Turkey Dogs for Life

I need to send out a hug.  A giant, heartfelt, bear hug to all of you parents that have ever dealt with a toddler that’s a picky eater.  Why? Because OH MY GOD.

Dealing with a picky eater wasn’t even in my peripheral vision.  Not even on my radar. I guess that was one potential challenge of parenthood I overlooked.  Maybe I just assumed because I’m such a good eater that my kids would be too.  After all, I read that moms who eat a variety of foods while pregnant pass those flavors to their baby, therefore creating a pleasant, adventurous eater.  So that must be true, right? Gahhh.

I even remember before I had kids and would see other parents of picky eaters.  The naive, young, head in her butt Erica would tell herself, “Come on! Its not that hard! Its either what you make or they don’t eat! Simple.  Problem solved”.  I love giving that Erica the, “Haha, ok, because you know it all” eye roll.

This one isn’t about advice, or a “what works well for us”. It’s simply a hug.  Because dealing with a picky eater can be so overwhelmingly frustrating and trying.  Even knowing that its a phase, and knowing I’ve never seen an adult only eat turkey dogs and cheese… when all you want is to be able to nourish your child with plenty of vitamins and wholesome goodness for the energy and growth they so deserve… its all too easy to feel defeated.

This one’s for you.

This is for the parents who have brought out the Brezza or food processor time after time after time, determined to make your own baby food, only to have a messy kitchen and a stocked freezer that will never get touched to show for it.  

This is for the parents who have tried steaming, broiling, baking, boiling, and grilling.  There’s bound to be a preparation method they’ll like, right? 

This one is for the parents who have gone out of their way to eat good foods with enthusiasm and passion in front of your children repeatedly to show that if they would just try it ONE MORE TIME, they’ll like it! We promise! 

This one is for the parents who after a long day, consciously prepare dinner with a lean protein, vegetable, and whole grain that you know are sure hits with your tot.  You just can’t deal with defeat.  Not today.  Until you sit down to eat, and this fab trio you prepared is met with an adamant, “NO! NO! NO!”.  

This one is for the parents who purposely take their kids to Sam’s Club for free samples. So they can try new foods without you having to buy or make them.  They love and eat up the cherries for the first time, so you happily buy a carton.  You get home feeling victorious, clean and cut some up, and then she acts like you’re trying to feed her feces.  

This one is for the parents who have resorted to acting like flipping magicians in the kitchen, hiding and covering up veggies in ways no child can detect.  Until they do, and that whole portion of their meal is now deemed inedible.  

This one is for the parents who have tried to wait it out. Leaving little ones in their booster or high chair for awhile.  Surely, she’ll cave.  She HAS to be hungry.  I WILL win this one.  Until you don’t.  

This one is for the parents who have made so many smoothies they should moonlight at their local Jamba Juice.  If they aren’t going to eat their fruits and veggies, you’ll be damned if they don’t drink them.  

This one is for the parents who know the anxiety that comes from knowing they only have one shot at introducing a new food at meal time.  And the WHEN during meal time is critical.  Too early – the entire meal could be shot.  Too late – the entire meal could be shot.  It’s an art form, people.  

This one is for the parents who have felt the repeated devastation of wasting food.  Oh, the wasting of food.  You consider eating it yourself, until you realize its not healthy for your mental well-being or waistline.  Breaks my heart one tiny piece at a time.  

This one is for the parents who have sat there at night, rocking their little one to sleep, replaying the day through their head and cataloging every thing their child ate.  Most days, it never feels like enough.  

This one is for the parents who rarely get to eat warm food.  You want to share meals together, and you want to set an example every day of what eating well looks like, but when you’re up and down repeatedly – the chicken is never warm by the time you get back to it.  

You know how important nourishment is for healthy minds and healthy bodies.  Your child deserves the best, and you so want to be able to give it to them if they just let you.  You envision the day when a family meal time will go smoothly, without disappointment, interruption, or requiring a short order cook.  You’ve read the books and articles.  You get the unsolicited advice.   And you know, like all phases, this too shall pass.   But in the moment, when you’ve pulled out all the stops, sometimes throwing up the white flag feels like your only course of action.

