The more time a child is allowed to sit at the lunch table, the more likely they are to eat healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. Researchers say extending eating times at school could help promote healthier diet choices in children.Kids Eat More Fruit and Vegetables With Longer Seated Lunch Time — Neuroscience News
I came across the Internet Archive, home to digital media some years ago. They have this on their homepage – ‘Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.’
From the wonderful Persepolis, one of my favorite graphic novels to Women At Nasa, that I have used for research, it’s a place where I like being lost. Every turn finds me a new treasure; just when I think I am lost and get ready to return to the Homepage, I find new vistas to explore.
In this day when we have so much tech at our fingertips, the Internet Archive is a porthole to enter a time and world when it was not so. We use tech to read about a place where there was no such tech. The archived content of this digital library has been available to the public only since 2001.
Digital Libraries in Covid Times
Be it outdoor classes in covid times or online classes during lockdowns, these archives and many others like this have been an invaluable resource for millions around the world with access to the Web.
So who started all this?
A computer engineer and an advocate of universal access to all knowledge, he founded the Internet Archive and Alexa. He even has an ambitious plan to collect one copy of every book ever printed, and this he started after being inspired by the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Preserving knowledge has been a challenge taken up by generations of human beings. In spite of this, a lot has been lost, but then a lost has also been kept. The challenges are many, but then such journeys have never been easy.
For now, I am enjoying the fruits of his and his team’s labor. Check it out!
Sometimes a side effect can be a good thing.
As the Coronavirus school closures gathered momentum, few imagined that the world would almost come to a standstill as it did. Businesses shut. People lost jobs. Seniors in nursing homes could not even hug their loved ones, even as many families lost their loved ones to Covid-19.
Many lucky parents kept their jobs and worked from homes; millions of school going kids moved to online classes or dropped out of schools in poorer countries. Internet connectivity was tested to its limit, as was patience, with devices were shared between family members.
The Hardest Hit
When the closures began, many enjoyed it, especially young parents who got to spend time at home with the kids. As the work from home period and online classes were extended, frustrations mounted. Kids were the hardest hit. Parents were short of ideas and kids needed fun things to do in times of social distancing. Teachers found it hard to manage fidgety and disinterested kids. They could not run around and play as before.
They weren’t allowed to play long on devices, but they had to stare hard and long for class!
The Return to Outdoor Classes
Virtual learning was really tested in 2020, and it was not very successful in many instances due to low internet speeds, poor attention spans, tech inhibitions among teachers, and a bunch of other problems.
As the probability of getting infected was higher in a closed classroom, parents, schools and colleges started exploring outdoor classrooms. There had been precedence.
During the Spanish flu, schools had moved outdoors. You just have to go on google and search ‘fresh air class NYC images’ and you can see old black and white images of kids sitting outdoors on benches and even some of kids huddled under blankets!
By Nationaal Archief – Openluchtschool in de vrieskou / Open-air school in the freezing coldUploaded by France3470, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19576333
With an emphasis on fresh air and ventilation, many schools opted to have their classrooms outdoors, even in the freezing cold! In resource hungry countries with good weather, classrooms were frequently held under a tree with a chalkboard as a teaching aid. Forest schools have kids spend time in the outdoors for large parts of their day. So outdoor classes are not really that new.
Here are three which are breaking out to make outdoor classes a viable option for their students:
- Rice University: The University has given the go ahead to have classes in large spacious outdoor tents, the ‘tent project‘ as its called complete with electricity for heating, cooling and tech, internet etc. It did initially remind me of some X-files project tents, but then I surfaced into reality.
- Eckerd College: They have readied outdoor spaces where everyone in class sits 6ft apart. They have even set up a Geographic Visualization System, where faculty can see which spaces are free for use.
- NYC’s in-person pods: These were one of the earliest in-person small group classes which started up in NYC. Parents of kids who could not have in-person classes came together and set up these ‘pod schools‘ in open spaces with a tutor. Although expensive, these were the experiments, which actually got a great many minds thinking outdoors.
