That Empty Box is ALSO a Toy!

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What is a toy?

To answer this question, we first need to look at how we (adults) define and view toys versus how children view toys. We have a very specific understanding of what a toy is. A toy is something that a child can play with. But, this ‘something’ comes with a disclaimer. We are comfortable when a child plays with a toy that is manufactured by the toy industry that has made sure it is age and developmentally appropriate. That, that piece of object carries the seal of the toy industry.  So, if a baby wants to play with a mesh sieve from the kitchen or a toddler wants to use the broom, we are not wholly comfortable. We don’t consider these as toys. We redirect them almost instantly and instinctively without much thought, “Why don’t you play with your toys?” 

But, what is a toy for a child? 

For a young child, anything and everything is a toy. If a toy is something to explore and play with, then yes, everything is a toy. We forget that babies come afresh into this world. They are free of our societal and cultural conditioning – they do not look at the hair brush and instantly associate it with combing. They will grow to create such associations. But, they are, in a sense, free of the restrictions that we hold. So, if a baby finds a hairbrush, they will mouth it, roll it, chase it, mouth it again and delight in the texture of the bristles and explore it with fervor. A toddler might not just brush their hair but their feet, their frilly frock, the couch pillow. An older child may run towards a heap of leaves, jump into it, climb out of it, stomp on it, jump into it again and giggle in the rustle and chaos of the scatter. This play, this exploration of the object is their way of understanding and engaging with the world. It is their way of asking “why not?”

But, do we look at these as toys? And, more importantly, do we look at this as play?

If the children are engaging in repeated exploration and manipulation of the objects and if the objects are giving them joy, can we not look at the hairbrush and the heap of leaves also as toys to play with? 

Specific Playthings

The toy industry is a multi-billion dollar establishment whose sole purpose is to design and manufacture toys for children. Think about it, there is an entire industry dedicated to selling playthings for children. This is no small thing! This is a huge deal in giving children the much needed place in society, in giving their developing intelligence and innate curiosity due recognition. With more and more research emerging in the field of early childhood, toys are becoming further refined. There are toys to help children count, learn letters, reason, code, hone their eye-hand coordination and challenge their gross motor skills. In a way, the industry has left no stone unturned.  

But, by purchasing these toys, there is a certain security we derive. Firstly, we believe that ALL the toys that come through the industry are developmentally appropriate – they serve a purpose, a goal. That the toys are essentially what children should be playing with. That the toys with the lofty labels are what shape children in their lives. As goal driven individuals who seek results, we are convinced to buy a toy only when we are assured of its outcomes.

A mock example of how we typically choose toys for play

We know that by purchasing that particular toy, we are offering, essentially, a lesson on logic or the letters. We bask in the safety of these toys because we simply know. We feel secure because we can, in a certain sense, control the kind of early childhood experiences we can give our children. A rich environment filled with age-appropriate toys, each of which promise a skill, a learning! 

The Child’s Play 

But then, this child enters the scene and runs toward the cardboard box in which the toy itself arrived and plays endlessly with it. This is unsettling because we question what skill the child is acquiring through such play. We want them to play with the toy and not the box.

So, we show them to place the ball in the hole and the baby chooses to roll the ball on the floor. We are tempted to redirect them. Because, we know that by dropping the ball in the hole, they are learning a very specific skill. But what if the baby wants to roll the ball elsewhere? Drop it down an inclined slope? Are we willing to let them? Are we willing to let go of knowing ‘what’ they are learning from each exploration, from each play? Can we be comfortable in that space of not knowing? 

We must remember that children do not differentiate between a didactic toy and a non-toy, nor are they result-oriented. In a sense, children make every object a didactic object. They are little scientists who engage through experiment. They also do things for the sake of it.

They jump in the puddle of water because that is calling to them. Just because. What could they be learning from that play? We don’t know. Maybe they are teaching us to be joyful in the moment.

Letting Go | Finding a Balance 

In some ways, we need to let go of this control. We need to let children decide what they want to play with and how. We are going to watch for disrespectful behaviour and redirect those energies but, even that, we need to watch. Remember, young children are free of the layers of conditioning that we have? So, are they intentionally disrespecting the object or just exploring it in yet another way? We need to observe before intervening. 

We also need to strike some balance. Children do need didactic toys, they do need play that meets specific developmental needs. But, they also need time to play without constraints. If they want to roll the ball downhill instead of putting it in the hole, let them. 

We need to take away the notion that children need to learn something from every toy. We need to let go of controlling what they are learning from every experience. We need to be okay with not being able to pin down on what developmental need is being met through each play. 

So, the next time they go for the empty box, refrain from redirecting them to play with their ‘toys’. Instead, mark the joy of sitting inside that empty box, diving into the heap of leaves and jumping on a puddle of water as the mystery of childhood, the child’s world, their own domain and sometimes, at least sometimes, let’s not meddle with it.

“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between walking and sleeping.”

Dr. Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

Nurturing a Holistic Relationship with Food : From One Mamma to Another

Hear it from the Mammas!

Hi Janani, thanks for being back to share another story on the blog. Last time was about baby swimming. This time let’s talk about food.

I am happy to be back on Srishti to share yet another story as a mother. Although food and food making are given a lot of importance in our (Indian) culture, I grew up eating food for the sake of it. It was an imposed activity which I never really enjoyed, until I met my husband, Abhinav. He is a food enthusiast and appreciates any food offered to him and this entirely changed my relationship with food. I realised that the food that we eat not only decides our physical health but also the very way we feel and experience life. Therefore, as a mother, it was vital for me to enable my daughter, Agni, to have a positive relationship with food right from the beginning.

When did you start introducing other foods to your daughter and how did you go about this?

When A was about 3-4 months old, just like every other baby, she used to put things in her mouth to explore the environment through her senses. I consider this ‘mouthing’ to also be a natural instinct for babies to explore foods. I initially introduced food by giving her whole carrots, lemons, apples, coriander etc., to play with. From 5 months onwards, she was let to feed herself when she was hungry. She was made to sit on a highchair and was offered finger foods that included a mix of soft-textured fruits, veggies, and some cooked grains. As she grew older, I introduced foods with harder textures, and mixed ingredients. By 8-10 months, her chewing skills, dexterity, hand-eye coordination and even sorting skills (she used to sort a mixed platter of fruits by colour, shape, type) had improved tremendously. This whole process allowed her to be ‘in-charge’ of when, what, and how much she wanted to eat.

Can you describe Agni’s eating area?

