Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Visit from a Very Hungry Caterpillar

As you might have guessed from previous blogs, we are keen gardeners. Since we like to eat organic, we choose to grow a lot of our own produce. Like all organic gardeners we find it challenging and often frustrating trying to keep pests out of our veggie patch and fruit trees. Generally the culprits are fruit flies but this year we have had some new visitors- caterpillars.

Inspecting our hungry caterpillar
I was making my routine morning check of the patch and while inspecting the tomatoes I found an unwanted guest who had invited himself for breakfast- a green, plump caterpillar. At first I was annoyed--he'd eaten through many of the tomatoes and I could see damage on most of the leaves. However, I knew that Lachlan would be very excited to see a caterpillar, as Eric Carle's, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of his favourite books and also where I observed his first experience of representational play when he was reading the book to himself one day and pretending to make a caterpillar eat through the fruits on the pages. It was from this experience that his reading journey really blossomed and he began to explore and act out more and more images from books.

I gathered our little caterpillar friend and placed him in a clear jar and poked holes through the top for ventilation. I called Lachlan over to show him what was inside and he was so excited! He began giggling and pointing at the caterpillar and watched in fascination as it slinked its way around the jar. "He's just like The Very Hungry Caterpillar," I said. "Look at this tomato he ate through!" I showed Lachlan the tomato and he smiled with amazement. "Should we give him something more to eat?" Lachlan shook his head yes and his daddy suggested we put a large tomato leaf in the jar so the caterpillar could finish his breakfast. The caterpillar didn't waste anytime. Right away we crawled on the leaf and began nibbling away. Before we knew it he was eating so much that the bottom of the jar was filled with little caterpillar poos. I never knew a caterpillar could poo so much! This of course was of great fascination to Lachlan as well.

Lachlan took a nap and after he woke up he was surprised to see that the caterpillar had already finished half of the huge tomato leaf and was still eating. Lachlan sat and ate his lunch and insisted that the caterpillar sit at the table with him. He ate and watched the caterpillar eat. He also have the jar a little shake to see what would happen. The caterpillar clung to the leaf for dear life, survived the mighty toddler earthquake and resumed back to his eating rituals. I took out Lachlan's The Very Hungry Caterpillar book so he could look at it. He took the book over the the jar and began smiling and pointing at the caterpillar in the book and pointing to the one in the jar. I reminded him that the caterpillar is eating a lot so it can make a cocoon and turn into butterfly; this made him very happy and excited as he understood the possibility.

Each day we monitored our caterpillar and feed him well. On Tuesday we tried to switch up his food to add some variety and I put a lettuce and mint leaf in the jar. The caterpillar refused to eat all morning and searched the bottom of the jar. That evening we put another tomato leaf in the jar and he was happy again- eating and pooping as usual. Wednesday morning Lachlan insisted that we take the caterpillar with us where ever we went. He had gotten very attached. I told him that I'm sure his friends at our play sessions would love to see it so we'll bring it along. I also took The Very Hungry Caterpillar book to share with the class. Lachlan was very proud. Anytime someone walked over to the table to look at the jar he ran over and pointed inside to show them the caterpillar. All the toddlers were fascinated and enjoyed it when I shared the book with them. Lachlan helped in the reading by making smacking noises with his lips and wiggling his toy caterpillar along the pages and into the holes of the fruit. We talked about the caterpillar and how we hoped that it would also make a cocoon just like the one in the story.

Finding the same cocoon in The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The following week came and we continued to monitor our little hungry friend. Monday of that week he began to look very unwell' just like Eric Carle's caterpillar in the story. For two days he ate nothing, not even a fresh tomato leaf. He laid on the bottom of the jar and we had to wonder if he was going to make it or not. I thought we might be dead. Wednesday morning however we woke up to a lovely surprise. On the bottom of our jar was a cocoon! Over night the caterpillar had begun making his little house and by morning he was completely wrapped up. I couldn't wait for Lachlan to see. I only hoped he would understand what has happened and not be sad to see the caterpillar gone. When Lachlan looked in the jar he was astonished. "Look! Our caterpillar made a house around him. A cocoon!" I exclaimed. Right away Lachlan understood. He clapped and laughed. He trotted his little feet over to get his caterpillar book and turned it to the page with the cocoon and began pointing to both of them. Again he sat and ate his breakfast with his little cocoon next to him.
Pupa, Day 1

That morning we went to our play session again and shared our cocoon with our friends. The children were delighted to see the cocoon and the parents enjoyed the opportunity to talk to their children about what had happened to the caterpillar. When we got home set up Lachlan's table with a magnified glass and some books with butterflies, caterpillars and cocoons in them. I told him that the caterpillar inside the cocoon is now called a pupa; over his head I'm sure but we should never underestimate a children's ability to take in information. Lachlan was free to go to the table and explore the items. He enjoyed looking through the books and at all the different types of cocoons. I talked to him about how I was imagining what our caterpillar might look like once he emerges from the cocoon and becomes a butterfly.

A week went by and we patiently watched the cocoon. If Lachlan gave the jar a little shape, the tail end of the cocoon would react and wriggle. Two weeks approached and it was time for us to prepare for Christmas. We always go out of town and we intended to bring the jar with us so we couldn't miss the butterfly make its grand entrance into the world. Among all the hustle and bustle, we forgot. When we got to the beach house we wondered what would happen to our little friend- would we arrive home with a beautiful butterfly sitting on the twig or would it be dead or would we get lucky and it still be in a pupa state?

Well, I wish I had a beautiful happy ending for the story but I don't. We arrived home and I went to the kitchen to look in the jar. I was very happy to see that the cocoon had busted open; but where was the butterfly? I looked all around the jar and saw nothing. I inspected the cocoon again and it looked like possible there might have been a little bit of something inside but I couldn't tell because it was all dried up. A sad ending to such a hopeful story for a toddler. I didn't bother to show Lachlan. He don't think he'd understand what happened and he'd only wonder where the butterfly was and probably get frustrated. Thankfully since we'd been gone for awhile on holiday he forgot all about his cocoon and hasn't asked for it so that is where we are leaving it. Perhaps we'll find another caterpillar this summer and try again or next year will come around and Lachlan will be a bit more mature to try the experiment on his own and contemplate the results whatever they may be. It was a fun science experience for him though and it was wonderful for him to be able to make the connection from his book to the real world of mother nature. The joys of learning! Hopefully better luck for us next time...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Railway to Sucess

Lachlan is a drawer. He's like his father; as soon as the drawing tool is lifted, the wheels start churning and something is brought to life on paper. The moment Lachlan picked up his first crayon, at about 12 months, he looked like he was in his element; holding it, moving it across the paper- it all seemed to come so naturally to him. From then on we have always left paper and markers or crayons out for him to access. He naturally seemed to have a respect for their purpose and with this respect he left his artwork on the paper, not the walls or floors, thank goodness! However, if you give him permission, I think he'd use anything as his canvas; sidewalk chalk and our driveway bring him much joy and a paint brush and a tub of water make him happy as he paints the house, deck, dog, fence, etc outside. In front of his very eyes he watches his creation dry in the sun and quickly begins creating once more.

I believe it was around 17 months when Lachlan began drawing 'purposeful' drawings (though aren't they all purposeful to development?) Perhaps I should say recognisable. He started with circles. Most children before the age of 24 months will begin to draw in circular motions as it is a natural movement. At 17 months, Lachlan was far past this point. He had moved on to drawing complete, closed circles; something he practiced repetitively for weeks. I remember the first one I witnessed which he drew on a magnetic sketcher. I was so amazed and proud. He looked at me as to say, "well, yeah!" He must have been doing it awhile before I noticed. A few months later he moved on to triangles and squares and 3 weeks ago I was amazed when he was writing on the sidewalk and said, "Mama!" I looked over and after he was positive I was watching he drew a crescent and said, "Muuuun"(moon). I don't know why I am always so amazed; but I'm his mom and at the same time I'm a developmental specialist and I know that he is making connections and drawing representations beyond what I would expect for his age. On this note, it is also important to remember that all children develop at different rates and by six years of age the majority of them arrive to this year at about the same developmental level. So while it is fine to recognise that your child may be 'ahead of the game' for his age; it is important not to create a pre-molded image of what 'you think' your child will be like when they are six. Instead, focus on your child's uniqueness and be excited about what excites them!

