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 S 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 S’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.

Toilet Independence : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

In Part 5 of Making Montessori Your Own, Ana shares how she introduced the toilet to her daughter, how she transitioned from disposable diapers and guided her daughter towards independence in the toilet.


Hi Ana, share with us how you began introducing the potty to Sia. What was your routine around this?

I think the first step, even before I spoke to her about it, was really to prepare myself. When my daughter was nearing the 1 year mark, I got nudges from grandparents that we should start potty training her. But I didn’t know anything about this. So I did some homework, and discovered the “Oh crap! Potty Training” book by Jamie Glowacki. It resonated with me. Having a resource that speaks to my approach and style is my way of preparing myself, and that’s where I started on this aspect of toddlerhood as well.

For my daughter, there were two ways I helped her prepare for potty training before we even got a potty seat.

First, we spoke about pee and poop freely and often. I was conscious not to just wrap and throw away a diaper, but to (casually) talk to her and even show her what was going on. I was okay with her seeing me on the toilet and again spoke to her casually about what was going on. We tried to make  pee and poop a normal thing for her, and no big deal. 

Secondly, we helped her become independent in taking her diaper/underwear on and off on her own – so she wouldn’t be dependent on us for this when we did start potty training. We practiced lots in the months leading up to the change, and this one helped us a lot.

Some children who have been in disposables for a while become attached to these, making it harder to transition to cloth underwear. Did you experience this with your child? 

No. I think it again comes from the fact that we spoke to her about and treated ‘underwears’ as a normal everyday thing. She saw that we (the adults) wore underwear, and we spoke to her that she’s wearing a diaper because she’s a baby, and she will learn how to wear underwear when the time is right. We didn’t do this in a ‘formal talk’ but as part of normal life – for example when she saw us folding laundry. If she asked, ‘what’s this?’ we didn’t shy from using the word ‘underwear’ and explaining matter-of-factly what its use was.

I’m a big advocate for sportscasting from infant age- explaining to your kids what they’re doing, what they’re seeing, where they are, everything. I think that is what helped us here too. 

These days, we have options to ‘train’ children to use the toilet independently over the weekend, in a few days, etc. Do you feel these are helpful? 

So here’s the nuance on this one – I think it is useful for parents to set aside time and be conscious that this is a big transition for your child. Using a potty is usually the first thing we actively “teach” our children because it’s a social expectation. And so, they need us there with them for this – and so setting time aside to start on this journey is a good thing.

What doesn’t help is setting any expectations on the time it will take your child to learn this. Just as with walking or speaking or any other ability you’ve seen your child build, it takes time and there are messes along the way. Putting any unfair expectations on ourselves or our children just increases stress, and thus, might actually impede the process.

Many working parents find it increasingly difficult to help their children with independence in the toilet. As a working mamma, how did you make this work?

In hindsight, there were three things that helped me handle this one smoothly- first, by not having expectations on ‘the right time’ to potty learn, second, by educating myself on the process and feeling mentally prepared, and third, by allocating time to be at home with my daughter during the initial days.

I actually tried potty training my daughter the first time when she was 14 months old. But I gave up in a few days thinking “she’s not ready.” In hindsight, I think I was the one who wasn’t ready. I didn’t believe she could do it, and so I didn’t support her in the way she needed me to. After this attempt, I began preparing myself more earnestly, and we tried again when my daughter was 19 months old. This time, I had an innate confidence that she was ready and that helped me be more patient and confident as we worked through the zig zags that are inevitable on this journey.

IN “Oh crap!”, Jamie speaks of building blocks of potty training, of how children transition from “I peed” to “I’m peeing” to “I need to pee”. I connected this to how we scaffold skills – breaking them down into small steps – all the dots that need to connect regarding peeing in my child’s brain. So for the first couple of days, all we were looking for was a realization that “I peed” – if there was an accident, it was no big deal. We cleaned it up together. There were no rewards, and no pressure. Sure, we said, “We don’t pee in the underwear, we pee in the potty.” But it was calm and matter-of-fact.

