Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Running commentary

Hello, bewdas!

We just got back from a road trip in Australia, and yes, I will soon write all about it on my travel blog Hopscotch. Though this is Xena's fourth vacation (Perth at 8 months, USA at 17 months, Phuket at 20 months), this particular trip, at 2.5 years of age, is when she was truly involved and interested in what was happening around her. Over the two weeks that we travelled across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, her running commentary was on all the time and would cease only when she was asleep.

Here are some snippets:

Pre-road trip briefing for Xena:
Me - Xena will be a good girl?
Xena - Xena will be a good girl.
Me - Xena will not trouble anyone?
Xena - Xena will not trouble... everyone!

She was very excited to see the aeroplane from the waiting lounge before we boarded. Once we were inside the plane, she looked all around in utter surprise and exclaimed, "Aeroplane kahan gaya????"

We don't have a car so she was very excited about our rental car. She happily got into the carseat and declared, "This is Xena's carseat." Over time, she learnt to belt herself up and refused to let me do it anymore. She'd say, "Xena apne aap seat belt pehnegi!" and once she was done, she'd say, "Apne aap seat belt pehen liya!" Then she'd look around and say, "Hum log kahan ja rahe hain?"

When we were on the road, she was very curious about who the strange lady accompanying us in the car was, so I explained to her that it was the 'GPS Aunty'. She can't say 'G' yet and says 'D' instead, and the next time the Aunty spoke, Xena said what sounded exactly like "Depressed Aunty kya boli?"

Whenever she spotted Viv using only one hand to drive, she'd immediately chide him, "Both hands!"

Sometimes she'd get restless in the car and ask to be released. Then I'd tell her something like, "Brisbane jana hai na? Then you have to stay in the carseat." And without knowing where/what Brisbane was, she'd say, "Brisbane jana hai, abhi jana hai." and stay put.

Close to her naptime, she'd start to cry and then soothe herself saying, "Brisbane bolega - don't cry."

The first time she saw a kangaroo, it had a joey in its pouch. She said, "Can I touch the soft soft joey?"

She saw a duck busily eating at the Collingwood children's farm in Melbourne and asked me, "Can I disturb the duck?" Then she saw some horse poop and said, "Horse poop is just like Xena's poop!"

We were at a playground where bush turkeys were roaming freely. She was fascinated by it and said, "Momsie, look! Turkey ne yellow necklace pehna hai!"

Photo credit: Wiki commons

She also made me laugh hysterically by referring to the baby swings with the two holes on either side as "Diaper wala swing!" She made a friend there and they had a fun time digging the ground with sticks together. When some dirt flew from her stick on to the other kid's mom's shoes, I pointed it out to her. She looked very apologetic and said to the lady, "Aunty throw dirt on Xena's shoes!" The lady was very amused at this invitation for revenge.

She had a great time aboard the Puffing Billy train. Later, when she pointed to the steam coming out of the kettle I had put to boil and said, "Just like Puffing Billy!"

Viv was showing her the changing colours of the lights on the Story bridge in Brisbane and they kept saying, "Yellow ke baad red ho jaayega, red ke baad green ho jaayega, etc." The next day, when we were waiting to see sunset at the Mount Coot-tha lookout, she was curious what we were there for. So I showed her the sky and I said, "Abhi sun yellow hai, phir orange ho jayega, phir red ho jayega!" She retorted, "Red ke baad green ho jaayega!"

On the flight back, she heard the pilot's announcements and looked up in surprise. Then she asked me, "Uncle kahan hain?" I asked her the same thing back. She pointed to the overhead luggage compartment and confidently said, "Uncle iske andar hain."

There was a baby crying on board and to distract her from messing with her seat belt, I asked her, "Can you hear the baby crying?" She put her hand behind her ear, listened intently and with a distressed look, asked me, "Uski mummy kahan gayi????"

When the stewardesses started serving the food, she pointed to them and said, "Soooo many aunties bringing khana!"

