The Joy of Growing Up with Animals – From One Mamma to Another

Growing up around animals can be a wonderful experience for children. They learn to care, love and cherish them whilst forming a strong friendship. In our increasingly nature-disconnected lives, such friendships ground and give us a clear perspective – that all of us are joined together in this intricate web of life.

Let’s hear more about the importance and joys of having animals at home, from a Mamma of two from India.

Hi Aruna, tell us a little about yourself and your family

Hello everyone!I am Aruna and I live in Salem, India with my husband Anand, our two boys –  Adarsh who is 6 years old and Akash who is 3 years old – and our three pets.

What kind of pets do you have at home?

We have a Golden Retriever – Muthu who is almost 3 years old, a Boxer – Veera who is 2.6 years and a talking Parrot – Meenu who is the oldest at 7 years and 2 months. Muthu is a charmer. He is well-mannered, very friendly and always loves to be around the boys. Veera is the naughty one; he is very curious and likes to show off his skills. He often goes on these secret missions around the house and we know that he is up to some mischief. Meenu is very chatty. She likes everyone to know her presence and says something every ten minutes to make sure she is noticed.

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How do your children interact and play with them?

The bond between the boys and our pets is very special. When the boys were babies, I used to constantly monitor their interactions because Muthu and Veera were also very young and used to be quite enthusiastic. But, over time, I realised that the dogs can be very gentle and now Muthu and Veera have become Adarsh and Akash’s constant companions, source of strength and their biggest admirers.

What steps do you take to help your boys take responsibility for the pets?

I think it comes very naturally to them just by observing us. Both my sons, especially Adarsh can feed and bathe them, and comfort them in case the pets are unwell. Once we had some guests and a little boy kept pulling Muthu’s tail. Adarsh got very upset and took Muthu to his room and stayed there until the guests left. They are both very protective of the pets.

Is it just the house pets or do your children take to animals outside the home as well?

They are generally very compassionate to animals. It’s like they can relate to them and understand them. When we visit friends who have dogs, the bond is instant and they are curious to know what they eat, where they sleep, what they like to play with, etc. Likewise, whenever we visit our farm, they love to touch and play with the cows and goats and feed them hay and water. Once, a sparrow, who is a regular visitor in our house, hurt its leg. My husband and the boys tended to the bird and took care of it until it was ready to fly.

How do your pets express care for your children?

Well, this is always most interesting. Whenever I raise my voice against the boys, they will immediately come as saviours and stand next to them, licking their feet. If the boys are sad or sick, they never leave their side.  Meenu is usually more to herself but when the boys are unwell, she can sense something is not right and will fly into their bedroom to check on them. When someone new comes to our house, like a gardener or plumber, the dogs become all protective and will never let anyone near the boys.

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Do you believe having animals around the house is important?

I actually feel it must be natural. The human-animal bond is a very mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship. It is our responsibility to protect and care for them, because this world is theirs as much as it is ours. Peaceful cohabitation should be our ultimate goal. I strongly believe in this and so I do as much to create a sense of responsibility in both the boys. So, yes, it is important to have animals around the house.

How do you navigate having pets and children at home?

Haha! That is a good question! They can all be a handful. One good thing is they are always together, so it makes it easier for me to monitor what’s going on. Some days can be very tedious, especially if one of them falls sick. Some days are so joyful and memorable. It is hardest when we have to travel because a lot of planning needs to go into taking care of the pets while we are away. Which is why, I am so grateful we have a strong support staff in our home and my husband also helps tremendously. So, it all works out well in the end with a few bumps along the way.

Can you share some lighter moments between the boys and the pets?

There are so many wonderful moments, I think I can write a book. So, Veera loves to hide things when he is off on his secret mission. He will hide anything he finds like the TV remote, our cell phone, a comb or even shoes. Then, the whole team, including Meenu are on an expedition trying to search for this one thing. Saturdays are bathing days for the dogs. They are all out on the backyard – my boys, the dogs and my husband. My husband uses a hose pipe to clean them up and usually all of them end up getting drenched amidst so much laughter and noise. Sometimes, I fear our neighbours will complain. Oh, and the mess they make! But, the smile on their face makes it all worth it in the end.

