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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.

photo

 

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Evening Activity

Why evening activity is so important to our family

The actual term Evening Activity comes from my years, long ago, at summer camp.  After dinner and before bed, we had ‘Evening Activity’, which was one last chance in the day to splash in the lake doing water ballet, laugh with our friends while playing Mexican dodgeball, or go on crazy hikes around the lake.  Even though we were exhausted from being outside in the heat all day and longed to lay on our beds, this was a time of the day that had a different feel with the cooler air, the setting sun and the counselors who were beat and ready to be off duty for the day.  It was peaceful and culminating.

Many, many years later, when our Little One was about 7 months old, it seemed that our Oldest was starting to internalize the fact that his little brother was, in fact, going to be a permanent fixture in our family.  We had worked hard to prepare him for the arrival and he had an incredibly smooth transition into big brother-hood.  But, as I have often seen with kids in my preschool classes, sometimes it takes awhile before the older child experiences some turmoil.  Once the reality sets in that baby will be sticking around or when he or she starts to crawl or show interest in the older sibling’s toys.  For our Oldest, his response to these feelings that he was unable to verbally express, was to act in a way that we had never witnessed before.  He became obstinate and argumentative.  He was less then gentle with his brother and no longer seemed interested in helping to care for him.

Whenever my kids go through a behavioral phase, we try to take a step back to think about any changes that have been going on, if our behavior has been different, what routines may need to be adjusted or what preventative measures may need to be put in place.  For example, when my Oldest was two years old and starting to show signs of having a hard time listening to directions (i.e. picking out what shoes he wanted to wear) that he normally followed without hesitation, I instilled a visual schedule into our morning routine.  The structure of the schedule made him feel secure and responsible while the pictures of familiar items allowed him to check the schedule without needing to check in with me every time.

So, when we found ourselves in the situation with our Oldest having some significant changes in behavior, we brainstormed and decided that he definitely needed some time alone without baby brother but with both of us.  After all, he had it that way for almost three years, it was not fair to expect him to give that up 100% without recourse.  I thought about our day and realized that the only time that it might be possible for this to happen was after the bath and before bed.  For three years, we had the same bedtime routine with him – bath, PJ’s, books, bed.  But, it was important to carve out this time of day for him.  So, during our end of summer vacation, we told him that we were going to change things up a bit and explained the why’s and how’s.  He was thrilled.  And it was a huge success.

Quickly, we saw his behaviors change.  Having this consistent, pre-planned special time also gave us something to talk about and look forward too during the day time.  As we got deeper into this routine, we began broadening our activities from books or coloring to board games, elaborate art projects, anything with teeny tiny pieces that babies can choke on and the all time favorite – ice cream.  To this day, over a year after starting evening activity – it is still a topic of conversation as our Oldest asks us “What’s for evening activity?” during dinner or bath time.  Usually, it’s some type of project but it can also be a chance to watch a movie or have a special snack, like ice cream.

I am so glad that we added this special time into our day.  Sometimes I’m so tired by bath time that it’s hard to imagine doing another activity, but luckily, the only thing that really matters to him is that we are spending quiet time together and giving him the extra attention that he needs as a big brother.  It’s a hard job and he’s really amazing at it, so he deserves this time.  This time that is peaceful and culminating.

 

 

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Superheroes & Social Emotional Development

I have recently been given the challenge of addressing my Oldest son’s growing curiosity of all things “Batman”, “good guys”, “bad guys” and even a little bit of “booming” and “shooting”.  I don’t necessarily take issue with the general idea of superheroes but I am concerned about and am considering the idea of my 4 year old being able to appropriately process and identify the emotions and actions that go along with this subject matter.  At this young age, it is natural to be curious and want to experiment with the feelings of being scared or powerful, the contradiction of good vs evil and the fantasy of things like flying and dragons and of course the importance of wearing a cape.  But, they are not mature enough to fully understand and appropriately assign all of those intense emotions or comprehend the all the possible ramifications of acting out the physical behavior that they may see when watching superhero shows or reading the books.

