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Channeling Our Kids' Inner Curious George

Happy new year! It has been a while and it appears I have not adhered to my one-post-a-month 2021 goal. However, isn’t the point of resolutions to break them? My new year's resolution this year in 2022 is to eat healthier, which is why I am currently devouring a wonderful blueberry pie.

Updates in my life? New job, new home, new school (for Mia), new Gossip Girl series (3/10 at best), new variant (womp womp), lots of new things, despite a seemingly drag to a new year…

Mia is a completely new type of princess from when I last posted. I have been impressed by her milestones: counting to 20, riding her scooter, sharing with other children, playing pranks on her dad, etcetera. However, while I am proud of her straight A’s on my clearly unbiased, fabricated report card, I started evaluating, is my approach hindering her individuality?

In June, I was dropping Mia off for her first day of summer camp. Like any loving parent, my anxiety was through the roof. Will she assimilate to a new environment or will she cry for mama for hours on end? Admittedly, I wanted to ensure that she was able to keep up with the other children and wasn’t reacting “abnormally”. I envisioned dropping my perfect angel to school, getting a big warm hug and kiss from her, and watching her run to her new teachers with her adorable little backpack. Mia had other plans in mind...

On the contrary, Mia screamed and begged for me to come back and my mind spiraled out of control. Was Mia unable to enjoy new experiences? Is her inability to love school full of strangers a preview into a future whereby she will be unable to collaborate with future colleagues? And so, I projected my fears onto my two-year-old and was not engendering an environment for her to feel what she wanted to feel. Her initial reaction to school, whether deemed normal based on parenting articles or not, was justified because she is her own person and is allowed to experience her own emotions. Going forward, no longer would my report card require Mia to permanently maintain composure around people; instead I would just applaud her for her ability to emote, process, and understand those emotions. For the record, she did wind up loving school. It turns out the professionals, what with their degrees in child psychology, seem to have a pretty strong grasp on how create a safe, loving environment for these toddlers.

In the anecdote above, at least a portion of my intentions were pure – I wanted my daughter to be happy, as all of us want for our loved children. But I started thinking about the areas where I actively impose my own agenda. Growing up, I was always encouraged to learn the more quantitative material in school, including math and science. “I am just not a math person,” is probably the worst sentence that an Indian boomer can hear. I never realized the critical thinking required in other subjects until much later in my life. Given my satisfaction in the career I chose for myself – depending on the day you ask me – stemming (pun intended) from the quantitative areas of study I pursued, I pushed certain STEM toys onto Mia, not realizing how this would impact her development. It didn’t help that I was surrounded by other new parents that constantly bragged about how their kids are destined to be engineers and leaders based on the toys they played with. This problem pervades society, regardless of the parents' careers, as most overprivileged parents inundate their even-more-so overprivileged children with STEM toys. On one hand, these toys are preferable to the loud, bright, plastic toys. But are we unnecessarily overcontrolling our children? Personally, I now admit to historically influencing Mia’s playing towards expensive magnatiles – the current ‘favorite’ for parents – as I would try and invoke her interest in building, convincing myself that I am harnessing the engineer in her. In and of itself, these toys are developmentally great because they encourage construction and creativity. But my ulterior motive of pushing engineering is damaging. With that narrowmindedness, I meanwhile completely missed an opportunity to encourage Mia’s creativity a few months back; luckily, my sister-in-law noticed and praised her accordingly. Mia was getting ready to play in a kiddie pool and brought over a slide to create her own waterslide, a concept she has not seen before. By focusing on the blocks and incredibly weak magnets, I was ready to assign Mia a “B” for engineering, when my grading scheme was the one that was clearly flawed.

Drama Mama Me similarly freaked out when I noticed how Mia absolutely loves baby dolls – she has over 30 distinct babies with clothes, diapers, beds, and accessories – and classifies these as her favorite toys. I envisioned how her caretaking at school can evolve into “maybe I should take care of babies in life!” There are so many holes I can poke at with my irrational spiraling. But the most important flaw is the fact that I failed to acknowledge her interests and the positives that come from those – compassion, the ability to mimic papa and mama, organization, amongst others.

I probably shouldn’t even acknowledge this, but for those (few) parents that also have these bouts of crazy come out, this clearly also didn’t mean that this is what she will do with her life, not that we would have a say anyway! My obsession with the toys she plays with had to stop as, in this aspect, I was not fostering an environment whereby she can explore her curiosities and interests. Just like adults, when you can’t pursue things you love, you are not maximizing your happiness. Boy am I lucky I got to follow my dream to work in finance [insert eye roll].

When I was applying for Mia’s two’s programs in Manhattan, each school touted their specific pedagogy. At the time, I rolled my eyes and just wanted her to attend a school that was close in proximity and had strong exmission data. Luckily, the school that Mia attends preaches the same learning philosophy that I abide by – the Reggio Emilia pedagogy. In this, there is no set curriculum as children use their senses to explore and direct the educational experience. It uses a collaborative approach to learning, where a student may steer the curriculum. In other words, if Mia takes an interest in a roach – which, yes, would be yucky, but not entirely unexpected in New York – the class will walk around the neighborhood looking for roaches and study them. Learning is directed and inspired by their own personal curiosity and questions.

In a broader sense, our children should be surrounded by educational stimulants as opposed to distracting junk. However, there shouldn’t be 10 specific toys, activities, or milestones to metricize them. It’s unclear that these ubiquitous trends with STEM toys, amongst others, really prepare children to succeed in life. What is clear is that childhood is the chance for a person to explore, discover their interests, and learn. It is time to embrace a new system, where we do away with our report card, and instead observe the areas our children take interest in and enable them to explore.

Follow Up:

Some of you AMAZING readers have inquired about some of the toys Mia has, so I thought I would share!

Picture 1

- Mia's kitchen decorated with the stickers she created through a kit from FAO schwartz and flowers b/c she loves flowers

- She has five different tea sets to accommodate the amount of guests she has (see pictures with her "friends")

- Cleaning supplies and tons of kitchen equipment and groceries

- A pizza maker / kit because she is from New York

Picture 2:

- Some of her babies and accessories for general caretaking, hairdressing, and feeding

Picture 3: Stuffed animals (her friends), her rocking chair, her dollhouse, her dog purse, and some of mama's items (laundry and coffee)

Picture 4 (see below): Some more of her friends, the beautiful translucent cubes, books, and piggy banks that she has painted

Picture 5: Magnatiles, wooden blocks (multiple types), puzzles (multiple types), a doctors kit, play dough, a magnadoodle, and various misc. toys

Not pictured: tons of other toys including a scooter, two cars for her to sit on, a montessori pikler triangle, a fun tonies box, 100s of hot wheels, travel toys, arts & crafts, and several other random items

All to say that a) feel free to ask me if you want to know where to get any of these, but b) all of these toys are fine in and of themselves; it's the idea that we shouldn't push them onto our kids that is the important takeaway :)

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