Does anything come close to the magic of hearing the squeals of delight and unbridled laughter of the little ones? We at Story Time certainly do not think so! To do our bit for bringing some monsoon-scented fun to the lives of children from all over Kolkata, we organized a Monsoon Camp (the first of its kind in the City of Joy – which is more known for Summer Camps) over the independence day weekend (15, 16, 17 August). If we say so ourselves, the program was an unprecedented, blistering success.A bit about the planning stages first. The Story Time Club had already been organizing seasonal camps and play sessions for toddlers at several cities in Australia and the United States. Over the last few months, our mobile app for kids (Story Time For Kids) has grown in popularity in India too. It was only natural that we decided to replicate what we had done in other countries over here as well. And what better place to start off with, than our home city? After rounds of meetings and discussion, the plan of a 3-day camp was finalized upon. The head of Story Time zeroed in upon the Independence Day weekend, since we felt that it would let us add a slight patriotic flavor to the proceedings on the first day. Thanks to the support extended by Tender Care Montessori and Daycare, finding a nice venue was not at all a problem. We started inviting parents, distributed event pamphlets at the best city schools, conducted online promotional campaigns – in short, went the whole hog to ensure that every kid and his/her parents was aware of our event. After all, spreading the maximum joy was our goal! There was a bit of initial dilemma over what the registration charges/ticket prices for the Story Time Monsoon Camp should be. We started out with a fixed fee of Rs. 300/person – with additional discount offers at the Book Fair (which was part of the itinerary). What happened next was a minor miracle. There was a veritable deluge of parents contacting our representatives over phone, through email and via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/339638726187056/) – and we felt that it would be only fair to not attach a price tag to the joy they wished to provide to their kids. Just like that, the Monsoon Camp became a free event! Three weeks passed by in a buzz and a whir, and August 15 arrived within a blink of an eye (we had started making arrangements from a month back). Given the sheer volume of preschoolers and slightly older kids who had registered themselves, we decided to break up each day’s activities into two slots – 10:00 am to 12 noon for the toddlers, and 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm for those in the 8-12 age group. The phones kept ringing – with parents making last-ditch registration requests. We accommodated as many kids as possible. Some still missed out though. Be an early bird next time round! Participants had already started trickling in, by the time the Story Time team arrived at Tender Care (and it was not even 8:30 am!). Spot registrations were done in a blitz, badges were handed out – and sharp at 10:00, the flag-hoisting ceremony started. The staff at the school collaborated with our volunteers in keeping the small boys and girls (there were over 50 of them in the first slot) organized – as the youngest kid was selected to pull up the flag. A big responsibility, which he did with remarkable poise. A short speech from our chief followed, at the end of which she declared the Story Time Monsoon Camp “officially open”. Our 7-member team lined up in front of the flag, and started singing the national anthem – with the kids standing up and following us with the chorus. Soon enough, they took over the lead singing part, while we watched on in amazement at the sincerity with which each of them sang (or tried to sing). During the ‘2 Minutes to Fame’, each child explained what ‘India’ meant to him/her. Some of the explanations were pretty innovative and inspiring! The afternoon slot followed the same line-up of programs – but this time there were 90+ children. The book fair section had already been set up, and after the flag-hoisting, participants trooped in – and selected kids’ storybooks of their choice. We had taken 7 titles to the fair on the first day. Many kids clamoured for ‘Aladdin’, and we made it a point to include it on the next day. Day 2 of the Story Time Monsoon Camp (Saturday) witnessed widespread participation from the students of Tender Care (in other words, the ‘home’ students!). It also turned out to be the birthday – the first one – of the youngest participant, Abhiraj. The kid had a slightly quizzical look on his face, as the b’day cake arrived, and he was hugged and fondled by one and all over there. Infants from the day care creche section arrived as well – with unbounded energy, and infectious smiles. The camp was meant for making the kids laugh – but it was only a matter of time before we joined in too. Oh, and there was a resident fashionista among the kids present as well!Moving over to the third and final (and by far the biggest) day of the camp. Given the number of attendees scheduled to come in (60+ in the first slot, and a whopping 115 in the second one), we reached the venue by 8:00 am, set up a proper registration desk – and set things up, before the first parent stepped in. There were participants from North Kolkata Public School, Park English School, International Public High School, Birla High School, and a large number of other leading schools of Kolkata.The first program on the agenda on Day 3 (in either slot) was kids’ drawing and coloring games. Our representative told everyone to sketch something that had (in some way) the theme of ‘monsoon’ implied in it. It was a delight to see that almost all the little ones had come prepared with crayons, scales, pencils, erasers – the whole lot. There were several nice drawings, and judging the top-3, who were handed prizes, was not the easiest task.After drawing, it was time for card designing. Each kid was given a blank card, on which (s)he had to wish ‘Happy