She got bored after a while and said, "Aeroplane mein nahin baithna hai. Baahar jana hai." Ummmm. I told her we couldn't get out in mid-air and had to wait till the plane stopped. When our flight landed, she immediately said, "Apna stop aaaaa gaya!"

When our flight landed, we unbuckled and stood up. The aisles were full so we couldn't get out. She looked around at the people and loudly declared in their faces, "It's too crowded."

As we were leaving the plane, the stewardesses waved to her. She said bye to some and was too shy towards others. When we were out, she suddenly said, "Oh no! Woh wali Aunty ko bye nahin bola!"

She is still talking non-stop about the trip, and I'm trying to capture her version of the events on video.

Here she is, describing how cold Melbourne was:

And this is what happens when a toddler adds bits of her imagination when recounting her vacation. Apparently the Philip Island penguins board a boat, do a jungli dance and sing, "Row, row, row your boat." :)

Friday, November 08, 2013

Rules of engagement

Okay, so this post on how to keep a toddler engaged without turning on the television AT ALL, has been due for a very long time now. Every time I wanted to sit down and compile my ideas, I gave up because I felt like there was nothing new. Google is swarming with ideas on how to keep toddlers busy, what possible value could I add? But I keep receiving queries from friends and bewdas who are parents, and now I think I understand. Maybe what they want is what I wanted and what Google could not give me. Simple things for parents to do with their kids at home on a daily basis to keep them occupied and happy. Of course, there are tons of websites that have '100 things to do at home with kids' but you can't be doing stuff like making a working model of a volcano every single day; you will go crazy.

In case you're wondering why I'm so anti-TV and what's wrong with kids watching a bit of TV or 'educational DVDs', here is one of my favourite articles on it. (Yes, I must have read all of the Internet on TV and kids.) Simply put, the early years are critical and TV hinders the kid's brain from developing to its fullest potential.

Check this this out too. Many of my friends switch on the TV to watch something and get a moment of respite, or turn on baby TV and let the kid watch it while they get some chores done, or simply keep it switched on the entire time whether anyone is watching or not. Now here's the thing. Even background TV, where it's just playing in the background while your kid is doing something else, is bad.

Yes, TV can teach your kids the alphabet and numbers and good habits. But here's the thing - you can do it too. And better. Without compromising their grey cells.

Two friends of mine, whom I drilled and grilled until they gave up and hopped on to my no-TV bandwagon, reported amazing results. Both kids were having a speech delay and once the TV was off and the remote control hidden away, they started talking. Within days. Their parents were just as amazed as I was.

A friend of mine whose kid used to watch at least 3-5 hours of TV a day asked me, "If I don't let him watch TV, what on earth do I do with him all day???" This post, if anything, is an answer to her question. I have to admit that it is hard to come up with things to engage your kid all day. But not impossible. Now, before we get started, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. I work from home, and I only work when Xena is at school. When she's at home, I am all hers. I don't have any domestic help, so when Viv is at work or cricket, I need to do pretty much everything. And housework does not even begin to compare to the hard work that entertaining a toddler is. It's a little better for me now, since she has started half-day school, but before that, I was spending every single minute with her. (Yes, crazy exhausting, but totally worth it.) Most of these tips are from that viewpoint -- of being with her 100% of the time. So the tips below might need to be modified if you're a working parent.

2. Be CONVINCED that your kid does NOT need TV and you are doing the right thing by keeping it turned off. If your kid already watches TV and you're going cold turkey, you might witness tantrums like some of my friends did, but persist. Do not give in or give up.

3. If you're the kind who will wilt without TV yourself, find ways to watch it. When your kid is napping or away at school. Just don't switch on the TV when your kid is around. If your kid doesn't see you watching TV, chances are that he or she wouldn't be too keen on it either. Viv and I used to watch a bit of TV every now and then after putting Xena to sleep, but soon we realised that between work, housework, Xena and each other, we really don't have time for TV. We promptly disconnected our cable connection and have been living happily since. It's not that we don't watch anything at all. I watch some Hindi stuff online and he watches some cricket stuff online. Together, we watch DVDs, but only after Xena has fallen asleep. We do not watch anything with her around. If she wakes up, we switch off the TV. No compromises.