We are a small family of three – Agni, my husband and myself living in Germany. When we are at home, we prefer to eat together as a family sitting at the dining table. Agni used to sit on a highchair until 1.5 years, but then shifted to a normal chair with a booster seat that helps her to independently climb up and climb down from it. While we eat, we appreciate the different tastes, and discuss our day’s activities. It is important for us that there is no other parallel activity happening while we are eating. This focus helps Agni to appreciate, enjoy, and be grateful for the food she eats.

How open is she to trying different foods?

Right from the beginning, Agni loved to explore different tastes. I could say, mealtimes are the ‘high points’ in her day. She looks forward to eating every meal with so much joy and excitement. She is always curious and ready to try out new tastes.

How do you and your husband support your daughter’s approach to food?

We support Agni’s approach to food by enabling independence. We introduced her to a spoon by 15 months, and a fork and knife by 18 months. We keep some healthy snacks and fruits that are easily accessible to her throughout the day that allows her to eat something in case she gets hungry. Just like how she is in-charge of eating the food, we also encourage her to be part of the clean-up in whatever way she can. Overall, the whole process over the last 2 years has required tremendous patience from our side especially because – as a baby, it used to be extremely messy when she ate, involving an elaborate clean-up after every meal. But all this effort has been totally worth it.

Does your daughter participate in preparation of food?

We generally prepare two meals at home every day. I try to do most of my household chores along with Agni. So, she is continually involved in the preparation of food as well. She participates in washing, de-stemming, sorting, and clearing of the ingredients used to prepare the meal. She smells and tastes the different flavours while I cook. She understands that preparing a meal takes a long time and effort. She is also part of our visits to the farmers market or supermarket where she chooses the fruits and vegetables.

Is it important to give children the experience of seeing food grow? How do you think this impacts their attitude towards food?

In a world where we are so disconnected with our choices, it’s important that a child knows where the food comes from. In the last few months, we are actively involved in growing plants at home in our small garden. Agni tends to the soil, waters the plants, and experiences the process of growing them. We, in whatever way possible, explain and communicate to Agni the importance of actively contributing to a changing world – a kinder world. So as a family, we are trying to reduce the consumption of animal-based products (dairy, eggs etc.).

Can you share with other parents a few guidelines on approaching food holistically?

Every human baby has an in-built mechanism to feed themselves. As a caregiver, it is important to nurture and give space for this to develop well. Besides, exposure to food need not just be confined to the dining table but can be extended to the kitchen, gardens, or farms.

The Words we use to describe Children Matter.

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Words.

Words are a carrier of our thoughts; they elucidate our emotions, pain, joy, frustrations, ideas & play through meaningful sounds. When we hear words, images pop in our minds; words take us to faraway places and make us laugh. They evoke memories and instantly bring up deeply buried scars. A single word has the capacity to make our day, decide our mood and steer our course of action.

Words are so much more than just sounds.

Yet, how often do we pay attention to the words we use? 

When a child is born, it is only a matter of time before we start to describe them, box them – “He is so naughty. Look at him reaching for the ball”, “Don’t pick her up, she is manipulating you”, “She is such a picky-eater, just like Tina” , “Mine is such a brat, what about yours?” 

While many of us catch ourselves using such words, those seemingly harmless & casual remarks, how many of us pause to think about these words we use? 

Why do our words matter? 

  • Words decide the way we approach our children 

Let us assume we have named a child a fussy-eater. “Tara has always been such a fussy eater!” When we pin this on Tara, our attitudes and approach towards her changes drastically. We now view her AS a fussy-eater.  We tell ourselves “Okay, my child IS a fussy eater.” We acknowledge this in our minds and every time we approach this child, we are going to approach A fussy eater.

So, how would we approach & handle this child? Would we be patient, empathetic and respectful or would we be impatient, irritable and stern?

Our brains are shaped by the words we hear, the words we speak, by our mental chatter. So, if we tell ourselves, “Tara is a fussy-eater”, we will not just approach her with less empathy and patience, we will also be unconsciously looking for ways to confirm that thought, that belief that Tara is a fussy eater. 

how we word it is how we think about it
  • Words become their inner-voice

Children carry our voices with them throughout their lives. Overcoming these voices in adulthood takes conscious acknowledgement & effort. 

Let us take an example, in Southern India, being fair-complexioned is considered essential for women. If, however, you do not fit this box, many women are commented on for their ‘lack of colour’, their ‘dull appearance’ and the likes. Or, they are given suggestions : “Why don’t you apply this new fairness cream? , “Have you tried using olive oil and turmeric?” As a girl who grew up in this society, everytime I bask in the sun, I pause for a moment and wonder what would happen if I lost my complexion because a dear one repeatedly told me that being fair IS essential. Like this, don’t we all have our own insecurities about ourselves fed by the people who surrounded us in early childhood?

The words we use become the voice for children and as significant members in their lives, it becomes increasingly hard to ignore the voices that nurture them in early childhood. 

  • Words put children in a box 

Being in a box can be very limiting because all humans change and grow throughout their lives. When we have called a child terrible at math, they believe this to be true and every time they make an honest attempt at trying to understand math, our words will hold them back! Even labelling a child ‘perfect’ and ‘amazing at everything’ is counterproductive. This is because, we now put this child on a pedestal from which they cannot fall. Very often, such children find it hard to live up to these expectations; they find it easier to hide parts of them rather than disappoint loved ones. 

  • Words become their identity 

When we attach labels to our children, these become their identity. This is hard for young children who find it difficult to understand that we love them regardless of these identities.

As Veer grows, he will believe these to be true and his behaviour will begin to support these labels. These will become his identity! Now, some of these labels might hold him back from exploring what else he can do; they can also hold him back from being open to experiences because of the fear of losing his identity!

Where to go from here?

The truth is, as caregivers it is hard for us to not form any opinion about our children as their personalities take shape. However, by calling a 2 year old a fussy eater, we limit the capabilities of this child. Our 2 year old may not yet be open to trying all foods. But this is their journey; the ups & downs contribute towards growth. They may go through phases where they are enthusiastic about some foods and not as much about others. Children (and adults) are a work in progress. This is what we must be mindful of. 

So, going forward, it does not mean we are wary of every word we say. However, it is important to watch what ideas we are feeding our children about themselves using our words; what words are we using to identify them because how we word it is how we will think about it.

Do we look at our children as horrible-nappers, fussy-eaters & math geeks or do we let them be? Do we let them show us how different life- experiences are moulding and transforming them? 

“We are always in a perpetual state of being created and creating ourselves.”

Dan Siegel, The Developing Mind

Screen- free Parenting : From One Mamma to Another

Hear it from the Mammas!

Screens have become a huge part of our lives in the last decade. This past year, the pandemic has isolated us even further, connecting us with the outside world only virtually. So, when we speak of ‘screen-free’ parenting, it might come across as a shocker for many parents. While each family knows what works best for them, this is a story of one family that opts out of screens for their child. This shows those of us who are curious how they make this choice work.