Some of my wonderful dietitian moms have recommended this Ellyn Satter site as a guide for setting healthy eating boundaries and sharing the responsibility of eating well between you and your children.  Hopefully some of you find it beneficial – I know I have.  A lot of great resources.

Until then, I feel for you.  We’ll get through this, one GD chicken nugget at a time.

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Starting Early to Create Lifelong Readers

Reading to my children.  It was honestly one of the things I couldn’t wait most for.  I’ve always envisioned us snuggled up in the corner of the couch, soft fleece blanket pulled up to our chins, talking about the choices our favorite characters were making, coming up with our silliest voices to read in, and admiring the intricate artwork that splashed across the pages.  I envisioned us rocking slowly in her room, reading, “just one more!” book before eyes got heavy and it was time for sweet dreams.  I envisioned myself panicking at the realization it had been all too quiet in the house for a tad too long (because we know that’s never a good thing), only to find her curled up with a book in her little chair.

Maybe a little grandiose, but my dream nonetheless.  We’ll get there one day.

For now, however, we’re still in the early stages.  She’s young, we’re in no rush, and we’re just beginning to lay the groundwork for what I hope to be a beautiful relationship with getting lost in books of all kinds.  After teaching elementary school and specializing in working with young at-risk readers, I know how vital the early years are for her success later.  Start small, start early, and have fun!

There’s no such thing as “too early”.  Nope, start right from when you bring them home from the hospital if you want! Reason enough could be the simple fact that your voice is the most soothing sound to a baby’s ears and being close to you is all they want to do.  After all, your sweet voice is what they listened to for those 40 weeks, right? Bust out those nursery rhymes and lullabies – they don’t judge our vocal abilities (yet).  Whether it be a playful children’s book, an article out of the sports section, or the latest gossip out of your US Weekly, read aloud sometimes – your baby will thank you for it.  Even if its reading a bed time book as they sleep snugly on your chest –  read.  🙂

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Don’t sweat it if they aren’t interested.  At 15 months old sometimes Tayler still doesn’t have interest.  And that’s OK.  Chewing, holding, and using books for just about anything but reading is sometimes part of the deal.  I don’t know if we’ve ever actually finished a full book! Sometimes just getting them to grab at and hold books is the first step. Don’t sweat it, their interests will continue to change.  Just keep exposing them and making it fun! If you want to get some reading in without the constant grabbing, some of my moms suggest sitting with baby and have dad do the reading to the both of you!

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The many language benefits.  Listening skills.  Memory.  Vocabulary.  Speech patterns.  Intonation and inflection.  And the rhythm and rhyme of our language.  Just to name a few! The more we read aloud and expose our kids to words, the richer the network we build in their brain.  While they may not be able to use everything they’re learning yet, there’s certainly a lot going on! As they grow older, there is no shortage of research that demonstrates the profound effect reading and books will have on their later academic success.

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The earliest of skills.  A lot of times we don’t recognize or we forget that some of the earliest skills don’t actually involve what we consider to be reading. Myself included! Things as simple as recognizing books, being able to hold them correctly, learning how to properly turn pages, knowing that we read the words on the page left to right, pointing to the covers, and knowing that a book tells a story or gives us information are all necessary and important skills! So when you see your little one sitting on the floor, holding a book open, and babbling and pointing – pat yourself on the back! You’re doing great!

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Let them lead.  Maybe they just feel like opening and closing.  Maybe they feel like simply listening to the first page over and over.  Or if your little one is like my daughter, maybe they just want books with pictures of animals to point to and see how long you’ll make all the animal noises for.  By letting them lead and using books how they want in the early stages will send the message that books can be and will continue to be a positive part of their day.

