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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Aksa Beach

This Sunday we headed to the beach on Ishita's request. She had plans of building a sand castle after watching Dora the explorer. And, to do so we headed to a beach called Aksa beach that is located in the suburbs (Malad West to be exact). For those who might not know, this is the cleanest beach I have seen in Mumbai, and I blogged about it in the past already. Three and a half years later it is still as clean, and is amazingly deserted, which is a pleasant change from dirty and over crowded Juhu.

We headed there in the morning to beat the heat and reached at low tide. The sea retreats over a huge distance at this beach, which means we had to walk about a hundred meter to reach the water.

 

At first Ishita wanted to dig into the sand, but quickly realised the potential walking ahead would have, and ended up getting completely wet instead, bucket and spade near forgotten. DH and I once more marvelled at the lack of crowd...and garbage.

 

We aren't exactly sure why the beach is so quiet, you'd think that people would want to go the extra mile for a clean beach. But, the few persons I mentioned the beach too or had no idea wheee it was, or pulled a face saying "ugh! It is in Malad, way too far". I am sure driving up there in the afternoon might be challenging in Mumbai's traffic jam, but we left home at 6.30am and reached there in no time at all, so mornings are still totally doable. Another factor might be that the beach is not really signalled the way Juhu is and the last part of the drive to reach there takes you to a small village and a past a Indian Navy base. The shore is left relatively untouched on that stretch of shore as a result.

 

With the beach being kept so clean, and the water appearing far less polluted it is no wonder that each time we went there was saw people far more eager to attempt a dip in the sea. The water however can have strong currents, so one should be aware of that. Once Ishita was done with her sand castle plan and had enough of skipping the waves, I led her to the area of the beach that has big rocks at low tide I was hopping to go crab spotting with her (she is fascinated by them).

 

We spotted two that quickly ran away before I could take a picture. Ishita had her eyes on the seashells glued to the rocks which led to me showing her that little sea snails lived in them. By then it was 9am, and it being a Summer day, the sun was already strong. As a result we retreated to the car, changed Ishita's clothes, drove to a mall near our place to have a brunch at one of the coffee place and finally headed back home for a nap.

Little did we knew that Monday would be a hotter, more insane day. as of today the heat is still pretty much unbearable leaving me longing for a dip in the water...if only we lived a bit nearer to said beach!

 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

An alternative to Kellogg's

I am by far not a fan of breakfast cereals, never liked them enough to make them part of my regular morning routine. The only exception being that one time I was pregnant and craved honey cornflakes round the clock for a week or so. That said, a bowl once in a while is fine by me. DH and Ishita seem to go by the same pattern and once in a while a box of loops, chocos or cornflakes find its way into our household until the craving phase run its course. And, in India the breakfast cereal market has been cornered by Kellogg's. They pretty much have the monopoly, with a few costly imported brands struggling to compete in few select stores. Breakfast cereals aren't part of Indian culture, and are marketed as the healthy, convenient way to kick start your day in our fast paced modern life.

The problem is Kellogg's is not as healthy as it is made to be, even Special K which is in India advertised as a healthy weight loss cereal. In the case of that later, once you realise a normal serving is 30g and that it accounts for a small cup worth of the stuff, you realise it can't even be filling. The kids variety are high in sugar, and no kid will really stop at the serving size of 30g either. But what is more disturbing to me is the number of preservatives, chemicals and fillers that usually go into these. Hopefully the big K will have some serious competition soon. As I stumbled upon these in my local supermarket:

 

24 Mantra, is an Indian brand selling organic spices, pulses and cereals. I knew them for their red poha which has been my ultimate favourite for years, and we also spend the extra backs on their lentils. They recently launched juices, jams and a range of cereals. So far I have seen Honey stars, Mango Stars, Ragi flakes and Cornflakes. All certified organic and recognized by three organic standards. What is more, is that it is a product made in India by a domestic brand which I am all for supporting.

