We look through the sunlit windowpane of the room we are in — her playroom, my study. We need a breather, my little Neelambari and I, and are holding what gives us comfort after a hectic day. For me, that’s a warm cup of strong ginger chai; for her, it happens to be a jeep-shaped, red-coloured dabble crayon, her favourite. Throughout the day, Neelambari is found clinging onto the crayon, her little fingers wrapped in a tight grip around it. A companionship unlike any we would imagine a toddler to have. Well, it runs in the genes, I guess. I find comfort in colours myself, and watching my little girl make them a part of her life gives me utmost happiness. Neelambari is 27 months old now, and she is taking baby steps into the world of expression. She is still new at expressing herself with clarity using words, and, like all babies, she has always been kind enough to give me cues as to what she wants to convey, and I gladly follow.

Till a few weeks back, I was carefully interpreting her communication in a way that met her needs and also kept our environment peaceful and stress-free. I am sure all toddler parents would know what I am talking about here. Now, she has started speaking in clear full sentences, expressing her needs at times, at times just merely talking. Whatever be the purpose of her use of words in the complex communications that she makes with quite a bit of joy, one common factor remains — how she associates or rather uses colours to express. I cannot emphasise enough how peaceful this has made our lives. She uses colours to tell me about words that she doesn’t know yet. For instance, if she spots a brown-coloured bird perched on a tree outside, she would point in its direction and say, "brown colour Tahtah” (Tatah is the general word she uses for all birds). Or, if she noticed a new spice bottle on the kitchen shelf, she would say, "green colour bottle”. It all began with black though. She spotted “black colour” on my slightly messy work desk — an entangled laptop charger wire. It overwhelmed her and she was worried about the tangle. That was our first communication through colours. Over time, I have realised how vital it is, not just for communication, but for her development.

I immediately thanked her for pointing out that something — an object in this case — had made her uncomfortable. I held her hand and made her touch the wire to give her an understanding that it is safe. She was assimilating new learning, a laptop charger. Many more such learnings have followed since then, and the experience has made me realise that children are very perceptive, and they also give out cues for learning and communicating all the time. It is up to us to be alert and open to it, and then, together it becomes avenues for collective learning. I am sure all the toddler parents out there will agree when I say that this is one of the challenging phases in a child’s life. These tiny babies of ours have big emotions now and they just don’t have the articulation to express them properly or fully. Everything is still new and they are still learning. So are we, right? Colours are just one of the many means we have discovered to communicate. Another thing that has worked like magic is how we use sounds also, much like colours. If Neelambari discovers a new sound that makes her happy or uncomfortable and she doesn’t know the word for it yet, she communicates it through the sound it is making. And believe me, these two ways of communication make the toddler phase extremely peaceful. Though I will also say it with a pinch of salt as we know that not every day is going to be the same. We as parents should be prepared for anything and everything as long as we create a receptive and relaxing environment for our little ones.

Art is a huge part of my life, And so, the experiences with colours and sound happened naturally between Neelambari and me. Some of us will be learning about art for the first time alongside our little artists. So I feel a few pointers we parents should keep in mind, would go a long way in tapping into the infinite potential art and the world of colours provide for our kids. It will perhaps shed light on the importance of making art apart of our little ones’ lives. The points come straight from my experience, and subsequently, after looking them up, I realised that they have a scientific cred too.

Here we go:

  1. We talk about colours, shapes, patterns, and designs while sitting together to create. Over time, I now see her asking a lot of questions about our creation. So art certainly ensures language reinforcement, clarity of communication, and churns out curiosity in the little mind. It makes way for new perspectives, encourages exploration of emotions, inspires thinking, imagination and communication. Also, sometimes I see her intently listening to me but then again I ensure our art times to be anything but instructional. It is an open-ended session where she enters and exits at her own will.
  2. In the initial days of me introducing Neelambari to the magical world of colours, I tried to make things interesting for her, which I still need to do because it is an ongoing journey after all. I drew a lot of new objects and animals she was learning about through her books or our nature walks. With that, she realised that everything that we see around us or read about in books can be reproduced using colours. This captured her interest and after a few conscious efforts, she wanted me to create these artworks with her. So she makes me hold her hand and tells me what she wants to draw. And once we are done her eyes light up and she dances up and down the house excited about her creation. Post that, I have noticed her spending a lot of time of her day trying to reproduce her version of the artwork. That attempt is so inspiring to watch because these little ones are always at it, adding cute colours to our lives. I am working towards wanting her to independently explore creativity but then every child is unique and she will embark on this journey at her own time and her own pace. And I am not keen to calibrate that journey for her.
  3. The empowering feeling one experiences while creating something on our own is something I go through every single day thanks to my little girl. I hold her hand only when asked to, otherwise, I am watching from a distance, no matter what the mess, no matter what the result. It is the heart she is putting into the process that matters ultimately. We mostly keep things open-ended and let her do things her way, even if it all turns messy. We put on a fun and peppy song and shake our legs while cleaning afterward. Guess she associates fun with the clearing-up chore. I have even noticed her clean after her other activities and putting her toys and books back in their respective places. After I admire her artwork with her, asking her about the colours, and asking her to show it to others, she is keen to put it on display in her playroom, the pride in her face and stance is something to behold. Sometimes the joy overflows with an impromptu dance. All these are in the magic of art and how it boosts our mood and adds to our confidence.
  4. Some days I observe her talking to herself about what she is drawing. From where I stand, I see a colourful mess but to her, every stroke seems extremely meaningful. I have noticed her applying some big words that she has heard randomly. Words like gently, strokes, hexagon, mixing-mixing, etc. And I am amazed at how she applies her new learnings in her art. I doubt if any linear learning tool like flashcards or worksheets can produce such a natural learning process. Then again, to each their own and best case scenario we can probably mix all the various modes ensuring that we are not overloading or overwhelming their sensories.
  5. Multiple entry points I have experienced give a more interesting and powerful hold over learning new words and thereby communication. I try to express an idea through visual, auditory, and tactile sensory information, and for that we use vegetable colours, play doughs, flour doughs, paper pasting, plain water, foam, ice, etc. The more the merrier and a child has more ways to map that concept and connect with it.
  6. Art is all around us and anything and everything can be used to create. We use flowers, petals, leaves, pebbles, peels, seeds…anything that nature has gifted us with and we create. We also recycle a lot of delivery boxes, envelopes, newspapers, etc. And I see her little mind is absorbing how everything is a part and piece of art.
  7. Last and extremely important point that I would like everyone to consider is to make room for art in your hearts and homes. It can be a designated art station or can be a tiny corner of your room where your little one sits and opens for herself a window to the magical world of creativity. Art activities stimulate the senses and therefore the brain, creating connections and wiring that would aid future learning processes. They help develop fine motor skills, writing, reading, creativity, and boost self-esteem, among other things. Above all, the huge amount of happy energy it generates in our tiny little world is massive. With the magic of art, the possibilities are infinite.

    Let me leave you all with these thoughts to ponder over and get back to my almost cold chai, and the warm cushy hug that Neelambari wants to give me, jumping onto my lap. She comes running to me asking for a hug now and then, perhaps not realising that each time I need it more than she does. Now, she turns my face to the window with her little determined fingers and wants me to be a part of the view she is enjoying, and says, “Mumma, see green-green trees, blue-blue sky.” I distract myself from the exhaustion of the busy working day and look out to absorb the stunning colours of nature that's right in front of my eyes. I, like all adults, are looking somewhere else. And here, my little girl, shows me that beauty is always around us, always been.

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- Contributed by Sreetama Bagchi ( Dabbler mom)