When children all over the globe are bound to their homes due to the lockdown, a nine-year-old Malayali boy is imparting sign language lessons through videos from his home in the US. For the past four weeks, Thaathwik has been holding 15-minute live streaming sessions from his home in Wisconsin state, sharing with viewers the new words and phrases he learned in sign language. The third-grader has been a super star after his tutorials turned a big hit.
Sharing with Onmanorama about the initiative over a video interview, Thaathwik, known as T among his friends, and his mother Aarsha say that it all started after a one-day workshop in basic sign language held in his school a ‘week before the lockdown, which started on March 16 in the US. “At the workshop, I learned three four words and sentences like ‘How are you’ and ‘What’s your name’. I loved it,” says Thaathwik.
Soon, the spring break started, followed by lockdown. Schools were shut and virtual classes began three days a week. Since the American education system focuses on reading, writing, basic mathematics and creative classes till middle school, the classes include Zoom sessions with classmates and the teacher issuing a learning schedule for the week which has to be completed by the weekend.
“School work is mostly reading sessions and activity-based programmes. We also have a gym activity for kids, which we started streaming live to benefit and inspire other kids,” says Aarsha, an IT professional, who during her lunch break hour, started shooting the gym sessions when Thaathwik and his little brother, four-year-old Thadwith do squats, push-ups, jumping jacks, planks, burpees, crunches and karate. All those were live streamed on Facebook.
She also noticed that Thaathwik, who has an affinity towards languages (he already learns Spanish and Malayalam), was showing more interest in learning the sign language. “He started looking up the website of American Sign Language (ASL) and asked me to help with learning. We started with alphabets – 10 letters a day and greetings like ‘Hello’ and ‘Good morning’. That’s when we came up with live videos,” she says.
Link to Thaathwik’s first video:
Every weekday at 11 pm (IST), Thaathwik comes on live with new words and phrases he learned that day. “First, we had very few views, but with days, the numbers started growing. People started asking questions based on which I included colours, fruits, days, months and numbers. The responses were very encouraging. The happiest response is from a four-and-a-half-year-old child, who regularly sends videos of practising sign language. We have four viewers who sends practice videos regularly. A teacher who trains in sign language also called us up and appreciated the videos,” Thaathwik adds, beaming with pride.
Link to video on Day 7:
Joining him in the live videos is little Thadwith, who, after every sign language session, presents an action song. Aarsha finds that the sessions have benefited her children in many ways, “They are not bored or fussy as these activities keep them engaged. Along with fun, it’s learning too. Unknown to them, they are practising inclusivity and not just another language.”
Thiruvananthapuram native Aarsha and Palakkad native Abhilash, both of them IT professionals settled in the US for the past eight years, are glad about the reach of the videos and the inspiring activity of their children which they would keep on supporting. Thaathwik trains them too in sign language and they never hesitate to join the kids in their karate and gym videos, making it a happy, family affair.
Link to video on Day 19:
With his videos getting good views, Thaathwik is taking the tutorials very seriously. “In future, I want to enrol for a certification course in sign language and register in a sign language mobile application as a volunteer. I also want to start a YouTube channel,” he says.
Thaathwik’s dream is to work in movies, as an actor and film maker. But if one thing stands in his way, that’s Mathematics, which he is not too keen to pursue. Laughing, Aarsha says, “The video he is preparing for is about tangrams, which itself is mathematical puzzles. He thinks Maths is only about solving problems.” A blushing Thaathwik pops up from behind and plants a kiss on his mother’s cheek – in a universal sign language of love.