Quick and Easy Activities for Your Tot

I could spend hours on Pinterest just perusing and pinning creative ideas that I will probably never make the time to do. Some of the activities for children are so elaborate that I start researching the materials and skill needed and find myself falling short. Take for example this magnetic travel tin… magnetic-traveling-farm-toddler-game-04 I stumbled upon this blog post by Meredith at UnOriginalMom. Let me tell you, she should get the “most crafty mom” award. She laid out the steps she took in her blog post, which went something like this. She purchased a package of DVD tins ($94.75 on Amazon), magnetic paper (13.28 on Amazon), and Etsy clip art ($6). She opened the Etsy images in Photoshop, traced them in Silhouette Studio, and reorganized the images to fit on one page, printed the silhouettes on magnet paper using an electronic cutting machine, had the color copies printed professionally on glossy paper, used Photoshop to crop her background image… Oh gosh, I’m exhausted just reading this.

Maybe I’ll just pour some wine and order one of these travel tins off Amazon for $8-$15.

Then of course, there are the ideas that seem really great until you try them with your child. I can’t tell you how excited I was to make this Homemade Color Book.

homemade-colour-book

I had the idea pinned for months. Finally, after a trip to Home Depot and gathering up all our colored stickers, I sat down to do the project. I had this vision of my son and I sitting side by side talking about the colors and putting the corresponding stickers on together. In reality, he stuck some stickers on his shirt and our floor, then ran away. I pressed on and finished the project while he reorganized his toys around the room. I was still excited, convinced that he would be much more interested in the finished product. That was dashed when he immediately pulled the stickers off and crumpled the cards before throwing them on the floor, and stepping on them. At least it kept him entertained for a minute.

So here I am putting together a list (with images) of the activities I think are practical for us average moms with average budgets and an average amount of time (which with a toddler is basically none).

  1. Putting objects in holes. We have this simple pom pom push activity that my son loves. It only takes a few minutes and minimum dollars to make and has kept my son entertained time and again. I recently came across this option using straws and a grated cheese container over on The OT Toolbox that is pretty fantastic as well. This post on Wildflower Ramblings gives a few more ideas for sorting pom poms and pushing lids through cut outs in a cereal box. PomPomPush
  2. Sponges in water is absolutely my son’s favorite activity at the moment. I put just a small amount of water in a large container and hand him a pile of dry sponges. He likes to watch the sponges expand as they soak up the water and see the water drip down as he squeezes the sponge. I have various colors cut into shapes so we can practice his colors and shapes as well, but you could use any clean sponge cut into tot size pieces. You can add “tools” such as tweezers, chop sticks, or a spoon to have your LO practice picking up the sponges in other ways.IMG_4945
  3. Wrap stuff in foil. Seriously guys. Wrap your kiddo’s toys, wrap books, wrap a kitchen spoon, wrap the cat, all in foil. This seriously takes seconds and pennies to keep the kiddo entertained. I found this idea over here on Munchkins and Moms and I have to say it is pretty fantastic. Foil
  4. Printables! Go for the easy ones, like this caterpillar counting activity, this shape one, or this magnetic clothing printable. Even easier, color yourself a rainbowPrintables
  5. Along the same lines, practice brushing! I quickly drew Elmo, laminated, and gave my son a yellow whiteboard marker and a toothbrush. He loves “brushing Elmo’s teeth.” If you do not have a laminator you could also use these reusable dry-erase pocketsBrush Elmo
  6. Thus far my son has not taken a huge interest in the oh so popular discovery bottles. He has actually preferred shakers (noisy objects in a jar or bottle with no water). However, this oil and water discovery bottle described on Play Trains! adds a science element that might just be enough to capture his interest.Two-Color-Oil-and-Water-Discovery-Bottles-pinI feel like sensory exploration has been hyped up as THE THING you need to do for your toddler. No toddler is complete until they have dug their paws into a container of blue noodles. Here’s the thing, some kids just like to eat their food. I managed to stop Booboo from eating the blue noodles in his bathtub by convincing him they were dead worms, but smashing cereal with a hammer definitely turned into a second snack time. It’s funny, we spend so much time at dinner convincing our children to eat their food rather than play with it, then we sit them down for an activity where we tell them the opposite.
  7. Activities that include science, mixing, and creating have been more positive for us. You can find simple recipes for moon sand, play dough, or play snow to entertain the kiddos without creating food confusion. And if that fails, just let them eat dinner with their fingers.SanDoughSnow
  8. For anyone looking for crafts without having to actually do a craft, I suggest going the old fashioned route with a coloring book, crayons, stickers, stamps, and paint, or these fantastic reusable stickers, which can be used in the book provided or on any window or mirror (great for travel!).

Do you have an easy activity that your little one loves? Please share in the comments below!!

Is social media bringing you down?

I rolled over in bed and immediately picked up my phone to sort through the day’s news while giving my brain a moment to wake up. When I picked up my phone, I felt optimistic about the day, about humanity, about this life we are living. As I scrolled, I felt that shift. I began to worry about the state of our earth. I started to feel frustrated by our politics. I could feel the stress of parenting weighing on me. The diapers, the food battles, the messy house… and I hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet.

I put down my phone and let the negativity preoccupy my thoughts. That’s when it hit me. Am I sabotaging myself?

I have tried to live by the saying that life is what you make it. Only today did it occur to me that my social media feed is exactly what I have made it. I have followed, liked, and commented on pages and posts about these frustrations in life. I have either gravitated to or actively sought negativity and here it is, showing up day after day, pulling my focus and thoughts away from all that is right.

