Dancing to a Different Beat

Thursday, July 28, 2011

When Miss E turned three, I thought we should give it another go at enrolling her in a class.  Her first experience at a toddler gym was not successful for her, but, surely, she would have matured enough in one year to enjoy a class this go around. I asked her what kind of class she wanted to take giving her a list of options, and she chose ballet.  I enrolled her in the best school I could find confident that offering her the best would ensure that she would succeed. 

I considered the first day of ballet class a success.  She bravely attended the class without me by her side.  She loved wearing the standard ballet uniform without complaining that she wanted to wear something else.  Only after the first day, I started having dreams of her becoming a star ballerina.  Of course, it was in the cards for her with her long, lean limbs.  She would be a natural.  The following two weeks seemed  positive too.  Miss E loved dance class.  She grinned from ear to ear during the entire class, and she was very active. 

Although, the Little Miss couldn't be happpier, I noticed she acted differently from the other girls.  When the class ran in one direction, she ran in the other.  When the girs practiced toe points, she was showing off her favorite move which I like to call the downward facing dog kick.  She was laughing and giggling while the other girls were seriously composed.  Not to mention, Mommy seemed to be doing the wrong thing too.  I had bought her cheap ballet slippers from Target when the other girls had real ballet shoes.  The other girls' tight buns miraculously didn't move during an hour of dancing while I couldn't even arrange all of Miss E's full, curly hair into a pony tail before class started. 

It was only a matter of time when the teacher dicussed her concerns with me.  She worried Miss E wasn't mature enough because she didn't appear to understand the directions.  I assured her that the Little Miss most likely understood the directions, but she just liked doing things her own way.  I expressed that she loved dance class. 

Her love for dance class didn't last long after talking with the teacher.  She no longer wanted to go and refused to enter the dance studio even after my pitiful attempts at cajoling and bribery.  I don't know what it was that shifted her feelings, but my gut tells me she didn't feel comfortable being herself in class anymore.  She may have sensed the teacher wasn't pleased with her behavior or Miss E noticed she danced differently than the other little girls.  After two missed classes, I pulled her out of the class because she lost interest.

Thankfully her love of dance and her favorite move, the downward facing dog kick, lives on in our household.  We still turn on the music and boogey, and most likely she isn't dancing like me which is a good thing.  She is dancing  the way Miss E likes to dance. 

My husband and I decided that we will no longer pressure our daughter to join extracurricular activities because we believe it's something she ought to do.  When she expresses her own interest in participating in a new activity, we will explore that option with her.  Her extra curricular activities should be just for fun and not based on our fantasies of super stardom.  She may not be learning all the proper dance moves and form, but at home we work at fostering creativity in many ways, and I am not worried she will be at any disadvantage later in life because she was a dance school drop out. 

Little Helper - Harvesting Basil

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This summer's season of gardening hasn't produced much of anything. I tell myself it's due to the drought, extreme heat, and pesky critters stealing fruit, but I could be in denial that I might be missing a green thumb. The only exception is our herbs. Today I was busy pruning our basil plants, and Miss E wanted to help me harvest basil.

After I pruned our basil plants, I showed the Little Miss how to pluck the green leaves from the stems.

She needed to choose leaves that did not have any signs of black, brown, or bugs.

The green leaves went into the bowl, and the inedible leaves were placed in a brown bag.

We ended up with a healthy harvest of basil, and Miss E is excited about making pesto. Pesto was one of the first green foods she happily ate. I think growing basil encouraged her to to eat it because she knew it came from our garden.

The withered leaves and stems will go into the compost pile.

Today's basil gardening encourages fine motor skills by using her fingers to pluck leaves. Choosing the good leaves from the bad leaves supports math concepts by sorting and science by using observation skills to notice different appearances in the basil leaves.

You don't need to have a thriving garden full of tomatoes, corn, and squash to involve your children in growing produce. A small herbal garden captivates children's interest in gardening too.