After briefly talking to my Oldest about this new language, it was clear that he was confused and not really making any sense of it all in his head.  I knew that we needed to address the topic in a way that explained things clearly to him while allowing him to explore his interest, but also in a gentle way so as not to promote or show that we approve of aggression or violence.  In addition, we typically try to steer clear of commercialized characters but his interest, very specifically, began with Batman, so I felt that character had to be included on this journey.

I began my process by looking for books that I felt are age appropriate and meaningful – there were many things to consider.  I did not want there to be any physical fighting, weapons or death.  What I was looking for was history and facts about the commercial characters and superheroes in general, the idea of helping others and a brief introduction to social and emotional concepts such as good vs. evil, confidence, power, fear, anger and bravery.  So far, I’ve found a pretty good selection to choose from, starting with the DC Comic board book series by David Bar Katz.

My First Batman Book is a very basic introduction to the character such as his alter ego, his pal Robin and some of his unique tricks like swinging from buildings and driving the Batmobile.  The short book has provided us with plenty of material to begin talking about real vs pretend, helpful friends, asking for help, tools and wardrobe required to be a super hero .  It has prompted many questions as well and since neither my husband nor I are superhero experts, this is a learning process for all of us.

The second book that I ordered in the series is Super Heroes Book of Opposites and again, this book has provided plenty of opportunity to begin talking about things like good guys and bad guys, facial expressions, anger, fear and other emotions, and a variety of super powers.

In addition to the two character specific books, I also ordered Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero by Anne Cottringer, on the recommendation of a blog post on superhero books over at No Time for Flashcards. I had a gut feeling that this would be a good book for us after reading the review.  And now after reading it half a dozen times, I am positive that my Oldest is more intrigued by this book then the two about the commercial superheroes.  Eliot is a quiet boy by day and at midnight he turns into a superhero that saves the day in many different situations.  My son can completely relate to Eliot’s day time persona and I can see that the idea of this ordinary boy being able to do superhero things is fascinating and empowering.  There have been numerous rich conversations about courage, strength and bravery, during and after each reading.  I highly recommend this book.

Interestingly, at the end of My First Batman Book, a question is posed to the reader about being able to help Batman.  The first time we read the story, my son quickly said that he could not help him and I believe his answer came out of fear and insecurity.  We talked briefly about how Batman is just pretend so maybe he could just pretend to help.  “But, I need a belt like this one” he said, as he turned the page and pointed to his belt.  So, we proceeded to make a list of all the things he needs to consider the idea of helping Batman.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 3.45.23 PMWith supplies ready, I asked if he wanted to start by making the cuffs.  He was excited about the idea and as usual, excited about getting out the markers and scissors.  While we were making the cuffs we talked about the idea of him having a superpower and he couldn’t come up with anything at that time.  He did say that the stickers and colors he chose were superhero colors and “Batman” stickers, so he was starting to relate a tiny bit.  I hope to use his interest in art and creating to make some more of the items on the list but I also am not going to push him as he seems to be slightly uncomfortable with the idea of being a superhero himself.

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As an Ed Director, I advised teachers who had classes interested in superheroes to read the book SuperHero ABC by Bob McLeod.  It is another good book to use as an introduction to the idea of  superheroes and super powers.  The book itself lacks the social/emotional piece that I look for but often after reading the book, the children in the classes I supervised would use the first letter of their name to create an alter ego for him or herself and then decide on a super power.  I saw this empower children who were shy and reserved as well as give meaning to the actions of those who were more physical in their superhero play.  My Oldest has had this book in his library for some time but I am curious to see his reaction to it now that we’ve been talking more about the topic and I hope that he is interested in creating an alter ego for himself.  It might have to be a family project!

I also want to use this opportunity to encourage a healthy and appropriate understanding of princesses and female superheroes.  I believe in being somewhat gender neutral as we raise our boys but also to have them grow knowing that girls are strong and powerful.  I have a few books on the way to help with this tangent, I will review them as they come in and share our princess adventures.

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The Many Benefits of Taking Children to the Grocery Store

In light of the growing trend of ‘curbside pickup’ I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the many benefits of bringing your kids inside to places like the grocery store, Target or the bank.  I do see the value in this service and know that there are times when, if available, I would likely take advantage of it myself.  But, I think it’s important to step back and realize the value in human interaction and real life experiences.