Will This Change Continue Post Covid
The advantages of spending time outdoors are many – physical, emotional and cognitive. There is something about the outdoors, that makes learning more fun and joyful. It also improves immunity and mental health. In Covid-19 times, it helps with having in-person classes even as the risk of infection is reduced considerably when compared to indoor classrooms.
As classrooms have gone from open low level schools with large spaces, to high rises with little space around, with rooms occasionally having no windows, it was a time to introspect and bring change. This pandemic has just hurtled us towards that change and we need to land on our feet. It can be done as people come together to create broad guidelines like the National Covid-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative.
“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”
― Phil Collins
Teachers are a special class. Throughout history a teacher has held an esteemed position. Even in the modern education system, a teacher is very important. Frequently students credit their teachers with their success. Although most teachers are trained to teach, there are some who are head and shoulders above the rest.
Teachers, whether in an actual class or teaching an online class become experts at multitasking, as they juggle various students, their requests, teaching material; all while ensuring that every student has a fair share of attention.
What Makes a Good Teacher
A good teacher is clear about her objectives be it for a particular class or even a particular child. Although teaching can have mundane moments, a good teacher uses these objectives to get a class or a child from point A to point B in the learning journey. A lot in teaching depends on how something is conveyed, and how a child is guided. The learning then happens naturally. Frequently teachers might even use online resources like the internet public library kidspace.
Humor can play a key role in easing the tension in a child who is finding it hard to grasp a concept. In fact a good teacher can read feedback from a child’s demeanour and course correct to teach successfully. Although consistency is an important trait, frequently a leap of faith is required while handling children who do not fit the standard mould.
A teacher might have to find the way to get a child to learn after much experimentation. While a lack of progress might bring about a sense of dejection in the child, a good teacher will have the broadmindedness to communicate with the parents and have them on her side while getting the child onto the path of learning. Frequently they might learn from how their own mentors might handle a situation.
In fact in the uncertain schooling ecosystem of the last many months teachers and students have had it really tough. Online classes, social distancing, outdoor classes, staying indoors, masks in public spaces, sanitizing frequently, fear of an invisible virus, all these have defined a new ‘normal’. Although things have returned to a more regular ‘normal’, in many places, the Covid-19 story will occupy space for some time to come.
Making Teaching Fun
Teaching can be made fun. In fact a lot of students remember their teachers who made learning an interesting activity. Here are a few ways to make class fun:
- Use interesting material: Kids enjoy new material, be it audio, video or images. Lots of sites like NatGeoKids or the Smithsonian, have well curated material which can be used. While using such material, kids can even learn how it’s wrong to use other’s material without giving them credit.
- Take the kids outside: Going outside for a class can be super exciting. It could be a trip for fun or learning or a bit of both. Many schools moved their classes outdoors during the Coronavirus closures. While outside, kids get a healthy dose of fresh air even as they learn about all creatures great and small. Nature is a great teacher about interactions and interdependencies, helping kids understand the importance of cooperation.
- Make a class interactive: Kids can get distracted if a teacher drones on in class. Making a class interactive is good for both the student and the teacher. A teacher can get quick feedback about what the students are grasping if a class is interactive. It also indicates that students are comfortable enough in class to ask questions and get clarifications. Encourage kids to bring in interesting information into class.
- Stay Approachable: Having respect for a teacher is good, but fearing a teacher might not do the student any good. Fear is not conducive to learning, for a student might never work up the courage to get clarifications. Also, a class without fear is free to share their learning and communicate effectively.
These are just a few suggestions. A good teacher comes up with her own unique ways to make a classroom fun and interactive. Kids remember these classes even when they move on. Frequently they come back as adults to meet those teachers who made learning a fun activity.
Climate change as a topic has been discussed time and again on various platforms for a while now. But, it seems like the ones who are aware of it keep updating themselves, while the vast majority overlook the pressing dangers to the environment and, in turn, themselves.
