Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Let's Play!" Series: What is Play, and Why it's SO Important

Welcome to my Let's Play! series!!

My first "official" post is going to be kind of a summary on my feelings on why telling your child "Let's Play!" is so important!

So what is "play" and why is it so important, anyway?

Playtime for kids is a HOT topic lately. There are some big stories floating around about it - have you seen the one about schools that are doubling/tripling recess times and seeing improvements in students' work because of it?

Playtime for our kids is complete freedom. Open-ended activites where they can make their own choices and interact with their peers under their own choosing. Playtime is where children's minds can rehearse favorite activites, explore new possibilites, and foster friendships and find commonalities with peers. It's a lot of self-discovery and learning about their environment!

It's where they explore "what happens if..." and learn the positive and negative consequences of their actions.

This is so, so important for our kids to learn these things in the world that they are growing up in. These are the simple lessons that will lead them into learning how to self-manage and deal with adult topics as they grow. These are skills that cannot be taught by pencil and paper, they cannot be taught by a school teacher (although they can be improved upon in school) starts at home. We have a responsibility as parents to create little humans that know how to interact with their peers, how to have compassion, how to be responsible for their thoughts and actions, and how to ultimately contibute to society.

Seems like a daunting task, huh? A lot of responsiblity on our shoulders as parents!

But I'm telling all starts with play. Good ole fashoined playtime.

We build all of our skills as adults on the basics: simple addition turns into calculus and a career in engineering.

It's no difference for our kiddos!

Did you know that LARGE MOTOR skills are a prerequisite for handwriting?! Think about it: if your child cannot control and coordinate their large body movements, then how will they be able to sit at a table, hold a writing instrument, apply appropriate pressure, and form legible letters?

That is what playgrounds are for. Climbing stairs. Catching a ball with two hands. Hopping down the sidewalk.


On the surface, playtime looks pointless. But throwing that sippy cup down the stairs is teaching about gravity (what happens when I throw this?), trial and error (does it fall down the stairs every time I throw it?), science (it makes a noise when it goes down the stairs and hits the floor!), social interactions (mommy takes my cup away when I throw it)...and learning the positive/negative consequences (I'm thirsty when my cup is taken away...and when I hold it nicely I get to keep my cup).

I assure you, playtime is not pointless!

Does screentime/tablet time/iPad time count as playtime?

YES. And no. Here's why: it's all about how it's offered.

Ava has learned soooo many things from her iPad games. I have chosen only educational apps...except for one - YouTube for Kids. She's learned colors and her alphabet and numbers and fingerplays and all sorts of things. She was becoming an iPad addict. And I knew something needed to change. So I deleted the YouTube app - it was full of mostly pointless videos (Baby Big Mouth, anyone?!) and Ava even found a video series about a toddler who would run around her house, destroying it - putting toys in the toilet and saying "being naughty is fun!"

OMG NO. Just NO.

Sometimes Ava would find Mother Goose Club or Daniel Tiger, shows I am ok with.

The funny thing is, is that as soon as I deleted that app, Ava basically lost interest in the iPad altogether. So I put it away! Cold turkey. And she only asked for it once. Ava has been tablet-free for about 3 weeks now, and guess what...her pretend play has exploded!

I am still pleased with what the educational apps have to offer. Technology is an imporant part of play, as well. Our kids will need to be able to navigate and interact with a lot of forms of technology as they get older and choose a career.

People say, "my child doesn't play with toys". Maybe step back, take and unbaised look at yourself and your household, and consider why that is. Is there too much screen time? Do you sit and show your child how to play? Do you teach them the appropriate ways to play? I'm guilty of these things sometimes. I use the screen as a distraction when I have things to do or just need some space. I think we all do that, no matter our good intentions! But don't forget to balance that out by making those screens unavailable and getting back to playtime.

But shouldn't I focus on my child's education? And getting them involved in extra-curriculars?