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Simple Math - Playing Airplane

Monday, July 25, 2011

Miss E enjoys playing airplane. When we play this together, we pretend we are both Mommies, and we take our children and luggage onto our plane. We spend time hanging out on the plane fastening our seat belts, eating snacks, and reading books until we reach our destination which is either New York, where her grandparents live, or the Savannah, where she hopes someday she will travel to see lions, elephants, and zebras. Today I decided to include additional elements to our airplane play. We added a game of maching socks to pack our luggage, making tickets, and creating a runway.

Before our journey, we need to pack our luggage which includes matching socks. This fosters mathematical skills such as same and different.

We created tickets to board the plane using strips of paper, stamps, and markers.

We made a plane out of pillows.

I assigned seat numbers using letter and number blocks. We found our seats using our seat assignment on our tickets. Matching rows and columns was a difficult concept for her as an almost 4 year old, but it is a skill we haven't explored yet. I showed her how I find my seats using the numbers and letters found on my ticket and assisted her when she had difficulty.

Up, up, and away - the plane takes off on the runway.

We hang out with our babies (aka stuffed animals) on the airplane until it lands. Good thing the flight attendants weren't strict about staying in our assigned seats.

Incorporating educational concepts into an imaginative play scene grabs their interest. Children will realize that math is something useful in their everyday lives. Using airplane seat numbers encourages a child to develop a concept of grids, coordinates, matching numbers, and counting. If the children make tickets with the same seat numbers, they can work on their problem solving skills to figure out how to assign a different seat numbers.

Assisting children in including additional features to their imaginative play scenes will model for them how to create more dimension to their play. I think this is especially important for children who don't frequently play with older children because older children will naturally be more creative in their play, but a parent needs to try to do this in the absence of an older playmate.

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Location:At Home

Biking Indoors

Friday, July 22, 2011

Here in Texas, we are reluctantly resigned to the fact that we need to spend several months a year indoors in the in the afternoon due to extreme heat. Now, the rest of the country is battling a heat wave, and parents may be pulling their hair out dealing with summer cabin fever. The kids still need their exercise, but you can't use your backyard to play without feeling like a roasted chicken. You may want a break from the pool. Not to fear, your kids can still exercise indoors. I recently wrote about taking ball play indoors.

Another way to get exercise indoors is to bring their bicycles inside. This works best in a home with halls wide enough to ride the bike through. I have thought about bringing bikes to an indoor mall, but I am not sure if this would be allowed. At our indoor shopping mall, the mall is open for walking an hour before the stores open, and this would be a nice time for the little ones to bike before the crowds hit.

A sure fire way to get the kiddos to help pick up toys is to tell them that they need a clear path so they can ride their bikes indoors. Once the floor is cleared, explain the rules for riding the bikes. If you have little speedy dare devils, you may need to make it clear that you can't ride as fast as outdoors. Show them where the bike is permitted. In our house, the bike needs to stay off the rugs and can be ridden on the tiled areas.

Then let them hit the "road." As they first start riding, you may need to help guide them around sharp turns. As a result of biking indoors, there could be a few nicks and scratches on the walls. Since we have just emerged from toddlerhood, our walls are far from pristine. I figure it won't be until adolescence when we have clean walls, and then I may prefer the scratched walls to the teenage angst. I tell my daughter that if she hits the walls more than two times, we will need to take a break from riding the bike.

My daughter loved biking indoors yesterday, and I am confident we can routinely utilize this to get her moving on a hot afternoon. As with any activity, if your children don't follow your guidelines, take a break from the activity, and try it again another day. Stay cool on these hot days, but remember to get the little ones moving even inside.

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Location:At Home

Nature Collection Hunt

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It takes some effort to create the scavenger hunts I have created for my daughter's playgroup because compiling a list of items to be found in a toddler and preschooler friendly format takes some time. Going on a nature hunt, doesn't need to take a lot effort. A young child's natural curiosity makes it easy to encourage him to investigate and collect objects found in nature.

While on a recent trip to Michigan with friends, my husband and I took our daughter and her friend on a nature hunt to create a nature collection. We walked along the boardwalk outside the vacation house. It was lined by trees and a creek. You don't need to be on vacation to go on a nature hunt because any outdoor space will do including your own backyard or a walk around your neighborhood.

