How Do Babies Spend Their Time?

These days babies receive toys from the day they are born. Additionally there exist 24/ 7 TV channels and apps exclusively for babies! But do babies need these to pass their time or develop their brain?

To understand what babies are naturally drawn to, I noted what my 9 month daughter plays with the most. She has some popular toys and books. We have not introduced her to screen time except video chat with family. We do take her outdoors and grocery shopping. She does not go to any day care.

[ For the photos in this post, the captions in black font show activities self-initiated by the baby and blue font shows parents’ initiative. ]

Within a week of her birth she had some soft toys, rattles, and cloth books. Around 2 months she started noticing rattle. Around 3 months the amount of time she spent holding the lid of her body lotion jar and looking at it was second to the amount of time she spent looking at her hands when awake. At 5 months she started to roll over and discovered a whole new horizon to be explored!

20190424_071843@5 months: “Now I can rollover and grab it!”

Around 7 months we introduced other toys like rubber duckie, board books, play gym and its dangling toy, etc. But she preferred to play with her sippy cup, look at the water shaking inside it, and feel the spout. She didn’t drink water from the sippy cup though 😦

20190429_090537.jpg@7 months: “Something new”

She pulled an empty jar of water from kitchen counter and started banging her hands on it and flashed a big smile.

20190526_135829@7 months: “This (spring water jar) makes great sounds”

Around 8 months her inquisitiveness to hold different things was growing. Whenever I would sort vegetables, she would be the ‘happy to help’! Though I find it boring to sort vegetables, she would be excited and energetic.


@8 months sorting vegetables: “I can help mom for sure 😉 “

20190617_173811@8 months: “Why don’t the bows come out?”

When she and I would be reading, I would invariably end up reading her book because she would snatch the National Geographic I had in hand.


@8 months: “Whose book is it any way?”

She became mobile and rather than toys, she would grab slippers, matchbox, hair on the floor, dried leaves, and anything else that came to her attention.

20190628_152520@8 months: “This seems a bit weird!”

One of the best activities for us was opening boxes from Amazon. First thing to grab – plastic bubble packing. In one of the boxes we received her books and some everyday items. She preferred to pick and play with a pack of brush heads while giving only a cursory stare to her new books. Whereas I looooooved the books by Matthew Van Fleet meant for her.


@9 months: “If only I had teeth to use all of these brush heads”

…And then one day I found her playing with her best buddies – diapers 😉

20190701_120943@9 months: “This thing seems familiar, but does not have THAT smell.”

Toy companies promote toys to develop motor skills. Thanks to her grandmother we found one of the best activities for her – She would pick puffed paddy rice (salichya lahya in Marathi) and obviously put it in her mouth — motor skills and nutrition!


@9 months rice puff: “hmm..why does she give me only a few (puffed paddy rice)?”

20190529_075627@9 months dishwasher spoon basket: “And unloading the dishwasher is boring?”

img_0437@9 Months : “This is how we PLAYMATe!”

Does this mean she never plays with her toys? Definitely not. She does play with her toys but toys are not the only things she plays with!  She spends a good amount of time playing with her wooden blocks (putting them in mouth, making sounds with two blocks, and probably feeling different shapes), nesting cups, removing different objects from her basket (unfortunately she doesn’t keep them back so I have to do the clean up;)).

She is happy when she is outdoors. Sitting in the mud, watching birds, leaves fluttering in the wind, hearing different sounds, seeing vehicles on the road, and observing her surroundings. She loves parks – slides, swings, zip lines. She feels happy when she sees other kids/people play and indicates her desire to join them.

So far she has been happy playing in water in her tub as well as in the swimming pool.

She seems to like interacting with people as she greets them with a smile and tries her baby talk to strike a conversation.


So how do babies spend their time? It is simple. The baby (and if I may generalize it to all babies) likes to spend her time in exploring different things around her as long as she is surrounded by people she trusts and probably loves (in the case of this baby it is the person behind the camera;)) One gets the feeling that babies want to explore the whole world. Are we restricting them with overwhelming toys and screen time?

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New Ideas For Every Day: Healthy Kids Day @Y

Challenge 1: Save our planet
The planet is under attack and this time the attack is not from aliens or machines but from us – humans. With excessive use of harmful chemicals and non biodegradable stuff we are creating a threat to other living beings on the planet and a threat to the planet itself. How might we save our planet from this attack? How can we have environmentally conscious life style?
Challenge 2: A day in life without screens, internet, and digital devices
There are so many beautiful things to explore around us or activities that we want to do but seldom find time for. How would we spend a day with our family without using digital devices and internet?
20190419_170845Challenge Cards
Generate ideas for one of the above two challenges was our activity for young children and their parents on ‘Healthy Kids Day’ at YMCA Cupertino.  To help them generate ideas, stimuli cards were given to them. A stimuli card had an everyday object on it and served as a clue for the families to think about eco-friendly ideas related to that object. For example a family picked a stimuli card mentioning ‘toys’. They came up with an idea of toy share in the neighborhood.