Ishita having hit another cereal craze, I decided to try them out, and her choice was the mango stars, because they are shaped like stars, and because honey is yuck (her words not mine). The package states that it contains a mix of whole grain, sugar, amaranth and mango pulp, all certified organic ingredients. Taste wise, the stuff is actually good. I haven't tried it with milk yet, just took a handful here and there. It has a depth of flavour no Kellogg's cereals can even come close to, the mango taste is natural, the cereal is overall sweet but not too sweet. And, one handful is filling enough as a snack, which is absolutely NOT the case with any of the K brand cereals, not even their whole wheat flakes. This lead me to strongly confirm what I suspected all along: Kellogg's is not natural and contains a lot of cheap fillers.

Price wise, the organic cereals are not even as costly as one might think, the pack above has 300 g of cereals in it and will set you 125 rupees. I don't have a pack of Kellogg's around for comparison anymore, but I remember they were nearing the 100 rupees for about the same quantity so for me the math is all done. I'd rather pay around 25 rupees extra to encourage local trade, more natural and environment friendly agricultural practice and give my money to a domestic brand rather than go fatten up the accounts of a multinational company that stopped caring about what goes in people's body a long time ago in the name of profit. Truth be told, I try to go for local brands over big brands whenever I can. Being an outsider, I am not sold on the marketing gimmick of "world class" goods. These brands that entered India gradually after the market liberalization have been present in my homeland far longer and I know them to not all be as wonderful as they are often made out to be. So to me, seeing domestic brands tackle these giants is wonderful, and I hope the affluent segment of the population that is in a position to afford to support the production of organic goods will step up to the plate and help said industry flourish. I know that 20 years ago people complained about organic goods being costly back in Switzerland, many even scoffed at them. But, the patronage of a few, soon because the patronage of many and the price of organic goods went down enough to make them competitive against non organic produce for people to be willing to spend the few cents or francs extra in order to do their bits for the planet and their health.

Now, I only hope that my supermarket continues to stock these cereals, it wouldn't be the first time a great product disappeared from their shelves due to a lack of demand. It sounds silly but it might even be enough to make me buy them regularly.

 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Encouraging independent feeding

A little while ago, one of my regular reader asked me if I could write about toddlers eating and encouraging self feeding without distraction. This is one of these cultural difference between Indian and Switzerland that I have noticed for a long time.

In a lot of Western countries, we tend to encourage small children to eat on their own at an early age, and insist on meals being a ritual devoid of distractions. You won't find a lot of parents advising you to put your kiddos in front of TV or giving them toys to distract them from the process of eating where I come from. But the distraction method is used a lot here, and I had many moms telling me I should feed Ishita that way because she appeared a bit skinny to them. It seems however that the health care specialists are agreeing with me here and the need of the hour is to unglue kids from the TV while they eat.

So how does one encourage a child to eat independently and without distraction? First, we start this process very early, often the instant the baby start grabbing the spoon. This is usually around the age of 7 months that this stage occur, and this is the easiest time to start the process. At this age solid has just been introduced, most of a baby's nutrient still come from breast milk or formula, solid is introduced more to introduce new tastes and texture, and it is ok if they don't eat a ton. Some weaning techniques that are also starting to be popular consist of letting the baby decide when they are ready for solids and let them put food in their mouth from the start. The technique is called "baby led weaning" and advocates skipping the purée stage and move straight to soft cubes of steamed veggies the child can manipulate on their own and gum easily with a near toothless mouth. I myself started with purses when she was 5 months old because she was eager to try food, and the instant she perfected her hand eye coordination and put things in her mouth, switched to the baby led weaning tips.

 

In this picture above she was 8 months old and had only two teeth, as you can see she had no problem chomping strips of paneer and steamed brooch florets. Also notice the high chair, this is one of these tool that are so common in the west, and encourage table manners. The chair is put at the dinning table, and the food is put on the tray for them to crab on their own. Parents usually eat at the same time and supervise, the child pick up the process through the "observe and imitate" technique that is the most natural and used by babies to pick up all their basic skills. Most of my Indian friends have asked me about the messy aspect of letting a child feed themselves. And, I always tell them that it is part of the learning process. If you are concerned about the cleaning afterward, put your child in easy to wash clothes ( or in my case, just a diaper), and keep a drop cloth or old towel under the chair. Letting babies have a go at feeding themselves is natural, and also help them develop essential motor skills and hand eye coordination (no you don't need toys to teach these). By trying to feed themselves and trying to imitate their parents, babies make a lot of brain connections, so let them be, the neurological connections they make early will give them a head start later in life.

