Baking / Cooking: A well-rounded learning activity!

Food has always been a big issue with my toddler. For as long as I can remember, mealtime has been a lottery, not knowing whether she would eat or not. I tried a variety of flavors, offered them in colorful utensils, even made her rotis in fun shapes and colors – nothing worked. One day, instead of giving her toy utensils and water to play with, I decided to give her idly* batter and an idly mold and asked her to pour the batter into the mold. While we had a small mess on our hands, we achieved two things with this exercise: we had a great activity to develop fine motor skills, and of course, the child was so proud that she had helped to make the food that she couldn’t resist eating it!

Since then, I’ve loved having her stand on a ladder and assist while I cook. The rule I have set is that she isn’t allowed near heat (stove, oven) or knives but other than that, she’s good to go! She loves adding ingredients like salt/sugar/flour, stirring, mixing, pouring things and more. We often spend the afternoons baking cookies together, which is a great activity for a toddler as she can do everything except get the baking tray in and out of the oven. I usually measure out ingredients into small bowls and give her the ingredients and a large mixing bowl, and she loves it! In keeping up with the “I did it!” goal, she is very proud to share her creations with her family and friends!

I decided to take the activity one step further. Instead of measuring out ingredients and leaving them out for her, I decided to take a simple recipe and convert it to a form that she could read. While A can read simple words and count, obviously she  can’t do fractions like “1 1/2 cup” or understand the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon. Instead of using a standard one cup measure, I used a quarter cup measure which would be easy for her small hands to handle. Instead of using the words teaspoon and tablespoon, I used a set of colorful measuring spoons I had and the recipe called for “1 green spoon” and so on. This way, she had only one variable to deal with – the number of spoons /cups to add, and identifying a spoon / cup by their color was definitely a simpler task than identifying them by their measure!

This sounds really confusing, but it was actually very simple. Here’s a sample recipe that I converted. We decided to try cheese muffins today, as it seemed to be a fairly simple recipe with minimal ingredients and not to mention, A’s favorite ingredients. Here’s the original recipe. I have halved the recipe and converted it to a language that A could understand. Here you go:

Cheese Muffins Recipe**:
3 cups flour
1 green spoon sugar
1 green spoon baking powder
1 red spoon salt
6 cups shredded cheese
2 cup milk
1 egg
1 cup melted butter

Method:
1. Ask Mom to preheat your oven to 375F.
2. Put muffin liners in your muffin tray.
3. Mix all ingredients to make a batter.
4. Add 2 blue spoons of the batter to each muffin liner.
5. Ask Mom to put the muffin tray in the oven.
6. Wait for 30 minutes. When you wait, you can play, sing or imagine anything!
7. Ask Mom to take the tray out of the oven.
8. Eat your muffins!

A’s measurements vs. Actual measurements:
1 cup = 1/4 cup
1 blue spoon = 1 tbsp
1 green spoon = 1/2 tbsp
1 red spoon = 1/4 tsp

I’ll also suggest that you personalize your recipe. For example, my daughter calls me “Mimi” and my recipe had Mimi instead of Mom, or of course replace with the name of the caregiver at the time – Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Big Sister etc.  Customize the recipe to the measuring cups and spoons you have at hand. I also had the recipe written out on a sheet of paper, which was affixed to the refrigerator at A’s eye level, making it easy for her to refer to whenever she wanted.

This activity teaches skills on so many levels! Oh, where do I even begin! At the very least, your child is working hard to read the recipe and the fact that they are excited to get to baking / eating means that they are further enthused to read! If your child doesn’t read yet, supplement the text with an image of a green/red/blue spoon, and then read the recipe out loud with your child. Math skills also improve as they measure ingredients. Not to mention that the chemical reactions causing the muffins to rise is a wonderful chemistry experiment. Above all, they are developing an invaluable life skill!

So no matter what your reason – whether you have a picky eater, a bored child on summer vacation, or just a craving for a homemade snack – do give this activity a try with your kids. Let me know what recipes you try out, and do share your customizations to make your recipe kid-friendly!

