Thursday, September 30, 2010

Super Simple

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the ones that bring the most joy to our lives and the lives of our children. My husband, who is the most wonderfully fun and imaginative daddy, began this lovely little tradition in our home. It costs no money and takes almost no time, and yet lights the same sparkle of delight in our daughter’s eyes as any costly or laborious surprise…
One evening when leafing through the junk mail, my husband found a picture of a baby lion. Knowing that our daughter loves lions, he simply cut out the picture and attached it with a magnet to the fridge at our daughter’s eye level. The following morning at breakfast time, my daughter discovered the picture – and just bubbled over with glee. She spent the rest of the morning having enthusiastic conversations with us about lions, lovingly carrying the picture around with her as she played until it was tattered almost beyond recognition. Such excitement – not to mention so many opportunities for learning – resulting from such a small act of thoughtfulness.
Nothing can spark a child’s interest quite like a surprise. And those surprised and delighted moments are some of the most powerful when it comes to learning new things, igniting conversations, and connecting with your child’s heart. And a simple surprise like this one could work with a child of almost any age…
·         Babies - Try posting a new, interesting picture near your baby’s crib or change table (Helpful Hint: Young babies love bold black and white patterns and pictures of faces).

·         Toddlers and preschoolers – Choose pictures from magazines or flyers, family photos, a drawing you’ve created, or for a super fun surprise - a little sheet of stickers.

·         Older children – Why not post a little love note for your child to find from time to time? It could be a tradition you choose to carry on even into the teen years!
I believe that when our children grow up, it will be the special little moments that they will look back on with the most fondness. The things we do just to surprise them, and to let them know how wonderful we think they are. My husband continues to leave little surprises on our fridge from time to time. And they are so much more than just pictures. They are tiny, cut-out love notes, communicated in a language understood perfectly by one happy toddler heart.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall Bubble Fun

Today was one of those rare but wonderful late September days that felt more like summer than fall. And not wanting to miss out on a minute of sunshine, my daughter and I spent the entire afternoon in the backyard, enjoying one last taste of summer. And any sunny afternoon in the backyard would not be complete without bubbles! Bubbles are a wonderful activity to promote hand-eye coordination and visual tracking. And they are endlessly entertaining for a wide range of ages. So don’t pack the bubbles away just because summer is over. Sunny autumn days make for wonderful bubble blowing, particularly if it is a little breezy outside.
The glycerin in this bubble recipe makes the bubbles stronger, allowing you to blow bigger bubbles that don’t pop as easily...

Super-Duper Bubble Solution
½ cup Dawn or Joy dishwashing liquid
4 cups water
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons glycerin (available over the counter at most pharmacies)
Combine ingredients and store in a leak-proof container with a lid. The longer you let the solution sit before using it, the bigger the bubbles will be. Have fun!
To make your own bubble wands…
·    Form the end of a pipe cleaner into a loop, leaving the remainder of the pipe cleaner as a handle. Or for bigger bubbles, use one pipe cleaner to make the loop and another to form the handle.
·    Straighten a wire coat hanger and form the end into a loop. Wrap ends of coat hanger several times with duct tape to prevent pokes or scratches.
·    Use a clean, never used fly swatter as a bubble wand. All those tiny holes make for oodles of little bubbles!
And a fun little twist…
·    Young babies love to watch bubbles, and this is a great way to promote visual tracking skills. To make the bubbles easier to see, add a few drops of food colouring to your bubble solution. Helpful hint: Although older children will love coloured bubbles as well, you may wish to avoid adding colour if you have a toddler who likes to “help” and ends up dripping in bubble solution (like my daughter inevitably does!).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Very Best Books

I love books, and as children’s books are a particular weakness of mine, my daughter has several bookshelves stacked full. But the most well-read, lovingly tattered books on any of our bookshelves are the very simple, inexpensive little ones that I have made myself. Homemade books are so easy to make that anyone can do it. And the possibilities of what you can create are endless.
To make your own book, simply purchase a small dollar store photo album. Most dollar stores carry a variety of styles and colours, and they usually do not cost more than a dollar (you can occasionally find them for two or three for a dollar). Fill the album with family photos, clippings from magazines and flyers, drawings, or even real objects such as dried flowers, souvenir items, etc. Have fun, and let your creative juices flow! Here are a few ideas to get you started…
·         Learning new words (babies and toddlers) – Books are a wonderful way to promote language skills and to build your little one’s vocabulary. Fill an album with pictures of things that are familiar to your child, such as pictures of clothing, toys, household items, familiar foods, family members, animals and pets. Magazines and flyers are great sources for pictures of household items. Your child will love listening to you as you tell them the names of the pictures, and will eventually join in by pointing to pictures that you name, or naming pictures that you point to.

