Clean Roads, Bullet Trains, and Cherry Blossoms

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My son’s 5th birthday was approaching and I was looking to buy him something special, different from the regular cars and toys that children usually get as gifts, most of which don’t even keep them engaged for more than a day or two. When I got to know about the Travel Diary by LitJoys just a day before his birthday, I had a feeling he would love it as he is a very curious and creative child, and has been exposed to trivia about other countries of the world through his school, our own travels and the many sports that he watches occasionally with his dad. I bought the one on Japan as his last international trip was to Japan and I thought that would make it easier to get him initiated. Also, I was keen to see how he creatively expressed his observations of the country.

On the morning of his birthday, we woke him up with our room nicely decorated and the Travel Diary nicely gift-wrapped. I still remember the cute smile on his face and the expression of joy on unwrapping it! He was thrilled to see the Travel Diary on his favourite country – Japan! Ever since, we’ve been using it as a medium to have some joyfully creative and informative conversations while putting together a beautiful memoir of our Japan trip, albeit a year after the actual travel 🙂

I have no qualms in admitting that while he played with most of his birthday gifts only once or twice, he has been working on his his Travel Diary with me almost every day since the last two weeks. In fact he is enjoying it more than riding the battery operated Jeep, a gift that he chose on his own. There were days when he would ask “can we do page no. 6?” as soon as he woke up in the morning and there were days when he would try to buy more time before bedtime to work on it. So much so, that finally I had to negotiate two time slots with him in a day, given that I also have to attend to my 5 month old baby!

What my son loves the most about the Travel Diary is the craft work. I think he finds it immensely fascinating! Each and every page that we create is HIS expression. There is no template that forces him to think or present his thoughts in a certain way, and I think that’s something that excites children the most. Also, through LitJoy’s Travel Diary we both get a chance to relive our travel memories and have some very interesting conversations, which we probably missed while we were there last year! It gives him an opportunity to ask all sort of interesting questions and discuss larger life concepts (why is monkey in a cage in a zoo and not on the trees?). Finally, what comes out as the output is his own interpretation of his travel experience – from the Mount Fuji he visited in the super fast bullet train to the extremely clean roads he walked on, while observing the breathtaking cherry blossom flowers.

As for me, I love the fact that it provides me an opportunity to have those constructive and creative conversations with my child, which are so rare in our faced paced lives! I also liked the additional knowledge I gained while making the diary. I did not know that the national bird of Japan is the Green Pheasant and looks like the Peacock of India. I instantly Googled it to get to know more about it.

The beauty of making the diary is that it provides a very engaging medium to all of us to spend time together as a family. I cannot delegate this to anyone else, except my own husband maybe, and that’s something that I am very happy about 🙂

– Priyanka Jaitly, mother of a 5 year old son

Blue Spiders & Yellow Cobwebs

20161005_184204 (1)I was visiting my sister in the States and it was just one of those days when the children had gone berserk. TV, the quintessential baby sitter/soother, was denied to them. To punish us, as it were, they soon laid the backyard-and each other-to wasteWe didn’t know how to save the plants, tables and chairs along with everything in the yard from complete destruction. And then, we saw chalks. All at once, the ground came alive with stories about pink crocodiles wearing braces, blue spiders, and yellow cobwebs. And then, hopscotch! We drew awfully crooked lines on the floor. But oh! how the kids played the game in utter excitement. Together, involved in the buzz. 

Hop scotch part 2For the adults, (parents and grandparents) a long-forgotten part of childhood had come bustling back. As for the kids, they had never known this game, busy as they are with trips to the park, riding kiddie cars or mini quads, and worse, videos (educational as they may be). All those rules, the hopping and jumping with one leg, throwing the stone in the right rectangle and identifying the right number, missing the mark, thrilled the little darlings. In between it all, someone’s sprinklers came on and of course, created puddles. How could the tots resist jumping in them?