 

SanFranLC

These are not my intentions. I do not want to choose a negative mind set. I want to improve our planet, not continuously mourn it’s loss. I want to build up the politicians who share my common interests, rather than attack the people whose goals I do not share. And most importantly, I want to bask in my son’s laughter rather than wish away his childhood.

I realized that I need to make a change if my intention is to greet the world with a happy heart each day. I must unfollow the pages that do not align with my intentions. I must tell social media that I no longer wish to see negativity, anger, fear, and criticism in my newsfeed. I realize now that I need to make a conscious effort to seek out opportunities that will support my goals in a positive way.

Sunbeams

Moving forward, I will choose to use my news feed as an opportunity to fill my soul with all things good rather than allowing it to be a black hole that drains my time and energy, and impairs my outlook on life.

 

If you have found a page or resource that you feel has been a positive inspiration for you, please share it in the comments below!

The effects of over-parenting

their-own-victory

Today I read an article called, How Do I Know When I’m Over-Parenting? Licensed psychologist, Michael W. Anderson and Timothy D. Johanson, M.D., talk about the parent’s tendency to dote on children beyond those first 12 to 15 months, beyond what the child needs, oblivious to the children’s hints of, “I got this.” They talk about over-parenting as the tendency to over-do it in any one area: over-talking, over-complimenting, over-criticizing, over-interfering.

I initially started thinking about this concept after I was called out at a public park for not hovering. My son was a new walker and had toddled about 10 – 15 feet away from me. He was moving at an extremely slow pace and exploring a large grassy area. A nosey passerby stopped and called out, “whose watching this child?” I was baffled. I was hurt. I was standing just feet away watching my son enjoy his new skill while exploring the grass. I immediately felt defensive. I’m right here. And for the first time, I began to question, who does helicopter parenting benefit; the child or the surrounding strangers?

The article mentioned above does not contain groundbreaking revolutions. In fact, there are numerous studies and teaching strategies that focus on the benefit and necessity of fostering independence in children. One example is Maria Montessori (1870-1952) who stated, “When dealing with children there is greater need for observing than of probing” and “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” Today, over 4,000 Montessori schools have been developed in the united states, operating on these concepts, and there are thousands more throughout the world.

Whether they realize it or not, I often hear other mothers complain of what I would call the effects of over-parenting or helicopter parenting. Let me explain.

  1. Exhaustion.

    Parenting is tough, but over-parenting puts unnecessary pressure and stress on a parent. Just the act of dragging yourself out of bed and getting yourself ready in the morning while simultaneously caring for and preparing another human being is a learned skill. This alone can be exhausting. New parents often struggle with this advanced form of multitasking and joke about the last time they showered. I get it. During that first year it seems like you can’t get away. The moment you try, baby spits up, or blows out, or starts screaming inexplicably. However, one day this changes. Sometime after baby turns a year, baby can handle himself a few minutes in a safe environment. If you have safety-proofed then now is the time to let go. Get clean. Eat hot meals. Sit back and watch your budding toddler in amazement. The constant managing becomes exhausting and it is not good for your health.

  2. A disconnected relationship.

    I do not think there is anything that causes as much strain on a marriage as having a baby. With lack of sleep, whose turn it is to tend to the baby, differences in parenting styles, strained finances, and loss of freedom, there are just so many great topics to choose from when picking an argument. Some couples merge out of the first time parenting fog and reconnect rather quickly, finding strength in this shared experience. Other couples continue to struggle beyond that first year. Often I see this happening when the child is still the first priority and a primary focus over the marriage or the family as a whole. Now is the time to stand back, hold your spouse’s hand, and marvel at the small human you are creating.

  3. Lacking confidence.

    I have noticed that many children of helicopter parents seem to be less confident in themselves. These are the children still clinging onto their parent like a life preserver. They haven’t yet developed the confidence to explore the world on their own, or maybe, the reassurance that you wont be far away if they need you. I have tried my best to give my 19 month old son the encouragement he needs to have confidence in himself. Just today he walked straight up to a little girl his age and said, “Hi, I’m Apple.” Now, that’s not his name, but close enough and I had to just stand back and admire the confidence he showed by putting himself out there to make a new friend. That’s something that a lot of adults still struggle with.

So maybe can we agree that helicopter parenting isn’t the best? Can we find the strength to stand back and let our children explore the world around them so long as they are safe? Even more, can we let go of our fear and judgement to support other parents in this challenging step of letting go just a little?

A more relaxing playdate

Is it inappropriate to say that I don’t want to be up my kid’s ass all the time? When he was learning to crawl or walk, sure, I was there to catch him when he fell. And now, when he wants to climb up a tall slide where there is a danger of him falling and getting hurt, I’m right there ready to offer up my face as a pillow. But, if he is toddling around a baby-proofed play date, I have no desire to stand over him and direct his every move.

That’s great that you want to be there and soak up every precious moment with your little one, but I find helicopter parenting stressful and so does my guy. I can already see his little eye on the ball of independence. For at least a few minutes, he thinks, I can do this all by myself. To see the look of pride on his face when he manages something all on his own makes my heart soar. I am ready to be his cheerleader. I am ready to give him support and encouragement. I am ready to let him be a toddler.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love those baby thighs, breathing in his baby-fresh scent as we cuddle up for a book, and when he comes in for a hug gushing my name, “Mama.” Those are moments I cherish and look forward to, but wouldn’t it be great if we could go to a play date and just let our kids play?