·         Preparing for new adventures – Create a picture story book about an upcoming adventure or change in routine to help prepare your child for the transition. You could create a book about your child beginning preschool or kindergarten; or your family moving to a new home, welcoming a new sibling, or going on a trip.

·         Telling your story – My daughter’s favourite book of all is a little photo album given to her by her birth mom (we were blessed to adopt our little girl at birth). The album contains pictures of the day our daughter was born, and we use it to teach her about her adoption story. You can use homemade books to tell your child any story that is important to you – perhaps the story of a loved one who lives far away, or the country in which you were born, or an important event in the life of your family.
Reading with your child is one of the most powerful tools you can use to help ensure your child’s success in school. And nothing could be better for instilling a love of reading than reading books your child loves. With just a little time and a little imagination, you can create books that will quickly become your child’s favourites. Happy bookmaking!

Solving Puzzles

There are few toys that can cause clutter and playroom chaos quite like puzzles. Pieces end up everywhere, and can get lost or mixed up with other puzzle pieces so easily. This storage solution is a lifesaver for any family with more than one puzzle in their toy collection. Simply purchase a box of extra large zipper-style freezer bags. Some brands are larger than others, and not all will be big enough for standard sized wooden puzzles, so be sure to check the dimensions of the bags first. Once you’ve found bags that will fit, puzzle organization is so incredibly simple!
·         For board puzzles with inset pieces, insert all of the pieces into the puzzle and slide the entire puzzle into a storage bag.
·         To save space in storing jigsaw puzzles, cut the top (with the picture of what the puzzle should look like) off of the box. Slide the box top into the storage bag, picture side up, and place the puzzle pieces underneath, being sure to close the top of the bag so that pieces don’t get lost.
Your puzzles can now easily be stacked or stored on their sides in a box, without the risk of losing pieces.  We used this trick at work, easily keeping dozens of puzzles organized. It’s a trick I swear by, and use in my own home. Just one more trick for your joyful mommy tool kit!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Power of Play

“Mommy, PLAY!!!”  the insistent little voice rings out above the din of the dishwasher. Chubby little fingers wrapped tightly around a toy, her eyes are wide with expectation.  It is a request repeated many times a day in our home. Often when the phone is ringing, or dinner is boiling over on the stove. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, on good days and on bad ones -”Mommy PLAY!” And each time I hear those words, I have reason to smile. Because those words are proof that my toddler knows I can play. And that she knows I will.
The reality is that play is not always as easy as it seems. Working with families of young children for over ten years, I watched many parents struggle to remember how to play. For some it felt awkward and uncomfortable. For others it seemed boring. But for many, the busyness of life simply got in the way. Now a busy mom myself, I understand the juggling act that parenthood can be. I too have days when I feel pressured by the frantic pace of life and tempted to put play on the backburner.
On those hectic days, I am grateful for the background I have that has helped me to understand the value of play. Play is critical to every child’s development, and the primary way in which children learn. Beginning at infancy and continuing on through school age, children develop gross motor and fine motor skills, learn new concepts, develop creativity and imagination, gain an understanding of the world around them, and practice social skills all through play. Spending time playing together with your child will help your child learn new things and make progress in all areas of development. And playing together will help you to build a fun, loving, mutually enjoyable relationship with your child, a foundation upon which to build for a lifetime.
Some parents naturally “remember” how to play. For others it takes a little effort. But taking the time to play with your child is truly worth the effort. There is no better way to bring joy to your child’s life, and to your own. Here are a few tips to make the most of playtime, based on research on child development, years of playing with hundreds of children, and delightful moments of playing with my own…
·    Relax, take some deep breaths, and make sure you are in the right frame of mind to have fun with your little one.
·     Sit down on the floor at your child’s eye level.
·     Don’t try too hard to “teach” your child anything. Remember that play is the most important way for children to learn. As you relax and play together, opportunities for learning will happen naturally.
·     Let your child direct the play. Watch and see what your child is interested in, then join in on the game.
·    Make playtime special. Try not to multitask (i.e. no folding laundry during playtime!).
·     Minimize distractions by turning the TV off, and ignoring the phone if possible.
·     Make playtime a part of your routine by setting aside a certain amount of time each day.
·     Don’t be afraid to be silly! Relax, have fun, and ENJOY this time with your child.
Whether you “remember” how to play or whether it is a challenge, there is no person better equipped to teach you than your child. The moments that I forget about my “to do” list and simply sit down to play are the most joyful moments of my day. The house may be a little messier. And my “to do” list may get a little longer. But my little girl is learning, growing, and thriving. And I have a front row seat, watching as she delights in each new discovery. What a privilege it is to be a part of that joy of discovery, and to share in her delight…