Nature matters, and that is an unarguable fact.
A recent report by the conservationist group WWF highlights a 68% average decline of birds, amphibians, mammals, fish, and reptiles since 1970. The reasons attributed to the rapid decline are the burning of forests, over-fishing in seas and oceans, and the destruction of wildlife habitat.
The reports add further impetus to some scientific claims of the Earth on the verge of its sixth mass extinction. Mass extinction is the loss of about three-quarters of all wildlife species in existence across the entire Earth over a geological period (<2.8 million years).
While the five previous mass extinctions were natural phenomenon that took place before the arrival of the first humans, the present catastrophe is induced, experienced, and recorded by humans. This human-induced destruction of the environment and wildlife has gradual yet long-lasting effects on the ecosystems and the humans who are a part of it. The ecosystem is a complex network of interacting organisms formed over millions of years of evolution, and a loss of interaction among species could create imbalances in the system.
A classic example is the hunting of wolves in the Yellowstone National Park. Hunting the wolves to extinction by 1930 dramatically increased the elk and deer population. The increase in their population led to unsustainable grazing of the streamline aspens and willows, in turn leading to soil erosion and affecting the songbirds. The decline in songbirds increased the mosquitoes and other insects. However, the reintroduction of wolves in 1995 balanced the elk and deer populations and restored the plant and animal life in Yellowstone.
Why We All Should Be Concerned?
The extinction of wildlife and plant vegetation does not only affect the floral and faunal ecosystem. It also has a negative cascading effect on humans.
- Three-quarters of the world’s food crops depend (partially or completely) on pollination and seed dispersals by insects and animals. Fruits and vegetables, vital to human consumption, depends on this natural process. However, the significant drop in the population of bees, fruit bats, and elephants has resulted in the extinction of various plant species and a reduction in food crops and fruits.
- Forests act as climate regulators by absorbing carbon dioxide, thus facilitating carbon sequestration. The destruction of forests results in increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, perpetrating climatic changes, and global warming.
- The destruction of habitat reduces the plant diversity and aids monoculture, resulting in increased pests and fungal plants.
Climate change and biodiversity loss are a stinging reality that has been depreciating at a faster rate than imagined. While the loss of wildlife and the environment seems irreversible, hope remains. Nature has shown marvelous recovery rates in the absence of human interference and diligent conservation efforts. The Chernobyl nuclear plant, uninhabitable to humans due to the radioactive atmosphere, has thrived with plants, trees, deers, and wolves. The conservation efforts to save tigers and rhinos in India has raised awareness and witnessed a massive rise in the population of these endangered animals.
While civil society and conservation groups have helped the environment from the bottom-up, the realm of environment requires measures from a top-down political approach. It is necessary to mainstream environmental issues and politically securitize them. However, it would depend on the general population to rise beyond the petty politics of hatred and look beyond the non-existent security threat to coerce governments to adopt a green stance.
The Ideas of Multitasking & Serial Tasking
Tasks reside in many spaces- in our to-do lists, on our mind and on neatly marked off columns in our google calendar invites. A modern life is characterized by carrying out tasks in a successive manner. The clear distinction of time and space between professional tasks and personal tasks are half crumbling at a time where most of us are working from home. This makes home a place where we fulfill all our professional and personal roles (and if you are from a Covid-affected family, the role includes that of a caregiver).
Blogs and information are widely available about reframing of the space ‘home’ to accommodate smooth transitions between these roles and effective management of both. However, I opine that there is a need to also take a step back and reframe our understanding of ‘task completion’ and therefore, productivity. This blog post is first in this attempt to explore the understanding of two of the most popularly known ways of working- multitasking and serial tasking.
A metaphorical image is conjured up when we hear this word. A superhuman figure with multiple limbs which are all doing their own thing and completing tasks in no time. A magical time and space-bending creature that ticks off things on their to-do list faster than even one can count down from ten to one. This has also contributed to a widespread myth that multitasking is a superior modality to achieve a higher level of productivity.