I wonder if some moms struggle to let go because they aren’t comfortable having regular adult conversations? Sometimes we find our children playing independently by accident and ignoring our attempts to play with them, which always leads us to the dreaded mom talk. My child is not walking, my child is not talking, my child is not sleeping, because you know, to talk about the positive would be bragging, so instead we talk about what our children can’t do. That should lead to a healthy self-image.

Yes we are moms 90% of the time, but I’m pretty sure there is more to us than that. We led lives before babies. We have husbands. We live in neighborhoods. We read books, watch tv, or have other hobbies. So why can’t we think of anything else to talk about?

I’ve noticed that a lot of stay at home moms struggle to take time for themselves. They seem to lose themselves in parenting. It’s usually the more seasoned moms that make the time for book clubs, moms nights out, and regular date nights. I wonder if the older moms share a wisdom that we haven’t yet found?

If we can’t or won’t make the time for ourselves after the kids go to bed, maybe we could make the time for ourselves during the day, toddlers in tow. I would love to have more relaxed play dates where the kids play while the moms chat. One where, when you leave, you do not feel like you were plowed over by a swarm of bees.

This is not a new concept. There are so many places in Maryland that are starting to create that very environment, such as Play Date Junction in Elkridge, MD, or Play Cafe in Baltimore, MD. The challenge is not finding a location. It’s finding a group of moms who can let go of the reins and let their kids play, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy some adult conversation.

playdate

Can I Afford To Go Back To Work?

As you may recall from reading my post, So and So’s Mom, my little one is now 15 months old and I am feeling ready for the next thing. Naturally, this led me to thoughts of returning to the workforce. Now that we live in Howard County, Maryland, away from our families, returning to work would mean daycare for my little guy.

In-home daycares tend to be a less expensive option (roughly $150 per week), but to me, this feels more like glorified babysitting. This option would require me to trust a complete stranger to prepare my child for preschool by managing their daily schedule, nutrition, physical development, and education with absolutely no formal oversight or support. Some of these in-home daycares have 4, 5, or even 6 children at a time, while the Maryland state licensing standards require a ratio of no more than 3 children under the age of two per teacher.

A licensed daycare also has minimum education requirements for their teachers, which includes a 90-hour training in early childhood education, often in addition to a college degree in early childhood education or related field. The teachers in a licensed daycare also have the support and oversight of other teachers and directors. There are schedules, meal plans, recess and sports programs, and a curriculum. I like this option because the children flow seamlessly from the daycare classroom into the preschool classroom since they remain in the same building and on a similar schedule. However, the security and benefits of a formal school setting come at a cost. A cost that rendered me and my husband speechless.

Now, I will say, a lot of these schools do not publicize their costs and some were even reluctant to inform me over the phone, insisting on a tour. I think they worry that parents will shy away from the formal school setting, not fully realizing the benefits, until they have seen it for themselves. My intention with posting the information here is not to upset the schools, but rather, to help inform other parents who may be considering returning to work. Therefore, I must present all of the pros and cons as I see them.

We have toured five childcare centers at this point (Columbia Academy preschool at Maple Lawn, MKD Kids Learning Center, Cradlerock Children’s Center, Eco Tots, and Childtime Learning Centers) and we have three more scheduled (Child’s Garden, The Young School, and The Goddard School). There are several things that have really surprised us.

  1. The price. Just considering that three children need to cover the cost of an infant/toddler teacher’s salary prepares you for the thought that a preschool setting will not come cheap. However, you only need to spend a few minutes on a job site such as indeed.com to realize that these teachers are only being paid $8-12 per hour. So if you take the average, $10, that teacher is making only $400 per 40 hour work week. The most expensive of the daycares mentioned above cost $457 per week ($1,828 per month or $21,936 per year) for an infant/toddler (under the age of two). The cheapest daycare was $368 per week ($1,472 per month or $17,664 per year) for an infant/toddler. Sure, this cost goes down as your child gets older and the requirement for a 3:1 child to teacher ratio grows to 6:1 then 10:1, but what if you have a second child? Many of these childcare centers offer a 5% or 10% discount for a sibling, but still, our calculations told us we would then be paying just under $3,200 per month ($38,400 per year) at the most expensive daycare and $2,444 per month ($29, 328 per year) at the least expensive. To give you a comparison, current in-state tuition at the University of Maryland is $10,180 per year ($1,131 per month for 9 months or $282 per week).
  2. The waitlist. I realized that there may be a waitlist for some of the really nice schools and started calling around three months before I was hoping to return to work. I was quite surprised when our current top pick told us that they would not have space for us until June 2017 when my little guy turns two (in nine months). One of the other schools, which we have yet to see, told us they would not have any openings until August 2017 (almost a year from now). So we had to ask ourselves, if I wait until my son is two years old to return to work, how far apart in age do we want our children to be? Is it worth returning to work only to have another baby six months or so later and have to leave the workforce again? Could we guarantee a spot or the income for our second child to join the daycare?
  3. The benefits. I knew that our child would be well cared for in a formal daycare setting, but I was still surprised by the way these schools are preparing children for their formal education. The directors told us about sports programs, Spanish programs, and writing programs the children are offered as young as age two. We watched the children working quietly and cooperatively around a table and learning to follow direction at just two and three years old. I watched all this as my little boy ran around the room, pulled puzzles off the shelf, and talked loudly about the clock, puzzle, and other children. I honestly don’t know how the teacher had all six children playing so quietly so I must conclude it was some form of witchcraft. Nonetheless, I am feeling as though I need to do even more to prepare my son for preschool, to be able to sit still, and to begin learning a second language.