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All in a short while, we managed to turn screaming banshees into human children who were squealing with delight and enthusiasm. For a change, the adults hadn’t been bystanders watching the kids play; they had become part of the gang, enjoying just as much. Clearly, the charms of a bygone era engulfed us all and left us feeling bonded in an experience full of fun, laughter, and learning.  

– Dr. Nidhi Sharma, mother of a 2.5 year old daughter

We Love to Spell Cat

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It has always been a part of our daily ritual to sit around mumma (me), and listen to stories either from books or just plain made up. But to get the attention of a 6 year,4 year and 3 year old at the same time has always been a challenge. One day we were reading “When I Grow up “when Ethan suddenly got up and said, mumma lets do Spell Cat. To suddenly transition from a reading a book to doing an activity with all three was something I wasn’t prepared for. So we kept the book aside and gathered at the dining table. The girls ran to their room and got writing boards . 

But I wanted to make this game interesting so I got the story book we were reading and opened it to a page. I asked each one of them to pick a 2, 3 and 4 letter word. So while Ethan found a 4 letter word and read it out loud to the girls he took the alphabet cards from the spell cat to form the words while Sarah my 4 year old (just learning to 3 letter words) wrote it on the slate board. Akira( my 3 year old) not to be left behind took a chalk and tried to write the first letter of that word. And for the next 1 hour we found words in the book we were reading and tried writing them, spelling them, and understanding them.

– Pallavi Fernandez, mother of 3 children

“That boy looks a lot like me”!!!! – Learning to Read through Visual Associations

I have always, ever since I could read, loved to spend hours reading books, leafing through magazines, and anything that attracted my visual perceptions of the world around. As a mother of three very active kids I have always wished for them to have the same love for books that I have grown up with. While my son always liked listening to stories, I always found it challenging to inspire him to read by himself even though he is 6 years old now.

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So it came as a surprise when one day I found Ethan sitting with a book quietly in a corner. Upon close observation I saw him reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I had bought for myself. This went on for a number of days till one day I sat down with him and asked “ do you like this book”? and he said Mumma I love reading this book with all the drawings in it, and that boy looks a lot like me”!!!!
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He loves the quirky illustrations in the book the different fonts and the artistic interpretation . The concept that a kid puts his thoughts down in a diary somehow captured Ethan’s attention so much so that we find him doodling on paper , or making cards for his friends. Now we love to pour over these books together and I find Ethan making the effort to read from billboards, magazines, newspaper words that catch his attention.

– Pallavi Fernandez, mother of a 6 year old boy

The Child is the Father of the Man

It was a late-September evening. The Sun, a tired ball of fire, was just beginning to doze off on the western horizon. The vast expanse of the lush green countryside, dotted with hutments, was suffused with a warm, orange glow. Not a soul was to be seen – save a bunch of children playing football and a smallish herd of buffaloes lolling in the muddy, shallow pool. Right through the heart of this serenity, ran a solitary railway track, on which a diesel locomotive chugged along, diligently – the rhythmic clanking of the wheels and the shrill, piercing sound of the whistle didn’t appear to be an aberration, though. It was, as if, the train was like a marching band playing a dirge for the dying Sun.

Like a thousand evenings before, and hence, the Rajdhani Express was speeding through the North Indian plains. All of a sudden, my three-year old jumped up in excitement – “Look, Daddy! Qutub Minar!”

I looked towards where he was pointing. It was a nondescript brick chimney, the kind that seems to spring up from nowhere – a drab, sullen and singularly unremarkable appendage to a brick kiln.

I tried to reason with him, without much success. “No, Dear”, I said, “That’s not the Qutub Minar. It’s just a brick chimney.” To my three-year old, who had only seen a few grainy pictures of the Qutub Minar, anything brownish-red in colour and conical in shape was a Qutub Minar!

“What a travesty!” I thought. “Need to rectify it”, I told myself. So, on a bright Saturday morning after we were back in Delhi, we left home to redeem our pledge. Through the entire week leading to that Saturday, I worked on Junior, to create a sense of anticipation for the upcoming visit – I kept on feeding him with morsels of history.

