Sunday, November 28, 2010

Super Stackers

The past few weeks have been nothing short of utterly chaotic for our little family. But for a few minutes this afternoon the world stopped spinning for a while, as I sat down with my little almost-two-year-old and did some serious building with blocks. We made towers and castles, fences for the farm animals, and a bed for dolly. Blocks absolutely everywhere. And the sweetest, happiest smile on my busy toddler’s face…
There could be no more perfect toy than a simple set of building blocks. Period. No bells and whistles toys will ever come close. Yet sadly, the trusty block is being neglected. I worked for ten years with hundreds of young children and their families. And while most had battery-operated toys spilling out of every corner of their home, few regularly sat down to play with a set of blocks.
Of course, the toy industry has a vested interest in trying to convince us well-meaning parents that more complicated toys are what our children need. And in our effort to do what’s best, we may lose sight of the fact that simple is often so much better. And what could be simpler than a set of blocks! From a developmental perspective, it would be tough to find a toy more ideally suited for promoting learning through play.
Did you know that playing with blocks and stacking toys…
·         Helps your child develop spatial awareness.
·         Promotes development of fine motor skills
·         Helps to develop attention span, persistence, and frustration tolerance.
·      Promotes understanding of important concepts such as size and quantity.
·         Encourages creativity and imaginative play.
·        Provides opportunities to develop cooperative play and turn taking skills.
A simple set of wooden blocks will provide your child with endless opportunities for fun and learning, beginning at about six months of age (when babies begin actively grasping, banging, and combining objects in play) and continuing on through the toddler, preschool, and early school-aged years. And while there are lots of lovely stacking toys out there to buy, homemade toys are often just as entertaining. Here are a few ideas…
Homemade Stacking and Building Toys
·    For little ones just learning to stack or little ones with gross motor or fine motor challenges, try playing with a set of clean, never used cleaning sponges. They are easy to grasp with little hands, and won’t slip and slide when stacked.
·    A set of bean bags also makes a great, easy introduction to stacking.
·    Save your paper grocery bags. Stuff them with newspaper, then fold the edge over and tape shut with masking tape. Older children love stacking giant, jumbo-sized towers or making “castles” big enough to play in.
·    Empty cardboard boxes make wonderful building blocks. Empty Kleenex boxes work particularly well.
·   Tupperware or other food storage containers (with the lids on) also make interesting stacking toys.
The next time you want to spend some time really connecting with your child through play, try turning the TV off, putting the bells and whistles toys away, and sitting down to have some fun with blocks. You’ll be building so much more than just a tower…

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy (American) Thanksgiving!

As you may have noticed, this joyful mommy has been on a brief hiatus from blogging. More details to follow on that – oh, it’s been a journey – but I MISS writing and will be back as soon as this crazy life allows. In the meantime, I thought I’d re-post my thanksgiving time capsule idea for the benefit of my American friends. Happy (American) Thanksgiving…
Thanksgiving Time Capsule
This weekend is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. And one thing is absolutely certain – no matter how challenging life may be or how difficult the trials you are facing, there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for when you are blessed to be a mommy or a daddy. This weekend I’ll be hugging my little one extra tight, and remembering all of the things I have to be grateful for.
As our family grows and our little ones get older, I want them to think of Thanksgiving as something more than pumpkin pie and turkey (or tofurkey in our happily vegetarian household!).  I want Thanksgiving to be a time in which we truly reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. So this year, I’m instituting a new tradition in our home – the Thanksgiving Time Capsule!
I’ve already purchased our family time capsule – a little box shaped like a treasure chest, found in our local craft store. One day down the road, I’ll have our children paint and decorate the outside of the treasure chest. But for now we’ll just focus on the inside. My goal is that each member of our family will create something special to tell of what we’re thankful for this year, to be tucked away in the treasure chest until next Thanksgiving. Then each and every year, we’ll repeat the tradition, reading through past years’ contributions and no doubt smiling at the memories they bring to mind.
No matter what the age or stage of your child, they can participate in and have fun with your family’s Thanksgiving time capsule…
·         Older children can write a list of all of the things they are thankful for.
·         Younger children can draw a picture of things they are thankful for – just be sure you write on the back of the picture, so that you remember what it represents in years to come.
·         Even the tiniest babies tell us what they’re thankful for – it’s just up to us to observe and interpret. Write a little list of the things your baby loves, decorating it if you’d like with a little tracing or print of a tiny hand or foot.
The lovely thing about this tradition is that it can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like it to be. Some different twists on the time capsule tradition include…
·         Purchase a simple little notebook. At Thanksgiving dinner, ask each family member what they are thankful for and write their response in the notebook.
·         Create a video time capsule, asking each person to share what they are thankful for on video.
·         Create a Thanksgiving scrapbook. Have each person write or draw something that they are thankful for on small pieces of paper. Arrange them on a single scrapbook page, adding pictures of your Thanksgiving as a family, or little reminders of things you are thankful for – souvenirs from a family vacation, pictures of loved ones, etc.  Add a new page (or pages) to your scrapbook each year.
·         Or create another tradition to share as a family. Have fun, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Getting Connected

It doesn’t feel like November today, at least not here where I sit typing, facing my kitchen windows. Unseasonably warm and gloriously sunny, this is a rare gem of a November day. The kind of day that would be perfect for an afternoon walk with my daughter, or even to spend some time playing with bubbles in the backyard. The kind of November day that will soon just be a sunny memory, as the rain and the clouds and the dreariness roll in.

