Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Making Cookies (sensory activity)

This year when we made christmas cookies at grandma's, even Pumpkin was included in the fun!

What you need:

-optional: cookie dough
-optional: cookie cutter
-optional but very useful: high chair

How it works:

Figuring out how to include a 13 month old was something I was initially not very optimistic about, but we worked it out. In order to include her, we put her in her high chair by our work surface. Then I sprinkled some flour on her tray. This alone was awesome to her-it's a very different texture than anything we had worked with. The area around her high chair (not to mention her face) did get pretty messy from the flour but she had so much fun.

To add to her involvement, I would take a small amount of the cookie dough, just big enough to fit the cookie cutter on, and I would press the cookie cutter into the dough, then I would slap the cookie cutter. Pumpkin always copied that part without fail. Usually several times. Then she would pick up the cookie cutter and I would grab the cookie. I let her play with the left over dough for extra sensory fun. All in all she didn't understand that we were making cookies, but she had fun making a mess and playing with the different textures.

How to make this activity grow with your toddler:

The older the toddler, the more involved he can be in the whole process. An older toddler may be able to sprinkle the flour, use the cookie cutters by himself, help roll the dough, or add ingredients to make the dough-the possibilities are endless!

Stair Climb (gross motor activity)

Here is one that we started with Pumpkin before her first birthday even. This is one we do almost daily.

What you need:


How it works:

We start at the bottom of the stairs and Pumpkin must get up the stairs however she can, with me RIGHT behind her the whole time, ready to catch her if she falls or slides. It is absolutely important that this activity is only done with an adult there and ready. To change things up, sometimes Pumpkin likes to hold my hands and walk up the stairs.

How to make this activity grow with your toddler:

For an added challenge, try helping your toddler figure out how to go down the stairs safely. We started this within the past few weeks over here. I start by telling her to go down on her but and she will grab onto my arm and work her way close to the stairs then sit on the top step. I will slide down one step and wait for her to copy while clinginging tightly to my arm.  This has been a great exercise in safety for my daughter as she no longer attempts to walk down any stairs. At grandma's house there are two short steps between their living room and kitchen and my daughter will get on her but by the stairs everytime when she wants to go down. She has gotten good enough at it that we allow her to freely go up and down those steps (only those steps cuz it's such a short fall).

Oatmeal Box activity (fine motor skills)

My 14 month old sorta discovered this activity for herself and I really liked it.

What you'll need:

-1 box (the box with instant oatmeal packets is what we used but any food box will work)
-oatmeal packets (or other individually wrapped product)

How it Works:

Give your child the packets and the box and let her have fun! At first your child may just explore the packets (or cereal bars or whatever item you are using) and the box separately which is also good. The fine motor skill really comes into play though if you can get your child to play putting the packets into the box and taking the packets out, which is the stage my daughter is naturally at right now. If however your child isn't there yet, you can try putting a packet into the box and shaking it to try to get her interested.  If your child just isn't feeling it, that's ok too. Maybe in a couple of weeks you can try again.

This activity can also double as a meal time distraction.  My daughter always needs something in her hands to explore, so getting her to sit down for a meal is tough, but activities like this are sometimes all it takes to get her to eat.

Ways to make it grow with your toddler:

If your toddler grows bored of the box, try cutting slots in the box for your child to attempt to fit the packets through. You can also find different shaped objects and make a shape sorter using the box. Some rectangle cereal bars and round Pom poms, and a skinnier rectangle for some sort of packet. Then simply cut out the slots for each shape and let your older toddler fit the shapes appropriately.

Baby Sign Language

What is Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language is the practice of communicating with a baby or toddler using signs and gestures-usually using American Sign Language signs.  The idea behind it is that a bany can use basic signs much sooner than she can form recognizable words vocally.

Do you have to use American Sign Language?

No, you can use any signs you like. The important thing is that you, your child and any caretakers for your child all know the same signs.  In our house, however, we use American Sign Language because it makes more sense to us.  When I decided to travel down this road I decided that if I am going to put in all the effort of giving my daughter communication skills in this way, I might as well make it as useful as possible to her. If down the road we decide to pursue sign language, American Sign Language is often recognized as a second language so we will have a good grounding in the basic vocabulary of the language-not a bad place to start (note: there is much more to ASL than learning a few signs. American Sign Language is its own seperate language from English and has a seperate grammar system)!

I also recommend teaching real American sign language because it is easier to keep track of signs. As a real language, American Sign Language has many references available-for free or pay-to help keep track of what each word means. In a made up sign language you will be responsible for remembering all the signs and what they mean. I can personally say that my 14 month old goes through phases of interest. Sometimes I will learn a sign to use while I talk to my daughter and then go months without using it again and have to look up a word again. 