 

*Idly is a dish from Southern India wherein a fermented batter made of rice and black lentils is steamed in a special mold. It’s an extremely healthy dish loved by children and adults alike.

**Disclaimer: This post is a guideline to a method, and not a recipe post. The objective of this post was not to share the recipe for muffins with you, but to share with you my way of implementing a learning activity with my daughter. Apply this method to any recipe you’d like to try out with your kids!

Hands on the Arts Festival 2018, Sunnyvale CA

I’m really loving attending the plethora of child-centric events available these days with my daughter. We’ve attended Touch-a-truck events, aviation events, holiday-centric events, and today we made it to the “Hands on the Arts Festival 2018” at Sunnyvale, CA. While the target audience of the event were children, I’d say anyone would have a blast here! Participants could register online or at the event, and receive a wristband (among other goodies) that enable them to get their hands dirty with a whole bunch of fun art forms!

Each activity had a recommended minimum age.  I chose (as I always do) all the age appropriate activities. I prefer to respect the age recommendations as they are set with a reason. In keeping up with the “I did it!” culture, it’s important to expose your children to age appropriate activities that enable them to complete the task at hand independently, rather than activities for older kids that might prove to be too challenging for little ones. That being said, I took my 2 year 10 month daughter to activities labelled 3+ as she was able to do most of the activity (except, for example, using scissors). Basically, age recommendations are a guideline – follow them with discretion!

Out of the 33 booths set up at the festival, I’m going to run through some of our favorites. Hands down (and hands on!) A’s favorite was painting a real car! Silicon Valley Auto Body & Tow had donated two cars for the “paint a car” workshop. Both cars were white to start with, and kids grabbed cups of paint and brushes and painted these big cars! A loved this! I loved watching her find her way among the group and find her place in the crowd, and contribute to the designs on the car appropriately.

I also loved the concept behind the “Action painting” workshop. Here, a sheet of white paper was placed inside a box. Small items such as golf balls, marbles, little cars were placed in paint. Kids “rolled” these objects around the box, creating beautiful patterns with the paint. I’m definitely going to be trying activity out at home!

I was overjoyed to find a rangoli workshop. While traditional rangoli requires a fair bit of fine motor skill, the method taught at this workshop was a wonderful stepping stone to learning the art of rangoli. A clear plastic plate was placed on a colorful image (my daughter chose a duck). Kids applied glue over the image using a paintbrush, and sprinkled colorful rangoli powder on the glue to make a rangoli! I was so happy for the opportunity to introduce the beautiful art of rangoli to A.

Speaking of tracing patterns over transparent plastic, another favorite of ours was the “Incredible Shrinking Bauble”, where once again, she placed a transparent plastic sheet over an image (this time, she chose a teddy bear) and colored using permanent markers. These sheets were then placed in a hot oven and “shrunk”, into a size small enough that they could be attached to a keychain or a button. Kiddo was super proud to give her grandpa a keychain that she made herself!

These were just a few highlights of the dozen or so booths that we checked out. We also liked the button picture frames a lot – where A revisited her knowledge of shapes and colors by gluing bright buttons in different shapes to the border of a picture frame. The Art of Gardening workshop was a big hit and appropriate for the season as well, where we planted some pretty flowers in a biodegradable pot, decorated the pot and brought it home. I love introducing gardening to A as it teaches her to care for her plants and patience in waiting for them to grow. Other fun stuff included painting with water colors, cookie cutter painting, making collages of different kinds, Lego block printing (definitely going to try that out with Duplos at home – this booth was tagged for ages 5+ probably because of the size of Legos).

All in all, it was a morning well spent and I’m sure this will be a regular event on our calendar in the coming years. I loved watching A choose her activities, the images and colors she wanted to work with. I watched her exert her decision making skills and navigate the crowds, developing her social skills as she shared resources and participated in group activities. As a parent and an educator, I appreciate the thought and hard work put into each and every booth by the organizers and volunteers. Such events are not just about the crafts produced in the duration of the event, but the knowledge that we bring home with us. I can’t wait to try out everything we learnt, and go back for more next year!