4. Where possible, I include some learning points in the activities but I try not to go overboard. It's nice that she can count to 40 and say the alphabet, but at this age, the most important thing to do is to have fun. I try to make teaching part of the fun. If she seems uninterested or bored, I go back to 100% play. I started off with a 15-minute slot for each activity, but I would stop and switch if she seems bored.

5. If you absolutely have to let your kid watch TV for whatever reason, do not simply plonk him/her in front of it and go away. First of all, select the slowest possible videos with minimal flashing lights and colours. Be actively engaged and involved to avoid the 'zoning' effect, where the kid seems to be completely hypnotised and has no clue of anything else around. Because that's when you know the brain has switched itself off.

Okay, so here are the things that Xena and I do all day.

1. Toys
Of course. Toys are expected to keep the kid busy. But what if your kid gets bored with each toy after 15 minutes of play? You can't possibly keep buying toys. Compared to other kids, Xena has a very very small toy collection. Soft toys have now been banned by her doctor for her lung issues, but she used to have quite a few of them and that's how she learnt animal names.

We try to make sure that the toys she has are as open-ended as possible. Not only does that help her exercise her creativity in thinking of new ways to play with it, it also increases the life span of the toy. For example, she has this bowling set and the skittles are all shaped like different animals. When she was very young and had no bowling skills, I used them to teach her animal names and colours. Now she's able to bowl and has been kind of getting bored, so I have switched to doing new things with them. For example, I tell them it's time for the skittles to sleep and ask her if she could make them sleep in a row, all facing left or right. She loves it. There's also the 'dahi handi' where I challenge her to make the tallest tower she can make by holding them one on top of the other. Now she's learning some tricks too - such as making sure the giraffe is at the top because it has horns, making it hard to balance any other animal on its head. And something silly and funny Viv introduced recently - bowling conference, which is basically all the skittles standing in a tight circle, with the bowling ball balanced on their heads. It not only looks hilarious, it entertains her so much that lately every day she's been organising the conference.

Other open-ended toys are play-doh and blocks. Play-doh is a life-saver even if you're not arty. It's also great for teaching colours. We make all kinds of random things (fruits, flowers, sun, moon, bowl, spoon, rings, bangles, necklaces, Angry Birds, etc.) and she learns a lot along the way.

2. Books
I visit the library once or twice a week and pick up books for her. Sometimes we read together and sometimes she flips through them herself. Or you can just pick up a magazine or a newspaper and just go through it together, describing what you see. We often try to create stories around newspaper advertisements. When reading the books, you can pause before keywords and let your kid complete them. Or you can ask them to tell you the full story. It's hilarious when Xena tells me her version of the stories in the books.

3. Outdoor time
We have at least one hour of outdoor time every evening, either at the playground or the beach, or just a walk or ride in the park. Both of us love going to the beach. Sometimes we do some digging in the sand, or we play a game of 'Run, the waves are coming!' or we count the number of dogs we see at the beach, or we simply blow bubbles. She has a scooter and a bike which we alternate (she prefers the bike at the moment). To make the most of a walk or ride, ask questions, point out things and use as many new and descriptive words as possible. This does wonders for their vocabulary. Try not to be on your phone even if they are busy in the playground. Firstly because they need to be watched all the time, and secondly, the less they see you on the phone, the better it is for both of you. You can even take a ball outside and kick away. We also have a cricket set for Xena, but she prefers to play with it indoors. Good for me, because fetching the ball after her boundary shots are so much easier!

4. Water play
Sometimes I let her play for a while in the bathtub before her bath. I have a small plastic bucket, a watering can, a sponge, a fishing net and some foam numbers that stick on the bathroom tiles when wet. She LOVES to fill up the bucket, put the foam numbers in, fish them out using the fishing rod and stick them on the tiles. That's how she learnt numbers, by the way. Or she pours water on the sponge using the watering can, and squeezes away.