I remember going with my mother to the bank where she would fill out deposit or withdrawal slips, speak with the teller, see members of our community and say ‘hello’.  I remember how serious and grown-up it all felt.  Then as an adult I moved to four different states in only a few years and I was easily drawn into the world of online banking and ATM machines, making banking a cold and removed experience.  Now, my husband does our banking inside the bank but our kids never go with him and I think this is something that we need to change.  I want our kids to feel comfortable in a bank, understand what happens to their money and how to handle certain ‘grown-up’ things like making deposits and withdrawals with people, not just machines.

We do, however, almost always bring our kids to the grocery store.  While this is not always easy, I see a great deal of value in them accompanying me to the store.  I’ve had to refocus my thought pattern when it comes to heading out the grocery store.  As opposed to feeling as if it is a chore that just needs to get done and dragging the kids along is an added feat, I see it as a learning experience for them and it becomes our activity for the day.

In the past few weeks as we are all adjusting to a very new routine, I’ve gone to the store a few times with just the Little one as it fits nicely into the time when my Oldest is at school. Well, this week, my Oldest, while being tucked into bed, asked my husband to relay a message to me.  He wanted me to know that if I was going to Trader Joe’s, that he wanted to come with me and asked that I not go while he is in school.  This warmed my heart and in my head, I immediately changed our plans for the next day to include him in our shopping trip.  This is pure proof that going to the store is not an errand for him, but an adventure and meaningful experience.  How could I ever deny him that?

So, here are some of the benefits that I can think of that can come from a simple grocery store trip.  And some reasons to start thinking about the task in a different light.

Language & Literacy Development

  1. List making
  2. Reading signs
  3. Reading ingredients
  4. New vocabulary
  5. Speaking to grocers and cashiers

Social Interaction

  1. Becoming friends with grocers and cashiers – This one I want to explain…We started going to the new Trader Joe’s once a week shortly after my Little one was born.  As a baby-wearer he was either in a wrap or a ring sling, bundled up on my front as we shopped.  The woman who gives away samples commented on my wraps and my boys every single week.  We would chat briefly and over the months she would smile and say hi before even reaching her booth.  As my Little one got ever so slightly bigger, he was ready to start sitting in the cart.  The first time this happened, we walked up to the counter and she said “oh, he’s in the cart today!  Wow, he’s getting so big!  It’s so exciting!”  It was just a lovely exchange and has made me realize how these acquaintances are so meaningful.  In addition, my Older one, who tends to be quite shy, started speaking to this grocer, asking her for a sample or a napkin or a cup of juice.  He feels comfortable there, it’s one more place that I can encourage his developing social skills.  And for that, I am incredibly grateful.
  2. Seeing familiar faces and saying ‘hello’
  3. Interacting with other families who are purchasing similar items or who also have children in tow

Math Development

  1. List making
  2. Counting items as they are chosen off the shelf and go into the cart
  3. Talking about cost
  4. Discussing weight and measuring on a scale
  5. Ingredient measurements

Health & Nutrition 

  1. Asking your child to pick a vegetable – this has proven in my house to be the trick to getting my Oldest to try new veggies
  2. Discussing the importance of what foods you are buying to your health
  3. Discussing why certain items do not end up in your cart
  4. Choosing recipes

Planning & Organizational Skills

  1. List making
  2. Choosing recipes
  3. Counting and checking what food you have run out of at home and need to replace
  4. Arranging the items in your cart
  5. Packing grocery bags

In conclusion, I am attaching some photos of how we sometimes make our trips to the store complete learning experiences from beginning to end.

 A Visit to Trader Joe’s

Together, we make a list, I write the words and adding a drawing so he has the visual cue.  He will go to the fridge to count how many yogurts he has left, will request specific fruits or vegetables, and gets one special snack.

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In the store, he is responsible for picking out all items on his list and then checking them off as they are put in his cart.

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This part is incredibly important for my son in particular.  He gives the cashier his cart and interacts with him or her as his items are scanned, bagged and put back in his cart.

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At home, he unpacks his groceries and puts them away on his shelf in the fridge.

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