Love. Shop. Kids.

by Natasha Badhwar

Red Polka‘s ‘aww-some’ edition- Cherubs’ Trunk this week is filled with adorable stuff for kids, you can buy. For our #TuesdayTale we invited Natasha Badhwar to be our storyteller. Badhwar is the mother of three beautiful daughters. She is a columnist, a film-maker and a design entrepreneur. Her fortnightly column in Mint Lounge is called “My Daughters’ Mum“. We totally dig her narrative and captivating writing style. Today she shares some scintillating nuances that make her relationship with her daughters a special one. She shares a slice of her life, and tells us all about her girls (little women, as she calls them), her shopping habits, and everything about all the kids in her family! Read on, you’ll go “awww”!

I am the mother of three little women between the ages of 6 and 12. Contrary to expectations, children’s clothes salesmen don’t like me. I will enter a store and they will follow me around for a bit.

They want to know the age of the child I’m buying for. They want to know if I want to buy for boys or girls, whether I want formals or casuals. They want to guide me in the way they are trained to do. The correct answer is usually that I want to buy something for every category. The ages of children I shop for is 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 14 and 16. Some of them are girls, some are boys. Nimit, Ananti, Naseem, Janki, Madhav, Mannat, Soledad, Aliza, Zara, Sahar, Aiman, Areeka, Adit and Adya. There is always a new baby in some direction of my life. This is just family. Stylish children from 0 to 16 years old.

There will always be a little girl who only wears cargo pants, a boy who wants the same colours as his twin sister, a child who wears princess gowns casually every day after school and at least one who wants only a certain cartoon character on all his or her clothes. Usually I just need the salesmen to back off and calmly answer my questions. It overwhelms them.

Children express so much of who they are and who they want to be through their choice of clothes and shoes. I had no idea they would be such stakeholders in their own style quotient.

SENSE OF STYLE

My daughters have gone through all kinds of style phases. Aliza is 10 and has been in a T-shirt+Capri+Crocs phase for about two years now. She is the same child who had the longest “Princess phase.”She would return from Nursery school and get into her little silk saree and then cycle in great circles in the living room and courtyard. She would wear her frilly gowns, a crown and magic wand and then go to play in the sand pit. Her sandals had to have coloured stones and ‘diamonds’.

Currently Aliza is a plain T-shirt and crocs kinda girl. Even when she has to attend a wedding in the family. On her 10th birthday, my first-born daughter, Sahar wore the dress that my cousin had designed for my 10th birthday. My mother had kept it safely all these years. What an emotional milestone that was, being celebrated through a dress passed on through generations. A white frock with a peplum bodice and little red strawberries sprinkled all over. The buttons are little apples.

Naseem, our youngest daughter is a designer. She draws self-portraits and sketches her family constantly, spending a lot of time detailing our outfits. Naseem will stop at a window display in the local mall and tell me, “Mamma, take a picture of this dress and tell Rohitbhaiya to make it for me.” Rohit Bhatia is our friend and my partner in my online fashion venture, Ochre Sky. She will follow up with Rohit later and tell him the changes she wants. Naseem is six years old.

SPECIAL OCCASIONS

The bonding between daughters and their mother as we adjust dupattas and pallus in a restroom mirror is very special. Here we are all dressed up to attend their Uncle’s wedding in Benaras. The Chatapati Luckawi shararas and dupattas are gifts the children have received from their aunts.We are very lucky to be surrounded by family who brings us outfits as gifts from all parts of the world.

Special occasions come in all types of hues. Naseem’s excitement at buying her first pair of school shoes is unparalelled. I had to takeout my phone and take photos.

TREASURES FOR LIFE

I hoard baby shoes. I used to buy them all the time. There is nothing more precious than baby shoes. Those little feet learning to walk and become independent. Running away from mamma and then running back into her arms.

NATASHA BADHWAR

Natasha Badhwar is a columnist, film-maker and design entrepreneur. Her online fashion venture is called Ochre Sky.

Rekindling mind through books

Someone once said that the most valuable gift a parent can ever give to their child is a lifelong passion for reading. There’s something magical that happens when a young child sitting on her mother’s lap, wrapped in the warmth of her arms, listens to a voice that weaves adventures of make believe characters in far off enchanted lands. A whole new world, quite different from the one that we live in, springs to life- a world of brave knights, fierce dragons, tales of courageous kings and humongous castles, of witches on broomsticks and magic carpets flying around off to far flung places around the world be it eighty days or 10,000 leagues under the sea! Imagination is indeed magical. More to this beautiful world of books and fantasy reading, here’s the story of Bindu Agarwal of The Reading Curve.