Through this exploration of daycare options, my husband and I have started to feel as though my returning to work now would make it difficult for us to have a second child and then would result in my working to pay someone else to raise our kids, with very little financial benefit for our family.

I know that there are other options out there. Many families find in-home daycare options that are a perfect fit for their family. Some families are very lucky to have relatives or friends available to provide childcare while they work. Other families are able to hold work schedules that can be accommodated by a nanny. Some stay-at-home parents are able to work from home while providing care for their child. It really boils down to finding the best option for your own family.

Obviously, the decision to return to work does not begin and end with numbers. We see our son thriving with the individualized attention I provide and wonder whether he would continue to thrive in a daycare setting. We see the close and loving relationship he has with us and wonder if that would change if given much more time apart. We see his joy and excitement each day as he spends hours just exploring the world around him and wonder if that joy would fade with so much time spent inside the same building day after day. In some ways, after giving it some more thought, leaving him to go back to work when I have the option of staying home with him seems crazy.

And then other options don’t seem so crazy after giving them some thought. I laughed out loud when a fellow blogger suggested having another baby after my post So and So’s Mom, but interestingly enough, the more we talk about it the less crazy it seems.

Who knows.

 

Noteworthy:

  • Eco Tots had the healthiest meal plan out of all of the schools. I was very impressed by their meal plan. Not all childcare centers provide lunch and snacks, and if they do, its not always nutritious.
  • Some of the childcare centers are now providing parents with real-time updates using tablets to upload photos and even videos of the children during the day!
  • Many of the childcare centers cited low pay as the reason for high turnover rates among daycare and preschool teachers, who make roughly $20,000 per year. One director stated she just cannot compete with an elementary school’s salary and these teachers are qualified or on their way to becoming qualified for elementary education.

 

Photo Credit: Laura’s Left Hook

Pinterest fails: Why family photos are worthwhile

These moments are forever fleeting. Each time I blink an eye my little one has grown taller, his face has gotten slimmer, his hair has gotten longer and then shorter. The moments are going by so quickly that I don’t dare look away because I know my little boy will be a little man, a teenager, and then a man before I know it. I try desperately to hold on to these moments and that sweet face by capturing photo after photo on my phone. Of course, the photos can’t compare to the beautiful and joyful face I see in front of me. I spend probably way too many hours perusing Pinterest for unique photo ideas to try with my little one. Problem is, and why we have so many hilarious Pinterest fail articles, is that the photos I’m attempting to replicate with my little point and shoot iPhone were expertly set, coordinated, and documented by a professional photographer, and a professional photographer I am not!

photofail1

view all photo fails: Parenthood

Some parents just don’t see the importance of having family photos. As a social worker, I have seen the value family photos can have for children. In a time where many families go through difficult times, struggles, divorces, and loss, children hold tightly to the pieces of the whole family. Those pictures where mom and dad are embracing the family as a whole can become a comfort and can offer understanding to a child who needs reassurance in that moment. I have that picture. My mom and dad smiling at the camera with their arms around each other and me. The picture was taken before divorce, remarriage, and times when we were apart. As a child, I would often look back on that picture, that moment, when our family was whole and in love. Somehow, it provided the reassurance of the love and support my parents had for me. Now, at 30 years old, that photo hangs in my own home beside another photo of my family today.

As a permanency (adoption) worker, I saw foster families using family photos as a way to provide pre-adoptive children the reassurance that they were an important member of the family. Seeing the photos hung on the walls sent a message of love and acceptance. A message of permanency. Don’t all children deserve such a message?

Despite the unyielding importance of family photos in the home, I see more and more families letting time slip by without family photos or settling for these comical Pinterest fails, arguing weakly “why pay for a professional photographer when iPhones can take just as good pictures.” Really? Is this really just as good?

photofail4

view all photo fails: Parenthood

As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. In Howard County, Maryland there are hundreds of photographers to choose from, so how do you determine which photographers are worth the money? Here are some important things to consider:

  1. Experience. Obviously, as these Pinterest fails show, there is an art to capturing breathtaking photos that can be used to enhance your home decor while reflecting the love and happiness within your family. Too often I see “professional” photos where part of the scene is cut off of the page, the subject is not engaged or looks uncomfortable, or the emotion is missing completely. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Marlayna Demond of Marlayna Photography, who grew up fully emerged in photography with her mother, a high school art and photography teacher. Marlayna studied photography for four years at The University of Maryland (UMBC) before starting her own full time photography business five years ago. The formal training she received plus experience she has shooting and developing photos has allowed her to perfect the art of utilizing available lighting and enhancing the photos with professional software. These skills have gotten her featured in magazines such as Baltimore Bride and Her Mind Magazine, and for publications related to UMBC. When you book a session with her, you are not just paying for the number of photos you receive, but rather a photographer who has the training and experience that allows her to produce the professional grade photos you are pinning to your boards and failing to reproduce.

