Category Archives: learning to be a parent

Learning from our kids

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If only we could go back to feeling and thinking like children…somewhere along the way, in the process of growing up and growing supposedly wiser, we lose empathy, we lose our ability to look at each other as just human beings like our selves. Children think so often with their hearts, their sense of justice is well defined, they are agnostic to shades and colors of the skin, to rich and poor…which socialization and supposed education eventually teaches them.

Last evening we read a beautifully written and illustrated book about Martin Luther King Jr. called Martin’s Big Words. A biography of the great man, told in simple words and with powerful collage based illustrations, this was a wonderful book to continue our conversation on the civil rights movement which we had dipped our toes into when we read Follow The Drinking Gourd a few months ago. Nish’s reaction to the story was almost visceral. I could see him looking upset at a point when I explained as simply as I could what segregation was and by the time we reached the place where Rosa Parks was asked to give up her seat on the bus, he burst into tears and stood up saying, “but everyone is a person! Why could the white people not sit at the back? And why did they have to make her get up!!!!” He was very upset and we paused in the narrative to allow him some time to calm down. The tears continued to flow as we read about MLK’s work and his non-violent approach. Nish could not wrap his head around the fact that people were being treated the way they were and it was heart breaking to see him grapple with his initial brush with identities and concepts of power.  And although the book ended with the White Only signs coming down, he was still upset and disturbed that this could have been a reality not so long ago.

And yet it took so long for an educated people to see, understand and respect something that an almost 6 year old could do so instinctively…and we probably have not understood or truly embraced this respect for people no matter who they are, where they come from, the color of their skin and type of their hair.

As a mother, it broke my heart to see him burst into tears and very obviously be disturbed by something, and at the same time, I felt proud of this child who had his heart in the right place, who recognized people for who they were…and it showed me once again just how much we have to learn from our children.

Sid’s key take-away from the book was: I guess I would not have got a seat on the bus back then huh?

Yes – I guess he continues to grapple with that gorgeous brown of his skin in a society which places a premium on chubby fair faced rosy cheeked children.

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Biases and stereotypes that I struggle with

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IMG_0620We have tried to be open as parents. We have avoided gender stereotypes. My boys have dressed up in dupattas as saris, used make up, painted their nails and mine. They have played with dolls and cars and tea set and dinosaurs. I have never consciously tried to push them into “boy” stuff or “boy colors”. My five year old’s favorite color is purple and in the past, I have had to buy him shorts from the girls’ section because most stores did not have boys shorts in pink or purple. So i am fairly open and not particularly biased at least in my conscious actions right?

Wrong!

I was at a shoe shop to get new crocs for amu our youngest fellow. Just shy of 4 yrs, the little fellow had outgrown his shoes and desperately needed a new pair (his brothers’ hand me downs were still too big!). So we went off to buy new shoes – Amu and me.

At the store, Amu walked around, looking at the different shoes and styles. He finally looked excited and gravitated straight to a gorgeous lavender-purple pair of crocs. “I like these” he announced. And that is when my bias hit me. Some part of me resisted the color. Most surprisingly (to myself) I found myself wondering whether he would be teased by the older kids he played with. And so I was relieved when they did not have his size. But never mind…he next went for a gorgeous pink-fuscia shade. (un)fortunately this was not available in his size either and he settled for a navy blue, telling the store owner to get pink and purple in his size in the future.

I was surprised at myself and spent some time thinking about it. A couple of days later, as i was putting the new stock of children’s clothes I make into packets for an exhibition, he came into the room and picked up a little dress with a cute bow in the front. “What’s this?” he asked. I told him it was a frock. “Can I try it?”asked Amu. Sure…and so he tried it on. Super cute! He looked at himself in the mirror and smiled. “I love it!” he announced. “Can I wear this to school tomorrow?” he piped. “Let’s see” i replied…again my own narrow mindedness hit me. I was not sure I wanted him going to school in a dress. He forgot all about the dress the next morning and I did not remind him either.