Lastly, I recommend American Sign Language because there are just more resources available to help guide you if you use it. There are options such as flash cards, posters for the wall, books and DVDs targeted to babies and toddlers learning sign language.  Such resources can be great for reinforcing sign language, but if you make up your own signs then it is highly unlikely you will find any ready made resources like those.

Why teach baby sign language?

There are any number of advantages to teaching baby sign language.  The big ones include reduced frustration and fewer tantrums for the toddler, increased verbal vocabulary by age 2, increased self confidence, and it helps to form a stronger bond.

Lowers frustration and tantrums-a lot of toddlers try to communicate a want or need with a caretaker, only to find the caretaker has no clue what he wants. As you can imagine, this is very frustrating to him and soon he goes into a tantrum of frustration. Knowing sign language, of course, won't illiminate tantrums-when you know what your toddler wants and tell him "no," he is still going to have a tantrum. My daughter isn't quite to the age where tantrums are common, but I can honestly say that if my daughter does have a tantrum then it is because she is REALLY tired. Even if my daughter does not know how to sign something, she is becoming quite skilled at communicating her want or need nonetheless. It truly amazes me at how efficient she is at telling us what she wants. 

For example, she hasn't quite mastered "diaper" yet, but the other night when daddy was watching her she goty husband's attention, then walked over to the pack n play (it has a changing table where we always change her), and pointed to the changing table. My husband checked and sure enough she needed a diaper change. She also will tell me when she wants her face wiped and when she wants to play my phone. Her sign for "play phone" was a tricky one to figure out, but because Pumpkin is confident that I will figure out what she wants she kept trying. Since I didn't understand the sign she had made up, and she couldn't see my phone to point, she went and found her fisher price apptivity case and brought it to me for me to give her my phone. If you notice in the story though, her first attempt was to use her hands to try and sign what she wanted.  When she makes up a sign, I try to learn the proper sign and sign the correct ASL sign back.

Increased verbal vocabulary by age 2-Contrary to what you might expect, learning sign language does not cause a language delay, and actually is widely believed to help develop language skills faster. The idea is that learning to communicate increases the baby's desire to communicate more.  I can't vouch for this personally as my daughter is not yet 2, but I can say that my daughter is on track in all of her verbal milestones and uses her sounds to try to say the words while she signs.

Increased self confidence-When your toddler can successfully communicate what she wants to you, she feels good about herself. Just think of the message you are sending-"hey, what you have to say matters." 

Helps form a stronger bond-I'll admit I don't think I've read this last benefit anywhere, but it is my favorite part of signing with my daughter. My daughter and I are learning a language together (sort of-as I said, unless you learn the grammar too, you are not fully learning a new language, but at this age toddlers aren't known for impeccable grammar skills anyway).  I can understand her without guessing. I am amazed at how much she knows that I otherwise might have missed. She has known that a dog's bark comes from a dog since before she was one, and let me tell you-she LOVES dogs. We have 2 of them and she is always asking to see them or telling me where they are! I've also learned that she likes to have the kitchen lights on while she eats-even in the daytime. It really is amazing to be able to communicate like this already!

When should you start teaching sign language?

It is never too early to start teaching sign language. You may start as young as you like, but to avoid some frustration I wouldn't expect your child to sign a whole lot before at least 8 months. I started learning some signs and signing to my daughter for fun when she was around 2 months old.  My daughter didn't REALLY start signing until around the one year mark. There were occasional signs when she was a baby, but it wasn't like she does now.  However, I'm glad I started learning so early because it allowed me to really develop the habit of signing in my daily life. I've occasionally been caught signing to people that are NOT my daughter because of my habits.

How do you teach Baby Sign Language?

It takes a LOT of of time and consistency to teach a new sign in such a way that Pumpkin starts using the sign. I have been successful teaching my daughter her signs just by using them in day to day life, but it must be EVERY time. Now, I'm not perfect-no one is-so I'm sure in a day I forget to sign as I go sometimes, but to teach "milk" I had to sign "milk" everytime I nursed Pumkin for weeks. Same with "All done." I used the sign everytime she seemed to be done eating and right before I started washing her up to get back to playing.  She will recognize words and signs earlier than she can communicate them usually, but it definitely is a commitment to teach a baby to sign.  I found it is important to be patient and have fun. I've found it helpful to sign because I enjoy it, and not so much with the focus of counting vocabulary words or trying to formally teach a word. I want communicating to be a positive element of o
ur life, not a stressful one, so if you go this route, keep it light!