Third, I made it a point to take up potty training when I could be home with my daughter full time. The first time we tried, it was Diwali break. And the second time, I was in between jobs. After the initial few days, she didn’t need me as much, it became a part of her routine – even the accidents and the cleaning up – but I do think setting that time aside to be at home, not going out much in those initial days reduced the pressure and sense of urgency for me and hence, for her.

Lastly, based on your experience, what are some do’s & don’ts wrt toilet independence that you would like to share with other parents? 

  • Prepare yourself, and find an approach that works for you.
  • Have no expectations on timelines and don’t give in to expectations others may have of you.
  • Talk about pee and poop freely, matter-of-factly from an early age.
  • If you can help your child learn how to take their clothes off before you begin potty training, it’ll make things much smoother ‘in the moment.’
  • Lastly, set some time aside to be there with your child as they begin this journey.

Montessori for a Working Parent : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

Being a parent is a full-time responsibility. It is no simple feat to nurture a child! That said, today’s parents don multiple roles – many hold responsibilities not just at home but outside of home as well. (I say ‘responsibilities outside of home’ because I believe a parent who chooses to stay at home full time with their child is also a working parent!) Ana is a mamma who works both at home as well as outside.

In Part 2 of Making Montessori Your Own, Ana shares with us how she prepares her home for her daughter to help meet her developmental needs. She also talks about the importance of observation and how she makes Montessori work in a joint family where multiple adults interact with the child.


Montessori at home isn’t a mainstream way to bring up children in India – it isn’t the way we were brought up, and it isn’t something our parents (and our children’s grandparents’) are familiar with. I discovered Montessori when my daughter was 5 months old. I had about two months before I joined back at work. While I connected with some aspects of the method  such as giving freedom with limits or protecting concentration, I was concerned as to how we would provide these at home after I resumed work. Our care-taking set-up at home was Nanny who was to be the primary caretaker and grandparents. Neither of them were familiar with Montessori, and there were certain parts such as giving access to cleaning tools, for example, that raised eyebrows.

A year later, I feel we are in a good place. We’ve been able to follow Montessori and Baby -led -Weaning for my daughter – and carry everyone along the way. Here’s the things that worked for us.

Prepare the environment yourself:  The foundation of Montessori is having a prepared environment and this is something you can very much control even while you work. For us the game changer was moving to floor beds – for ourselves and our baby- when she was 6 months old. It gave her freedom of movement, it gave us peace of mind (no constant worrying about her falling off the edge of the bed), and most importantly, confidence to make other changes- because we could instantly see the return of investment that changing the environment made to what she could do and learn. Importantly, if the environment was safe – a “yes” space! –  then our daughter would get freedom of movement at all times – because everyone could see her engage with the environment purposefully, confidently and safely.  Over the next few months, we’ve invested in a DIY learning tower in the kitchen, added Pikler’s * arch to the safe play area, stool to the bathroom sink for brushing teeth and hand wash,practical life tools for the kitchen, only wooden toys (no battery operated toys) and more.

Use the weekends and your time at home in morning and evening to model behaviour – I introduce all new practical life activities and shelf work when I’m at home. We rotate the shelf on Saturdays. I routinely audit different parts of my daughter’s routine, with an eye to identify what schema she’s in, what work she is engaging in and what isn’t appealing to her. In mornings, I often sit near her and observe her playing – without interrupting to protect her concentration. It’s my way of ensuring she gets half an hour of child-led play time during the day, and to model to everyone around, how to interact, and really how she’s capable of entertaining herself when given the opportunity. Over time, I’ve seen others appreciate her independent play, and learnt to observe more, engage when she looks at them and “entertain” less.