I explained to him how long, long ago there was a fierce battle in the region around Delhi. I told him how the victorious King wanted to commemorate that brilliant victory with an imposing monument – a Tower of Victory. I narrated how thousands of artisans toiled day and night to build an elegant and ageless masterpiece that has withstood the test of time. I described how the Qutub has been a lone sentinel to all the waxing and waning of fortunes that Delhi, the City of Kings, has undergone through the ages…

Qutub pic.jpgWe packed some biscuits, stocked up on water and with camera and binoculars in hand, started driving towards Mehrauli. Driving for about an hour in a rough north-easterly direction, we came upon the Archaeological Park. A few meters ahead, we took a sharp left and lo! The Qutub was in sight! I looked at Junior and saw his wonderstruck eyes taking in the magnificence of the situation. The faded photos of the Qutub that he had seen on fraying covers of notebooks, hadn’t prepared him for the kind of splendor he was standing in front of.

He strained his neck to reach the top of the tower, a conical apex far, far away. The long, narrow circular and triangular shafts, richly carved, tapered towards the pinnacle making it appear far farther than it actually was. At regular intervals, all through to the top, there jutted out intricately decorated balustrades – positions, maybe, from where a deeply worried Sultan would cast a nervous eye towards the northwest for the faintest signs of Chengiz Khan and his Mongol hordes?

The initial amazement finally gave way to fun and adventure. Junior would run to every nook and corner of the Qutub complex – here discovering a hidden alcove and there, a covered trapdoor. Presently, he took out his make-believe sword and began fighting a pitched battle with imaginary foes. And, of course, all of that was followed by the usual barrage of “What? When? How?” Needless to say, we had a great time re-discovering our past. I didn’t need to ask, but I could feel Junior screaming out, “The Qutub is no goddamn chimney!”

20150509_120229.jpgWhat started as a one-time heritage trip, turned into almost a weekly pilgrimage to one img-20160916-wa0000heritage location after another. We were fortunate to live in a city where long forgotten stories are strewn around, carelessly, in every mohalla. And, I wanted to leverage that to the hilt. Since our very first trip to the Qutub, we have covered a number of places from the ‘touristy’ Red Fort to the ‘picnic-y’ Rail Museum. We have also been to offbeat locations like the Flagstaff Tower, a decaying monument perched on the (Kamla Nehru) Ridge where the beleaguered British garrison sought refuge during the 1857 rebellion. There, huddled precariously close to the booming guns from the Kashmiri Gate, they held out till Deliverance came via the Grand Trunk Road, in the form of the thirty year old daredevil, the Irish John Nicholson, who singlehandedly turned the tide of the battle and, with it, the course of Indian history. Forever.

In recounting the story above, my purpose is not to focus on the specific incidents, but to draw attention to more generic concepts of parenting. Parenting, to me, is a sum-total of interactions that leads to an all-round nourishment of your child. Parenting is also tough and requires a fair bit of effort – keeping a five year-old engaged, without taking recourse to the easy (and may I say lazy?) option of gadgets, is no mean task!

In taking my son to all those excursions, it was my objective to build on his natural spirit of inquisitiveness. Rather than limiting him to books or TV, I wanted him to learn through sensory experiences through exploration and fun. By exposing him to India’s shared heritage, I want him to continue opening up his mind and broadening his horizons. I want to inculcate in him a sense of belonging towards his ‘Indianness’ – an appreciation for the rich tapestry of diversity that makes this country great. It is my belief that some of the interactions I described above will help make my child a curious, sensitive and better human being.

Screening Screen Time


Six years ago when my son was born, I didn’t know what a blessing in disguise my impending divorce would be. When you’re left with no money and an infant in tow, needs pretty much get stripped down to the basics. Food – check, diapers – check, clothes – check, toys – cross, smartphones and tablets – cross. And so it came to be that my son spent the first few years of his life with very few toys and no gadgets in the house.