A’s thoughts on Eclipses

We spent a lot of time indoors last week as A was unwell. We read books, colored and when we watched videos, they were generally on her favorite topics – space and the solar system. One morning, we were watching a video about eclipses and I explained to A “see, sun and moon are playing peek-a-boo”, an explanation which apparently tickled her fantasy.

That afternoon, when I was taking her to the doctor’s place at 4 PM, the moon had already risen but the sun was also still out. She pointed at moon and said “moon!”. Then, puzzled, she said “Uh oh!” I asked her, “Why uh oh? What happened?”

She pointed back and forth “sun! moon! sun! moon!”. After thinking for a few moments, she asked me “sun, moon, peek a boo?”

I was amazed that she’d grasped the concept of an eclipse, not to mention applied it to that instance where she saw that both the sun and moon were out. Since then, every time we’ve seen them together, she’s been asking them to play peek a boo!

Couch-star-gazing!

Kids learn at an amazing rate. It’s hard to keep up with them! It’s important to nurture that thirst for knowledge and encourage a spirit of life-long learning. It’s also amazing how early they establish interests. Some kids like cars and other modes of transport, others like everything about dinosaurs. My daughter established very early on that she liked anything and everything to do with “stars”, and all things space. It all started when she indicated that “Twinkle, Twinkle…” was her favorite nursery rhyme. She then moved on to a fascination with “sun-moon-stars” (in her words). Over a period of time, she amazed us by learning the planets, and constantly asking us to read her books on planets and space!

We have been working out ways to encourage her curiosity. As I’ve said before, I strongly believe in learning through play, so that learning stays fun. I’ve often heard that we should not pressurize children into learning, and I fully agree. However, I believe that we can encourage learning without putting pressure on kids, and that a child who wants to learn must be nurtured and encouraged. It’s also wonderful when children can choose their subjects of interest. In that vein, I’ve been working on ways to feed her curiosity about planets and space as long as she is interested.

Here’s a really easy one. We all have an excess of empty paper towel rolls. These double up great as telescopes! A has been playing with these empty rolls for months now as her pretend “telescope”. The next logical step was to bring the solar system to our home. Print colorful images of the planets, stars, the moon, anything really. (We downloaded ours from here, and I love the posters! Bright, attractive and detailed!) Stick these up all over your home, hand your kid the “telescope” and let them “star-gaze” from the comfort of your home.

There are a number of ways you can play around with this activity. You can start off with whatever your kid likes, of course. Play around and switch locations every now and then, add/remove elements, making it a fun new game each time!

Further, I’ll bet this activity would work to convert your home into any new realm for your kid to explore. Wildlife would be a fun one, for example. I imagine another popular choice could be dinosaurs. I’m sure everyone has their own great ways of implementing this, and I can’t wait to hear all about it!

2-in-1: A recipe for home-made clay, and a simple learning aid!

As a parent of a toddler, one must always have their repertoire stocked with several activities of every category: indoor, outdoor, toys, books, crafts, active day, sick day, you name it. Toddlers are a sponge when it comes to learning, and it’s great if you can incorporate learning activities in their daily play. I’m a big believer in learning through play, and find that with how eager children are to learn, it isn’t hard to incorporate learning through play in our everyday life.

As eager as we may be to pick the most fun activities for our kids, one must understand that kids operate on agendas of their own! I have had several days where I propose a really fun day, or some yummy food, only to have A dispose all my ideas! Just like anyone else, children have preferences when it comes to different kinds of activities, and go through phases. I’ve seen A go through phases of playing with different things – both outdoors (at the playground, with her ball), and indoors (specific toys, games, and her lifelong favorite – books). Recently, she has been very into drawing and coloring, as well as reading the alphabet and numbers. I figured it was a good time as ever to enter the world of arts and crafts!

I wanted to introduce her to clay, a great sensory play and a way  Like any toddler, tasting is a way in which she explores. Therefore, I wasn’t comfortable offering store-bought clay just yet. I chose to make salt dough because I figured that even though it contained only edible ingredients, it would taste so terrible that A would learn not to eat it! Making the clay is easy. There are several recipes online, be it the no-cook kind like this one, or the cooked clay like this. The first link also offers a comparison between the two. I chose to go with the no-cook kind, since I had plans to use up the clay quickly enough anyway. All you have to do is mix 2 cups of all purpose flour, 1 cup of  water with 1 tsp turmeric mixed in, 1 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp cream of tartar and 1/2 cup of salt and knead until smooth and pliable.