On How Reading Fosters Early Childhood Development

Early childhood is what is known as a critical period for language development. A critical period is a window in development when certain experiences must be present so that your child’s biology can develop properly. Cognitive processes develop rapidly too. At birth your baby’s brain is only 25pc of its adult size, by year 3 it will be 80pc and by age 5 it will have reached 90pc of its adult size. Due to the incredible amount of growth that occurs in these early years, it is critical that young children be exposed to experiences and activities that help process and strengthen their cognitive abilities.

Young children’s minds are like sponges, soaking up everything they see, feel and experience around them. Take a moment as you watch a little child play alone and you will experience what happens as a box becomes a ship, an egg carton becomes an engine and a ruler magically transforms into Harry Potters wand.

On Rekindling the Bonds with Your Little Ones

As a parent you are your child’s most significant and influential teacher. Even though we may not realise it, our children watch us for a living every single day!  Therefore it becomes even more important to understand that what we teach them today will impact them far into their lives even as adults. As Lincoln once quoted ‘ whatever you be be a good one,’. Your circle of influence is far greater than you think it is.

In the Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease discusses the fundamentals of reading aloud to children: why to do it, when to begin, the stages of reading aloud, how to do it and even how not to do it. While working in community classrooms, Trelease noticed that many students didn’t read for pleasure but that many who did, came from classrooms where teachers read aloud daily as part of an established routine. He further says that “We need to read to children for the same reasons we talk. To reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform, to explain, to arouse curiosity and to inspire. But in reading aloud we also condition the mind to read for pleasure, create background information, build vocabulary and provide a reading model.

On Why Kids Stop Reading-

One of the key reasons that children lose interest in reading is that the adults in their lives spend far lesser time reading to them. So by middle school almost no one is reading to children. As a result, many of skills that are acquired in their early years: listening,  visualising, engaging, learning to concentrate, using stronger words, comprehending, communicating effectively, sequencing and predicting  are the very skills students struggle with, simply because they haven’t been developed and reinforced over a period of time.

Research shows that vocabulary strongly relates to comprehension, intelligence and general ability. A typical 4 year old child will have about a 1500 word vocabulary. However by the time this child is 12 years old, he will understand about 50,000 words. Where did all those words come from? Lots of reading!

On How to Start Reading to Your Kids-

Here are a few things to do to get you started.

If you have young children that can’t read on their own yet, you will need to read aloud to them. Read books that have colourful illustrations, get into the skin of the characters and read with a great deal of enthusiasm. Children love the sound of their parents talking and reading to them.

Establish a daily reading routine and make sure it’s at the same time. After dinner is a great time to bond over a story and so is bedtime. And don’t forget to put that phone off the hook. You definitely don’t need any distractions from anyone. One parent I knew, would set up the room with scented candles, her propped up favourite pink cushions and special lights for a reading session with her 6 year old. That’s a memory this little girl is going to cherish forever!

Another important thing you need to establish in your routine is a regular trip to the bookstore. Bookstores are magical places that enrich and nourish us: not only to entertain and inform but also to inspire. Children who grow up in homes surrounded by books learn to love and develop an appreciation right from the start. Be sure to include not only narratives and stories but also nonfiction books, for these are the ones that provide us with information about the world around us. Books on Space, the Earth, marine life, rainforests to name a few.

Jigsaw puzzles, word searches and board games like Scrabble, Pictionary are great games that not only engage families but also strengthen language and build robust vocabularies in children.

Bindu on Bindu-

About 10 years ago when the first seeds of Reading Curve were sown, I hadn’t really planned my journey. All I knew that I was passionate about reading and teaching and I had a deep desire to engage with young children, especially after engaging so deeply with my own two boys. My older one, who is now almost ready to go to University, began reading when he was 5 and a half. I can still vividly remember him laughing out loud while reading his favourite Tintin magazine on a Swiss rail train headed uphill to Jungfrau. At school when most kids were still learning their ABC’s this little boy could sound out the word ‘police station’. As a result I had every parent in class asking me what magic I had done. Come to think of it, all I did was read a hell of a lot. We read first thing in the morning, last thing before hitting bedtime. We read on the pot and we read during meal times. We read in the garden, under a tree, in the car even waiting at the doctors and at the airport. There wasn’t a place we wouldn’t have read. And honestly that’s when the realisation hit. That reading aloud is MAGIC. I felt a deep desire to give that magic to every child I knew. Every child in the city. And especially to a child who was a struggling and reluctant reader.

