A World of Changes : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

In Part 6 of Making Montessori Your Own : Introduction, Ana shares with us about changes. Young children rely on us for stability. We are their lighthouse and she shares how she and her family are supporting her daughter through this whirlwind of a year.

Dear Ana, how has 2020 been for you & your family?

It’s been a year of big changes, both expected and unexpected. We moved cities in March, which was a good thing, after nearly a year of living split-family as my husband and I worked in different cities. However, this happened days before the lockdown began and the pandemic came upon us, so it was more change for S than I’d anticipated. Helping her transition smoothly through this phase was a big priority in the first half of this year. It’s also been a year of simplifying, of focusing on things in our sphere of control and of having gratitude for the small joys of life. We’re lucky to have jobs where both of us are working from home for rest of the year at least; and to have support of grandparents and a caretaker. So, we try to make the most of our time together at home amid the uncertainty and constraints of the pandemic.

You mentioned that you moved cities in the last year. What are some ways in which you supported your daughter through the move?

The change was big for S because it coincided with the lockdown. So not only was she in a new place, she also couldn’t go out to play, which was a drastic change from the almost two hours a day she used to spend outdoors earlier. Her discomfort with the transition translated in more clingy and cranky behaviour. It was upto me to understand where she was coming from, and meet her there. I often reminded myself of the Janet Lansbury quote, “All feelings are welcome, not all behaviours.”

Here are somethings that helped us through the transition:

  • Share upcoming changes with the child. I told Sia about the move, and upcoming changes often in the three weeks leading up to the move. And then, kept connecting back to it while it was actually happening.
  • Keep the rhythm going even during the most disruptive days. For example, on the days of the move, we held on to basic rhythm of mealtimes and naps
  • Keep familiar things around. We carried her cutlery, familiar play and bath toys with us to the hotel, flights and transitory stay. This helped her feel a bit secure amid all the newness.
  • Acknowledge all feelings. We helped her understand what she was feeling by verbalising them for her.
  • Be present and stay connected with each other. Even on the busiest days, we made sure to have just a little bit of one to one time to slow down and connect. For us, breakfast and bedtime routines are often our anchors to begin and end our days.

Many families have had to make rapid and sudden changes to their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How has your daughter taken to these changes?

The lockdown has meant we are not going out to play as much as we used to and we used to be outdoors for nearly two hours everyday. So, this is a big change! We have adapted by keeping to our old routine, and finding new ways to have outdoor time.

  • We have introduced balcony time. It is announced, there are rituals of putting in shoes before going out, and there are lots of gross motor play and free movement. Now she asks for it by name.
  • We ensure she has ample gross motor play even when indoors. We put on music and dance, use beanbags for indoor throwing, have a bowling pin set-up on some days and cushion obstacle course on others.
  • We make sure to connect with nature. We have introduced her to gardening, we pause to listen to and spot birds, observe the sky, clouds, sunrise, sunset and rains. These keep us grounded.
  • We indulge in a lot more practical life. The kitchen is by far Sia’s favourite room. She loves to watch us cook, name things, do dishes and prepare her own snacks. She’s welcome to join any daily chore going on but not obligated to.
  • We offer age-appropriate discussion regarding the virus. At 19 months, S is still too small to understand what is going on. But with time, we speak of why we’re indoors, hygiene practices when going out, etc.
  • We have virtual play dates. We do not watch any television or videos, but we do video calls with friends and family. That is the only way we can all connect with others.

As working parents, how do you navigate working from home with a toddler?

S was used to the concept that we (her parents) went away to work, and we’re available to her when at home. So this concept of being at home, but unavailable due to work was new for her. We’re lucky to have support system of grandparents.

Here’s some things that have helped us adjust to the new routine:

  • Have a dedicated space for WfH. We are lucky to have a study where we “go to office”. S knows that is time when we are unavailable to her.
  • Have regular rhythm. Having a predictable rhythm such as regular start and end times make it easier for her to feel secure and in control. She knows once I am in work clothes, it is time for me to go to work.
  • Have dedicated, quality time spent with her everyday. Apart from working hours, through our morning routine, bedtime routine and even small rituals, we have quality time together. For example, we start our days with dry fruits and time together in the balcony which anchors the day and gives security.
  • Ensure a rich environment and lots of ‘yes spaces’ for freedom of movement. S is free to move through the house, participate in many practical life activities throughout her day, and we ensure she is purposefully engaged even while we are “away” at work.
  • Gratitude! We share things we are thankful for each night at bedtime. She cannot always verbalise, but has picked up on the practice with time.

