Let’s talk about Mess!

Articles

Children are messy! This is a common notion that we adults share. Whether they are playing with some blocks or washing their hands, whether they are painting or rolling up a rug, mess always seems to follow children. We instantly know there is evidence of a child’s handiwork wherever things are in disarray. 

Trigger for a Reaction

Mess is something that throws many of us off. It is a cue for an elaborate clean up – no adult with a toddler needs to be told the scrubbing that has to be done following a painting session. Mess is something many of us struggle to look past because it requires effort to rectify, energy to restore and time to reset. Mess is not something we want to have time for because we associate mess with mischief, disrespect and unruly behavior. We think of mess as bad.

But, in early childhood, mess is not a sign of rebellion. It is a sign of learning, a sign of overwhelm, a sign of wanting some 1:1 time. In young children, mess is a reminder for observation. 

Types of Mess 

  • The “ I’m learning” Mess

When a child is learning to do something by themselves, there is going to be a mess. This is a natural part of exploration and learning. We need to train our eyes to look at the mess and see what it symbolises. It is a sign of work. In the process of taking food from the plate to their mouth, their yet-to-be coordinated body, their yet-to-gain finesse hands have spilled some or most of the meal. This type of mess is the remnant of a child at work. 

How to help?

We help by first not saying, “Oh my god! Look at what a mess you have made. This is why I prefer to brush your teeth myself!” Likewise, there is also no need to tell this child that the mess is a sign that they are learning. Instead, what we can actually do is look at this child.

  • Is this child a baby, a toddler or an older child of 4 or 5 years? 
  • Can this child help you in the clean up? If so, is this child actually going to clean up without your prompt?

If they are going to clean up, we just wait. Else, we swoop in and say, “Okay, so you have finished washing your hands. I notice some water here. How about we get that purple sponge and clean it up?” If this is a baby who cannot yet help, we can offer a piece of cloth for them to hold and also model how to clean up. Yes, this is hard work! But we need to remind ourselves that we are setting the tone for future initiatives by this child. When this baby becomes able and ready, they can collaborate in fixing the mess. 

  • The “ I have too much” Mess

Another kind of mess happens often with children who have too much. For this, we need to understand that our level of too much and the child’s level of too much are not the same. If we have a book cabinet with about 30 books, we can look for the title we want from the mix and move on to reading the chosen book. But, even we struggle nowadays, I must say. Everytime we are on Netflix, we take hours just deciding which movie to watch. If this is true for us, then it is even more true for little children. They need limitations. 

When we have all their toys dumped in a tub inside a playpen, there is going to be a mess. This is a kind of mess that is detrimental to progress because it curbs exploration. It leads to a child jumping from one to another, banging, throwing, screaming and creating further mess – signs of the child coping with the mess. 

How to help?

We help by offering this child the much needed limitation. Have a look at what draws the child and choose 3 – 5 toys that support or aid this. Put everything else away in a closet, out of the child’s sight! Now, these chosen toys can be arranged very neatly on a mat on the floor, under the centre table, on a low cabinet or shelf. The toys can be rotated when we feel the child is seeking new challenges. 

  • The “ I need some attention” Mess

This happens to almost all of us several times a day. Adults have a lot of responsibilities around the house – we have to wash the dishes, fold the clothes, take that important call and we cannot give children our full attention all the time. And, we needn’t! But, when the child is creating a mess, it is a sign that they need help. It is not a time to ignore the child or the mess as this child needs help to fix the mess, to fix that feeling of wanting to create the mess. It is  a reminder to stop. 

How to help?

If this is a toddler or an older child and you have to take that important call, talk to them. Tell them, “Amma really needs to talk to this client. I will be with you as soon as I am done. You can bring a nice book over here and read it. We can look at it again after I am done.” They may be able to wait or they may not, depending on the situation and prior experience with waiting. Once you are done, you can go over and give them that 1:1 time to calm their energies.

It is important to stop because we first need to calm the energies, calm the need to make that mess. Children also need bites of 1:1 time with us during the day. This will calm, ground and secure them, readying them for periods of play. 