Another thing my Indian friends are always worried about is the food quantity, and the fear the baby will never have enough. I'll tell you what my pediatrician said: "No babies starve themselves". In a word they eat when they are hungry, stop when they are full. The problem is that parents are afraid what a baby consider to be enough is not sufficient, and fail to recognize the cues that junior is indeed no longer hungry. A baby turning their head away, pushing the plate away, throwing food on the ground or spitting purée out are not signs you should switch on the TV or bring toys to the table. They are truly sign of the baby being FULL, by distracting a child to feed them, you inhibit the part of the brain controlling the hunger signal, they are so distracted they don't notice they are full, and this leads to over eating. Babies need smaller, more frequent meals, and before the age of 1 nutrient still come from the milk, the next year is the actual weaning part where gradually the solid food becomes the principal way to get nutrients, by age 2 milk is no longer needed and should no longer be considered a food in itself, but a snack or a small supplement. Typically the toddler continues to be on a 4-5 meal a day plan, so do not feel they have to eat giant portions 3 times a day. Also what parents tend to worry about is the weight, and the disappearance of the baby fat. Again this is normal, a toddler will be active and on the go, muscles grow and limbs get more definition as they grow. My pediatrician again told me that weight is less of an issue than one might think if the toddler still poops regularly, sleeps 10-12 hours a day and is active the rest of the day and the height increase regularly.

After the age of one a baby can also eat pretty much all the same food a grown up does, with modification of taste in some cases, and definitely smaller cuts and food prepped for them to handle on their own.

 

In this picture above, Ishita was 19 months old. As you can see the menu that day was aloo methi and dal with chapatti. What I did was cook smaller chapati for her, so she could handle them better, I did so by using a cookie cutter, each roti was bite sized, because at this age they can't really tear a whole roti apart well enough to eat. Notice she was also still making a mess with the dal then, but this is why these high chairs are all plastic and easily wipeable. She was once again eating at the dinning table with us, away from any screen and distraction. I still remember that this day she was hungry enough to ask for a second serving of dal, which she ate with a spoon once she ran out of baby roti.

One thing that many of my friend with older kids find taxing is the fact that last the age of two, most toddler rebel against certain food and turn into fussy eaters. Again, that is NORMAL, this is a sign of right development, toddlers start assessing who they are as a person and what power and influence they can have. Their job is to throw tantrums to test their boundaries, while a parent's job is to set said boundaries and stick to their guns. This is the stage at which parents should refrain from being emotional about food. Again, no child will starve themselves to death, but if they ever find out that going on a hunger strike freaks you out and end up with them getting what they want, they will continue using that tactic as they grow. If your child rebel against broccoli and attempt to fast to see if they can get maggi noodles instead, do not give in. Take the food away, I form them there will be no snacks until the next meal and leave it at that. I can guarantee you that they will be hungry enough at the next meal to eat what is put on their plate.

If you have been using the TV or tablet to feed your toddler and wonder how to quit and encourage healthier habits. The best way to do it is cold turkey. Just stop it, let them beg and fuss and throw a fit and tell them firmly that meal time is a serious thing and shall be spent focusing on what is in the plate and to the people around them. They will likely protest and boycott food for a meal or two, but if you stand your ground and stay firm they will learn that screen time while eating is a no go. If they eat less than they used to now that TV is off, it is that they had their share, it is up to you parent to know that their idea of a serving size differs from what their body actually needs at that time. The reason they were eating while in front of the YV was not that the YV made them hungrier, but that the screen stimulation disturbed the communication line between the stomach and the brain. Eating in front of the TV has been the object of several scientific research, and is now proven to be a link to obesity.

To increase the nutrition in a toddlers diet, offer more snacks in the form of fresh fruits, whole grain and protein items like cube of cheese, which not only are all better than cookies, but also introduce new tastes and texture.

All in all, the earliest you start with independent eating, the better. also remember that with children starting playschool as early as age two, they need to have some basic self feeding skills. Teachers can't spoon feed 15 children in the 20 minutes that tiffin time usually takes in school.

