Simple ways to boost handwriting skills in children 

There was the Stone Age and then the Bronze Age… and it wouldn’t be wrong to call ours the tablet age! Writing, in the very near future, is likely to become a lost skill. This is particularly true for the ubiquitous corporate executive whose day starts and ends with smart appliances. Additionally, technological developments such as screen readers and speech recognition have already started reducing the need for writing as we know it.

This trend is now moving to schools and educational institutions in a big way. With an increasing number of educational institutes adopting technology during the children’s formative years, it is likely that tablets and computers may make the traditional pencil an antique and a collector’s item.

Honing the basic writing skill in children is as essential today as it was in our childhood. Some of the obvious negatives of an unformed hand are peer pressure, low grades in assignments and a general impact on confidence and personality.

Usually, the first exposure to writing for children begins with the use of crayons at home and is followed by pre-school, where elementary education of numbers and alphabets is imparted. Parents can do a lot to bolster the efforts of the school in helping children form a clear handwriting.

Take a look at some of these suggestions:

Posture and grip
Correct posture and a hard surface are equally important to ensure flow, consistency and neatness in writing. Discourage the use of cushions as support or the habit of writing on beds and other soft surfaces. Inculcate the need to sit on a proper chair and table to write on. Gripping the pencil or crayon correctly becomes the next step towards learning the art of writing.

Getting the stationery right is critical. With fancy and expensive choices in leaded pencils, it is easy to get swayed. The right size in terms of length and thickness is important as children need to grip the pencil correctly. It shouldn’t be too long as that may put them at the risk of poking themselves.

Use of dots to begin the journey
Dotted alphabets, shapes and numbers are very effective in introducing children to the basic flow of writing alphabets and numbers correctly. Start the learning journey with dotting alphabets, shapes and numbers on a piece of paper or notebook and encouraging children to connect the dots. Published books too, are available to make your task easy.

Practice makes perfect
Important to supplement the effort made in teaching our young ones to write through the use of stencilled practice books. Encouraging them to write out a page each day will not only keep them engaged but also ensure that learning and practice of writing goes hand in hand.

Enrol in arts
Sketching and drawing is intrinsically tied with writing skills. Focus on posture, grip and the right motion of the hands in art also impacts handwriting. It is a good way to strengthen the writing ability in young ones.

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Survival kit for single dads

My experiences in raising my son single handedly are limited to the periods when my wife is travelling for work. It is then that one (read a father) recognizes the true value of the effort put in by mothers in raising children.
So, apart from missing the bus on day one and forgetting the lunch coupons and water bottles on another, it was not a complete disaster. My son did give me an 8/10 for looking after him whilst mom was traveling. I will only strive harder to get to the coveted 10/10.

Going by my experiences here is my survival kits for single dads:

1. Get your basics in place: Be organised and pre-prepared about food, medicines, essential clothing, toys, books… This will ensure you have ready access to what you need at a minute’s notice, especially if the need of the hour is to distract a tired and fussy child at the end of the day.

2. List of emergency numbers: Have all the important numbers, such as that of a doctor, grandparents, babysitters, other parents, and teachers, posted on the fridge, in your mobile phone, on your office table… wherever they are likely to be just a glance away. You would need them to coordinate pick-up and drop-off, homework, play dates… and save a lot of time this way.

3. Discuss the schedule with your child: Just as it is important to plan your day, it is important to help your child plan his/her day. Once you discuss and mutually express expectations about time to study, play, watch TV and go to bed, it is easy to close key deliverables for the day. You do need to adhere to the schedule and help the child adhere to his. This way you are also setting a great example for the future.

4. Recap the day: Make time to have a ‘How was your day?’ chat with your child. Let her share her little ups and downs; comfort her, laugh with her and where required, give advice. Share a few highlights of your day. Just bond. This is also a good way to keep tabs on incidents of bullying, etc. that may take place on the playground or in the school.

5. Encourage your child to be independent: Give him the confidence to do small things independently, be it just buying a chocolate from the corner store or describing his symptoms to the doctor. It lets a child become self-reliant and confident as he grows and faces various curved balls thrown by life.

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Spare the rod and spoil the child

Fundamentally, for me, hitting children is a strict no-no. However, there is a school of thought which believes that sparing the “rod” in the initial years will lead to spoiling the child. I am not proposing that believers in using the “rod” only follow this approach to discipline the child but am saying that there is an inclination to use the “rod” more frequently, depending upon the situation at hand.

Not taking a professional qualified view on this approach, but the fact that one is inclined to use force to discipline the child could result in the following situations:
1. The child becoming timid and scared on account of the fear of the severe reprimand he or she is likely to receive in case they do a serious enough offence.
2. Conversely, the worst can happen, i.e. they can become obtuse and indifferent to the beating that they get there by becoming a possible rebel.