But i did not forget. It has been a week and I am still thinking about it. It is so easy to talk about being open and allowing children to explore..and then I find myself not walking my own talk.

Any thoughts? This is bothering me 😦

process based art

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I have recently found myself in an array of preschools across the country…on a spectrum of affordability and quality. With a few (very few) exceptions, through all the differences of socio-economic backgrounds, space, resources and quality, one feature remained alarmingly constant. Creative art …or rather, the lack thereof. Most preschool classrooms I walked into had cookie cutter art (if at all). 40 similar looking cats stared down at me in one class from the display wall, 35 identical paper plate faces dangled from a string running across the classroom. Green trees with brown barks and red flowers with green stems stood predictably next to square houses with triangular roofs with chimneys (certainly not something a Bombay kid sees outside on the streets). And I am sure next will have diyas with golden cut out paper flames adorning the walls. The work is measured, dictated as a task, the lines too neat to be cut by children, the vision too narrow to have come from a preschoolers imagination.  Where was rthe art of self expression? The splash of color as a child discovers how his brush can glide across a paper? Where are the bold strokes of an artist just finding himself, the smudges as he erases and tries again? Where are the polka dotted tigers and the men with three eyes? Why does art have to end up as a product to be displayed neatly on the wall?

I got talking about this with a friend who has a toddler of her own and she sheepishly admitted that she was guilty of the same thing at home.  Sitting down with her toddler to paint, she wanted something to show for it, something that looked pretty, something that could go onto Facebook or Instagram or the wall. A paper bruised and tearing with watery paint did not make the cut even if the child labored over it. And a crookedly cut greeting card with jagged edges and part of the painting cut off could not be sent to a doting aunt. And so it is that we forget the reason for children doing art and focus on what the adult gets out of it…a product.

I keep saying this on my blog and to people who care to listen…art is a process…there are no samples or instructions for the child to follow – it is an opportunity for toddlers and preschoolers to experiment with materials and media…to watch the ‘magic’ as blue and yellow merge to make green.

There are no mistakes and nothing an adult needs to correct or change. The art is an experience the child chooses and owns.  There is no “color quickly, color within the lines” or “use the correct colors”.

And while it may look like “nothing” it is something the child has created on her own. Process based art helps children relax and enjoy art, it allows them to express themselves and not feel judged.  They move from whole arm movement to finer motor skills as their muscles get ready to do more complex work.  And eventually you will get your masterpiece…but while you wait, allow them to enjoy their million masterpieces – for each one holds meaning of some kind, and even if it does not, it is a free and joyful expression that builds confidence, motor skills, creative thinking and a lot more!

How can you  facilitate process based art at home?

  1. Have materials accessible: paint, markers, crayons, color pencils, stamps, paints, sequins, glue, play dough or clay, collage materials.
  2. Keep a large plastic sheet or old shower curtain handy to spread on the floor for art – protects the carpets and floors and simplifies cleanup
  3. Set up an easel. If that is not possible use tape to put papers up on a plastic cupboard or glass door – painting vertically is important for kids this age.
  4. Allow the child to explore and discover different media
  5. enjoy the process – keep it about the process and not the product

 

 

 

Please don’t tell my child ‘how’ to draw

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You know that beautiful beautiful poem called the Hundred Languages of Children? What the Reggio Emilia approach is based on?
About how the child has a hundred languages…a hundred ways of expressing, of being, of looking at the world? And how the school and culture take away ninety nine?

That poem always touches a chord in me…and today as i looked at a couple of “worksheets” in my 5 year old son’s bag, saw the corrections marks on it, his lopsided scrawled words underlined with a bold pen, “aided work” as a comment next to another that labelled him as a slow and hesitant reader, i teared up, thinking how this was already starting to happen. They were taking away the 99..I saw how a picture he had drawn of himself had been reshaped with a pen, detail added in, legs where they should be and hair on the head. There was a prescribed way of being, of writing, reading and seeing. And that was all that mattered here.