Backyard Bubbles in November

No, November is not my favourite month of the year. It’s not as bad as January and February – at least there is Christmas to look forward to – but it’s no match for the lovely months, like April and July. November means rain, cold, and early nightfall. It means more time spent indoors, and less opportunities for spontaneous outdoor fun. And that it why November is one of those months when I am SO grateful for all of the wonderful community activities that my daughter and I are involved in.
We have a pretty busy social calendar, my sweet little munchkin and I. Five mornings per week we pack up and head out the door, to one of the many wonderful drop-in playgroups or parent and tot classes that are available to us to attend. On any given day, there are multiple fun events that we have to choose from. But being connected in our community wasn’t always that easy.
When my daughter was about four months old, I began to slowly emerge from my sleep-deprived, mommy-of-a-newborn stupor and excitedly began looking for classes and playgroups to attend. For nearly a decade, connecting new parents with community resources was part of my job description. And yet when I tried to find activities to attend myself, the hunt was far more difficult than I ever anticipated it could be. Had I not believed so passionately in the importance of connecting in the community, I may very well have given up. It was a frustrating, discouraging affair. But I soldiered on, gradually discovering more and more resources, and finding a rich array of opportunities for our family to learn and play together.

Dancing with Delight at our Favourite Playgroup

I am passionate in my belief that connecting with community resources is one of the most important tools you can have in your mommy tool kit. It will benefit you, and it will benefit your little one. Whether you are home full time, working full time, or some combination of the two, community activities are a wonderful opportunity to connect with other parents and have fun learning together with your child. And the resources in your community are likely far richer than you know. It will take work to discover the best opportunities. But here are some tips to help you along the way…

Tips for Getting Connected in Your Community
1.   Call or visit your public health unit. They often compile a list of resources for new parents – a great place to start. Just don’t assume that this list – or any other – is an exhaustive one.
2.   Ask every parent you know what groups they attend or have attended with their children.
3.   Check out your local community centre for listings of upcoming classes.
4.   Visit your local library.  Many libraries offer programs for children and families free of charge. And most also have brochures available with listings of other community programs.
5.   Check your local newspaper and attend family-friendly community events. These events can be a lot of fun for the whole family, and as a bonus you may find information booths promoting other community programs.
6.   Look online, but don’t assume you’ll find everything that’s out there, or that online listings are current. If you discover something that looks promising, follow up first before attempting to attend (a lesson learned the hard way!).
7.  Get out and try things! Not every program will be a good fit for your family. But the only way you’ll know is to try. The more you get out there and try things, the more parents you’ll meet and the more resources you’ll discover.
8.  Keep hunting! No matter how long you’ve been searching, there are likely some gems out there that you still don’t know about. Keep your eyes and ears open, and don’t forget to ask new parents you meet.

Helpful Hint: Here’s a secret that’s worth knowing! Many community centres offer “partnership classes” – classes offered at the community centre in conjunction with another organization, such as a music or dance school. These classes are often the same as ones offered through the other organization, but at the community centre rate – great value for your money!

And One More Helpful Hint: Never assume that the cost of a class has anything to do with the quality. The vast majority of the groups and classes that we attend are absolutely FREE, and I find them to be of a higher quality than many of the most expensive programs.

Monday, November 1, 2010

No Stress Mess - The Sequel

It seems that a lot of joyful mommies are fans of the No Stress Mess idea - currently number one on my list of popular posts! So while on the topic of avoiding a mess and making life a little easier, here’s an idea that’s equally simple and equally as effective for saving your sanity. To save your kitchen or dining room table during messy craft activities, keep a few "disposable" plastic dollar store tablecloths on hand. I often buy these kinds of table cloths for parties (particularly kids’ parties, where there are likely to be lots of spills), as they are inexpensive but make the room look festive. Once they get worn or stained, simply wipe them down and keep them near your craft supplies. When attempting a messy craft activity, cover your table with the plastic table cloth, using masking tape to tape the edges of the tablecloth to the underside of your table. Your table is now completely wrapped in plastic, which will not shift or slide off. Paint and glue won’t soak through as they often do with newspaper, so you can relax and join in the fun of creating with your little one. So go ahead - paint to your heart's content, glue things just for the joy of it, and make the biggest mess ever - just because you can!

Cool Dads Wear Costumes Too

Just a quick note in celebration of those wonderful daddies who don’t hesitate celebrate. We saw so many cool daddy costumes while out trick-or-treating last night. And while I’m the first to admit I’m a little biased, I think few were as much fun as my hubby’s…The six-foot-seven-inch crazy bird, complete with homemade paper mache bird head (which he could barely see out of, and smelled just awful), and homemade multi-coloured feathered wings. Wings that left a trail of fluffy feather bits around our neighborhood, so bright and eye catching that I was able to follow the trail right back home on my walk this morning.
Just couldn’t resist sharing a few pictures of the fun, dog costume and all…

I’ll spend today recovering from the sugar rush, and be back with more fun tips and tricks soon. Because even dreary November can be fun when you’re celebrating life with little ones…