  • The “ I’m curious” Mess

Young children are learning. They are learning that when they release their hold, that piece of potato will fall splat on the floor, that when they turn the tap fully, water is going to flow at full force. This mess is similar to a child who is learning. However, this mess may happen because of a curiosity to know what happens if? This is a way to understand that their actions impact their world. 

How to help?

We help by showing the child how to fix the mess once the curious exploration comes to an end. This is very similar to the, “I’m learning mess” and requires the same kind of assistance in resolving.

Looking beyond the Chaos 

Understanding where children are in their development, observing their actions and the motives behind them will help us form a bigger picture of their mess.

The child’s order and disorder, the successes he attains, depend often on one’s ability to observe the least particulars, because only through doing will the result be satisfactory.”

Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family

As we have seen, mess is a sign of work, a sign of learning, a sign of exploration, a sign of having waited. Mess is a sign of growth. 

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.

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. 

Hummus

Our Little Kitchen

Hummus is a traditional Mediterranean dish that always accompanies a batch of warm pita bread. In pop culture, hummus is seen pretty much everywhere, as a side for some baked pita chips or along with raw vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers. Hummus is packed in nutrition and is a wonderful snack that young children can help prepare for the whole family. It helps them sequence steps, exercise their muscle strength, use their judgement and practice plenty of perseverance. These days, hummus is made in a blender but for young children, it is wonderful to learn it the traditional way, using a mortar & pestle and their bare hands to put them all together!

Who is this for?

I would recommend this for children upwards of 2 years.

Things Required

1 bowl for (15 tsp or 25 grams cooked and soft garbanzo beans)

1 spoon

5 small bowls for (diced garlic, salt, lemon juice, tahini and olive oil)

1 sturdy and functional mortar and pestle

1 small pitcher (for water)

Preparation

As part of preparation from your side, make sure the garbanzo beans are very soft and cooked. With young children, I prefer to add the beans in batches and mash them instead of adding them all together. This also encourages them to count and makes it quite exciting. It increases the challenge of mashing for the child, making it accessible instead of overwhelming!

It is also important to remember that if we aim for a perfectly mashed hummus with young children, it may throw them off the activity. When you begin, let the child mash however they can and as much as they can. You can also offer to collaborate and take turns. As always, you are the best judge of what works will for your child in your kitchen!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to make some hummus today.” Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together.

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Encourage the child to explore the ingredients using their senses, taste a little garlic, a bit of the tahini and even some raw lemon juice to get to know the flavours that are going to enhance their hummus!

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Show the child to transfer the minced garlic and salt into the mortar.

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Exert pressure and show the child to crush them using the pestle. It is important to exaggerate this movement to draw attention to the pressure applied.

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Show the child to count 5 spoons of the garbanzo beans into the mortar. Stop and show the child to mash them.

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Let the child mash however they can. You can offer to hold the mortar and even take turns mashing them (if the child needs that help)

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Spoon 5 more spoons of beans into the mortar and continue mashing together. Once they have been mashed well, encourage the child to taste a little bit of the hummus before adding more flavours.

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Show the child to transfer the lemon juice, the tahini and olive oil to the mashed beans. Mash again using the pestle.

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If it looks dry, show the child to fetch water in the small pitcher and add it to the hummus. Mash again using the pestle until you and child are satisfied with the desired consistency. Involve the child in putting the use items away or for wash.

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The child can have hummus as a perfect snack with cut cucumbers, carrots or celery or even bread or cracker.

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Short Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to make some hummus today.”

Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together.

Encourage the child to explore the ingredients using their senses, taste a little garlic, a bit of the tahini and even some raw lemon juice to get to know the flavours that are going to enhance their hummus!

Show the child to transfer the minced garlic and salt into the mortar.

Exert pressure and show the child to crush them using the pestle. It is important to exaggerate this movement to draw attention to the pressure applied.

Show the child to count 5 spoons of the garbanzo beans into the mortar. Stop and show the child to mash them.

