Ask Amma

Posts Tagged ‘continuum concept’

Resources for Continuum Learning

In What on 28 January 2014 at 4:31 am

Work with the fundamentals of lifelong learning from birth


How do we set the foundation for lifelong learning?  In the early months and years of life, these five resources will help you practice continuum learning with your little ones.  Follow-Up to Attachment Parenting and Continuum Learning.  Scroll down for summary table of  Resources and Skills Learned.

1. Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding helps children learn a vital skill that they need all their lives:  how to eat.

Children’s first introduction to the flavors and feelings of food comes through breastfeeding.  As they gradually increase the variety and quantity of the food they eat, nursing serves as a safety net, allowing them freedom to try foods without any obligation to eat a given quantity by a given time.  Breastfeeding babies have time to acquire taste for a healthy variety of foods, while assured nutrition through mother’s diet.  Nursing also provides antibodies that help little ones as they explore the wider world and…

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The right toys

In What on 8 June 2013 at 3:30 am

My son is 18 months old and it feels like he is growing up very fast.  I often have thought about “Am I giving him enough toys to play?” or sometimes “Am I giving him the right toys?  I have also heard about introducing new toys to children which are age appropriate, and it would be helpful to get your insight on this topic.

– mother of an 18 month-old in Irvine. 
Though almost anything can be a toy, play does not require toys.  Running, climbing, dancing, hide-and-seek, hopscotch and all kinds of imaginary games are fun and appropriate for all ages.   Coming to your question, what makes you think he needs more toys?
What are the things that your son reaches for now?  Observe the ways he engages with the people and things around him.  Young children often want to be involved in whatever those around them are doing, and so common household objects like dishes and buckets and cabinets become attractive.  If people in the family are into gardening, art, music, woodwork or other crafts, kids would probably want to get their hands on the shovels, brushes, instruments or other supplies involved.  Of course if the important objects seem to be the phone or laptop, kids will want those too.  Most of us would be better off spending less time with our gadgets, and diversifying our activities.
More important than selecting the right toy is cultivating a positive attitude towards work and play, which are one and the same for a child.  Why should we as adults break that continuum?  Often I hear children who are taking pots and pans out of the cabinets being told to “go play” and even given “toy” pots and pans for this purpose.  Rather than recognizing the child’s desire to be part of the action and including the child in their work, these parents impose a separation between work and play.  Having given the the plastic kitchen set to the child, do the parents join them?  No, they continue in the actual kitchen.  Children resist this second-class status, and hence the instructions to go and play and stay out of the kitchen are repeated and reinforced through various means, often including more toys.
What if you could share the space and material in the kitchen?  It would slow down your work, only if you narrowly define your work as getting that specific meal prepared in a timely manner.  But the work that you thought you were accomplishing by providing age-appropriate toys, can also get done by allowing kids in the kitchen.  Secondly, why be so possessive about your work?  Doesn’t the work belong to the family, including the child?  Taking items out of the shelf may seem useless or counter-productive to you, especially when you are putting them back, but if you hear what the child is communicating (I want to be part of the family, to do what the elders of my species do), it is not pointless.  And if it makes you feel better, there are some motor skills being honed, and spatial relations being worked out in the process.  When you believe the noise has a purpose, it is less likely to give you a headache.
As you mention that he is growing up fast, you may not be surprised to find that soon he can also do things like put the spoons away or wash some tomatoes or roll some chapatis, if you let him do it in his own way.
Another positive attitude parents should develop is a positive attitude towards dirt.  As Fraulein Maria said, “Children can’t do all the things they’re supposed to if they have to worry about spoiling their precious clothes.”  I can also summon the New York Times, “Babies Know:  A Little Dirt is Good for You.”  Much of the toy market is driven by a motive to engage kids in a way that keeps them indoors, sitting still and not getting dirty and not falling down and scraping their knees.  This is hardly age-appropriate!
So to recap – the way to encourage play is
  • provide plenty of space to run, jump, climb, etc
  • allow children to get dirty and take some risks
  • don’t separate work and play

And now for toys.  As the new / old wisdom on food says, “buy no food that you see advertised (Michael Pollan).”   Why not apply the same to toys?  Especially toys that talk, light up, or claim to develop the brain.   Of course such educational claims are part of the sales pitch for most toys, so I would probably just ignore them.  Also avoid any toy that is so expensive that you would not want to see it broken.  Toy inventor and scientist Arvind Gupta says that the best thing a child can do with a toy is break it … and on Arvind Gupta’s website you can find toys that you can put together and take apart all you want, since they are made of odds and ends.

