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?

 

Meta-cognition in infants and toddlers

A recent discussion with a good friend and colleague brought up the topic of meta-cognition. Meta-cognition is, simply put, knowledge of ones’ own self. There have been arguments about the measurement of meta-cognition. How can we measure awareness of ones’ own self? Can we set guidelines or rules to decide how much one knows about oneself?

I have been fiddling with this aspect of knowledge for years now with no real outcomes. Truth be told, I’d all but given up on ever coming to any real understanding of meta-cognition, for it seemed to abstract to me! However, I recently chanced upon an understanding of meta-cognition in my toddler, A, which then lead to an avalanche of thoughts on different instances where A has demonstrated that she does have meta-cognitive knowledge, or awareness of her own self. In addition, I could also identify future instances where her meta-cognition would prove to be a milestone. Here were some of my thoughts:

  1. Awareness of one’s own hands and feet: At what point does a baby become aware of one’s own body parts? Sure, they look at their hands and feet, but they are not born with the awareness that these are parts of their body. The first time I saw A demonstrate any awareness was closer to 5 months, when she would move her hands and watch the movement (and of course, proceed to eat her hands!) This was one of the earliest demonstrations of meta-cognition I’d seen in her.
  2. Awareness of the child in the mirror: As we had a full length mirror right next to A’s changing station, A has been aware of mirrors since her birth. She was always fond of her friend in the mirror, “they paapa” meaning “that baby”. Of course, she didn’t realize that child was her own self for awhile! A simple test to see when your kid is aware of his/her own reflection is to put a hat on them while in front of the mirror. At some point, they try to take the hat off AFTER seeing their reflection in the mirror. This indicates that the child is aware that the child in the mirror is his/her own reflection.
  3. Toilet training: I would say this is a huge demonstration of meta-cognition. If you haven’t already, do check out the potty training checklist on babycenter or anywhere else. When you read it, you will find several checks that all require self-awareness – such as “Knowing how to pull pants up and down” or “Understands the physical signals that mean he has to go and can tell you before it happens or even hold it until he has time to get to the potty.” By understanding the importance of meta-cognition in this aspect, I have begun rethinking the entire process of potty-training!

As I said, there were way more thoughts in my mind once I saw some clear demonstrations of meta-cognition. I am sure these are aspects you have seen in your child too. I’d love to hear back from you – what are some of the ways you observed meta-cognition or self-awareness in your child? What are some of the methods you would use to measure this? Can you observe in yourself, and other adults around you as well? Do share!

Project Toddler Travel Food

Well, we finally did it – our first family vacation! We spend 2 weeks on the Big Island, Hawaii. We had a truly memorable time, what with A learning to walk and talk! We also visited a bunch of cool places, including a black sand beach, a garden that was modeled after the Milky Way galaxy, an astronomy center from where we could view the Milky Way, and a live volcano! All very unique experiences that need a separate photo essay to do any justice in sharing.

Of course, this kind of travel requires a LOT of planning with a toddler. In fact, it took me nearly a month to put together everything food-related A needed for the trip! Of course, one must keep in mind that my working hours are restricted to A’s sleep time, if I’m lucky, especially during the cold months when her outdoor activities are restricted. Not to mention, Hawaii didn’t have the same availability of groceries and food that we are lucky access in Sunnyvale, and we found out that even Amazon Prime took 3-7 days and hefty shipping fee to deliver. So of course, I had to be very, very organized with this project. I chose to break down the Project Toddler Travel Food into phases, and the instructional designer in me went back to good ol’ ADDIE. While the ADDIE Model is traditionally used in Instructional System Design, it can also be applied to generic processes to have a more systematic approach. Anyway, this is my belief.

So here goes, the 5 Phases of Project Toddler Travel Food:

Analysis:
A quick analysis of my toddler’s needs and our constraints led me to the following conclusions:
1. A’s basic diet consists of rasam/dal/rice + steamed veg for her lunches/dinners and idlies and dosas for her breakfasts.
2. I would have access to a full kitchen during the first week of our trip (we had booked an AirBnB), while during the second week we would be staying at a resort where I would possibly get a microwave depending on availability.
3. I couldn’t carry a ton of food and utensils due to luggage constraints.

