering questions and giving explanations. Guests were impressed with the fact that the projects were clearly independently done and genuine – a refreshing departure from the current practice of parent executed or bought out projects.   

Kudos Al Qamarians. You shone again!

Sunday 1 April 2018

Potpourri Club to build language & life skills

Potpourri English Club run by Smart English Academy at Al Qamar Academy endeavours to build holistic Language Skills and Life Skills in students.

The classes and activities are designed to work on, and accentuate Communication Skills, Interpersonal Skills and Leadership Skills, consequently building and improving self-confidence in the students.

The classes, first initiated for the 8th and 9th Grade students, have now extended to the 5th & 7th Grade students.

With a British Council certified Cambridge Qualified language educator at the helm, Smart English Academy brings in international methodologies, techniques, and materials to develop and hone the skills in the students.

Potpourri classes have students reciting tongue twisters, learning idioms & proverbs, building vocabulary and mastering conversation phrases. They participate in activities like word play, dumb charades, word charades, guess the synonym and others, bringing fun and frolic to the class, making learning an absorbing and engaging experience.
They are trained in phonetics with emphasis given to pronunciation and enunciation, enabling clear and articulate speech.

Children tend to be more fearless and open to new experiences. One area where this quality is explored the most is Public Speaking. Students are encouraged to participate in group-discussions and debates, where they discuss issues like environment conservation, recycling waste, traffic hazards, adventure sports, quality of life in urban vs rural areas etc, and brainstorm solutions using their ideas and outlook, bringing a completely new perspective to global issues.

Added to it are sessions of role-play, debates, prepared speeches, impromptu talks and JAM: all designed to give the students an experience in attempting, owning and finally conquering the stage.

Overall, the Club focuses on social and cultural relevance both locally and globally, helping students to draw parallels from the environment and society, making the learning integrated and holistic.

Au Revoir

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