20190419_185601Challenge Cards and Stimuli Cards

When a family visited our station, they would pick a challenge card and generated ideas for that challenge. They were given a set of stimuli cards, sticky notes to write the ideas on, and 2 minutes to generate ideas for the challenge. They were told to write one idea per sticky note and stick it on a board.
Generated ideas were scored as follows:
For challenge 1 (save our planet) each idea was purported to save 1000 sq ft of land saved from landfill.
For challenge 2 (day in life without internet and digital devices) each idea scored a smile. The total land saved / smiles were counted as a score of a family. As a souvenir an instant photograph of the family with their ideas was given.
Children posing for a photo
New Ideas:
Over 120 people visited our station. Young children were the stars and generated some of the most amazing ideas.
Here are some ideas we thought were smart:
1. (Use)Less Air Conditioner
2. Don’t drink Soda
3. Don’t use straws
4. Finish my yogurt clean (sic)
5. No Glitters
20190430_150302-1Some awesome ideas (special appreciation for the sketch representing family time)
6. I have to destroy asteroid (for saving the planet)
7. Don’t make smoke
8. Use less paper copier
9. Reuse wrapping paper
10. Unload dish washer as a family time (day without digital devices)
20190430_111351Some more ideas
The highest score for challenge 1 (save our planet) was 16 ideas = 16000 sq ft land saved and for challenge 2 (day in life without digital devices and internet) was 23 = 23 smiles.
In two hours over 400 ideas were generated.
IMG-20190419-WA0001Young children taking up the challenge
20190419_185400Feedback from our young visitors
20190419_185150Happy volunteers: me, Nupur and Shweta
But are the sticky notes eco -friendly?
So we used lots of sticky notes and definitely new that just recycling them would not be environmentally conscious. So here is how we used the sticky notes afterwards –
Reusing the sticky notes in packing glassware for moving our house
We used the sticky notes to pack glass bowls while moving our house. We not just reused the sticky notes but also avoided using other packing material. Likewise the board used for putting up the sticky notes was used for packing our kitchenware.
img_0206-e1559164767655.jpgReusing the board
Why Idea Generation on ‘ Healthy Kids Day’?
Every year YMCA Northwest celebrates ‘Healthy Kids Day’ to promote health and awareness in young children and their families. As a part of the event we thought that for children to be healthy it is necessary that we have a healthy planet and healthy minds. So we included idea generation as an activity to demonstrate that some of the toughest problems (climate crisis and addiction to screens) can be solved once we acknowledge them and think about new ideas. Solving real life problems is easier when we work on them as a team – here as a family.
Actually sometimes problems bring us closer and solving it together makes our bond stronger!
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How Heavy Are They?

Match the following bird / animal with an object you think is closest to its weight.

Here is some information on the length of the birds / animals that may help you guess better. Crow 16 to 21 inches, Red Tail Hawk 18 to 26 inches, Red Snapper, the fish can be of various lengths but here we are considering it 18 inches, Chihuahua 7 to 12 inches in length, Eastern Gray Squirrel is 9 to 12 inches, and a song sparrow is 4.7 to 6 inches.

Before writing correct answers, let me share a story behind this activity. It all started with Brittany’s idea to have a table top activity demonstrating how amazingly light the birds are. She suggested if we can have bean bags of equivalent weights which the visitors of the Environmental Volunteers Ecocenter can lift and feel the heaviness or lightness of the birds.

I started designing this activity with some research on birds of the bay area and their weights. I was astonished to find that Anna’s Humming Bird which is around 3 to 5 inches in length weighs 4 to 4.5 gm which is less than the weight of a quarter US dollar coin ( 5.67 gm)!


Anna’s Humming Bird weighing less than a quarter US dollar coin.

“How might we showcase such an amazing fact?” was something that made me think and thus came up the idea of using every day objects to represent a bird’s weight. Next question was how do we bring to the notice that the birds are actually very light? It needed a comparison and thus animals and fishes entered the activity.

