Washing Rice

Washing rice is a tradition that has been sacredly followed in many cultures for several generations. Children growing up in such environments watch this activity on a daily basis. This familiarity creates enthusiasm and since it involves water, they relish it. The texture of the dry rice as against the wet rice, the unique scent of each rice and their colour, along with the eye-hand coordination and muscle strength that this activity requires, contribute to an engaging and rich sensory experience.

Who is this for?

I would recommend this for children older than 18 months.

Things Required

  • 1 small bowl for rice (white, brown, black or red)
  • 1 medium pitcher for water
  • 1 rice washing colander 
  • 1 medium bowl for the starchy water 

Preparation

Usually, as adults, we wash rice at the sink by holding the colander in one hand and washing with the other. This is hard for young children who lack that kind of control. Also, most sinks at our homes are at adult height and for a toddler to stand on a step stool and handle the colander and water is inconvenient. For this reason, I find that having everything at a table frees the child to focus on the task in hand. An older child, who has more balance and control over water usage can wash directly at the sink.

Some families are sentimental about wastage of rice. In such a case, minimise the quantity of rice in the bowl or switch to a smaller bowl.

I also feel that we need to find a balance between child size tools and adult tools in the kitchen. For instance, in this recipe I have used an adult colander because I feel the child can achieve the purpose of the task with this colander. These are also ways to communicate to the child that our worlds can meet and merge in the kitchen! As always, you are the best judge of what will work in your home for your child!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Come, let us wash some rice for dinner.” Introduce everything at the table else tell the child what is required and gather them together.

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Show the child to feel the texture of dry rice and take in the unique aroma.

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Show the child to transfer the rice into the colander.

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Fetch water in a pitcher and show the child to pour into the colander.

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Mix and draw attention to the change in colour of the water.

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Let the child mix and wash the rice however they can. Show the child to pour the starchy water into the medium bowl. 

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It is helpful to draw attention to the water flowing through the holes. 

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Let the child repeat by fetching more water and washing. I generally use the starchy water to feed the plants or pour in a bowl for birds and squirrels. Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash.

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Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Come, let us wash some rice for dinner.”
  • Introduce everything at the table else tell the child what is required and gather them together.
  • Show the child to feel the texture of dry rice and take in the unique aroma.
  • Show the child to transfer the rice into the colander.
  • Fetch water in a pitcher and show the child to pour into the colander.
  • Mix and draw attention to the change in colour of the water.
  • Let the child mix and wash the rice however they can. 
  • Show the child to pour the starchy water into the medium bowl.
  • It is helpful to draw attention to the water flowing through the holes. 
  • Let the child repeat by fetching more water and washing.
  • I generally use the starchy water to feed the plants or pour in a bowl for birds and squirrels.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place or for wash.

Share a Meal with your Child

What is a Meal? 

A meal is a coming together of a group of people, sharing their day with each other, valuing each other’s presence, being grateful for the food that they are eating and leaving everything else to just be there for one another! A meal is so much more than eating; a meal implies a family! 

In the book Cooked : A Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan says, “The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilisation: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences and arguing without offending.

When a meal carries so much value, why is it that children, who are learning what it means to be a family, have little to no experience of eating as a family?

The Real Struggle behind Eating

With young children, eating is a continuous and isolated activity that is done at a different time from the rest of the family. It always begins with a parent taking a spoonful of food to the child’s mouth and ends with the child turning their face away. This is when desperation and impatience set in and to somehow navigate this trying time, we devise techniques and strategies to ‘trick’ our children into eating. 

The first is to try and distract them with a toy or two, or point to different things in the room and feed them without their conscious involvement. If this doesn’t work, we resort to the Ipad technique and while the child is completely engrossed in the visuals, we quickly sneak in one too many spoonfuls. If neither of these work, we resort to threats! Now, threats always come in varying degrees of intensity, from denying them access to their favourite toy to telling them that they will be left behind while the rest of the family goes to the park. The other technique is chasing them around the house while they distractedly run from one object to another with no recollection of having eaten. If none of these work, we resort to pleading, “Please have just one more spoonful for me” or “See, I am sad now that you are not eating.” After much coaxing, cajoling, tears and threats, our children finish one bowl of rice only for us to realise that the same techniques have to be tried again, in exactly a few hours!

