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!? 🙂 )

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There Will Be Boredom.

If you’ve ever had a little toddler, you can imagine the scene.

We begin our walk on the trail that wraps behind the houses on our quiet little court.  A walk that any functioning adult can make in under five minutes.  At a leisurely pace.  I follow Tayler’s lead, embracing the sunshine on my face and the opportunity to get out of the house on this picturesque spring day.  A walk sounds perfect. Three feet onto the trail, she stops and sits to pick up some pebbles on the edge of a neighbor’s landscaping.  After picking them up and dropping them seventeen times, she’s back on her feet and sprinting.  Ten feet later she veers off the trail into a neighbor’s yard to pet their dog we’ve never met.  I swoop her up.  Back on the trail, and she sits on the pavement.  For no apparent reason. The sit turns into a full lay down.  Eventually back on her feet. Squirrel! Two more feet.  She turns and begins to run back the other way.  After some chasing and redirection, I’m given false hope we might just make it around the court.  Twenty feet later.  Bird! She’s off into a brush I’m convinced contains poison ivy.  Five more feet.  Moss is picked at and rubbed in her fingers. Wispy dandelion seeds are in her mouth.  Fifteen more feet.  Back the other way.  Redirected.  Cat! She found a pile of sticks.  Three more feet, and the sticks turn to weapons annihilating all within a two foot radius. Dropped them, and sprinting. Cars in the street!

Thirty seven minutes later, we make it around the court. Every ounce of my being is spent.

I feel so guilty for not enjoying it more. “So many moms would kill to be home out walking with their children!”.  I know.  And most days I do enjoy our walks.  Most days I’m sitting down with her, poking at moss with sticks right next to her.  Faking insane levels of excitement over the sight of every bird.  And bringing things to her attention to feel the different textures in her surroundings.  Today is not that day.  Today I am mind-numbingly bored.  But surely I don’t tell anyone that, because that would make me a horrible mom, right?

Later that day I’m watching my husband hold my daughter at the kitchen table as she plays with magnets on a cookie sheet.  His efforts at pointing out any letters or numbers out are fruitless.  She’d rather just see how quickly she can mess them all up.  I mean, that is more fun.  He sits there for several minutes, until finally he’s wide eyed and laughing with a look of exasperation smeared on his face.  “Oh my goddd this is so boring!”.  He had no shame in it.  He owned it.  And he had no idea that he had just given me a great gift.  Unknowingly, he let me know it was OK to be bored at times. To not always be “on”.  To not always feign excitement and think every little thing we do together is the most fun we’ve ever had.  He’d been there for just a few minutes, but he was bored, and that was OK.

Now mind you, I’m not complaining. I will take every bit of boredom if it means I get to stay home with her everyday.  And most of the time I think we both do a pretty darn good job of engaging her, being present with her, and genuinely playing at her level.  But MAN, there are just some times when I’m certain time has stood still and I’d rather watch another episode of Sofia the First than stack up the cups one. more. time.

And that’s OK.

I’m not a horrible mom.  I’m an adult.  With a brain. That likes to be exercised.  Sometimes I just like to finish a task in its entirety. And every now and then, by the seventy third time I am told to eat fake cereal off a plastic spoon – I’m spent.  Out of my mind spent.

Thank you, sweet husband, for making it OK to be bored sometimes.  I will tell anyone wholly and emphatically how much I genuinely love being home every day with our sweet girl, and how she’s managed to fill every crevice and nook inside my heart.  But some days, at some times, there will be boredom.  The, “I HAVE to go pretend to use the upstairs bathroom for a long period of time so I can text a friend and play Sudoku or I might DIIIIE right here on the playroom floor” boredom.  And that’s OK.  🙂

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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! 🙂

 

 

 

No One Told Me About My Broadway Show

I anticipated a lot.

The zombie-like state from sleep deprivation. The bodily fluids that would surely get on me from time to time. Pushing the stroller around the block 89 times to keep her happy. Wearing my heart outside my chest from now on. The highest highs and the lowest lows.  What I did not anticipate, however, was the one-woman Broadway show I’d be putting on multiple times a day.  I must have missed that chapter in the baby book?

No one told me that on top of being a mother, nurse, chef, chauffeur, danger analyst, maid, and teacher all day, I would also be cast as the lead in our own Broadway act that performs 7 days a week. Multiple times a day.  Despite all circumstances. For one tiny audience member.  And without pay.

