My interview in Smart Indian Women. Yay!
In the last week of school, I was inundated with brochures and pamphlets of summer camp, sports training, swimming classes, art classes, speech and drama classes – you name it and I was holding a pamphlet of that class. My heart had multiple blips when I saw the cost of these ‘skill and character developing’ classes.
There was passionate discussion among parents on how to keep the child engaged during the summer vacation. I had decided earlier on that this summer vacation would be a true vacation for both my son and me – no structured activities; he can do what he wants.
I did not enrol him into any of these jamborees and was considering giving him a break from the art activities we usually do. I just wanted him to have his space and discover things on his own without supervision and pressure of completing an activity.
Why do we have to ensure that every hour is filled with a ‘meaningful’ activity and is accounted for?
The other moms almost instantly accused me of not exposing my child to various hobbies/activities, putting a break on his speeding intellect, stunting his development and what not. But I stood my ground, which set me thinking why are we so averse to the concept of free unstructured play time? Why do we have to ensure that every hour is filled with a ‘meaningful’ activity and is accounted for?
In our hurry to expose our children to various hobbies/skills lest they miss the bus, we underplay the importance of unstructured free play in a child’s life. Yes the drawing classes, football classes, phonics are all important for the gross motor, social, cognitive and emotional development, but free play is probably where the start point is. It is the single space where he/she is in charge and gets to decide. He gets to steer his action based on what he feels is right at that point of time, which is the very essence of critical thinking and decision making ability.
Here are some of the benefits of free play!
1) Creativity: The ability to conjure up new games, imaginary characters, stories and things to play with is probably the best benefit of free play. When there is no adult supervision, no one to correct or point out mistakes, the possibilities are limitless. The child accepts failure with grace and no tantrums.
2) Decision making: Free play provides so many opportunities for the child to make choices and decide on what he thinks is best for that situation. He/She takes responsibility for the decision taken (in a subtle way), something that will go a long way in his/her adult life.
3) Independence: With decision making comes independence and the ability to find ways to engage themselves. They become less dependent on adults to entertain them
4) Conflict resolution: If free play is in a group the child learns to resolve conflict, wait for turns and share without an adult having to scream the rules and dole out time outs.
Free play allows the child to interact with his natural surroundings at his own pace
5) Appreciation of nature: Free play allows the child to interact with his natural surroundings at his own pace, thus learning much more than when it is adult dictated and adult managed.
So the next time you chide your child for aimless wandering in the house/yard or vacantly staring outside the window, remember you might be snipping the information flow, retarding his ability to process information and unknowingly putting blinders to the way he sees the world.
Give him/her that much deserved down time. You never know, they might just have a eureka moment during their ‘whiling away time’!
I was super excited and super nervous when I got called to do a workshop for Kinder garden teachers. Nevertheless, I dived right into it going through all our art projects and wondering what will be an ideal fit.
When I shares my excitement with P, he caught on to the word ‘workshop’ and just couldn’t fathom why teachers would want me to go and fix their cars. He later told me discreetly, ‘maybe you should send acha (Dad) or the mechanic uncle’!
Unfortunately I couldn’t take P along, though it is because of him that I got the opportunity.
I had a wonderful set of energetic and eager to learn teachers and we had a great time exploring our creativity. Hopefully there will be a next and I can take P along.
Apologise for the mediocre photos
I am a big subscriber to the fact that art is more than just the ability to paint a pretty picture. Many a time I have friends, family and strangers asking me if I can take art classes for their children on the lines of what I do with my son P. My answer all the time is a vehement ‘No’.
Not because I cannot or don’t have the inclination to but I believe the introduction to art or doing creative things has to be with the parent as it is probably the best skill building exercise for the child and the best stress buster for the parent, even if the parent doesn’t possess a single artistic bone in her/him.
Art is probably the only medium that opens up all the 5 senses of a child along with the intellect.
Art is probably the only medium that opens up all the 5 senses of a child along with the intellect. Art needs to be an experience and process not a neatly packed end product. And this experience is best when the parent is the facilitator/bystander. You don’t need to be a Picasso or Ravi Varma to do art projects with your child. Just flexing your fingers in clay or hand printing with your child can go miles in his/her developmental journey.
Art with P, has given me peeks into my son’s thoughts, behaviour and characteristics – something that I could have never caught on otherwise. Art has contributed in more ways than one in P’s sensory, language, emotional and social development. Let me explain how.
Sensory development: Younger the child, greater the role of sensory play. Everything in his or her life pretty much has to be concrete and sensory. So dunking their tiny hands into paint, clay, water bead troughs, dried flowers, coloured rice and daal, introduces them to textures, shapes and colours. Adding fragrant oils like eucalyptus, lemon grass to dried flowers or rice/daal help in smell identification and distinctions.