Let's get back to basics, people. Education is important, of course. But it's not the only thing our children need. Sports and activites are great - a child learns how to be a team player, how to be coachable, and how to manage their time. But only if parents let that happen! I kinda feel like the "good intentions" of the modern parent are actually shooting ourselves in the foot. Let's remember, it's not about always keeping our child happy, it's about the lessons our children are learning. Sometimes we lose a game. Sometimes we DON'T get a prize. Sometimes life isn't fair. As adults, we know these things all too well. Our kids will be in for the shock of their lives if we can't help them begin to understand the realities of this world while they are still little. We need to help our kids learn how to manange their feelings, and that it's okay to be sad/mad/frustrated. It's about how we react to the hard times and move forward.

And we can teach them these skills through playtime. Taking turns. Cooperative play and sharing ideas. Working together to build a lego tower. Or role-playing while they play dress-up. It all comes back to play.

I think as adults we've all thought, I just wish I could be a kid again. To not have all of these responsibilites. To be carefree. To not have a worry in the world. TO PLAY.

So let's take the pressure off of our kids. Let's take the pressure off of ourselves to provide the "biggest" and the "best" and the "most" for our kids.

Let them be little.

Let them PLAY.

And please don't feel judged for your own parenting style - I promise you, you are a FABULOUS parent. We are all doing the best we can! Just a little perspective for you on this rainy Sunday!

I hope this has piqued your interest and you'll join me on my upcoming posts in my "Let's Play!" series! Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 23, 2016

7-Month-Old Liam! And a Month Gone By Without Daddy

It's been one month since Chris has been gone.

I've been thinking about this post for awhile, but I'm finding that it's really hard to put this last month into words.

It is nonstop crazy, as you would assume with 2 kids still in diapers.

It is pretty much nonstop selflessness.

There are moments of calm and control, which are so, so great. I'm learning to appreciate those moments more and more!

Most days I can stay positive.

And some days the frustration rises and something as simple as trying to buckle the carseat but Liam wont let go of the straps makes me have to step back, breathe, and count to 10 to keep my cool.

Sometimes it's when the 4th piece of food falls from chubby little fingers and splatters on the floor.

Sometimes it's when Ava shrieks at the top of her lungs for the 15th time in a row.

Sometimes it's when we are all packed up and ready to load up in the car and I realize someone needs a diaper change. Or a snack. Or a toy. Or a shoe.

Or maybe it's a toilet leaking all over the floor, or a recall on my car, or the newly installed cable is not working, or the first round of bills to pay, or playing phone tag with the doctor's office for Ava's referral, or cat puke in the middle of the night or Ava skipping her nap for the second day in a row or stepping in spit-up or the mouting pile of dishes or laundry to wash, dry, and fold or the milk is gone or ants in the house or...

You get the idea!

It's hard to find enough time in the day to get everything done. Once the kids are in bed I have a couple of hours to myself, but I can't get everything done. I need time to do food prep, clean, relax, and other tasks that I can't get to or do successfully while the kids are awake. And sometimes I'm just tired so I choose to go to sleep early. Or I binge watch a show and have snacks in bed until I realize how late it is and that I should probably go to sleep.

And while I do feel very fortunate to be able to talk to Chris pretty much every day, because of the time difference, it's rare when we get to talk without screaming or crying kids in the background or someone crawling in my lap or grabbing the phone.

I think its the constant selflessness that wears me out the most. Time for myself and my wants and needs only comes when the kids' needs are met first and if there is enough time at the end of the day after all my responsibilities are taken care of. Most of the time I can get the kids to nap at the same time after lunch so I do get some downtime during the day too, so that's a plus!

Overall, we are all doing well. Chris is adjusting to the time change and his work, I'm actually juggling the workload better than I thought I would (most of the time), and Ava is doing pretty well dealing with daddy being gone. She will spontaneously say "daddy koo-way (Kuwait)" and she enjoys facetiming with him during her lunch or carrying him around the room and feeding him goldfish. Liam lights up whenever I hand him his daddy doll or when he gets to facetime with daddy. The cats miss him too, I think - they've become my shadows! Once the kids are in bed especially.