We gave each girl a paper bag to carry their natural objects. I didn't have my usual resources to help me create a jazzy scavenger hunt list, so we started by telling them to look for things of certain colors. Then we encouraged them to gather items that looked interesting to them. We stipulated they needed to only collect items found on the ground since we wanted to preserve the living plants.

Eager to escape the heat and mosquitoes, we decided to check out our collection on the screened porch. The girls enjoyed observing their objects.

They made lines.

They created faces.

The following days, they enjoyed playing with their objects creating more pictures and sometimes sorting and counting them too. The resources found just outside our front door provide our children with endless entertainment with little effort needed on our parts.

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Location:On Vacation

A Ball, A Box, and A Lot of Paint

Thursday, July 14, 2011

You probably spend a lot of time with kids if you get excited over boxes. We recently went to IKEA, and I was giddy over the possibilities of using the big, long boxes that stored the bookshelves. I informed the other household members not to tear it apart to put inside our recycling can.

I remembered seeing other examples of marble painting on the internet, and my daughter had done it with our playgroup. This box would be perfect for painting with balls because the shape of it resembles a bowling alley. Painting with balls is not my original idea because the The Artful Parent demonstrated painting with balls in a child's swimming pool.

First, Miss E chose the colors to paint the box and picked every color in the box.

I explained to her how to squirt blobs of paint across the length of the box. It was a challenge for her to open the bottles and squirt the paint, and I realized how important it was that I allowed her to help set up this painting project because she practiced fine and gross motor skills.

We sat at opposite ends of the box and rolled a small ball back and forth. Miss E loved this, and it maintained her interest for a half an hour. At some point, I created more challenge by setting goals of aiming for certain colors of paint in the box. We talked about how the ball spread across the paint, and how the colors changed when the ball rolled across with different colors.

She ended up with paint all over her hands and a little on the floor, but it washed off easily. She has been asking to do this again, and I am glad we have one more box.

Painting with balls helps support gross motor skills by rolling the ball and aiming for targets (the colors). It builds the concept of cause and effect when the children observe what the ball does to the paint and how the colors change when mixed together.

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Location:At Home

Destined to Cosleep

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Before becoming a mother, I was steadfast in my belief that I would never cosleep with my future children. Ha...Ha...Ha... When you make those "never" parenting statements, the probability increases you will have a child who tests them. We gave birth to a daughter, who was a nursery reject. Yes, that's right she was ejected from the hospital nursery because she wouldn't stop screaming at the top of her lungs, and the only solace was being held. Instinct took over, and I just knew my daughter needed to be held and sleep with me. You know how parenting books advise the importance of skin to skin contact for bonding. Well, Miss E certainly got a MEGA dose of snuggles because we needed to hold her almost 24/7 for the first five months of her life. She would scream bloody murder and very rarely sleep for more than a few minutes if put down to sleep. All the baby gear and sleep techniques didn't help. We were okay with it. We had longed for a baby for four years, and to have a baby who needed to be held all the time was our dream come true. Along the way, I read the The No Cry Sleep Solution, and I was assured that our family's sleep habits were normal and healthy for our daughter.

Fast forward four years, we had become part time cosleepers. No, I didn't need to hold her all the time anymore, so no bad habits were formed by "spoiling" our baby by holding her all the time. Miss E still needed Mommy or Papa to lay next to her until she fell asleep, but we had started to become weary of it. It was taking her longer and longer to fall asleep and needing to rest next to her for close to an hour doing nothing was becoming dreadfully boring. We started to get irritated with our daughter, and sometimes it showed. We know when we get to a certain level of frustration, our techniques aren't working. Cosleeping had worked for our family for a long time, but it was time for a change. We both believed at nearly four she could better understand the change.

We explained to her that she needed to learn to fall asleep by herself. She wasn't happy about it, but I stated that I was positive that she would be able to learn how to do it. I had reminded her that she was now able to use the potty and get dressed by herself, and she could learn how to do this too. I set up a sticker chart, and showed her that each night she fell asleep by herself, she would receive a sticker. After 7 stickers, she would earn a surprise.