This child has just moved cities. He has watched his home disappear into boxes, he has said bye to his friends, his neighbours and teachers…even to the park and his favorite frangipani tree. He has changed homes and schools and not even had the time to settle down or make friends. He has started the in the middle of a term in a school so different from the one he has been in and I find these comments and remarks on his sheets. There are instructions for me to work with him on reading and better writing..sure, all that i can do if i really must. But please, can you let his drawing be? Please don’t tell him to look at the world through your eyes. Ff his person has crooked legs, let that be. he may need to work some more on his motor skills but allow him to express himself as he is able to. And whatever you do, remember he is fragile…do not damage his self esteem. I want him to grow up to be a good human being, comfortable with himself and happy.

Working with tantrums…the boys’ and my own

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We all have had those mad bad days…a day when a kid has been whiny, annoying, bent on rebelling, bent on fighting and messing things up for you or his siblings…and days when you are stressed and stretched with deadlines to meet and your patience has worn thin. There is something on the kitchen stove, you are at your computer getting a presentation done, and the kids are not doing a single thing you requested them to…And then something snaps and you have one of those evil parent moments you would rather forget. You snap, yell, say something mean, ground the kid or take away something he likes, and something else too because you are on a roll… and threaten to not read any books at bedtime. And then he yells back and runs off to his room while you storm off to yours wondering what had just happened.

Happens to a lot of us…it does…and we are human and allowed to lose it sometimes. But what is more important, now having realized that this really wasn’t how we wanted to deal with things, is what we do after this whole tantrum and meltdown.

Calm down: First of all, calm down, cool off. For some of us that is quick, for some it takes longer. But it is important to give ourselves a little time to simmer down and feel calm. (a follow up conversation when one is mad is probably going to go the same way..again). So finish your work, or take a deep breath, or a walk or shower, or whatever it is that relaxed you.

Reach out: Once you are feeling calmer, go find your kid. He may be upset too and may not want to come running to you and hug you just because you feel ready. Tell him you would like to talk to him. Tell him you are sorry for reacting how you did…explain to him why you got upset and why you are feeling bad for the way you behaved. Do not justify your behavior – it was not the best! Do not defend your actions – simply express what you feel went wrong and how you feel about the way you acted.

Ask your child to talk to you. Ask him how is feeling. Ask him if he felt bad or sad or scared when you got upset. And be okay with his response. He needs to be able to tell you what he felt even though you may not like it. My three year old told me he thought i was an angry mama T-Rex and that he was scared of me. And that I was bad bad bad! It’s fine. Not very flattering but that is probably what I made him feel.

Use his response to apologize again – for the things that you said and the things that he felt. If he does not talk or express himself, then you put down what you felt was wrong and apologize for it anyway.

Give him a hug or a kiss or a cuddle. Communicate that you love him and love him unconditionally, even when you are angry or mad about something. And tell him that mommy makes mistakes too. And then, figure out on your own or with your kids a strategy to ensure that this does not happen again. I have asked mine to tell me when they see me getting upset or building myself into a bit of a frenzy. Just one of them piping in to say “mom – you are getting too upset” or “mom, calm down” helps me stop and rethink my actions. And for myself, somewhere I need to also work out a strategy to slow down when I see myself starting to get upset.

It might help to write down a simple strategy in bold where we can see it regularly – because this will help our kids think about their own behavior too. And perhaps reflect on it every now and then both on my own and together with the kids so we know how we are doing.

(this thought process stems from my meltdown this morning with one of the kids and I really felt like vocalizing it and my thinking would help me as well as others who may be struggling with something similar. WOuld love to hear from other mommies on how to deal with meltdown moments!)

Letter to a teacher

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As my boys are getting bigger and now starting big school, i look at them with pride and some trepidation. So much is about to change for them and so quickly. They are going to move from a very informally structured preschool that focused so much on play and interactions and conversations and discoveries to a more structured school that marks the end of the preschool era for them. As they start kindergarten, i worry about how they will cope, how they will perceive this new world around them.