Railway Tracks, 21 months
It is common knowledge in our household and circle of friends that Lachlan adores trains. How many boys don't at this age? For months Lachlan has demanded that we draw him trains and train tracks and now particular passengers on his trains. He'll tell me to draw; "mama," "daddy," "woof-woof," (dog), etc. Before we know it we have a whole string of trains covering an easel. Lachlan also likes to draw his own objects to the scenery. He will draw a wavy line and say, "Sssss" for snake. He'll add flowers and tell me that is what they are by saying "Mama!" and then giving them a nice sniff with his nose. Yesterday he was drawing in his sketch book and I was sitting next to him watching. He likes to make a few strokes and look at me to ensure that I am sharing in his work. (he's quite the demanding artist I must say!) I watched him as he drew two vertical parallel lines and then began to connect them with a series of horizontal lines. I continued to watch to see what he was doing. I could tell that he was being his usual self; drawing very purposefully and thinking about each stroke. As I watched him draw I began to think to myself that it looked just like something I had drawn him about 3 hours earlier on his mega sketcher. When he came to a pause I said, "wow! Lachlan. I like all your lines." He stopped, looked at me and said, "Mama!" and then took his finger ran it across his picture and said, "choo! choo!" My hunch was correct, he had drawn railway tracks! It was the first time I had seen him draw something purposeful with so much detail and it was a delight that he could express what he was creating with me. " That looks, like a nice railway, Lachie." I said. "Would you like a train to place on it?" He began to do his deep laugh which means, 'oh! yes!' I took out a foam train sticker and he held it in his hand and moved it up and down his track. He was delighted in his accomplishment, as was his mommy.

I think the important lesson to get out of these experiences is to listen to our children. It could have been easy for me to say, "Hey! You drew a railway!" What if Lachlan hadn't drawn a railway? What if it was a rainbow or a lizard? My suggestion might have altered his thinking and changed his conceptualization of  what a rainbow or lizard could look like. By blurting out 'that's a railway' the child may think, 'well I guess it can't be a rainbow or lizard.' And with that thought, a bit of creativity and imagination is lost--and for me and the child, a bit of sadness is created. Creativity and imagination bring things to life and when life is documented it has meaning; to the creator and to the observer. So I encourage you to encourage your children with some delicacy and respect to their creative process. As they say, "think before you speak" for words have meaning and your child counts on those words to help make sense of the world around him. As I've said in previous blogs it is best to hold our tongues and wait to see what they will offer. By using provocation, asking questions, we can provoke a response. We should never assume anything. Talk about the details of their picture or ask them to tell you about it. With children Lachlan's age it is more tricky as they have a very limited verbal vocabulary. If you give them the chance though they might surprise you and lead you to the right thought. With Lachlan it was by using his finger as a train to show it goes on the track and making the simple sound, "Choo!" Another child might have gone and picked up a toy train and put it on the tracks. Children are innovative and will show you this if you let them.

Well, it is late on this side of the world and our little artist is sleeping which is what I should be doing too. I know that another day full of creativity and imagination awaits me. As many of you know, being a parent can be exhausting but somehow I know Lachlan will stir up energy inside me tomorrow and remind me what it is like to be a child. That is where this pregnant mommy with a toddler finds strengths and motivation. Thank goodness for that! Until next time, goodnight. Choo! Choo!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Not-So Incy, Wincy Spider

In Australia, the 'incy wincy' spider does not crawl up the water spout. When I think of our Australian spiders, 'incy wincy' just doesn't come to mind. I also think it will take a heck of a lot more than some rain to 'wash the spider out.' Nothing about these spiders are small. They are often big, hairy and sometimes jumpy and the end all for me (as if hairy wasn't enough!) are the eyes. I do not like to see eyes on spiders, or their mouths for that matter. If you can see eyes and mouths on a spider then it definitely should be banned from the 'incy wincy' category. In fact, they just need their own song all together. I'm sure somewhere Don Spencer ( a famous children's song writer) has written one; along with his Aussie Mossies and Lizards of Oz songs.And if the spiders are none of the things I just mentioned then they are scary because they are poisonous. Face it, Australia is just known for its wildlife; with the eight most deadliest snakes and spiders living here, how could it not be?

I grew up a tomboy. I loved creepy, crawly things; kept some as pets in fact. However, this love comes with certain limitations. I'm not fond of them catching me off guard; especially in my own home. I have a certain perimeter in which I'd like to keep unexpected guests that have more than four legs away. Where we live seems to attract such critters and they find our home an interesting haven. It is great living close to a nature reserve, but sometimes nature just likes to find its way into your suburban home. For instance, we have a skink that lives in our garage, a blue tongue in our veggie patch and too many lizards to count that take refuge in our laundry room on hot summer days. They startle me when I pick up a shoe and see one in there but they don't frighten me. Lachlan thinks it is fun and loves to try to chase the lizards. Spiders, however do frighten me. I don't know why but they give me the wee-be-gee-bes! I'm okay with small ones or even large ones I see in the garden on their webs. In fact I love them in the garden as they catch fruit flies and mossies. In the house, though I freak out. One too many times have I been sitting on my couch minding my own business and have seen a huge, hairy huntsman in the corner of my eye lurking on the wall. It sends me in a panic. I scream, run out of the room begging my husband to save me. The worst is when my husband responds only to find nothing, as I have scared the spider into hiding. I am sleepless those nights and have even gone as far as stuffing a towel under the door hoping to barricade it from my room, knowing of course that a huntsman has no intention of crawling on my floor under the door; I do it anyway though. I spend the night half awake or dreaming of spiders.

All that is nothing compared to what Lachlan and I saw the other month while taking our morning walk. It was a pleasant, sunny day and we were coming home from the dog park with our pooch, Maxwell. Lachlan was pointing to things and I would talk about what they were:
"There is a tree; its branches are waving in the breeze." I went on..."That is a letterbox, where the postman puts mail." Then suddenly..."that is a huge spider web and...wait, couldn't!!! That is a bird!" There's a bird in the web!" 
 I then began to get goosebumps and shivers and looked away but so astounded had to look again to make sure what I was seeing was true. Yes, between two trees a spider built the largest web I'd ever seen and there was a small bird, now dead captured inside. It was enough to make me want to march my arachnophobic feet home, pack up my suitcase and move out of Australia! I don't know what kind of spider it was as I didn't see it. My best guess is that it was a golden orb or some sort of other orb weaver. Whatever it was it freaked me out and at the same time amazed me. I've found small lizards stuck in webs at the house but never a bird!

Well, yesterday I had another surprise. One in which Lachlan found amusing. Generally when I am startled I scare him (like when I found a praying mantis sitting on my shoulder staring at me, which lead me to strip off my clothes in the kitchen and run out of the room screaming. A bonus to organic gardening, little guests hitch a riding hoping to join us for dinner I suppose). That time he began to cry as he was younger and unsure of what happened. I must have looked like a lunatic as well! This time his reaction was much different. I was out in the garden, trying to pull up some patio blinds. I couldn't reach the string and had to climb on the balcony railing. While doing so I was greeted in the face by a huge gray spider with yellow eyes. I screeched, fell backwards and ran across the yard shaking off my goosebumps. Lachlan ran to look down at me from the top of the porch, with a 'what was that?' look on his face. " I found a spider! It scared me!" He started laughing hysterically. I still had shivers down my spine. "Are you laughing at mommy? It's not funny. I don't like spiders scaring me," I said with laughter in my own voice. "He chuckled more and more." I went to see if I could still get the blinds raised up but first inspected the area for the attacker. The spider wasn't insight. I crept closer and closer to the blind. Lachlan began to laugh again. He could sense the hesitancy in my movements and he thought it was funny. I began to reach for the blind and as I did I saw the spider on the handle of the rope. "Yikes!" I yelped and jumped back. Lachlan was in stitched now. It was more than he could take. His eyes were watering with laughter. I picked him up, twirled him around and began to tease him for finding humor in my fear. We both began to giggle and I knew I must have looked so ridiculous to him. After all,  his mommy was scared of the 'incy, wincy spider!'...what's that all about!?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Time of Exclamation!