The first week was rough. She cried a lot. She got out of bed a lot. It was well over 20 times of getting out of bed the first night. She begged me to go to sleep with her. During the day, there were a lot of meltdowns. I supported her by remaining calm and loving. I didn't need to resort to locking the door to get her to fall asleep on her own. Each time I escorted her back to bed, tucked her in bed, and told her I loved her. I still wanted her to know that we will still be there for her at night if she needs us even if she needs to sleep by herself. At the end of 7 days, she got a small toy.

By the second week, it was much better. She only got out of bed once or twice to find me to tuck her back in, and there was no more crying. By the fourth week, she didn't ask me to stay and didn't come out of bed to look for me to put her back to bed. After the fourth week, I haven't needed to use the sticker chart.

Now, she successfully falls asleep on her own. I am so proud of her because she showed true bravery because she was afraid to sleep by herself, but she worked through her fear. I was worried that I would traumatize her because the first week was so rough, but my concerns were put to rest when I observed her playing bedtime with one of her stuffed animals. She tucked it into bed, stroked his head, said "I love You", and told it she would be back in the morning. When the animal wanted Mommy to come back, she returned and showed caring to her animal helping it go back to bed.

I am not writing this to condemn parents who sleep apart from their children. Each child and family is unique with different needs, and I believe there is not one parenting strategy that works for all families. All that really matters is that children sleep and caregivers provide a safe space to sleep, and cosleeping can be made safe for newborns and young children. Just because you had child(ren) who slept all night in their cribs doesn't mean it works for all children because some need the warmth of a parent. I also believe there are some babies who need their space to sleep soundly.

Those of you accidental cosleeping parents who long for your own bed, it won't last forever. You can lovingly teach an older child to sleep on her own. You haven't developed a bad habit by responding to the needs of your baby and continuing to cosleep with a toddler, preschooler, or older child. You will know when you need to change your sleeping strategies, and you will know when your child is ready to cope with it.

Sweet Dreams!

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Location:At Home

Simple Math - Measuring Seed Pods

Friday, July 8, 2011

Outside one of our favorite family restaurants, Miss E and I discovered beautiful seedpods underneath the trees. She gathered some, and we took them home to explore more. I decided they would be a fun math manipulative. Be careful when using seedpods because some are highly toxic to humans, and you should be sure your child won't put them in his mouth. If you're not sure if it's toxic, be present when your child is playing with them. Using objects that interest children makes learning more meaningful to them. Since we enjoy spending time outdoors and finding nature's treasures, the seedpods would be an interesting tool for the little Miss.

Using a ruler can be difficult for a preschooler because it makes the concept of measurement too abstract. Using a non standard unit of measurement allows children to develop the concept of measurement even at an early age. I used a pink ribbon cut into the same length for our unit of measurement. If we add a bit of pink or sparkle to a learning activity, it helps grab her attention. You can use any object that is the same size to measure with such as coins, buttons, or beads.

Miss E placed the ribbons alongside one seedpod at a time. She counted the ribbons to determine each seedpod's length. We talked about how long the seedpods were if they weren't an exact number of ribbons long. For example, was it almost 4 ribbons or a little more than 3?

I asked her to sort the seedpods into 3 groups. She chose to sort them by short, medium, and long. We talked about which group had the most seedpods, and she decided there were more medium sized seed pods.

On her own, she put two seedpods next to each other and measured how long they were altogether.

Towards the end of our measuring, she wanted to make a very long train of seedpods. She tried making it on the table, but the floor allowed her to make a long string of seedpods.

Using meaningful materials during math lessons allows children to be more interested in learning. It builds the idea in their minds that math is useful because it is used to help figure out the world around them. \

Check out Outdoor Play Blog Hop at Mama Pea Pod

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Location:At Home

My Prayer for All Children

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Even if the outcome of the Anthony trial had been different, there is still the loss of an innocent child. She is one of far too many children who are abused, neglected, and killed at the hands of their parents and caretakers. How can we improve the lives of all children who deserve an innocent, safe, and happy childhood? This is my prayer for all children.

May you see love and adoration in your parents' eyes.
May you hear your parents' laughter at your silliness.
May you always have food on your table and a safe place to sleep at night.
May you be surrounded by a community of relatives, friends, and neighbors who care about you.
May you be given freedom to express yourself through play.
May you have more laughter than tears.