Many studies, however, point out that multitasking can be quite a myth unless one of the tasks is so well learnt that one does not engage fully, while engaging with the simultaneous task more closely. Psychology Today states “The fact is that multitasking, as most people understand it, is a myth that has been promulgated by the “technological-industrial complex” to make overly scheduled and stressed-out people feel productive and efficient.” This would mean that it is time for us to re-look at what we understand as multitasking.
The literature also states that what folks understand as multitasking could actually be really quick serial tasking. Serial tasking is the process of succeeding one task with another and while it is not a popular champion like its counterpart, serial tasking is known to be more effective and efficient.
The evidence suggests that the most important part of doing a good job of anything- from a low stress activity like listening to and appreciating music to solving technological problems is the possibility of being present. Being present is the virtuous quality of being able to give complete attention to the task at hand. This often not only leads to better productivity but also helps an individual catch details that might be incorrect or unhelpful much earlier in any of the processes.
Overall, it is important to decide on the mode of working dependent on the task at hand, the amount of time the task would take, the number of revisions one is allowed of the same and the importance/ significance of the work that needs to be done.
This month has been rather interesting: countries across the world have been reopening gradually, as have states in the US. Public health experts, virologists, and policy advisers have all suggested that lockdowns can no longer check the spread of the virus. It is out there, and we have to learn to live with it. Yet, many of the lucky ones can continue to work from home. Ultimately, it is our behavior–both outdoors and indoors–that will determine the course of this pandemic.
So here are some things to keep in mind as we begin our gradual reacquaintance with public life:
- If you see people without masks, do your best to stay away from them–physically distance yourself when interacting with them, or try and avoid interaction altogether. This is especially important if we live in close quarters with the elderly. Even if we do not present symptoms, we may be carriers of the pathogen.
- If you have in fact come in close contact with someone who presented symptoms, monitor your health regularly. Get tested as soon as possible, so you can isolate and plan recovery (if necessary) in a timely manner.
- This is an extension of points 1 and 2: if you’re presenting even mild symptoms, and for some reason cannot get tested, and happen to live in close quarters with the elderly, isolate yourself. Use a separate bathroom, and make sure no one else uses it for at least two weeks. Wear masks indoors, and do not touch your parents or grandparents, or their things for that matter. Stay two feet away from them even indoors.
- Carry a hand sanitizer with you when you go out, and also place sanitizers in important locations indoors–such as on your work desk, in the bathroom, by the bed, etc.
- If you have washable masks, disinfect and wash them regularly; ensure you do not overuse those masks.
Going out for a walk or a jog to relieve some mental stress is great, but we must ensure basic respiratory hygiene, handwashing, and physical distancing. This is not just for our own safety but also for those who have no choice but to be out and about to earn their income. The elderly are also fatigued by their restricted mobility, and they are gradually venturing outdoors, so it is highly irresponsible to flout safety measures. Finally, it is on us to ensure ICUs do not get overwhelmed again. Doctors and a wide range of healthcare personnel have been working selflessly for the last six months, so these measures are both in personal and public interest.
As we read on about Covid-19 issues, people are grappling with the new normal of limited socializing and school closures. I have written about the silver lining during covid disruptions before, but felt I had to write a proper piece about this jugglery.
The number of people who are working from home and schooling from home is at an amazing high. Yes, we are officially in the era of school from home and this puts a tremendous pressure on parents who have had to work from home. We were looking out to prepare our kids for the real world, but our ‘real world’ seems to be in a flux and we need to cope with the new normal, however temporary. The formal ‘office’, is not a part of the work equation any longer. As we talk and dress less formally, many of us have also had to work while caring for our families. There is a blurring of lines between ‘office’ work and ‘house’ work.
In this pandemic driven milieu, juggling is the new norm; watching office presentations while stirring a pot, taking an office call while paying for a subscription to help your child with an Inductive Logic class, alternating between figuring out data on an excel sheet and your child’s homework, quickly exiting a Zoom meeting so your daughter can take a class on a shared laptop, mentoring a new employee and your irritable high school child, the list can go on.
