Mar 27, 2014

Summer moments

I just returned after enquiring about a summer camp for my 2.5 year old daughter. The summer camp is in the morning hours. A teacher in the school mentioned that she offers a different summer camp in the afternoon from her home too and I can enroll my daughter if interested. I decided that a couple of hours in the morning is more than enough to keep her engaged at this age.

While pondering about these various summer camps, memories of my childhood summers started to appear before my eyes. There wasn't any concept of "summer camps" back then. The 2 months were filled with soaking in the sunshine, sweating and running around with neighbors, cousins and friends.

Sneaking out of the house to get a stick of flavored ice bar ("kuchi" ice) in a nearby ice factory in the afternoon when the elders were taking their afternoon nap.
Climbing the terrace to pluck juicy guavas from the trees
Sipping cool and refreshing lemon juice made from water stored in a mud pot
Learning the basics of embroidery and sewing from my aunt
Copying different patterns of kolams (rangoli designs) from various books and magazines
Sleeping on the terrace in the nights, when the much needed cool breeze blows gently
Eagerly awaiting the week-long tour to different places in the country
Playing ice-boys (hide-and-seek) till midnight or till elderly neighbors start to yell, whichever is earlier
Playing board games (monopoly, ludo, snake and ladder) and card games (including WWF trump cards)
Visiting the nearby temple in the night to collect prasaadam during the 10 day Ramanavami festival
Walks to the paddy fields, hill temple and playground
Eating round balls of curd rice in the afternoon, fed patiently by my grandma

Unstructured play, no agenda, just fun and laughter. Growing up in a village and then in a sub-urban locality gave me the time and space to explore and enjoy the summer vacation each year. Ofcourse, the childhood companions played an important role in all these memories. Times have changed so much, so does the activities and gadgets available to kids these days. But every summer, my vacation memories will bring a big smile in my face always.

Turns out I had written a similar post in 2005 as well :-) Memories are powerful, I say. They love to come back every now and then to bring a smile or a tear.

Mar 17, 2014

Key Take-aways from gamification course - Part I

Over the past few months, I have become fascinated with the concept of gamification and the underlying principles linked to motivation theories. When I came across the course on gamification in Coursera, I immediately signed up for it and added to the watch list. The course started around end of Jan and it's just been an amazing learning experience so far - well structured with lots of good insights and examples. Prof.Kevin Werbach is clear with his explanations and there were many "aha" moments and key take-aways so far.

There were 4 important take-aways worth documenting for future reference:

1) A gamified solution in a non-game context should have a definite beginning, middle and an end. The player should know where the game starts, how it progresses and how it ends. The “end” state acts as a “psychological draw” and pushes user further towards it.

2) In any game, players should feel that they are making progress. Progression is not measured only through points or leaderboard. Depending on the player’s motivation, progression can be measured through his increase in problem solving skills, mastery or achievement.

3) Games are engaging because of the “fun” element. The different actions that represent fun are the following:
  • Winning
  • Problem solving
  • Exploring
  • Chilling
  • Teamwork (collaborating with others)
  • Recognition
  • Triumphing (crushing an opponent)
  • Collecting
  • Surprise
  • Imagination
  • Sharing (being altruistic)
  • Role playing
  • Customization
Each individual’s definition of fun will be different and so the game should have a combination of the above actions to cater to different groups of players

4) Games provide an overall experience through the use of game elements and mechanics. Game elements by themselves are not games. Users get burned out, with only PBLs (points, badges, leaderboard). Focus on the experience, narration, aesthetics, visual design.

 I'll add more detailed notes soon after I complete the course.

Mar 1, 2014

10 ways to make your toddler eat vegetables

The most common complaint from any mother is that their children don't eat vegetables, especially those who have kids in the age range of 3 - 4 years. My 2.5 year old daughter D is an exception in this case. She would rather eat vegetables than a few spoons of rice. I hope she continues to love eating vegetables the way she is now (touchwood!!). Let me share with you the 10 ways that have worked for me to incorporate vegetables in my toddler's diet.

1) Start early, be consistent
When D was ready for solid foods (around 6 months), I introduced her to the taste of carrots - boiled carrots pureed and strained. Her first reaction was to spit it out. I tried the same for 3 days and then she slowly accepted a couple of teaspoons. Then I introduced sweet potatoes (boiled, pureed). After few days, she liked the taste of it. When she was 8 months old, I gave her a piece of sautéed ladiesfinger. Her first reaction was again, to spit it out. Even after many trials, she just didn't like it. Now would you believe me if I told you that ladiesfinger is her favorite vegetable? :-)

Instead of picking up a packaged baby cereal as soon as your baby turns 6 months, I would highly recommend that you introduce vegetable purees - carrots, peas, sweet potatoes or pumpkin. Don't add sugar or salt to make it palatable for the baby. Remember, your baby doesn't know what sweet or salty taste means yet. Let the natural flavors of the vegetables remain in the purees.

Ofcourse, your baby would spit it out the first time, second time and more. It's a new taste and a new texture. So there will be resistance initially but don't give up. I read somewhere that a baby takes at least 15 times before he/she accept a new food. So keep trying.

2) Introduce different textures
Around 8 months, I stopped pureeing vegetables and started mashing them with my hands. Luckily, D had also started to chew with her gums around that time. Some babies might still prefer purees and might start to gag if the food is not very smooth. Try what works for your baby but keep trying a different texture now and then to check if your baby is ready.