Finding Time for Free Movement in a Busy World

Estimated Time to Read: 4 minutes


The Joy of Free Movement

Many of us have experienced the rush of energy that comes from using our bodies freely. The human body loves movement and every time we give ourselves the opportunity to move, it releases many hormones like endorphins and oxytocin which regulate our mental and physical wellbeing. Even a short stroll works wonders in calming and making us happier when nothing else is going well in a day. When this logic applies to adults, the same goes for children who need time to move freely. However, in this busy world, it is becoming increasingly harder for us to balance the time our children spend in some kind of device or container with unhindered, free movement. 

What are Containers?

To understand the problem with containers, let us first look at what they mean. A container is any device that contains or restricts a baby’s ability to move freely. They either place a hold on their full body movement or deny access to their hands. The most commonly used containers are car seats, strollers, bouncy swings, vibrating chairs, bumbo seats, exersaucers and mittens.

So, what’s the problem with containers?

Containers are fantastic for adults who just want to take a break. They keep the baby safe and entertained while we finish up our cooking, catch up on the news or simply chill with a book. But, the problem with these containers arises when we find it consistently easier to manage our babies when they are in it rather than when they are outside it. 

  • Distorted Body Image

When we repeatedly buckle our babies in some container, we begin to give them a very distorted image of their body. Ideally, when a baby moves freely, they understand the effects of their body in space. However, when they move only within the constraints of a container, the brain begins to include this container as a part of their body image and the understanding of just their body in space gets distorted.  

  • Reduced Synaptic Connections

The first year of life is crucial in making several synaptic connections in the brain and this happens when the baby is in contact with the environment. When they accidentally kick a toy or a bat an object, they realise the impact their tiny body has on the environment, leading to repetition and several synaptic connections. The less opportunities for free movement, the less interactions they have with their surroundings and lesser synaptic connections they form.

  • Cognitive Limitations

The human brain is a phenomenal tool with immense potential. The mind and body communicate with each other and the more we do to free the body, the more the child can do to feed their minds. A baby doesn’t know an apple from an orange by being strapped to a container and looking at them in picture books but by being on the floor, figuring out the distance to the fruit and crawling towards it, holding it in both their hands and finally discovering it’s many properties. A child’s knowledge of the world is built from interactions in it and the world is just not the same when they are being moved around from one container to another, without the freedom to explore. 

  • Gross & Fine Motor Lag 

More and more children are having difficulty being on their tummy, sitting up, crawling and walking. They are having problems using their hands to accomplish even the simplest tasks. The human hand and body are great tools that have the potential to do many things. A child can use their hands to paint, sculpt, cook or sew. They can use their bodies in a variety of ways to swim, dance, jump and run. For a child to reach such dexterity and coordination is not an impossible feat but a journey of firstly discovering their body and its abilities. If we free them from these containers, they are one step closer to reaching these possibilities.

How do we find a Balance?

  • Compensate Being Strapped with Free Movement

For every half hour that our babies need to spend in containers, we must try to compensate with an hour of absolutely free movement. Some containers for children are unavoidable and rather, essential, like a car seat. However, it will be helpful to let the baby free, the moment we reach our destination. If we need to drive longer, then we can plan such that our babies can have some free movement.

A family in the middle of nowhere, stopping to give their baby some free movement!
  • Free Movement Area

It is also helpful to have a movement area for the baby that can be both indoors and outdoors. This is where the baby can practice being on their tummy, kicking, batting, crawling, sitting and discovering their hands. Place simple objects such as a rattle, a ball or a fruit that will capture their attention and urge them to move towards it. Keep their hands and feet exposed as much as possible so that they can observe them, take them to their mouths and understand their possibilities.

  • Opportunity to Observe Others

It will also help to give young children the opportunity to watch people using their hands and legs. This can be anything from watching us chop vegetables for dinner, use a broom to sweep the floor, dance, exercise, knit, paint or wash dishes at the sink.