Score! I now had home-made, non-toxic, toddler-safe clay. But wait! The story doesn’t end here. Before we move on, let’s talk about learning aids. Simply put, a learning aid is anything that enhances learning. I believe that several unexpected items can be turned into learning aids. So here’s how the home-made clay can be turned into a learning aid of a different kind. For the last several weeks, A has been fascinated with the alphabet. So I decided to make her the alphabet! Just roll out the clay, cut out the shapes of the alphabet and bake it at 200F for about 30 minutes. Alternatively, you could also let it air-dry but I am too impatient for that. This method can be used to make shapes, numbers and pretty much anything else your toddler is currently fascinated with!

So that’s how we spent our Sunday. I am eagerly waiting to try out a bunch of projects with the clay: rolling, kneading, more shapes with cookie cutters, numbers, and a few more surprises. Do try this out, and let me know what you come up with!

The wonderful world of books

It’s been awhile since my last post! Between travel and spring-time activities, life with A sure got busy! After our trip to Hawaii, we spent two months in India, followed by a quick trip to New Jersey where I presented my work on LEGO and other STEM toys at ISEC 2017. What a wonderful experience! I learnt so many new things, and met some wonderful people. The rush that accompanies attending a great conference is one that cannot be matched!

Attending conferences is one of the many reminders that, in life, knowledge is one’s greatest asset. For a little one, there isn’t a more welcoming door to the world of knowledge than books. The question of how “little” your little one can start reading often arises. Surprise, surprise – you can start reading to your little one(s) while they’re still in the womb! Stories with a lilting tune, such as Dr. Seuss’ books are a wonderful way to read out to your yet-to-be-born child and help him/her recognize your voice. In our case, this actually worked – a newborn A could recognize both her parents voices as soon as she was born.

By about 3 months, the eyesight of an infant should be developed sufficiently to focus on objects, sometimes reaching out for them too. This is a great age to keep handy books which have simple images, with a good contrast and not too much clutter on the page. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is a classic, with the colorful images, the sharp contrast and the beautiful patchwork-style illustration of the sun, apples, the caterpillar and more. Another personal favorite of ours are pretty much all the books by Leslie Patricelli, with her simple storylines and adorable illustrations. A started off with “Baby Happy, Baby Sad” at around 6 months of age and has been working her way through her books since.

Since then, she’s moved on to other kinds of books! We love our open-the-flap books, or peek-a-boo books, such as the series by Karen Katz. “Where is baby’s belly button” was her first book, ever! “Brown bear, brown bear” is another interpretation of a peek-a-boo book that is a favorite of most kids. Touch-and-feel books are another great way of sensory play, encouraging babies and toddlers to understand smooth, rough, soft, slippery and more. We also love books that teach routines and discipline. “The Going to Bed Book” is a bed-time favorite, while “Hands are not for Hitting” teaches essential habits. Of course, timeless classics such as “Giraffes can’t dance” and “Goodnight Moon” never get old! Of course, while books with stories are wonderful, books with simple concepts of the alphabet, numbers and words are also important for babies and toddlers. “First 100 words” is a great book of this category, which sorts out common words into categories like eating, bathtime, bedtime, animals, etc.

Turning the pages of a book is an important milestone that indicates several things, including the development of the fine motor skill required to do so, the understanding of the process of going through a book, and most importantly, the curiosity of what lies ahead on the next page. It is important to understand that if the pages of the book get torn in the early days, that’s just a step in the process. Offering board books in the early years are a good way to help them learn to handle the process of turning pages before moving on to the more delicate paperbacks.

Reading is an important part of our daily schedule, and we incorporate it at several different times – during car rides, during quiet time / independent play time, and A’s favorite – at bed-time. On days when we stay at home, we always make sure we have a stack of books! It is never too soon to inculcate the wonderful habit of reading. What are some of your little ones’ favorite books?