Here is how the activity looks like.

unnamedPhoto: Marni Barnes

20180723_113638Activity Kit: How Heavy Are They?

heavy3instructionsInstruction Sheet


Check your answer


So here are the correct answers:

Correct Answers

How the Kit was made?

Using everyday products to represent weight was a good idea but it was also very good to attract insects and ants, especially for food items. So here is how we kept the packing and replaced the inside thing with something else. A list of ‘what is inside’ was made and given to the EV for easy kit maintenance.

Different Inside: A chocolate bar was replaced with an equivalent weighing ceramic tile wrapped with a soft paper towel, butter was replaced with stones and batteries.

Cards were printed on a US letter card paper, each sheet having nine images of birds / animals. Individual cards were cut from the sheet. Each card has a logo of Environmental Volunteers on the back side.

Cards on US letter size paper

The instruction sheet was printed on regular US letter paper and laminated on a foam board.

20180723_113638Instruction Sheet

To use this kit visit Environmental Volunteers Ecocenter.

It is truly amazing how light birds are. Do check out weight of birds around you and how they compare with everyday objects.

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Where Do They Travel? Migration Route

Swimming over 11000 miles (~18000 km), Gray Whales make a round trip from their summer feeding grounds in the cold Arctic to warm waters of Mexico, their calving lagoons. Not just these big mammals but also birds and little insects travel far distances for warmer temperatures, food, and breeding. To visualize their fascinating journey, a migration route exhibit was designed and made for the Environmental Volunteers.


IMG_0199Migration Route Exhibit: Press the blue button to know the migration route for the animal / insect / bird.

Gray Whale – mammal, Monarch Butterfly – insect, Cliff Swallow – a small bird, and American White Pelican – a big bird were shortlisted and studied for their travel routes. Also where and when can one see them in and around San Francisco Bay Area were included.

20180808_134438Gray Whale Migration Route 

The Gray Whales start their journey from Arctic to the warm waters of Mexico around the month of October and arrive off the coast of Baja California around January where they mate. They start their journey north swimming closer to the California coast as they travel with the young ones and avoid deep waters. One can see them from Point Reyes National Seashore, Farallon Bay, Half Moon Bay, Pigeon Point Light House, and Monterey Bay.

20180808_134558Cliff Swallow Migration Route

The Cliff Swallows generally spend 3 months of summer in North America, travel for 3 months to South America, stay there for 3 months and travel the remaining 3 months of an year to return to North America. They travel extra miles by flying over the land instead of sea. They have an interesting route, they diverge in batches and arrive at various destinations from South California to Seattle.  One can see the cliff swallows from May to July at The Environmental Volunteers Ecocenter in Palo Alto, Bayland Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, cliffs along Highway 1, local water bodies like Coyote lake, Almaden Lake, etc.

20180808_134606Monarch Butterfly Migration Route

Each fall (around September) thousands of Monarchs travel from Canada and Northern USA taking different routes to arrive in their overwintering grounds in California, Mexico, and Florida. Here they lay eggs and a new generation starts the journey north as the winter ends. Most fascinating part of their journey is that it takes about 4 to 5 generations to return to their summer grounds. Some of the places in and around bay area to see the Monarchs – Natural Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz; Monarch Grove Sanctuary, Pacific Grove; Ardenwood Regional Preserve, Fremont; Monarch Bay Golf Course and Marina, San Leonard.

IMG_0200 American White Pelican Migration Route

American White Pelicans segregate in two geographic groups – population breeding east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to south and east to winter along the Gulf of Mexico, and those on the west of Rocky Mountains migrating to the Pacific coast. Some of the places to see them in and around the bay area – Bayland Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, Don Edwards Wild Life Preserve, Fremont, Moss Landing Monterey, San Antonio Lake, Monterey.

How it was made?

I ordered a map of North America from Amazon and got it pasted and laminated on a foam board from Staples. Meantime I tried making holes on a piece of waste foam board with a 2 mm drill but the best finish was achieved with a simple nail and hammer.

20180724_124346Trial on a scrap foam board with drill, nail and hammer.

I then searched for LEDs and found a good option in party lighting section in one of the near by stores. Got blue lights for Whales and yellow for the remaining. I tried installing the LEDs on my trial foam board with a simple masking tape.

LED trial back and front

Then all the wholes were punched on the map depending on different routes and the routes were linked with black marker to avoid confusion.

20180730_095550Backside of the map with holes punched and route marked.

20180802_112941LEDs installed at the back of the map.

20180803_155023Cardboard housing for the map

20180806_105534Trial with the cards 

20180808_134414Final exhibit with blue switches

The exhibit is in display at the Environmental Volunteers Ecocenter in Palo Alto.