For three years there was no smDSC_0434.JPGartphone, no tablet instead we went out. A lot. Our days were spent in the park from the time that he was six months old; sometimes we even had our meals there. He played in the mud, discovered hidden insects, collected rocks,sticks, and leaves, and climbed trees. Before he turned 4 he was riding a cycle without training wheels. The lack of gadgetry let him explore his real world, it stimulated him climbing-treesin a way screen time never could.

Would I have made the same choices if I had been able to afford it? I don’t know, but I’m so glad that I was too broke to indulge in smartphones and tablets. It gave my son an opportunity I see too many children losing out on today. When I hear people saying “kids are born with gadgets in their hands today” or “my child doesn’t eat without a screen” I wonder if parents know that the responsibility for that lies upon them.

Arhant first saw an iPad when he was nearly 3 and half years old. At 6 years of age, he now has access to iPads, smartphones and televisions. But given a choice, he still chooses to go out to the park. I know technology will be an intrinsic part of his life as he grows up, but for now it’ll be a limited part of his childhood.

Fun with Numbers

IMG_20160826_161550 (2).jpgAlthough my son is quick at reciting and writing numbers, he lacks the patience of counting things. More often than not, he skips a thing or two while counting. When I ask him to count the number of pictures on a wall, he ends up just saying the numbers without really pointing at each one of them. To help him build the patience to point at things one by one and count accordingly, I invented ‘Fun with Numbers’ game.

I collected everyday things available at home like pillows, pens, pencils, toys, chick peas, bowls, and glasses. I asked my son to count these things not by pointing at them, but collecting them one by one and handing over to me. It seems that the trick worked as doing things with own hands was a lot more fun. I also encouraged him to write the corresponding number on a paper, so that he could simultaneously practice writing the numbers 1 to 10 as well.

Given his love for fast paced things, I encourage him to do the activity with each number within the count of 10 to make it more exciting. I think his patience was tested the most when I asked him to get 8 chick peas which he had to count twice as he did not count them right the first time! As I play this game with him more and more with higher numbers in future, it will also help him enhance his hand-eye coordination.

– Mother of a 4 year old boy 

Bagheera, Baloo and the Board Book Creation

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I was fascinated with India from early childhood, mainly because of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories that my dad used to read to me every night before bed. Translated to Russian, the stories of little Mowgli preserved exotic Indian atmosphere – the jungles, monsoons, dangerous tigers and mischievous bander-logi (monkeys). Naturally when my daughter Shannon was born, I wanted to continue our family tradition and read these amazing stories to her. At 11 months, Shannon is still mostly attracted to “Touch & Feel” board books, with colourful large images, so I went on a hunt for appropriate adaptation of Kipling’s classic for early readers. When I could not find a version that would appeal, I had no choice but to make my first attempt of creating a board book from scratch.
Equipped with cardboaIMG_20160814_081313_1471267150147rd paper, scissors, glue, and printouts of jungle landscapes I found online, I locked myself for several hours in the evening to create the book that I was hoping to use as a “canvas” for my future storytelling. I wanted to make the book free of actual written words, just with images and pop-ups so that I could introduce my girl to all characters step-by-step and perhaps tell different stories every time. I only included the names of the main characters with the first letters in big shiny paper, “alphabet-style” (e.g. big B for Bagheera, big K for Kaa the python, S for Sher- khan). As these stories involved lots of action, climbing and chases, I thought it will be a good opportunity to introduce new spatial words to Shannon, which are proven to drive kids’ early conceptual dimensional thinking. I ornamented the margins of the book with prepositions that would help me describe the story, a cheat sheet for myself to weave into my stories.