May your parents have the strength and resources to get help when needed.
May your parents have the wisdom to make you one of their priorities.
May your parents be your best advocate.
May your parents believe in you.
May your parents appreciate your true gifts.
May your parents strive for a better life for you.

May your community protect you.
May your community educate you.
May your community accept your differences.
May your community preserve your environment.
May your community work to make a better future for you.

May you always feel loved, safe, and happy.

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Location:My Hopes

Keeping Their Attention - Animal Observations

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Whenever we go to a zoo or other place to view animals, Miss E decides the animal she needs to see first. If we stop to look at other animals along the way, she sees this as diminishing the possibility of getting to her animal of choice, and the pitch of whine rises to the point where I feel like one of the caged zoo animals being taunted by rude onlookers, and I need to escape by helping her find that animal pronto.

Yes, I know whining is not a desirable behavior, but there is something valuable in Miss E's ability to make a choice and adhere to the plan. Often we tend to think of preschoolers as distractible with low attention spans, but it is situations like this that disprove this notion. If she has decided she wants to see the goats, she is not distracted by a massive lion, an animal she likes a lot too.

I find the best approach is to satisfy her desire to view that particular animal. We will work together to figure out how to find the animal by looking at signs and the map. If I do stop to look at something that interests me, I make it short and reassure her that we will get to her animal. I realize preschoolers are developmentally egocentric and the ability to understand that another family member wants to watch another animal will be a challenge for them.

Once we reach the animal, we stop to look at the animal for a long time because she enjoys viewing the animal for awhile. This demonstrates that young children have the ability to keep their attention for a long time. She enjoys hearing me read the plaque describing the animal. Sometimes she is silent in awe, but other times she chatters about what she notices, and this is how I know what she is learning. She is captivated by watching the animals do regular things like walk, eat, make sounds, and especially pee or poop. She observes how they relate to each other. She wonders what they will do next. We talk about where they normally should live if they are not in their natural habitat, and she can be curious about how they ended up in a zoo if that's not where they normally live. She sometimes imagines how they may treat other kinds of animals or people if they ended up in the cage.

Taking a slow and child directed approach to animals, builds on the child's natural ability to focus attention on an activity for an extended time. It helps children build science skills like creating hypotheses and observing. It builds literacy skills by encouraging conversation about the animals and incorporating animal related vocabulary. Most importantly it validates children's feelings and opinions on what they find important and interesting even if it is goats.

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Simple Math - 3 Bears Porridge

Friday, July 1, 2011

Imaginative play is a consistent favorite in our house, and Miss E enjoys acting out classic stories. We have been pretending the story, Goldilocks and The Three Bears. Sometimes when we play it, we make three bowls of porridge for the bears, and this incorporates math into our play.

She chooses three bowls from our messy but well stocked container cabinet, and I remind her that we need a small, medium and large bowl  for each bear.

I supply a dry ingredient (flour, cornmeal, or oats) and water. We talk about how many scoops of dry ingredients should go in each bowl. On her own, she decides Papa Bear gets the most scoops of cereal, and she usually puts 3-4 scoops in his bowl. Mama Bear receives less than Papa Bear, and she gets 2 scoops. She pours one scoop into Baby Bear's bowl.

She pours water in each bowl and stirs it up.

As she is preparing their porridge, she narrates the steps she is taking to ensure the bears get the proper amount and provides reasons. Papa Bear is bigger, and he eats more. Baby Bear doesn't really like to eat porridge, and he gets the smallest amount of porridge.

Making cereal for the Three Bears helps foster mathematical concepts such as measurement, volume, and comparing amounts. To extend this activity, we could write recipes for each bear's porridge. We could try to make this not conform to gender stereotypes and encourage our children to think about how Mama Bear may want to eat as much as Papa Bear or more because she could be more hungry and/or be larger than Papa Bear. This would help children learn about the concept of equal amounts in math. In addition to math skills, this activity helps children develop motor skills by pouring and scooping, and it helps increase literacy skills through storytelling.

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Location:At Home