In my opinion both the scenarios described above are not desirable at all. Infact, a more mature and effective approach would be to counsel the child on the mistake that he or she has done and how they should learn from this, recognize the consequences of their actions and hopefully not repeat it. I feel that frequent, unrequited use of the “rod” is akin to disrespecting the child – their personality and individuality. It is also a shortcut that people in authority choose to take to get their point across or job done.

However, I feel the conversational approach is better in the long-term for all the relationships involved. Depending upon the seriousness of the situation, at times a raised voice along with stern looks can be equally effective in sending home the message. Yes, sometimes some cooling off time could also be required (for both parties involved) wherein the child should introspect and recognize the results of their action and learn from them and the adult and the authority figure should control/compose themselves.

Net-net using the “rod” is not going to be any more effective than a counseling approach, rather by not using this approach, you are more likely to ensure that your child will grow into a confident self-assured individual.

Prescribed uniform for school or not?

Some primary schools across many countries and cultures do not have a defined uniform for the kids to wear to school. While this may be cool for the kids as they get to do a possible fashion parade every day of the week, it can be a little harrowing for the parents on account of :

• Money spent in buying the latest in clothes for the kids
• Debate each night with the child to reach an agreement on the clothes for the next day
• Ensuring the agreed upon clothes are ready for wear
• Appropriate footwear to go with the clothes
• Handling demand for brands or styles on account of peer pressure or advertising

As opposed to the above, having defined school uniforms can work wonders for the parents:
• Easy on the pocket as on can buy 2-3 pairs of the uniform to last the term as against buying
different clothes for each day of the week.
• Uniform acts as a neutralizer as all the children are wearing the same attire including shoes and
accessories, thereby ensuring that there is no difference whether actual or perceived which can come
up on account of different demographic backgrounds
• And last but not the least a little bit of planning with the uniform sets can ensure that there is
no last minute scrambling to get the clothes ready in time and no lengthy and emotional debates the night

My vote goes to the uniform any day!

I hate girls!

Not me – never I hope.

These are my son’s current sentiment vis-à-vis the fairer sex. This misplaced sense of “not liking” is reciprocated by the fairer sex towards the boys as well.

Obviously, an age related syndrome, where girls are not in his favourable consideration set, at-least for the time being. This situation is particularly applicable for the environment at school and not necessary for some close friends who happen to be girls, with whom he is familiar and comfortable.

So I was amused when I heard his declaration and claimed excuse for not wanting to go to school. He happens to be currently sharing his seat/desk with a girl.

Here is when I had to step in and remind him that his mother, grandmother and siblings (his and mine) were all girls and that they cannot be wished away. I also counselled him and probed him for the reason for the irritation and ways to work around them.

Net-net, the realization that “girls” are very much a part and parcel of the circle of life and that they are fun to be with.

I am of the hopeful that the current sentiment would undergo a 180o change when he hits the teens years.

Teasing and impact on kids

Teasing or being teased, once in a while, is part of the social fabric and life.

While the skew of teasing is more towards personal traits/ habits we may witness or experience it occasionally in our professional lives as well. While it does give us a laugh or two, too much of it can be a pain and detrimental to the confidence of the one being teased.

Maturity and the ability of handle it will vary from person to person and unsaid rules, such as not crossing the line and not hitting below the belt, will determine how the episode will end, whether it will be laughed off or take an ugly turn. There is a very thin line between teasing and bullying and at times people do not recognize that.

While as adults we are better places to tackle teasing, kids may not have the ability to understand it or laugh it off. Kids who are on the heavier side or wear specks may be subject to some amount of teasing by peers in class or seniors in the school bus. Similarly, kids with different personality traits, say the shy and reserved types, may become easy victims of teasing. Peer isolation may prevent such kids from reporting the matter to the teachers or at home which can have severs repercussions over a period of time.

What is important in such situations is to recognize symptoms or changes in the child’s behavior. Disinterest to go to school or the child suddenly becoming reserved may be clear indicators that something is wrong. Keeping the communication channels open and coaxing the child to share everything with you is extremely crucial.

Post identification of the problem come the critical matter of equipping the child to deal with the situation. As a first step, ensuring that they don’t take the verbal jibes personally or seriously will go a long way in them being able to ignore it. Second, the need for them to not get cowed down and have the presence of mind to give it back without getting into a fight. Third, in a worst case scenario reporting to the school authorities and lastly picking up the phone on the parents to settle the matter once and for all.

The discretion of leveraging  steps three and four would rest on us, the parents, typically, in extreme cases otherwise we may handicap the child if we pitch in to fight every battle in his life including the smallest one.

