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

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. 

Into the World of Books: From One Mamma to Another

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.