When we give our children enough experience to move freely and watch others move, they will begin to imitate and gradually gain control over their body. They will have the skill-set and confidence to step out of their small space and move in harmony with the rest of life. 

Veer’s Mysterious Toe Pain

Here is a story of little Veer who is 2.5 years old and lives in Kochi, Kerala by the backwaters of the Arabian Sea. Veer lives in a colony that is filled with coconut trees and wonderful neighbours. Veer’s parents, Preetha and Sandeep recently moved back to their hometown after living in the UK for almost 7 years. The entire family has been enjoying their time back in Kochi, especially Veer, who loves the company of his grandparents, riding in the auto and visiting the beach.

Veer has recently picked up a habit, often to the concern of his mother, of imitating just about anyone who comes to their house. Preetha says he picks up any mobile phone, holds it like his father, and marches up and down the veranda of their house, mumbling something to himself. Recently, she caught him coughing just like her father and scratching his head like her mother. The one that drives Preetha crazy is the way he has been calling her, “Pi-ree-dha” just like the help in their house. Telling him not to call her that way has triggered mischievous giggles from Veer and the name has stuck since he refuses to call her any other way.

One day, Preetha noticed Veer holding his big toe and complain of pain. She immediately checked to see if everything was alright and even massaged his toe. To her surprise, Veer had not even flinched while she was examining his toe and was unusually calm for someone who was complaining of severe pain just a few moments ago. She gave him a kiss on the toe and assured him that everything will be okay and asked him to go back to playing. The moment she got up to get back to work, Veer’s mysterious toe pain reappeared and this time, he started limping. This made Preetha worried sick and she decided to put the matter to rest by taking Veer to a paediatrician. Thankfully, Preetha’s neighbour Aruna was a doctor and also a good friend. Veer was also familiar with her since he often went to their house to play with their dog, Tommy.

On explaining to Aruna about the mysterious toe pain, Preetha was surprised to see her laugh. It seemed like Aruna couldn’t control her laughter and almost had tears in her eyes.  Finally, on calming down, she explained that her mother, who lives with her, had hurt her toe earlier that morning and was walking with a limp. Little Veer who had been to their home that morning to play with Tommy had obviously noticed the different walk  and had resorted to imitating her.

Preetha was relieved to learn that there was nothing wrong with Veer’s toe and had a hearty laugh with Aruna. Aruna, then brought out a box and told Veer that she could help by giving him an injection for his pain, just like she had given grandma.  That was the end of Veer’s pain!

Orange Peeling

Estimated Time to Read: 3 minutes


Oranges are juicy, delicious fruits with so many sensorial properties that draw children’s attention. Peeling oranges gives very young children just the right amount of challenge to hold their interest. Pulling of the peel is a fine-motor challenge that aids eye-hand coordination and muscle strength. It also gives them a sense of satisfaction, combined with a desire to do for the family.

When to offer?

I would begin anywhere between 15 – 18 months. 

Things Required

  • An easy-to-peel orange (mandarins, pixie mandarins, sumo mandarins, tangerines and clementines)
  • 2 medium-sized bowls – 1 for the full orange and 1 for the peels.
  • 1 serving plate (optional) – to arrange the slices on a platter for sharing
  • Access to a basket with some more oranges (in case child wants to peel more than one)

Preparation

With very young children, I find it useful to score the oranges on the bottom which makes it easier for their hands to find and pull the peel apart. Alternatively, you can begin by removing the first peel and the child can follow. As always, you are the best judge of what works for your child! 

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Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Come with me, I’m going to show you how to peel some oranges.” Introduce everything at the table (if you have them arranged) else tell the child what we need and gather them together. With young children, it is lovely to smell and feel the orange and talk about it’s name and colour.

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Place the orange flat on the table, holding it with one hand to give support and show the child to pull the peel using the other hand. I usually hold the peel with a two finger-thumb grasp (different size oranges require different grasps) because I find that this gives children a good support when they repeat after me.  Make sure you exaggerate the pulling of the peel!

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Once the peel is apart, just place it in the bowl for the peels.

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Let the child peel however they can. Now, you can offer to hold the orange down while the child peels or take turns peeling and holding.

