By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar
If you’re like me, you grew up with Hindi and spoke it for a while as a child, but as years went by, the only thing you could say properly was “acha”, which means OK. Now that I’m married and have kids of my own, I wish I could teach my kids a bit more Hindi, but coming from me, it’ll probably sound like pig Latin. I recently spoke to one South Asian mom who wanted to expose her child to a little Indian culture in a creative way , who actually took matters into her own hands. Pooja Pittie created a fun series of bilingual DVDs and books to expose her child to South Asian culture. She launched her Little GuruSkool products after seeing how Baby Einstein kept her son’s attention. Little GuruSkool is the South Asian answer to Baby Einstein. We spoke to Pittie about these innovative children’s products which are getting worldwide attention.
How did you come up with the idea of Little GuruSkool?
Pooja: The idea for Little GuruSkool came to me when I was in business school in Chicago and my son was just a year old. He used to watch Baby Einstein videos a lot while I was studying. Baby Einstein is such a good product in my opinion for kids of that age. The video and audio stimulation for my son was really great. But there was nothing similar which would expose him to the sights and sounds of India. The name “GuruSkool” is a play on the word “gurukul”, which is a Hindi word for ancient centres of learning. There used to be gurukuls where children were sent to an ashram to complete their education. They didn’t live at home, they learned from their gurus. Many parents who live here away from India, they don’t speak Hindi or another Indian language themselves even though they want their kids to learn it. I grew up in a big family and learnt to speak both Hindi and English from the very beginning. But people are moving away from joint families to a nuclear family concept. That’s the reason there’s an increasing need for external audio and video stimulation for kids if we want them to be aware of their culture and their roots.
Can you walk us through what children can see and read in the DVDs and books?
Pooja: The DVDs are short 25 to 30 minute videos. There’s a central puppet character who takes kids on a journey through the ocean, the jungle, etc. It’s a combination of puppet shows, video clips of footage from India, simple graphics and clips of children playing with toys. For example, in the Musical Instruments DVD, children can learn about different kinds of Indian musical instruments and listen to music created using those instruments. Kids at that age like watching other kids playing and it is interesting for an Indian child to watch other kids who look more like him or her. In the board books, words are written in both English and Hindi scripts and a transliteration has also been provided so that parents who can’t read the Hindi script can still pronounce the words correctly. The books reinforce the concepts that are in the DVDs, but can also be used on their own. The audio CD consists of music from the DVDs as well as extra songs in Hindi.” The products are not purely language learning products. My idea was to create something entertaining and engaging for children to introduce them to Indian culture.
Pooja: The products are for ages 1 to 5 but even kids older than that have been enjoying reading the books and watching the videos, especially if they don’t have much exposure to Indian culture. I wanted the products to have international appeal so they’re for a multicultural audience. Now Little GuruSkool is being used as a teaching aid at various small centres in the U.S. set up by Indian moms to teach local children the language. I also taught a class at Multilingual Chicago recently, using Little GuruSkool products and I learned firsthand that these products can be very effective teaching aid. It has been rewarding to answer my son’s questions about Kathakali dancers, wedding Shehnais and colorful Rangolis as he watches Little Guruskool DVDs. I hope that other parents and children around the world can enjoy exploring this exciting culture together.
Little GuruSkool products are available on Amazon.com and www.littleguruskool.com
Listen to the interview Guru School interview
view a short video Little GuruSkool
Pooja Pittie lives in Chicago with her son and can be reached at email@example.com
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