Let the child mash however they can. You can offer to hold the mortar and even take turns mashing them (if the child needs that help)

Draw attention to how the beans are getting mashed and soft.

Spoon 5 more spoons of beans into the mortar and continue mashing together.

Once they have been mashed well, encourage the child to taste a little bit of the hummus before adding more flavours.

Show the child to transfer the lemon juice, the tahini and olive oil to the mashed beans.

Mash again using the pestle.

If it looks dry, show the child to fetch water in the small pitcher and add it to the hummus.

Mash again using the pestle until you and child are satisfied with the desired consistency.

Involve the child in putting the use items away or for wash.

The child can have hummus as a perfect snack with cut cucumbers, carrots or celery or even bread or cracker.

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. 

Earth Day
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.” 

The Importance of Practicing Gratitude with Young Children : Part 1 : WHY?

Articles

The word gratitude brings to mind a feeling of thankfulness; an acceptance of circumstances and an acknowledgement of the gift of life.

But, does gratitude end with just the feeling or is it much more than a fleeting feeling of thankfulness?

When we choose to make a habit of gratefulness by adopting an attitude of gratitude, we are making a long term investment in the mental and physical well being of not just ourselves but of those around us, as well. A grateful disposition is probably the best gift we can give our children to take with them into adulthood. 

“It is gratitude that enables us to receive and it is gratitude that motivates us to repay by returning the goodness that we have been given. In short, it is gratitude that enables us to be fully human.”

Robert .A. Emmons,Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier

Gratitude & Children

With children under the age of six, gratitude begins as a subtle and indirect ritual which gradually becomes a more active and involved process. This can be as simple as a conversation at the end of the day between a parent and child or a teacher and a small group of children. The adult in the picture brings to focus some of the events of the day and helps the children pin emotions around them that focus on gratitude.

Young children understand a lot more than they can speak and by giving words to emotions that they feel, we give them the opportunity to narrow down these emotions to specific words. “Were you relieved when Mudra brought you a tissue when you fell at the park today?” or “You seemed delighted to set the table for dinner.” The words that surround gratitude such as joy, thankful, relief and happiness are simply highlighted in this practice with children.

Why?

  • Learning to Unwind with Gratitude 

Studies have shown that adults who spend a few moments each day journaling at least three things that they are grateful for have better mental & physical health, sleep & exercise better and tend to avoid depression. Although young children may seem inherently more joyful, practicing gratitude is a habit that will stay with them through life. It can be a simple bedtime ritual just like brushing their teeth.

In its own way, gratitude is a kind of prayer; instead of asking, we show our children to give thanks. Gratitude is a dynamic and open prayer where we recollect events of the day and be thankful for how those events have enriched and shaped us.

  • Acknowledging Collective Effort 

Gratitude helps children acknowledge that so many people and circumstances come together to sustain us.  Let us take a family, for example. Different members of the family support each other in different ways. Every member of the family is a contributor – tangible or intangible and every presence makes a difference. Many of us often take our closest family and friends, the ones who always love and support us, for granted. When we help our children acknowledge such presence in their lives, and when we ourselves acknowledge the same with our children, they begin to understand that life is made beautiful by the collective effort of so many.

  • Gratitude in the face of Adversities 

When a child has had a painful experience – falling down, an argument with a friend or sibling or losing something, we often try to either suppress or dismiss the experience. “Do not talk about the park or he will remember he fell down and start crying again” or “Stop crying! It is not such a big deal.” 

Instead if we talk about the experience, for example, “Today, what happened at the park?” (pause) “You fell down and cried. It must have been painful. Do you remember what happened after that?” (pause) “Yes, Mudra came running with a tissue and helped you. I am so grateful you have a friend like Mudra.” (pause) “Do you remember what we did after that? (pause) “We went to the doctor and he gave you an injection. You were scared. I held your hands and stayed close by. Did that make you feel better?” (pause) “Now, you are back at home and resting. Once you feel better, we can go back to playing in the park.” 

When we talk about trying experiences and help our children find hope even in those circumstances, it shows them perspective. It helps them always try and look at things to be grateful for even in adverse circumstances.