Friday, September 24, 2010

Going Bananas

This week has been banana week at our house. After finally instilling a love of bananas in my fruit-wary toddler, I’ve been relishing my success and making bananas a snack time staple. I dreamed up this snack idea a couple of days ago, and it has become a hit. Healthy, convenient and fun, this snack might quickly find its way into your snack repertoire…
Banana Roll-Ups
1 small whole wheat or multigrain wrap
I large banana
Almond or peanut butter (I prefer organic almond butter – which tends to have less sugar, salt and other additives than peanut butter)
Raisins (optional)
Spread peanut or almond butter evenly on wrap. Place banana at the edge of the wrap, and roll. With a sharp knife, cut banana roll-up into thin slices and serve. For a fun twist, place a raisin at the centre of each roll-up slice to make an “eyeball”. I called this new snack creation “dinosaur eyes” (much to the delight of my dinosaur-loving daughter), but you can adapt the name to suit your child’s interests. Happy snacking!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rub-a-Dub-Dub...Let's Paint in the Tub!

Finger painting is a fantastically fun, creative, multisensory experience that most children love. But let’s face it – it takes a brave mommy to attempt this one at home. Finger painting is, in its very essence, messy. And nothing takes the fun out of finger painting like a hovering mommy waiting to swoop in on paint-dripping fingers migrating toward the furniture. So here’s a novel idea – what if finger painting could actually make your child cleaner?
This bath tub finger paint is easy to make, and unlike other recipes does not use harsh soaps that could irritate your child’s skin and eyes…
Bath Tub Finger Paint
1/3 Cup No Tears Baby Shampoo (Any brand is fine – I always choose something organic)
1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
Food Colouring
Combine baby shampoo and corn starch in a bowl. Mix well and pour into an ice cube tray (each section should be about half full). Add about 4 to 6 drops of food colouring to each section, stirring with the end of a spoon and making each section a different colour (experiment with mixing colours so you have a variety).
Supervise your child as they finger paint on the walls of the bath tub, or on themselves. Then simply rinse with water, and the mess is gone!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sticker Bananas!