I wasn’t prepared.  My musical background starts and ends with one year of choir in middle school because it was that or two years of band.  When I had soccer and basketball to focus on, ain’t nobody got time for that.  My extensive dance background includes failed talent show dances with my friends in middle school, the typical bump and grind that is now the norm at high school dances (which as a mom now, I despise), and late night dance-offs in college that usually ended in injuries.  I wasn’t prepared, and I wasn’t qualified.  But let me tell you – in this house, we sing and dance with gusto.

It started when Tayler was just a few weeks old.  She’d be sitting in her car seat on the bathroom floor as I attempted to put on a layer of mascara and run a brush through my hair.  With Disney Pandora turned up, I’d change character at the drop of a hat and give Sebastian or Belle a run for their money.  Little Tayler would smile, and she eventually began her first happy coo’s in that bathroom as she watched mom flex her pipes into the head of her hairbrush.

Whatever makes her happy, right?

Since then, we spend much of our day listening to Disney music, humming in unison, and pop ‘n locking to our favorite jams on the radio.  Sometimes I’ve got a tiny side kick that acts as my hype girl, and sometimes its just me pretending to know the lyrics to songs while doing sporadic kicks, claps, and shuffles across the kitchen to keep her entertained as I make lunch on the stove.  She laughs with me, and I often laugh at her.  The girl has moves that can’t be taught.

We share enthusiasm and have a commitment to the moment that is unparalleled.  I previously thought I demonstrated commitment to the moment when I would sing in the shower.  That was nothing, however, compared to what takes over me when the Mulan soundtrack comes on.  If I were secretly videotaped and someone muted the audio to my performance, the video could be shown as inspiration for almost any occasion. I’m certain of it.

For a girl without a musical bone in her body, I’ve come to embrace the shows I put on each day.  Music, silliness, and dancing like no one is watching (and thank goodness they aren’t) is good for our mind, body, and soul.  I am severely overworked and underpaid for this job, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to work on my rendition of “The Bare Necessities”.  Baloo needs work.

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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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DIY Sensory Bottles – Cheap, Quick, & Easy!

Just a quick “toy” to make with so many options and benefits.  Who says that great toys have to cost lots of money!?

Below are the sensory bottles I made for Tayler awhile ago.  Since she could grasp toys, she’s loved things that make noise.  I found small 6 ounce water bottles at Meijer, took off the labels, and filled them with various items that make different noises when shaken. Once filled, you can super glue them shut (I haven’t yet though – Tayler still likes to chew on them and I hate the thought of any glue getting into her mouth!). They are the perfect size for infants to practice their grip strength and coordination, and a side bonus is they are great to take when traveling and you need 6 ounces of water to make a bottle! Some of Tayler’s favorites are filled with: corn kernels, coins, different beads, jingle bells, and coffee grinds.  She will shake, shake, shake for days!

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As our kiddos get bigger, however, there are several other ways to fill your sensory bottles.

Some other object ideas to fill with: 

  • buttons
  • feathers
  • paper clips
  • foam cutouts
  • rice
  • pebbles
  • confetti
  • dice
  • seashells
  • pipe cleaners
  • pom poms

Just about anything that’s small enough to go in, make some noise, and peaks the interest of your child!

Some other themed ways to fill your bottles: 

  • By color: fill several bottles with different items so they can practice identifying their colors.
  • By shapes: For example – dice for squares, buttons for circles, foam triangles, etc.
  • By season: For example – jingle bells, snowflakes, red and green pom poms for winter. Acorns, mini pine cones, sticks, and a few fake petals in autumn colors for fall.  Etc.
  • Add water.  It takes away the auditory element of not having water, but it sure does add a visual element!
  • Floating: add liquids and items of different densities – see what floats the best and what doesn’t!

If your child is big enough to open the bottles, make sure they are secured shut with hot glue or super glue.

If your child is developmentally ready, you could also use your bottles to open and practice counting items and sorting!

Get creative, have fun, and play, play, play!

The Family Countdown to Christmas and List of Ideas!

Can you believe December is only 12 days away?! I just finished putting out some Christmas decorations (yes, we are that family that does it before Thanksgiving), and stumbled upon our advent calendar.  Like a lot of advent calendars, I used to fill each day with a little piece of candy.  This year, however, I was totally put off by the idea.  First, I do not need any extra candy in this house (and why are we rewarding ourselves with junk everyday?).  Second, why not countdown to Christmas doing fun things together as a family? I know doing things together as family in December is far from a novel idea, but I thought I could share some ideas of things to do together and how I plan to set up our new advent calendar.

As I mentioned in my last post, my daughter is only 8 months – she won’t remember any of this! But if you want to do a Christmas activity countdown, this is how I plan to do it in the future (with an adapted version this year!).