For they have been brought up a little differently. They have barely watched TV, we have no toy guns or swords at home, they have spent hours with cardboard cartons and paints and beads and glitter. We have read and reread a zillion book, spent hours listening to and making music. We have celebrated them for the individuals they are for they are very very different…and that is exactly what worries me as they start formal school. While one of the twins is more conformist to what one would expect in a classroom, the other is a free spirit…for him relationships are really important and he wears his heart on his sleeve. He is naughty, always has a twinkle in his eye and loves to tease. He can think laterally, draw connections, remember all kinds of details about people and places. He takes time to settle down and prefers being asked to being told. As he starts this big journey, a part of me wants to hold him close and protect him for he is incredibly sensitive…and yet i know i need to let him go, because he will find his feet and his own.

Here is a letter I have put down, which is just to put my feelings down:

Note to my child’s teacher

I am entrusting you with something incredibly precious – my child.
He is a free spirit and loves to learn. He has a hundred questions, about the wind and stars and trees and birds and waves and people. He does not ask them to annoy you but because he wants to learn. He loves to touch things, feel them, hold them, smell them, try to turn them upside down or open them to see how they work. He is not being badly behaved or destructive, simply curious about the way the world around him works. He forms close bonds with people and sometimes takes time to settle down … he is not being difficult, simply taking his time for something he knows is important. You can’t hold the wind in your hand or wave in the sand…my boy’s spirit is like that, it aches to roam free. But that does not mean he cannot be still for even the ocean is sometimes calm and the breeze pauses till the air is so still. Let him appropriate and understand what he is doing and he can be focused and calm, content to work on mastering a task. He is a thinker and a person who loves others, who gives of himself more freely that most others. Focus on that side of him that smiles and shares and you will see his other sides blossom too. Don’t compare him to his brother or neighbor who may listen better or do his sums faster. It hurts him and though he does not show it I share his pain when I look at his eyes that reflect the hurt deep within. He is easy to misunderstand if you don’t slow down and take the time to see what he has to offer. Because he is not willing to sit in the box you may want him to.  Don’t label him because you don’t understand him and labels stick much more than you might want them to. Believe in him and he will show you that you were right in doing so. Just because he fidgets does not mean he isn’t listening, just because he not raising his hand all the time does not mean he does not know…he may not feel the need to demonstrate his learning right there just when you want it. I know you feel it is important for him to conform, to do things exactly when you feel he should be doing them, for I understand that as a teacher you have the whole class to manage, to take along with you on this wonderful journey and you don’t want to leave anyone behind. But please make sure that the journey does not imprison this bird or cut his wings, allow him to be the child he is, allow him his speed to learn, his curiosity, his wonder at the world, his slightly messy scribbles, his funny ways of showing affection.  The world is full of high achieving competitive people, the world has so much mistrust and hate and war. I think we need more free spirits who can stand up to wrongs, who can take their time to be happy, who can take the time to hug another or share a cookie.

I am entrusting you with something extremely precious…my child…IMG_8172

Ish by Peter Reynolds

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We already had a book by Peter Reynolds – and it is a much loved book in our home – The Dot…which i may have blogged about earlier…about a girl who thought she could not draw and how just a really simple thoughtful interaction with her teacher changed all that…

I came across another book by Reynolds last week when I swung by my favorite bookstore in Bangalore (The Lightroom Bookstore) – Ish.

Intrigued by the title and encouraged by the author, I picked up the book and started to go through it. As I started reading, I could almost picture one of my twins being like the protagonist – Ramon. Here was a boy who liked to draw…Anywhere, anything, anytime…and just a simple thoughtless comment by his older brother makes him question his ability to draw. And so begins a journey of fail.ed attempts and frustration, as each work of art is crumpled up and thrown on the floor because it does not look like what it is supposed to. Suddenly, for Ramon, art is no longer a fun thing and he cannot stand his own own drawings. But there is someone else who has a different lens, someone who loves what Ramon does and sees value in his art. His younger sister Marisol, who quietly picks up the crumpled art to put up in her room. And it is little Marisol who looks at his attempt at a vase and tells him that it is actually ‘vase-ish’! ANd so it is! And as Ramon drops his need for perfect representation, making peace with the ‘ishness’ of his drawings, he lets himself go and starts painting again.