5. Household chores
Oh, the things I make Xena do. Child labour and all that. But she loves it all and it keeps her busy, giving me precious moments to do some real work. For example, if I'm doing the dishes, I hand her a plastic bowl and spoon and she just sits there at the kitchen entrance (she's strictly not allowed into the kitchen and she knows it) and mixes like there is no tomorrow. Or when I'm making ginger tea, I let her pound the ginger. You can only imagine how gingerly she pounds the ginger, but she has fun and that's what matters. I put her on the high chair and get her to peel boiled eggs and garlic while I do other things like chopping. When I dry clothes, I put her on (ON, not IN, ok? Just close the lid of the machine and plonk the child on top) the washing machine and she sits there, watching with great interest. When I fold clothes, I involve her. She knows what each item of clothing is called and whom it belongs to. She even tries to fold them with not much success, but enjoys the process. Sometimes I ask her to find pairs of socks in the bundle of laundry and she tries to do that. She helps me sweep the house (I have a separate broom for her, and I allocate a corner of the room to her). She can follow simple instructions, such as wiping the chairs or the refrigerator door.

6. What's in the fridge?
She loves going through the items in the fridge one by one, identifying and describing them. Of course, when she spots new items, she's thrilled and asks all about them. Before I start cooking, I open the fridge and ask her to hand me the ingredients and she takes great pride in doing that. When I need something from the freezer, she says, "Too high! Mommy, please pick me up." I pick her up and she gets me the item.

7. Scooping
I give her a bowl of say chickpeas or pasta and an empty bowl and a spoon. She tries to scoop them from the first bowl and put them in the second bowl without spilling anything. Such activities are great for fine motor skills too. Of course, you gotta watch them closely in case they try to swallow the stuff. Not a problem for me, because my kid doesn't believe in putting any food item in her mouth. Sigh.

8. Get arty
I got a set of crayons and some fingerpaint for her long long ago and we're still going strong. I put her in the high chair dressed in a full-sleeved bib to minimise the mess. Other than finger painting, sometimes we put coloured blobs on a page and firmly close the book so we get weird and interesting shapes to analyse. She spots butterflies, clouds, sheep and what not in those strange shapes. Sometimes she asks me to draw simple pictures from her books and then she colours them. Lately, we have also been experimenting with mehendi, though she insists on only Hello Kitty patterns for herself! Stressful for me! Sometimes I pick up a bit of origami on the net and together we make something cool like a jumping frog.

9. Music and dance
You still don't need TV for this. And it doesn't matter if you can't sing or dance. Your kid will still think the world of your skills. Turn on some music, hold your kid's hands, and sing and dance away! You can even make it more structured by showing her simple steps to do with her hands and feet. You can give the steps funny names, e.g. we have something called the boinka dance. As for songs, you can pick simple songs with short words and sing them together. Here's an old video of me teaching Xena 'Piyu bole'.

10. Puzzles
The great thing about puzzles is that they are time-consuming, giving you precious moments to do your chores as your kid bends laboriously over the puzzle. Initially I bought some 4-piece and 6-piece jigsaw puzzles for Xena but she never seemed to like them. I would be the one solving them for her all the time. Turns out she probably thought they were beneath her, because the moment we bought her puzzles with 12 pieces and more, she immediately took to them!

11. Bag of things
This is a great trick for when I want to do something where I can't involve her at all, such as cooking or washing dishes. I fill a rucksack or any small bag (preferably with several compartments) with random (but safe) objects. A scarf, a sock, a plastic bowl, a toy, anything at all. She has a field day opening the different compartments and discovering the objects, while I quickly get my work done. Unzipping and unbuttoning the different compartments also hone her fine motor skills. Once everything is out, I simply ask her to put it all back where it was, and that not only keeps her very very busy, it also gives me time to finish up my chores.