Learn schemas – My understanding of schemas has made the time I spend observing my daughter more actionable. It has also given my nanny tools to identify patterns in my daughter. So last week, when my daughter at 16 months, went through a phase of throwing her toys – we guessed that she was entering a trajectory schema, planned how we could give her more time to throw a ball when outside, which activities we could plan safely at home. We added mark making, rolling balls on the floor, throwing feathers and also set limits with respect by correcting verbally at first. We then step in and remove the child if the behaviour persists while telling her, “ I cannot allow you to throw things in the house. We do that outside.”. This gave clarity to the Nanny on why this “troublesome” behaviour was happening, and what I was okay with her to respond to it.  

Be clean on your no-gos, and let go of the little stuff- I don’t tell the grandparents how to interact with my daughter when they are playing with her. So she gets a bigger dose of interactive play when she spends time with her grandparents – and that’s okay, she learns to interact with different styles. At the same time, we have a ground rule of no playing during mealtime or eating only while sitting on the dining table (no running around with food) – and those are shared with everyone and adhered to pretty consistently.

And stuff like protecting concentration or giving feedback instead of generic praising – we model between my husband, and me. It sets the tone, and after some time – your child will also start liking and asking for more independence – it has a positive halo effect, and you’ll see everyone around you pick up on the cues. 


Ana’s story as a working mamma shows us that taking the time to observe and consistently prepare the home makes it a positive, YES space for the child. Her story shows that preparing the environment is helpful not just for the child but also for all the adults who interact with the child.  

*The Pikler’s arch is not a Montessori material. It was created over a 100 years ago by a Hungarian pediatrician, Dr. Emmi Pikler as a climbing structure for young children.

Part 1 : Montessori in Limited Spaces

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

The moment we hear the word Montessori, many of us have flashes of large, fabulous spaces filled with beautiful shelves holding material that beg to be touched and explored. While these pictures may inspire us, they often remain a dream because of practical constraints that hold many of us back such as limited space, budget and other constraints. 

In Part 1 of the series : Making Montessori Your Own, you can read Ana’s simple solutions on how she has made Montessori work in a Limited Space.


Montessori in Limited spaces

There are 5 of us sharing a 2 Bedroom, Hall, Kitchen (my 21 month old daughter, my husband and his parents) and we’ve been following the Montessori approach since my daughter was 5 months. Living in a limited space hasn’t been a barrier to giving our daughter freedom of movement. Looking back, here are a few things we did that really helped us use the space we have in a way that enabled our daughter to do more.

Foldable yoga mats for play area:  These provide good grip and cushioning while your child is learning to crawl or walk. During naps, or after bedtime, you can stow away the mats and use the space. We’ve actually made rolling mats part of the starting-the-day and clean-up routines that book-end the days.

Foldable Yoga Mats

Use the edge of the mat or breakfast table for shelves: The idea is to have toys accessible to the child in an aesthetically pleasing manner. When my daughter was 6 months old and learning to crawl, we kept her toys in a single line at one edge of the play mat. That was enough to serve the purpose, and we didn’t need any shelves for the limited number of toys (3-5) available to her at the time. Now that we place 6 toys for her, we have repurposed a breakfast table that we’ve had for years. This serves the purpose, and that’s all that matters.

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Embrace practical life: Whenever you are feeling doubtful on how you can be “more” Montessori or how you can “follow the child” better – think of everything that they typically do in a day and ask yourself if there’s something that you don’t need to do for them, which they can do on their own. It doesn’t have to be (and is very unlikely that it will be) an end-to-end task, especially with toddlers. It can be one sub-step of one part of an activity – maybe just the action of transferring clothes from your hands to the laundry basket – but it is a step the child does on their own and this builds confidence in their abilities. 

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Next think of everything that you do in the day – all your tasks – and ask yourself, where can your child help? Think of the simple actions they can do, and where they can possibly fit in your task. For e.g. simple action of pouring pre-measured ingredients into the hand-mixer where they just hold the cup while you guide the action. Anything to make them a contributing member of the family. You’ll find many of these activities do not need extra space – but just some rearrangement of  the existing space, or just look at the same task in a new way. 