 

Monday, April 14, 2014

We've been legofied

The Summer break is upon us, and with it comes the tricky task of keeping kids entertained enough without loosing your sanity as a parent. It is that time of the year during which Summer camps of all kind sprout in every neighbourhood, and yes we have signed her up for one: gymnastics. It is sadly just one hour a day, but keeps her off the TV in the morning and physically active enough.

With small children you still have hope of a nap occurring in the afternoon, with a almost 5 year old, who has sworn off the institution that means just that many more hours in the day to fill with activities. As you all know, I am not a TV fan and it's usage is strongly regulated in my home. I'd rather see Ishita use her mind to do something creative on her own than sit idle in front of the idiot box. During the school year it is quite easy, the TV is allowed in the morning when everybody is starting the day and busy with things like preparing food, showering and cleaning. It then goes off for the rest of the day and once she is back from school it is lunch time, go play in your room time while waiting for the maid, followed by playground time at 5pm. Outdoor time which last until 7-ish PM. Then it is shower time, dinner time and bedtime...easy.

Summer is of course a whole different ball game, and there is usually far more time spent home, outdoor being the only constant, as we still head out comes 5. The problem is that there is only that much painting and crafting you can do without getting bored, and things like dolls and books will only keep a child entertained for short time. And as a parent, there is only that much time a day you can spend dropping everything off to supervise an activity without lagging in your other household duties. Ishita being almost 5 and having rediscovered her old clippo blocks, I figured out she was hitting the Lego age bracket.

Ah Legos! People from my generation all grew up with at least a basic starter kit and spent hours and hours creating things, houses, laser guns, monster caves, swimming pools, imaginary animals...the possibilities were endless, the castle from one day turned into a boat the next. This was one of the toy I grew up with that still elicits strong happy memories, and I will not lie, I have been waiting for the day Ishita would be ready for her very first Legos. Sadly, they don't come cheap in India. According to my mom however, they weren't even really cheap in Switzerland when I was a kid. We just had far less toys options, and parents saw it as an investment in their child's development and creative skills honing. And, that is how it should be treated still...even more so in India where they really can put a hole in your pocket. I am myself all for less battery operated toys and electronic gizmos, and more deceptively simple toys like the good old Danish brick game.

We ended up going on a hunt for some this past Sunday, after Ishita brought back the matter of wanting building blocks on the table (after having been very frustrated with her old clippos in the course of last week due to them having a lot of limitations). I knew one toys store in our neighbourhood that at one point had some, so we headed there only to be told they didn't have the starter kit anymore, but all kind of theme boxed sets that allow you to build one specific thing. Nothing wrong with these, but not exactly the most conductive tools for creativity. We were sure to find the good old basics at Hamley's so we went out of our way to get there, only to be told that they ran out of stock on all basic bricks sets (clearly they are getting popular). Ishita's expectations of that shopping trip were high, she was exited at getting some building blocks. Clearly, leaving the store without anything was not going to be an option, especially after she saw their demo table and started building things. This is one of these many parents sticky situations that needed some smart thinking.

I had a few options. Option one was leaving the store and telling her to wait some more, but that was clearly not going to cut it. Option two was buying building blocks in another brand; equally costly, and not as versatile as Legos, not to mention would in all like hood not cut it with Ishita who was playing like crazy with the Legos at the demo table and having a blast. Option there was to find a smaller set box or two to buy immediately and try to locate the bigger, starter kit box online. I ended up choosing option three unglued Ishita from the demo table to pick a theme box she liked and would fit my budget considering my plan was still to buy something else. She obviously set her eye on a giant Lego house building kit that cost a bomb and sadly would not allow kids to build anything but the house pictured on the box. I refused and offered some alternative in the same range. We ended taking two smaller kits, one being a little bunny hutch and garden with a girl Lego figurine. The other being this one:

 

The same girl figurine with a bedroom set, which she picked because the girl had...a laptop and a big mirror!

We built the bedroom set on Sunday evening together and she was utterly fascinated by the whole process, then it was time for bed and I told her we could build the bunny house the next day. Which we did as soon as we came home from Gymnastics today. She played with both sets for an hour straight afterward but forbade me to take a picture of the bunny house...because the bunny was sleeping (amazing how quickly Legos work their imaginative magic on kids).