While these techniques that we employ may temporarily do the trick and even seem harmless at the moment, they leave lasting impressions. If we want our children to value meal-time as family time, eat more consciously and develop a holistic relationship with food, we need to first have a place for them at the table and share our meals with them!

A family table with a one year old and two six-year olds.

Share a Meal with your Child – Why?

  • Being Valued 

Having a place at the table communicates to children that they are an integral part of the family and that their presence is valued. Families must make the effort to eat at least one meal a day together. Regardless of the age of the child, we can seek participation at the table. Even a six month old can nibble on a piece of fruit while being a part of the table. By having a place at the table, we communicate to the child that meal-time is family time.

  • An Opportunity to Imitate & Imbibe 

At the table, children get to watch how different members of their family (& friends) eat, how they pass around food, and take turns serving. Eating by themselves at the table also gives them the opportunity to watch other members and practice repeatedly. It is important to remember that children learn purely by observation and repetition! So, the more effort we take to eat together, the more opportunities for them to observe and learn.

  • Seeing Food as a Whole 

Children often eat without ever knowing what they are eating. In chasing and running from one room to the other and watching the Ipad whilst completely unaware of what is going into their mouth, children never get to actually see food on a plate. At the table, they get to see rice and beans, roti and dal, the various eating utensils and cutlery all come together as a whole. Meal-time is also when we can give them tiny tastes of the different dishes and let them experience the variety of our culture.

  • Learning the Art of Conversation 

It is important for children to be part of the conversations that happen at the table. While eating, we can show them how to acknowledge the effort and love that has gone into cooking. As children grow older, they will also begin to participate and contribute, thus becoming grateful for the food and each others contribution. At the table is also where we can draw attention to the different dishes and the ingredients that have gone into it. Involve them and acknowledge their response whether it is a coo, a babble, a nod or a phrase. This elevates the experience of eating and makes it joyful and something to look forward to. 

We must help children create a healthy association with food and cultivate a love for it. When eating comes with conversations, a place at the table, an opportunity to taste different dishes, it becomes much more than a dreaded affair that ends in tears. By sharing a meal with our children, we not only show them what it means to be a family, but also give them the freedom to take food to their mouth! We respect and value their presence and gradually, they begin to associate food with family time, conversations and an opportunity to feed themselves.

A Peep into Mantrini’s Curious Mind

Here is a story of Mantrini who lives in Coimbatore, India with her parents Raghav and Shanti. Little Mantrini just turned four and was gifted a spacious sand pit in her backyard where she loves playing and enjoys the ample space all to herself. Mantrini’s mamma is expecting her second baby and although little Mantra has been well-informed of a new sibling in sight, she does not fully comprehend that she will have to share everything, including her precious sandpit with her new sibling.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, it was Shanti’s turn to rest after lunch while Raghav played with Mantra. Of late, it was becoming easier to engage her because of her new-found love – the sandpit. Little Mantra would promptly take her pail and spade with a couple of cookie moulds and plop herself in the sandpit for hours, playing and making castles and pretend-cookies. This Sunday afternoon was no exception. Raghav decided to relax on his favourite armchair with a book and oversee his daughter’s play.

Just as the book was beginning to get more gripping, Raghav heard a squeal from the bushes. He shut his book and was ready to run when he heard Mantra’s excited voice from behind the bushes, asking him to come there immediately. Raghav wanted to see what was causing all this exuberance and ran to see an army of ants marching towards the bushes.

What follows is the conversation that transpired between Little Mantra and her Appa. Although, we like to call it a conversation, Raghav is bent on calling it an interrogation, one that was a lot trickier than a job interview!

M  : “Appa, Appa, what are these?”

R  : “Oh!” Raghav’s excitement had waned a little on realising that all this fuss was over some ants. “ These are just ants, Mantra.”