For EcoCenter visitng hours please refer:


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Who is visiting us? When? For how long?

They visit us exactly around ‘that’ particular time of the year. Some of them pass by, some stay for weeks and others for months and have babies here. They all are delight to watch, however only some of us know who is visiting us?

A variety of birds, animals and insects visit the San Francisco Bay Area each year. The question was how do we put up this information in a simple, interesting and fun way to make a table top activity for the EcoCenter of Environmental Volunteers (EV)? Some neurons in my brain fired and an idea emerged – Migration Dial.  

20180723_112113The Migration Dial

migration route n dialInstructions for using the dial

How was it made?

As soon as the idea struck, like always I scribbled it on a piece of paper not to mention the shapes I drew hardly resembled the actual creatures. The diameter of this paper circle was 8 inches or 200 mm.

20180320_144114First sketch of the dial

This was backed with a research and compilation of data on the migration of birds, animals and insects. Around 25 creatures were shortlisted.

Screenshot from 2018-08-17 12-48-54Data for making the dial

From the first sketch it was clear we needed something substantially big, so the search for 20 inch diameter wooden circles began. Another challenge was funds. To make a digital model and then printing would have been way too costly. So we gave a shout to all the volunteers of the EV calling for artists for painting the dial and calligraphy. Toby and Marilyn joined the wagon, and Larry helped us to refine the data for birds. Total 10 creatures were painted on the dial.

Toby sketched the birds on a 22 inch paper circle to verify the scale.

20180403_144612Sketch 2: on 22 inch paper circle

As we rummaged different corners of hardware and plywood stores for our wooden circles, yet another challenge stood in front of us – weight of the circles and cutting the circles from a ply. This time we used technology, not to cut the circles but to search for ready made wooden circles and found them on Amazon. Ordered two circles of 24 inch and 20 inch diameter with 1/8th inch thickness, weighing less than a pound. Marilyn marked the twelve months on the 24 inch circle – the outer dial and Toby painted the 20 inch inner dial. Toby would fondly call it ‘The Sistine Chapel’.

20180403_144631The outer dial

IMG_2196The inner dial, Toby’s Sistine Chapel

The dials were ready and it was assembly time. Never in my life was I afraid to drill a hole in a piece of wood as this time. The ides was to give it a central shaft and nylon bushings for the dials to rotate. The fact that there would be a bolt head or shaft head on the dial was not encouraging. Discussing this over lunch with our friend Timo, rescued us from this disaster. Timo suggested we use rotating table mechanism and here we had one which we simply glued to the wood using a high strength epoxy adhesive.

20180713_073218Two dials and the rotating mechanism (the third dial is an extra;))

20180723_113711The Migration Dial at the EV EcoCenter

Thanks to Toby and Marilyn this project was completed in less than $50!

For EcoCenter visitng hours please refer:

Some fun facts:

Monarch butterflies can be seen in the bay area from October to almost February!

Chinook Salmons migrate from the Pacific Ocean under the Golden Gate to Sacramento river upto Redding and back. They change their color from river to ocean and from ocean to river.

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Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Postcards from Sequoia National Park, Giant Forest, and Kings Canyon National Park (June 2018)

20180619_191557In the land of the giants: Crescent Meadow, Giant Forest


Largest tree in the world: ~2500 year old General Sherman Tree (center), Photo: Sagar Behere

20180618_163128General Sherman Tree, Photo: Sagar Behere

20180619_103213Life story of a Sequoia tree: A part of the trunk of a Sequoia tree displaying its life, climate and forest fires from 1100 A.D. to 1510 A.D. at The Giant Grove Visitor Center. Photo : Sagar Behere

20180619_103023A conference room at the Giant Grove Visitor Center

20180619_185645Tunnel Log on the way to Crescent Meadow

20180618_143005Hike to Crystal Caves, Sequoia National Park

20180618_135847Crystal Cave entrance

20180618_132230-EFFECTSFormations in the cave

20180619_095829View of the high Sierras

20180619_122319Road to Cedar Grove Village in Kings Canyon

20180619_120049Kings river and the winding road to Cedar Grove Village : View from Junction Point

20180619_140629 A Stellar’s Jay relaxing in Zumwalt Meadow Photo:Sagar Behere

20180619_135525Zumwalt Meadow

A little about logistics: We booked a hotel room in Three Rivers thinking it was just 6 miles from the park entrance and around 30 miles from most of the must see points in the park. However it takes over an hour and some sharp hair pin turns along the 30 mile winding road. We were lucky to get a last minute reservation at the Stony Creek Resort up in the park and that was a big relief. We strongly recommend staying in the lodges or resort inside the park for best experience.