Everything that toys are touted to promote – be it imagination, creativity, problem solving or – arise more meaningfully through self-directed interaction with real time, space, people and ordinary objects found in mission-critical places like the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or the puddle in the yard.  Toys from the store often have predesigned functions, whereas in the imaginary world of the child, anything can be anything.   A boat made of paper or tinfoil can be a raft or a coast guard vessel or cruise ship.  Even a bead or a twig or a leaf can be a boat.  Or a passenger.  Or an iceberg.

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If I had to buy a toy, I would go for one without many features, that does not do much on its own (or require batteries!) or have a script already designed for it.  Even if it does, of course there is no requirement that one follow the given script.  So I would avoid suggesting the “right way” to play with a toy.
When one has only a few toys, their roles grow over time.   What I have found is that through years of playing, some toys are far more versatile than we imagined at first.   Even if you don’t buy any toys, you might get some as gifts or hand-me-downs.   To avoid accumulating too many toys, you could pass old ones along to make room for new, but a word of caution: if this happens frequently, then one of the lessons learned from the toy will be its disposability.

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Why is my toddler never still?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:09 pm
Our son only wants to play outdoors.  From the moment he wakes up he has his morning outdoor time  — a walk, going to get milk, neighbour’s shops and houses etc.   After which we have to attend to various chores at home and outside. Whichever one of us is going out – there’s a massive scene and howling because he wants to be out (which we do sometimes but its not always possible to take him everywhere).  We try to involve him with some of the chores – like cleaning together or work in the kitchen but he gets distracted and starts throwing things around and wants to make a mess till the whole place looks like a war zone. The only thing he is happy doing indoors is bathing. So we have two long sessions in the bathroom (which can only be done in the summers).   Apart from that he just wants to be with mud, stones, puddles, running up and down the roads.  Even with other kids, he prefers outside play. 
So here are my questions:
  • Are any other mothers of toddlers who are experiencing this?
  • What do we do to make the home environment (and us) more suited to this highly energetic kid?
  • What do we do to calm him down/relax, get him to sit and play? Is it asking for too much?
– mother of an 18-month old in Palampur
     Reader, Amma begs your indulgence for including the entire question with little editing, because, being long past the toddler stage, I simply found the description delightful.  I do hope you are keeping a journal.

     My daughter also wanted to be outside every waking moment, from day one and I don’t think it eased up for several years.  She even bathed outside at times.  When we were inside we had to make it worth her sacrifice.

Can you put on music and dance?  Do you have stairs?  Can you invent a game that involves lots of going up and down? How about playing hide and seek?  If you run out of hiding places for people, first of all, remember that little ones are happy to hide in the same place any number of times, provided you struggle dramatically to find them.  (Or even in visible places – see Ollie all over.)  Another option in small spaces is to play hide and seek with objects rather than people.  Is there a porch where he can safely be outside while you are at home?  Can you get the mud, stones, puddles right there?   Chetana Amma describes her daughter’s exploits on the Terrace in Chennai.

     My modus operandi in the early years was always to try to “tire her out.”  Obviously this is easier to do outside.  Sometimes other parents and I used to meet outside while our kids ran around … what used to go through my mind was, she needs to play enough to get hungry enough to eat enough to fall asleep.   I saw others engage the help of a young woman or teenage student to take the kids outside sometimes – usually for payment but it could also be in exchange for help with homework.
     Even more fun then play was of course, work.  I first learned the entertainment potential of laundry when my 3-year-old nephew came to stay with us for a summer.  Every stage of soaking, swirling, brushing, beating, wringing, drying, removing and folding was a game in itself.  (What, you don’t swirl your clothes in the bucket?)  So the entertainment was ready when my daughter came along.  See her dry.
      Is there is some way that you can incorporate the clean-up component into the game that he plays when he throws the stuff around (instead of being work that has to be done after the game is over)?  If there is too much stuff and you are feeling burdened to keep up with the work of cleaning up, I would consider relocating some of it so that it is not accessible.  When you do this, don’t think of it as a sanction imposed for not cleaning up, but simply as a way to stay organized. You can cheerfully explain, for example, that the toys need to go home now and they will be back later, after some other toys go home.
     Evolutionarily it makes sense for kids to be accustomed to the freedom of going outside whenever they want.  Till recently adults have also been outside. Moreover, young children were not constrained by the need to have their parents accompany them at all times.  Other adults or older children would do.  In rural areas I have seen children as young as 5 out and about on their own.  If we find ourselves reining in our little ones on a shorter leash, the shortcoming lies in our society and not in their desire for a wider range of freedom.
    Rather than try to contain this in the home, we should work to create a society where kids can fulfill their need to be out and energetic .   At least we can acknowledge that their need is legitimate and try to overcome our limitations in fulfilling it.  Once we work from this approach, we can take small concrete steps that at least meet this need halfway.