  2. Equipment. SLR cameras can range in cost from $199 to $6,499. In addition, professional photographers will pay for additional memory, a variety of lenses, backup batteries, lighting features, computer editing software, etc. A higher-end camera is going to have the capability to shoot faster, clearer images, and a professional photographer who has thoroughly studied their tool is going to have the knowledge of how to shoot raw images that capture every ounce of emotion to eliminate shading and darkness where it is not wanted without washing out their subjects.

  3. Professionalism. If you are hiring someone to provide a service for you, you should be able to contact them during business hours and receive a quick response. Too often I see photographers who are simply taking photos on the side to earn a little extra cash and are not prompt or professional in their replies. This is an immediate red flag to me because rain or some other unforeseen issue could arise the morning of the shoot where I need to be able to connect with them straight away.

  4. Final product. Marlayna made a great point to me that colors, contrast and saturation are almost never consistent or accurate when photos are simply printed at home or at a chain store. For this reason, she opts to use a professional photo print lab that ships prints directly to her or her clients within just a few days. She finds that the prints remain true to the photo as it was taken and edited.

Families can almost always find great deals with truly professional photographers by taking advantage of mini sessions (usually 30 minutes instead of one hour) or booking a series of sessions at a time (maternity, newborn, 1 year old). Although there is no hard and fast rule about how often you should have family photos taken, I say do it soon, while the kids are young and your wrinkle free body still looks amazing!

Just for fun, here are a few of my Pinterest attempts!

 

* I received permission from Marlayna Demond and the families photographed to use the beautiful photos included in this post, which originally drew me to contact Marlayna Photography for my own family photos. Marlayna was gracious enough to answer my questions and allow me to include her responses in this blog post. This information was included for the purpose of providing information and I in no way profit from sharing Marlayna’s information. I simply think her work is amazing.

So and So’s Mom

Do you ever ask yourself, “who am I?” We often define who we are by what we do. I am a stay at home mom and so by that definition, I am “Booboo’s mom.” It seems so simple and tells so little about me, and yet, it sometimes feels as though I have dissolved into nothing more.

I clean the house, but I am not a house keeper. I make dinner, but I am not a cook. I run errands, but I am not a concierge. I manage our schedule, but I am not an event planner. I take care of the cats, well, because they demand it. I am a wife. Maybe I could be described as “Mrs. Co.” That’s how one would describe Santa’s wife, I’m sure. Does that adequately describe Mrs. Claus, or me?

There was a time when I was a young twenty-something with a career in social work, a passion for travel, and plenty of interests to talk the ear off a dog. I looked at my husband with wide eyes and far off dreams. My passion and excitement would electrify our conversations and I could tell that I fascinated him.

At first, we were overwhelmed with the whole parenting gig, the crying, and the giant bowl of exhaustion we had for breakfast. Eventually, all that became less overwhelming and more normal.

I woke up this morning and thought to that twenty-something, “now you’re just somebody that I used to know.”

That twenty-something seems like such a distant memory that I can hardy believe we are the same girl. This is not that body. This body belongs to a little man who needed it’s youth for his life. This is not that blood. That girl had allergies and was at peace with the world, while this woman has no allergies and feels a constant flutter in the chest of humming concerns. This is not that life. That girl floated where the wind took her and was as carefree as a bird. This mother has responsibility, a mortgage, a family. That girl loved traveling, scrapbooking, gardening, photography, camping, hiking, yoga, fairs, cooking, restaurants, motorcycles, concerts, dancing, plays, culture, and trying new things. This woman doesn’t have the time.

I have friends who I would also describe as so and so’s mom. We get together and talk about our little so and sos. In a sense, that’s what we talk about because that’s who we are. So and so’s mom. But maybe, I’d like to think that is not where we end. Maybe this is just where I start. A new adventure to discover who I am after becoming Booboo’s mom.

I need a new adventure.

Where do I start?

 

The secret to unlocking communication and avoiding tantrums

The Secret

Do you ever wonder why some babies are rattling off words by 14 months and others are mostly silent until 18 months or even closer to 24 months old? As a mom of an early talker, I have had a lot of parents comment on my son’s budding vocabulary. I have heard other moms respond “don’t worry, mine’s not taking either yet” or joke that before they know it they wont be able to get them to stop. This article isn’t to say that you should worry, as most children do eventually begin talking, but to offer detailed suggestions that could give them a head start and better prepare them for social interaction, formal education, and my favorite, to communicate wants and needs rather than throwing fits!

As a social worker, I studied child development for years. In practice, I watched speech and language pathologists from Early Supports and Services work with children who were behind and I was amazed by the improvement that was made with just one to two hours per week. It wasn’t until I became a stay at home mom for my own child that I fully understood the huge impact that these simple things could have on a child’s language.

At 14 months old, my son does not yet have a word for everything. He says about 20 words (hi, buh bye, that, bat, baseball, ball, Batman, mermaid, hat, yes, no, Mama, Dada, Nana, Papa, more, moon, bubble, baby, diaper, bum, butt, nuh night), signs another 20’ish words (eat, milk, more, all done, poop, banana, star, tree, bird, dog, book, up, open, water, clock, light, fan, bath, please, thank you, nap, hear), and makes animal noises to identify animals. Everything else is currently “that” or a sound (such as “chhh” for cheese) and pointing.

He is adding new words every week and just yesterday I was able to redirect a budding meltdown using language. My husband was attempting to redirect him from the wagon wheel on our neighbor’s lawn by telling him no and pulling him away. Our son was saying “that that that” (pointing). I saw it coming. The stomping of the feet. The fussing in frustration. The throwing his head back in despair. All the signs were pointing toward Meltdown Ave. I reminded my husband to use his words and explain that we know he wants the wagon wheel, but it is not ours and then redirect his attention to something else. He did and our family walk continued without issue.