Monsoon’ (they could improvise as much as they wanted) to their parents. As the children got down to work, a senior teacher from the school told us that she was mighty impressed by this nice, warm touch. Story Time believes that a kid’s happiness stems from a strong bonding with parents – and the card designing was an attempt to bring out their affection for the latter. The looks of surprised delight on the faces of the moms and dads as they received their wards’ cards was a sight to behold. We strongly suspect that there was a dinner treat waiting for the children at home that night!It was time to get creative next. The chief graphics designer of the Story Time iPhone app for kids took charge as origami (for those who don’t know what that is, its paper art) instructor. The kids sat in rapt attention, as he explained, step-by-step, how a paper flower can be made from a plain sheet. Almost everyone followed his instructions perfectly – and for the few who couldn’t, our volunteers were there to help out. Let’s admit this – we were not as good at origami as many of the children proved themselves to be!Once the flowers were ready (and some perfume was sprayed on each – for what rose does not have its own scent?), everyone was asked to clear the floor. The reason, you ask? Because it was time for freestyle dancing. ‘Koi Ladki Hai’ (Dil To Pagal Hai) and ‘Bum Bum Boley’ (Taare Zameen Par) were the two tracks most in demand. It was refreshing to see so many kids dancing with gay abandon (no rehearsed dance moves here!). It was meant to be ‘freestyle’, and it certainly was!Since the attendees in the afternoon slot were from a slightly higher age-group, we received specific song requests. Many of the kids carried CDs or had pre-recorded music files in their parents’ smartphones – to which they would groove. A particularly energetic performance (a little bit of mid-dance glitch aside) came from a girl – who gave SRK and Deepika Padukone a run for their money with her moves to ‘Lungi Dance’ (Chennai Express). Another dolled-up (and smaller) young lady held everybody spellbound with her elegance – while dancing to a classical Bengali number. There was a small ‘Boys vs Girls’ dance competition too. Most of the damsels were just a tad too shy though.You would expect little children to get exhausted after half an hour of dancing (or randomly moving their limbs, as was the case for the less skilled!). We had just the right program lined up next for these tired li’l darlings. It was a digital storytelling session, where an animated version of ‘The Jungle Book’ was shown to the children. A brief Q&A session followed – and the number of correct responses proved that everyone was indeed paying attention!We had collected data on many summer/monsoon camps held in the city – and one thing stuck out like a sore thumb. There were arrangements for kids’ fun everywhere – but hardly anyone bothered to dedicate some time to check the health aspect of the children. To counter this, we had a Free Dental Checkup session next – with one of the best professional dentists in India kindly agreeing to be present. Parents, most of whom had patiently waited outside or in another room, were requested to accompany their little ones to the doctor. We even spotted a couple of tear-stained faces – after all, many kids are afraid of doctors and syringes!Next came the two biggest hits of the Story Time Monsoon Camp. After the dental checkup, kids (most of them did not even need any guidance!) ran to the next room, to get themselves tattooed. From Superman and Batman, to Ganesh and Chhota Bheem, the requests of the kids were as varied as ever – and our tattoo artist put a smile on everyone’s face. Incidentally, we had taken this opportunity to get ourselves tattooed as well. Practice for him, and fun for us.And then, there was the Story Time Book Fair, where we offered all our paperback/hardcover books at Rs. 99 only. The trend of new-age parents to look for good, informative reading material for their kids was substantiated by the fact that most of the guardians were, in fact, more eager to buy books than the kids. It wasn’t uncommon to see parents walking out with even 4-5 books. We noted down the names of the books that were in demand but we had run out of stock (‘Cinderella’, ‘Alice In Wonderland’ and ‘Pinocchio’ were hugely sought after) – so that reprinted editions could be brought out soon. Once the book fair was over, it was time to bid adieu to the children (for the time-being, that is). But that was not before gifts and Certificates of Merit were handed out to the top-3 performers in each discipline (drawing & coloring, dancing, poem recitation and singing). The singing session was organized only in the afternoon slot – and a girl lent her charming voice to a famous Rabindrasangeet to bag first prize. A younger boy expertly crooned ‘Sun raha hai na tu’ (Aashiqui 2), to walk away with the third prize.A special note of thanks for our venue authorities here. The senior teachers were more than eager to help us out in managing the little kids, and maintaining an overall decorum to the proceedings. Snacks and refreshments, sponsored by the school, came along at regular intervals – on all the three days. On the final day, the school even held a small educational session to acquaint the kids with Abacus – along with our activities. Tender Care definitely deserves a fair share of credit for the success of Story Time Monsoon Camp. We felt that we did a decent job too and had a ‘biryani’ feast a couple of days later – but that’s another story. Story Time Club promises to be back with another fun-filled kids’ event pretty soon. To all the parents out there – keep an eye on www.storytimeforkids.info, for announcements and updates about new programs. Of course, you can buy books online from the website as well. We had as much fun as the li’l kids did, at the Monsoon Camp. On Sunday evening, our regrets were also the same – we could have made the camp a few days longer!
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