All this becomes harder with single parent homes or dual working parents. It feels like a never ending cycle of work and chores. At the onset of the closures, many households dealt with it like a break from regular schedules; only to have chaos reign very soon. Routines are important – both for our productivity at work, ‘house’ work and avoiding burnout.
List out the important activities
Listing out actually helps us sift through all that has to be done; a shorter list always seems more achievable. Lists could be made daily, weekly or monthly. Use a scheduler or just jot it down. If the schedule is clashing with something else which cannot be rescheduled, talk to your manager and explain the situation. The work thing could get rescheduled. There is always a certain thrill in putting a tick against tasks on a list which are completed. A sense of satisfaction can be a real high.
So here are 3 key strategies you could follow:
1. Emphasize cooperative living:
Lockdown or no lockdown, co-operative living is a tool. Yes, it is a productivity tool for working from home. In this period when there is a time, space and patience constraint, co-operative living is a necessity. From the littlest member to the oldest (multi generational households are on the increase), members understand that their role is important. Everyone has chores, however minor. People share space as and when they need it. A dining table could double up as a work table. If people have calls or need to attend a class, they get priority. If any member is not feeling like doing a chore, exchange it with another willing member. If it helps, list routines / chores and put it up in a common place. Discussions to sort out differences are better than shouting matches.
2. Always have an underlying routine:
There is a schedule in nature around us and right inside us. Circadian rhythms are important for our health, moods and wellbeing. We need to schedule things while syncing with these rhythms. This helps in managing our time by reducing the surprises of unfinished work, and also freeing up some quality bonding time to look forward to. In these lockdown times, as kids and parents inhabit the same space, it gets real hard to maintain all our schedules. Parents can take turns to do housework and spend time with the kids in 3-4 hours shifts, so to say. Combine this with a clearly prioritized task list, and parents can have some order creep into their day. When you plan a routine, always remember that tasks which involve kids have a tendency to overrun the time allotted. Build this into the routine. Most importantly, build in some bonding time for the whole family. Play, grow something, watch something fun, do a project or just chat with each other.
3. Cut yourself some slack:
The lockdown, in spite of some notice from other countries, has come as quite a surprise. The pileup of child care, eldercare in some cases, chores, uncertainty, lack of an end-date, and work, has left most of us overstretched. The inability to go out freely has only added to the challenges. Finding long chunks of undisturbed time is next to impossible. The day feels like it’s in pieces with constant needs from both the office and home. Trying to be available for work throughout the day is bad for one’s well-being. Although the flexibility available feels great, we need to understand that we also need to wind down to recharge for the following day. Occasionally when we slip up in all our planning, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Be kind. Accept that something went wrong. Apologize. Move on.
Even though free movement is still restricted in some places, go out for some exercise to places which are not crowded. Go for a walk. If you have a yard, play. Sit out in the sun. Put a desk outside and work there. With commute times cut out of the picture, there is some freeing up of time, although it does get filled up pretty rapidly with laundry, washing and cooking.
The morphing employer
For years ‘remote’ work has been touted as the future of work. The word ‘remote’ crept into our language in a surreptitious way, be it remote servers, remote login, remote learning, remote classes or remote work. These Covid lockdowns have created a sort of testing ecosystem for all the theories that had abounded about remote work in large numbers. The formal office meetings have given way to virtual video meetings with kids floating in and out of screens. Emotional barriers are lowered. People are discovering facets of their fellow employees they had given no thought to.
As concerns about mental health issues increase, supportive employers are stepping forward to help employees cope – even if there are no visible signs of struggle. There is no beating the advantages of a healthy and happy employee base.
4 things employers are looking at differently:
- Work time flexibility
- Support with mental well-being
- Providing learning opportunities to upskill employees
- Company culture now includes onboarding new employees remotely and engendering a supportive and appreciative environment to employees
For employers, this has been like an experiment – listening to their employees, reading between the lines and making changes to remote interactions to stay supportive. As the lockdown times have increased anxiety levels, companies like Buffer have experimented with a shorter work week.