Sometimes facetime with daddy does agitate Ava a bit. I think there are a lot of things that people don't think about during a deployment and the impact it has on the family, and this is one of those examples. Yes, it is great that we get to facetime with daddy so often. But little Ava wants her daddy to be here with her. To play with her. To hold her. To give her kisses. And sometimes seeing him on the phone is confusing to her because she doesn't understand why daddy can't play with her. She often times gets a little more wild when we facetime and sometimes she doesn't want to talk with him. It's not always fun and happy conversations. She acts out a little. So sometimes our facetime sessions are a bit chaotic and are cut short. One of my friends told me they rarely facetimed with their toddler because it was too hard on him. These are the struggles of a military family, when seeing daddy is actually harder. We can't wait to see daddy when he comes home for leave sometime next year, but we are already worried about that transition on the kids. How is that fair to them, to say "daddy is coming home!" and then we have to turn around and say goodbye to him again?! It is such a hard, hard thing. It's too difficult on these little ones. I guess we will deal with that when the time comes. We of course want to be reunited if and when possible, but again, there are those "hidden" struggles that military families deal with.

I can't believe Liam is 7 months! These last few weeks seem to have flown by, even though some days I thought bedtime would never come!

This month, Liam has cut 2 teeth and has started food! He had a slower start with Baby Led Weaning than Ava did. It's taken him about 2 weeks to get to where he doesn't gag when food touches his tongue and just last week he started chewing on his food and swallowing some of it! I love the no-pressure approach that comes with BLW. There's no "oh he needs to eat half a jar of this" and I don't feel like I have to sit there and cram food in his mouth on a spoon that he will just spit out anyway. He's learning to eat food at his own pace. If nothing else, its at least fun sensory play for him! And since "food before 1 is just for fun", there's plenty of time to master biting, chewing, and swallowing. He loves to watch Ava while he eats. They love to watch each other, actually! Ava thinks its fun that brother eats some of the same foods she does, and she models how to eat for Liam. She will give him his sippy cup and pick up his dropped food sometimes.

Liam can now get up on all fours and drop his knees, and he's starting to bring his knees forward a bit! He can really get around a room by scooting backwards and turning on his belly. I'm having to keep a closer eye on him and make sure he's not getting into Ava's smaller toys!

Liam is on a pretty solid 3 naps per day, usually 1.5 to 2 hours apiece. Some days he doesn't get the third nap and he goes to bed a little early. And sometimes he sneaks in a short nap and throws the whole schedule off! I try really really hard to make them both eat lunch and then nap at the same time so I can get a midday break. And some days it just doesn't line up!

Liam still isn't sitting 100% on his own - he hasn't really progressed with sitting much this month. Over these last couple of days he can sit unassisted for 15 minutes or so, with the occasional bobble. I think he's more interested in being mobile and getting around the room! He is a lot more stable in the shopping cart, though! He loves to sit and look around! Ava loves her new spot in the cart and often gets in trouble for standing up (although she's usually doing it so she can give Liam a kiss so its hard to get after her for that!).

Ava has really been testing some limits these last few weeks. I'm sure since daddy is gone that she's trying to see what she can get away with. We operate off of "tough love" in this house, I guess you could call it. I'm trying not to let my feelings of being overwhelemed with life alter the expectations for Ava, not because in that moment it makes it easier for me. During a big life change, consistencey is what is best, so I try to keep that in mind. And I think Ava is starting to understand the consequences of her actions. She jumps when I catch her getting into something she shouldn't. Sometimes when she sees that I've caught her doing something (jumping on the bed, banging the glass on the fireplace, standing on her chairs/table) she will stop and sit down! I tell her "that's a good choice!". And sometimes she is naughty and she has to go to timeout! She throws her fit and cries and then says "I no cry" and then I tell her she can come out! She's a smart, fiesty girl! Her latest thing is shrieking at the top of her lungs when she's not happy with me or what I've asked her to do. I think we are going to lose our eardurms!