Hi Sunetra, tell us a little about yourself and your family.

We are a family of three with my husband Gokul and son Samvidh who is 3 ½ years old. Gokul works long hours and used to travel a lot for work. Even as he works from home now, he still gets only a few hours of free time in a day. So, for majority of the time it’s just Samvidh and me. I completed my AMI Primary Montessori Diploma in 2016 and Samvidh was born soon after. I chose to take a break from work since we wanted one parent to be with our child full time in the initial years. Both sets of grandparents live close by and we visit them often, so, Samvidh spends a few hours a week with them too.

How would you define the role of screens in early childhood?

Ideally, I feel there is no role for screens in the first 2 years and should be avoided. Beyond a certain age, children start paying attention and get involved in what we do, so it may not be practically possible to keep them oblivious to screens. However, in early childhood, it is essential not to give any dedicated screen time.

What are some reasons why you opt out of screen-time for your child?

We feel that screens are addictive. When children watch videos or play games, they are so immersed in the device and become unaware of what is happening around them. Screens are usually used as a means of distraction or to get them to do some tasks which they would otherwise refuse. The instant gratification that the screen provides makes the child seek the same in everything they do and this comes in the way of learning patience and the ability to stay calm and wait. We read a lot about this and also observed it in some children around us. So, even before our son was born, we decided that we did not want any screen time for him.

How do you manage to stay screen-free even during a global pandemic?

We have not thought of screens as an option for Samvidh even though we are in the middle of a pandemic. We do have video calls with family and friends to avoid social isolation for us and him also limit the total time spent on it. I found that sticking to his usual routine as much as possible helped him to adjust to staying indoors and after the initial week or two he adapted quite well.

Top Shelf L – R : Lego Vehicles, Puzzles (a 3- 6 piece set and a 9 piece set) Kaleidoscope Middle Shelf L – R : Kitchen Set, Play Dough with Moulding Instruments, Beads to Lace Bottom Shelf L – R : Race Track with Small Cars, St of Vehicles, Notebook with Crayons & Pencils

During this pandemic, most of us are indoors working or seeking entertainment. How do you plan your own use of screens?

It can be very difficult to plan our screen usage especially as Samvidh is growing up, but we do try our best to keep it to a minimum around him. We absolutely avoid watching television when he’s awake. We also request grandparents and close relatives or friends to turn off televisions when we visit and they usually oblige. Work related laptop usage is unavoidable but we try to keep it at the study table so it’s not in Samvidh’s face. However phone usage is a bit tricky since we frequently check messages and do some reading on phones but we try to do it only when Samvidh is occupied with some play or reading and we make sure to put it away when he needs our attention.

How do you think screen-time affects language, attention and cognition in very young children?

Young children learn everything about life and culture from family first. They spend time with family members, going about their daily lives and automatically absorb language and social interactions and these become a part of them. Listening to and taking part in conversations with people around them provides a mutual interaction which helps them practice their vocabulary too. Some may argue that children learn language from educational videos but I feel it doesn’t give a chance for interaction and doesn’t help them to integrate with their environment. They actually become isolated. With fast moving images and sounds on screen children are just passive observers with zero effort which fails to create a lasting impression of knowledge.

If parents choose to give some screen-time, what would your recommendations on content be?

Content should be strictly filtered, controlled and monitored. As with books, it should be age appropriate and as close to reality as possible for younger children. Content should also be made available offline as much as possible (can download instead of streaming) and they should not be given free access to the internet. I’ve personally seen a lot of shockingly inappropriate content that children are able to access even by randomly swiping while watching videos.

Many parents find screen-time gives them a little respite. What would you suggest instead as an alternate?

I have found it most difficult to engage Samvidh when I have some work to be finished or when I’m really tired and need a break. It can also be very tough to keep a young child in a small enclosed apartment for long hours without frustration. Engaging him in the right kind of activities from the beginning has helped to develop independence in play and exploration. He does not have toys with bright lights and sounds but instead has a lot of puzzles, open ended toys like blocks and play dough, some pretend toys like cooking sets because he loves cooking and many options to colour or doodle. He also has a push car which he drives around the house and has a lot of imaginative play with. We have also been reading to Samvidh from the first few months of his life so he loves books and will sit and “read” them on his own when we can’t.

If he is still not interested in doing anything by himself and requires my attention, I try to involve him in whatever I’m doing by giving him little tasks that he will be able to help with. For example, putting things away or wiping tables if I’m cleaning or giving him small balls of chapathi dough to roll if I’m cooking.

Regular outdoor play time in the evenings help a lot to burn off excess energy and also helps to get through the tail end of his day when he would be tired and cranky if he has had to stay indoors the whole day. During these times of social distancing he’s unable to play with other children but still an hour or so of fresh air in the terrace makes a huge difference to his temperament in the evenings. We watch birds or plants around us and get some physical activity by walking/running around.

L to R : Easel, Bike, Sit and Spin

The pandemic has thrown families off schedule. Children are now indoors most of the time and lessons are happening on screens. How do you think this will impact children?

In these dire circumstances, schools have been forced to resort to online teaching and most children are now stuck in front of a screen for many hours a day. This in addition to being unable to leave the house will definitely be stressful for children in a way they’ve never experienced before. Children are also unable to express their frustration like adults which leads to changes in behaviour and unexpected outbursts. They really need strong support and understanding from adults to get through this tough period.

Is screen-free parenting a possibility? Share some motivation on why more parents must commit to this.

It’s definitely possible as long as we are willing to put in some effort and identify what our children need help with. Most parents introduce screen time in an effort to keep children quiet or sit in one place, or to make them do certain tasks like eating or to avoid tantrums or meltdowns. I feel that if we just take some time to think and understand what they actually need instead of distracting from the problem, it would help not only in that moment but in everyday life. Letting the child engage with the environment and become aware of what is going on around them feeds their curiosity and inquisitiveness which will help them further explore and understand their world better. This understanding also brings an air of calm and confidence since they have a deep connection with the environment. I feel all parents should try going screen-free for some time and see the wonderful effects it brings to the child which will be motivation enough to stay committed.

Let’s talk about Mess!

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Children are messy! This is a common notion that we adults share. Whether they are playing with some blocks or washing their hands, whether they are painting or rolling up a rug, mess always seems to follow children. We instantly know there is evidence of a child’s handiwork wherever things are in disarray. 

Trigger for a Reaction

Mess is something that throws many of us off. It is a cue for an elaborate clean up – no adult with a toddler needs to be told the scrubbing that has to be done following a painting session. Mess is something many of us struggle to look past because it requires effort to rectify, energy to restore and time to reset. Mess is not something we want to have time for because we associate mess with mischief, disrespect and unruly behavior. We think of mess as bad.