 Once the orange is peeled, you can have the child arrange each slice on the serving plate to share with the family.

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Involve the child in putting the items back in their place (or for wash). If you make dishes with the orange peel, tell the child and save it for later.

Short Guide

  • Begin with an invitation, “Come with me, I’m going to show you how to peel some oranges.”
  • Introduce everything at the table (if you have them arranged) else tell the child what we need and gather them together.
  • With young children, it is lovely to smell and feel the orange and talk about it’s name and colour.
  • Place the orange flat on the ground, holding it with one hand to give support and show the child to pull the peel using the other hand.
  • I usually hold the peel with a two finger-thumb grasp (different size oranges require different grasps) because I find that this gives children a good support when they repeat after me.
  • Make sure you exaggerate the pulling of the peel.
  • Once the peel is apart, just place it in the bowl for the peels.
  • Let the child have a turn. Now, you can offer to hold the orange down while the child peels.
  • Once the orange is peeled, you can have the child arrange each slice on the serving plate to share with the family.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place (or for wash)
  • If you make dishes with the orange peel, tell the child and save it for later.

Baby Swimming with my 10 Week Old: From One Mamma to Another

Baby swimming is a rich sensory experience that can be offered to a newborn. Water takes babies back to life in utero and helps them become aware of their body’s endless capabilities. It also aids coordination and muscle strength while working up their appetite. Baby swimming is a wonderful way for parents to just hold their little ones and bond with them!

While many of us maybe apprehensive about baby swimming, here is a Mamma from Germany who has been taking her baby swimming from the time she was 10 weeks old. Let’s hear more about this from her!

Hi Janani, tell us about yourself and your family. 

My husband and I live in Germany. Our baby girl, Agni was born in March 2018. The past 7 months have been a fun ride with her. As a couple, we love the company of nature, travelling and exploring new things. We would probably give Agni similar experiences as she grows up.

How did you find out about baby swimming?

My Hebamme (midwife) used to come home every alternate day after my delivery. She told me about it.

What made you decide to take your baby for these lessons?

I was excited as soon as I heard about it. My only question was how soon can I start? Agni was in the pool when she was 10 weeks old. Water is not such a new environment for the babies as they have been kicking and playing in the amniotic fluid for months.

Can you describe the structure of these lessons? Typically, what do you do in the water?

The lessons happen once a week for about half an hour, for 8 weeks. They begin with a song in German that helps babies get used to the new environment. The Hebamme will then slowly guide us with the exercise. The basic idea of the course is for babies to get used to water. It was an adventure pool with waterfalls, massage lounges and lazy rivers. The babies get used to water coming at them in many ways. This course was also Agni’s first social experience.

Can you share some unique exercises that they encourage your baby to do?

There are about 5-6 exercises that they teach in the first course. I shall try to explain a few.

  • The mammas hold their babies and move them from side to side, back to front while maintaining eye contact. Their hands and legs are always free to move. They will then slowly start tapping and exploring water.
  • The babies are placed on their tummies while the Mammas support them on their chest with their palms while moving very fast in the water. They will raise their heads and move their hands and feet. Agni used to smile and laugh a lot when we did this exercise. I loved it!
  • The Mammas take a bucket and pour water on their hands, feet, shoulders and body. Once they are used to this, water is poured on their heads. This will help them gain breath control.

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  • The babies float on their backs while mammas hold them. Generally, babies get anxious with this exercise because they cannot see what’s underneath and it takes a while for them to understand.
  • The babies are placed on a big float on their tummy with objects in front of them. They try to reach out for objects while the mammas continue to pour water on their backs.

Note: It is important to remember that it is not safe to try these exercises without a proper instructor.

Did they take the children underwater? How was this experience?

This was only in the second half of the course when the babies were used to water falling on their heads and have some breath control. The mammas hold the babies, typically in the airplane position while the Hebamme pours water on them from legs to their head. Then, the mammas swing them 360 degrees underwater. Agni was the youngest and a bit apprehensive the first few times. So, I would take her under the shower many times. Once she got used to water falling on her head, she did it with so much ease. Now, she enjoys it!