Design:
Based on the constraints, I divided up the packing list for this project into three, the food to pack, the utensils, and the food to buy there. Here goes:

Food to take:

  1. Mung dal: Cooks way faster in an electric rice cooker than toor dal, healthy as well.
  2. Rice: Just enough for the travel day, we bought rice there too.
  3. Methkoot: a Marathi preparation, a powder consisting of roasted lentils and fenugreek. To be mixed with rice with salt and oil, or butter in this case since that is what we bought. Known as Menthya Hittu in Kannada.
  4. Vangibath powder: A preparation of roasted and powdered spices, lentils and dry coconut which is mixed with rice and vegetables to create a yummy rice dish. I carried this to mix with rice, butter and frozen vegetables bought there.
    Instant Rasam Powder: A must for me as rasam rice is my daughter’s staple food. Here is a recipe that I developed, tested and got A’s approval on weeks before our trip.
  5. Chutney podi: To be had with idlies or dosas
  6. Instant Dosa Powder: I used a recipe from the trusty Hebbar’s Kitchen for this with success. The AirBnB we were staying at provided a non-stick frying pan and spatulas which I used to make dosas.
  7. Instant Oats Idly Mix: Again, I’ve got a recipe on my blog right here.
  8. Instant Rava Idly/upma Mix: I can get a full recipe up on this site soon but for now, all you gotta do is make the exact same recipe as the oats idly mix, but replace all the oat flour with semolina and rava. This can be used to make quick upma too!
  9. Dhaniya jeera powder: Roasted cumin and coriander seed powder. This is A’s favorite seasoning for steamed vegetables.
  10. Eno fruit salt: I needed this to make the instant idlies and dosas, but can be substituted with baking soda in a pinch
  11. Lime juice concentrate: I used this to give my idlies and dosas the tang that typically comes from fermentation.

Utensils to take:

  1. Electric rice cooker: I have this one, small and handy.
  2. Microwave idly plates: I have something similar to this.
  3. A’s bowls with lids: I have this, convenient for travel and especially when there are no high chairs.
  4. A’s spoons, bibs and sippy cups
  5. Disposable boxes: These were useful to transport food from the AirBnB to the resort. As I wasn’t sure about the availability of a microwave at the resort, I prepared rasam and steamed veggies for A at the AirBnB and transported them to the resort. I chose to use disposable boxes so that I could leave them behind and free up luggage space on the way back.

Shopping list:

  1. Essentials: Salt / butter / milk / yoghurt / seasoning items (pepper/chilli flakes)
  2. Foods which are easy to make: Pasta + pasta sauce, Bread + eggs
  3. Frozen: Frozen meals / Frozen vegetables
  4. Perishables: Vegetables and fruits

Development:

Next came making time to prepare the foods that I couldn’t buy, with links where applicable. These were:

  1. Instant rasam powder
  2. Instant oats idly mix
  3. Instant rava idly mix
  4. Instant dosa mix
  5. Mollaga podi (gun powder) or Chutney podi

Implementation:

  1. In order to cook comfortably while on a holiday, I strongly recommend booking an AirBnB with a full kitchen if that is an option at your destination. Our AirBnB had a full kitchen including a stove range, oven, microwave, toaster, coffee maker and dishwasher. In addition, we were provided with utensils such as pots and pans, plates and cutlery, coffee powder and sugar. If a full kitchen isn’t an option, a microwave would be a minimum requirement for me.
  2. It would also help to look up availability of groceries at your destination. We were fortunate enough to have a Safeway a few miles away, which allowed me to plan on buying pantry staples and some prepared foods as well.
  3. I also established a cooking schedule on Day 1, similar to the cooking schedule I follow at home. While this is certainly hard to do while on holiday, my baby was very happy to have her familiar foods away from home and anything that makes her happy is priceless! I must add that I could count the number of times A ate outside during our 2 week holiday on 1 hand, so everyday cooking proved to be essential.

Evaluation:

As with any project, evaluation is key if we want to travel with our picky toddler again. Food was the biggest challenge for A and she enjoyed everything else about traveling, so I really wanted to put together a travel kit for A’s food which could also serve as a template for future trips. Here are some things I felt I could improve:

  1. Utensils: While the AirBnB provided utensils, of course the resort didn’t provide any (duh!) which was something I had forgotten in my planning! We ended up using the disposable boxes, old take-out boxes, and a couple of plastic spoons and forks we’d gathered along the way. I still didn’t have any plates to eat from. Challenges which can be fixed next time by taking along a couple of plates, spoons and a microwave-able bowl.
  2. Seasoning items: I’d probably take along a couple of sachets of salt/pepper and some dried herbs and spices, since I didn’t have anything on the day we traveled and found it impossible to cook. It also seemed expensive to buy a full box of herbs/spices when all I needed was enough for a couple of weeks.

