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Hindi through incredible Indian stories in Startalk Balvihar Camp

August 2018
Hindi through incredible Indian stories in Startalk Balvihar Camp

Summer means different things to different people. From exotic vacations to backyard cookouts, from programming robots to gently lifting a pot off a potter’s wheel, the possibilities for all abilities and interests are endless. Understandably, a summer camp for learning Hindi faces stiff competition to land itself on a family's summer to-do list. Yet, for the seventh year in a row, the VHPA Balvihar Startalk Summer Hindi camp has been successfully attracting students, both new and returning, and keeping them engaged in a fun and project-based learning environment. Startalk Hindi Camp is an immersion camp, where campers are "immersed" in the target language by recreating the target culture through language, food, clothing, and other aspects of daily life. This year, students attended a week-long online session, followed by a 12-day face-to-face session, amounting to 96+ hours of Hindi instruction, from June 4 to June 23, 2018. The face-to-face session was held at Lakeside Middle School in Forsyth County, GA.

The camp curriculum is based on guidelines for teaching foreign language in U.S. schools. The theme this year camp revolved around famous children's stories from India: different types of stories such as Panchatantra, Jaatak KathaayeN, Pauraanik, and historical stories, and different styles of storytelling from puppetry to pandwani, all the way to Bollywood.



(Left) An introduction chain activity.


Students were grouped based on language proficiency. Beginner language learners read Panchatantra stories. Intermediate students read the famous parable of “The Elephant and Six Blind Men.” Advanced students read and watched the popular Tenali Raman TV series. Students analyzed the stories and examined the message conveyed. Using these messages, they suggested solutions to real life issues such as bullying, working together, addressing differences amicably, etc. Hands-on activities created opportunities for students to read, write, and most importantly, speak Hindi. Tasks were especially designed such that kids spoke not only rehearsed language, but also spontaneous Hindi, which is a crucial component of learning a new language. The overall target of the camp was to have students work in small groups to create a new story, as well as present the story using media of their choice such as a play, a puppet-show, or a movie. Each student also made his/her own illustrated storybook. The theme of the camp allowed for a lot of creativity, and campers came up with a variety of interesting stories, each with a message for the reader. The process of writing and presenting their stories ensured that the students were applying the language they learned in the camp in a measurable way.


(Left) A field trip to the Center for Puppetry Arts.

A field trip to the Center for Puppetry Arts gave campers a closer look at the art of storytelling. Members of the center explained how puppets are made and operated, and how the sets are created. The kids participated in a scavenger hunt in the Indian Puppets Exhibit, learning about a variety of puppets from different regions of India. The center housed an extensive collection of puppets from all over the world, a colorful sight to behold.



Campers also participated in three different clubs. In the Food Club, they made cookies from scratch, and gave them unique shapes. The cookies were baked in the school kitchen, and turned out delicious! Another project was making chaat and mouthwatering paani puri. Over a period of 3 days, kids learned vocabulary for ingredients, utensils, and recipes, and made jingles to sell their products.

In the Science and Environment Club, students used recycled material to make musical instruments. All the information, including a few scientific facts about sound and how it travels, was given in Hindi. Students were able to describe in Hindi what they made and present a comparison of the sounds of different instruments.

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Language learning continued in the Arts and Crafts Club, where students used recycled material to create beautiful art projects: papier-mâché face masks and 3D dioramas inside empty milk gallons. These dioramas depicted the setting and characters of the story that the students created during the camp.

An Indian fitness and sports routine is important for camp. A trained instructor led the students in a daily yoga session, teaching pranayaam, various asanas, and their importance. This was followed by an hour of sports where students played kabaddi, saakali, and other games.

One of the highlights of camp was the food: daily breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Kids were led on a culinary journey across the states of India, experiencing the variety of tastes from idli-vada-sambar in the south to kachori-aloo ki subzi of Uttar Pradesh, and a variety of delicious desserts. Indian-American parents often complain that kids don’t want to eat Indian food, but that’s not the case in this camp!

On the last day, parents and community members were invited to attend an exhibition of all the writing, art, and science projects created. To celebrate the student writers, their storybooks were put up for sale as a fund-raiser for the Habitat for Humanity, followed by a book-signing event! Then students presented the stories they created; some presented plays, and others used hand-made puppets and sets. One group of students made the traditional kavad katha display, where the story is told with help of unfolding pictures, while another group presented their story as a short video film. The event was covered by Anjali Chhabria of TV Asia.

The camp was led by camp director Manju Tiwari, lead instructor Smita Daftardar along with talented and dedicated instructors and teaching assistants (TAs).

Feedback from students and parents was overwhelmingly positive. The camp also received highly favorable rating from the team of observers from Startalk. The VHPA Balvihar team is hopeful of continuing to offer this great opportunity to the Atlanta community in the coming years.

Website Bonus Feature

Photo Gallery:

StarTalk Balvihar Hindi Language and Culture Camp videos:
Day 1:
Day 2:
Day 3:
Day 4:
Day 5:
Day 6:
Day 7:
Day 8:
Day 9:
Day 10:
Day 11:
Day 12:
Final Video:

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The Startalk Balvihar teacher team.

Staff and Volunteers:
The camp was led by camp director Manju Tiwari, lead instructor Smita Daftardar along with talented and dedicated instructors Preeti Gupta, Shruti Singh, Neetu Sharma, Varsha Gupta, Brijrani Verma, and Shafali Gupta, and teaching assistants (TAs) Esha Oza, Nikita Jain, Manas Sharma, Manjari Hegde, and Mehul Mehra. The TAs need a special mention—these are college students, most of them graduates of the VHPA Balvihar Hindi School, and are former Startalk students and volunteers. They help with classroom management and are great role models for the students.

The Camp Administrator was Vivek Patel, an efficient and multi-talented Balvihar and Startalk Alumni who has been successfully managing this role for the past few years.

Urvi Gupta managed the printing, and photo/videography for the camp was managed by Vinay Patel, a quiet and dedicated member of the team, who seemed to be magically omnipresent, ready to capture the activities of the camp all day long. His hard work not just creates great memories, but also provides valuable evidence of the students' learning to the organizations funding these camps.

The food for the entire camp was managed by Lata Chatkaraji, perhaps the favorite person of the camp! Thanks to her efficient management, the entire camp was kept well-fed and happy, every single day.

A team of high school student volunteers, Saakshi Sachdev, Shreya Sachdeva, Abhinav Singh, Aniruddha Gupta, and Tanishq Jain helped with the overall running of the camp, from delivering supplies to classrooms to helping serve food.

Likewise, Sonika Chand ji, a volunteer with the VHPA Balvihar extended her help throughout the camp. The work of all these volunteers is an invaluable contribution to the smooth and timely running of the camp.


 Remember, we have new Website Bonus Features that are not in the print magazine. Every time you see the W symbol in the print magazine, you can go to our website to see additional print or audiovisual material!

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