Friday, December 9, 2011

Present Wrapping Work

We spent some time wrapping gifts as a family last night, and now Q is very interested in the process!
I put out a little basket in her playroom with some scraps of wrapping paper, a tape dispenser, and some little scissors. She is LOVING finding things in her playroom to wrap and put under her little tree!
This is great practical life and problem solving--she is using spatial awareness and geometry as she figures out which size of wrapping paper will fit each gift and how the paper needs to be oriented to cover the gift. She is using problem solving to figure out where she needs to tape in order for the paper to stay stuck. For fine motor this uses the small finger muscles in tape tearing, folding, and cutting--thin wrapping paper is tricky to cut without tearing!
After she'd wrapped some gifts I encouraged her to make gift tags and write who each present was for. This is a great time to use environmental print skills in a real situation. Sometimes she'd ask me for help deciding which first letter to write--Honey's grandma (one of her dolls) is named Tilly, so she wanted to know what to write. I told her a T and she went right to work!

Here are a couple of the other labels she came up with. This is for Rosa, of course.

And this is "just an N." It's for nobody. That cracked me up. She doesn't know "nobody" starts with "n," she just got lucky. :)

For younger children/toddlers who aren't ready for paper and tape and scissors, you can put out gift boxes (they can put tops and bottoms together) or even gift bags (with or without tissue paper for accent.). This activity can be adapted to any age! Even babies (old enough to sit up) can have fun putting objects in and out of a holiday bag!
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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Playgym and toys

We used to have a hand-me-down playgym--the kind that flashed lights, had moving pieces and made music. As well as a half-dozen interchangable, bright-colored accessories. I always rather disliked it because it overstimulated ME, and I knew it was WAY too much sensory input for my babies. So this time around, I garage-saled it and talked Daddy-O into making the boy a my dream playgym. Matt's a stud-muffin and found some pine boards on sale at Lowe's for a dollar a piece. He used two pine boards and two dowels and finished it with beeswax. The dowels slide out so we can dismantle the gym or slide objects onto it.

I love how easily we can change out objects for Beck to use for gazing and touching. I love EVEN MORE how simple and baby-developmentally-appropriate this is! Yea for woodworking daddies!

At one point with Quinn I improvised and used our laundry hamper for a playgym.

We have a basket of different stuff we put out for him to look at and grab. Small branches and painted acorns (looking), pretty Christmas ornaments (he can reach toward them), a grasping ring (for chewing!), and some felt hangy-things on elastic that I made for him to grab on. All made from stuff we just had around the house. He loves his gym and Quinn loves to "decorate" it for him and help choose what we'll put on it for him each day.

This is another of my favorite homemade toys. An old-fashioned clothespin with jinglebells tied on. Perfect for baby to hold and shake/chew easily! I made this one with different black and white ribbon, but have done them in all colors!

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Drum Tub

Our musical instruments are taking a rotation in the closet for a while and we're enjoying the drum tub. It's an assortment of tins, tubs, and "beaters" that include a dishbrush, potato masher, wooden dowel and a real drumstick.
What fun it is to keep the rhythm to songs, play LOUD and quietly and fast and slow! Also a great way for Q to get some built up energy released in a constructive way!

This is a great activity that is friendly for ALL ages...from babies to Mommies!!
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Friday, December 2, 2011

Toys for little babies

I try not to give plastic toys to my baby. You can read my longer posts on this, but basically plastic provides very little sensory input--it doesn't smell, taste, and provide a wide variety of weight, texture and sound. So I have been making a few little toys for Beck, who is just starting to want to play! His idea of play involves looking and tasting at this point!

One of my favorite baby toys--a crinkle taggie blanket. I use THIS tutorial.
Mine is made with minky on one side and flannel on the other and a variety of ribbons. The inside is a shredded cheese bag I washed out. I also sewed a button on each end to help hold everything in place and provide additional tactile stimuli for older babies.
For now Beck is just learning how to make his hands do what he wants. So he spends his playtime holding and bringing objects to his mouth. You can see him really staring at the ribbons in the first picture, and tasting them in the second!

This is a great toy for little babies because there are so many places to grab--they are highly successful when trying to "Hold" this toy. He hasn't really explored the "crinkly" aspect yet as he doesn't grab onto the main part of the toy, but it will be something he can grown into and will capture his interest as he grows!