Lachlan, 19 months old
If you are a follower, you'd know by the last blog that Lachlan loves to read. To say that he loves to read is probably an understatement. If there is a word larger than love that would be the one to use. For Halloween I ordered Lachlan the book, Happy Halloween, Biscuit! Lachlan instantly took to this book for three reasons. 1) It has a cute dog in it named Biscuit. Seeing a dog makes him very happy and Lachlan loves to say, "woof! woof!" and pant any chance he can get. I think this comes from many hours of he and I pretending to be dogs around the house and his friendship with an over-sized sausage dog we call Maxwell. 2) The book has flaps to reveal what Biscuit is up to; this is just lots of fun for kids and no matter how many times they read the book and can predict what will be there, they still act like they've just seen it for the first time. Gotta love it! 3) The book has lots of exclamation points in it!

The night before I introduced the Biscuit book to Lachlan, I had read him a book titled, Tiger and the Temper Tantrum (one that I have to say honestly erks me as a child development professional as it constantly uses labels like, 'good tiger and bad tiger.' For so many emotional intelligence reasons it bothers me but that is another story for another blog entry! That being said though the book can be used as a lesson; such as Tiger's mom called him a bad Tiger but he really isn't 'bad', he just did something 'bad.') In Tiger and the Temper Tantrum, 'Yippee!' is written on the very last page. Lachlan started laughing hysterically when I read the word so I said it several times to him and threw my arms up in the air to emphasise Tiger's excitement; she was happy as she was finally allowed to climb on the climbing frame at the park (as all tiger cubs long to do I'm sure) He thought it was hilarious. The next night I introduced him to Happy Halloween, Biscuit! Lachlan pointed to the exclamation mark asking what it was as he knows all the letters and that one looked really strange to him. I told him it was an exclamation. Of course, I'm thinking how can I explain what an exclamation is to a 20 month old, the word itself is too big for him to say at this point in time. He put his hands up in a "what" gesture and pointed to it again. I could tell he was going to persist until I gave him something he could relate to. I then remembered the word, "Yippee!" from Tiger and the Temper Tantrum that we read the previous night and how we threw our arms in the air for excitement. "Lachlan," I said. Exclamation is like, "Yippee!" and I thew my hands in the air. "We do it when we are excited." I then said "Exclamation!" and threw my arms up in the air with excitement like an cheerleader on Red Bull. Lachlan began to laugh. I pointed to the exclamation again and did my little cheer, "Exclamation!" Lachlan joined in, pointed to the exclamation mark and threw his arm in the air and began to giggle. I suppose he had a minute idea of the whole meaning now.

The next day, Lachlan was eating his afternoon snack and drinking from a toddler smoothie pack. I was working next to him at the table and he began reciting the letters he knows on the pack. Lachlan LOVES to share his knowledge. He sat saying, "Mama." I looked over and he then pointed to "S" and said, "Sssss." "Great!" I would say and carry on my business. He would move to the next letter and the next and I would give him some sort of encouraging feedback. Eventually he shouted, "Mama!" and when I looked over he threw his arm in the air like an exclamation. "Exclamation?" I said. He smiled and did it again. I knew there wasn't one on his pack but I thought I'd take a look anyway. "Where?" I asked. Lachlan then pointed to the lower case "i," and threw his arm in the air smiling. I smiled, "Aren't you clever! That does look like an upside down exclamation!" He was proud and although he was wrong I was impressed that he was able to identify it upside down. Lachlan has mastered uppercase letters but he's just figuring out the lowercase ones. Obviously, he doesn't know "i" or he is questioning what he knows since it now looks like something else! In his won time he'll figure out the difference. For now, he should have his moment of glory.

The way children learn is amazing. Think of all the time and effort it takes to learn all there is to know. They amazingly piece things together little by little constantly having to adapt and modify their thinking as new knowledge challenges the old. It isn't any wonder why most parents you meet always say their children just fascinate them. I think it is hard for all of us to wrap our heads around the fact that we used to be just like them; somewhat primitive- every day exploring a brand new adventure; clueless that within a split second converts to expertise as all the information suddenly snaps together and they are suddenly the masters of their domain. I've studied the developing child's brain for years now but I am still fascinated myself at how complex and brilliant it is! I feel so blessed to be able to have my own child and share in his wonderment and excitement. I'm sure you feel the same way about the child or children in your life! And by the way...thanks for sharing in Lachlan's journey with us! :-)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Literacy Journey...

Looking at letters and symbols
For the last two months, Lachlan has been fascinated with letters. I would say the whole interest started about six months ago when he began pointing to number plates and saying, "That!" His way of asking what something is. The number plate on my car and his daddy's both have the letter A so that was the first letter that he began to recognise. Before we knew it he was going around and pointing to every A he saw and saying it aloud to us. I didn't think much of it except that I realised that this was his first step in reading symbols, an important building block in literacy development . As weeks went by, Lachlan began pointing to his easel and saying, 'A.' My husband and I followed his command  

Reading a story
and wrote the letter for him to see. Lachlan would get very excited and request for another and another...Before you knew it there were several pages filled with 'A's. At least he insisted that we write them in various colours of his choosing to keep it interesting. While this was going on he began to ask 'that' about other letters he would see; mostly in books or on boxes in the house, etc. As he memorised those he began to ask that we write those as well on his easel. Memory recall in infancy and toddlerhood has always been fascinating to me. We certainly underestimate how much children are capable of doing. Another mistake we often do is put child development in a box and expect children to all be at a certain level. It is important to listen to and observe our children; making sure we don't push them while at the same time ensuring that we are provide a challenge. A child like Lachlan for example who is very much a 'thinker' longs for cognitive stimulation and is intrigued by things of that nature. A child who is a 'mover' for example will yearn for things that stimulate him in a locomotive or manipulative way such a climbing or throwing something. All children have different interest which create different desires. We as parent need to respect that and guide them in the area that fascinates them. Everything else will come together when it needs to. Right now it is all about fun and exploration.

Finding letters in a glossary
Since Lachlan has been having fun exploring letters, I put all my old teaching and researching knowledge together to try to think up creative ways for him to explore the wonderful world of letters. First, I looked at the books we have at home, which are a lot! (I buy sooooo many at garage sales each month.) I took out books with a focus on letters and also those that had a glossory in back or started a paragraph with an extra large letter; these letters jump out and Lachlan really loves to point them out to me. He he couldn't remember a letter he would point to it, look at me and say, "Mama?" I would then tell him the letter. Again, I have always followed his lead. A lot of people when they hear Lachlan name letters assume that I have sat down and taught Lachlan the alphabet. That simply has never been the case. We never sit down in front of a chart or with flashcards and begin reciting letters. I would of course if Lachlan initiated and that was fun to him. There really isn't a need to do that as we are surrounded by print all around our house and when we go out to the shops. He asks and we provide an answer and a dialogue begins. He does have some tag board letter cards but I simply put them in a basket and he does his own thing with them. Since he could crawl he would sit for over half an hour lining letters up along the bottom of the french doors in our house. He didn't want interference from us. He just wanted to look at them and put them in some kind of 'Lachlan order.'

Drawing an 'O' in the air.
I am big on provocation, as I also teach early childhood professionals to use it. Provocation just means allowing a child to expand on an idea they have by asking a question. For older children it is best to ask open-ended questions, meaning ones that will not get a single word response (best used on teenagers as well!) So instead of asking, "Is that a tiger you are painting?" or "What are you painting?;" Something such as, "tell me about your picture," would be a better way to get a descriptive response.

Exploring magnet letters
Pre-verbal toddlers are a bit trickier when it comes to provocation for obvious reasons. They can however understand the majority of what you are saying so if you ask them a question they can answer you by pointing or doing another action to communicate. Body language where you'll be getting the most of your info. Lachlan does some sign language so he indicates to us if he wants 'more' or something. If he is ready to move on he is very eager to say his favourite word, "no!" Regarding provocations, if Lachlan is showing me his magnets with the letter A and saying A, I might ask him, "where are the other A's." This often triggers something inside of him to create a new idea. For example we were out the beach house last week and he was playing with his letter magnets and he began grouping all the A's and O's and E's together and also sorting them by colour. This was just something spontaneous we noticed him doing while we were eating. To expand upon this I might ask, "where are the yellow O's" to see if he can identify the colours. Again, go with the flow. It works the best. That particular time I just let him play. I would encourage you not to interrupt every independent play session your child is engaging in to "test" him. Allow them to have their time and avoid interrupting their train of thought.