Kneel and look at your house from your child’s level:  I learnt this simple trick from themontesorrinotebook and it works wonders. Before you begin setting up an area for your child, get on your knees (to your child’s height), and have a look around. This gives you your child’s world view – do they see underlying cables, sharp edges, bulky furniture? Is the space open and inviting for them? Seeing your house from your child’s height will help you prepare the environment for them. 

Keep books on floors/existing shelves:  We keep a couple of books on the bedroom shelf, and a couple more on the centre table in our living room. We don’t have space for a separate bookshelf, but that hasn’t stopped us from keeping a limited number of books, which are frequently rotated, easily accessible to our daughter. These books are available at multiple spots around the house. You can plan to have 1-3 books each in the bedroom, play area and living room, or any other place  your family spends time together. 

Books

Lastly, if you can make one change, make this one – switch to a floor-bed:  This gives your child control over their sleep and has the added bonus of you not having to worry about them rolling over. For our family, we wanted to co-sleep with the baby in our room, so we chose to move to a floor bed with our mattress on the floor when our daughter turned 7 months old.

Floor Bed

For us, this change required no extra space (other than to store our own bed), but we’ve seen it have a remarkable impact on our child’s freedom of movement. You can make this change when your child starts rolling over and the risk of them falling off their bed begins, and keep it till you feel comfortable. The first night we slept on the floor, I asked my husband, “Remind me why are we doing this to ourselves?” (it was actually my idea), but the next morning, when I saw my daughter practicing getting on and off the mattress on her own, it was all worth it. Now, a year in, I think it has been one of the best modifications we have made to our sleeping set-up and I intend to continue this at least until she is about 2 years old.


Montessori can work in all kinds of spaces & Ana’s story shows us the same. It shows us that Montessori lies in the small things such as looking at the environment from the child’s view, asking ourselves how we can involve the child in our daily lives & making do with what’s available. These simple tweaks, moving to a floor bed or repurposing a breakfast table for a shelf are actually all it takes to help young children explore and thrive.

Making Montessori Your Own : Introduction

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

I spend a fair share of my time reading, researching, observing and communicating with other parents and professionals on the various ways in which they support their children as they navigate through early, fundamental years. When Ana, a working mother who lives in Gurgaon, India with her husband, her 21 month old daughter and her in-laws found Srishti, we wanted to collaborate together to share with other parents, the different ways in which a parent can make Montessori their own! This has been one of the many fabulous things that has happened to the blog this year. 

In Ana’s own words, “I’m Ana, not a trained Montessori teacher, but a parent who follows a Montessori inspired approach at home with my 21 month old. I’ve learnt, adapted and owned this after reading and practicing this on a daily basis over the last year and a half. What I’m sharing here is based on my experience in hopes that it will help you.” 

Intro photo

Making Montessori Your Own is a six part series in which Ana voices her perspectives, experiences and wisdom which we hope will help other parents in their own journeys. 

Part 1 is titled Montessori in Limited Spaces and includes simple, practical suggestions from Ana on how we can make Montessori work in small spaces. Is it important to have a separate room with lots of expensive wooden materials and plenty of space to make Montessori work? Is Montessori about those beautifully arranged shelves or is there more to it? Ana breaks these stereotypes in this simple article on what really matters when we want to support our children on their road to independence. 

Part 2 is titled Montessori for a Working Mom & How to Involve Your Family in Raising your Child. In this Ana shares her experience as a working mother, and how she collaborates with grandparents and other caregivers to give her daughter the best possible experiences. 

In Part 3, we ask Ana how Baby-Led-Weaning has helped her daughter take charge of eating together with her family, and how the concept of BLW works in an Indian household.