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Do you see any noticeable changes in your baby’s movements after exposure to these lessons?

I think the lessons helped a lot with her movement and coordination of  hands. At 4.5 months, she used to move a lot on her back.

Was it always mammas in the water with the babies or did dads and grandparents take part too?

Fathers and even grandparents used to come once in a while. They would get into the water along with us.

Can you share a note to parents about baby swimming?

Many parents are worried about taking their babies into the pool so early. But, I think it is totally safe, as long as they have a proper instructor. It is exciting and a lot of fun. 

 

The Toys in our Children’s Lives

The child under six is an explorer who understands the world using their senses. So, what we offer them for exploration must represent this world, spark their curiosity and stimulate their growing intellect. Instead, as a society, we have taken our children far away from the richness of the natural world and placed them in a plastic one filled with toys that offer little or no stimulation to their hungry senses.

How we have viewed Toys? 

  • An Entertainment

Most toys that we buy off shelves are merely used as fillers to entertain the child. They are designed to occupy their attention for a short span of time and often fail to do even this because of their superficial nature and we see them move from one object to another, visibly hungry for more. These toys make sounds and noises when buttons are pressed, making them artificial and over stimulating. This kind of distorted representation only takes them further away from understanding their world.

Messy Toys

  • Plastic is Easy

The other problem with most toys is that they are made out of a single material – PLASTIC. The reason being, plastic is most durable, affordable and endures the child’s handling. But in guaranteeing their safety, plastic toys rob children of many sensorial experiences. Imagine this curious explorer take plastic after plastic to their mouth only to receive the same information from each of them. It is ironic that the plastic which is so colourfully decorated on the outside fails to offer them anything more than that.

“Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses and therefore, for learning and creativity too.”

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

  • More is Better

Because the child’s attention is easily waned with these toys, we feel the need to buy more to occupy their time and slowly, they begin to take up a huge portion of our homes. They are then dumped in big buckets, making it impossible for the child to take a toy of their choice without pouring everything else on the floor. We gradually convince ourselves that young children have lesser attention spans and feed this fallacy with more and more toys. 

How  we  CAN  view  Toys?
The toys that we surround the child with must invite them to use each of their senses, raising many questions in their heads that lead to further exploration and discovery.

  • Experience

Instead of viewing toys as entertainers, let us look at them as experience-givers or teachers. Before choosing a toy, close your eyes and hold the toy between your hands. Feel the texture, take the toy to your nose and take in the unique scent, shake the toy to see if it makes any noise and then open your eyes to see how it looks visually. This experiment will give an idea of how many different experiences a simple object can offer. Look for toys made out of different natural materials such as bamboo, brass, silver, steel, wood, copper and natural fabric such as cotton, silk or wool. These can be part of your immediate environment or something that the child sees others using. 

Bamboo shakers, metal rattles, a leaf or flower, a small cup, spoon or tumbler, a bangle, honey dipper, balls made from different kinds of natural fabric, dry gourds with seeds, wooden clackers, a small brush with soft bristles, bells, variety of vegetables and fruits. 

  • Abstraction & Imagination

Every concrete experience that the child has in the world feeds their intellect and helps them create abstractions. An abstraction helps the child hold the world in their little heads. It is this abstraction that helps them blossom as adults with vivid imaginations. If plastic is the only material we offer them, then that will form the basis of their imagination. Instead, if we open up the world and show them different ways to explore it, they will create many abstractions each day which will also aid in the appreciation of the natural world. 

When truly present in nature, we do use all our senses at the same time, which is the optimum state of learning.” 

Richard Louv, The Nature Principle

  • Less is More

In a world of abundance, we are constantly led to believe that more is better. When a child is bored with a toy, it is not time to buy another one but to show another way to explore the same toy. When we buy and hoard buckets and buckets of toys, they lose value and children run from one to the other, finding it hard to settle down with any. It is important to have variety but limit the number that we offer them at any given time. 

The world is filled with abundant riches; we only need to pause for a moment and look. Let us pack the plastic away and instead offer our children toys that are a piece of their environment. Let the child take it, explore it, own it and become a part of it!