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A parent’s guide to gadget-free play

A parent’s guide to gadget-free play


After schoolwork on a screen is done, how do you make sure your child is not back on one, playing video games? Parents share what works for them

“I just hate classes on the computer! My mother makes me sit in front of it all day. I can’t even see my friends on the screen properly.” This is a four-year-old’s rant. Apart from the economy, if there’s one other thing the pandemic has sent for a toss, it is our education system. Classes are all online now, including those for children as young as three. This comes with its own problems.

Dr Sowmya Bhaskaran TS, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Coimbatore-based Insight Clinic, says, “Online classes for children younger than six are not helpful.” However, she adds that her views on screen time are not the same as they were before the pandemic. “I do not view screens as ‘bad’ any more,” she says. But then, once classes are over, it helps to engage your child in something that does not involve gadgets. We asked parents to pitch in on how this can be done:

Give life a rhythm

Madhu Karthik, who is based in Erode, believes in the Waldorf concept of ‘rhythm’ and making children feel responsible and developing a sense of belonging. She feels that today, children miss the routine that school brings to life; the order a time-table offers. “I try and bring the same order at home by having fixed activities at stipulated times,” says the Waldorf educator and mother to a six-year-old.

These activities can be fixed according to your child’s age. “My son can wash utensils on his own; a younger child can help put the washed spoons inside the correct rack, for instance,” she says. “We also fold clothes together. A younger child can fold a towel or handkerchief.”

The idea is to merge the child into the adult world seamlessly, so that it does not become a task for the parent. “They can help wash the car or two-wheeler before classes start in the morning, go up to the terrace to lend a hand at drying clothes in the evening,” adds Madhu. “The many interactions these activities spark will help you and your child bond better.”

Take to fenugreek farming!

Urmila Sampath has two girls, aged 14 and nine. She says that after all the “unavoidable” screen time thanks to online classes, her girls turn to art for some succour. “They are into water colour painting and calligraphy too, and sometimes, we work on it together.”

The 40-year-old, who is based in Mumbai, says that she is keen on her daughters getting some form of exercise. “Which is why as soon as some restrictions were eased and we were allowed to step outside, we got their bicycles fixed. And now they cycle in the evenings by themselves.” She also has a kitchen garden, in which she grows mint, curry leaves, and fenugreek. “The girls water the plants and help me repot them when needed too,” she adds.

Find joy in the everyday

Coimbatore-based Aarthi Balasundaram, a Montessori teacher, suggests an ‘object’ box with small things such as keys in it, that children can grab hold of. “We can ask them to pick up one item from the box, tell them what it’s called, and teach phonetics through the process,” she says.

Family, Domestic Life, Father, Child, Daughter

Aarthi is a mother of two girls, aged seven-and-a-half and six. She says that the focus should be on “life skills and sensorial activities”. She feels that a lot of learning happens through play, and that parents need not look anywhere else for material to keep children engaged. “They can observe their child, see what they are interested in, and employ everyday objects at home,” she adds.

Enter your teen’s world

Talking to teenagers can be tricky, more so at a time of uncertainty and recurring lockdowns. Chennai-based Deepa Packiyanath, who has twins aged 12, and a 17-year-old daughter, says that most teenagers crave a safe space to share their feelings openly. “All the hours spent online affects her; I ensure that I spend our morning tea time together, during which we chat about everything that interests her,” she says. And to get her daughter to open up, Deepa says she tries to be involved in her world. “She is into K-pop, and so I listen to it too, and ask her doubts here and there,” she adds. This leads to more conversations, and in the end, it’s a win-win for both parent and child.

Embark on an adventure

K R Balathandapani runs an academy in Coimbatore that guides children in Science and Math. “My 10-year-old daughter sits through the sessions,” he says. “Sometimes, she runs away saying I’m repeating the same thing,” laughs the 50-year-old. Before the pandemic, Balathandapani regularly travelled on work — he works in sustainability — his daughter would accompany him. “Active parents, such as entrepreneurs, farmers, or the self-employed, can afford to take their children along with them on their work day so that the child can observe them,” he says. During lockdown, Balathandapani has been setting up kitchen gardens for people, and his daughter is right there, learning by seeing.

Bubble fun

US-based Sindhuja Sandeep, mother of an active four-year-old, has long lists of activities to keep her son engaged through the day. “We melt crayons and put it in a cookie cutter to get new shapes,” she says. “I also give him a tub of water and some soap and he makes bubbles; I toss in some utensils and he pretends to wash them.” She adds that he makes play-dough of various colour combinations using food colour. “He also paints on our glass windows; kids love to paint on everything else other than paper,” she says, laughing.

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