And lastly most importantly have the ability to laugh at yourself… and give your kids this very important ability too

Education channels versus Cartoons

Without a doubt I believe education channels wins hands down.

The content and knowledge presented in an interesting and absorbing manner is a treat not only for the children but for the parents as well. In fact it may just act as a refresher for the parents.

Da Vinci Learning (#client) recently held an introductory session for parents and kids where in some interesting experiments were demonstrated live. The atmosphere was abuzz with excitement as bursting volcanoes, recreating a comet, understanding polymers and playing with bubbles enthralled not just the kids, but also their parents. The simple yet effective experiments  were conducted with eager participation of the little ones. This not only ensured that they understood the science behind experience, but also created fond memories for the children and curiosity about the channel.

While there is no question of the benefits and the positive impact of such education channels like Da Vinci Learning there is a possible flip side for the parents.

From a parent’s perspective such channels may not always be the preferred choice of the child as they flip through the TV menu, as unlike cartoons, education channel viewing would require an investment of the parent’s time as well. This primarily on account of the questions which may come up while viewing the content particularly from young kids. Therefore joint viewing could be an ask depending upon the programming.

So the bliss of putting the child in front of the TV and taking some me-time or catching up on some chores will not hold true with education channels. I would also like to add that all cartoons may not be necessarily bad – yes there are the odd favorites like Mickey Mouse and the Toon Club which are also effective in imparting knowledge to the younger kids. My vote squarely goes to the education channels.


When push comes to shove

Some kids will pick up mannerism or acts as they grow up – either from peers or from television. It is possible that such acts are done to attract attention or are in reaction to some thought or situation; they may even be an early symptom of a nutritional deficiency (so I have heard). 

While such acts may seem innocuous and harmless to begin with – they need to be addressed at the earliest possible – before they become a habit difficult to shake. Besides discussing this with the family doctor / pediatrician to rule out something serious, it is also important to talk to the child to find out the reasons for such behavior and to counsel the child. Ignoring such acts with the hope that they disappear may not work and with the passage of time such mannerism may become ingrained in the mind of the child thus be exhibited subconsciously

So if after repetitive counselling and requests fails and push comes to shove a stern authoritative approach may just do the trick. I am not propagating physical contact but a very serious parent to child conversation establishing boundaries and authorities may be required. Ramifications for not discontinuing the behaviors should also be spelled out to ensure there is no ambiguity.

If this approach is a change in tack from your usual problem solving mechanism, it may be a shock for the child and he may get the message. It may be upsetting for the parent as well, but with a heavy heart one must do what is required for the betterment of the child. Having adopted a particular approach it has to be sustained through such acts, i.e. there cannot be a softening once you decide that the last straw has broken the camel’s back.

Weekend dad

Hand on heart confession-yes, I am a weekend dad.

Well, not all the times but, yes, more often than I would like. And without being melodramatic, it does eat into me once in a while – actually a lot of times. Does this mean i tend to over indulge or spoil my child- no.

So weekdays are typically long hours at work resulting in a hurried half hour or maybe an hour spent in creating some quality around the very little time that you get. This time too, mind you, has demands of eating dinner, watching some telly (optional), and generally talking about how the others’ day was and your own unwinding.

Throw in an evening engagement, then this time too is lost. As a result, weekends become that much more special and sacrosanct for me in terms of being able to spend some quality time with my son.

I do have a more than willing partner in assisting me in my household chores both internal and external. And thank god for that!

 Weekend, then for me is all about sports, indoor games, cooking together – all this has by now become a part of the splendid routine for the family.

All of this, of course, comes at a price in the form of angst from the high command once in a while but as they say life is nothing but a juggle!

 Happy juggling

Tackling peer pressure

Peer influence or pressure is a fact of life and impacts children as well.

In any society, we will have the super-rich, the rich and the not so rich. The differences in demographics can easily be brought alive for the children in their little world. In schools where there are no uniforms and the children are free to choose their own attire, the difference can be stark and damaging. Another area to watch out for is the playfields where different toys, sporting equipment, bicycle and other accessories are brought out which can lead to unnecessary comparisons and aspirations being made. Family holidays are also discussed and, with international travel becoming accessible, these too can become discussion points and lead to unrealistic expectations on account of peer pressure.

As parents it is very important to ensure that the child stays grounded – not succumbing to peer pressure is very important as agreeing to every whim and fancy influenced by peers would only set wrong expectations. Instead, a mature approach of why one cannot match their peers should be explained and reiterated. What is essential to bear in mind is that the child should not suffer any psychological impact on account of this, i.e. he should not feel any less confident if he doesn’t have the latest branded watch or sneakers. Children, too, need to learn to live within means and not succumb to societal pressures and have to feel confident of the choices we as parents make for them.