Mimic the chewing action and explain how to chew. Believe me, babies can understand :-) I used to say "num num num" to D, whenever I fed her a small piece of vegetable or a fruit. She understood that it means that she needs to chew. Also, babies do not need teeth to chew their foods. Their gums are hard enough that they can easily chew boiled veggies or fruits.

Once they are comfortable with chewing, try a variety of textures - shredded, grated, finely chopped, small chunks etc. Identify which texture is preferred by your child. For example, D loves small chunks of carrots or beetroots which she can eat on her own. She doesn't like if I grate or shred them.

3) Give vegetables as finger foods
The high chair is extremely useful to make the kids sit in one place and eat. It also helps to introduce finger foods to the baby. D started to pick and eat when she was around 10 months. During lunch time, I would make her sit on the high chair and place few pieces of boiled veggies on the tray. While she picks and eats the veggies on her own, I would feed her few spoons of rice. Sometimes, she would get playful and start throwing the vegetable pieces on the floor. It would get messy but I was glad atleast a few pieces went into her mouth :-)

Babies love to pick and explore on their own. They see and feel how each piece looks like and then when they put it in their mouth, they get the taste. It gives them a sense of discovery. And vegetables provide a perfect opportunity to introduce self feeding.

4) Spice it up
I'm not referring to chillies :-) After the initial 2 - 3 months of introducing different pureed/mashed vegetables, start adding more flavors in the form of cumin powder, pepper powder, turmeric powder etc. Prepare vegetables the way you prepare for others in the family, excluding the chillies. Around 1 year, your kid will start to accept regular home foods, if you were able to accomplish the first 3 tips mentioned above.

5) Expand your horizon
Until now, your kid would have got used to carrots, beans, peas, pumpkin, potatoes etc.
Image Courtesy: akarakingdoms /

After 1 year, slowly introduce other vegetables such as plantain, beetroot, snake gourd, ash gourd, broad beans, brinjal, radish, cabbage, cauliflower etc. D loved radish from the very first day. I usually add radish to sambhar and she would happily pick and eat the pieces. Though she was hesitant towards brinjal, she now likes it, if it is nicely spiced with curry powder :-)

6) Use favorite veggie as "anchor"
Identify your kid's favorite vegetable and use that as a base to add other veggies to his/her food. For example, D loves tomatoes. I add a lot of tomatoes in upma / poha / oothappam along with few pieces of carrots and beans. Though D eats most of her veggies, she is never a fan of potatoes. So I prepare a dry curry of potatoes, either with brinjals or broad beans as the base. After a few attempts, she has accepted potatoes now, though not completely.

7) Allow them to meet vegetables elsewhere, apart from their plate
This strategy has worked beautifully with D. We got her a big picture book of vegetables.
Image downloaded from

She loves to turn the pages around and listen to us saying the names of each vegetable. Now she can recognize all the vegetables in this book. It also helped her to learn different colors.

Whenever we take her to the supermarket to get groceries, we let her explore the vegetable section. She would point to each of them and tell their name. She even carries a bag around and starts throwing in different vegetables just like me :-)

Exposure to vegetables through these other interactions help immensely in familiarizing with them.

8) Don't hide or blackmail
Our objective is to let our kids like and eat vegetables and continue this habit for their lifetime. Hiding (read - pureeing) them into their regular foods is not a long term solution. So is blackmailing them - "Eat your vegetables first and then I will give you a piece of chocolate or whatever". They should know what they are eating, in order to decide their preference. I understand it's easier said than done.

Try to explain to them what vegetables are present in their dish and how it helps them, if your child is older and can understand. Link the benefit to what they like to do. For example, if your kid loves to play basketball, you can tell them "cabbage has lots of vitamin C, it will make sure you don't fall sick and miss basketball" OR "beetroot has lots of iron, it will help you to play basketball for long hours without getting tired".

For a younger kid, even a simple sentence "this is good for your health" reinforced multiple times might work.

9) Play with variety and color
I love visiting the vegetables section of the supermarket. The sheer variety, color and freshness give me such a positive vibe.
Image courtesy: porbital /

I always stock up a wide variety of vegetables in my fridge. When I plan my menu for a day, I try to make sure D gets atleast 2 - 3 different vegetables in a day. For instance, if I make broad beans stir fry for lunch, I would make either carrots/beetroots for dinner. Mix and match among these different categories:
- greens (spinach, methi, amaranth leaves etc)
- root vegetables (carrot, beetroot, potato, sweet potato etc)
- green vegetables (different kinds of beans like French beans, broad beans, cluster beans etc, ladiesfinger)
- gourd vegetables (pumpkin, ash gourd, ridge gourd, bottlegourd etc)
- exotic ones (capsicum/bell peppers, baby corn, zucchini, purple cabbage etc)

10) Set an example
Kids like to imitate elders. I have realized this early on and I make sure I don't eat junk or processed foods as much as I can. I don't stock up on chips, crackers or cream biscuits in my pantry. I have increased my intake of salads and D also observes what I eat. She loves to pick and eat from my bowl. That's how she has also started to eat raw cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots.

If you want your kids to eat vegetables, do ensure your plate is filled with them too. Let them observe and learn that their parents love to eat veggies and so they should too.

Hope these 10 tips were useful to you. Do share your comments if there's anything else that has worked for you.

P.S. Please do share tips on how to feed milk to a toddler. D hates milk in any form - plain, flavored, milkshakes or even kheer :-(

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