Oh, what a day it was! It began with a 5 am wake up by an unhappy, teething toddler, and quickly progressed into one of those disastrous days in which everything that can go wrong does. By 10 am I was kneeling beside a toy-plugged toilet, frantically reaching for the shut off valve and trying to calm a perplexed toddler as toilet water literally gushed across my back. And by noon, I had witnessed one of the most terrifying sights I have ever seen – my sweet little 21 month old tumbling end over end down the stairs. She was unhurt, and clearly far less upset by it than I was. She wanted a snack. I just couldn’t stop shaking.
That was the kind of day it had been when I opened our snack cupboard and discovered I had none of my “stand-by” snacks on hand – nothing that I could easily convince an overtired, teething, and understandably cranky toddler to eat. But sometimes those crazy mommy moments lead to the very best discoveries!
Like many toddlers, my little one can be picky and often eats like a bird. The only foods she’ll always eat are prepackaged treats that I try to avoid. There is a reason that companies spend the money they do on developing the colourful, cartoon character adorned packaging used in snack foods. And the reason is because it works. There is an abundance of research out there that illustrates the power of marketing techniques on little minds. So why not use that knowledge to our advantage, and do a little “mommy marketing” of our own?
It’s an idea that I recommended often to the families I once worked with, but neglected to try myself until necessity became the mother of invention. It took a disastrous morning last week for me to discover the power…of sticker bananas! Rummaging through the sticker drawer, I adorned an ordinary banana with a few cartoon character stickers. Never before a fan of bananas, my daughter gobbled down almost the entire thing! And every day since, she has not only been eating bananas, but actually requesting them like she would a prepackaged treat. Such a simple idea. But HUGE in our little world.
Sometimes it truly is the simplest ideas that add the most to our days. My hope is to share many of those simple ideas with you over the coming weeks and months. Little things that make life simpler for you, benefit your little one, and add a little joy and sparkle to your day. Because it’s those little moments of joyful mommyhood that matter the most – to you, and to the little ones you love.

Friday, September 17, 2010

In Celebration of Toy Rotation

You know the scenario. Your house is bursting at the seams with toys, and you spend your day tripping on, stepping over, and endlessly tidying them up. Yet surrounded on all sides by toys, your little one seems to have outgrown or lost interest in most of them. So you go out and buy some more…
There are few more powerful tricks you can have in your mommy tool kit than understanding the magic of toy rotation. It will save you time and save you money. It will make your house tidier and your world a little saner. And most importantly of all, it will mean more fun and better learning opportunities for your child. Having too many toys out at one time can be overwhelming and distracting for young children, interfering with their ability to focus on an activity. Rotating toys simply means putting some of the clutter away, reducing the distractions and allowing your child better opportunities for learning. And as you bring old toys out of storage and back into the rotation, your child will enjoy them as though they were new again!
Your first attempt at toy organization will likely be the most time consuming, so set aside some time one evening when your little one is asleep. As you get the hang of it, you’ll find that it’s a simple system, but one that can make a world of difference. For best results, keep the following tips in mind:
·         What to keep – If your child plays with a toy regularly (at least once every day or two) keep it out for your child to play with. You may find that some of your child’s favourites never end up being rotated into storage, and that is just fine. The point is for your child to get optimum learning and enjoyment out of her toys.

·         Think variety – When choosing what toys to keep or bring back into the rotation, think of the big picture to ensure your child has a variety of toys to choose from – a variety of pretend play toys, some building toys, some art and creative activities, a few puzzles, a few games, etc.

·         What to rotate out – If your child rarely or never plays with a toy, put it into storage. If you have multiple versions of a similar toy, put a few of those toys away as well. Your child will have just as much, if not more fun playing with two puzzles than with twelve! If you’ve been given toys that are too difficult and more appropriate for an older child, put these into storage as well - just be sure you don’t forget to bring them out again when your child gets a little older. And as a sanity saver, put away those toys that your child loves to hate – ones that they seem fascinated by but often result in tantrums or tears. My daughter has a shape sorter she loved, but couldn’t quite get the pieces back out of once she had put them in, a problem which resulted in frequent bursts of tears. I put the toy in storage and rotated it out a few months later, and was thrilled to discover that she can now get the pieces out on her own – no more frustration for either of us!

·         Find a storage solution – When you put toys away, be sure to put them in a place where your child cannot see or have access to them, or else you have defeated the purpose. A big bin with a lid kept somewhere your child does not normally play is the simplest solution. Make sure it is easy for you to access, not buried somewhere deep in storage – the point is to make your life easier!

·         Pieces together!!!! – Nothing is a bigger waste of money than buying a toy and then promptly losing all its pieces. When rotating a toy into storage, take the time to ensure it still has all of its pieces. If some are missing (and you know you had those pieces at some point!), put the toy on a shelf somewhere until you find the missing piece. Sounds finicky, but there is no better way of saving money on toys and reducing that clutter at the bottom of the toy box. Once you get into the habit of it, you’ll find it is amazingly easy to stay organized!