But, in early childhood, mess is not a sign of rebellion. It is a sign of learning, a sign of overwhelm, a sign of wanting some 1:1 time. In young children, mess is a reminder for observation. 

Types of Mess 

  • The “ I’m learning” Mess

When a child is learning to do something by themselves, there is going to be a mess. This is a natural part of exploration and learning. We need to train our eyes to look at the mess and see what it symbolises. It is a sign of work. In the process of taking food from the plate to their mouth, their yet-to-be coordinated body, their yet-to-gain finesse hands have spilled some or most of the meal. This type of mess is the remnant of a child at work. 

How to help?

We help by first not saying, “Oh my god! Look at what a mess you have made. This is why I prefer to brush your teeth myself!” Likewise, there is also no need to tell this child that the mess is a sign that they are learning. Instead, what we can actually do is look at this child.

  • Is this child a baby, a toddler or an older child of 4 or 5 years? 
  • Can this child help you in the clean up? If so, is this child actually going to clean up without your prompt?

If they are going to clean up, we just wait. Else, we swoop in and say, “Okay, so you have finished washing your hands. I notice some water here. How about we get that purple sponge and clean it up?” If this is a baby who cannot yet help, we can offer a piece of cloth for them to hold and also model how to clean up. Yes, this is hard work! But we need to remind ourselves that we are setting the tone for future initiatives by this child. When this baby becomes able and ready, they can collaborate in fixing the mess. 

  • The “ I have too much” Mess

Another kind of mess happens often with children who have too much. For this, we need to understand that our level of too much and the child’s level of too much are not the same. If we have a book cabinet with about 30 books, we can look for the title we want from the mix and move on to reading the chosen book. But, even we struggle nowadays, I must say. Everytime we are on Netflix, we take hours just deciding which movie to watch. If this is true for us, then it is even more true for little children. They need limitations. 

When we have all their toys dumped in a tub inside a playpen, there is going to be a mess. This is a kind of mess that is detrimental to progress because it curbs exploration. It leads to a child jumping from one to another, banging, throwing, screaming and creating further mess – signs of the child coping with the mess. 

How to help?

We help by offering this child the much needed limitation. Have a look at what draws the child and choose 3 – 5 toys that support or aid this. Put everything else away in a closet, out of the child’s sight! Now, these chosen toys can be arranged very neatly on a mat on the floor, under the centre table, on a low cabinet or shelf. The toys can be rotated when we feel the child is seeking new challenges. 

  • The “ I need some attention” Mess

This happens to almost all of us several times a day. Adults have a lot of responsibilities around the house – we have to wash the dishes, fold the clothes, take that important call and we cannot give children our full attention all the time. And, we needn’t! But, when the child is creating a mess, it is a sign that they need help. It is not a time to ignore the child or the mess as this child needs help to fix the mess, to fix that feeling of wanting to create the mess. It is  a reminder to stop. 

How to help?

If this is a toddler or an older child and you have to take that important call, talk to them. Tell them, “Amma really needs to talk to this client. I will be with you as soon as I am done. You can bring a nice book over here and read it. We can look at it again after I am done.” They may be able to wait or they may not, depending on the situation and prior experience with waiting. Once you are done, you can go over and give them that 1:1 time to calm their energies.

It is important to stop because we first need to calm the energies, calm the need to make that mess. Children also need bites of 1:1 time with us during the day. This will calm, ground and secure them, readying them for periods of play. 

  • The “ I’m curious” Mess

Young children are learning. They are learning that when they release their hold, that piece of potato will fall splat on the floor, that when they turn the tap fully, water is going to flow at full force. This mess is similar to a child who is learning. However, this mess may happen because of a curiosity to know what happens if? This is a way to understand that their actions impact their world. 

How to help?

We help by showing the child how to fix the mess once the curious exploration comes to an end. This is very similar to the, “I’m learning mess” and requires the same kind of assistance in resolving.

Looking beyond the Chaos 

Understanding where children are in their development, observing their actions and the motives behind them will help us form a bigger picture of their mess.

The child’s order and disorder, the successes he attains, depend often on one’s ability to observe the least particulars, because only through doing will the result be satisfactory.”

Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family

As we have seen, mess is a sign of work, a sign of learning, a sign of exploration, a sign of having waited. Mess is a sign of growth. 

Savi Paaty Series : A Story on Compassion

Tribute to Storytelling

Savi Paaty Series is a tribute to oral stories. I have created this in memory of my beloved grandmother – Savi Paaty. Each story in the series is a story within a story. Although oral stories are becoming a lost art, it is time we revive and bring them back to life, into our homes and schools, back into our children’s lives. 

Here is a story of Apoo, Abi and Janu – three siblings who live in Coimbatore, India and love listening to Savi Paaty’s stories. Savitri Paaty, whom the children fondly call Savi Paaty, always parted her hair in the centre, wore bright silk sarees and used the pallu of the sarees to repeatedly polish her already sparkling diamond nose-pin. Apoo, the eldest of the three siblings at 8 years, loves playing basketball, spends most of her time out in the open, climbing trees, and sporting new scars on her knees every day. Abi, at 7 years is Apoo’s closest confidant. He loves his cars and precious mechanic set. He never fails to bring the set out, screw, un-screw and explore the parts of his dashing wheels collection. Janu, the youngest at 5 years, tries hard to join in with her siblings in climbing trees and fixing cars, but secretly loves playing with her kitchen set and making ‘green-medicine’ with the fallen leaves on the porch.


It was late July, the monsoon had been pouring in Coimbatore and the trees and grass in the city were sparkling with a coat of fresh leafy green. With the heavy rains, as people in Coimbatore had grown to expect, came the flu season and both Apoo and Abi had caught the flu one after the other. They were recovering from a combination of cold, cough and a fever and were advised complete rest by their doctor. Little Janu had been upset that the flu had left her out of the pack, since, it seemed to her, the duo were having much too fun in their resting room with no school or homework to be bothered with, while she had multiplication homework and a test to tackle by Monday. Janu watched longingly as Amma carried bowls of warm soup and bread in the evening and warm, mashed rasam rice with ghee late in the morning and went back to her looming math homework with dread.