Part 4 is all about Ana’s discovery of Practical Life and how they make it work. In Part 5, Ana talks about the much-feared Toilet – Learning. In this she shares how she introduced the toilet to her daughter, how she transitioned from diapers & guided her daughter towards independence in the toilet. 

Lastly, in Part 6, Ana shares about changes – how they moved cities, how they work from home during the pandemic & support their daughter through all this. 

The idea behind this collaboration is to share with other parents the journey of one family and their child living their lives. In our rapid and busy lives, many of us mean to genuinely help our children but often end up not having the time or perspective to take a step back and really ask ourselves how we can help our children. We hope that peeking into Ana’s story may give us a different perspective on helping our own children on their road towards collaboration and independence. We hope that this series will enrich your understanding of Montessori and inspire you to look at it as a bridge that might connect your child with the world. 

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. 

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. 

Interdependence over Independence : Earth Day Special <3

Articles

Today, we live in a world that is all about autonomy – I, Me, Mine. All of us strive to be self-sufficient; we do not wish to rely on others. Our family units are becoming smaller and smaller pushing us further towards self-sufficiency.  But, let us take a closer look at this ‘self-sufficiency’, this so-called independence that we all cherish. Are any of us truly independent? Are we ever to call ourselves self-sufficient, forgetting the innumerable factors that come together to sustain us?

When we look at a newborn, helpless & frail, solely dependent on us for love, comfort, food & security, we hold a vision for this life. A vision to enable these tiny beings to become independent. From very early on, we nudge our children towards doing for themselves – whether it is learning to dress, eat or move, our goal is to guide them towards independence. True, being able to independently do, think & be are critical to survival in this world. However, we celebrate independence as the goal, the destination. But this independence is only a means, a means that will hopefully take our children towards that intricate web of interdependence that holds us all together. 

So, instead of stopping at independence, our goal must be to guide our children to use their capabilities in contributing towards the web of interdependence. 

So, how can we highlight interdependence in young children? 

Young children derive immense joy in being able to do something by themselves. Anyone who has observed toddlers, will have noticed the pride they derive in being able to do – whether it is carrying an oversized pitcher of water or moving a tiny piece of furniture. This is often followed by the famous “Me do it!” phrase. While we nurture this independence by giving them the opportunity to do tasks & make simple choices for themselves, we can also guide them towards doing for others. 

Doing for the Home : For little children, home is the first solid & stable environment. In this home, every member is integral and doing for each other is what makes the home a warm, loving & joyful space. So, involve your children while you set the table, casually  highlighting, “Today, let’s set the table for dinner. One plate for amma, one for appa, one for thatha (grandpa), one for paaty (grandma) & one for you.” This is an example of a simple way to draw the attention of the child that they are helping set the table for their family. Similarly, activities such as dusting a shelf or collaborating in preparing a meal, either by washing the vegetables or by peeling or pounding, children can be involved in countless activities at home that put them in touch with their whole family. By peeling the potatoes that everyone will be having for lunch or dusting a shelf that sits in the living room,  children are contributing towards their family. 

Doing for the Environment : This environment, this planet is our home & as a member of this home, we ought to show other new members (our children) how to nurture & care for it. For very young children, filling a bird-feeder or keeping a bowl of water for birds & squirrels instantly puts them in touch with other beings. Having a few potted plants, or a vegetable garden and learning to water them, pulling weeds & caring for them tenderly shows them to treat other beings with respect, value & kindness. Even by avoiding wastage, at the dining table, while cooking and while using compost from simple vegetable waste as manure, or by consciously staying away from single-use plastic, we are constantly modelling to our children how our choices & our decisions are impacting our environment. 

Doing for Others : Young children are eager & enthusiastic little helpers, if only we let them. When we use children’s innate kindness towards doing tasks for others such as fetching grandma her shawl or helping appa (dad) carry a bag, helping feed their younger sibling, we are again highlighting how we can use our capabilities towards fulfilling others needs.