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Dont forget about pictures! Sometimes I get anxious to jump right into the words, but paying attention to the pictures is such an important part of developing early readers (probably more so than the words at first!).  You’ll notice many books geared for infants are filled with bright and vivid colors, varied shapes, and patterns.  These are all great for early brain and eye development.  Another infant favorite are books filled pictures of close family and friends.  Who wouldn’t want to see the faces of the people they love and trust most! As they get a little older pictures are critical in building vocabulary, sparking imagination, and learning that books can tell a story.  Pictures are also a great tool for teaching concepts such as colors, counting objects, and recognizing shapes! Once they begin to learn to read they’ll be taught to use pictures in relation to the text, so its never too early to start talking about them now!

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Vary your home library.  Touch and feel books with different textures.  Peek-a-boo books.  Nursery rhymes.  Counting, shapes, and ABC’s.  Picture books of first words.  Favorite characters.  Board books.  Vinyl books.  Cloth books.  Bathtub books.  Non-fiction books about weather, animals, potty training, gaining a new brother or sister, sports, etc.  Poetry.  Award winning illustrators.  Books with repeating patterns. Children’s classics.  The list goes on and on.  Having a varied library can better accommodate changing interests and developmental stages, as well as keeping things fun and interesting for mom and dad!

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Make books accessible.  If we want our children to take a genuine interest books, we need to have them out and available.  Some will get chewed, some will get ripped, and in our house some went swimming in the bath tub.  This part of it always make me cringe, but it’s a part of the process and needs to be accepted as so.  My suggestion is to have a little tub or two available in the common play areas with some books that match their current developmental stage or interest area.  Switch them out every so often to keep it exciting, but keep the beautiful copy of The Giving Tree up on the shelf for mom to get down when appropriate.  Making books accessible sends the message that books aren’t just designated for before bedtime, but can be explored whenever their heart desires.

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Commit to it.  Congratulations! You just received the job of Character Voice Extraordinaire! Rise to the occasion, my friend.  Committing to characters in books, getting silly reading rhymes or songs, and changing your pitch and tone are not only amusing for your blossoming little reader, but its just another way to teach them about how our language works and encourages their social and emotional development.  When your face, tone, and voice show sadness when a character’s dog gets lost, you’re teaching your child about their emotions and the effect certain events can have on humans.

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The Big Picture.  If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at this point, shake it off.  While all of this information is beneficial to have in regards to reading to our children, there is only one, big important concept to take away and keep in mind.  Reading to our children, especially in these early stages, is all about the relationship we create with books. If anything, make reading books an enjoyable time bonding with mom and dad.  Create a time where you and your child can explore, learn, laugh, and get silly together.  Work hard to show them that books are a source of joy, calm, and a catalyst for quality time resting in mom’s lap. And better yet, be a role model by showing your children that you read too!

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A few ways to build your library:

  • Utilize the public library! Use that library card till its so worn they give you a new one.  Endless books are at your fingertips! Sometimes libraries also run free book programs!
  • Garage sales & Mom to Mom sales.  Gently used books for pennies? Yes please! No one should be above buying books that have already been loved.
  • Your local Goodwill or Salvation Army.  Same idea, different place.  I’ve found some real classics for my classroom library.  You never know what treasures you’ll find!
  • Set up book swaps with other moms.  Change up your library by borrowing someone else’s!
  • Check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.  It’s isn’t available yet everywhere, but its worth visiting and finding out.  If its available in your area, expect a free book sent to your home from birth to 5 years of age! (If your address doesn’t work, try grandma’s!).

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(And on a side note, don’t all these pictures demonstrate the fact that it’s mom that is always behind the camera!? 🙂 )

Building A Toy Collection With Purpose

Before I had children I had a few loosely held ideals about the kinds of toys and the volume of toys I wanted my children to grow up with.  I want toys that are fun and engaging, but help promote age appropriate cognitive and physical development.  I want toys that can be manipulated in multiple ways, and can serve as a catalyst for a growing imagination.  I don’t want so many toys that my children become overwhelmed with choices, and think they are always deserving and needing the next new thing. I don’t believe in getting a new toy every time we go to the store or just because its Monday.  I believe in rotating toys to maximize toys so they are “like new” and are looked at in a different way the next time they show up in the playroom.  I believe a little boredom is OK.  It often sparks the best ideas and adventures through creativity.

