Do you remember your first world atlas? Those images of endless orange dessert dunes, those penguin-populated beaches of Antarctica and the rivers full of crocodiles in the Amazon jungle? And do you remember how excited you were when you started discovering how many different animals one can find in the jungle? How colourful those tiny poisonous frogs are (while the ones at home are just brown or green)? And started to ask how come one can see the tracks of deers, foxes or maybe some wild pigs in some forests, while kids elsewhere may have met a moose, a kangaroo, or even a lion?
Imagine being able to feel this way again? (and amplify that excitement 30 times over!) You can! – by sharing stories or pictures from your country with a class of curious and vibrant kids and become for them the same new and amazing discovery that your first atlas was for you all those years ago…
After several trips together in Scandinavia and freezing Patagonia, and more than two years of spectacular and mutually inspiring Skype conversations, I finally land at Mumbai airport to be reunited with my friend Shirin Johari, co-founder of Clap Global. Fast forward to just a couple of days later and I find myself in a class full of 5-6 year-olds showing me, with their tiny arms, just how excited they are about their first Clap Talk.
After trying to figure out if Slovakia lies in Africa, America or somewhere else, we take a look at photos of me at their age, of my family celebrating Christmas and of me and my grandpa getting ready for a hike. When I ask them who they live with, Vikunth sitting in the front counts on his fingers and tells me that there are 10 people living in his house! I ask the class if there is anyone else living with 9 relatives and almost all kids raise their hands. Many tell me about their baby brothers or grandmas living with them. Then I ask who shares their home with 10 or more other people and two thirds of hands stay in the air! Maths in kindergarten was my favourite, too.
I show a photo of my little brother cutting onions wearing a snorkel mask which the kids find extremely amusing. I ask them if they help their mums in the kitchen and ask how they think they could help at home. The classroom feels like a beehive of ideas buzzing, although we do not manage to find an answer that would be true for everyone.
Before explaining that there are no tigers or elephants in Slovakia, I could not miss the chance to show them pictures of Spring taken several days before I left for Mumbai. The children learn there is no monsoon in Europe and what my home country’s nature looks like during the different seasons. And while checking some animal pictures together, I expected the class to be excited about a baby bison – at least the way I am. But when a little princess says ‘this must stink very bad!’ somehow I have doubts…
Later, I teach them a bit of Slovak, and I in-turn learn a bit of Hindi from them. Then we move to a game. The Clap team have collaborated with curriculum innovators, artists and psychologists and invented a number of educational tools to use in the Clap Talks, including the ‘Do-It-Say-It’, Question Balls, presentation templates and conversation cards. Each are differentiated for three age categories to keep things as simple as possible for everyone. They help you make a good connection with the children, shift their curiosity and lead meaningful yet playful conversations.
After a farewell song and dance, the children draw (or write, if they are a little older) postcards for you and you get to write one for them. They are adorable memories for you to keep, and the wonderful part is that you can find out why they drew a horse/a hightech bus/a strange four brick construction for you. It teaches you a lot about how the children see the world and their surrounding and how you have been conditioned to see the world through your surroundings.
And it is much more than these drawings that will surprise you. My first Clap Talk happened to be the very first one for that school also! It was my first experience of school life in India. As a pupil who once had a very structured timetable, I absolutely loved how children expressed anything they wanted to say, how they played a bit or danced when there was music. Even if only two children danced and the other 28 did not, no-one in that class judged or compared. The children were free to take part in the closing dance, or not, if they did not want to.
Thanks to the very loving and patient approach of their teachers, we all managed to experience an enriching trip into each others ‘worlds’. The school was the sort of school that I would imagine people would like to send their kids to, as it included a wonderful ‘relax zone’ and great technical equipment (that I imagine a ‘Google office for children’ to look like!) Admittedly, I am a bit ashamed to say that I did not expect to experience that during a talk with kids in India.