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Apple Valley Montessori School Celebrates Diwali

Catherine Fairbairn

Diwali – the festival of lights and the most celebrated time for the Indian community all around the world was on October 26th this year. Three parents (with their roots from India); Ramola Bhandarkar, Jyoti Nagia and Sumithra Pradeep looked forward to sharing all about this special festival at AVMS on November 2nd but were unable to owing to the recent winter storm, power outage and school closing. The stormy weather could not dampen anyone’s spirits and the presentation finally took place on Monday, November 7th. The children were given a heads-up and instead of kicking off the classroom time with lessons and materials in the morning, they geared up for the Diwali presentation.

The parents presented in one elementary and two pre-school classrooms. The presentation was beautifully segmented into four components – an engaging poster presentation, a craft activity, relishing Indian sweets, and distributing goody bags.

The children listened as they were explained that Diwali translates into a row of lamps that are lit on the day of the Diwali, and adorn many homes and streets in India. They were thrilled to see the traditional clay lamps, called Diyas and explained how they are lit by filling oil and placing a cotton wick inside. “Can we light a diya now?” – A request came from the audience!

Celebrated over 5 days, they were explained the significance of each day in a very simplistic way.  The first day is called "Dhan Teras," the auspicious time for the business community to worship old financial books and start new ones. The ceremony heralds a prosperous financial year ahead. "Kali Chaudas" prayers are offered on the second day to keep evils and omen away. The third day is “Diwali” when in addition to lighting Diyas; everyone has a blast by bursting fire crackers. The children were prompt to relate bursting of crackers with the 4th of July holiday. The day after Diwali is the beginning of a new year. The fifth day is "Bhaiya Dooj," a tradition that strengthens the bonds between a brother and his sister. They learned what everyone does before and on Diwali, from cleaning the house, creating Rangoli – a beautiful art created on the floor with different colored powders, wearing new clothes, sharing sweets to exchanging gifts. Once again, the children promptly related “exchanging of gifts” on Diwali with “exchanging of gifts” on Christmas. “Does Santa bring gifts on Diwali?” – Another question popped up from the audience!

The presentation was concluded by answering questions raised by curious little minds and communicating the essence of Diwali; which is the victory of good over evil, victory of knowledge over ignorance, and the awareness of the inner light.

The children were all excited when they were shown a lovely door-knob hanger as a sample and told that they can have one and decorate it themselves. This engaging craft segment was a well thought out step by step activity. It was quite interesting to note that children in pre-school classrooms listened to the instructions and decorated the door-knob hanger just as they were told. They seemed to be particularly enticed by the sparkly stickers on the sample. First, the pre-schoolers pasted a Diya in the center, then a Happy Diwali greeting at the bottom and then spread the sparkly star and flower-shaped stickers just as they saw in the sample. However, the experience was quite different in the elementary classrooms. The older children expressed their desire to develop their own plan of action regarding the placement of each item on the hanger. Irrespective of whether younger children decorated the hanger as shown in the sample or the older children decided to be creative; the final outcome was a memento for children to take home and talk about this rich cultural experience with their family.

Right after the craft activity, the children were lovingly offered a nut-free Indian sweet, Gulab Jamun. It was the first time experience for most of the children, and they relished it. Some were hesitant to try it.

The Diwali presentation was concluded by distributing goody bags full of sweets and a hand-made Happy Diwali card to children and AVMS staff. The children thanked the parents and collectively wished them “Happy Diwali” at the top of their voice full of enthusiasm!

AVMS is thankful to Ramola Bhandarkar, Jyoti Nagia and Sumithra Pradeep for taking the time to present Diwali to AVMS children and staff, and share its essence in a fun and engaging manner that instantly connected the spirit of Diwali with the spirit of many holidays celebrated here in the United States.

(Catherine Fairbairn is the Head of Apple Valley Montessori School in Sudbury, MA. She can be reached at Catherine@avms.org 978-287-4000. To learn more about AVMS and its mission, please visit www.avms.org. )

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