While controlling all of the factors that go into a growing toy collection is impossible (we are blessed with many family and friends that love our daughter!), I do try and be conscious and mindful (when I’m able) of the kinds of items that make our way into home.  Whether it is the few items we wrap up for certain holidays, or a toy here or there I know will fit perfectly with her current interests and growth, there are several areas I try and hit on.  All focusing on different cognitive skills sets and motor development.  While the list is not comprehensive and could surely be organized in different ways, I thought I’d share some of the areas I try and build on.  We’re still working on ours! If you’ve got a birthday or special occasion coming up, it may help fill a gap or two in your own collection!

INFANT – Because infants use all of their senses to make sense of the world around them, the key is incorporating as many of them as possible. Think different colors, different textures, different sounds, different motions, and different ways to grasp and hold.  Mirrors are also a big hit!

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SHAPE SORT – Promotes fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spatial relations, problem solving, and as they get older.. learning their shapes!

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BUILDING BLOCKS – Could be blocks for stacking and balancing, or blocks that fit within each other. Its open ended thinking, and will be a classic for years and years.

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CLOTH AND BOARD BOOKS – There are a million and five reasons to start reading with little ones from the get-go, but also try and find books with familiar shapes, pictures, and items.  These will help with recognition and the basic ideas of language. Interactive/sensory books with different textures are also a hit!

PUZZLES – start small with a few pieces (shapes, animals, etc) that have large knobs to grasp. As they get older, work up to more pieces with more intriguing and challenging pictures and configurations.  Promotes problem solving, fine motor skills, and hand eye coordination.

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NESTING/STACKING – Cups, rings, boxes, shapes, etc

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MUSIC – xylophones, little pianos, tambourines, symbols, drums, maracas, etc. The different movements required and different sounds through cause and effect are great to experiment with

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ACTIVITY CUBES – Most activity cubes offer an array of options for different fine motor skills.  Pushing, pulling, sorting, and sliding all in one!

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BOOKS – Yes, I listed it above.  Yes, I’m listing it again.  Books! 🙂

ARTS AND CRAFTS SUPPLY – Start with the larger markers and crayons that are easier to develop grip strength, and eventually move to our standard sized items.  You never know what route some crafts can eventually take, so start compiling a supply of different papers, paints, sponges, markers and crayons (all washable! everything washable!), cotton balls, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, an artist smock (to try and save some of their clothes?), googly eyes, glue sticks, poms of all sizes, etc. (Obviously make sure whatever supplies you use are age appropriate – no choking please!)

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PUSH, PULL, AND RIDE – Once they’re sitting, make sure you start to get ready for pulling up and walking with the assistance of a push toy.  Low rise riding toys are also great for gross motor development!

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PRETEND PLAY TOYS – A lot of times you can scrounge things you already have in the house to help build this collection. Try and think of every day tasks or items we use that they can use safely to build imagination.  Play phones, kitchen sets (try with food, utensils, and a grocery cart), a work bench, dress up clothes, medical kits, brooms and vacuums (child size!), cash registers, dolls and animals, puppets, etc.  Help them learn to master every day tasks through imaginative play.

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WATER – This includes bath toys or outdoor toys for nice weather days. Let them fill, empty, and splash! A lot of times household items will do just fine.  Think of big spoons and bowls!

SIT TO CRAWL TO STAND – I love toys that allow for growth with the child.  Whether its legs that come on and off a pull-up stand toy, or a toy that has areas for sitters, crawlers, and standers, they last a long time and can be used in many ways.

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GROSS MOTOR FOR TODDLERS – Sand boxes, low ride toys, tricycles, low climbing toys, balls of all sizes, sit and spin, scooters, push lawnmowers, bouncers or ball pits, mini trampolines, etc.

USE OF BOTH HANDS SIMULTANEOUSLY – A necessary skill for many pre-school/kindergarten type activities. Help build that skill with toys that require both hands to be doing something at the same time, even if its just one hand holding an item while the other manipulates it.  Think wind up toys or something like a Mr. Potato Head!

