I was in conversation with several of my favourite nieces the other day and we were passionately discussing recent tragic events, the related media coverage and civic as well as individual responsibility. And, as it happens quite often, the Granny Cloud crept into the conversation. This time because of the memory of a session that got the children to consider a situation from a different perspective.
Since the initiative began with the idea of ‘retired grandmothers reading stories to children in remote, disadvantaged locations’, many of the earliest sessions involved reading traditional tales (bedtime, fairy tales or otherwise). The focus at the very start was on raising the children’s fluency in English by ensuring that they heard and interacted in the language as spoken by native English speakers. So whether it was Kath Wade from the Newcastle University Media office or Debbie Mann, an English Language teacher, also at Newcastle University; quite a few of the trial sessions had children being read to the stories like Thumbelina or the Gingerbread Man. It was a trend that continued even after the formal launch of the Granny Cloud.
This was, in fact, one of the key criticisms in those days as several folks rightly questioned what was ‘self-organised’ about a Granny reading the ‘Gingerbread Man’ story and the children repeating the chorus “You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Like I said, they were right. That’s not the part about the Granny Cloud that’s self-organized. But that’s a story for another day…
To return to these traditional tales for children. As part of the trials we had used stories being read, some free flowing conversations, and even SOLE sessions over Skype [That last one is also another story, for another day!]. Yet once we began in right earnest [in May 2009], the Grannies diversified into other activities almost immediately. [That IS part of what is self-organised about the Granny Cloud. Directives don’t come from ‘above’!]
So craft and puzzles, photographs and web links [and not just for song and dance] found their way into Granny sessions. Grannies began using other assistive devices to facilitate the interaction; to supplement and even compensate for the challenges of inadequate Internet connections. Not just traditional tales but new authors with current themes found their way into the selection of stories shared with the children. Yet, the traditional ones were not discarded. And along with “The Cat in the Hat” and “The Jolly Postman”, you also heard “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” being read out to the children.
As someone from child development and early childhood education, one of my ongoing concerns [and that of the Grannies] has been the choice of material we used with the children. Because whether or not we want to acknowledge it, the story carries a message. But I never had to worry. Not only did Grannies spend hours [Did I hear someone saying “1 hour a week of your time”?!!!] raiding their local libraries and the Internet for appropriate, interesting material, but they often used the traditional tales with a twist.
So it was in August 2009 that Val [Almond] was reading “Goldilocks” to the children at NLSM in Kismatpur, Hyderabad. NLSM was located in the semi-rural area on the outskirts of Hyderabad. NLSM was one of the few SOLE labs that was really large – plenty of computers in groups of 3 and plenty of space for movement in between! And the school itself boasted of a playground. It was one of the very few locations that had a play area.
The specially designed SOLE Lab at NLSM [Photo: Suneeta Kulkarni]
The children looked forward to these sessions with the Grannies. Today was no different. The girls in Val’s session hung on her every word because it was a new story for them. Val, keeping in mind their very limited English used many different props like tiny tables and chairs to demonstrate the events in the story.
Fascinated by the story [Photo: Suneeta Kulkarni]
The story came to an end… But did it? Of course not, because there was Val taking them to another level through the conversation as they considered how they would feel if someone ‘broke into’ their house and not just used, but broke their belongings – that too without permission!
And while the children still did not have enough English to engage in a lengthy conversation, their expressions showed that Val had raised several questions. Here was a twist! Here was another side to the story. There was something more going on here…
The next part of the story unfolded and Val read them ‘Goldilocks Letter of Apology’. And took it all the way through to posting the letter!
Val reads Goldilock’s Letter of Apology [Photos: Suneeta Kulkarni]
These were children who would not read or listen to the ‘Goldilocks’ or other stories quite the same way again. These were children who the next time they were told a story might just consider the possibility of another side, another view, another perspective.
Because that’s what Grannies do… raise Questions, raise Possibilities, and sometimes along with the children, arrive at answers.
Note: If you wish to know more about The Granny Cloud or be involved in our work, please visit www.thegrannycloud.org
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or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org