Stories : Lastly, something that always ties things together for little children is stories. Talk to children about people who have cared for this planet & treated it with the kindness it deserves. Talk to them about kindness and the joy of helping one another. Apart from oral stories, if we can read books to children about these, and hold conversations on their importance, such experiences will leave an impression on their psyche. 

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The Water Princess

Why? 

If there is one thing our current circumstance of a global pandemic determines, it is that we are ALL in this together. Our actions determine the health of others around us; our actions determine the health of this planet. We want to raise children who are mindful of their actions on the environment. We want our children to hold the big picture – this is not their independence but their ability to use their independence of thought and action to support one another. Every choice matters; our children need to see us make choices that take others into consideration; choices that nurture and nourish the environment.

To quote Mahatma Gandhi,  “Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.” 

Understanding Postpartum Depression – A Professional Perspective : Mamma Love Series

Mamma Love Series

As part of the Mamma Love Series, I approached Dr. Susan Pawlby, a Developmental Clinical Psychologist, and former Lecturer in the Section of Perinatal Psychiatry at the King’s College, London, UK.  She is also a member of the Multi-Disciplinary Team on the Channi Kumar Mother and Baby Unit at the Bethlem Royal Hospital, South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. Dr. Pawlby is now a visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College, London.

She shares below about depression in parents, mothers in particular, from her years of experience working in this field. She also shares what kind of support is offered clinically and how we can support the pregnant and postpartum mammas in our lives.


How is antenatal depression different from postnatal depression and how do they affect the baby? 

A major depressive episode is an illness characterized by low mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, lasting at least 2 weeks, with secondary symptoms being appetite or weight changes, sleep difficulties, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue or loss of energy, diminished ability to think or concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, and suicidality. The difference between antenatal depression and postnatal depression is only in the timing of the depressive episode, one being during pregnancy and the other after the birth. The symptoms are the same. Antenatal depression may affect the foetus by increasing cortisol, norepinephrine and inflammation which affect the fetal environment and have implications for maternal and infant health. Maternal stress has been associated with poor birth outcomes including preterm birth, infant mortality and low birthweight. Postnatal depression may affect the baby if the mother’s symptoms mean that she finds it difficult to respond to her baby’s physical, emotional and social needs.

How does depression of mothers affect the emotional regulation of babies? 

One of our tasks as mothers is to help our babies regulate their own emotions. When a baby is born their brains are not well-developed. Infants have some limited self-directed regulatory behaviours such as thumb sucking, visual avoidance, and withdrawal but these behaviours have limited effectiveness. When babies have uncontrollable cries, it is up to us, the parents, to help them regulate their bodies and emotions, so that they learn to self-regulate. This is more easily accomplished during the sensitive period when the brain is still flexible. In order to do this a mother needs to notice, monitor and recognize her baby’s emotions and adapt her own emotions according to the situation. If the mother is depressed, her own emotional feelings may overwhelm her and she may not notice her baby’s distress or be able to offer appropriate support.

What kind of intervention is offered to mothers experiencing depression? 

In the UK, we have multidisciplinary teams of perinatal health professionals – psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, nursery nurses, occupational therapists, social workers – who support women suffering from depression during pregnancy and following the birth, both in the community and in special Mother and Baby Units. They offer different interventions including medication, talking therapies, promoting well-being through support with sleep, nutrition, exercise, and specially tailored interventions promoting the relationship between mother and baby, keeping the whole family in mind.

How many women who experience postpartum depression actually seek treatment? Why do you think many do not come forward for help?

One UK study in 2011 showed that only 43% of people suffering from postpartum depression sought help. Among the reasons given for not seeking help were that

  • it was not serious enough to warrant help from a professional
  • they were too scared to tell someone for fear of the consequences, which included fear that their baby would be taken away by social workers
  • they did not realise until later that they were suffering from postpartum depression
  • they felt that the support they were receiving from family and friends was sufficient;
  • they felt that their partner did not support their seeking treatment, they lacked sufficient information about what to do.