This reminded me so much of one of my twins – who loves to color, but often nowadays lokst at his brothers art and finds his own not quite ‘there’. He tends to get upset and feels like his drawings are not good. At times he winds himself up over this, getting more and more upset if his drawing does not come out ‘right’ and of late I have noticed a hesitation to try to draw something that he feels might be difficult. And so i thought maybe recognizing that ‘ish’ drawings are fun as well, and it is his representation that matters not the perfect image as one would conventionally have it – would help him. I told him that I thought of him when i saw the book but I did not tell him why. However when we were done reading it, he looked at me and said “i know why you thought of me!”

I don’t think that just reading the book is going to help. We will need to work on him and his confidence at various levels. Having twin boys who are so radically different is so many ways is fun, but also challenging..because more often than not, they master different things at different paces, and in our society, unfortunately, academics or lovely art is looked at with more admiration than hanging upside down or turning a somersault (which requires skill, practice, calculated risk taking, etc).

Anyway, as a follow up to our reading, we did a little art where the boys decorated a brown paper envelope to put a gift in for a friend. And the art was lovely…and Sid tried too and produced something pretty gorgeous – which I am sure has helped him feel at least a litle better about his art! This art is inspired by the book Cave Baby by Julia Donaldson – a book the boys used to love and one that their friend now has has his favorite. The first pic is Sid’s version of a fun tiger and the second pic is Nish’s interpretation of woolly mammoth frolicking in the paint!

A Kaleidoscope of Children by Jayanti Tambe – Book Review

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It’s been a while since I wrote…the days have gotten busier and more packed with the boys and work and I seem to hardly find the time to write.

But today I decided I simply had to…have been meaning to post something about this incredible book that was published recently – a little earlier this year.

A Kaleidoscope of Children written by Jayanti Tambe is an absolute must-read for anyone working with early childhood…by anyone I mean parents, teachers of infants, toddlers and preschoolers, early childhood care-givers, students of early childhood and education…It is a book that simplifies this rather complex age and process…that makes it accessible to a range of economic backgrounds too. The ideas here are not simply for the elite private preschools with loads of funding but for the poorest of Anganwadi centres that wants to make a difference in the way they look at children and learning.

Jayanti Tambe, the author, is the Executive Director of Early Childhood Care and Education at UCLA. But more than that, she is an incredible teacher who has worked extensively (and most creatively) with young children and preschoolers in the United States and India as well as for a short while, in South Africa. Her experience, creativity and passion make the book really engaging and difficult to put down. it gives the reader the unique perspective of a teacher and a professor – a rare combination of theory and praxis. It also has lovely color photographs to better illustrate what the author is saying.

The book addresses different domains of development – physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive. Each domain is broken up into short chapters that come alive with Tambe’s narrative style. While there are a lot of pedagogical and theoretical constructs subtly and seamlessly interwoven with the narrative, the focus is on real life examples and discussions. As you read the book, you can actually hear the voices, see the colours, imagine the children jumping and playing, drawing at an easel or building a tower…and this time when you hear the voices and see the children you have the key to decode what they really are saying and doing and that makes it all the more magical.

You will have ‘aha’ moments and times when an example will resonate so strongly with you that you truly begin to relate to the book. It is replete with interesting suggestions and ideas and does not hesitate to bring up and talk about a range of things that emerge from children’s conversations – questions on colour and gender and sex, obsessions with potty talk, same sex parents and even death.

The short chapters in the book make it easy to read. The chapters are complete in and of themselves and can be read in isolation. So you can choose to read the book sequentially or simply open it to a chapter you find relevant. Whatever works for you…but there is something in there for you for sure!

I have recommended this book to a few educators and friends who have children in the this age group and I would strongly recommend it to those who are reading this blog post (assuming that most of you who are reading this do have kids in this age group). 51yJrD1MS2L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

Dealing with tantrums

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The boys are playing peacefully, building with their lego blocks and chatting as they build. I am enjoying a book, reclined on a sofa with a glass of chilled sweet lime water. The big boy is catching an afternoon nap and everything seems just perfect.

