A Few of Our Favorite Things – Gross Motor

Over the past few weeks I’ve been asked about a few of the toys and materials that my boys are playing with or using.  I put together a list of some of our favorites and organized them by which developmental domain they best fit into, first up is gross motor.

This Sit-on Crane has been one of the best gifts we have ever received.  Our Oldest has used it to scoop dirt, mud, leaves and snow.  In addition to building upper body strength, it requires concentration, coordination and planning.

Gonge Riverstones are going to be one of the boys Christmas presents this year so I can’t give a child review but from looking at them myself, I can tell they are going to be a hit with both the 1 year old and the 4 year old.  They are incredibly sturdy, do not slide on the floor, and will be a really great way to incorporate gross motor play inside during the winter months.

We got this Balance Board as a gift over two years ago and it has not been removed from regular play ever since.  It was a celebration, years apart, when each of the boys was able to balance on their own for the first time.  They have created many different ways to climb on, jump off, balance without moving, go back and forth quickly and slowly, and even as a ramp for cars and trucks.

This crazy looking thing is called a Bilibo.  I first saw one of these when a student brought one in to share when I was teaching.  I saw two and three year olds enjoy it so much that I knew I wanted one on my list of things to get when I had kids of my own.  It gets a great deal of use in our house and is in our regular toy rotation.  We keep it inside as a way to get gross motor activity indoors.  This toy is on many physical therapists list as something that helps to build balance, coordination and provides sensory input.  Being completely open-ended, it allows for play across developmental domains.

We got the Flying Turtle after playing one at a family member’s house.  It is great for ALL ages!  It requires balance, coordination, upper and lower body strength, and really is just a lot fun, especially when going down hill.

We love our Micro Mini Kick Scooter.  It has gotten so much use over the past two and a half years.  It helps to build leg muscles, requires coordination and can be maneuvered by leaning to one side or the other.  The base is wide enough for a young toddler to feel comfortable but an older preschooler can get some good speed and have fun using the break on the back wheel, as well.

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Nine Items to Help Promote Independence

Encouraging independence in young children has a wide array benefits for both the child as well as the family dynamic.  It can help to develop their fine motor skills,  build their planning and organizational skills, aid in a growing sense of pride, accomplishment and a feeling being a contributing member of the family.  As parents, having children care for some of their own needs as well as taking on chores or other responsibilities, can help to lighten our load as we manage to get through each day.  My older son’s abilities have also helped to strengthen the bond he has with his younger brother as he often serves as another person in our household that can help him to open, reach, fix and find.

As a teacher, I always encouraged self care and independence in even the youngest classes.  Babies learned how to put away their shoes and then retrieve them when it was time to leave the classroom.  Toddlers were active participants in storing their lunch items in the refrigerator and filling their cups from a water dispenser.  Preschoolers prepared snack, organized the classroom and ran errands (to other areas of the building) for the class.

As a mom, it was instinctual to include these routines with my own children.  The new challenge I had was setting up our house in such a way  that these practices were feasible and realistic.  In the process of encouraging independence, both in my classrooms and in our home, there are many items that I have found to be essential to the success of this journey.

Here are some of my recommendations and tips:

1. Step stools

We have no less then six step stools in our house that our boys use for everything from washing their hands to reaching the counter to help cook dinner.  They move them around the house freely so that is why I prefer the light weight plastic stools but if you prefer to have a stool remain in one room, the heavier wooden ones are very nice.

KidKraft Two Step Stool – White

BABYBJORN Safe Step, Turquoise

2. Pitchers

My Oldest is in charge of pouring water for himself and his brother throughout the day.  A small tray on their little table holds a pitcher and two small glasses.  This particular pitcher is a heavy glass so little hands will not pick it up too fast which reduces spills.  From a very young age, children are able to learn to pour from cups and pitchers when modeled and guided with hand over hand by an adult.