Lining up letters
Saying "R"
Something sad I often see is the systematic teaching of young children. I say 'sad' because it makes learning become a chore. Because I use a more emergent and natural approach I actually see it as militant and very authoritarian; which is probably harsh but the style really makes me feel so many emotions. Sure flashcards may be fun initially when they are new but being expected to sit and memorise or recite them time and time again becomes a drill and the fun is lost. Learning is lost because it has become something that is no longer meaningful to the child and let's face it; children will not want to learn unless the experience is meaningful to them.Think about that: what is meaningful to your child? It most likely is something very different to what is meaningful to you. This is when we have to go back in time, be nostalgic and think about what inspired us as children. Generally it is something so simplistic. For me it was dirt, leaves, sticks and water. With those resources I could do anything, make anything, be anywhere. I could create a meaningful piece of work and I'm sure I didn't really care if it was meaningful to my parents. (That's the whole ego-centrism stage talking in childhood)

While I've been writing this blog I've been go back through all my photos of Lachlan related to his literacy development. There are so many! Every stage we seem to have incorporated some new way of learning; letter cards, magnets, drawings. One thing that is constant every day though is books. Any literacy expert will tell you that there is just nothing bad that will come out of books! We eat them up in our house! I've included a lot of photos throughout the year of Lachlan and his literacy journey. He has changed so much; especially after learning to walk--he lost all that baby fat!

A quiet place, alone reading
So the best I can offer is to let things occur naturally with your child; a no pressure approach. Infancy and toddlerhood is a time of exploration. There will be plenty of taking orders when they reach school-age and the working world. Let them make sense of their world in their own unique way and allow them to find their own interests. When you do this, they will find passion and love in something as they can claim it as their own accomplishment. Offer guidance and support and expand upon what you see they are wanting to learn. All of this takes a lot of listening and observing. For some parents it will take patience and a new way of thinking. Children truly become confident and talented in areas that excite them. They show this by smiling, clapping and persistently returning to the same thing over and over again. Please don't take that away from them. They will tell you the type of learner they are; whether it is a hands-on, visual or an auditory one. It is up to use to listen and follow their lead. So give off the computer and see what your little one is up to and let him or her teach YOU a thing or two....Until next time :-)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Fun

It is that time of year--Halloween! I would say it is my favourite time of the year but I now celebrate Halloween in the spring, not the Fall so it puts a whole new perspective on things. I love Halloween, more specifically I loved that Halloween was in Fall. What American child doesn't have fond memories of picking out the perfect pumpkin from the patch, going on hayrides, hearing ghost stories while eating s'mores warmed by a campfire and of course the most pleasant sound; leaves crunching on the ground. I seriously feel all warm inside just thinking about it!

I always imagined that I would share these wonderful moments with my children someday. I had to come to the sad realisation when Lachlan was born that those would not be his memories; that his would be much different. Leaves do not change colour that much in Australia, if at all, and finding a tree that actually drops enough leaves to jump in is like finding a needle in a haystack. And there is again that whole Halloween falling in spring which all together just doesn't feel right to me. Just like sipping a nice cup of hot cider doesn't feel right when it is 90 degrees outside either. Lachlan however will only know what he will grow up with. Warm Halloweens and smoldering Christmases will feel like home to him, something that I can't see myself ever understanding. It is amazing all the simply things we take for granted; like snow on Christmas and acorns in Autumn. We don't realise how much we will miss them until we experience life without them. I never thought in a million years I'd reminisce about acorns as an adult but I haven't seen one for so long and I think about how I used to love to collect them when I was a child and save them for the squirrels in the winter...squirrels, something else I miss!

This year was Lachlan's first memory making experience regarding Halloween. Last year he was only 8 months old so he couldn't get involved in anything. Halloween typically hasn't been celebrated in Australia either. It hasn't been until the last few years that shops even started carrying costumes. Trick-or-treaters are rare and when they do arrive at your door step they just stand there looking at you like a deer in headlights dazed and confused. I find myself instructing them on what to say and what to do. "Say 'trick-or treat?', Now you may take some candy from this bucket." Some children I even had to dismiss as they weren't sure what to do when they got the candy. "Okay, have fun. Happy Halloween!" They still stand there in a daze. "Perhaps the neighbours are home..." Finally they snap from their comatose state and walk slowly down my porch not sure of what just happened. Such a far cry from my childhood where we generally followed behind a mob of other kids and tried to make our way to the front door, stretching our arms through any place in the crowd it would squeeze. The goal was simple...feel around until you felt crinkly plastic wrappers, clinch and withdrawal as fast as you can without dropping any candy. We'd shove it in our candy bags and make our way to the next house. The children here take inventory of what they just received; they are rookies. We professionals knew to take what you could and evaluate the goods later, wasting no time.

We didn't take Lachlan trick-or-treating this year. We aren't big into sweets for toddlers especially since he has no idea what the purpose of the tradition is. Also he does not like to dress up at all so why make him do it. Perhaps next year he'll be more comfortable with the idea. We did however buy a few pumpkins (which were imported, I might add and pricey!) for us to carve. I was looking forward to seeing how Lachlan would engage in the experience as he is not a fan of things gooey. The kid asks for a napkin if he gets yogurt on his finger; I didn't see gooey, stringy pumpkin guts hitting a homerun for him...and I was right. He was intrigued by the initial process however. He watched curiously as I carved the top off the pumpkin as was very eager to remove it to see what was inside. He removed the lid and placed it back on when he began to see the stringy lid. I took the top off again and he took a step back, leaned forward very carefully, not getting too close and took a peep inside. He was okay with everything until I began to scoop the goop. He really didn't like it and insisted that I put it back inside. In the end, he took a bath, went to bed and I carved his pumpkin later that night.

 Perhaps next year will be more exciting for him. I just can't help but to think that there was an important element missing for Lachlan. Kids just aren't meant to get their pumpkins in the produce aisle at Woolworth's and have it sitting behind them in the shopping cart why I move on looking for the milk aisle. Perhaps Lachlan just didn't bond with his pumpkin. Afterall he didn't get to search the patch for the perfect one and have it cut right then and there from its lifeline. He never could claim it as his own. I'm sure this is just a bunch of American sentimentality talking which my Aussie friends may not understand and heck, Lachlan might never understand it either. But if there is a will, there is a way and I'm determined to one day have this kid get lost in a pumpkin patch while his mommy is snapping photo after photo for his memory book. Perhaps one day. Until then...Happy Halloween!


 To gear up for Halloween Lachlan and I have been doing a lot of fun Halloween activities: we painted pumpkins on canvas, made Halloween cookies, read various children's Halloween themed books and also sang finger plays. Here is one of Lachlan's favourites below. Perhaps your child will enjoy it as well...

Five Little Pumpkins
Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, 'Oh my! It's getting late.'
The second one said, 'There are witches in the air.'
The third one said, 'We're not scared.'
The fourth one said, 'It's Halloween fun!'
The fifth one said, ' Let's run, run, run!'

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Prepping Bub... for Bub!

Years ago I used to volunteer for a non-profit organization called First Steps while I was studying at university. First Steps offers several services to parents and children, one being a support network for moms who have just given birth in the hospital. A volunteer such as myself would visit the mom and dad in the hospital, provide them with information and answer any questions they may have regarding carrying for their new baby, breastfeeding and post-birth recovery. We would then follow up with the parents for three months after birth to ensure the family is doing well and to offer help if the mom develops postpartum depression (PPD). The family was given a parenting bag with heaps of brochures and samples of baby products. New parents really appreciated the visits and were very interested in the information provided. Seasoned parents generally had the attitude of 'been there, done there.' After all, they are pros now! There was one brochure however that made them perk up whenever I took it out of the bag; it was on the topic of sibling rivalry. Second or third time parents would take this brochure and chuck the bag on the other side of the room. They often had many questions or told war stories about how their first born drug the second born through the trenches and wanted to avoid any casualties with the third. I would sit and talk with the mom or dad and offer guidance on how they could involve the siblings in the new bub's routine which would make them feel important, unique and needed within the family unit.