I spent the initial period of my time researching and reading intensively about Reading Skills. With my education in Child Psychology I already knew the critical periods of cognitive development. I knew that working with kids at the right developmental periods would not only strengthen their skills but also their confidence. And that is exactly what I do. Give them the tools to engage, to have fun, to understand how the language works, to know more about the world around them through stories, to build a strong vocabulary but most of all to give them the confidence. To not only engage to become proficient readers but also to recognise that they have something to say through their writing.

Through their reading and writing they become thinkers. It’s my kindle moment! Kindling minds 🙂

Bindu Agarwal is a child psychologist and reading specialist based in Mumbai. She currently works with struggling and reluctant young readers. Bindu has worked with many  children who have been labelled as borderline remedial, many of who are now confident comfortable readers. She loves travelling extensively, gorge on dark chocolate and bake pizzaz apart from the course read. And yes, she is a fitness freak too.

At Reading Curve, her reading workshop kids have lots of fun through informal and structured skills that strengthen their literacy skills with the aim to create life long learners. She also works closely with parents as she believes that when parents realise they play a pivotal role in changing things, that’s when the magic starts to happen. She works with School teachers at workshops on Creative Thinking.

Dreamcatcher – Story of a Storyteller, Vineeta Nair of Artnlight

As J K Rowling says, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” In our feature series- DREAMCATCHERS, we tell you stories of women who pursued their dreams. They not only make a world of their own dreams, but continuously help others to realise their dreams too.

Story of a Storyteller

“To get, what I got, it really pushed my limits!” It is not every day that you get to talk to Vineeta Nair, but when you do, you secretly crave for more such incidents! She is a story-bag, she is filled with words, and anecdotes, and inspiring stories, all this- is her life!

Vineeta is an ex-advertising art director, who stumbled into the world of design blogging not knowing that it would change her life. She is now an independent design consultant with a growing decor accessories business- Artnlight.

How and when did Artnlight happen?

Initially I was around discovering the world of design and decor bloggers, and then I was smitten and soon obsessed. I was inspired by all this! After a month of reading international blogs that wrote about the art and decor scene in their part of the world, I was really thirsting for a similar design blog experience from India. But couldn’t find one! A friend who knew how taken I was by this whole concept of design blogging, told me, “If you can’t find an Indian design blog, why don’t you start one?” And that was that, once I started, there was no looking back.

What inspires you- for fun and for work?

People, who follow their heart, inspire me. Travel, life, history, art, poetry, architecture, and design inspire me (The list is much longer). Art and design are for me, ways to say what has to be said, beautifully. Primarily it is opportunity, to have fun, to play and to express myself. And also to be happy!

Artnlight mirrors a lot of travel and you said- travel inspires you! Tell us more.

After switching my job, I made three landmark trips. These trips changed the way I thought about my creativity, and inspired me for life. My first escapade to Nagaland, to interview Ritika Mittal of Mora by Ritika, was phenomenal and soul stirring. The cultural vastness, the beautiful craft in that region was enriching.

After that, my Mahakumbh trip was out of the world. I witnessed the whole of India melted there for one holy dip. This is where I realized that I can do some kind of photography to enhance my blog. To get what I got, it really pushed my limit! I went there purely as a blogger, and came back with a plethora of experiences, and a humbling approach to life.

For years I wanted to participate in the Durgo Pujo in Bengal. So the Kolkata trip was where I learnt a lot about how gods are born of humble hand sculpting. Another very important reason to go to Kolkata was also to meet my long time virtual friend and artist extraordinaire Dithi Mukherjee.

Travelling gives me the opportunity to meet more and more interesting people, that in turn enriches my inspiration circle.

From applied arts, to journalism, to advertising, to Artnlight the blog, and now the business, what is next?

(Laughs) I am learning to be an entrepreneur! Here I have realized what I know about work is never enough. I had to teach myself packaging, relationship with workers, finances, and a lot more. This is very humbling. And I have to also be protective of my work. I have learnt that I have to take a call on different levels, and not getting consumed by work, but have fun! I am learning to grow at my own pace, and constantly having fun with everything I do.