I of course spent the rest of Sunday night trying to find that damn starter kit box online, only to find it sold out from Flipkart and available at 3 times the price on Amazon! No way! A little more digging (ok a lot more), I ended up finding another set on Amazon that contained more bricks and was priced at the same price ass the out of stock Flipkart one. Needless to say I ordered it, and am now waiting for it to be dispatch and delivered. Meanwhile Ishita is playing with her girly ones instead. One thing that did end up striking me however, is how the humble Lego bricks envolved into being more of a collectors thing, with sets meant to build nothing but one specific item. No more free creativity! The starter kits seem much harder to come by than let's say the set to build a Starwars X-wing (which as an adult I find kind of cool). Houses can no longer be built from the basic kit, one is made to believe they have to buy the cottage building set, that has just enough pieces to build said cottage and leaves no room for imagination. The theme sets are if you ask me what end up being costly in the first place, and without even letting the children figure out things on their own.

Needless to say I am eagerly waiting for my online order. Order, which will keep Ishita busy during the hot hours of the day, and have the kid in me come out again.

 

Friday, April 11, 2014

How to find your decor style

A couple of months ago, as part of the same series, I blogged about ones individual decor trait and how mine was. How I liked homemade accents, crafty things and bright colours. What I failed to touch however is how one find their home decor style in the first place.

The truth is that there is not one fool proof way to do that, some have a more step by step approach, some have a very instinctive one, and some need a lot of help and inspiration to figure it all out. Home decor style is determined by current or past trends and your personal tastes. If you are planning to give your home or even just one room a makeover but aren't sure about what you want, you need to start figuring that one out first. The tried and tested method to get some ideas about your personal tastes is a fairly simple one, made even simpler now with websites and Pinterest.

Your first task is to collect magazines, browse websites and blogs about home decor and check a few books on the topic. Open a Pinterest account as well if you don't have one already. Then simply leaf through all your literature, bookmark pages having photos you like, cut them out of magazines, pin websites to your Pinterest, and build a kind of wish list. At this point do no worry about the feasibility of a look, the cost, or even focus on the overall result. If there is anything in the picture you like, even if it is just the colour of the tea cups used as a prop, save it. Once you have a big enough collection of picture, look at them again, if they are newspaper and magazine clippings, you can even write notes on them such as "love the wall colour", "pretty curtains". Soon enough you will see a pattern emerging, when we go and select thing we like instead of making a point to go out of our comfort zone we end up realising that there are few things that keep repeating. Like, the preference for a certain colour palette, or a certain style of furnitures.

For me, my to go to, most basic decor trait is the use of the colour blue. If you have been following me for a while and looked through all my pictures on this blog, you probably noticed it too. It is my colour, and I built a lot of my decor around it. Not that I don't like other colour, far from it, but I invariably end up going back to it, instinctively I might add. And, there is nothing wrong with it, there is nothing wrong with having a comfort zone when it comes to home decor. Truth be told, I'd rather see someone confess an absolute love for something like antique carved furnitures or the absolute attraction for something like orange than see someone just copy the latest trend look seen in every magazine (all white minimalist look and cold marbles...I'm talking about you). Again, nothing wrong with the all white look, if that is really what you like in the first place. But, I suspect very few actually dig the look in the first place, and just opt for it because that is the "safe" fashionable thing to do. In the same way the 70's were all about avocado green and orange paired together. I kid you not my bedroom was made in this combination simply because my parents thought it was in fashion. Said room is still vividly imprinted in my memory, and that is not a good thing.

Once you figured out what your basic style is, work with it. If you plan on redoing your whole home, start making some mood boards for each room, pasting little details you would like to see in said room on a piece of paper or in a notebook, be it paint colour swabs, the picture of a particular bed sheet, or lamp you like. Play with ideas, and slowly build a decor that is entirely YOU. As you probably know, I take time to make decisions about my own home decor. I, after all, spent 10 years finding a dinning set I liked. And, I usually spend months working on a thing as "simple" as a painting, changing my mind very often about the process. I'm the intuitive type, my home is a never ending process; which is a good thing considering we moved so many times in the past decade. I constantly reinvent things, and that constant flow is as much part of the core of my decorating style as the use of the colour blue is.