IMG_20160814_135517_1471267255367It took me well into the night to finish the 8-page book and half way down the process I was already anticipating how I would introduce it to Shannon the next morning. She seemed to enjoy it, but perhaps not as much as I was expecting (a reality check J). She played with it for 5-7 min, liked the Mowgli figure made with glossy paper (she tore it, reviewed carefully and even tasted it J ). However, I did not get a chance to tell many stories. Perhaps it is a bit early for my 11-month old. The big shiny letters in the book caught her attention for some time, but the real proof of whether she likes it will come if she selects the book again from her bookshelf. I am hoping that day will come soon as my husband and Shannon’s papa, the wildlife photographer, has already promised to take both of us to the actual Mowgli forest in Kahna, where Kipling was inspired to create his original stories.

– Katerina Folkman, mother of 11 month old girl 

Learning Hindi with Russian Mama

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Though it has been more 3 years since I have been living in India, it was not until a year ago, when my baby girl Shannon was born that I felt a strong need to learn Hindi. The realisation hit me that very soon my child will start communicating in the language I don’t even understand. She is an Indian baby growing up in India, so naturally Hindi will become her first and foremost language. While I started making step-by-step progress in my regular Hindi classes, my Hindi alphabet books have quickly become favourites of my 11 month old daughter.

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To give her the freedom to choose and decide for herself what she wants to read, I have organised her books on lowest shelves of our television cabinet. While she is not attracted to the TV, about 3-4 times in a day she loves crawling over and pulling out one of the colourful books from the small library I have created for her. Often when Shannon would pull out the Hindi alphabet book because of its big bright images, my  nanny would happily start reciting the alphabet for her: “Ko” “Kho” “Ga” “Gha.” My girl was fascinated with “Ko” for “Kobutar” (pigeon) and “Kho” for “Khargosh” (rabbit). When we started showing her some Kobutars in our community park (unfortunately we do not have any Khargoshs), she was quick to relate to the imagery in the book. Now she is pointing herself to any bird she sees outside and even on her nanny’s t-shirt and uttering her first “Ko..! Ko..!” to show us these amazing creatures.
IMG-20160809-WA0006It was fascinating to observe “the birth of a word” for Shannon, how she moved from watching the bird in the book, to hearing me pronounce its name, to recognizing this bird in real life, and then trying to name it herself. Even though it is just a simple “Ko,” for her this is a huge step-an ability to communicate with us through language. Shannon is still choosing this alphabet book at least once a day to read, but now we are trying to read short stories in Hindi. As I try to read and understand the stories, Shannon listens in and will be trying to speak more soon as we go on this learning journey together.

– Katerina Folkman, mother of a 11 month old girl

Yellow Dal, Red Berries

IMG_20160812_175837_1471015540180As the rains came to Gurgaon, I had to brave up to a new challenge – how to keep my 10 month old energetic baby engaged indoors. Considering that that she was just learning to walk and wanted to explore the whole house, keeping her busy and entertained at one spot for even 10-15 minutes was a task. Icame up with several activities to “learn through play,”one of which involved playing with grains and pulses.
I put enough of uncooked dry dal into the old big ice cream bucket, and for several minutes she just enjoyed putting her hands inside it and pulling out more and more of these wonderful, small, hard and round dal pieces. This “substance” was not familiar with her, so she took her time exploring single grains, pinching them with her little wet fingers and watching closely how they stick to them, and of course bringing into her mouth to taste.
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I showed her how to pour the dal into small buckets and pour it back to the big one.  She tried herself, and oops – most of it ended on the floor all around her. She continued playing and throwing it around just like sand on the beach. Then I tried to add different colours to the game, and hide several red dry cranberries inside the bucket with dal. She took a lot of interest in searching for soft red berries, so different from dry yellow grains. And once she discovered them, she got a sweet bonus –  the berries were pleasant to eat.
The simulation of receptors on her fingers was great for development of fine motor skills along with sorting and searching for small things. I also pointed and named the colours (yellow and red), and qualities of the grains (soft and hard) to help her develop speech. And boy did we have fun throwing this dal around! We will definitely try this game again, and this time around I am planning to have more interesting things hidden in the dal bucket to make it an even more joyful experience.

 – Katerina Folkman,mother of a 10 month old daughter