TEACHING Tiny Feet to Bounce
Sarah Jacob
Live it Up!
Economic Times, Bangalore
DON’T RUN in the house. Sit down. You’ll trip and fall. Don’t jump. Stay put. You’ll break something. Not the roads. You could get hurt. Don’t — and she now suppresses the desire to skip around; he checks the urge to summersault across the hall. Are these cagey interjections parents’ way of helping their child negotiate living spaces? With fewer parks dotting the city and traffic snaking its way through residential roads, children face a space crunch to explore physical activities that were once an undisputed part of growing up. They have found refuge in play stations and board games. Experts predict that such rantings, intended to discipline, may in fact turn counterproductive as they set off brakes on the child’s physical development.

Employees of Bangalore-based Mphasis, an IT solutions and BPO provider, appreciated a novel idea by enrolling their children into Meera Ashar’s summer camp on movement education. The two-week camp with over 100 children between 3-12 years was conducted at the four Mphasis campuses simultaneously. “Indian games like ‘pittu’ (seven tiles) and ‘langdi’ (hopscotch) set the foundation for other sports. But children today get enrolled into coordinated sports directly — as soon they hit primary school,” says Meera Ashar. From skating lessons to the unaffordable, no parent leaves a stone unturned in their child’s development. Ashar’s physical programme is designed to be age appropriate, making children active. Given the city-life limitations, it fills the chink in the chain.

Specialised in innovative teaching of movement skills in preschool children at the University of Minnesota, US, and trained at the Bazgym School of Gymnastics, Singapore, and in Kalaripayuttu (martial art form of Kerala), Meera quit her job as an investment dealer to start ‘Jelly Beans’ after seeing the lack of physical exercise in her son’s childhood. Her summer workshop began with simple movements from tippy-toe and gallops to twisting, swaying and ‘cockroach’ where children younger than age three lay flat on the chequered rubber floor, flaying their limbs to the music amid peals of laughter.

“Sessions like these help create more active children with an inclination towards physically active lifestyles as they grow up. The activities are designed to be relevant and critical in today’s world given our rather sedentary lifestyles. The collaboration was part of our Best Employer Initiative. It worked well for our employees who wanted their children to have fun doing something rather than just watch TV,” says R Elango, chief HR officer, MphasiS.

The programme roots a sense of balance, bilateral coordination, gymnastics for flexibility and aerobics into their lifestyle. The group dynamics supports the child’s development while the non-competitive environment ensures that they enjoy themselves through the process. Structured as a holiday stress release workshop, it also had theme-based activities for the young ones. Role play in the form of fire-fighting techniques (they were given extinguishers as props) was used to develop problem-solving skills. This not only charged the child up physically but boosted cognitive skills and emotional development. Painting and simulated environments such as carpentry stations and doll houses proved to be an engaging mix of fun and games.

Children today are spoilt for choice with regard to toys at home. “Those games are not stimulation enough to develop stability, locomotor and object control skills like hand-eye or foot-eye coordination,” argues Ashar. “Professionals being well-travelled are aware of what is available internationally. They appreciate something that will benefit their children,” she adds about the willingness of working parents to invest in their child’s growth, especially in the holiday season.

Studies suggest that children up to the age of six should not be sedentary for less than an hour, as 95% of the brain structure is formed in that period. The older age group also needs to be engaged creatively through puzzles, theatre and public speaking as was done at the camp. Uday Sinha Zanzaney, head of corporate services at Mphasis and father of eight-year-old Archishman, was very taken in by the programme. He says: “Bangalore has very few places where one can send their children and be assured of their safety. My son was happily occupied for two weeks and the best part was that he was enrolled at the same location where I work.” An employee-friendly company that extends welfare to add their two pence for your children can add value to any job.