I have made these before using a towel and a receiving blanket (I thrown all my fabric items in a laundry basket in the studio to be reused for projects like this!) and it turned out great, as well!!
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More December Changes

We used to keep our playsilks in a basket, but this just wasn't working great, so last night I made two felted hooks to keep them organized. I also added some "wintery" props to the dress up basket (seen on right side of photo)--a hat, scarf and some mittens, of course! And a little basket of clothespins on the small shelf for clipping playsilks--to make capes or tents or whatever strikes our fancy!
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December Learning Room

Q and I spent the morning changing the playroom over to "winter." We took the fall leaves off our branch and added glittery snowflakes and some bottlebrush woodland animal ornaments. I also found some maple shaving scraps from a woodworking project of Matt's and I used scissors to cut them into leaves and glued them onto the branch. They look so beautiful and wintery! I can never get a good picture of the branch because it's in front of the window and backlit.....But this kinda gives you an idea. We talked a lot about what the changing seasons mean and look like.
We changed the tablecloth to a Christmas fabric. I use cloth napkins as the tablecloths and we change them seasonally. We also got out a new teaset (it was in the cabinet as I rotate stuff often) to replace the basket of pumpkins that was the previous centerpiece.

We vacuumed, dusted, rearranged the nature shelf and of course got out CHRISTMAS BOOKS!!

And I put out some Christmas cards we received last year for Q to play with, write on, etc.

We have more seasonal additions, but I need to get pictures of them so I can post those, as well!
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Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I got a couple small containers out of our Christmas tubs--just some I had already. They came with the cutest little spoons! I took out the other pouring/scooping work in our beans and changed out for these. This created renewed interest in the beans and Q had a fun time with them this morning.

Other fun ideas would be any Christmas tins, mugs, etc. that could be used. You might notice that these containers are ceramic. I am big on letting toddlers and preschoolers handle fragile items so that they learn to "use gentle touches." Obviously I don't put out items that are precious to me in case they do get broken. Also, I am not overly concerned about an injury if something glass breaks--typically it makes a loud noise that I hear and also children come running right away to tell you when something gets broken, so I've never had an instance of a breakable item shattering without my knowledge. Also, children are pretty low to the ground, so often dropped items survive the fall!

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Lovin' the dry erase boards lately!

We have a smaller one for the car for roadtrips....She loves to write Q's. We've also had fun with the dry erase crayons....nice because they don't wipe off as easily--often she smudges her other letters with her hand by laying it on the board trying to write something else. Once again, writing at this angle is great for wrist strength!
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Painting with pine needles....

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An area of his own....

Beck's spot has become the area behind the couch--which happens to be right between the living room and the kitchen. Perfect because I can keep an eye on him from both places.
We spread a small quilt for him. I sometimes move the Munari in for him to look at--I "hang" it by putting some heavy books on the dowel, sticking out from the couch. We also offer him one or two simple, beautiful toys to grasp. Often his sister will read him a book or talk to him while he's playing. He spends a great deal of his awake time here--rolling, babbling, looking around....
I've also placed a mirror leaned back against the couch for him to look into.

I'll be posting more about some of the simple, homemade baby toys we offer our little man!

Sometimes we use a pillow or boppy to prop him up a bit so he can see the story!

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Leaf Tracers

One great way for little wrists and fingers to build fine muscle control is to trace things. I like to make my own stencils/tracers out of cardboard from our recycle box.

I used some leaf-shaped cookie cutters I had as the template--traced them onto the cardboard, cut em out.

You could also print a template off the internet--try doing a search for "leaf cookie cutter" and you'll get a good template. You could also make a pumpkin, turkey, etc!

I used a bit of the square-mesh plastic drawer liner (also rug backer would work) to glue to the back to help prevent the tracer from moving when my little one traces with it. It's still a big task to hold an object still with one hand and trace with the other, so my little one needs a little help.

You could make all sorts of fun fall projects using this filter leaves to watercolor paint, leaves to hang from chandelier, tissue paper leaves for windows, etc!

Don't overstimulate me, Ma!

Based in much of the Montessori and Waldorf philosophies of working with infants, I believe that babies should be surrounded by a calm, serene, and gently stimulating environment. They come into the world with NO experiences, so everything is new to them. Every sight, every sound, every texture they feel....all being sensed for the very first time. With all this newness, it's easy for them to become over-stimulated when their senses are raging with new experiences.
Often (according to leading child development author Dr. Brazleton) this may cause crying, hiccups, sneezing, and other behaviors to avoid the stimulation. Obviously this isn't always the reason for these behaviors, but it can be a cause. It is also why many infants calm down when they are swaddled, taken to a quiet, dim room, and rocked gently. They respond to the calm environment and their senses are given a break from working.

For this reason, we've decided to avoid infant "accessories" that are overly stimulating. My criteria for this involves:
-too much
-too loud
-too fast
-too bright
-multiple sensations being addressed at once

To explain....
Most of the swings, bouncers, exersaucers, mobiles, and baby toys available for purchase fit in these categories because they are overstimulating to babies. We have a small travel swing that has 4-colored flashing lights, plays "tinny" music that can go up to a very loud setting, has little waterglobes built into the sides that plastic fish swim inside of, has a toy bar that goes across the swing, and obviously rocks. WHOA! And in this I set my little two-month son, who can stare for long periods of time at a plain ole tree! This is way to many senses being stimulated at once, and the overload actually prevents him from focusing on any of them in detail.