Communication is the secret to any good relationship.

You need to give your child the words. In order for your child to be able to identify things by name, you need to identify them for him over and over again. The more times a child hears a word in connection with an object, the more comfortable the child is going to be with the word. This is part of why child development experts recommend reading to children and why many children’s books have a lot of repetition, such as I Went Walking or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Books are a great way to expose children to new words and objects they may not see on a daily basis (I mean, how many brown bears do you see walking around your yard?). So how to do that:

READ:

  1. Start reading early. We started reading to our baby the moment he was born. At that time, he was mostly interested in looking at the pictures so we would point and describe the pictures to him.
  2. Make books available. There are always board books on the floor for him to look at on his own in addition to the books we read to him before every nap and bedtime. Most times, he will head straight for his books instead of his toys and often brings books to us to read together.
  3. Read, read, and then read some more!
    1. Around five months we really started to get into the board books. The best ones for that age are the ones with different textures and simple images. A favorite for us at that stage was Curious George At The Zoo, but we rented numerous other books from the library. Again, as I read the words I pointed to the object the word referred to, so for example, “The man” (point to man) “in the yellow hat” (point to hat) “is taking George” (point to monkey) “to the zoo today.” The touch and feel books are also fantastic because they encourage the child to interact by touching the different textures of the book. We also encouraged our son to turn the pages. These interactions begin to prepare him for the next stage of reading.
    2. Once our son began pointing out objects on the page for us to name, we were able to move up to books with more imagery such as I Love Animals. With this book, I rarely read the text, and instead just name the animal and sound the animal makes as he points to the different ones. Sometimes he will point over and over again to the same animal. That is okay, I keep saying the name and making the sound. If you can’t stand to read a book without any kid of story, Goodnight Moon is an oldie but goodie that identifies a lot of common first words.
    3. Once our son could follow direction such as, “where’s George?” in Curious George At The Zoo, we progressed to find and seek books such as Find The Puppy and picture readers such as Fozzie’s Bubble Bath. The find and seek books provide great opportunities to ask questions, such as: where is the puppy? What does the puppy say? Can you show me where the bowl is? Can you say bowl? Picture readers are also great because the child can follow along with the text and match the image in the picture with the image in the text. The fun part about this stage is seeing all the words your child knows, but doesn’t have the confidence to say quite yet.
  4. Get comfortable with your local library! There are two major reasons for this. The first is that with so much reading, you will quickly get tired of the books you own. We have over 60 board books, but we read about ten books every day, leaving us only enough to get through six days without reading the same books over again. The library will become your key to sanity! Secondly, the library often hosts events such as story time, which are great opportunities for your child to socialize and learn from others.

TALK:

  1. If you want your baby to talk then you need to show your baby how. It can feel a little odd at first. Pushing a new baby around the grocery store, asking the baby, “do you see the bananas? Those bananas look nice and ripe. Let’s buy some bananas. Mommy is going to put these bananas in the cart.” As they get older, this dialog starts to get a little more natural as it progresses to, “oooh that is a pretty blue ball. Do you want to roll the ball? See how Mommy rolls the ball. Can you do it like Mommy?” By the time they are toddling around, you will forget that people without kids are probably giving you strange looks as you follow your child around narrating his actions like, “Wow, what a big boy! You climbed all the way up there. You want to go back down the stairs? Okay. Sit on your butt! Sit on your butt!” This one-sided dialog can sometimes feel unnatural, but it definitely helps your child to put words to the things he sees and does. Before you know it, it starts to become more of a basic conversation where they can begin to add a word or two in response.
  2. As with any good conversation, you need to spend some time listening. When my son starts to babble, I listen closely to the sound he is making. I will often repeat the sound back to him and show him how that sound can make up words. i.e. “ba, ba, ba, bat.” This becomes even more important when he is pointing to a bat and saying “ba”, I will repeat and encourage, “bat, yes, very good, you said bat!” With this encouragement, he gains confidence in his ability to say the word and confidence in my support, which inspires him to continue practicing.

SING:

  1. Kids love to sing. Oh my gosh, do kids love to sing! Singing and dancing must come pre-programmed because even babies start doing those pulsing squats the minute a good song comes on. Use this to your advantage by using familiar words in a song. Children’s nursery rhymes that identify body parts or demand an action are fantastic because they help the children put the words of the song into context and further develop their language. Some of our favorites have been If You’re Happy And You Know It, Head Shoulders Knees And Toes5 Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed, and Old MacDonald Had A Farm which helps with animal sounds. Once we realized the power of the song, we immediately put it to work for us, creating our own masterpieces such as the changing table song to get our little guy to lay still. We kept a stuffed animal monkey on the changing table and every time we brought him to change we would sing, “Changing table monkey says hello! Changing table monkey says hello! He wants to change your bum, not matter where it’s from, changing table monkey says hello!” Worked like a charm.

PUT IT ALL TOGETHER WITH PLAY:

  1. Children learn through playing. Many times we have taught our son by just acting silly. I taught my son to say Batman by telling him, “say bat” then “say man” and screaming “BATMAN!” in a silly voice once he said man. Then of course we could sing “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na BATMAN!” This is the secret to unlocking communication; bringing the different techniques together through play to reinforce the words they are learning. So, for example, first I have him hold up a bat while I pitch to him, narrating, “hold up your bat, Mama throw the ball, hold up the bat, yaaaay you hit the ball! Where did the ball go? Do you see the ball? Get it. Ball! You have the ball.” Then maybe a round of take me out to the ball game followed by Pete The Cat: Play Ball!