Suddenly, to Janu’s delight, an idea flashed in her head! She realised that with her siblings unwell, she could try her hand at some of the new toys that she had been eyeing for months. The dreadful day turned into a field day. Janu threw herself at all the new toys, like a child in a candy shop. One moment she was wheeling away Abi’s scooter round and round the living room, whiffing past Savi Paaty whom she thought would notice her zip. The next moment, she set the scooter aside and ran to fetch Apoo’s brand new badminton racket and was waving it in the air trying to strike the cork. Janu paused and looked at Paaty in delight but noticed that, oddly, her Paaty hadn’t noticed and was rather busily chanting prayers with the ஜெபமாலை (prayer beads) twirling at a rapid pace. She then went on to try her hand at the other forbidden items belonging to her siblings – a handful of puffed rice in Abi’s blue spiderman bowl and lastly Apoo’s orange and purple sunglasses. It was then that she noticed two crows cawing loudly from the balcony. Janu was familiar with the crows, they were usual visitors in their house and came promptly every morning for their feed. As a routine, Amma would keep hot rice and dal in the yard for the crows every day and just as expected, they were on time. If Amma was delayed, as she was today with her two kids still recovering, they would caw loudly and remind her that they were hungry too. 

The pair of cawing crows drew Janu’s attention and she ran to the balcony to watch them. She stood behind the glass door to the outdoors and saw one of the crows cawing with eyes focussed on her. The other was hopping up and down on the railing of the balcony and joining in the hunger call. Janu wondered to herself what the crows were cawing about when Amma came with a plate of hot rice and dal and opened the door to the balcony. The pair of birds flew from the balcony and perched themselves on the guava tree and watched patiently.  The moment the door was shut, Janu saw the birds fly back to the meal and peck at it instantly. The whole unfolding of activities delighted her and she ran to Paaty and declared, “Paaty, paaty, when I become a big girl, I will also feed the crows like Amma.”  The statement seemed to finally put a smile on her grandmother’s face and she stroked her granddaughter’s messy hair and said, “Do you know why we feed the crows every morning?” Janu was elated and wanted to hear more. She called out to Apoo and Abi from her grandmother’s lap and out came the pair of them,  excited to hear a story to brighten up their otherwise sombre weekend.

Paaty began, “Every morning, Amma feeds the birds rice and dal before feeding even you children because there is  a belief that our kollu thatha and paaty (great grandparents in Tamil) come in the form of the crows to eat and bless us.” Abi giggled and looked at the birds polish off the last of the dal and rice and asked Paaty, “Oh Paaty, does that mean Ramu thatha is now a crow and has come to eat parupu sadham? (dal rice)”  Apoo and Janu looked instantly at their grandmother to see her response when Paaty smiled and continued, “While this is the belief, Paaty has her own views on why we feed these birds.” The children shared a proud moment when they realised their Paaty had her own take on such big matters. Paaty continued, ” Our pithrus (ancestors) wanted to teach us to be compassionate towards all living beings and our mother earth. So, as a simple daily practice, we draw kolam (rangoli with rice flour done traditionally in most South Indian homes) in the mornings to feed the tiny ants, we grow tulasi with care and water it every day to value and respect plants.”  Paaty went on as the children listened in rapt attention, “Have you seen when we visit Gobi (Gobichettipalayam is a small town about 80 kilometres from Coimbatore) ,we always feed the cows every morning and Amma pours milk into the snake nest to feed even the snakes which we all fear?” The children nodded and Paaty said, “All of this is to embrace these living beings and not hurt them. Through these simple daily practices, our pithrus wanted to tell us to live harmoniously with all beings.” She concluded, “That is also why we feed the crows every morning.” 

The children were moved by the story and wanted to start pitching in instantly. Janu ran up to her Amma and said, “Amma, can I feed the crows from tomorrow?” while Apoo and Abi decided they would learn to draw kolams from Amma. Having made their decisions, Apoo and Abi started discussing what they would draw for the ants while Savi Paaty went back to chanting prayers for her two grandchildren to recover from the flu.

Baby-led-Weaning : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

Hi Ana, share with us your views on the importance of eating together as a family. 

When we start our children on solids, we are not just feeding them for that day, or for that age. We are inculcating food habits and a relationship with food that will last a lifetime. I’ve seen my daughter be very curious about what I’m eating, and eager to try things from my plate. So, eating together gives us a chance to try new foods. She sees me and my husband catch up on our day over breakfast – and has learnt to be a part of our conversations. She has picked up so much vocabulary –names of foods we eat, utensils and even hot/cold/textures. All of this has come from sitting and eating our meal times together.

In your experience, how is Baby-Led- Weaning different from Parent-Led-Weaning? 

I think at the core, baby-led-weaning is built on trust in the child- that they know how much to eat, and in nature- that the child will develop skills to eat more, as and when her body needs more food. BLW is a pull based system, built on division of responsibilities. We as parents are responsible for what foods we offer, and when we offer them. We can make some rules about how the food is consumed such as – food only at the table, or washing hands before and after meals, no food between meals. But the child controls how much they eat of each food.

As a parent, following BLW requires a lot of trust and patience. It also required a lot of homework – of what foods to offer for which age, of size different foods to be cut so she can hold them, even exactly how long each food  needs to be steamed in the pressure cooker so it is at a softness she can chew, but doesn’t collapse in her palmer grip.

Having said that – I think like in all things, the middle path works best. While we followed BLW – in that we offered finger foods that she ate on her own – we didn’t always offer her the same food as what we ate. In the initial months we gave her steamed foods and fruits. Over time, we merged her diet into ours. So, I think you have to adapt the process to make it for your needs and circumstances.

Many parents find baby-led-weaning gives them no control over ‘feeding’ their child. How did you learn to let go and follow your child? 

I think the foundation really comes from having trust in the child’s abilities. Our children are not going to starve themselves. This is what I always remind myself – when a baby is born, they can’t see much, they can’t move, they are completely dependent on us – yet, when they are hungry, they cry, and once fed, they know they are done feeding. I had done 5 months of sole breastfeeding before we started on BLW – and during that time I fed on demand. I never knew how many ml/ounces my daughter drank at a feed – which days or meals she drank more or less. Yet, I’d seen her grow, and meet the growth parameters. 

So, once we start feeding solids, why did I suddenly think she wouldn’t know when she’s hungry, or wouldn’t eat till she was full? So the first thing I let go was this Qs of “has she eaten enough?” Learning to eat was a skill I needed to enable her to learn – as I was to enable her to learn walking or speaking- by providing her with the right environment and tools, and then being patient while she learnt it at her own speed.

Plus, I think you feel a loss of control when you feel there’s nothing you can do about a situation. With BLW, I never felt that. If there was a meal where she rejected a food- especially a food she’d eaten before- I’d go back and try it and check – was it too hard this time? Maybe too much salt by mistake? I was observing, building and testing hypothesis – lets try carrots cut thicker for a better grip next time, or if she is squishing the banana in her fingers, let’s keep the peel on and offer it like an ice cream cone. Following BLW made me more observant and in-tune with my daughter’s needs.