  • Spontaneous Thank You’s! 

How often we ask, rather nudge and even force children to say Thank You! As aware as we of the power of these words, we seem content with the words more than the feeling. With children, we expect instant responses.  While our children might say the words out of fear or compulsion, do we stop to think if they really are thankful? Instead, by talking to children through simple conversations such as, “I am so thankful for grandpa. He came all the way just to play with you”, we help them become aware that a certain person has done an act of kindness for another. It helps our children gradually build a habit of reflecting on the act of the other person. “Why did grandpa come? Does he really love and care for me?” 

When we think of it this way, we help our children build a web of emotions around benevolent acts. These will eventually lead to spontaneous thank you’s. Such thank you’s will stem from a deep sense of gratitude and give the words their true value.

“Childhood maybe the optimal time to promote healthy attitudes and the prevention of problems, and gratitude training could play an important role in any program designed to foster well-being. As in adults, gratitude may be a very valuable tool that children can use to negotiate both the ups and the downs in their lives.”

Robert .A. Emmons,Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier

As indirect as the practice of gratitude is with young children under the age of six, it is like a seed that we plant in childhood and nurture with love and care. This seed of happiness will eventually instil a genuine sense of gratefulness and is possibly one of the most invaluable gifts we can offer our children.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the same article on the different ways in which we can practice Gratitude with Children under 6 at home and in communities. 

 

Around the World with our Little Globe Trotter : From One Mamma to Another

Hear it from the Mammas!

Travelling can be exciting for many adults – seeing new sights, trying different cuisines and experiencing new cultures! But, how does it work when you travel with young children who thrive on routine and consistency?

Let’s ask a Mamma of a chirpy 24 month old how she manages to make travelling the world memorable for the whole family.

Hi Apoorva, tell us about yourself and your family.

I’m a new mom who loves to travel and explore new places. My husband’s job requires him to travel across the globe and country. Our 2-year-old daughter, Abirami, loves going to new places, so we never miss the opportunity to pack our bags and go exploring. Traveling with an infant has never been an issue with our daughter being people-friendly and fuss free.

When was Abirami’s  first travel?

Our first travel with our daughter was our trip to our hometown from Coimbatore, where she was born. She was only 4 days old when she traveled by car for about 1.5 hours. Car travel at that age is easy with a baby seater at the back of the car. She just needed a feed or two for which we used to slow down the car. She slept peacefully through out with music in the background.

Her first flight travel was when she was 42 days old. I carried her in a topponcino which kept her warm and cozy. I have figured that the best way to keep my baby calm in the flight is to feed her during takeoff and landing. This helped avoiding ear pain or blockage that usually happens when children fly.

How many countries have you visited together in the last 24 months?

In the past 2 years we have been thrice to Singapore, Australia, Cambodia, Paris, Switzerland, Germany and the UAE. We’ve also made local trips from Chennai to Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore and Mangalore. We’ve traveled in all modes of transportation from airplanes, trains, ferries, gondolas to cars.

The Little Globe Trotter 2

Little Abirami of the famous “Abirami & Daddy”

Can you share with us Abirami’s diet during travel?

I make sure that our daughter’s diet doesn’t change much whether she is traveling or at home.

Breakfast:

For breakfast, she usually has a traditional South Indian meal of rice, dal, boiled vegetables and yoghurt. I carry a small electric cooker wherever I travel and purchase local fruits, vegetables and yoghurt. Sometimes, I give her a bowl of wholesome cereal with fruit purée (which any chef at any restaurant is glad to make). I also offer her some bread and cheese to add some variety to the mix.

Mid- morning/Lunch:

I follow an age-old recipe that has been passed down from my grandmother which is a serving of multigrain cereal (made with finger-millet, corn, pearl-millet, nuts and rice) mixed with water and a serving of milk. This cereal is wholesome and very filling and is also easy to prepare. I usually add a spoon of brown raw sugar to it and serve it in a bottle with a few ounces of milk.