No matter how much you plan and prepare, just remember life happens.  Kids get sick, tantrums are thrown, surprise plans come up, and early bedtimes are sometimes necessary – so have a flexible mindset and be sure your kids understand that too.  The countdown activities are things we hope to do each day, but if something comes up – that’s ok! Also remember this doesn’t have to cost money.  Ideas can be small and simple – the point is they are things to do together!

I used white post-its do jot down ideas.  They’re small, fit into our type of advent calendar, and can be easily moved around our big wall calendar as we lay out the month. (I wrote ideas down under the sticky strip so that once we were done I could fold them up with the idea hidden on the inside.  I also took our wall calendar down and laid it on the table so I could see the idea in each box).

First, look at all of your Christmas/travel plans you already have leading up to Christmas.  Think about city parades, when Santa will be at the mall, when your library will have Christmas activities, Christmas parties you plan to attend, etc. Jot them down on individual post-its. If you have a wall calendar, stick them over the days you plan to do them.

Next, count and see how many days are left before Christmas where you can fill in other activities.  That number will be your goal.

With your kid(s), sit down and brainstorm or look over a list of some things you’d like to do together.  First decide on what kinds of activities are best suited for weekends when you have extra man-power and time.  Fill those days in first, each on a post-it, and put them over the days you plan to do it.  Move on to weekday activities next, and do the same.

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Once you have your 24 days filled on the calendar, take a picture of it or write it down.  This will be really important for planning and being prepared for each week.  Before each week begins look over the activities and see if there’s any prep to be done or items to collect. Nothing worse than picking out the “make cookies for neighbors” activity and realizing you need to run to the store for supplies.

Once you’ve got the lay-out of the 24 days recorded, fold up the post-it with the idea hidden inside and transfer to the corresponding day on your advent calendar.  Although your kid(s) may have been part of the planning process, they surely won’t remember when everything is happening and will add a fun element of surprise for each day.

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(each activity tucked neatly inside!)

**Another way to do the countdown would be a chain link countdown.  Write down ideas on strips of paper, and staple/link them in the order they will be taken off as you countdown to Christmas.  Rip off a link and read its activity each day!

Below is a giant list of ideas.  Pick ones that best suit your family, and have fun spending this magical month together!

Weekday Ideas:

  • Write letters to Santa
  • Make cookies for neighbors
  • Watch one of your favorite Christmas movies
  • Make Christmas cards for family members
  • Make Christmas cards for soldiers
  • Make a playlist or CD with your favorite Christmas songs (beginning of the month to enjoy later!)
  • Have a sing-off or dance-off to your favorite Christmas songs
  • Read a Christmas book selected by each family member
  • Make homemade apple cider
  • Make your house smell like Christmas
  • Make green and red play dough
  • Make reindeer “food” for Christmas Eve
  • Color Christmas pictures
  • Cut out and hang snowflakes
  • Make ornaments
  • Random acts of kindness
  • Wrap gifts
  • Build a snowman (snow dependent!)
  • Go on a winter walk in a city park
  • Make gingerbread cookies
  • Decorate gingerbread houses
  • Check out Christmas books from library
  • Write letters to sponsored children
  • Write New Year’s Resolutions and put them in your stockings – open them next year and see how you did!
  • Christmas Eve church service (or any other Christmas Eve traditions already in place)

Weekend Ideas: 

  • Snowball toss competition
  • Go sledding
  • Make a living room movie theater with your favorite holiday movie (think lots of pillows, blankets, snuggles, and snacks!) Ok, so maybe do this one a few times! 🙂
  • Visit a tree farm and if getting a real one, pick out a tree!
  • Drive through favorite neighborhoods while in pajamas and rate your favorite Christmas lights
  • Bring toys or food to shelters, food pantries, or donation centers
  • Family Christmas pictures
  • Trip to the Dollar Store to pick out gifts for siblings
  • Family Cookie Decorating Competition
  • Go on Christmas Train Ride (location dependent)
  • Decorate your Christmas Tree!
  • Go to a Christmas Play or Musical
  • Try and learn a Christmas carol in sign language (youtube!)
  • Make your own Christmas Play or Musical!
  • Visit your downtown (if they have lights or events going on)
  • Have a sleepover around the Christmas Tree
  • “Elf” your neighbors
  • Have a runway show of your ugliest Christmas attire
  • Visit Santa at the local mall
  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or place of need
  • Family “minute-to-win-it”  competitions
  • Have friends over for a Christmas party potluck

Just remember anything is special, as long as its done together! Have fun making holiday memories and creating your own traditions!