BOOKS! 

EDUCATIONAL TOYS – These can vary greatly, but could include things like large letter flashcards with pictures, toys that teach letters, animals, animal sounds, shapes, etc, baby sign language materials, Leapfrog readers and writers, counting toys, bilingual toys, science kits, etc.

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BE MINDFUL OF GENDER ROLES & COLORS – I’m a firm believer in exposing both boys and girls to a lot of the same toys and opportunities for play.  While we may have always dreamed of having a twirling princess or a star football player, those may not be the kind of children we raise.  Tayler has her dollhouse and a kitchen set, but she also has a tool bench and a 5 in 1 sports complex toy.  And while choosing all masculine or feminine colored toys can be fun for your first, if you choose to have more children that end up being of the opposite sex, you’ll want several gender neutral options.

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If you’re family is anything like mine, they are always asking for ideas for holidays and birthdays.  If you’re anything like me, you have no problem giving them ideas (while never expecting any of it!).  If that sounds like you, check out Babylist.  I’ve used it for Tayler’s baby registry, holiday ideas, and birthday ideas.  It puts any item from any store into one central location that is easy for family members to look at! Plus, its free!

Enjoy play time with your children! 🙂

 

 

 

Sign It To Me Baby

I can still remember when I was babysitting for a new, first time mom. As her precious baby napped upstairs and I watched TV in the living room, I picked up and skimmed through the Baby Sign Language book on her coffee table. Showing my age, knowledge, and maturity here, my thought was a mental scoff followed by, “These moms today are crazy! Trying to get babies to do all these crazy things so early!”. Oh, Erica.

Several years and a baby of my own later, I now fully understand why that mom was interested in baby sign language. The benefits are many – for both you and for baby. I’ll dive into those in a minute.

When Tayler was about 5 months old we started consistently using two signs that I thought would make communication easier for us – “milk” and “more”. I knew 5 months old was a tad early, but I also knew it would take us awhile to get used to using the signs consistently. To help us try and remember, I printed some of the basics off of the internet and taped them up in the kitchen. Every time it was time to eat, we would sign and say “milk” several times. Every time she ate solids we would sign and say “more” before putting more on her tray.

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Two months went by, and then Tayler began to smile and get excited when we would do the signs – she knew what they meant and things were starting to click! Fast forward to 8.5 months, and Tayler began to use “milk” on her own without our prompting and “more” followed right behind! Our consistency was paying off and we were giving Tayler the tools to communicate her wants and needs long before she could tell us.

 

I’m far from a baby sign language expert, and I can only speak from my experiences and what I’ve learned along the way, but here are a few of the benefits if you’re considering implementing baby sign language with your own children:

  • It eliminates some of the guesswork that comes along with raising small children. Trying to figure out what your child needs can be frustrating at times. All you want to do is give them what they need, but its not always easy to figure out when their only communication tool is crying. Giving them the tools to communicate things like “sleep”, “more”, “drink”, “hurt”, and “help” give you the language to stay on the same page.
  • It reduces fussiness. You’re not the only one that can get frustrated when trying to figure out what your child needs. You can imagine how challenging it would be to need something and have no way to say it. When you’re able to meet your child’s needs it keeps them happier and more content. 8 months old to 2 years old is a significant time frame – spend it communicating!
  • Its a great bonding time. Practicing signs together gives you and your child a language to communicate within and learning it together can be very rewarding for you both. It’s fun, allows you a sneak peak into each other’s minds, and strengthens your relationship in the process.
  • Its developmentally beneficial. Before your child can verbalize language, sign language allows them to flex their communication muscles. It builds vocabulary, self-esteem, and can act as a stepping stone to full speech. The associations they make through signing serve as a mental jungle gym!

(And despite the myths that learning sign language delays verbal speech – research strongly proves that’s not the case!).