Obviously some people would argue that their baby loves these items. This is often because we've taught them to adjust to the various stimulation, possibly even tune them out, by repeat exposure to them. We can "train" our children what to expect for entertainment and learning. If we expose them to constant "high activity" sensory experiences--ie: the flashing lights, the music, the movement, the toys all at once, they learn to expect this. And often this nurtures a toddler who is unable to settle down and focus for a few minutes on one simple item or task--they are flighty and moving from task to task, item to item.

There is tons of information and research out there on infant stimulation, and I am not going to go into it all in this post, but I did want to explain our choice and how this makes many of the "baby things" used in our house look a little differently.

So, what do we do?
We still use the swing. I just leave the music and flashing lights off, we removed the toys, and often I drape a burpcloth over the fish if I am wanting to provide a soothing rock for my son. We bought a bouncer that is simple--no music, no vibration, it rocks with the baby's movement. I love THIS ONE, and we found ours for a steal at a Children's consignment store.

I just recently garage-saled our playgym that we used with my daughter as I felt it had "too much." Music, lights, movement, toys that also included sound.....Instead we use the plain ole floor with a mobile on a stand for now, and I have my eyes on a wooden play gym piece that I have been begging my husband to build.

So.....will my poor son grow up with no music since I don't have any musical toys? No way....We play all sorts of music on a cd player or even our computer. Yea for Pandora. And best of all, it's REAL music! Not tinny Brahm's Lullabye coming out of a cheap speaker. ;)

I really love MADE BY JOEL'S website, and that's where we got the pattern for the mobile stand we use all the time. I also use his paper mobile pattern as one of our many mobiles.

Here's my son with Joel's set-up:
And now that he's a "big boy" and needs to practice rolling around, we often just put him on the floor under his mobiles.

I have made all the different mobiles--all with stuff around the house and 10 minutes of my time. And often with my 3 year-old's help! I keep them in a basket under the coffee table to change out as we want to.

This one is just two crossed sticks with black and white ribbons from my scrap box tied on at different areas.

This one was a little more labor-intensive--I traced leaf cookie cutters onto coffee filters, cut, and let my daughter paint them with a combination of tempera and watercolor paints. Then we strung them on thick thread, used beads to hold them in place, and tied the strings onto the inside of a wooden embroidery hoop.

We also do this a lot--prop open a book in his sight range. Right now I know that developmentally he's most interested in high-contrast black and white, as well as bold primary colors, so we try to find books (at the library or our home shelves) that are developmentally appropriate.

At this point in his development, we try to stimulate just one of his senses at a time. That way he can focus, absorb what he's experiencing, and remain calm and not overstimulated.

So, there's my soapbox on babies and nosiy, blinky, vibrating swings and bouncers. :)

The end.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Repurposing puzzle pieces

I am all about re-using educational materials for other uses once my kiddos have outgrown them. We used our letter puzzle (which she's now mastered) to make a new activity. She helped me find the letters of family member's names....I traced them on sentence strips. I placed all the letters from the names and the name strips on her work shelf and she can now match the letters to the names by setting them on top of the corresponding letter. Luckily I had two letter puzzles--because many names have repeated letters!

Take a look at some of your outgrown toys/ can you repurpose them into something your children can use again? It's fun!
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Fairy Tales

We've entered the world of fairy tales full force lately! This is a great developemental milestone, as fairy tales are a valuable tool for helping children understand the world. THIS ARTICLE discusses the theses of Bettelheim, an expert on the value of fairy tales for children.

We really love Paul Galdone's work (with the exception of Jack and the Beanstalk which is a little too difficult for Q to understand the way he wrote it). Here are three of our favorites:

We have also been listening to fairy tales on CD in the truck (we like Elves and the Shoemaker, Tom Thumb, and Little Red Riding Hood--off cd's we got at the library.)

Q also loves this youtube channel--she is fascinated with listening to the lady tell the stories. They seem a little annoying to me, but she eats them up! Most of them involve the lady telling the story while she uses flannelboard characters....

I have my reserve list running strong at the library for the next stories I'll be introducing to Quinn in the fairy tale genre!

I love the vocabulary she's introduced to, the strong plot elements (each story has character development, problem/solution, and setting) as well as the great illustrations many fairy tale books provide!

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Chalk as an art medium

This fall in our kitchen school I am making an effort to do "art" with my daughter and not just crafts. Crafts are projects with a specific end in mind--like decorating a pumpkin with cut paper. Art is exploring with materials and is more open-ended.
Here is an example--we used chalk on black paper. We explored the way it writes and how you can rub it to get it to smear. After we worked with the materials I put them out in her art area for further exploration.

She was not real engaged in this artwork, so we'll try it again another day!

Stay tuned for more posts on our adventures into ART!
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