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Teaching kids from poorer families, a teacher has 11 fabulous gift ideas for her children, to brighten up their day.
By Fiona Vaz
This article was originally published at The Alternative – an online publication on social change and sustainable living.
Tomorrow is my Nehal’s birthday and I am invited for the birthday party. I have been wondering what to gift her. I want it to be something thoughtful and at the same time something that will really please her. This made me think of so many things that we can gift our children, including those from socio-economically disempowered backgrounds.
Teaching at a low income school for two years (through the Teach For India fellowship) has made me realise that children have very simple needs. You don’t need to be a teacher or a volunteer at a school to do this (although, it would be great, if you could be one!) Look around, children are everywhere. Some of these gifts are tried and tested and some are yet to be tried out. Here is the list – take your pick!
My friend remarked the other day that every child needs three things while growing up- books, computers and an opportunity to travel. However, books are the easiest way to see the world, for children as well as adults. Keeping in mind the child’s ability and interests is extremely important or they will develop an aversion to reading in case of repeated failures. A simple contextualised book works very well for low income kids who scarcely get to go beyond their regular school textbooks. Activity books are a great idea as kids can work on them or just try out their learning.
Stationery makes a great gift especially because good quality and non toxic ones cost quite a lot. Children in my class would make do with paints that are cheap or imitations of popular brands which would get me very worried while doing activities like finger painting. Cheap paint brushes with plastic bristles would spoil the painting and horse hair brushes cost a lot!
3. Fancy stationery
This goes a step ahead. All children need crayons, pencil colours, pens, pencils, erasers etc. These are necessities. Glitter pens, micro tip coloured pens, fancy erasers, glitter glue, fluorescent markers, paper clips, stickers – these are luxuries every child wants. I am sure some of you have still preserved the fancy ones from your childhood. Give children something they would treasure!
4. Shampoos, creams and soaps
I don’t know what my kids use. But, I do know that they do not use that strawberry perfumed shampoo, nor do they use the soap that is shaped like an animal. Most kids would not even apply cold cream during winters. When a group of kids performed really well on the annual sports day, a few teachers and I bought each of them small packs of petroleum jelly. They were thrilled.
5. Letters and notes
Receiving letters and cards from kids make me immensely happy. I still have their letters and I read them whenever it gets tough or I am in the mood for some nostalgia. Writing letters to students makes a huge difference to them too. If you can, catch hold of a child and write letters- become a pen pal to the child. It can be very powerful. If the child has a clear postal address-post the letter to the student instead of hand delivering it. Postcards cost only 50 paise- sometimes cheaper than an SMS!
6. Pay their fees
If you are convinced that the child is studying in a great school or deserves to study in a better school and you can sponsor the child- nothing can be better than that. This is a bit tricky and requires a lot of research on which school will accommodate the student, will the student be able to cope in a new school (in case the child is being shifted thanks to you taking the responsibility of the fees), or will the student take his or her studies lightly once they know they are being sponsored (yes, that happens in some cases). For those who are sincere – someone paying their fees or at least a part of it can be liberating.
7. Classes perhaps?
If the child is in a good school and can afford the fees, you might want to consider paying for the child’s extra-curricular classes- this is out of reach for almost all low income children and their parents. An economically backward child might want to learn to dance, sing, paint, do karate- but might not be able to afford it. You might want to play a role in the creation of the next great painter or cricketer.
8. Take the child out
For ice cream, a pastry or a tiny snack at a colourful place. These outings are a great opportunity to talk to the child and expand his or her world view. The child has a caring adult who will listen to him or her. They get a chance to taste those creamy things they see on television once in six months. It’s a simple pleasure.
9. A dress
I walked into a store the other day with one of my students and she was mesmerized by all the things on display. She looked into a glass display that had colourful watches and I saw her saying wow (although she made no sound). She saw a floral print dress and loved it. What is 550 rupees for someone who can spare that much to make a child happy?
Yes, you read that right. Fruits. When children are given ten rupees, they go buy chips. Or they buy 2 packets of some cream biscuits. Nobody invests in fruits. All children need a healthy diet. Fruits tend to be expensive, hence are not bought by parents. While picking fruits for children make sure that they are seasonal and that they are fresh. Dry fruits would do too.
Mentoring a child works. It really does. Teachers, school authorities and education researchers will vouch for the effectiveness of mentoring. Sit with the child, even if once a week and give the child complete undivided attention and teach the child- the class teacher will report higher gains just a few weeks after sustained inputs. Read to the child, teach the child to read, write, talk about your life to them and you will be creating magic.
A few notes before I end this- the greatest gift you can every give a child is that of safety. Please be sure that the child is completely safe in your presence and in the presence of those you hang out with. Also make sure that you are conscious of the messages you give the child- consumerism is not the idea, making the child aware of how much he or she cannot afford is not the idea, also exposing the child to things he or she is not ready for yet could also be detrimental.
You really don’t want the child to think that their parents cannot afford anything yet you want them to have these simple joys- there is a fine line between the two and you need to be cautious about it. Apart from that, the only other danger would be that the child will think of you as Santa Claus every time you meet the child- but I really think every child should have at least one Santa!
Gift box pic credit: asenat29 and Image of children eating icecream courtesy sistak (Used under a Creative Commons license)
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