Helpful resources:
-free: lifeprint.com offers a free course in American Sign Language for anyone interested in learning the full language and a free ASL online dictionary if you are just looking up words to use with your child
-DVD: Signing Time and Baby Signing time. These brands also offer a number of useful tools like board books, posters, and flash cards. We recently ordered two of the Baby Signing Time dvd's for Pumpkin for Christmas, so we will soon see how it goes.

-book: Baby Sign Language Basics by Monta Z. Briant-this is the book that got me started and I highly recommend it. It has a lot of useful tips and ideas for how to get others involved in signing and fun ways to incorporate signing to your day.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ice Cube Tray Play (fine motor activity)

I started doing this activity with my 13 month old this week.  You will need:
-1 ice cube tray
-some wrapped candies (we used soft mints)
-bonus: bring a couple other types of containers to play

For this age, I tend to not have any real objective in mind. I just emptied the mints out onto the ground and let her play. For us we also had a large tub that the mints were stored in that we brought out to play also. Pumpkin took right away to throwing the mints in the big tub and at the ice cube tray. Then she would take the container and shake it all up so that the mints would fly out.

After the fun of randomly throwing the mints wore out, I started putting the mints in the tray myself and Punpkin joined in on that fun! Sometimes she would see that her sister or I had the ice cube tray almost all the way full and decide it was a good time to start over by shaking the mints out of the tray.  Then my step daughter would try and hurry up and fill the tray again and it became a race. We all had a good time. It's always interesting to see where these kinds of activities go.

If you have an older toddler that is into sorting a fun variation could be to paint (if you aren't going to be using these trays for food purposes) the cubes different colors and use m&ms to make a color sorting activity.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Making the Time

Everyone is really busy-from stay at home moms to work outside the home moms to work from home moms. So how on Earth is it possible to find the time to actually do activities like these? Well I'll be honest-sometimes I don't. I can fill out the schedule and have it all planned out and ready to go, but let's face it-life happens. But I find the easiest way to make it work is to spread activities out through the day. I might say a nursery rhyme at all the diaper changes, play a music cd while I'm working (I work from home) and periodically get up and dance with her, read a book on my lunch break and then do a game (fine or gross motor activity) after I get off.  Sometimes I'll even pull out a container and Pom poms to entertain her on my lap while I work, or pull out some pots, pans and balls while I do some housework. Don't get me wrong, some activities I know I will be right there supervising the whole time, and some really don't need much more than her regular toys.

Sometimes, even planning like that, things don't happen and that's ok too. Just the other day I decided to watch a tv show instead of an activity because it was just that kind of day and I just needed a break.  It's ok to stray from the plan. The main thing with this age is just having fun and bonding. If I've been working and running around like a chicken with its head cut off for the last 2 or 3 days and I'm totally exhausted then I'm probably not having fun, and it's far better to have an unstructured day now and then than it would be to force it and create a child that grows to dislike such activities.

I do, however, pick a few things that are important to me that I never-or rarely-skip. I make them things that I think are the most important, and what I feel is important may be different than what you feel is important. My two things are reading and socialization. Pumpkin gets a bed time story at least 5 days a week, and usually 7 (if we are staying the weekend at a grandma's house we usually do skip it), we have a storytime during the day at least Monday through Friday, and I read Pumpkin any book she brings me throughout the day.  By my figuring, a love of reading might be the best, lifelong gift I can give to her, so I make sure I do not deprive her of stories. Even when I read a long-ish book, at this age we are talking at most 5 minutes and usually less than 1 minute per story.  I also make sure I take her out of the house and get her around other kids at least once a week.  This one is big with me because I work from home. Unlike a stay at home mom, I can't go out and run errands unless I want to make up the work hours later, and unlike a work outside the home mom my child doesn't go to daycare. In short, with this lifestyle it would be all too easy for us to stay shelled up in the house, so these little activities to get around other kids are very important for both of us!

Everything else I don't get upset if we miss. My daughter works on fine and gross motor skills everyday regardless if I have an "activity." A little secret-half the time I come up with my toddler school activities by watching her ;). Then I expand on them. Like most toddlers, my daughter is very curious and she comes up with experiments on her own-I just provide the new materials-and if I don't she finds something that wasn't quite baby-proofed well enough.  So you see, she will develop just fine without me forcing it, and your kids will too.  But then there are those days when you just want to spend time with your toddler and feel the need for some direction. On those days, I use my bag of tricks and pull out something new-or old for that matter.

That's all there really is to it. Don't worry if you don't do everything on your list, every day. Just have fun and enjoy your toddler-the time really does fly by.