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!

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.