Ashrita Johnson is a bachelors in Arts and Psychology from the University of Mumbai, and a Masters of Arts in Teacher Leadership from the University of Northern Iowa. So powered with a background in education and psychology and a passion for technology, Ashrita began working in elementary education, twelve years ago. She is an Apple Distinguished Educator and currently teaches at the American School of Bombay, where she works with six year olds. With her new baby, and the global pandemic, she is finding ways to make play happen at home for her one year old. She shares these invitations to play and the research behind them on her Instagram page makingplayhappen that she started during the lock-down to support families during these difficult times.
This is a two-part interview, where we will also cover on Positive Language for babies to set them up for success. For now, excerpts from the first part:
1)There are various approaches to learning when it comes to kids. What approach do you, as an early years educator, recommended?
When it comes to choosing a school, parents are often harrowed about which approach/ board to choose. There’s no one approach that fits all children but we know children learn best by doing. They learn by using all their senses. When it comes to young children, we want to pick a school that focuses on developing the soft skills instead of the academic rigor. We want our children to be inquirers and love learning. So it’s crucial to pick a school that encourages children to ask questions, provides opportunities to express themselves in different ways and fosters creativity. At such a young age, parents and teachers must work in partnership to bring out the best in a child. Look for a school that allows parents to volunteer frequently. A school might call itself many things, but instead of going by the name, delve deeper to find out what the school truly has to offer. We want our children to be open minded and embrace different cultures. They learn this best at school. Talk with the teachers, find out more about the approaches to learning, take a tour of the learning space while children are in it and see if it’s a good fit for your child.
2) What are the five things parents must absolutely invest in for their babies?
The number one and most important thing parents must invest in their children is their time. Nothing you buy can beat the time you spend with them. A lot of learning happens from conversations, singing together, cooking or having a family meal.
- Space: It could be a separate room, a part of your bedroom or a corner in the living room. It’s crucial for children to have their designated space. Invest in a play mat to demarcate the space (I swear by the neutral colored foam puzzle tiles), an accessible shelf for toys in rotation, book shelf and storage baskets. This will not only make your child independent but also teach them to care for their space, put things back where they belong and show responsibility towards their things.
- Gross motor: With children being cooped up in their homes, it’s essential to provide them with opportunities to develop their gross motor skills. Whether a slide, a balance bike or a rock climbing wall. It depends on what you have the space for. My personal favorite is the climbing triangle which is open ended and has limitless possibilities and the alpine climber. Albeit expensive, they can be used in different ways for several years so work out to be more cost effective in the long run. You can use it as a play gym, crawl tunnel and teepee too!
- Blocks: Depending on the age of your child, invest in good quality wooden blocks. You can choose from sensory blocks, rainbow blocks, mirror blocks or even building blocks which are open ended and can be used in a variety of ways, demanding your child to be curious and creative. If your child is older, magnatiles and marble runs are a must have. Young children can watch you build and include the structure in their play (or simply destroy it), while older children can use their creativity to build independently, making them a good investment that can be used from 0 to 6 years.
- Books: you can never have enough books. For very young children, I recommend high contrast books ( 0 to 3 months), cloth books (3 to 6 months), touch and feel books (6 to 12 months), lift the flap and push pull slide books (12 to 18 months). Also, paper books that you read to your child, bath books and bedtime books must be part of your collection.
You can get creative and look for things around your house to provide play provocations – cups and spray bottles or bottles with plungers make great bath toys. Measuring cups and spoons, bowls and metals cups can be used as stackers. You don’t need to invest on these things, instead choose from the list above and spend wisely.
3) Many parents claim early screen time exposure causes delayed speech in children. What’s your take on this?
There are a lot of myths about screen time so please look up the research. There is no impact on vision and brain development if it’s done right. Under the age of 5, no more than 60 minutes of screen time a day, 30 minutes at a time. Choose what your child watches wisely – Interactive, meaningful, something they cannot get through books/ hands on play experience wise. Sit with your child while they watch , talk to them about what’s happening, ask questions, help them make connections. Do not use screens as a baby sitter but as a way to give them experiences they cannot otherwise have – underwater, snow, wild animals etc. Have your child at a good distance from the screen, encourage movement while watching songs (dancing or doing the actions). You can use it to teach them about different cultures, land forms, other living things and even the universe. Do not use it as a reward – if you eat your vegetables you can watch TV. Given the current situation, if a zoom call is the only way they can build a relationship with grandparents, please don’t deprive them of that opportunity.
4) What’s your take on virtual school, given the current scenario? How should parents go about the process when they need to pick one?
When deciding whether or not to enroll your child in virtual school ask yourselves the following:
- Is it encouraging my child to ask questions and be curious?
- Is it enabling my child to develop social skills?
- Can I provide my child with age appropriate and meaningful invitations to play doing my own research?
- Can I successfully ensure my child develops all the skills she needs to learn and grow?
- Is my home environment conducive to learning without help and support of a trained teacher?
Once you answer these questions, you’ll be able to decide if you should enroll your child or not
5) What are your three must-read book suggestions for Parents?
Your Self Confident Baby by Magda Gerber: This is a practical and enlightening guide which will help you connect with your baby during daily routines such as feeding, bathing and diapering. It provides strategies to handle fussiness, crying, sleep, potty training and much more. It teaches you to respect and trust your baby and helps you understand when to intervene and when to take a step back.
The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies: This book talks about Montessori principles which focus on independence and practical skill building. It has a section which focuses on creating an environment conducive to learning at home; easily accessible toys and books, everything has a place, de-cluttering etc. However, she emphasizes on how more than the decor, it’s important to encourage toddlers to be curious, independent and have limits without threats.
Understanding the Human Being – This is a gentle, easy read, recommended while pregnant or if you have a new born. It focuses on the first year of life and talks about topics such as weaning, language development and movement.