How can healthcare providers pay attention to the mental health of pregnant mammas during routine checkup?

In the UK midwives now routinely ask questions about a woman’s mental health at the first antenatal appointment, as recommended in the NICE guidelines (2014)

How common is PPD in fathers? Why might this happen? 

Research suggests that between 8% and 22% of new fathers suffer from postpartum depression. Men may be reluctant to talk about their symptoms and may self-medicate using alcohol. Men whose partners are suffering from postpartum depression may feel that they have to be strong, but once the partner has recovered, their symptoms may become visible. Look at Mark Williams website to learn more about how fathers experiencing postpartum depression can be supported. 

How can new parents be supported to avoid depression during pregnancy and after? 

More discussion in antenatal classes and in the media about the risk factors of becoming depressed and the importance of seeking help. Awareness of keeping stress levels down in pregnancy and encouraging women to take maternity leave from 36 weeks pregnant rather than from the birth. Reaching out to Governments to recognize the importance of supporting mothers-to-be and fathers-to-be in order to avoid mental health problems in this and the next generation. Seeing parenthood as one of the most important tasks that we do.

Are there any ways by which as a society, we can eradicate the stigma around mental health? 

Promote the slogan that mental health is as important as physical health and that Governments should invest as much in one as the other. 

The Changes that Come with Motherhood : Mamma Love Series

Mamma Love Series

Becoming  a mother is a transformative experience for a woman! The physical, psychological and emotional changes that accompany are often hard for many mammas to express in words. While many may associate the birth of motherhood with the birth of a baby, motherhood truly begins in pregnancy. 

As part of the Mamma Love Series, I approached a few mothers to share with us the changes they have experienced in their journey of being mothers. Each of these mammas have had different experiences and births, reiterating that even with something as universal as motherhood, no two paths are the same. 

How has becoming a mother changed you as a person? Is it anything like you imagined it to be? 

“Motherhood cannot be imagined, only experienced”, begins Apoorva, mother of a 3 year old from Chennai, India. “I started putting my unborn baby’s needs before my own and made so many lifestyle changes in such a short span of time. I was never a morning person, but when I was pregnant, I was up every single day at 5 am to practice prenatal yoga. Once my baby was born, even the slightest movement or fuss would wake me; it was such a contrast to the heavy sleeper that I was who would sleep through blaring alarms.” 

Karuna, mother of a toddler from Bangalore, India opens up about her experience, “ I lost my mother at a young age. Losing her was hard, and as I grew, I began to feel strongly about becoming a mother. I have always feared hospitals, blood draws and injections,” she says, “but when the time came, I had to have a Caesarean Section due to birth canal issues and embraced the situation. Women are designed such that despite the pain, sleep deprivation and hormonal changes, we put our baby’s needs before our own. This was the first change I observed in myself.” About her breastfeeding experience, she adds, “I had latching issues and received a lot of advice from so many people. It finally got sorted only when I went to a professional for assistance.” Her advice to other mammas is, “When it comes to breastfeeding, a lot of people have a lot of opinions. I have realised that no matter what people say, do your own research, find the right person for help and make decisions based on what works for you and your baby.” 

Dhivya, mamma of a 4 year old from Basel, Switzerland shares how motherhood has changed her, “Every single woman changes once she becomes a mother. The biggest change in me has been the happiness my daughter brings into my life with her positivity and innocence. We learn to look at life through their eyes.

How important is self-care for a mamma & how do you think she can fit this in with a busy lifestyle?