Well, that was Project Toddler Travel Food. I would say it turned out to be largely successful, especially because we also ate home-made food far more often than we have during our previous holidays. Food is such an important part of life, and a two week holiday would have been very difficult unless we planned this aspect well.

I hope this post was useful to you. Please modify as per your family’s needs and your travel destination. I can’t wait to hear your tips and tricks to help me improve this kit for next time!

Instant dosa mix

A quick shout-out to Hebbar’s Kitchen for their recipe for Masala Dosa Mix! If you have a stove and a tava or a frying pan, and a few simple ingredients, you’re all set! Our AirBnB provides a stove and a non-stick frying pan, so that’s what I used. I also carried with me, from home, the prepared dosa mix (made with the exact recipe in the link), lime juice concentrate and Eno fruit salt. I bought a few staple groceries once we reached here, which included yoghurt (plain!) and salt. Honestly, the batter took less time to come together than the pan took to heat! I whisked 4 tbsp of mix with 1 tbsp of yoghurt, and then around 1/2 cup of water. I added a tsp of lime juice and 1/2 tsp of Eno fruit salt. Made the dosas, and they came out perfectly! Happy toddler, happy mommy!

Thank you, Hebbar’s Kitchen!

Appreciating discipline

A shout-out to my mom and dad for inculcating the early habits of discipline, both before and after A 🙂 We have been very particular about A’s bedtime, nap-time and meals pretty much since she was born. We were taught about babies and their circadian rhythm in the hospital itself. Well, A is 16 months old today and I am pleased to share that the rigorous setting of routines has paid off! She is very particular about her schedule. Even if I try to take a day off, she ensures that I provide her with food and she is put to bed at her specific times. I realized this especially now as she’s been following her routines as per CA time, while in HI! She’s been getting cranky if her dinner isn’t provided within 5:30 PM, and 8:00 PM is like the middle of the night for her. I decided to allow her to eat and sleep early, not bothering too much about jet lag and such. The only difference it makes is that she is early to bed and early to rise, and that isn’t too bad in my book! As long as we follow her routines, she is happy but should we deviate too much, she brings the roof down!

I don’t like to dole out parenting advice, but one of the few tips I would share is to establish a routine very early in your child’s life. There is no such thing as an in-disciplined child, any child can be disciplined if this is introduced early enough in life. To say babies cannot have a bed-time for the first 3 months of their life is a myth, in my opinion based on my experience. By establishing healthy eating and sleeping habits in your child, you are setting them up for a healthy lifestyle. The best thing? A’s routine has reinforced a sense of discipline in me!

And that’s the end of my advice-sharing session. Suffice to say, this worked for me and I hope it works for you. I’ll add that just like anything else, there are good days and bad days. But overall, A is cool with her sense of discipline. I am a proud mom!

 

First family vacation!

Tomorrow morning, we leave for our first family holiday! We’re off to Hawaii! Although we have traveled plenty before A was born, this is our first big holiday with a baby. We traveled to India when she was younger, but since that was to visit grandparents and more like going from one home to another, it was very different.

This time, we’ve tried to pack all that we can think of… clothes, diapers, wipes being the least of ’em. Toys that can keep her occupied for longer, beach toys, favorite books, items of comfort, basic medication and of course the biggest item on the list being FOOD. Let’s hope we’ve remembered everything important, and that if we haven’t, we can find it there locally. Let’s hope everything goes well! Excited and nervous. Fingers crossed! Yay!

Climbing everything

A has been climbing stairs since she was 9 months old. We bought the IKEA Patrull gate soon after, only to have the product recalled. Although she’s capable of climbing up and down, we prefer she does not do so unsupervised. We try out best to block the entrance to the stairs, only to have her figure out a way to circumvent that.

Lately, she’s been climbing everything she can possibly climb. Sofas, beds, baskets, tables, chairs, you name it, she’s on it. I’m a tired mom!

Goodnight!

Lego & all the learning benefits: Part 1

As expected, A’s first set of Lego Duplo has opened up a world of learning opportunities for her. Obviously, we have all read numerous articles on how Lego promotes STEM education. However, what I would like to analyze is the specific skillset attained by blocks. To do this, I’m going to revisit an old friend, the competency.

