4 years ago, in 2012, a 3 year old girl came to our house with her Indian parents and iPad from the US where she had migrated recently. For the 4 hours she spent in our house and the restaurant we went for dinner, she refused to acknowledge our presence and look up to establish any eye contact as she was hooked on to her iPad. Though I was not a parent then, the anthropologist in me could not stop thinking for years about how the social and other developmental skills of children were getting severely impacted because of addiction to technology.
Two years later when I became a parent myself I pledged to keep my son away from gadgets in the early development years and engaged through physical objects and books. My focus on early grade reading topics at work made me well aware of the benefits of reading to small children. While I started reading to my son as early as 3 months, more often than not he would ask me to shut the book despite my dramatic story telling techniques and variety of book selection for him. And then one fine day around 18 months he started enjoying to read through his play mat.
I quit my consulting job and started doing research with moms in different parts of India and the world to understand the objects their children liked playing with, spaces that fascinated them, and activities that engaged them. It became evident that while children today are exposed to abundance of toys, it is the everyday life – household objects, objects of daily use (from bindis to spoons and others), natural objects (like leaves and stones), everyday spaces, such as the kitchen, that they are naturally drawn to. In the increasingly digital age where parents are relying more and more on technology to keep their little ones engaged, I was happy to see children’s love for physical still alive. Fast-paced, high stress lifestyles of today are also making it harder for small children to interact, spend quality time, or learn from other important elements of their everyday environment – their parents (father and mother) and older children (siblings and neighbours).
So here I am with this new mission in life – LitJoys – an initiative which aims to engage children with the everyday and natural physical environment and provide multi-sensorial three dimensional learning as opposed to two-dimensional experience offered by gadgets and TV. Ensuring interaction or play with key people, along with objects and spaces in the everyday environment, and building a love for reading through experiential play, it offers a holistic approach to learning and brings back the joy of learning among small children.