M  : “Where are they going?”

R   : “Umm… to their home.”

M  : “Where is their home?”

R   : “Somewhere in those bushes.

Mantra, on hearing about a home in the bushes, promptly declared, “ I want to go there now!”

R   : “We cannot go into an ant’s house Mantra. It is too small.”

Mantra paused and glared at the ants and in no time bounced back with her next question, “ Is there an amma in the home?”

R   : “Yes”, Raghav was surprised at his vote of confidence in this reply.

M  : “Is there a paapa (baby) in the amma ant’s tummy?”

R   : “I don’t know Mantra.”

At this point, little Mantra seemed pensive and almost as if her curiosity had been satiated. As Raghav turned to head back to his chair, she shot back another question, “Appa, Appa, does the ant go poop?”

R   : “Yes, I’m sure they do.”

M  : “I want to go poopy too.”

Raghav lost all hope of finding out what happens next in the book and shut it. “ Okay, let’s go inside.” Mantra ran towards him and continued asking questions in between breaths. “Does the ant wear diaper, appa?”

R  : “No kanna, not at all.” Raghav was becoming more and more surprised at his expertise in the matters of ants.  

While Mantra was on her potty, she didn’t stop her questions and continued, “ Does the ant like Dora?”

R   : “No kanna, the ant likes sugar and all things sweet.”

M  : “Can I bring the ant inside to play? I will give it sugar. It can be my friend.”

R  : “No, Mantra, you cannot do all that. Ants will bite you.”

Mantra was about to ask her next question on why ants bite and how they will bite her if they were her friend, when Shanti entered the room. Raghav, who was perspiring at this point with the way the questions were progressing, gladly let Shanti answer Mantra’s questions and returned to his lazy chair.

On his way back, he couldn’t help but wonder how his four-year old daughter had managed to ask him more questions than his manager at work!

Making Lassi

Lassi, also known as buttermilk, is a drink that is had in most Indian households. Since curd is an integral part of Indian meals, children get to see someone in the home busily churn buttermilk on those hot and humid afternoons. Lassi-making is a multi-step activity that draws young children because it involves pouring water, transferring the curd and churning the mixture. Traditionally, in South India, we use a மத்து (matthu) to churn the buttermilk, but in this case, I have used a whisk.

Who is this for?

I would begin around 20 months.

Things Required

  • 3 small bowls for (jaggery, cardamom and saffron) 
  • 1 tumbler/pitcher for water
  • 1 medium size bowl for thick curd
  • 1 spoon for the curd
  • 1 large bowl for whisking
  • 1 small whisk
  • Glasses for sharing

Preparation

I find that to spoon curd into a bowl calls for more focus and eye-hand coordination which challenges young children. They may lose interest if they are older. Instead of having water in a tumbler, walking to fetch water is an option which young children, who have just begun walking, enjoy.

As always, you are the best judge of what works well for your child in your kitchen! 

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “It’s such a hot day, let’s make some sweet lassi for all of us.” Introduce everything on the tray (if you have them arranged) else tell the child what we need and gather them together. Pause and take in the aroma, texture and appearance of each of the spices – jaggery, saffron and cardamom.

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Show the child to spoon the curd into the whisking bowl.

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Pour the water into the bowl.

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Now guide the child to add each of the spices.

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Begin whisking! This movement needs to be exaggerated and slowed down for the child to observe! When the child repeats after, let them whisk however they can.

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Involve the child in putting the items back in their place (or for wash)

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Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “It’s such a hot day, let’s make some sweet lassi for all of us.”
  • Introduce everything on the tray (if you have them arranged) else tell the child what we need and gather them together.
  • Pause and take in the aroma, texture and appearance of each of the spices – jaggery, saffron and cardamom.
  • Show the child to spoon the curd into the whisking bowl.
  • Pour the water into the bowl.
  • Now guide the child to add each of the spices.
  • Begin whisking. This movement needs to be exaggerated and slowed down for the child to observe.
  • Let the child whisk however they can.
  • Involve the child in putting the items back in their place (or for wash)

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!