Even as employees are trying to cope with the situation, employers are tweaking the rules of engagement with their employees to be attuned to their requirements. Everyone is working differently. Stay calm, prioritize and use these strategies to work efficiently and happily from home.
Sometimes, the beauty of life is the surprise you find around a corner. That is what happened to me when I randomly clicked a Ted talk by Ken Robinson link someone shared with me. He spoke with such ease about two important things in our lives – kids and their education. He helped me understand facets of education which I had never thought of.
Although he has passed away, his words filled with wit and hope for our kids will forever stay with us.
Here are 4 things you should know about Ken Robinson:
- He is the most viewed speaker on Ted.com.
- His books have been translated into 23 languages.
- He was the central figure in developing a strategy for creative and economic development as part of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. The blueprint created ‘Unlocking Creativity’ was adopted by all parties.
- He was a teacher, and his words ‘teaching is an art form’ resonates with other creative teachers.
I was reading about the 30 best films about music, and I got thinking about sounds. Humans have explored sounds for millennia. We have used them for communication, entertainment, worship, defense mechanism, wellness and a whole bunch of other things.
I remember days spent at my gran’s with great happiness. We would lie down on our grandmother and listen to the sounds from her tummy. She built stories of all that was happening inside her – factories at work she said. She was the one who first introduced us kids to the fact that doctors too listen to the sounds inside our bodies to diagnose things. She made doctor’s appointments fun by coaxing her doctor friend to get us to listen to his body!
As I grew up, I learnt of the word auscultation. Although it sounded very sophisticated, the frenchman René Laennec designed the stethescope to just do what we did lying on our grandma or at the doctor’s clinic – listen to the factories inside us. They are used to listen to the sounds made by our blood circulation, intestines, and our breathing. The frenchman also went ahead and matched sounds to pathological changes in the chest. This listening along with palpitation are two of the best skills required to listen to a troubled body, before it can be diagnosed and healed.
Just like our internal sounds, we can also listen to external sounds which can communicate with us. Parents of young kids can vouch for how sharp their ears become after a child is born. Studies show that infants might be picked up in as quickly as 5 seconds when they cry!
Leaving aside empathy for kids, human beings can hear and identify a variety of sounds and quickly process it for response. Young kids can pick up underlying tensions in our voices and react with a bout of weeping. We can identify sounds subconsciously, and react to only those that need a reaction like when parents continue to work, with an ear tuned to sounds coming from the kids’ room. Interestingly there have been instances of blind people whose brains rewire to ‘see’ with their ears!
How sounds work
In these times of social distance, sounds which are are very comforting:
- The voices of friends and family we do not see regularly
- The ding of the microwave, popping of popcorn, sizzle of bacon; all which tells us that our meal is ready!
- The chatter on Zoom or MS-Teams where our kids meet their friends and teachers
- Shared watching of a movie between people in a long distance relationship
People can get real inventive and add to this list. The sound of an ambulance can be comforting if it’s coming to ferry a near and dear one to the hospital; it can also make people cooped up at home very anxious.
For parents who do not see or hear from their kids regularly, listening to their chatter within the house, might feel comforting. For others living in cramped spaces, some quiet might be a more welcome thing.
Sound activities you can try
Three fun activities to try:
- Get each one to close their eyes by turn. The others take turns to make a sound. The person with their eyes shut needs to guess who it was.Great Stem activity for younger kids where they can recognize animals, instruments and other sounds from nature(be warned that some of us can be terrible mimics!)
- Use freesound to download a bunch of sounds. Play it and see who can guess the sound first(kids love the grossest sounds best!)
- People can make various sounds and string them together to make music. Record and have fun.
In these times of anxiety and uncertainity, sounds can be both disturbing and calming. Try to use it for well-being. Build memories and songs you can lean on later in life.