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Experiences

Inexpensive ways to keep kids Busy

It’s been over 2 and a half months, and the chirping of little kids has been eerily quiet in our gated community. Last week, my 3 year old son asked me, “Daddy, when will Conora-virus go? When will the playground be open?” and I had nothing but a sigh and an unsure “soon, Anik, soon…” to mutter. Sad, right? Don’t let the occasional memory of playground or his friends fool you though. Anik has been having a gala time since the Lockdown began and he’s been a very happy child. We will give him full credit for that. Let me share with you some inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. My spouse and I have facilitated a few playing and learning experiences for him that we would like to share.

Cardboard + imagination = unlimited fun as an inexpensive way to keep kids busy.

Weekends? no! They are craft days!!We ask Anik – What would you like to “make” today and the answers are as imaginative as they can be. Spaceship, Speedboat, A Car City, A Booster Rocket. Some spare things in the house, and a bit of stationary and we sit with him and craft our way to some really cool #makercraft. This is one of the great inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. Patience is key, so is participation – for sticking, colouring, marking and all kinds of stuff the kid may enjoy. We usually start with a plan on a whiteboard and then keep iterating our way. I will let the pictures do the talking. We hope Anik learns creativity, patience, and the love for building.

Pre-schoolers make great little chefs!

The entire world has been baking during the coronavirus pandemic and we are no exception. This surely is a proven way to keep your kid engaged. Helps Anik learn textures, tastes, dexterity, and again, making. This is another inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. We have gone a step further and given him some common ingredients and let his imagination take over. We have as a result, Grape and Potato wafer canapés, Apple Pie Made up of Apple and Coarse Sugar, and many other creative recipes you will not even find in a Michelin star restaurant. Take a look at some of these!!

Household chores + role play can turn pre-schoolers into happy little helpers.

Want to load your dishwasher? This is one of the great inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. You should ask your kid for help, Anik calls it a dishwashing Robot and he loves to help. Our cleaner bot is his robot friend too, he calls it Eva (from the Pixar movie Wall-e). Anik also loves on days to clean up and show us his superpowers! This doesn’t always work but when it does it’s great!

Your house spaces and furniture are your best friends!!

A bean bag, a hydraulic bed, sofa, simple mattress, can turn into amazing physical activities for kids. Balcony / Terrace can turn into yoga spaces. You don’t have to do a lot, just don’t interfere with creativity. This is one of the most amazing inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. There is a big safety issue here, so please exercise common sense. We turn our hydraulic bed into a slide, sofa with a bean bag turns into a bird’s nest, a mattress can turn into a ski slope. My kid for instance has conceived a fun pretend swimming pool – a bedsheet surrounded by pillows and a house ladder as a diving board, and there is pretend splashing too, and we have to be there with him. I’m sure all of us can relate to jumping on the bed, but with Anik we have taken it to a whole new level. We have also brought in aspects of simulation for instance we have built a car city replete with school, hospital, garage, emergency services, roads and everything!! Anik had blast building and playing.

Technology is a means to an end – it is NOT one of the inexpensive ways to keep kids busy.

Tech does NOT mean screens. Screens are okay, I am not averse to a couple hours of screen time a day, but it surely is passive and doesn’t engender or utilise creative ability at all. We try to harness tech to keep the kid engaged and curious, this could be simply be , communicating with his friends, or helping me repair a tap, or teaching how to replace batteries in toys, and then come the science experiments. For instance at 3 although not with a lot of expectations, me and Anik have created a DC generator prototype that generates electricity from another fan and a propeller wind mill. We have also created a water pumping station using siphon action. Anik’s grandfather has designed an aeroplane shuttle system based on a rope and a few straws. It’s brilliant. You can also experiment with Augmented reality fairly easily. Finally Lego! Lego is not tech but isn’t it? Using building blocks to create fascinating things… for me there is no better definition of tech.

I don’t pretend to be a super parent. These are humble efforts that are purely born out of necessity. Who knows, they might even inspire some parents and kids!!

Can you relate? Let us know in the comments below.