In How on 1 September 2012 at 8:00 am
Recently a family member told me that I can’t and probably should not tailor make my life around my child. And that my child should figure out “being” around the life that just happens to us. I think this bit of advice is what really got me thinking about the idea of “being” with my child.
Is it possible that I could just let life happen and let my child figure out how to “be” around it?
– Pushpa, mother of a 3 year old in Pune, posted on Swashikshan
Life is always happening.  If what you are doing in your life is engaging with (or “tailor making” your life around) your child, that is what your child will “be” around and figure out how to respond to.
I find sometimes kids are really curious about the things we do without them or when they aren’t around (or aren’t awake) and we should do some of those things even when they are there.  Of course it helps if we can allow them to “help.”  How often it happens that our work *is* the game that our little ones decide they want to play.  If we could dissolve the boundaries between work and play, then it would not matter who was responding to whom, and who was figuring out life along side whom.  It would be reciprocal.  This is how I interpret the continuum concept.

Thank you Pushpa for letting us excerpt your opening question here on the pages of Ask Amma.  Readers are encouraged to Pushpa’s article in full, “Being with my Child.”

Crying for no reason

In Why on 11 August 2012 at 8:00 pm

My baby is crying, yelling without any reasons and wants me to play with her all day round.  Can’t do anything!  Help!

– Ma of an 18-month-old in Kolkata
La Leche League Pan-India: Breastfeeding Resource

Times when my daughter was crying or yelling “without any reason,” I thought back and tried to put myself in her shoes.  More often than not, the reason became apparent.  Maybe she had asked for something in a quiet voice but no one listened.  Maybe the day had been rushed.  I had a checklist I would use when in doubt: “Are you well-rested, well-fed, well-read, and well-hugged?”  It became a kind of calming routine that allowed us to troubleshoot.  Sometimes we used “well-worked”  or “well-played.”  You can substitute anything you enjoy doing together like “well-danced” or “well-bathed” or even “well-turned upside down.”  Even now, sometimes she herself comes and tell me, after observing her own anger or frustration, “I am not well-fed.” or “I am not well-hugged.”   There will also be times when we don’t know the reason – this happens to adults too.  You may not be able to make your child’s tears go away, but you can offer a shoulder.

Maybe, like you, she too is thinking, “Can’t do anything!  Help!”  My first thought when looking at the two pieces of the puzzle – her desire for more play and your need to do other things, is – involve her in the things you do.  At 18 months, my daughter was never happier than when at work.  She could water plants, dig in the garden, wash and dry clothes, rinse, dry and put away dishes, sweep and mop floors, dust tables, pour dal into jars (one of her top jobs), sort fruits and vegetables and wash them if needed (and even if not needed.)  Before cooking I would often give her a vessel with rice or dal and ask her to wash and mix it.  She would do this for a while and then I would cook it.  My memory is hazy with the ages, but “helping” make chapatis was also a favourite chore of hers, and by age 3 her creations were edible.

Letting her help will slow down the pace of your work, but it will meet her (and your!) need for play, which to her is not different from work.  The work is not only “your” work.  It is her work too.  As kids become verbal, these times of shared work become the setting for very interesting conversations as well.  If we think back to earlier times, or visit our rural cousins, we find that children enjoy the company of all ages, throughout the day.  They naturally take part in a range of activities, sometimes in the lead, sometimes in the background.  It can be difficult to provide such diversity of company or of activity in modern urban settings, but we can acknowledge that we are missing something important.  With a bit of creativity and if possible, help from extended family or neighbours, we can try to make up for it.

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