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So that’s really it. If you build these three things (reading, talking, and song) into your daily routine through play then you can help your child to develop his vocabulary more quickly.

Let’s hope our kids are raising us right

My dad used to say that I was raising him. Now, when he makes a mistake, he will say, “I don’t think you raised me right.” Growing up, I would always laugh at the idea of a child raising an adult. Now that I’m a parent, the idea makes complete and total sense.

Some day, when I grow up, I will be a mother who is mature, witty, and on top of shit like a Claire Dunphy or Beverly Goldberg. In my mind, I am still in my infancy of adulthood. Even though 30 is looming over me like a hawk hunting it’s prey and I’m married with a house and a baby, I still feel like I am a kid.

I still look to my parents for advice, and thank God for the internet because I have no friggin’ clue how to maintain this house half the time! For example, I had to look up what a garbage disposal was and how to use it. And we are lucky we have clean laundry every week because half the time I forget to do it or forget to start it and then forget it’s there until my husband is asking where all his underwear went. I am often either disorganized or distracted and forget to plan dinner or get groceries. “For tonight’s dinner, I have prepared a lovely appetizer of cheese sticks followed by a ramen noodle entree” I wonder if my husband catches on to the fact that I totally forgot to plan for dinner?

Given that Julie Bowen (the actress who plays Claire Dunphy) is 46 years old and Wendi McLendon-Covey (Beverly Goldberg) is also 46, I feel I have a good 16 years to grow into  a mature and responsible mother.

This first year has been a wonderful start. My feet are spreading, my belly is cuddley, and my boobs are sad. My son reassures me that these are good mommy characteristics by nuzzling his face into my belly and melting into my warm squishy hugs. I have become a mature sleeper, functioning fine with only a tapestry of naps, which we now accept as a decent night’s sleep. And I have learned lessons of etiquette such as, always put the toilet lid down (unless I want everything I own to be washed in toilet water), to never leave my things laying around (or else they will mysteriously walk off and show up weeks later after I have purchased a replacement), and to keep a clean floor (because you never know when someone will want to eat off it). These lessons have surely set me down a path to becoming a great mother and mature adult.

I am looking forward to the next 16 years and can only hope that Baby Co does a good job raising me.IMG_9965

One Baby And Eleven Cups Later

So here we are. My baby is becoming a toddler and we are fully emerged in the war on cups! I have taken on eleven cups over the past eight months and have come out with a few really decent cups and a few not so good cups. ELEVEN CUPS! Eleven cups sounds like a lot until you realize that there are SO many cups. There are armies of cups just waiting for their opportunity to prove themselves in battle against my toddlersaurus-rex!

Still, eleven cups sounds insane! Is there anyone out there who is actually winning this battle against sub-par sippy cups? Maybe just the manufacturers who are making bank while we search for a suitable mate. In any case, here I will summarize battles won, battles lost, and surrenders in this ongoing war of toddler vs. cups.

