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[3. Teaching Babies to Read]
[4. Teaching the Five Senses]
[5. Reading to Your Child]
[6. The Beauty of Words]
[7. Integrate Learning]
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8. Physical Education

by Aruna Raghavan

Education can be seen as a sum total of four parts : the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual. Of them all, the physical is the youngest and the most basic. Physical education is also perhaps the most neglected. So today, I take up two aspects of physical education : hygiene and health.


Contrary to belief, a mother can ‘food’ and ‘toilet’ train a baby. This is especially true of babies brought up on mother’s milk. If the mother follows a very bland though nutritious diet through the lactating stage, the baby will have the best chance of developing a perfect digestive tract.  A perfect digestive tract is indicated by the regularity, colour, and quantity of wastes thrown out. Such babies ‘coo’ and ‘bill’ all day. All babies evacuate quarter to half hour after liquids. Taking them to toilet at such time would ‘train’ them. Mothers can  begin the training at 4 weeks! And perfect by 10 –12 months when the babies can indicate their needs!


Of the worst practices that we have happily borrowed from the West is the practice of nappies . They are harmful on many counts. First, the hygiene. To a new born, the sense organs are highly sensitive. To leave the baby smell ‘itself’ is to deaden the sense of smell. Second, the baby’s skin is far more sensitive than product sellers will allow for. To leave the baby wet is to make it uncomfortable. Third, babies who are always in nappies find it difficult to sit well. They are like rocking dolls. Or they always sit in the ‘vajraasan’ pose giving rise to ‘knock knees’. Finally, they cannot balance themselves when they run because they are ‘bottom heavy’! If at all nappies have to be used because the baby is in a ‘public’ place it is essential that the nappies be changed each time. To toilet train the baby is the best. In many play schools in the West, charges are heavier for ‘untrained’ children. The idea appeals!


From the time a baby is one and a half he is normally on what we call an adult diet. By that I mean, he is eating vegetables, fruits, cereals and may be even meat and fish. At this age, food is fascinating. There is the joy of discovering tastes. But by three, a child feels he has finished learning all that he needs to about food. Children between the ages of three and six rarely eat. They get their energy from the atmosphere, as it were. That is the time to begin with teaching the nutritive value of things he eats. You could make charts like these: Chart 1 : Do you want bright eyes? Eat carrots, cabbage and papaya, drink milk and have cod liver oil [for those who are not vegetarians.] Chart 2: want to play in the water for 10 minutes every day and yet not catch cold? Then eat oranges, grapes, cucumber, gooseberry [amla]. Drink lime juice, tomato juice and have spinach soup. Chart 3: Do you wish to have white strong teeth? And strong bones? Drink milk, butter your bread / chappaties; play in the early morning sun. You could make as many such charts as you wish. You could stick relevant pictures or draw and hang the charts in the dining area. And as you feed your baby you could talk of the nutritive value. It takes away the child’s boredom and obstinacy and also makes for intelligent conversation!


Yet, the true value of these charts is to help the child at age eight or ten years  understand that food is essentially an energy giver. It is a medicine that we take to keep ourselves ‘balanced’. To choose food according to what the  body requires is to be aware of energy levels. That comes from observing oneself and children can be taught this very basic discipline. It is not to say that we deny the fun of an ice cream. On the contrary, this is to ensure  that we eat what we need, when we need and as much as we need. And that is the real joy of eating.

Aruna Raghavan can be contacted at:

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