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An Indian Expat Parent: Dash of Math, Splash of Art

preschool learning“So what do you learn in school, princess?” My dad was Skyping with us.

“I don’t learn anything in school, Thata,” responded my 3-year old. “I just go there and play.

My dad clutched his chest, feigning a heart attack. “I think you should just pack your bags and come back to India.” He coughed at me.

If India’s having dinner when the U.S. is having breakfast, they’re teaching the preschoolers arithmetic when the kids here learn to build sand castles. At the ripe age of 3, my daughter’s typical day at a school back in India would entail singing the Indian national anthem at the assembly, chanting a few prayers, and then exercising a little before racing up to class.

In class, the kids would sit together and eat breakfast before starting with ‘studying.’ They’d learn to recognize the letters and read a few words, listen to and enact stories, and then take a break for lunch. They’d then nap for about an hour or so and wake up to milk or juice before proceeding to learn math and understand the hierarchy of numbers, dabble with paint and then head out to the park to play before leaving for home. The school bus would pick DD up from our doorstep (I know, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! feature here) at 8:30 in the morning and drop her back at 5:30.

Schools didn’t break much, at least not as much as they do here. Saturdays and Sundays are holidays in India and so are all the public holidays — parents are always off of work, too. The schools would make alternate arrangements in case the holidays were not synchronized. It is every parent’s dream schedule.

We left India for Seattle six months ago — my husband, daughter and I. I am a new stay-at-home-mom and she’s a new stay-at-home-two-days-a-week-kid. Her school lasts three hours a day, three days a week. The rest of the time, she’s at home, and I really need to think of fun and interesting ways to keep her busy, especially when going to the park is not an option. The rain Gods must really love Seattle.

On the days that she does go to school, it’s time to pick her up even before the laundry’s done. There’s no breakfast or lunch sponsored by school, no bus to pick or drop her – just yours truly.

Her typical day would end even before I write what her typical day looks like, so I’d better hurry. I drop her to school, she runs to wash her hands, the kids sit around the teacher and listen to a story or a song and then they have snacks, color awhile, have free play or imagination time, go to the park to play a little more, have lunch, and it’s time for pick up. And if this hectic schedule is not enough, there’s a ton of holidays and a truck-load of school breaks.

If she would have come back singing her nursery rhymes and sharing newfound, scientifically informed uses of her body parts (“Mamma, do you know the elbow is like glue — it holds my upper and lower arm together”) in India, here DD comes back home a lot more emotionally vocal. Granted she’s grown by six months, but it’s a very disproportionate use of “I love you mom.” In this short time, she must’ve already exceeded the number of times I’ve told my mom that, ever.

She even tells me that I hurt her feelings. Back in India, this would be an unbelievable feat by a 3-year-old. How do I explain to her that I am not hurting her feelings, withholding that cavity-causing candy? Trust me, it’s much easier explaining why two and two don’t make 22. Oh, and parents are lot more involved in the activities here. I don’t remember ever fundraising or participating in an annual parent’s night out event in her school in India.

The priorities of the teachers in her old Indian school were to help the kid stay focused and realistic and prepare her for a competitive world ahead. The priorities here are to help the child explore, develop emotionally and prepare her for a creative world ahead.

I don’t intend to demarcate the merits and demerits of the education systems of the two countries. I’m not qualified to do so. But I do want to share that when we decided to move to the U.S., the biggest deciding factor was our child’s education. We signed up knowing full well that our kid would be in kindergarten when all her friends in India would be at grade 1. We were prepared for the tradeoff. It is absolutely necessary for us that DD knows how to write and read her name. We want her to be able to subtract 5 from 10, and so we teach her this at home.

But we also want our daughter to make meaning of the vivid brush strokes she sees at the art gallery, or to figure the various uses of a balloon — including bursting it as a substitute for the firecracker on Diwali, our festival of lights.

We’re blessed that we have the good of both the worlds. While she’s thinking out of the box here, she also knows that the box is a cube.

193Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh is a new expat from India and a rookie Superwoman. This is her first time managing her family without any help and boy, does she have newfound respect for the American woman. She is the mother of a high-energy preschooler who presents her with the challenges of preserving the culture of her homeland while embracing the culture of her new home in Seattle. From driving on the 'right' side of the road to understanding the craze behind Halloween candy, Padmaja's trying to make meaning out of the madness around her. For a peep into her expat life, check her blog .

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