ARC International Luminarc Quadro Jug with White Lid Pitchers, 16 3/4-Ounce

I also like small pitchers for pouring milk into cereal or syrup onto pancakes.

Hic Nt305 Porcelain Pitcher, 4 Oz, White

3. Knives

Helping with chopping and slicing are “very important” jobs in our house and has always been a way for children in my classes to build fine motor skills while participating in cooking.  Using a small cutting board on the table in a seat that provides appropriate support and heigh, kids can easily and happily cut foods like strawberries, tomatoes, bananas, melons and so many more.

Curious Chef 3-Piece Nylon Knife Set

Spreading is another way children can gain some independence and build fine motor skills.  A small butter or cheese knife is a great tool to give alongside a bowl of cream cheese or peanut butter to spread onto crackers or a bagel.

OXO Good Grips Spreader

4. Trays

Trays are great for so many things both at home and in the classroom.  We use trays to contain art projects and make them easily removable from the table.  If something needs to dry we just leave it on the tray and put it aside when it’s time to eat and not worry about the paint dripping on the floor or another part of the house while moving it around.  Trays are great for serving family style snacks; a bowl with fruit, some tongs and little dishes put on a child’s table is inviting, organized and easy for them to manipulate.

Multicraft Imports 5-Piece Paintable Wooden Trays with Handles, 6-5/8 by 13-Inch to 10-1/8 by 16-1/8-Inch

Creative Converting Square Plastic Serving Tray, 11.5-Inch, Translucent Blue

5. Lazy Susan

These turntables are great for art supplies.  I have two of them on a corner shelf that hold our jars of crayons, pencils, markers and other supplies.  They make it easy for the kids to access all the different materials rather then reaching over or having to move things around.  They would also work well in a cabinet.

Lipper International Bamboo 10-Inch Single Turntable

Copco 2555-0191 Non-Skid Cabinet Turntable, 9-Inch

6. Aquaduck

This product I’d seen online a few times and thought it was ridiculous until I got one in a Citrus Lane box few months ago.  My Little one is very small for his age so he has the ability and desire to do things like wash his hands on his own but not the height.  This faucet extender has been a dream come true for him.  He no longer needs to be lifted up to reach the water and feels very proud of himself for being able to do this on his own like his big brother.

Aqueduck Faucet Extender, Aqua

7. Hooks

Low hanging hooks are truly a staple.  We have a low coat rack with five hooks that my boys use for hanging up their jackets and backpacks.  They both know where their belongings are and where to put them when we get home.  We also have low hooks in our Oldest’s bedroom where he hangs all his sweatshirts when they come out of the laundry and where he can easily grab one when he’s cold.  Hooks are also helpful in the bathroom to hang bath towels.

Liberty 129849 18-Inch Coat and Hat Hook Rail/Rack with 4 Heavy Duty Hooks, White and Satin Nickel

Liberty Hardware B59103Z-SN-C Single Prong Robe Hook, Matte Nickel

8. Cereal Dispenser

I always had one of these in my classrooms for children to serve themselves cereal.  Two turns and they have a perfect serving size.  It helps build fine motor skills, math skills and portion control.

Zevro Single Dry Food Dispenser

9. Water dispenser 

This was another staple in my classrooms.  Easy access for children to pour themselves a cup of water. Children as young as two years old learned how to flip the spigot for a 1-2-3- count to get just enough for a few sips.

Brita Water Dispenser


I hope that some of these items are helpful for you and your family or your classroom.  I am sure there are many more tricks and items that have helped you and I’d love to hear about them.

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Super Books with Super Powers

After some extensive and very fun research, I’ve compiled a list of generic, non-commercial character books that subtly address the topic of superheroes where the main character saves the day or uses his or her imagination to create an alter ego.  These books are powerful in the sense the reader is able to internalize the idea that helping others and being confident and brave can make you, yourself, a superhero.  These books are important in the social and emotional development of young boys and girls as they are developing their sense of self, experimenting with emotions and beginning to form and build relationships with people outside of their family.

