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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fostering Life Skills...

I used to think that childhood is supposed to be a wonderful, magical, carefree phase where children get to be themselves, do what they want, and generally just thrive without the burden of any household chores.

I still agree with most of the above. Except, I don't think children should grow up thinking that helping out around the house is a chore or a burden.

Seeing how the Montessori method is helping Ana blossom as an individual at her school, I am more than ever convinced that social skills and a sense of community develops early when children help in the household activities within their capacity. Also, by taking on little tasks around the house that stimulates and satisfies their interest, it is possible to foster a strong sense of self-worth, independence, and initiative.

There is always this other school of thought (that I had mistakenly subscribed to before I had kids) that claims that it is somehow cruel to make the kids work at home when they are as little as 2 and 3 years old. If the underlying assumption is that somehow kids are forced into labor and are somehow threatened or punished if they don't obey... well, then I agree that it is cruel. Abominable.

But, when an activity has the potential to provide a learning opportunity, develop a life skill, engage and entertain the child while boosting her sense of self, it would be foolish to let it pass... especially if the child seems willing and capable of taking it on and mastering the task to her satisfaction.

This doesn't really undermine the importance of formal academic education as seen today that encompasses such things as math, reading and writing, geography and science, music and the creative arts, athletics and performing arts.

Ultimately, I keep asking myself what would I want most for my baby: That she wins some contests and aces some standardized tests, or that she is happy and well-adjusted and knows that she has the skill to learn anything on her own to the level of expertise she finds challenging and fulfilling? That she is popular and first in her class, or that she is sociable and compassionate and has respect for self and others? That she gets into some well-known school and completes a tough program to earn her degree or that she sets out to draw the best out of herself through selected study of areas that capture her interest and aptitude the most?

Tough questions. Life moves on in some beaten path usually. Somewhere along the line, I am sure I will succumb to peer pressure, as will she, doubting our decisions and taking a safer route... but, along the way, if I have helped her know how precious she is and how much I love her - not just her achievements, not her medals, not her degrees, not her salary, but, who she is as a person - if I have guided her towards staying centered and confident under all circumstances, I think I would feel immensely blessed.

For now, taking baby steps, there are some activities that Ana seems to enjoy doing around the house so far that are not terribly impressive or grand, but, certainly seem to keep her interested and wanting to do it often.

  1. Sorting:
    • A basket of garden tomatoes, all mixed - yellow, green, orange and red, plum, cherry and roma - can be sorted by color or shape/size. Sometimes I ask her to get me only the green ones for a koottu, sometimes I ask her to give me just the yellow ones for a soup. She has a blast sorting them and filling my request.
    • When we come back home from grocery shopping with a tote full of vegetables all dumped together because I didn't want them in individual plastic bags they have at the store, Ana helps sort the onions in a pile, the bittergourds in a separate row and so on
    • Laundry: We dump the bag of clean clothes on the bed and she sorts through them to collect just hers and start folding them
  2. Stirring/ Whisking/helping in the kitchen: While making eggs on weekends, or pancake batter, or cupcakes, or instant pudding - stir, stir, stir - she helps out if she is in the mood and that is just fine, as it should be.
  3. Care of animals: Now that she is aware that kitties eat their special cat food and are fed at dinner time everyday, she is very keen on refilling the kitty food bowl and inviting the kitties to eat. One less task for us hopefully down the road - we still supervise, and make sure kitties are fed - she is a baby and she forgets it most nights
  4. Counting: decorating 10 little sprinkles on each cupcake frosting; serving 5 slices of banana and 10 pieces of soft carrot for Oggie; taking 5 bites of her dinner before getting a drink of water or buttermilk during meals... we don't always do it, but it is nice to throw that in if she is up for it
  5. Everything has a place: sorting and folding laundry, especially her own panties and skirts and socks, and jammies, and putting them in her cubbies; putting away her puzzles and books back on the shelves allotted for them; leaving her plate and cup in the sink for wash after she is done; putting away the clean spoons and forks in the drawer from the dishwasher...
  6. Recycling, Trashing and Composting: Thanks to the weekly garbage and recycling collection by the city, Ana now has a chance to help us sort the cans and plastics in proper recycling bins for collection; she knows to throw her banana peel and orange rind in the compost tub we have in the kitchen...
She is a child after all, and I do not expect her to be consistent and do all this all the time voluntarily. But, when she does them, without coaxing or cajoling, without having to say it more than once, it feels very rewarding, like the world is a beautiful place to be, like somehow I got an extra little blessing I haven't done anything to deserve...

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At 8:02 AM, Blogger Doug said...

I did a web search for cream of wheat recipes and ended up here. You write very well and you make Dr. Spock look sterile and naive when it comes to raising a child. May your daughter grow up to be just like her mom!

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Subhashree said...

Wow... I know how enriching Montessori is because I have seen it myself in my baby. She has blossomed well in her Montessori school and loves to help me in chores. Forget the chores, she has a blast sharing whatever I do and she learns quite a lot too.

At 4:56 AM, Blogger L said...

Chanced on your blog and been reading
non-stop through your archives. Your posts make very interesting read and I am amazed if not anything by the amount
of creativity in you - what with your
interests in cooking, sewing, you are
sitting with Ana to do so much craft
and lots of fun stuff! Every post
showed a new side of you and at the
end, I realized that one word will describe you best - SuperMoM!!

Kudos to you!

At 4:59 AM, Blogger L said...

By the way, the peanut butter sandwich costume was TERRIFIC!


At 5:06 PM, Blogger Sheela said...

Thank you, Doug, for your kind words!

It is wonderful to hear about your Montessori baby, Subhashree, it is a great start in life and am glad we are able to provide it for our kids!

Lakshmi, Welcome! Thank you very much for your generous compliments, it made my day to read your sincere words! Look fwd to hearing from you more...


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