As time went on – and I saw her eating softer foods during teething days, or drink more water during a cold, or gravitating towards dahi/curd during a stomach upset – I could see she was listening to her body, and if I paid attention, I could listen and follow along too. Me double-guessing her judgement as she was learning, didn’t help her learn faster, on the contrary, it slowed her down.

What are some signs of readiness for Baby-led-Weaning that you observed in your daughter?

BLW isn’t a static thing you do once when you start the journey in solids. It’s always evolving.

When we started solids- I observed her being able to sit up (with support) and mouthing everything and being curious about our foods. Then, I observed her grip evolve- when she’d try to pick up crumbs from the table, and give her smaller bites to practice her pincer grip. I observed her try new flavours, and evolved our menu to get her to eat the same foods as us. If I observe her teething, we pivot to a much more liquid-y diet – with porridge, dahi, soups

As I type this, I’m reworking her menu because I think we are too much into fruits now and not offering enough veggies. We are also getting a stokke high chair that she can climb into, because she has recently grown out of her IKEA high chair that we plop her into. So it’s an ongoing process of observing, tweaking and evolving what and where we serve the meals.

Can you share some of the initial foods you offered your daughter and how you offered them? 

We started with finger foods – the size of my index finger roughly. Mixture of fruits (bananas, avocados), steamed fruits (pears, apples) and steamed vegetables (broccoli, carrots, beetroot). From 6-9 period, our menu over indexed on fruits and veggies – and we slowly built in grains into the diet.

How did you balance breast/bottle-feeding and weaning during the transition phase? 

Well, we had about a 6 month transition phase between when we started solids (my daughter was 5mo), and when we weaned from feeding completely. There were many different phases in between. For the first few weeks, we added the solids as a learning food, and kept the feeds as is. I offered solids first, and then topped up with a feed. (Some recommend doing it the other way around, it’s really up to you.)

Next, at about the six month mark, we built solid meals into the menu – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and had the feeds around it. I also shifted to mother’s milk via a bottle at this time. I wanted to give ourselves about a month of practice before I started being out during day time. We followed this routine between 6-10 months.

At 10 months, I dropped the morning feed as well. My daughter got busy playing, and didn’t notice. So the only feed she got from me directly was the night feed- and I knew this was part of her “bedtime routine” – so was nervous about how she’d react when we dropped it.

At 11 month mark, I introduced her to cow’s milk. We first tried it at breakfast, and then offered it 3 times a day. At 11.5 months, I started offering her cow’s milk after bath, before bedtime. And after a few such days, I stopped her bedtime feed. She cried for a couple of days- it was tough, I must admit- but each day she cried less than the previous, and after 4-5 days we were done with that.

The last to go was the middle of the night feed. My daughter used to wake up once in the night, and fall asleep during the feed. I took the nanny’s help to break this habit. For two nights, the nanny slept in my daughter’s room and rocked her back to sleep when she woke up in the middle of the night. After two nights, I rocked her back to sleep. Eventually, she learnt to sleep through the night.

A request to share a few words of inspiration to other parents on Baby-led-weaning. 

‘Love it, like it, learn it’ foods: I’ve picked this concept from Veggies and Virtues on Instagram, and found it works well. At each meal, we try to incorporate a food that my daughter loves, likes, and is learning to eat. This helps us give exposure to new foods, while ensuring there’s enough there to fill her up.

Exposure is what matters: Think of when you tried a new food last time. Did you gobble it up, or did you taste it first, and then get more on your plate? Our kids deserve that time. Get the idea of “my kids don’t like these foods” out of your mind- adopt a “learning to like” approach. 

Build a community: I follow several mother bloggers on Instagram who specialise in foods. It helps me learn, gives me food ideas and just have folks along on the BLW journey – because I don’t have friends who are following this near me. So it has helped me tremendously to find this tribe online

Read and learn- I’ve found the BLW cookbook a great resource that I referred back several times in the first six months of BLW. I’ve also enjoyed BLW videos by hapafamilyvlog on YOUTUBE. You should read up and learn before and as you go along on this journey

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Our Life during the Pandemic : In the Words of a Dad

Hear it from the Mammas!

Hello Raghu, you are the first dad to be featured on the blog & I am so happy to have you share your experiences with us. Tell us a bit about your family.

We’re a relatively small household with just three of us currently residing in Bangalore. My parents are based in Dubai and my brother in London. We’re a bit nomadic in some sense having lived in multiple places across different geographies; though Bangalore is home for us all. Luckily my daughter has had a stable residence over the last two and half years which has definitely helped in providing a certain comfort and sense of belonging to her. 

As we are speaking during the pandemic, can you share how your life as a father was before the pandemic & how it has changed now?

I was an Investment Banker till recently when I decided to take a break. Given the professional demand, my time with my daughter was limited to a few hours in the morning and Sundays when work-life permits. My wife had committed her entire time to our daughter, which allowed me to fulfil my professional obligations without having to worry about my daughter’s development; granted that my peace of mind stemmed from the fact that my wife is a trained Montessori guide. Under these time limitations, we had a decently established routine wherein, the mornings were quality hours where we got to learn, explore, play and of course include some routine hygiene and food related activities. When she started attending a Montessori school, the routine was more streamlined. Weekends were for us to spend quality time and build our own relationship which initially revolved around activities such as building stuff (lego, dominos etc), books, sitting on the swing, going for drives, visiting the mall, restaurants etc. 

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Our routine prior to the lockdown revolved around her school timings. Our approach has been to try and increase her exposure to the world around us, be it from visiting different parks, attending plays/musicals (targeted to her age group), maintaining a healthy social life by interacting with friends and family and getting to explore other parts of the world. 

However, ever since the lockdown, her world has changed and enclosed by the four walls of the house and only us for her to socialize with. It is extremely tough to ask a child, who has gotten used to spending time exploring the world around, to suddenly limit herself to the house. We have tried providing as many opportunities for her to expand her learning by offering activities around development across various facets. Children are very resilient and far more adaptable than adults; they build themselves a new normal within no time. She does miss going to school, the park, meeting people etc. but she understands, in her own way, that life is different now. Establishing a routine is quite difficult when we really aren’t time bound. We’re taking each day as it comes while trying to make sure her developmental needs are not sidelined.

Do you feel you have more quality time with Urvi? How do you both spend your time together?

Given that I am on a break from work, I definitely have a lot more quality time with her which is more paced and not rushed due to any time constraints. My daughter has clearly developed her own sense of what activities she likes to do with each of us separately. With me, it revolves around building stuff, be it lego, blocks (plain ones, bristle based etc.), playdough and even some DIY activities (building a bird feeder or some shelves). She also likes to pretend-play with me (with her kitchen set, dolls or doctor kit). We also spend quality time everyday on the swing. When it comes to books, cooking and dancing, she is equally engaged by my wife and I. The entire creative department from art, needle work, rangoli and nature play is my wife’s domain.  