But what about before bub is born? Often parents are not offered guidance on how they could prepare their existing child for the arrival of his soon-to-be brother or sister. Sure there are a few children's books you can buy with titles such as ; 'When Baby Comes Home' or 'Becoming a Big Brother' etc. These are a start but more can be done. In fact, most parents don't even think about making preparations beforehand. Generally they have a whole list of things for Junior to do after the birth such as; help feed or bathe the baby. Pregnant moms anxiously await for the moment when they can set the plan in action and wonder how it will all pan out. But how about right now while the baby is in utero? Don't kid yourself if you think that your child doesn't have a clue what is going on. He may be too young to understand what is exactly happening to your tummy, for all he knows mommy has just been dipping into the ice cream one too many times or wants to try out for sumo wrestling. He does know however that something is different. How can he not? The air in the room changes with a pregnancy--mommy's tired, mommy's sick, mommy's happy, mommy's sad. The hormones alone change the mood of your home. You may not believe it but I'm sure your hubby or older children will set you straight! Also we begin to use the word 'baby' a lot and not just 'baby' but 'the NEW baby.' Young children who do not know opposites might not think anything of this terminology but children who have mastered this might just start to wonder. "If this is a new baby, then what's the old baby." If they think they are the 'old baby' it can cause some issues for them. We don't for example want a child to think he's going to be sent to sleep in a box in the garage with all his 'old' pairs of shoes! Sounds silly and ridiculous to us but it is amazing the ideas that children come up with in their heads.

So what can us pregnant mommy and daddies do? It is really quite easy and I'm sure if you had some more free time on your hands you could come up with a lot of things all on your own but since you are here I'll share with you some of the things Lachlan and I have been doing:

1) Read a story to the baby. To say Lachlan and I read 30 books a day would be an understatement. Since reading is an obviously huge part of our day it makes since to incorporate bub-to-be and allows Lachlan to share something he loves with mommy's little (at the moment) bump. Lachlan always picks out stories from the shelf for me to read. Now when he is finished I ask him if he would like to pick one out for the baby. I expose my belly so Lachlan is clear that we are reading to the baby and we read the book for bub. This is wonderful as soon the baby will be able to hear and can enjoy the sounds of his/her mommy's and big brother's voice.

2) Sing songs to the bump! Do this the same as with the books but offer to sing a song to the baby. Lachlan for example loves finger playsongs. 'Round and Round the Garden' is one of his favourites. When we sing to the baby we tickle my tummy and make my belly button the little house.

3) Follow your child's lead. This is probably the most important thing of all to do! Don't push any of the above on to your child. He'll become interested in the baby when he is ready. If he doesn't want to share his story time with the baby then don't force him. Perhaps he sees that as a really special alone time with you, which may also carry over after the baby is born.

4) Play pretend! I would hope that you all have a doll for your child to play with or at least a stuffed toy that he can pretend to feed, put to sleep, take for a walk etc. I introduced the majority of these pretend/social toys when Lachlan was able to sit up and right away he began feeding his doll or putting Ted down for a nap. A little baby doll, especially one that can go in the bath is great. You can demonstrate to your child how we play gently with the baby doll. Children will imitate what you do so if you hold the doll gently they will be more likely do the same. We mustn't also forget about the sense of sound. Moms naturally talk to their babies in a special universal language called motherse; you may know it as 'baby talk.' Mothers instinctively change their tone and pitch of their voice to talk to their bubs in a more calming and soothing manner. Demonstrating motherese with a doll to your child is a great lesson. Your child will learn that we 'shhhhh' babies to help them sleep and sing to them very softly. Overall if you introduce all the above well before bub arrives home, you will have a sibling who is much better prepared for the new addition. It simply can't hurt and at the very least your child will have participated in a lot of social-emotional play for the day which has countless benefits to development.

5) Make big changes now or prepare to wait! If you are planning on making a big change that will affect your child such as; eliminating a pacifier, stopping co-sleeping or switching to a toddler bed or swapping bedrooms; do it long before the baby arrives. One thing we don't want to occur is for your child to associate a change that he may see as negative or unpleasurable, to the baby. For instance; if you want your child to be pacifier-free when he is two and your baby is due around that time, don't wait until then to wean your child from his paci. Children can only handle a certain number of stressors at a time. Remember that any change, whether it is good or bad, is a stress. It affects us physiologically and psychologically. Whether it produces adrenaline or the stress-hormone, cortisol, it will elicit some effect that can be difficult to cope with. If your child is weaned from his pacifier several months before bub arrives then you can be more confident that there will be smooth sailing in that department. You do however have to be prepared for the 'reverting back' that might occur is he is having a hard time coping with bub and then wants his paci again! That's were all this pre-prep for baby comes in handy. Of course, you may also decide you want to just hold off on such changes until after the bub is born and that is fine too. Just know it might be a long time afterward when you feel your first born can handle such a change and by then you might be having another one on the way! Bottom line is to think ahead and if there are changes you can make now that will save frustrations later down the track, then consider putting them into motion.

Well, that's all from this mommy's kitchen table. Our little prince is stirring from his afternoon nap. We'll share more ideas as we continue through our pregnancy journey with Lachlan. Hopefully I'll get my act together and post some videos with some finger plays for those parents who have no clue what I'm talking about! :-)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Just the Two of Us

Lachlan and I have just a little bit longer to go until it is no longer the two of us; two best buddies hanging out during the day; two of us sharing a special gelato treat that we hide from daddy; two of us who snuggle and give Eskimo kisses. Soon there will be a third in this mix. We are very excited to be able to welcome our new baby in April. This bub will bring a new dynamic to our family; Lachlan will become a brother and my hubby and I will become the proud parents of two children. It is all good stuff and we look forward to it. I do however think about all the last moments that I will have: the last time it will be just me and Lachlan. The last time I have all of his attention and that he has all of mine. It makes me just want to savour all of our special little alone time moments together.

Two weeks ago, Lachlan completely self-weaned hisself from breast milk. It was a bittersweet moment. I was very proud of him for doing this all on his own and proud of myself for allowing the process to occur naturally. One part of me was ready to say good-bye to the feedings but another part of me was going to miss the closeness that breastfeeding gives. For many months Lachlan was only feeding once a day right before his nap time. I could tell that he wasn't really hungry but he was only doing it for emotional comfort before bed as it helps him fall asleep. I figured I would test this and see if he would be happy if I offered him something else beside my breast. When he laid down for his nap I offered Numbi, the numbat he sleeps with. He was comforted by Numbi along with me laying next to him and he fell asleep and didn't care about feeding. Normally I would encourage my clients to continue the routine of keeping their child sleeping in their own cot but I was comfortable with the idea of us taking a nap together as I'm tired from the pregnancy and it offered Lachlan extra comfort while he's weaning and it has given me the chance to have a little extra alone snuggle time with him which will soon be no more. Soon I'll be snuggling with both of my children. The thought of it makes me smile, but for now I want to treasure this time with Lachlan. Fortunately, Lachlan will go to his cot to sleep if I put him there with no fuss so him napping with me during the day has not set up a problem in his routine. If it did, I would stop doing it and would recommend that to any parent. Moments like these are special treats but if they cause a problem then it is better to eliminate it then to create a problem you will have to spend a long time fixing. Most parents don't want to go back to the days of trying to get their child to sleep in their bed alone again! So please keep that in mind. Some children are more flexible than others and in this case it has worked out nicely us. Both mommy and bubby are happy.

So I have about 28 weeks to enjoy this alone time with Lachlan. Call me sentimental. I am and have always been. I'm sure I'll feel the same way when number three arrives and number four and so forth. I remember feeling the same way with my husband before Lachlan arrived as I think most couples do. After your baby is born though you think, what on earth where we doing before you arrived? You just can't imagine your life without your child/ren. Lots more of these moments ahead!

The Hundred Languages of Children

Like most professionals in child development, I have done a lot of reflecting. As a teacher I spent time reflecting on what I just saw a child do; why is he doing it? why is it so important to him? I may not know the answer but I know it important to let him continue for as long as he needs to achieve his goal. As a researcher I reflected in a similar way; what am I looking at? What could this possibly mean? If I altered this would I have the same effect?  As I parent I suppose I reflect in all the above ways while looking at Lachlan. I often think that this is how the great Piaget must of felt; watching his children, documenting them and wondering so many things. I do hope Piaget had time to enjoy his children's childhood and took the time to sit back at some point and just take it all in without wonder but just watch in pure delight and simplicity; those are the best moments for me, although I will continue to be fascinated my Lachlan's development!