“Self-care is very important for new mothers,” emphasises Dhivya. “Newborns consume a lot of our time and in this, we forget ourselves. The mental, physical and emotional changes, along with just the drill of a new routine with a newborn can make a mother feel very low. So, taking some time out for yourself is so important. Don’t hesitate to leave the baby with a family member or a sitter for some time to take a break. You are not a bad mother for doing that! Do what you like to do in that time. It can be watching your favourite show or a fitness activity, a massage, book or meeting a few friends. You won’t  realise how refreshed this can make you feel until you try!” 

Drawing from her practice of self-care, Apoorva feels, “If you want your baby to be happy and satisfied, you as a mother need to be happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. Dealing with a child patiently every single day is simply not possible without self-care. Self-care can be anything from watching a show to heading outdoors, listening to some music, talking to a friend or just treating yourself to a peaceful shower. These things can do wonders to relax you. Once you are relaxed, you can jump right back to being a mother!”

Karuna feels the lack of awareness of a mother’s physical and mental health in many societies is something that needs more focus and care. “With the enormous changes that happen in a woman’s body during and after pregnancy, a lot of people fail to recognise the importance of self-care.” From her experience of being a mother and interacting with other mothers, Karuna says, “Being pressed for time, if a mother can get a jump start to her day with a peaceful shower before the baby wakes up, she can begin her day refreshed.” She emphasises that physical exercise is so important for a mother to feel healthy mentally and physically. “Even if you cannot steal time to go for an individual workout, just involve your child while you are doing yoga or going for a walk. You can even wear your baby on a short hike, if you are up for it! 

Abirami Apoorva

What kind of mindset will help expectant mammas embrace motherhood?

“Be positive and prepared to take things as they come,” says Dhivya. “A first time mother may have countless difficulties; breastfeeding might be an issue, latching might be an issue, baby might cry endlessly, but remember that you are not alone in this. Every mother goes through these difficulties. So, stay calm and just be open to taking things as they come.”

“The first few months make you feel like you never have enough energy and sleep!” sighs Apoorva. So, her mantra is being prepared, “Having all of baby’s things ready and the nursery ready made me very calm. I also made sure to have a strong support system. This can be anyone from your parents to your husband or even a nanny.” She smiles and adds, “Oh, just be open to changes; the baby will change your life for the better!”

Karuna’s go-to mindset is, “I CAN DO IT!”

Sometimes, expectant first-time mothers make detailed plans on how they want their life after the baby to be. What would your advice to them be? 

Both Karuna & Apoorva instantly say, “It is good to make plans before the baby arrives but important to be flexible and open. Being rigid causes unnecessary stress.” Apoorva also adds, “Take each day at a time and proceed keeping in mind what is best for you and your baby.”

Drawing from her experience, Dhivya says, Planning things may and may not work. There are a lot of if’s and but’s when it comes to parenting. One thing that works is trying things in motherhood. Some women fix that they will breastfeed for 18-24 months but are unable to after the first few months. So, while having plans is wonderful, make alternate plans and just be open to accepting circumstances if things don’t work the way you imagined.” 

Is there something you have learnt in this journey that you want to share with another mamma? 

“The first two months are so critical, so bond with your baby,” says Karuna who is also a Montessori guide. “Having eye contact with your baby while they breastfeed can make you both feel even more connected. Talk to your babies, respect them, challenge them!” she adds. “Never hesitate to share your worries with someone who has a kind and non-judgemental ear. This can even be a therapist.” Her biggest advice is, “Mammas, let your partners also be involved. Give them the space to bond with the baby and just back off when they are interacting with them.”

“Everything is a phase and things are bound to change,” reflects Dhivya, as she looks back on her journey so far. “Do not fret over milestones; different babies do things at different times. Just widen your circle and have a network of mammas to talk to about your experiences. This will give you perspective and also lessen your worries.” 

For Apoorva, taking time out for oneself as a mother is vital to having everything else together. “Never hesitate to ask or look out for help from a professional or family member.” She says, “Being a first time mamma can be outright overwhelming on several days. So, seek help, keep yourself happy, be your best self and most importantly, forgive yourself.”