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Experiences

The story of joyous blackouts

I assume, few people in the developed world are familiar with the concept of blackouts.

Human brain is quite the genius! Some sights and smells can magically trigger decades old memories in vivid detail; sort of like biological virtual reality!

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Open flames have magical qualities

So! Last Sunday, the smell of a burning candle magically took me deep down the memory lane. I was a teenager in a typical suburban family. As some of you may know, this time of the year reckons start of the Monsoon season. Especially in western parts of India. Weather changes in a day, from scorching red hot sun to torrential thunderstorms. Many years ago, blackouts in parts of cities were common; especially as the distribution company sought to insure themselves from the storm.

Such evenings would start with  a majestic roaring of the heavy dark clouds. We knew that a thunderstorm followed by a blackout was on its way. The power would go out like clockwork in a few minutes. Me and my sister would race to see who lights the candles in the house. We also had a Kerosene lamp that would burn with a distinctive smell that I love till date! All of a sudden, the TV would stop. All the background sounds of electric appliances would fall silent. Only thing you could hear was nature – cracking bolts of thunder and the rain. I vividly remember that we stopped doing what we were doing and gathered around the kerosene lamp. Just the 4 of us. Me, my sister and our parents.

We never truly appreciated it, but the time showed an unusual quality of slowing down on such joyous blackouts!

We would intently listen to stories, talk with each other like nothing else mattered. Thankfully, there were no cell phones at the time, even though I always thought ringing of our landline phone during a blackout was nothing short of a miracle. Not once do I remember complaining about the power cuts, unless of course it was during a cricket match! The blackouts lasted a few minutes and sometimes more, but when they were over, everyone went back to their business with a surreal sense of satisfaction!

Why all the nostalgia? Because the blackouts story really makes me think about our present day surroundings and the concept of mindfulness. Let me explain. Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahnemann explains beautifully in his book “Thinking fast and slow” that the human brain has two distinctive personas.

System 1 and system 2. System 1 performs instinctive or well learnt behaviours without spending much mental energy; for instance, driving – you really don’t have to calculate the angle of incidence of an approaching vehicle to figure out that there will be a collision – you just know! On the contrary system 2 is about applying a conscious deeper mental effort, for instance if I ask you to calculate the time it will take for an object to fall from the Eiffel Tower – you will think. This often involves storing some information in your temporary memory and then manipulating it in order to come to a result. A lot of studies have been carried out on system 1 and system 2. Any details though would be way out of scope of this already long post.

The crux of it is that your brain has a really finite “slow-thinking” capacity, and the more you exhaust it the more likely you are to make cognitive judgement errors.

Google mindfulness. By definition, it asks us to step back and reflect – to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings. I have a theory (based on the story above) that it has become increasingly challenging for us to practice mindfulness because of the information overload. Think about it, you have everything literally screaming for your attention. You wake up and you need to decide whether you want a skinny cappuccino or a latte, you need to open that dreadful device (I am telling you it is the worst offender in this context) your cell phone! You have a thousand notifications waiting from ten thousand apps that you have to think about, respond to.

Imagine how much precious and finite mental energy those WhatsApp chats and meaningless Facebook scroll down gestures take. Then you come to work and are overloaded with a further army of attention seekers. E-mails, messengers, meetings (yes!). You come home and are faced with the same dilemma, with 30 news channels and you need to spend precious slow-thinking time wondering what to watch. Don’t even get me started on Netflix. Do you get the point?

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Mindfulness is about being in the present

Naturally, I feel like we had more mental capacity to practice mindfulness before the advent of satellite television, and modern technology including cell phones.

Yes, its not about blackouts its about mindfulness – use the technology, don’t let technology use you.

Nevertheless  a lot of things can actually help. Meditation, Yoga,  learning to switch off before you hit the bed, and more generally switching off push notifications on your mobile as soon as you think they are becoming a useless distraction. Breaks from the hustle bustle of your city and routine are welcome too of course.

After all we need to be mindful that, the best things about life are our memories and experiences and they are almost always not digital!

A blackout, anyone?

@abhinandanshah