It wasn't until after I graduated university that I began to explore a philosophy  that made me do more reflecting than I have ever done in my early childhood journey.The Reggio Emilia Approach, which you can read about in past blogs (search Reggio, on the blog and some snippets will pop up) is one that has fascinated the world. Thousands of educators/researchers flock to the mid-sized Italian town each year to study and tour their schools. I think like me, these people leave so inspired but yet feeling like they have so many more questions to ask. When you talk to the educators there, they provoke so many more thoughts and questions that you feel like Pandora's box has just been opened and you realise there is sooooooo much more that you need to try to wrap your head around. This is difficult for those that don't live in the Reggio culture and community. Culture and community is so important to their education of children in a way that busy Americans and Australians certainly can not understand. We say that these things are important but we really don't have a society structured for this. Our busy lifestyles and pursuit for individual dreams has left us more separated than ever before. Many people don't know their neighbours and couldn't call the parents of their child's classmates by their first names, let alone name all the children in their class without a reminder. All of this doesn't necessarily mean that our culture breeds selfish people or bad parents, I'm sure we make up for it in other ways. What it does mean is that we just can't take a philosophy such as the Reggio Emilia Approach and implement it into our own culture with a flick of a switch. We can take pieces here and their but it will become altered and transformed by our own influences; as it should!

Loris Malaguzzi is an amazing educator who founded the Reggio Emilia Approach (really the children 'founded' it but he was the one who recognised and labelled what he saw from the children and what educators could provide to further their development.) Below is his description of what he calls 'The Hundred Languages of Children' which is the foundation of the Reggio Curriculum. It has been translated to English. I hope you will read it and like all poems spend some time to reflect on what the words mean to you and what they would mean to your child.

The Hundred Languages

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.
And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)

I was very blessed to be able to go a few weeks ago to The Hundred Languages Exhibition that tours around the world. An organisation that I belong to, the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange, received some funding from the state of Victoria and was able to sponsor this brilliant exhibition. It was wonderful to not only see educators attend but parents who were just passing by drop in to see the exhibition. The exhibition was free and for the whole community and I really hope that it was enjoyed by many. There were certainly many parents in awe by what they saw and inspired by the work of children in Reggio, as it showcased many of the children's projects (ideas and thoughts they came up with at school which they used materials to explore and experiment). Parent and educators are fascinated by the concepts these children come up with and the ways they go about representing it. The exhibition is a great example of how far children can go to teach themselves if we provide the right materials and use provocation to send their questions down various trajectories. I highly recommend all parents to see this exhibition if you can and bring your children! It is interactive. I've included some photos of Lachlan exploring the exhibition hall in this blog.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Walk in the Woods

Nature is a beautiful thing. Being outdoors is a beautiful thing. Being able to walk outdoors smell, touch and hear nature is the best. My love for nature began before I can even remember. I was always a child who was outside; that being said, my mother preferred us to be outside. She worked very hard to have our home look spotless so I think she was afraid of what might happen if her darling children were inside all day. Luckily for her I didn't complain;except on those hot summer days when it was in the high 90's. I specifically remember one such day when a friend was over for a play and we knocked on the back porch door to ask my mom if we could come in as were roasting (my mom was smart, she kept the door locked!). My mother told us to hold on one second and she came back with a tray with iced lemonade and glasses, handed it to me and shut the door. I was soooo embarrassed! Now that I am a parent, I kind see where she was coming from. I usually was playing in the dirt and can understand why she might not want two grubby kids traipsing in her nicely cleaned house.

As an adult, I continue to love and respect nature. I really hope that Lachlan will feel the same way too. I remember asking my grandfather one day when I was about eight years old if a tree could be sad; especially when it was to be cut down. He told me he didn't know but that the Native Americans believe that everything has a spirit: a tree, a rock and even the creek that flowed through his backyard. With that knowledge, I began to look at things differently and began to wonder about and question the mysteries of nature more and more. These are things that I hope that Lachlan will understand and appreciate as well; whether they become his beliefs or not. I hope that he will develop a respect for nature as the Native Americans have and like so many other tribal cultures. To foster this, what could be better than a walk in nature itself? As a family, we try to take as many nature hikes as we can. Before I met my husband, I spent most of my free weekends finding a trail to run, a mountain to climb and a mud-puddle to mountain bike through in North Georgia. Fortunately my husband developed a love for most of those things too and we were both keen to buy our first baby hiking carrier after Lachlan was born. We have a shelf  full of books with hiking trails across our area and the country and we always look forward to the opportunity to try them out. With our hectic schedules, and with only one day a week to spend together as a family, we generally stick to local, short hikes which last an hour or two. If we have a bit more time we'll commit to a day hike. Our overnight hikes are on the back burner at the moment and don't look like they'll be rearing their head anytime soon with bub number two on the way; but we'll take what we can get.

A few weeks ago, Lachlan woke up from his afternoon nap to a beautiful day. Hubby and I had gotten all our housework done so we figured we'd make the most of the weather and find a short trail to      hike; this is when those hiking books come in handy because they have descriptions, distances and skill levels for the hikes so it makes planning quick and easy which is always helpful for busy parents. We decided to drive a few suburbs away to check out one of the state parks. When we arrived we loaded Lachlan into his hiking carrier and set off on the trail which was to be an easy grade, 1 hour hike. There were plenty of wild flowers in bloom and an assortment of trees to explore. We even found a few animal habitats and made up stories of what creatures dwelled inside. Lachlan was particularly fascinated with the trees. There were smooth gums, rough cedars and flaky paper barks. At one point during the hike, Lachlan found a particular variety of gum tree which was shedding its bark. He happened to pull at a piece of bark and was very surprised to find that he had removed it from the tree. His daddy continued to walk down the trail and Lachlan began pointing very determinedly for him to stop at the next tree. Lachlan held the piece of bark to the tree and tried to stick it on but it wouldn't stay. He looked bewildered with a puzzling face that said, 'how am I going to fix this?' The tree he was trying to give a makeover to was a cedar. I told him, "that bark doesn't belong to that tree." I held his bark strip next to it so he could see the difference. I spoke about the way the two looked and felt differently. "Perhaps we can find the tree that matches your bark." And with that a new game had just begun. It was as if Lachlan had put on his Sherlock Holmes detective hat; I'd never seen a kid so ready for the case. Before you could say, "thank-you my dear Watson," he was off pointing to the next tree.

As you can imagine there are A LOT of trees on a nature trail. Especially a nature trail through a forest. We stopped at a lot of trees, I wasn't sure if we would ever get back to the car before dark as our easy grade, 1 hour trail was turning into a 2 hour trail with a tough case to crack. Of course Lachlan had to pull the bark off of the one tree that was to be no where in sight again. After many trials and errors, we finally approached a large stump for a tree that looked like it had been chopped down. Luckily it had been cut quite high so Lachlan was able to see it from his daddy's back. Ky-Anh bent down a bit so Lachlan could try it for size. Right away Lachlan knew that this was the mother tree we had been searching for. He stuck the piece of bark in the little hollowed hole on the top of the tree as if that was where it was meant to be kept all along--a special little holder for a special piece of bark. He was quite pleased and without any more questioning was ready to continue on his journey. "That's that!" he seemed to say, "Case closed, so carry on, good chap!"

So as you can see the great outdoors can offer lots of excitement to a toddler and that is just one little idea that  emerged from a short hike. Think of all the possibilities; leaf matching, bird watching, identifying feathers, insects and other flora or fauna. This is when a resource book with your local flora and fauna comes in hand. You can collect leaves and feathers for example, take them home and try to match them in your books. Older children love to do this as it is exciting for them and you can encourage them to keep a journal of what they see. If they are not yet writing, they can draw pictures or symbols instead. Toddlers will love to look at the objects through a magnified glass and touch the various textures.