My last tip, is to not rush things, you don't have to find that personal signature style right away, take some time if you need some; and plan a room at a time, leaving room for flexibility in the process as well. This is where you will find out what your tastes are like.

 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

My latest painting

A couple of weeks (or was it months???) I posted this picture on my Facebook page:

 

It was my latest painting project still being in process, but approaching the finishing touches stage. Like all my painting projects, I take months before finishing them. The reason being that I start with a vague idea in mind, and then change said mind about 5000 million time while painting. The original idea for that painting was to have a purple background, with a white filigree style border and the painting of a teacup in the center (yes you read teacup and no it isn't anywhere in the picture above). While painting the background, I suddenly decided that maybe I should have a star, or a moon in the picture, but it sounded too simple. Then my shampoo bottle inspired me and I drew the dark blue doodle you can see behind the flower, and then of course a star or a moon would look silly. But why not a star flower? But which type of flower? I don't like painting flowers unless they are the stylistic, cartoony style. An hibiscus? Nah! While I was making up my mind about it the painting stayed just purple for weeks, then a stroll in the park gave me my inspiration. Why not a frangipani flower (aka plumeria)? They are my favourite around here because they smell so good, they are shaped like a star, the white and yellow combo would work great with my purple background...and so I painted. My original plan for the border was a white twirly filigree pattern, as you can see I changed my mind about that too. Instead I felt compelled to use my favourite turquoise blue, ended up leaving purple peep hold, then filled them because the sizes of my circles were a bit funky and would look odd left blank. I filled them with little stars/flowers, and because the process was a bit boring it took me another few weeks to complete. But here is the final result:

 

When I started the painting I knew that was the spot I wanted it to be hung in, this is what affected my choice of colours too since I have another painting in the dinning area that use bright colours and doodles and cartoonish little figures.

 

And for some reasonour current flat calls for bright bold colours too, which is what inspired all my recent creations too. Now 8 am already thinking of my next project for a dark wall in my hallway, but haven't made up my mind about anything yet, neither the colours, nor the subject, leave alone the size of the cane as, it can take weeks (or months) before I figure that one out. And of course I also think another cane as painting on my balcony could be cool too, but once again have no more idea than that at the present moment. And these two painting project compete for space in my mind with about another dozen creative ideas...as usual.

The artistic mind at work...

 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The guide to starting school

With Ishita finishing her first year in a big school, I am finding myself reflecting on it and how the whole school readiness could be puzzling to people not used to the Indian system. We have been doing the school thing for 2.5 years now, but the playschool and nursery one was not the same as Jr Kg in a big school. It was in our neighbourhood, operated from an apartment and certain rules were more lax, there also wasn't a uniform worn daily, just twice a week. What you can expect from big schools in India will of course vary from school to schools, and even accross boards in the same school. So what do you need as a parent to prepare your kids for school and go through the year?

Here is a little list of things you should have or know.

About the uniform: if you come from a country where uniforms at the primary level do not exist like me, you might find yourself wondering what the deal is, how you get these, what to expect...Don't sweat, the schools usually tell you were to get them, or which tailors to go to. Our school arranged to have their supplier come to the school to take orders and collect the money before school started and until the uniform were given to us in our kiddos back pack we had to send them in regular clothes. The school also gave us details about the shoes to be worn during the monsoon, and then sent us a circular with the address of the supplier for the regular shoes to be worn after the monsoon.

About hairstyles: some schools ask for a specific hairstyle for girls, and ask of the boys to have short trimmed hair, or in the case of Sikhs, to have them pulled off the face. I have a girl, and our school doesn't specify a hair style like some more traditional schools do, but the rule is that hairs should be pulled off the face, or in a pony, or a bun, or braids, as long as no stray hair comes in the face they are cool. The hair clips and hair ties should be black, older girls should not have coloured or streaked hair. Once you know which colour your school wants for the hair accessories, STOCK UP, these bands and clips seem to love getting lost. All road side stalls, small clothing shops and school supply shops have them in the three regular colour : black, red, and white. Choose your school colour and buy several packs to never be without one when you are getting your kiddo ready.