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Many parents are juggling a lot of responsibilities and find that screen time is giving them some respite. Do you offer Urvi screen time? What are your thoughts?

Prior to the lockdown, screen time was solely limited to video calls with her grandparents and aunts/uncles. We have been a screen-free household until recently. However, as she is also growing up and observing us use our phones/tablets/laptops, she has become more curious about them. We now limit screen time to educational contents, around her interests, which mainly revolves around seeing rangoli designs and animal related content. Our approach has been to use the screen as an educational medium and restricting viewing time to 20-30 mins a day. She does also chat with our parents and occasionally wants to see her baby pictures/videos. We do not use the screen during meal times as we try and encourage her to be aware of her meal activity. She of course likes to play while eating and also likes to eat outdoors. I know it’s difficult for working parents to be able to spend that much time around meals, however, I believe that content curation is very important at this impressionable age. Parents should analyse and decide if the content they are planning to introduce to their child is appropriate for the child’s age and the impacts of exposing them to mature content earlier than necessary. Overall screen viewing time can impact the child’s development both mentally and physiologically. 

What are some things you feel Urvi is missing out on because of the pandemic? Does she ask you about these things? How do you navigate such situations?

I think she misses her school routine and visiting the park the most. She definitely asks about both of these regularly. From our perspective, restricting social interaction, now that she can communicate well, is one of the areas which she will miss out on. The new normal might change the current generation’s concept of social interaction and it is concerning that they will not experience it the way we did. We have to cope with life as it is, until there is a viable vaccine, and trying to maintain relationships digitally, to the best of our abilities, will be our focus. It’s so important for young children to be able to play together, physically, and we hope that we can offer it in a restricted and safe manner soon.

Do you think it’s important to talk to young children under 6 years about the pandemic? 

Yes, but it is important that the messaging is inline with what they can understand. Rather than talking about it in a global perspective, it’s important to try and relate it to their life and their world. For Urvi, we kept it as simple as we could, by talking about a sickness and the need to maintain a certain level of hygiene and distancing. She has taken to it rather well and knows why we cannot go out now and not interact with people. She also knows why people cannot visit her and why airports are closed. I do not think children should be exposed to the pandemic via the media nor in terms of fatalities. Parents should limit their knowledge to safety and in enforcing social distancing. Kids are far more mature than we give them credit.

With so much uncertainty around, how do you take care of your mental & physical health and how do you model this to Urvi?

This is definitely challenging today. From a mental perspective, it’s important that we maintain a healthy, peaceful and happy atmosphere for Urvi. She is already bearing the burden of not being able to live her life as before, and the least we can do is to not disturb her equilibrium by violence (physical or verbal). There are going to be days that will be challenging as parents where limits could be pushed. We should try and limit their exposure to our outbursts or frustrations as much as possible. On the physical side, it is important to maintain one’s health, especially during a pandemic. Involving the children in physical household chores is a great way for them to contribute to the family and also keeps them occupied while spending time with the adult. It also helps develop movement coordination and fine motor skills. Yoga is another great way for children to improve their flexibility. There are a number of yoga poses which are suitable to children and can be introduced once they have developed the ability to balance well. Personally, I can do more to model the need for better physical health by working out and involving her in the routine.

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Lastly, do you have one piece of advice to share as a dad to other parents during this crisis?

In these troubled times, as a dad, maintaining your composure and being patient is very important. It’s also important that we should not be too hard on ourselves as our mental wellbeing will ensure that we provide the best environment for our child. 

Hummus

Our Little Kitchen

Hummus is a traditional Mediterranean dish that always accompanies a batch of warm pita bread. In pop culture, hummus is seen pretty much everywhere, as a side for some baked pita chips or along with raw vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers. Hummus is packed in nutrition and is a wonderful snack that young children can help prepare for the whole family. It helps them sequence steps, exercise their muscle strength, use their judgement and practice plenty of perseverance. These days, hummus is made in a blender but for young children, it is wonderful to learn it the traditional way, using a mortar & pestle and their bare hands to put them all together!

Who is this for?

I would recommend this for children upwards of 2 years.

Things Required

1 bowl for (15 tsp or 25 grams cooked and soft garbanzo beans)

1 spoon

5 small bowls for (diced garlic, salt, lemon juice, tahini and olive oil)

1 sturdy and functional mortar and pestle

1 small pitcher (for water)

Preparation

As part of preparation from your side, make sure the garbanzo beans are very soft and cooked. With young children, I prefer to add the beans in batches and mash them instead of adding them all together. This also encourages them to count and makes it quite exciting. It increases the challenge of mashing for the child, making it accessible instead of overwhelming!

It is also important to remember that if we aim for a perfectly mashed hummus with young children, it may throw them off the activity. When you begin, let the child mash however they can and as much as they can. You can also offer to collaborate and take turns. As always, you are the best judge of what works will for your child in your kitchen!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to make some hummus today.” Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together.

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Encourage the child to explore the ingredients using their senses, taste a little garlic, a bit of the tahini and even some raw lemon juice to get to know the flavours that are going to enhance their hummus!

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Show the child to transfer the minced garlic and salt into the mortar.

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Exert pressure and show the child to crush them using the pestle. It is important to exaggerate this movement to draw attention to the pressure applied.

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Show the child to count 5 spoons of the garbanzo beans into the mortar. Stop and show the child to mash them.

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Let the child mash however they can. You can offer to hold the mortar and even take turns mashing them (if the child needs that help)

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Spoon 5 more spoons of beans into the mortar and continue mashing together. Once they have been mashed well, encourage the child to taste a little bit of the hummus before adding more flavours.

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Show the child to transfer the lemon juice, the tahini and olive oil to the mashed beans. Mash again using the pestle.

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If it looks dry, show the child to fetch water in the small pitcher and add it to the hummus. Mash again using the pestle until you and child are satisfied with the desired consistency. Involve the child in putting the use items away or for wash.

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The child can have hummus as a perfect snack with cut cucumbers, carrots or celery or even bread or cracker.

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Short Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to make some hummus today.”

Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together.

Encourage the child to explore the ingredients using their senses, taste a little garlic, a bit of the tahini and even some raw lemon juice to get to know the flavours that are going to enhance their hummus!

Show the child to transfer the minced garlic and salt into the mortar.

Exert pressure and show the child to crush them using the pestle. It is important to exaggerate this movement to draw attention to the pressure applied.

Show the child to count 5 spoons of the garbanzo beans into the mortar. Stop and show the child to mash them.