I'll conclude this blog with a few suggestions for planning a hike. First make sure that you have a comfy carrier for your child. If it is a short hike, say an hour or less a carrier such as an ErgoCarrier should do the trick. Anything longer than that and with more than a moderate grade you might want to consider borrowing or purchasing an appropriate hiking pack with a frame which offers more lumbar support. There is nothing worse than being uncomfortable on a hike or feeling that way they next day. It might discourage you from going again and that would be a shame. We are all different so do some research regarding the carrier that suits your needs and always try it out first with your child in it before you buy. Shops shouldn't mind this, in fact they should encourage it. A good quality pack will have instructions on how to adjust the straps to distribute the weight more comfortably for you such as when you are climbing up or descending from a hill. Always ask the sales assistant to show you how if you aren't sure. If you aren't a keen hiker, then see if you can borrow a carrier from a friend or rent one from an outdoor shop for the day or weekend. They can be quite expensive to buy and it would be a waste if you were only to use it a few times. Also don't forget to take a camera, snacks and water for you and bub and a nappy and wipes just in case. Many framed baby carriers come with a portable change mat stored in the compartment space under bub where you can keep all the munchies and H2O. I should also mention to wear hats to keep ticks at bay. Long sleeves and pants are also encouraged when walking through the woods, though on hot days isn't always the most comfy. Alternatively find a good bug repellent to keep the mosquitoes away. There are a few all natural ones that work well, if you are like me and don't like harsher chemicals on the skin.

So I'll end on that note. Hope you are having great weather in your neck of the woods so you can have some happy hiking!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sympathy Pains

The last 10 weeks have been very interesting and quite entertaining in our home. Lachlan doesn't understand it yet, but he will be a big brother in April of next year. I role which I'm sure he can handle but I'm sure it will have its challenges for him. I will take on the role of being a mommy not to one child, but two. I'm sure having a toddler and a newborn in the house will present a lot of challenges and even more entertainment for myself. Entertainment of all sorts of ratings I'm sure, especially if the bub-to-be learns how to rocket launch poo in the air at mach speed as Lachlan did (see past blog, titled The Poo Poncho).

I've mentioned a few times to Lachlan that 'mommy has a baby in her tummy,' he just gives me this look as to say, "what on earth are you talking about," and then goes about his business. I'm sure once my stomach starts growing to ginormous proportions and he can feel and even see something moving he'll become much more interested. We've already had our source of entertainment though. The first 8.5 weeks of this pregnancy I have been very sick- the all-day morning sickness stuff that I was so fortunate to avoid with Lachlan. I remember doing the City2Surf with Lachlan, hiking in Western Australia, building garden beds and going to the gym 5 days a week. This pregnancy has been so different--or should I say WAS different because for the last 6 days I have been vomit free and very happy! Let's hope it stays that way and I haven't jinxed it. When I first began getting sick Lachlan wasn't really sure what was going on, I don't think he knew if he should be laughing or scared or what? One morning I was in the bathroom and began vomiting into the sink. In between my pauses I heard this gagging noise. I looked behind me and saw Lachlan leaning over the bath pretending to vomit like a cat hacking up a hairball. He stopped and looked at me. I got sick again and he pretended to get another hairball. I said, "what are you doing? Mommy doesn't feel well but you don't have to pretend to be sick too, though it is very empathetic." He smiled and went on his way. The next morning I began my morning sickness routine and a few moments into it heard my little gagging boy outside the bathroom door. I opened the door and he smiled. It was one mimicking process I'd never expected to see him do. He was delighted with himself. Later instead of making his way to the bathroom, he began just making the usual noises while playing; it was if he couldn't be bothered to have his play interrupted so he just incorporated it into his activity.

It will definitely be interesting to see where all this mimicking takes us. Let's face it, pregnancy isn't always a beautiful thing; there is constipation, indigestion and flatulence to name a few and let's not forget the later part of pregnancy where it is a struggle to tie your shoes and you can use your tummy as a T.V. tray. It will be fun to see what he decides to copy. I can see him now following me around the house waddling like a duck. He will certainly be enjoying this pregnancy on a whole different level. I would jut love to see all this motivation to imitate carry on over after the baby is born; perhaps with nappy changing, or rocking the bassinet when his little brother or sister is upset. How lovely would that be? Okay, so I am might be living in a fantasy, but let me have it. I will get my reality check soon enough...7 months to be exact.

Fine Motor & Hand-Eye Coordination

When Lachlan was born, there were a few things that we noticed right away; first that he had large hands and feet which was actually the first descriptive word I heard the mid-wife say after I gave birth to him. We also noticed that Lachlan was very alert. As I pulled him to my chest he was already turning his head looking at the people in the room, absorbing all the new alien surroundings. What intrigued us the most about him was his dexterity. He began wiggling his fingers and toes independently from one another right away. He could and still can move his finger in controlled ways that my brain can't even manage. I remember him at 5 months playing his toy piano moving each finger so intricately one by one. I remember talking to my mom on the phone and she asked if Ky-Anh was playing the piano or something and I said no it was Lachlan and she was so surprised. Many children like to just pound on the piano and here I was standing there thinking that perhaps he was composing some great concerto....(of course, that's the overly hopeful and 'my child is a genius' mommy talking, I was quickly brought back to reality as I watched my 5 month old drool all over the key board just like every other child his age). Because of his dexterity though, he has always been at the top end of fine motor skills. He never really stuck with using the palmer grasp but began using a pincer grasp almost straight away. I suppose this is what has made colouring and drawing so easy for him- at 16 months of age he has already been trying to hold writing instruments with a tripod grasp, as an adult. He works very hard to try to position his fingers just right. I suppose most of it just comes naturally for him but I think his 'observer' personality; watching and dissecting every move adults and other children make help him quite a lot. He's always been the type of child who will watch very intently for an hour and continue this for a few days or up to a week and then before you know it you walk in the room and he has built the exact tower structure as you or has put dishes away in precisely the right place in our kitchen. If he accidentally puts his cutlery in his drawer upside down in the tray, he will quickly turn it so it is the same as the rest.

I've really noticed lately that his fine motor and hand-eye coordination has really blossomed over the last few months and that he hasn't been challenged by some of his current toys and materials. In many ways he's ready for pre-school aged manipulative materials; which is great for him but it also presents some safety hazards as the pieces are often not suited for an 18-month old. Fortunately since I'm at home with Lachlan during the day, I have a lot of time that I can sit down with him and go through activities. Although he's past the stage of putting everything in his mouth, you still can never trust a toddler and I would never leave him unattended with a basket of small beads for example and I have had a lot of fun experimenting with activities that give him the freedom to use his manipulative skills without me having to eagle-eye his every move---but since I'm obsessed with documenting and photographing everything, I'm generally by his side anyway!

If you would like some ideas of some fine motor or hand-eye coordination activities you can do with your tot, continue reading. I've recorded a few of the things that Lachlan and I have done the last year, or things that Lachlan has discovered doing on his own that make great exercises. I've always said before that children are the best teachers. They are their own teachers in fact. I can't tell you how many times I've noticed Lachlan create his own activity and then have turned around and used it for one of my developmental therapy patients. He's like my very own inventor and I don't even have to pay him for intellectual property rights. Not a bad deal is it?...

Try out some of these activities. They go from easy to more challenging:

1) Take a halved paper towel roll or a toilet roll and have your child practice pushing wide strips of cardboard or paper through the roll. You could even use pipe cleaners, a spoon, etc; anything that allows him to push it through and pull it out from the other side. The firmer the object is the easier it will be.
2) Take a jug or coffee container with a plastic lid and cut a hole in the lid the size of the top of a clothes pin. Allow your child to practice dropping the pins in the container. This is a much more suited beginner activity for toddlers  than the shape sorters you buy at the shop which can lead to frustration for a child who is not yet ready to handle that many shapes. Allowing them to practice one shape at a time leaves them less frustrated and more willing to continue to try out the activity. It also builds their confidence as they master one shape first. You can also change out lids on the container and make one the size of a block cube or triangle, etc. Once your child has mastered the art of rotating their hands to match the shape of the slot, then introduce a multi-shape sorter game. I think you'll find it can make a word of difference.
3) At a craft store, purchase a pack of mini craft sticks. They are the size of tooth picks but squared and blunted at the ends. You will also need a large salt shaker or seasoning shaker with large round holes on the lid (like the ones you see at the movie theater that they use to pour copious amounts of salt or cheese powder on your popcorn). Check your spice cabinet you might have some wide-holed shaker lids you can use. The object is to let your child pick up the small sticks and to stick them through the holes in the lid of the shaker. This requires the use of the pincher grasp and a steady hand. It is a great exercise. Clear bottles are great so they can watch them drop through, but it is not essential.
4) Magnetic games: You can buy magnetic fishing games that have a rod with a magnet attached to the end of the string in which you 'catch' fish that have magnets on them with the rod. You can also make your own by using a wooden spoon some yarn and a magnet. You can cut out your own fish or various shapes and attach magnets or paper clips to catch them. You will just need to make sure you supervise your toddler as there will be many small parts. Show your child how to fish with the rod. The longer the sting on the rod is the more difficult it will be. To make it easier, shorten the string as much as you need. For some children you may find that they need the magnet right on the end of the rod. That is fine, they can practice picking up the fish by pressing the end of the rod onto the fish. Children with more advanced hand-eye coordination will have fun with a longer string in which you can extend as they gain control. I found with Lachlan I had to lengthen the string to the full extent after the first day we played.
5) Threading games: Use various sizes of beads or empty spools and laces or yarn and have your child practice threading them through the holes. Tape off the ends of yarn to make it easier to thread. Another great money saver is to cut out cardboard shapes, punch holes around the edges and allow your child to practice threading through the holes. In the beginning they'll zig-zag around the shape with the thread in no order and that is wonderful. The ideas is that they are able to get the string through the hole, it doesn't matter which one or what order. Having fun is all that matters. As they master this, they will then begin to copy you and thread along the cutout.

Hopefully you'll have a few ideas to get you going this week and please post any additional fun things you have to share or that your child has invented!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Let It Be

We can learn a lot from the Beatles; specifically Paul McCartney's mother who used to whisper those wonderful words of wisdom, "Let it be." Those lyrics always seem to run into my head whenever I'm around a bunch of parents who are supervising their children doing an art and craft. Lachlan is in a few play sessions throughout the week and there is always a craft time. Now 'craft' to me is an activity that one sets out to do with an anticipated outcome; such as making a wind chime or a sock puppet. Craft time at play group consists of an example of something for the children to make with the same materials provided so they may replicate it. That is craft. We don't do many craft projects at home. We are more of an expressive arts family so I leave out all sorts of materials (known as the hundred languages of children) for Lachlan to decide what he'd like to create or invent. He enjoys both art and craft so it is nice for him to have the opportunity to do both.

I always get itchy eyes however when I watch these craft experiences at play groups and even some schools I visit. There are always a handful of parents who just can not 'let it be.' For whatever reason they take over the child's craft or direct them as to exactly where they should place something. I feel sorry for the children of parents with this type of personality because they miss out on an opportunity to practice important developmental skills and also to be creative. Can't craft after all have a creative element? Why can't a child decide what colour to paint the wind chime or what creature he wants to make his sock puppet. Who cares if the chime doesn't sound lovely to us if it sounds lovely to the child? So what if the eyes of a sock puppet are where the ears should be if the child can say in the end, "I made this myself!"

A classic example is one I witness every week of a parent taking over her child's art activity. Every week the parent asks the child if she wants to do a craft and the preschooler skips over eager to participate. It begins well; the child selects her materials and begins pasting them to the paper. Soon she is interrupted with "don't paste them all around the same spot!" The child doesn't skip a beat though and continues to paste them where she wants them to go. Again the mother chimes in, "Spread them out." (The chorus of 'Let It Be' begins to play in my head...)This time the mom moves the already pasted items to another location on the paper. The child so used to this just sits back and now looks around the room at what else she can play. (how I really want to whisper those words of wisdom...)The mother oblivious of the child's lack of interest now continues working on the art project and finishes the entire thing and also making corrections to her daughter's previous pastings. Quite proud of herself the mother says to her child, "Now look there. You did a beautiful job on this picture!"....Now I'm telling MYSELF to 'Let it Be!' because I want to say, "Are you crazy? Hello? YOU did a beautiful job, not your daughter. Well, she was doing a beautiful job until you decided to become the craft Nazi and take over her creation!!" Of course being the good sport that I am and afraid that this reaction might be frowned upon at play group, I bite my tongue and focus on Lachlan's creation. His of course looked nothing like the example. There were pieces here, there and everywhere. It was beautiful to him and that is all that mattered. He had a big smile on his face when he was finished which tells me he was quite proud of his work.

I understand that when children reach primary school that they may be asked to replicate something and may be graded according to how well they completed the task. Generally in this case, the child is asked to make something that is within their developmental capacity. The teacher wouldn't ask them to make a bird house if he didn't feel the child could use a glue bottle and read directions on a paper. The objective of many of these assignments are just that; seeing if the child can follow simple part directions. Young children however are still trying to fit all the pieces together of how things work and how they will appear if they do this or that. They are working on holding scissors and crayons, squeezing glue bottles, drawing squiggles which will become lines or circles over time. They need the freedom to just 'be' to get the feel of how to make things work for themselves. It takes a lot of experimentation and trial and error for them to do this. This is in fact how children become good problem-solvers; by testing the waters out for themselves and figuring out what works and what doesn't. If parent step in before a child waves the white flag, we are taking away important learning opportunities and also sending the message of  'you can't do this on your own. you need me.' Let's let the children figure out when they need help. Most of the time they will ask for it and if you have a shy child or one who gets frustrated easily, simply ask them if they would like help before you jump in.

Well that's all from my little soap box this evening. A little food for thought. Hopefully something will resonate within some parent that is reading this. If you have been a craft Nazi, it is okay. It doesn't mean you are a bad parent, it just mean that perhaps you can examine your tactics and try to loosen up a bit. Try letting your child be in control for a change. You might even have time to have a cup of tea during this time. Imagine that? Until next time...Happy Parenting!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Just a Little Snail Tale...

Spring is approaching over here in our neck of the woods. It is arriving with much anticipation as we are ready to enjoy a little warm sun on our faces and some trips to the beach. More importantly, spring offers a rebirth of all Mother Nature's creations; baby birds in nests, spiders webs glistening from the morning dew, baby blue tongue lizards trying to find a place to live. The is a lot of curious things going on in our backyard!

Over the last few weekends my husband and I have been making us of the good weather to prep our garden beds for their spring plantings. Since our trip to Europe, quite a few weeds decided to make an appearance so we had quite a bit of work cut out for us. Lachlan enjoyed his time running around the yard playing with our dog Max and watching me pull weeds. While pulling weeds, I discovered a gardeners night mare: snails. They are a pesk to the garden, but very interesting for a even me! I was labeled a 'tomboy' as a child and still live up to the name. I brought the snail over to Lachlan. It was all curled up in the shell so I think he just thought it was a seashell and began to say, 'shell.' I told him, "That's right. It is a shell but something lives inside of it. Watch and see." Slowly the snail began to uncurl itself out of the shell. Lachlan stared with much curiosity. He looked at me with a face that said, "What in the world?"

"It is a snail." I told him. "I'm going to put it down and we can watch it crawl." Together we watched the snail slowly slug its way across the patio, shooing Maxwell away who was just as curious as Lachlan. We watched the snail retract itself when Max tried to touch it with its snout. We saw how gracefully it would uncurl and push out its little eyes. "See those little black dots? Those are his eyes! They really stick out don't they?" When Lachlan was comfortable he picked up the snail and examined it closer. It was nice to see him up and close with nature and at an age where he can explore more freely. The experience really got me excited about all the nature experiences that are in store for us this spring and summer. It also inspired me collect some nature items on our family walk that afternoon. In the evening I set up Lachlan's table with some interesting things to explore; a few seashells of various sizes and textures, a pine cone and a leaf found on our walk and also a magpie and a cockatoo feather. I provided a magnified glass for Lachlan and showed him how to use it. First we had fun looking at one another through the glass, then we began to explore the objects. He particularly like feeling the different textures. I even encouraged him to try a little experiment with me by blowing on the objects. We blew on the shells but they wouldn't move. The pine cone shook a bit when mommy blew on it. The feather flew off the table when Lachlan blew on it. What a surprise it was for him! We each grabbed a feather and practiced blowing them off the table laughing the whole time.

Hopefully our little experience has inspired you to go out into nature this week and find a few things to get curious about! Until next time...Happy Parenting!