Ava loves to color with markers, clean the floor with the swiffer (I just leave it out now so she can "clean" everyday), give Liam LOTS of toys, brush her teeth (althought getting her to stop clamping down on the toothbrush is another story!), going to the playground, having 100 things in her crib at night, eating oatmeal with her fingers, being tickled on her neck or her armpits, and of course, talking to daddy!

I am getting the hang of bathtime with these two. It's not so stressful to me anymore, and I actually look forward to it because they both love baths so it's fun playtime for them! It's been really fun to see the tremendous growth in sibling love these two have for each other this month! They can play together now - Ava will give Liam toys and he can grab them from her. They sorta "roughhouse" sometimes! Ava loves to kiss him and be in his face and Liam grabs her face and hair and they both just giggle! I usually have to help free Ava's hair from Liams fist as he pulls pretty hard, but for now, Ava thinks its great!

I am loving being home. I love that my kids can finally spend time with extended family. Ava now asks for family members by name, people who were basically strangers to her 6 months ago. I love that we have people to call and hang out with. There are so many playgrounds nearby! And as much as it's going to suck that Chris won't be here for birthdays and holidays, we at least won't be lonely. Absence certainly makes you miss a person! A year is such a long, long time...I just hope it keeps going by as quickly as it has!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Toddler-Friendly Learning Toys

You know, it's really hard to find toys for the child who falls between baby toys that light up and twinkle, and little doll playsets and Legos.

What about that 2 year old who isn't a baby anymore but isn't ready for "big kid" toys?


Have you met a toddler?!

They change their minds constantly and can be quite destructive!

I always struggle with "do I buy Ava cheap toys so if/when she destroys it, it's not a big deal" or "do I buy more expensive, quality toys that will last but risk wasting money if she plays with it twice and decides she doesn't like it".

I figured I can't be the only parent who feels this way! We all want our kids to have meaningful experiences with their toys. I'm always on the hunt for just the right toys that have educational value while also maintaining the feeling of "fun".

And especially for that tricky 2 year old...most toys say 3+ or 5+ because they contain small parts that could be choking hazards. Or will just get lost in 3 seconds.

I found a line of toys at Walmart, and while I don't buy new toys very often, so far I am pretty impressed with the few I have!

The line is called Spark and they carry a variety of learning toys that require NO BATTERIES and aren't flashy or crazy or gender-specific. They are simple toys! And simple is nice.

I have been wanting an alphabet puzzle for Ava for awhile now. She's learned a lot of her letters already and I wanted a tangible way for her to interact with the alphabet. But all of the puzzles I saw were too advanced or had tiny letters. I finally found one at a consignment sale! But after I brought it home and watched her play with it, I realized this wasn't the right puzzle for my just-turned-two-year-old. The only way she interacted with it was to take all the pieces out - it was too advanced for her to be able to put them back in. At all. She couldn't match any of them. I'll show you why in a minute.

And then I was browsing Walmart and found the Spark ABC puzzle...and it is perfection.

Look at those colors! And BIG, chunky, PLASTIC letters! And it was less than $5!!!

This is exciting, people!! Yeah, I'm a big preschool-teacher nerd. This stuff excites me!

Ava was immediately drawn to this puzzle. Not only did she enjoy taking the pieces out, but she could pretty quickly find where each letter was supposed to go. It's harder for her to match pieces when it is completely empty, but she does pretty well! I was able to sit and watch her and she was able to do most of it herself!

Just look at the difference between the two puzzles:

The puzzle on the top has small, wooden letters with printed paper and little pegs. Here's how the pieces compare to the new puzzle:

The plastic letter is obviously much better suited for toddler hands. Nevermind how many times Ava and I have stepped on the pieces with the pegs on them...OW!