Supper:

I make a variation of a whole grain millet porridge by changing its consistency. I make it thick and chewy and alternate it in taste by adding raw brown sugar one day and a pinch of salt and a few spoons of rasam the next day. 

Dinner:

Dinner is typically any Indian tiffin with less spice. My daughter loves to eat Idly, Dosa, Upma or Rotis. I try to serve it with a less spicy version of our side dishes. I also make it wholesome by adding carrots, beans, beets and peas to them. I typically include a portion of fruits like banana, apple, orange, pomegranate and pear before or after dinner. When we are travelling, I also try to make soups and pastas depending on the produce available locally. If not, I always have the traditional dishes to fall back on.

How do you manage air travel and jet lag which are major challenges for most parents?

The secret is to book night flights! That way when you fly out from home, it is the baby’s natural sleeping time. Try booking a bassinet seat so that both of you can rest comfortably  for a few hours. The other secret to stress free travel is to keep the baby engaged while traveling. I carry a lot of light weight books, and her favourite toy and puzzle set along. Paper and colour pencils always come handy too. I try to keep phone usage minimum but when nothing else works, I allow my daughter to play age appropriate and interactive games for not more than an hour. Once she is well rested during the travel, jet lag doesn’t pose much of a threat. My daughter is always up along with me or a few hours after. Jet lag typically hits when we are sightseeing or during the later part of the day. I try not to disturb her when it hits and allow her to sleep in the stroller or the baby carrier making sure she is fed and has clean diapers.

What’s your secret to helping her sleep on the go, in-car seats and in new places ?

The best thing you can do is to feed the baby and make sure the diapers are clean. The other best thing on the go, is the baby carrier. I use Ergobaby carrier which is ergonomically designed and comfortable for the baby. Lucky, my daughter sleeps well on a moving vehicle. Car seats and prams have always been helpful but I make sure she is not in them for more than a couple of hours.

How do you deal with health issues like fever, cold and diarrhoea?

The most important thing while traveling with a baby is not to panic when they fall sick. I keep a set of prescription medications handy. I consult and talk to my pediatrician regarding dosage and administer the medicines. To avoid cold and fever, we make sure she is properly layered while traveling by plane or to cold places. Taking an umbrella, hats and caps is a must while traveling to tropical countries. I constantly let her sip liquids like water and juices when we travel, especially during flight travel, where the body gets dehydrated easily. I try to offer fresh food and give her lots of boiled vegetables and fruits to keep stomach bugs at bay.

Can you share some  interesting travel experiences from which you learnt abundantly?

I believe that travel is the best teacher and it teaches one to be modest and shows the tiny place we occupy in this big world. It it is the best thing we give to our daughter as the experiences can never be taken away. She enjoys traveling as much as we do and loves the little things we don’t find amusing, be it a flying cockatoo or the dirty sledge and snow on top of the alps. I loved watching her get along with our friend’s son who is French. It was amazing to watch them play and converse, despite their language barrier. She even called his mom “Tina Athai” on her own!(Athai meaning Dad’s sister)

The Little Globe Trotter 3

A few tips to other mammas on navigating global travel with young children?

  • Do not stress about traveling with the baby!
  • Make a checklist of important things to carry and ensure you have them when you travel.
  • Invest in a good quality baby carrier. Believe me, it makes your life so much easier!!
  • Carry extra clothes for you and the baby and try to limit the number of diapers you carry. You can always buy your brand in other cities and countries.
  • Try to carry your own food for the baby. That way you are sure about what goes in the food you give your baby.
  • Plan your visits and sightseeing keeping in mind the baby’s schedule.
  • Keep an open mind  about germs and let your baby move around, whether in airports or airplanes. After all, that’s how they improve their immunity. 

Finally, let go of your worries and enjoy the moment. The little mischiefs and loveable smiles are all you will remember after your tiring travel!

Washing Rice

Our Little Kitchen

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

Who is this for?

I would recommend this for children older than 18 months.

Things Required

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

Preparation

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

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

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

Illustrated Guide

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

IMG_3035

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

IMG_3039

Show the child to transfer the rice into the colander.

IMG_3042

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3072

Short Guide

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