In addition to Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero which I reviewed in my first superhero post, here is a list of our favorite superhero books.

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy is a fun and sweet story about brothers and some fun imaginative superhero adventures.  Bumbleebee Boy has a fun tag line of “Bum ba bum bumm” that everyone in our house has started spouting out at random times during the day.  This story hit close to home as we have two boys and the younger one just wants to be a part of his big brother’s play all the time.  After declaring a number of times that he wants to save the day by himself, Bumblebee boy comes to realize by that he could use the help of his brother and that working together will get the job done.

Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue is a sweet and beautifully illustrated story of a misplaced polar bear who needs to find his way home to his family.  Red Knit Cap Girl finds the polar bear, feels compassion for him and without pause figures out how to help him get back to his family.  They embark on their journey and are faced with challenges but eventually they arrive in the North and the polar bear is reunited with his mama.

Super Hair-o and the Barber of Doom is a funny but poignant book where the main character and his friends think that their long hair gives them superpowers.  After they are all whisked away to the barber they feel deflated and powerless until they come across someone who needs help.  They realize that their powers to help others are still there, even with short hair.

The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man is a thrilling tale of a superhero that is saving the day from Professor Von Evil.  The story takes an interesting turn when Awesome Man becomes angry that he has failed to capture the professor.  He acknowledges his feelings of anger and decides that in order to control himself he needs to take a break.  Awesome man has some great strategies for dealing with his emotions including laying in his bed, in the quiet and taking deep breaths.  He also gets himself into a “ginormous Awesome Power Grip” that calms him down.  The social emotional and sensory components are subtle but powerful.

Ladybug Girl is a simple story about a confident and strong little girl who is left to keep herself busy and entertained. Her bravery, ingenuity and independence are seen as she faces fears, conquers challenges and even builds herself up after being discouraged by her older brother.

Princess Super Kitty is a super cute book about a little girl who adds layer upon layer to her powerful dress up wardrobe throughout the day.  It’s nice to see a confident young female character who can be both a princess and superhero at the same time.

Mighty Max was an interesting book, we didn’t love this one but I wanted to explain the reasoning.  The little boy is brave and courageous but his father is constantly telling him to get down, be safe, sit still, etc…  My Oldest questioned the father’s words from the very first page.  “Why is he telling him that?  That’s not nice, he just pretending to fly.”  It seemed he felt that the father was stifling the little boys imagination.  While Max always listened to his father initially, it never stopped him from attempting another creative play scenario.  They finally ended up at the beach and it seemed that Max enjoyed his day despite his father’s helicopter parenting style.

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Our Family Thankful Banner

As we are nearing the holiday season there’s been a great deal of talk in our household about a certain 4 year old’s Christmas wish list.    I love both giving and receiving presents, so I admittedly do enjoy having these conversations.  Each year he is more and more excited about the season, more deeply invested in his interests and as a result, more specific and emphatic about the items on his list.  However, I feel strongly that there needs to be a balance between wishing and hoping for “a super, mega fast red monster truck with a remote control”, being thankful and appreciative of what we already have and being gracious and generous with others.

Last year, my Oldest and I did a number of good deeds throughout the month of December including simple things like baking for teachers and neighbors.  I’m looking forward to adding some more involved activities like donating toys and sending care packages to loved ones.  This year, in addition, we will be doing a Family Thankful Banner, for the month of November.  Each night that it is possible and realistic, we will sit down as a family to declare something we are grateful for and explain why, to the best of our abilities.  We will draw and/or write what we are thankful for on small triangles and they will be clipped to a line over our dining room table.

My hope is that this activity will be an opportunity for conversation about appreciation and being grateful for what we already have in our lives from favorite toys to special people.  By participating in the process ourselves, my husband and I are serving as models to our boys.  We can tell them until we are blue in the face that they need to be gracious and kind but they will most certainly learn best by watching us bring those qualities to life.



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