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DIY: Solar Cooker

Every time I go out in the sun, and get some sun burn, I wonder why we (I) don’t use the solar energy? and this lead me to a frugal way to harness this energy and get some ‘ Do It Yourself’ satisfaction. So here is a solar cooker that I made and cooked ..err..under cooked some rice and veggies. Along with the making of the cooker, sharing some fun troubleshooting methods.


My solar cooker at work

Material for making the cooker: a big cardboard box (1no.), scissors, cardboard cutter, aluminium foil, black color, brush, masking tape, acrylic sheet, scale, and pencil.

Material for troubleshooting: a sock (washed and cleaned), a shampoo bottle, a broom with long handle, clothes drying rack.


Material for making a solar cooker

I had a big movers box 2ft x2ft x 1.5ft (600x600x450mm) that I opened for making a prototype for one of my design projects.


reusing cardboard from my previous design project

I reused that piece of cardboard to make two boxes that would fit into one another such that there is at least 1 inch (25.4mm) gap between the walls of the two boxes. In this gap an insulating material is added, polystyrene (Styrofoam or Thermocol) are used but I wanted the cooker to be eco-friendly, so I used left over cardboard pieces and inserted them in the gap. To make sure the insulation stays in place I used masking tape to stick them to the walls of the larger box. The larger box has a flap that can close the box.

Dimensions of the large box came out to be 23 inch x 13 inch x 6 inch and for the smaller one 18 inch x 9 inch x 6.5 inch(for mm multiply by 25.4, that’s lot of math;))


Large box with a flap and insulation.

I glued the aluminium foil to the vertical walls of the small box and painted its base with black color. The foil will help reflect the sunlight on to the cooking pan and the black base to help heat absorption.



Small box with black painted base and aluminium foil vertical walls 

I then glued aluminium foil to the flap of the large box which will be the main reflector and then placed the smaller box in the larger one. I then glued aluminium foil over the gap between the two boxes. However as height of my inside box was 0.5 inch more than the outer one, the foil had a slope. Ideally it should be flat or slope inwards. Mine sloped outwards and I suspected that it won’t be good for reflection or insulation.


The cooker is ready without the acrylic sheet.

With all enthusiasm I wanted to test if it works and hence I placed a steel pan to cook some rice in it but had no glass or acrylic sheet to use as a cover. I rummaged through my book shelf and found an acrylic certificate holder which I split into two and placed over the box. This transparent cover would help to trap the heat inside and that will cook the food!


Rice being cooked.

I placed the rice in the cooker, covered with an acrylic sheet, adjusted the angle of the reflector flap (flap of the large box) and set it in the sun at 1:30 p.m…..came back at 2:30 p.m. to find that the flap has covered the box, thanks to the wind. At 2:30 I again adjusted the flap angle, this time supported it with a shampoo bottle in front and the building wall at the back. At 5:30 hoping to see a nice steaming rice I checked the cooker and nothing was visible as the water vapor gathered on the acrylic sheet. To my disappointment the rice was as it is, however hot water was the saving grace.

Next day I was determined to complete my testing but probably sun god didn’t want to ruin my faith in my design so soon and hence for the next 12 days he didn’t show up :(.

Finally it was a clear sky on Tuesday 29th May temperature was 24 degree Celsius (75 deg F) and I set out the cooker at 2:00 p.m. This time wanted to steam some guar (cluster beans).


Guar (cluster beans) being cooked, this time with all trouble shooting in place. The cooking pan covered with a glass lid to avoid water vapor collection on the acrylic sheet, a sock to block a gap between the acrylic sheet and the box, shampoo bottle to maintain the flap angle in front, a long broom stick at the back of the flap (see the green stick) to prevent the flap from falling behind. 

I also placed a thermometer inside the box to see the temperature rise, in case the beans don’t cook.

20180529_135448Thermometer in the box: Humidity 42% temperature 30 deg Celsius at 3:00 p.m.

At around 5:00 p.m. the thermometer was stuck at 88 degree Celsius (190 deg F)and intensity of  the sun was going down.


The under cooked beans 😦

Finally at 5:30 with no change in temperature I took of the beans. The beans were under cooked but the water was hot enough to dip a tea bag.

Still waiting for the Sun to be intense as my cooker looks promising. It raised the temperature from 24 to 88 deg Celsius, though not enough for cooking the cluster beans but good enough to make a guar flavored tea 😉

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