About basic supplies: while schools have uniforms and ask for specific hair accessories colour, there is no rules concerning the backpack, tiffin box and bottle (well almost). The moment back to school lurks it's head, all store will start selling these, pick a bag sturdy enough with your kids favourite cartoon on it and you are all set. Most school ask parents of smaller kids to send them with a water bottle that has straps to carry it around the neck. It is indeed far more convenient for teachers to know each kids have their bottle at hand when they go on field trips or move around the school. Sadly these sling bottle almost always are made of cheap plastic that will break quickly, if you plan enough ahead you could find a metallic one, or even manage to make a strap for a non strappy one like I did. With small kids, wait until the school ask you about other supplies like pencils and pencil cases, some will ask you for these, mine did not, they provide the kids with those when they need them.

All you need to know about the school: schools all have specific guidelines, procedures, rules and regulations, your guide to them all is the school diary. It contains everything, from the uniform rules, to the procedure to ask for a leave, the dos and don't, the list of holidays, the summary of the curriculum, a section for teachers to leave you notes, a section for you to leave notes to the teacher, and several pages of infos you need to fill.

What you need to have on hand: at the start of the school year you will be asked by the school to cover all the school books and notebooks your child will need in paper or transparent plastic, once you find out about that, head to your local stationary shop to get the appropriate wrapping material. You will also be asked to label your child's belonging, especially in smaller classes, so if you haven't one at home already buy a permanent marker at the same time, along with some white labels so you can be ready to autograph all your kiddo's belonging appropriately. The school year starts around the monsoon, and schools don't like umbrellas, so invest in a raincoat, preferably one that can cover the backpack. You will need several passport photographs, of your child, yourself and your spouse to paste on all documents, once the child has his school uniform, you will need to have passport photos of them wearing said uniform for more permanent things like the permanent ID card, before the year starts, check that you have all these ready.

Special days: like anywhere, kids have special theme days in Indian school, and they usually mean special outfits. Some schools have more of these than other, and you can be guaranteed you will end up having to go clothes shopping at the last minute for something, or find yourself doing a craft project on short notice. You can however prepare yourself to some extent; as certain holidays will have your child wear something very obvious like ethnic wear or a tricolour outfit, and you will find that some outfits can be worn more than once.

- Ethnic wear. You will need this one for all Hindu festivals celebrated in school and other ethnic cultural days, for girls you might even need a lehenga for some of them such as Dandiya. Buy one or two, and buy them with adjustable waist and a wide enough top, they don't come cheap, and if you can have your child wear them two years in a row you'll end up getting your money worth.

- Something tricolour. On republic day and independence days kids usually go to school dressed up in orange, white and green, shop early to find an outfit that has at least two of the colour and add the third one as a hair accessory if you need to. This year I scored on an orange and green kurta, paired it with white leggings and she was ready to go. The tricolour outfit doesn't necessarily have to be ethnic.

- A party frock. For girls that is. For all non ethnic parties, kids usually show up in western style fancy outfits, have one or two ready for such events, it doesn't have to be super fancy though. Also when a child has their birthday, they are allowed to wear a party dress instead of the uniform, and distribute candies to their classmates.

- Something white, blue, red...pink...you get the picture. One way they use to teach kids about colour is to dress them in that colour. Most schools do the basic colours, so have them at home to avoid running around trying to find a green t-shirt at the last minute (not that easy for girls). If you have all the rainbow colours you'll also be set for the tricolour days

- Craft supplies. There will inevitably be days such as dress up as a nurse, tree, animal...or a fancy dress party, be it for Halloween which is done in more and more schools, or a costume competition. Buy sturdy craft paper you can paint, or better yet in all basic colours, stickers, craft glue, paint and glitter at the start of the year.

Know that if your school is an international ones there will be more of these special days so be prepared. In our case they sent us the circular at the beginning of each term so we could be ready early. If you aren't the crafty type, google and Pinterest will come to your rescue too.

These should get you started on what to do and get to get your kid school ready by June, if you have more questions, feel free to ask them in the comments, I'll try to answer them.