Back in 1990, my mother [Sudha Kulkarni] penned a slim little book in Marathi titled “baal geetanchya duniyet” – which translates into “In the World of Children’s Songs”. It is a book I have always appreciated because contrary to what people expected, it was not a compilation of songs for children. My mother had been a student (and then colleague) of Tarabai Modak and Anutai Wagh (among the pioneers of ECCE in India) and was familiar with child development in the context of rural – even tribal – as well as urban areas. Modifying a song or creating a variation of a popular story to make it more appropriate and effective was, therefore, something she did as a matter of course. It bothered both of us that the meaning and values implied in quite a few popular songs went unnoticed in the ‘best of preschools’. This concern formed the basis of many conversations she and I had, both professional (as colleagues at the Department of Human Development, Nirmala Niketan) and personal (as Granny – “ajji” and mother to Anand).
A related concern was that songs from other countries, or languages were picked up and used without thought. These spoke of a world quite unfamiliar to the children and we often wished for a mix, for a balance that would facilitate a continuous crossover from the familiar to the unfamiliar and vice versa. And so her book addressed these and other child development related issues, hoping to enable and empower teachers and parents to assess the suitability of a song and to make changes in them to make them more useful and fun.
Much has changed, especially in terms of technology, since she wrote that book. And the world has become ‘smaller’. It is easier to see into a window oceans and oceans away! Yet these basic principles of child development remain intact. And the need to modify the songs and stories from time to time also continues. And the worth of doing that is evident in the children’s responses.
Children at Shirgaon singing wheels of the bus with Anne – May 2009 [Photo: Suneeta]
I remember one of the earliest times Anne sang one of the variations of ‘The Wheels of the Bus’ for the children at Shirgaon. The verses that resonated the most with the children were – “the parents on the bus go shush shush shushh” and “the babies on the bus go waanh, waanh, waanh”. They giggled as they heard it, and grinned as they sang it; identifying with the situation and picturing their own homes and their own little siblings in the process.
Like I said, the need for modifications remains. It doesn’t mean doing away with or not using songs and stories the children may be unfamiliar with. It means adding them to the mix to enrich it. It means being on the lookout for variations that take ideas further. It means creating your own variation for the specific group you interact with. And the Grannies do just that. Whether it is Val using a variation of the Goldilocks story ( Fairy tales with a twist ) or whether it is ‘Kevin sir’ who has a Wildlife Park instead of ‘Old Macdonald’s Farm’, the world opens up. New ideas, possibilities present themselves and become the basis for later conversation.
Kevin singing “Kevin Sir had a wildlife park” with the children during a visit to GLC Varanasi – Feb. 2017 [Photo:Suneeta]
It doesn’t stop there. Katharine takes the ever popular and now familiar “Wheels on the Bus” and turns it into “The Boats on the Ganga”.
Boats on the Ganga – Feb. 2017
New words are introduced and a new thought is proposed. Whether it’s online or during a rare treasured actual visit – singing “The fish in the river” as one of the verses, could well lead to a chat about the ecosystem and the cleaning up of the Ganga on another day.
Katharine ona visit to GLC, Varanasi – Feb. 2017 [Photo: Suneeta]
Need I say more? Leaning on what is a most familiar sight to the children of GLC, Varanasi, Katharine has paved the way for a discussion about life on the Ghats of the Ganga… It is not just song…