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  1. Contigo 14oz Water Bottle – We purchased ours for $9.99 at Target when my son was about ten months old because he was proficiently drinking from my 24oz Contigo. These can also be purchased on Amazon.
    1. Spillage: I love these because my son can drop them on the floor and they will not dump water out or leak. He also uses them in the car. They are a snug fit in his cup holder so he usually puts it next to him in the car seat. To make sure they do not leak, you just need to make sure the straw and lid are on tight.
    2. Ease of use: My son holds from the top handle (pictured) or with two hands. The spout is very easy to suck from and does not require/teach them to bite it. One great feature of this bottle is the angled straw, which allows my son to get all of the water trapped in the bottom of the cup! The spout pops up by pushing the button on the front, which my son figured out how to do for himself by 14 months. This is the bottle we use for water all day long!
    3. Cleanliness: There are several parts to take apart and clean. I found that a small nipple brush or straw brush is great for cleaning out the spout (which you need to do or mold builds). We only use this bottle for water (never milk) because there are some hard to reach areas in the spout that could make it harder to get completely clean. They are top rack dishwasher safe, but I am just not a dishwasher kind of gal.IMG_7415
  2. Avent 12oz Straw Cup – We purchased two for $9.99 on Amazon when my son was 12 months old after reading numerous positive reviews.
    1. Spillage: So, when I turn the cup upside-down with the straw exposed and shake the cup, nothing comes out. If the lid is turned to cover the straw and the cup is laying on its side, nothing comes out. But leaving this cup laying on it’s side with the straw exposed results in a steady drip (pictured below).
    2. Ease of use: My son does need two hands for this cup, so it is best at lunch or when he is sitting. This cup is very easy to drink from the straw. The challenge is getting the lid off to refill it. You have to have it lined up so that the straw is exposed and then squeeze and twist, otherwise the top just turns to hide and expose the straw or the outer shell that covers the straw pops off. Both my husband and I initially had difficulties getting the top off, but have become old pros with a bit of practice.
    3. Cleanliness: This is the cup I use for milk. This cup breaks down into five parts (straw, straw top/spill tight seal, cup, lid, and outer shell/cover). Because of this, I am able to pull it apart to soak and wash thoroughly. Love it!
    4. Bonus feature: Avent labeled the side with the ounces so you can tell exactly how much your child is getting! Now if only the straws were angled to the bottom so there wasn’t a bit of leftover liquid at the end.IMG_0794
  3. Gerber sippy cup – We have this same cup listed here on Amazon, except with an outer space design that we received as a gift (pictured above).
    1. Spillage: So these cups leave a pretty good splat when my son drops it off his high chair and a small puddle when left laying on it’s side or shaken upside down, but my son loves the quick flow of this cup. He is able to suck 6 oz of milk down in about a minute from this cup. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, but my son thinks so.
    2. Ease of use: This cup was the easiest for my son to drink from when transitioning from bottle to cup. The handles make it easy to hold. He can drink this sitting, standing, or laying down. The top has a valve to let air out so that he does not have to stop drinking to relieve the pressure. However, the clear top is not attached to the ring/ handles so it is a royal pain to line up the spout and keep it from turning to the side while twisting the top onto the cup. Because of this, this cup drives me F*#$%!& nuts! I would huck it out the window if my son didn’t get so excited to see it.
    3. Cleanliness: It is just three pieces and they all separate for easy cleaning.
  4. The First Years Take & Toss – These are by far the most economical option at just $2.38 for four on Amazon.
    1. Spillage: They call these “spill-proof,” but I would describe these as spill resistant rather than spill proof. The top fits snugly over the cup and does not leak, but some liquid will come out through the straw when turned upside down and shaken or laying on it’s side. These cups also lose their lid completely when dropped off a high chair, causing a huge mess. For that reason, my son cannot be left unsupervised with these!
    2. Ease of use: I use this cup at meals where I can supervise and assist with getting the last of the liquid left on the bottom. My son is able to drink the water or milk out of these cups very quickly since there is no resistance and therefore he ends up drinking more overall when using these cups. I consider this a good thing, especially in the summer when I want to ensure he is staying hydrated. An important thing to note when preparing these cups is that the straw needs to be inserted last to avoid a straw fountain.
    3. Cleanliness: Of course this cup is easy to clean because there is nothing to it. It’s basically a smaller and sturdier version of a to go cup like you get at a fast food joint. Because it is simple, easy to clean, and quick to put together, I find myself using these more than any other cup during meal times.
  5. Bottle to straw conversion kit such as this one from ThinkBaby – This was one of the first straw options we got at just six months old as we were able to continue using the hundreds of small baby bottles we already had on hand!
    1. Spillage: These tops will spill a few drops out of the straw when dropped, but they do not seem to leak or drain out.
    2. Ease of use: These tops are very simple and straightforward. You flip the top up and water sucks out. The one I got has handles as well so it is very easy to hold. This is a great transition cup from the baby bottle they are already used to.
    3. Cleanliness: The top is very simple and I found it no problem to clean with a straw cleaner.
  6. The First Years simply spoutless cup – We picked one of these up for about $5 at Walmart. Unfortunately, these cups leave a pretty good splatter when they are dropped on the floor. The design is basically a rubber lip that covers the tiny holes along the top rim of the cup. This cup is harder to clean because the rubber is unable to be removed from the cover. Also, sucking the liquid out from the small space between the rubber and the cup means a slow, air filled flow, which leaves my son frustrated with trying to drink from it.
  7. Nuby grow with me cup – These cups are available on Amazon for just $4.70. They are a cute little cup with handles, fairly spill proof, and come with a cover for travel. My son does not prefer these because the liquid comes out too slow.
  8. Circo Straw Cup – These are cups available at Target for $3.99. They are not spill proof. They are not extremely durable. They should not go in the dish washer. What they are is cute. They are better for proficient drinkers or direct supervision. They are also available on Amazon.
  9. Munchkin click lock straw cup – Available at Amazon for $5.82 for two. I like that they click so that you know they are on tight and straight. However, the pressure that makes them spill proof also requires an immense amount of sucking to drink from. My son prefers not to exert that much effort and gives up rather quickly.
  10. Nuby free flow easy grip cup – Available on Amazon for $6.99, these have a solid plastic spout. My son does not prefer this spout and refuses to use these cups.
  11. Tommee Tippee sippee cup – Okay, my first tip off should have been all the ee’s used. What is up with that name? Anyhow, they are available for just $5.60 on Amazon. My son hated the plastic spout, or maybe he just hated the name, but either way he refused to even give them a shot.

If I could go back in time, I would save myself about $40 by only purchasing the Contigo (1), Avent (2), Gerber (3), a straw conversion kit (5) for the milk that was pumped directly into a bottle, and the take and toss cups (4). Truth be told, I do not believe there is a cup that is both easy to drink from and completely spill-proof, but I think the Contigo and Avent come the closest. After doing a lot more research, if I do buy another cup to try, it will be the ThinkBaby thinkster straw bottle or the Skip Hop straw bottle since they have a similar top as the conversion straw that I liked and they both have favorable reviews on Amazon.

Do you have a cup that you love so much you just want to shout your love from the rooftops? Please feel free to comment!

 

Note: I started this blog because I found myself pouring over reviews from other parents, racking my brain, trying to figure out the best products (and activities) for my baby. Despite this research, I still found myself with sub-par items and a lot of time and money wasted. It is my hope that by sharing this information in a blog, parents and other well meaning relatives will not blindly purchase 11 different cups that will ultimately start a dusty cup graveyard in your pantry!