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 smartphone, 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 in 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.
Janamashtmi, the birth day of Lord Krishna, brings back a vivid and happy childhood memory of spending hours creating arts scenes from his life in the front verandah (porch) of houses with neighbourhood friends across age groups. While this tradition has died over the years in India like many others which involve “real play” with other kids, I decided to indulge in an act of art creation with my son to relive the memory and keep him engaged on his day off from school. His existing love for vehicles, our recent trip to Kerela where he made merry on the boat, and, more importantly, depiction of boat in most art scenes of Krishna, made me choose the vehicle for our first act of joint creation.
To begin with, I encouraged him to empty out the craft items created out of everyday objects from a cardboard box and hunt for coloured matchsticks as they would fit well in the form and help him learn a new shape – rectangle. While he excitedly started handing the sticks one by one to me for pasting calling out yellow rectangle, orange rectangle, the joy lasted only for 10 sticks. Soon after he started climbing on the cardboard box to pull a nearby lamp, taking on the naughty child avatar of Krishna.
To distract him from his mischievous acts, I asked him to get some atta (round wheat ball) from the refrigerator. Though he loved the opportunity of rolling it on the chakla (wooden board) with belan (round implement used to make chapatis) and tracing the shape of letter b (for boat) with his black magnet, he found greater joy in picking the tiny black dals and sticking them one by one with his fingers in the b shaped cavity created by the object.
Surprised and delighted at seeing him enjoy getting his hands messy, I encouraged him to complete the boat creation by dipping the sticks in fevicol instead of handing them clean. To add a finishing touch, we pasted a big rectangle (ice cream stick) in the middle inspired by the cover image on Oliver Jeffer’s Lost and Found and his love for umbrella. When I checked the time at the end, it had been more than an hour – the longest he had been engaged in a particular activity, but perhaps it would have been more fun and lasted longer if there were other kids involved in the creation.