Let the child mash however they can. You can offer to hold the mortar and even take turns mashing them (if the child needs that help)

Draw attention to how the beans are getting mashed and soft.

Spoon 5 more spoons of beans into the mortar and continue mashing together.

Once they have been mashed well, encourage the child to taste a little bit of the hummus before adding more flavours.

Show the child to transfer the lemon juice, the tahini and olive oil to the mashed beans.

Mash again using the pestle.

If it looks dry, show the child to fetch water in the small pitcher and add it to the hummus.

Mash again using the pestle until you and child are satisfied with the desired consistency.

Involve the child in putting the use items away or for wash.

The child can have hummus as a perfect snack with cut cucumbers, carrots or celery or even bread or cracker.

Into the World of Books: From One Mamma to Another

Hear it from the Mammas!

Hi Menaka, tell us about yourself and your family. 

Thank you so much for having me here. It’s a pleasure to meet like-minded people and share ideas. I am from Chennai, staying with my husband and our son Pranav. He is 6 years. My journey with the Montessori Method started in 2015 when my son was 2 years and there has been a lot of learning and unlearning happening since then. My husband and I strongly believe that a child’s formative years impacts their entire life and together we guide our son in this journey.

What do you think is the role of books in the lives of children under 6?

To me, one of the best things ever created is books. With books that relate to real life, children connect with the world and enjoy being a part of it. For example, reading a book on insects to a very young child changes the way the child looks at the insects. When my son was younger, I used to read a wonderful book on ladybirds and whenever he noticed an insect he used to call it a ladybird. Though many of them were not ladybirds, we were glad that he noticed the insect and related the story to it.

Are there some aspects you consider before choosing a book? 

Yes, there are! I am a very picky reader. To choose a book for an adult seems a lot easier. When I chose my son’s first book, I did go to the bookstore to understand what sort of age appropriate books they had available. There were many things running through my mind -paperback or board books, content and presentation, illustrations and most importantly the plot. After searching a lot, we resorted to books that had real images, art, collage and hand-drawn illustrations, and content presented with simplicity and humour. We went for books that blended facts with a story. I have realised that things like paperback or board do not matter as we make sure all books are treated with respect in our house and they always stay in the same condition.

How did you ‘read’ with your son when he was under 3 years? How has it changed since then? 

Reading books together is the best memory we both share. Initially, we had one box collection of books and 2 individual books that we placed on a table close to the sofa. We made sure we read at least 2 books a day. Initially, after reading the books to him regularly and observing his depth of listening, we would ask him to bring his choice of book and read that also to him. We also made sure that we were available whenever he wanted us to read to him.  Now that he is older, we set aside a reading time and decide based on our availability. If we aren’t available, he will just go through the books himself, looking at the pictures. We noticed how he gradually tried to read phonetically.  Now that he has started reading, he reads a book and then I read one.

Regardless of how we read now, we have always begun our sessions by  listening to the storyline and gradually, as he started talking, we began to comprehend the character’s emotions, humour and other aspects.

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Are there any specific ways in which you store and display the books? 

When he was younger, we used a DIY cardboard holder and placed it close to where we spent our family time. As our book reading gained momentum, we chose a place by the window to display the books so that he can make choices. There were days when he didn’t show interest in reading any book and, on those days, we would just pick out his favourite book and casually leave it lying in different ‘noticeable’ corners of the house. This usually caught his attention and he would grab them and then we would ask him if he would like to listen to a story. 

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How do you collaborate with your son in maintaining the books? 

As parents, we are particular in making him realise that there is responsibility in the choices he makes. Initially, we bought all the books for him. As he grew, we started taking him to a bookstore/lending library to choose books, find a place in the bookshelf and decide when to read. We both spent a lot of quality time at home reading books in the early days. It is always not just about reading, but we look at the details on the cover picture, the front page, the summary/collection items, the way the books are bound and how the author has  illustrated them. I think bringing his attention to all these tiny details has made him feel a deeper connection with the books. He would never take any book, fold or flip the front page or scribble things on them. 

Do you think it is just as important for adults around children to read? Why? 

It is absolutely important for adults to inspire children to read. Children look up to the adults in their family and learn habits. There is so much to learn and enjoy in this world and sometimes we could never experience them in real life but the joy of experiencing them by picturing the images in our mind is what books help us achieve. When a child sees somebody close to them enjoying and cherishing a book, they are naturally drawn to it. My son always wonders how I read big books with no pictures and lots of words. I hope that wonder changes into a joyous interest in the future.

What are some unique themes you have explored with your son in your readings? 

We are not particular about themes but I just realised that most of our books are about nature – plants, animals, insects and everything under the sky. We spend most of our evenings gardening, watching the sky and talking about stars. So, he got into choosing books about these topics and even when we are not around he looks at the pictures and refers them to us in our conversations. We continue to encourage him to choose books based on simple and real things so that  we can talk more about it.

Do you think there are enough libraries and reading groups for young children in India?

That’s a good question! There are very few libraries and reading groups. We recently shifted to a more central place in the city hoping that there would be more libraries, but we managed to find only two libraries and no reading groups. And those two had very limited collection for young children.

Schools and parents role in encouraging children to read are vanishing. More libraries and reading groups should come up in India. Parents and schools should give more importance to reading and help children blossom into young readers. I feel the awareness among parents to nurture reading is less and most schools are sidelining reading as a hobby. Reading is so much more than a hobby; it is a deep need for children! There is so much that children get from books. When we look at where the world is going now, what we want is more empathetic people who can understand others’ feelings and be there for them. Books don’t just help us imagine but make us feel what each character is going through.

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With the current pandemic situation, how have you been accessing books? 

My son who had recently got into independent reading was actually shocked when he came to know his ordered books won’t be delivered. Since we had a few extra new books, thanks to our book collection habit, he managed well for a while. We additionally got him into watching others reading books online which has helped tremendously.

Inspired by watching people read books online, he got interested in reading his old books  for other children and now we have a YouTube channel featuring his videos which really helps keep his reading habit alive. I continue to read my books to him, few pages a day and let him listen, as I feel it will be a smooth transition for him to enter the world of non-fiction and improve his listening skills as well.

What are some ways in which you talk to Pranav about the situation we are in? Do you read books around that? If so, can you recommend?

Firstly, we stopped watching sensational news about the current situation and made sure he learns about the crisis from us. He took to the changes gradually as we spoke about COVID-19 and the importance of staying indoors. Surely, books have been of immense help; many across the world have created e-books for children making it easier to explain things that’s happening around while also instilling hope. 

Ignorance is the key to fear; when children know what’s going on and see people act with courage and caution, they develop responsibility, problem handling skills and care for people. This is a learning opportunity for everybody.