Let’s start off with the formal definition. A competency is defined as an effective ability, including attributes, skills and knowledge, to successfully carry out some activity which is totally identified. While the term competency is typically applied in formal learning environments, I firmly believe that competencies are achieved at every stage of life. Since the first pediatrician appointments, we have been asked about A’s milestones such as feeding, laying down for tummy time, rolling over, etc. In my mind, these milestones are competencies achieved by the child. Taking the concept further, each competency has a number of sub-competencies as well. My mind was blown when my nurse at the hospital explained why it was so difficult for the newborn baby to learn to feed – the child must learn to a. suck; b. swallow; and c. all while breathing. The competency of “feeding” had so many sub-competencies!

Coming back to blocks. The obvious first competency to be achieved by the child is to put two blocks together. But wait! That isn’t the first one! While A was fascinated by the first sight of the Lego blocks, and even though it seems elementary, she couldn’t start off with putting two blocks together! So we started with what seems like the second competency: Taking two blocks apart.

So, why is this the easier competency? Let us look at the sub-competencies for the two competencies of putting together and taking apart Lego blocks:

C1: Taking blocks apart given a set of blocks that are joined together
C1.1: Identify where the two blocks meet
C1.2: Grip the blocks in the right way that they come apart
C1.3: Pull in the right direction until they come apart

C2: Putting blocks together
C2.1: Identify two blocks that will fit together
C2.2: Identify the right location to join them
C2.3: Grip them appropriately to push them together
C2.4: Join the two blocks together

We shall now identify the easier competency. Is difficulty a subjective factor? To some extent, definitely, but we can break it down into as many objective factors as we can as well, and allow learner subjectivity to be a factor too. Factors are also task-specific – while some factors are common ones, many factors are specific to the competencies we are analyzing. For recap, here is an overview of the cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains. Let us identify a set of factors for difficulty in this case:

  1. Number of sub-competencies
  2. Cognitive processes required for each sub-competency
  3. Psychomotor skills (fine and gross) required for each sub-competency
  4. Affective stimuli induced by each sub-competency
  5. Subjective difficulty of each sub-competency

Here’s an analysis of each sub-competency with respect to the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains:

Sub-competency Cognitive Affective Psychomotor
C1.1 Analyze Characterization Perceptual abilities
C1.2 Evaluate Characterization Skilled movements, Perceptual abilities
C1.3 Apply Organization Fundamental movements, skilled movements, perceptual abilities
C2.1 Analyze Characterization Perceptual abilities
C2.2 Evaluate Characterization Perceptual abilities
C2.3 Apply Organization Skilled movements, Perceptual abilities
C2.4 Apply Organization Fundamental movements, skilled movements, perceptual abilities

So, C1 has 3 sub-competencies to master, while C2 has 4. While this does not automatically make C1 the easier competency, it is certainly a factor. The sub-competencies of C2 require more cognitive, affective and psychomotor processes as well. Another factor is how difficult each of the sub-competencies are. With A, she certainly found it easier to accomplish C1 before C2.

While this is not conclusive evidence to prove that C1 is easier than C2, the logic has certainly worked in the case of A. One of the reasons the logic may not work is the assumption of higher cognitive levels being more difficult than the lower ones. Another reason it may not work could be differences in psychomotor skills. Every learner is different especially in the case of little ones. It is important to identify these differences and guide learners in the way that suits them best!

Disclaimer: As with any course design process, this is iterative and I may have left out some obvious sub-competencies. Please let me know if I have!

 

Favorite songs!

When all else fails, music usually doesn’t. Of course, as with anything else, A is very particular about the songs she listens to / watches. She has “her music” and we have “our music” and we can’t mix those. She loves nursery rhymes and the typical kiddie songs. Personally, I love the songs that teach her little things, like movements, direction and so on. I love how these songs develop her cognitive and psychomotor skills in a really fun way! They keep us occupied in the best way possible – through learning! These are our favorites:

  1. One little finger
  2. If you’re happy
  3. Wheels on the bus
  4. Old McDonald
  5. Skidamarink
  6. Grandparents are special

#5 and #6 are really my favorites more than hers – I just think they’re the sweetest songs and animations ever! In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re rather partial to the YouTube channel Super Simple Songs. A also likes Little Baby Bum, but her dad and I prefer Super Simple Songs for the simpler animations and because A seems to learn more from it.

What are your kids favorite songs? What are your favorite songs for them?