Language development: Most of P’s vocabulary has been built during our art and book reading sessions. Since our book reading session is almost always followed up with an art session – be it a simple drawing of the character or making it out of some material, there is always talking, questioning, sequencing and storytelling. When a project involves multiple steps, I keep repeating it. Later in the day he retells the same to his dad/grandparents. This way his sequencing, vocabulary and storytelling abilities are sharpened.
Many a time P adds his own two-bit imaginary steps into the story at which point I don’t correct (unless it’s way off from the subject) to ensure I don’t curb his imagination and the ability to think on his feet.
Social language skills can be practised when working with many children.
Social language skills can be practised when working with many children. The kids get opportunities to use ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’. They learn to share, negotiate and wait for their turn in case supplies are short.
Emotional development: Nothing teaches an individual the virtue of patience and perseverance, like art. Of course in the pre schooler’s world of ‘instant gratification’, these virtues are non-existent. But they can be introduced and built through art. Making them wait till the paint is dry before displaying or further colouring, waiting a while before the glue sticks properly or having to redo a spray painting that got smudged, teaches the child not everything is a success or got readily.
I am a big fan of process art – where the importance is not to the finished product but the process itself. This also means the child leads the activity and the adult is merely a facilitator. For example finger painting, splash art, spray painting etc. Younger children are engaged longer when the activity is open-ended, process based and not lead by an adult. Yes it is lot messier but the benefits of sensory and language development is far more than the mess it creates. And the insights into the little one’s mind during the art sessions is something no art teacher or art class can give you.
I have dabbled in colours ever since I can remember and as the years passed by, I realised they had various effects on my mental and emotional well-being. Education only ratified these feelings when I learnt that colours indeed have a big effect on your emotional and intellectual well-being.
Each colour signifies a mood and triggers an activity or emotion. When I had P, aside from the desire to introduce him to the world of colours for artistic reasons, I also made him play with colours for a reason. When we moved home, I knowingly infused various colours in the décor to bring out its therapeutic properties.
Addressing the basic question, ‘When do babies start seeing colours?’ Research says they can see colours at birth though they will have trouble distinguishing similar tones. Many babies prefer to look at black and white patterns or objects with high contrasts. The ability to distinguish colours develops rapidly, and as early as four months old some babies begin to show a preference for certain colours.
Colours are used widely in the West for healing and in therapy. Colour therapy is an accepted field of study and practice and it dates back centuries. Research has it that in ancient Egypt, people often immersed themselves in vats of coloured pigment as a curative measure.
So what does each colour signify? How to use them in our child’s life to enhance his/her learning and adding more colour to the joy of parenting?
The colour red, which is a favourite with many children including my P, is a warm and stimulating colour. It increases enthusiasm, creativity, kicks in energy and encourages action and confidence. I have a dash of red in P’s room to tickle his creativity and get him energised for learning. The flip side is that too much of red stimulates hyperactivity and irritability. Needless to explain why people see red when they are angry!
Blue is a soothing colour known for its cooling property. It induces a sense of calm and serenity in the child. Mentally, it aids the intuitive power of the brain. It is also said that having a little blue in the child’s room, like a blue night lamp or sky themed ceiling or simple blue P.Js, will help wind down the child and induce him to restful sleep sans nightmares.
Yellow is a known happy colour. It triggers the happy and sunny hormones in our body hence promoting well-being and happiness in the child’s life. Yellow also activates memory, intellect and encourages communication. Having a yellow pencil, book or t-shirt while studying, goes a long way in making learning a happy and communicative experience. If you have a reluctant communicator, introduce him to the colour yellow!
The colour orange is the universal anti-depressant. It stimulates appetite, activity (like red) and encourages socialisation. Being close to the red family it is as much as an energiser as an agitator. Too much can prove to be a dampener. Having orange flowers (marigolds) around the house especially in your child’s room will chase the boo-boos away!
Green is again a relaxing colour like blue. It soothes frayed nerves and is helpful during times of anxiety and nervousness. Why do you think the doctors prescribe early morning walks in lush green gardens? Green is mentally and physically relaxing and rejuvenating. Taking your child to play in a green environment rejuvenates and relaxes him/her besides getting a daily dose of exercise. It is a perfect way to wind down after a busy day.
Brain research says that learning is optimised by yellow; beige and off-white, while red, orange and yellow spark energy and creativity. Now imagine the day of a child wearing a boring grey uniform, in an overly bright red environment told to do activities involving only blue and over dose of orange objects!
So the next time you are out shopping for clothes, vegetables or home décor or you are packing your little one’s lunch, give a little thought to the power of colours and infuse just the right amount of colours in his/her life to make their journey colourful.
(Appeared in Parentous.com)