If you decide to try it, a few general tips:

  • Start as early as 4-6 months – make sure they can hold their gaze at you for a few seconds
  • Start with just a few signs you know will be most beneficial
  • Consistency consistency consistency. Say it and sign it every time.
  • Include any other caregivers if possible.
  • Add a few more at a time once they start to mimic the initial signs
  • Be patient – it’ll take a few months and you usually won’t start to see them signing back till at least 8 months
  • Have fun with it!

Now that she’s really getting it I bought a Baby Sign Language kit to use that comes with pre-made flashcards. While I do use it and like it, I was finding that a lot of the pictures on the flash cards didn’t look like the ones she sees or uses. For example, “drink” was in a glass. She doesn’t drink out of glasses, she drinks water out of her sippy cup. There was a picture of a tiny dog, which looks nothing like the big goldens we have here. The picture for “bed” was a toddler bed, not her crib. So I decided to make some of my own.

I killed two birds with one stone and downloaded an app called “Animal Zoo Flashcards and Games”. It not only has pictures of animals so we can practice the sounds they make (you can customize them and record your own sounds if you want!), but they have a stack of flash cards for “My Photos” which I use for some of our sign language flash cards. I took pictures of the next signs I want to practice, and made my own stack!

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I’m sure I have a lot to learn as we continue our sign language journey, so I’d love to hear your experiences!

Incorporating Music Daily & Into Routines

As an adult, music is something that can soothe your soul, express emotions we ourselves couldn’t verbalize, and there is no greater satisfaction than when the perfect song to match your current mood comes on.  It moves us, binds us, allows for endless creativity, and knows no language boundaries.  With all of these wonderful benefits we reap, we have to remember that they apply to newborns, infants, toddlers, and children as well.

First, why its so important to incorporate music into the daily routines of your children:

  • It helps bond you and your child.  Whether its dancing in the kitchen to your favorite classics or the lullaby you sing (despite the quality of the performance) each night at bedtime, its a connection that benefits you both
  • Music is sometimes part of the therapy for premature babies as research links it to weight gain
  • Upbeat tunes can chase away the blues and soft music can help soothe an upset baby to sleep
  • Music is linked to having a crucial role in the “wiring” your baby’s brain for learning
  • It promotes critical listening, creativity, and coordination
  • Music exposes children to early language and literacy skills
  • Your child learns about beat, rhythm, and tone
  • Music can become a form of expression for children before they are able to talk
  • Music is the most natural way for children to explore their environment.  You have probably seen this as your little one makes up rhymes in the bath, hums as they play with trucks, or dances as you sing in the kitchen
  • It can raise your child’s self-esteem and confidence
  • It can have several added benefits in terms of independence (among other things) for children with disabilities or autism
  • The jury is still out on studies linking music to making children smarter, but research does show that it links profoundly to brain development

Convinced? I hope so!

Don’t save music solely for lullabies at bed time.  It can be incorporated in fun ways all day long!

One way I want to talk about is how to include music into your daily happenings and routines.  If we know anything about kids, its that they thrive off consistency, routine, and knowing what to expect next.  Our routines help our babies learn self-control, guide positive behavior, develop social skills, foster independence, and reduce power struggles.  Just to name a few!  Why not incorporate music into these routines we do daily? Make these events such as nap time, bath time, clean up, snack time, and brushing our teeth fun by using a song to accompany them – make it something they look forward to!

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I simply made two playlists on my iPhone – one full of all sorts of fun songs we sing and dance to as we play throughout the day, and one that has songs to go along with some of the daily activities we do (as well as songs about letters, shapes, months of the year, etc).  I also made CD’s of them so I can easily play them in her playroom if I need my phone elsewhere.

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ITunes has a huge selection of songs to choose from, and most are reasonably priced.  I got 150 children’s songs by the Kiboomers for $7.99! (Mind you, not all of them made the playlist, but most are good – especially for that price!).  The Wonder Kids also had a great CD to download of learning songs.  Browse around, and find what works for you!

Incorporate music (no, it doesn’t need to be only children’s music – add yours too!), incorporate often, and have fun learning, bonding, and busting a move together!

Next up: different ways to make music together.

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