Suddenly, one of the twins (almost 5 yrs) screams while the younger fellow (now 3) runs off with his brother’s lego plane, bits of it dismantling as he runs.

Nish: He is breaking it!

Amu: These are all my pieces, you can’t use them.

Might prevails (for the moment) and Nish manages to wrestle some pieces back from Amu. I hold Amu firmly because I see him lunging forward to attack his brother. Now Amu is mad and as his lower lip pouts out and his eyes glare at me I know the storm is about to hit and another tantrum is ready to be unleashed. Amu yells, throws the remaining pieces of lego on the ground, yanks my cushion off the sofa and flings it down. Still full of energy and anger, he looks around the room for something else to throw. I rescue my lime water just in time and he gets madder. At this point I am glad he is looking at objects and not his brothers to direct the anger at. There are times when he scratches and hits them and that is not pleasant.

Over the last month I have changed strategies. I used to hold him and tell him to stop what he was doing, i would point out to how things were being broken or someone getting hurt…usually it had very little impact.Or i would lose it and yell.  And yelling at him did not help. he would get more upset and angry and destructive.

Now, i try to pick him up gently and talk to him. I say things like: I know you are really upset sweetie…why are you so angry?

Or, “Hey can we fix this together? Do you want a little help putting this back?”

Or “why are you crying and shouting? Are you angry? Or upset? or sad about something?”

This sometimes helps him stop and think a little bit which buys us some cooling down time.

I try and help him calm down first, maybe focus on something else till he is a little cooler to discuss what had upset him. I find that sometimes showing him something interesting helps distract him a little too. But usually i simply hold him close and very gently try and talk him through his temper.

And slowly introduce strategies that he can use – words instead of hands is one of the things we have been talking about.

Last night as we were in bed getting ready to sleep, he asked me and dad: “hitting is not good is it? it can hurt people. It’s not nice”

Dad agreed with him.

AMu: but sometimes i get very angry and people bother me – then i hit

Me: yes – i know …what bothers you?

Amu: when they take my stuff or bother me

Me: yeah – i know you get upset, but we just have to figure out a better way to tell them that.

He agreed…so at least he is slowly processing things. The tantrums are still very much a part of our day – multiple ones at this point. And  I am not saying my approach has changed that. However, if at least he can channelize his anger better, slowly be able to voice his feelings and also recognize different ways of venting it is a step forward. And the important message that I feel this approach gives him is that we understand..we get that he is angry and we respect that and we still love him to bits… which is where i feel that the yelling and reprimanding or punishing just seems to fail. 

If i were to yell at that tiny 3 year old bundle of dynamite for every tantrum thrown I don’t even want to think about what that would do to his self esteem. He is at an age where he getting more and more independent, and yet is in control of such few things..he is the youngest of his brothers,  always trying to catch up and probably does not know how to vocalize, reflect on what he feels – of course this is upsetting (how many of us adults have mastered that?).

And i know (i hope) that this phase too shall pass!

What is a ‘virgin’?

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Yeah..that’s right..that is the title of this post. (and it is the third post of the day…have not blogged in a while so decided to go the whole hog)
Anyway, Nish came to me yesterday and asked me this very innocently: Aai, what’s a virgin?”
I was not expected to field these questions at 4…

Me: Why do you ask?
Nish: S (his friend) was telling me that he knows another virgin
Me: What do you mean another virgin?
Nish: I know one too…but he know another one
Me: Which virgin do you know love?
Nish: I don’t know what virgin is Aai! But when I was singing “When the Saints go marching in” S said that he knows another virgin. The tune is a little different.
Me (whew): Yeah…that song has many versions (i said the word slowly and clearly). It means that there are different ways that the same song has been sung. You have versions of games, of cars, of many things.

And then then 4 yr old tripped off happily to his room singing his ‘virgin’ of ob la di ob la da …yeah and life goes on!