12. Flashcards
Flashcards are a bit controversial because many think they are too 'academic' and not exactly toys. In Xena's case, I got her the alphabet flashcards when she started showing an interest in the letters she saw in her books. I got the kind that had a picture on the back of each card. She loved them from the first day, and even now simply loves identifying the letters and then the objects behind. In no time, she had not only mastered her alphabet, she had done it without stress, and with curiosity and joy. Here's an old video of her and her flashcards.

13. Play dates!
No amount of toys can beat play dates. Since Xena is an only child, it is even more imperative that she learns how to be around other kids. So from time to time, I organise play dates for her. I'm not a big fan of large play dates, so I prefer to have a maximum of 2-4 kids. It's a great way not only to make them socialise, but to teach important things such as sharing, waiting and manners. Find kids around the same age as your kid, plonk them together with a bunch of toys, sit back and marvel. But please, intervene when needed. Especially if the kids are being selfish or doing something dangerous or bullying or hurting other kids.

14. Poppy's home!
Viv takes the same bus home every day (or at least he tries) so his expected time of arrival is quite standard. A few minutes before, I make Xena wait at the window for him and count till she sees him. She yells out, "Poppyyy!" when she spots him, making him look up and grin. She then runs to the door and starts counting there until he emerges from the lift. The bathtub foam numbers only taught her 1-9, this has taught her to count to 40.

15. One step at a time
While we are on the subject of counting, taking the stairs is also a great way to kill time, teach numbers and exercise motor skills. When she was just learning to climb stairs, we could take the stairs everywhere and I would hold her hands and count. Now she does it on her own, both the climbing and the counting.

16. Girly time!
Since Xena takes forever to grow out of each outfit, from time to time, I take out all the pretty clothes that she has received as gifts but is still too small for, and we make a fun activity out of it. She tries on each, and gives me her verdict - pretty, too big, not nice, don't like, etc. Sometimes, we organise my earrings on the rotating earring holder, and she loves to hook them there. At times, she picks some of my outfits and asks me to try them on and gives me her verdict - pretty, too big, not nice, don't like, etc. Or we take out my box of bangles and we go through all of them. She has picked up the concept of 'matching' and will tell me which earrings, shoes and bracelets go with which outfits.

17. Shadow play
Since she was much younger, she has been fascinated with shadows, as is evident from this video. We still do lots of shadow play and simple puppet shows.

18. Make up stories
She's now reached the stage where she absolutely adores listening to stories. In fact, she gives me random characters and I have to make up a story about them. For example, she would say "Hello Kitty and bicycle wala story sunna hai!" or "Plant and elephant wala story sunna hai!" and I would have to make it up on the spot. In most cases, I use the same formula. Someone needs help and someone helps. Then I include the whole thank you and you're welcome bits at the end, which she remembers so vividly, she's particular about thanking people who help her or give her something. For example, in my plant and elephant story, a plant is thirsty because the gardener forgot to water it, so the elephant brings some water in its trunk and waters the plant. The plant turns out to be a banana plant that thanks the elephant by presenting it with its favorite food - bananas.

19. Errands outside the house
Viv does almost all of our grocery shopping, but if I have a short shopping list, I take her with me and go. I point to the fruits and vegetables and she tells me their names and colours. When she spots something unfamiliar, she gets very curious and excited and quickly asks for its name. Every day, after our outdoor time, we go down to the mailbox in the basement and she likes to open it and hand me the letters. The other day, I was separating glass and plastics for the recycle bin, when it struck me that I could involve her in it. She was very excited and even proudly announced to her friend's mother whom we met on the way that we were going to "thow the containers into the recycle bin". As she grows, I intend to make her (and myself too) a little more environment-conscious.

20. Skype
I regularly skype with my parents and parents-in-law, and I involve Xena fully. She knows that her grandparents are "inside the laptop", waiting to talk to her. She greets them and shows them her toys, talks about school, and also says goodbye when it is time to go. I think we need to show kids how important it is to be in touch with our loved ones who don't live with us.

So this is my random list, and I will keep adding on. Please feel free to add yours as well for I am forever in need of more ideas. :)