Even with the constraints, we have a lot to be thankful for. Learning to cope with change and adversity are valuable life skills, and how we show up in this time, is our children’s first lesson on how to handle these changes themselves. I’m just taking things one day at a time, and trying to make it count.

The Importance of Practising Gratitude with Young Children : Part 2 : HOW?

Articles

Part 1 of this article focuses on Why it is important to practice gratitude with young children. In Part 2, let us look at  a few different ways in which we can practice gratitude with young children.


Children under 3 are different from those over 3. Very young children are less articulate and require verbalisation from our end. However, this does not mean we cannot engage in dialogue with them. We can use their coos and babbles or their few words as a response in our interactions. With children over 3, we can expect more response by encouraging reflection through prompts and also by presenting events of the day that urge reflection. 

How might this be?

  • With Children Under 3

Let us assume a parent is talking to their toddler at the end of the day. The parent can casually talk about some of the events of the day. “Today, we went to the park that has the giant fountain and you played with your new blue ball. Do you remember who got you the ball?” (pause) “Yes, thatha (grandpa) got you the ball. You laughed so much while playing with the ball. Tomorrow, lets go again to play with the ball and I can take a video of you to share with thatha. He will be happy to see that you like it.”

Initially, babies and toddlers observe and may coo, babble or say a few words in response to the conversation. It maybe something liketha” for thatha or “ba” for ball or something else in connection with the incident. Regardless of the response, the aim of this simple practice is to bring the incident back to focus, acknowledge the emotions experienced and highlight the intention behind the contribution (in this case, grandpa’s gift).

  • With Children from 3 – 6 years  

If older children are habituated to unwinding with gratitude, they might share some experiences. “I played on the swing with Mudra.” or “I liked the dosa today.” While helping children express experiences that spark a feeling of gratitude, we can also probe further to help them understand emotions around gratitude, building perspective. “Why do you think thatha came all the way to play cricket with you? (pause) Do you think it is because he cares for you and enjoys having time with you?” Children in this age group can also be helped to reciprocate acts of kindness with kindness. “How did you show/tell thatha you were happy he came?” Maybe tomorrow, when he comes, you can give him a hug.

Gratitude Part 2

  • With Children in a Community 

In a communal setting with several children, this can be done in groups. The adult can help the children in the group bring their attention to benevolent acts, such as “Do you know who washed all the hand towels for lunch today?” or “Radha Akka swept the veranda clean so that some of you can work outside after lunch.” By highlighting these acts, children understand that kind gestures are valued in the community and gradually begin to reciprocate with kindness.

In “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier”, Robert .A. Emmons says, “The momentary experience of gratitude is not the same as having a well-honed grateful disposition : although at one moment their emotional experiences might be identical, a person who always seem to have a deeply grateful heart no matter what the circumstance is very different from another who is simply appreciative of a gift he has recently received.” 

So, what is important? 

  • Being Consistent

Routines are a reliable way for children to integrate a practice into their daily lives. Creating a simple gratitude practice for children and sticking to it makes this yet another bedtime ritual, much like brushing teeth or bathing. While routines do help children look forward to and predict their day better, it is our responsibility as adults to prioritise and value these practices until children are themselves able to to consistently fulfil them. 

  • Enabling Recollection 

Helping children reflect on their day allows them to look back at events in their lives and focus on those that make them feel thankful. As adults, we often look at events that make us complain, “Oh, the traffic was just horrible today” or “ I wonder why my manager always picks on me”. Instead, we can focus on simple things that light up our lives. Reflection not only allows children to gain perspective, but also helps them recollect incidents which is crucial in practicing gratitude.

In The Whole Brain Child, Dan Siegel says “ Memory is like so many functions of the brain : the more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes. That means that when you give your children lots of practice at remembering – by having them tell and retell their own stories – you improve their ability to integrate their memory.

  • Being a Representative of Gratitude

Perhaps, with young children, the most important of all is for adults in their lives to share their own experiences that spark gratefulness. “I am so thankful to Papa and you for waiting in the car for almost an hour to pick me up this evening.” or “I was so touched when you shared the last chocolate with your sister.”  This gives them examples of how, as adults, we also end our day with  gratitude.