And the wooden pieces have not passed the "toddler test". Ava has picked off the paper on a few and the letter Z has been broken.

And here is how the puzzle is designed - the child must match a letter to a corresponding object. Definetly not age-appropriate for a 2-year-old!

With the new puzzle, it is an exact match. Same color, same letter, same size. Easy matching!

We also have the sorting fish that are the same brand. This tub was $9, I think. You'd pay almost $20 for this same thing at other stores!! I immediately knew this was a good value - and it's been a great toddler toy!

I'm starting to have to pay more attention to Ava's toys that end up around Liam now that he is gaining mobility and Ava is handing him more and more things while I'm not looking. These fish are perfect for Liam (7 months old) as well! Chunky plastic fish. Easy to grab. Bright colors! They float (and no holes in them!). You can match them! You can count them. You can make patterns with them. Or take them in and out of the bucket...repeatedly. Both of my kids love these fish and it is such an open-ended toy!

I highly recommend checking out these Spark toys. They are all grouped together at Walmart and they have a bunch of fun things to choose from! And such a great value! These just might be my go-to toys for awhile, especially since I have a girl and a boy who are close in age and will be sharing toys!

I'm kind of thinking of starting a blog series about toddler toys and activites...anyone interested? Yay? Or nay??

Happy toddler days!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Easy Sensory Bins

So I haven't done one of these posts in a long time because life got a little crazy! And it still is - but I was feeling like I needed to do something Ava-focused that is new and exciting for her!

I've always wanted to make sensory bins for her, but I've been waiting for her to pass the phase where she puts everything in her mouth. The last time I tried this activity with her I was about 20 weeks pregnant with Liam and Ava was around 15 months old, and she would take fist fulls of rice and shove it in her mouth at our playgroup!! So now that she is 2, I feel that she is ready to try it again! I used to make Toddler Sensory Bags for her since she clearly wasn't ready for an open bin!

I went to Walmart this morning and bought a big bag of the cheapest rice, cheapest dry beans, and I picked 2 fun items to go into the sensory bins. I chose a variety pack of pom poms (because she loves playing with cotton balls) and a little packet of plastic gems (because what toddler doesn't like small shiny things?!). You'll also need 2 small plastic bins with lids.

Then you'll just pour some dry beans into a bin and add the pom poms! The amount of beans you add will depend on the age/interests of your child. I only did a layer that was just enough to cover the bottom - I don't need a thousand million beans in there that can accidentally be spilled for me to clean up!

As you can see above, I only used about half my bag. And less is more when it comes to the pom poms; I only took out a small handful. I made sure to get a couple of each size and color.

Doesn't the rice and gems bin look pretty?! 

Again, don't put too much rice in there or else you'll regret it when there's rice all over your floor.
*I highly recommend starting this as an outside activity until your child gets the hang of the expectations for how to appropriately play in a sensory bin!

And then you just throw the lids on them and store them away until you are ready to use them! I think I'll put mine on a shelf in the laundry room.

There's tons of fun Halloween stuff out already so I also picked up some fun creepy crawlers for next month! 

The possiblities are endless for sensory bins and it's SO EASY to make them theme-related! 

You can also add scoops like measuring spoons or cups or simply grab a plastic cup from the kitchen.

I feel like this would be a fun MOPS activity or just a mom hang-out type thing. I barely used any rice and have so much leftover; you could easily have a sensory bin making night and split the supplies and cost with your fellow mom (and dad!) friends! I spent around $15 and have soooo many leftover supplies!

Just a word of advice: if this is a new activity for your child, expect it to go badly the first few times. Sit with your child and show them what you want them to do. They're not going to understand that these things need to stay in the bin unless you allow them to practice it! I'm sure Ava will be wanting to collect the gems and carry them around. Make the first few times short and positive and praise them for playing gently! If they do get wild, just redirect them and show them what they should be doing. You can even take their little hands and do it for them to show them exactly how they can play with the sensory materials.

Happy toddler days!