·         Rotate regularly – I find it works best to rotate my daughter’s toys about once every four to six weeks. Once you get started, you’ll figure out what works best for you. Just be sure to keep rotating regularly. The more you do it, the quicker and easier it becomes. You’ll save time. You’ll save money. Your house will be tidier. And your child will be happier. Take it from this faithful toy rotater – it is absolutely worth the effort! Happy rotating!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Starting with the Basics

So where do I start when looking for an idea to share, from all of the hundreds of tips and tricks stored throughout the years in my memory? I guess the best place to start is with the basics – the staples that every joyful mommy needs in her tool kit. And what could be more basic, or more wonderful, than a great playdough recipe! Playdough is the perfect indoor activity for rainy autumn afternoons, and great for a wide age range. Babies as little as 8 or 9 months will love poking and pounding, while kids up to school age can express their creative side.  And the developmental benefits of playing with playdough are almost endless!
Playing with playdough promotes:
·         Development of fine motor skills including dexterity and hand strength, needed for skills such as drawing, writing and cutting with scissors.
·         Sensory exploration – learning to process and integrate information received through the senses. Playdough can be particularly helpful for children who are reluctant to touch new things or get their hands dirty – a fun way to help ease them into sensory play.
·         Language development – playing together with playdough provides endless opportunities for parents to model language and have conversations with their children.
·         Concept development – playdough provides great opportunities to talk about concepts such as size, shape, colour and texture.
·         Creativity and imagination – if you can dream it, you can create it! Be sure to provide some playdough toys, such as plastic cookie cutters and rolling pins.
·         And of course, fun and togetherness – the most important part of all.
This is my favourite playdough recipe of the many I’ve tried over the years. The Kool-Aid adds vibrant colour and  makes it smell absolutely yummy, but it still tastes awful which discourages most little ones from eating it. And if they do eat it – don’t worry! It’s entirely edible…
Scented Playdough
2 cups flour
1 package unsweetened Kool-Aid
1 cup salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups boiling water
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, Kool-Aid powder, and salt. Add oil and boiling water and stir until well combined. When mixture has cooled slightly, knead until smooth. Store playdough in an airtight container in the fridge. Enjoy!

Monday, September 13, 2010

About Me

Before becoming a mommy, I worked for almost ten years as an Infant Development Consultant, a career that I loved with a passion. I had the privilege of working with hundreds of families over the years, visiting with them in their homes and working with parents to help them understand and promote their child’s development. Nothing gave me more joy than seeing parents gain confidence in their abilities, and watching as children reached their potential as a result of the loving attentiveness of their parents. Nothing gave me more joy, that is, until I became a parent myself.

My journey to mommyhood has not been an easy one. After years of struggling with infertility, my husband and I were thrilled to conceive a beautiful baby boy. Our much loved and longed for son had an extremely rare condition that compromised the development of nearly every organ in his body. He blessed us with the gift of parenthood, and passed away at birth. Nine months and eight minutes later, his little baby sister came into our lives through adoption. Now 21 months old, she is the joy and delight of our lives. Two years and two months after our son passed away, we lost a second baby boy as the result of an adoption revocation. He was our son for just six days, but we will hold him in our hearts for a lifetime. And now we wait, eagerly and anxiously hoping to expand our family once again, appreciative of every moment we have had with each of our three children, and understanding as few others can the true depth of blessing that parenthood is. Yes, we are JOYFUL parents. And I am a joyful mommy.

And nothing would make me happier than to share a little of that true joy with you. The ideas in this blog come from a decade of experience working with children and families, and from all of the research, training, education, and input from other professionals that I have had access to as a result of my career. But the inspiration comes from the JOY of mommyhood that springs daily from my heart, as I cuddle my daughter in my arms and understand the blessing of each little moment.

My daughter and I now enjoy the benefit of a gigantic bag of tricks – tips and suggestions that I once shared with the families that I worked with, and now put into practice each and every day. Understanding development and having such a rich repertoire of resources to rely on has made the daily ins and outs of mommyhood so much easier, and has meant richer opportunities for learning and enjoyment for both my daughter and myself. I hope you’ll enjoy digging into that bag of tricks with me – and that your joy in mommyhood (and daddyhood!) will be enhanced as a result.