Thursday, June 17, 2010

Stop and Smell the Roses

   Smelling irises outside a B&B in Loire Valley, France

Sensory. I've spoken about it before. Sensory is such an important part of a child's development. A child's neurons are not fully developed until around the two year mark which is perhaps why babies and toddlers just can't help but to touch everything in their path. Like a hurricane they work their way across a room sucking things in; something from here and there and everywhere. When they are done they throw it to the wind and move on. The aftermath is a room of destruction and often casualties are found. A few toys may be sacrificed and if your home isn't 100% baby proof you might even lose some pages of your favourite book, the batteries to your remote or that heirloom vase your mother-in-law gave you. (Okay, you probably hated that vase and it was all part of some evil pre-meditated plan to leave it in Hurricane (insert child's name)'s path. The point is however, that little ones just can't help themselves. Every object offers a new sensation; sometimes they like it and will explore and experiment, again sometimes sacrificing the life of said object; but we just like to think they take one for the team (at least that is what Woody would say in Toy Story).

The sensation of smelling is one of the senses that often gets forgotten or over looked. The others are easy; the toy market makes it this way by selling toys that stimulate sight and sound with interactive buttons. Books are sold with touch and feel pages. The sense of smell however is often ignored, perhaps it just isn't as easy to manufacture, but no need for you to worry, like most things you don't need to run out and buy a toy to achieve a certain goal. Chances are you have just what you need in your home or backyard and if not an excursion to the shops or the park will fix the problem and you won't even have to purchase anything!

One of my favourite things to do for Lachlan when he was a newborn was to get salt shakers and fill it with something fragrant. I often cut a sprig of lavender or rosemary from my garden for use. He loved the surprise he would get when I held the shaker up to his nose. It wasn't too long before he was making little baby pig sniffing noises. Cinnamon sticks, crushed cardamon pods and star anise are also really great too. You can also place a drop of scented oil on a tissue to put in the shaker if you don't have a lot of spices in the house. Not everyone is Martha Stewart, after all. I often just go on an little scent exploration in my yard or neighborhood to find different things. Rose petals, frangipani, jasmine and lilac all have very pleasant scents and are all easy to find depending on where you live.

When your child is older letting him explore the great outdoors is a great way to exercise the ol' nostrils. We get an array of smells as we walk to the park. Some often coming from our dog, Maxwell as he leaves little presents for me to pick up; but you got to learn early that not all things in life are pleasant! Ever since we visited Europe, Lachlan has been very keen on smelling flowers.It was spring time there so there was a lot in bloom, especially in France where there were irises growing in plenty. I don't particularly care for the smell of purple irises but none the less I entertained Lachlan and stuck my nose in every one we passed to make him happy. I smelled so many dandelions in Krakow in fact that it wasn't until a half and hour train ride later that someone told me that I had a yellow nose! He's gotten to the point now that when we read a story and he sees a flower, he presses his nose against the book and starts to sniff. (Really, how adorable is that? I just love watching him learn and grow!)

Gardens are fully of interesting smells to perk up a bub's nose. I've loved to garden since I was a young child back in Indiana, USA. I always had a small veggie patch and my parents were good at letting me experience the growing process from start to finish without interfering. It was a good lesson. I planted the seeds and watched them grow. If I forgot to water the garden, I quickly learned just what the hot Indiana sun would do. If I neglected the garden, weeds would grow and drown out my mini crop. Gardening is also good for fussy eaters (though I can't say it helped me too much as I was VERY fussy!) I did however, try everything that I planted, so that is a good thing. I remember planting a lot of green peppers which I still hate to this day; but looking back that must have been an influence from my mom as I recall her liking stuffed bell peppers--that or she just made them because I kept growing them; who knows! The tradition of gardening continues. We have a lovely vegetable patch in our backyard along with a orange, lemon and an apricot tree. Lachlan reaps the rewards and the fruit of labour that his daddy and I put into the garden. Someday, he'll be able to join in. He's already showing an interest; he likes to smell the basil and mint and it won't be long until winter is over and he can help plant new seeds. A garden is a wonderful place for a child. There is lemon grass to smell, fresh mulch to feel and of course lots of wiggly and crawly critters to see. Our garden always hosts large garden spiders with beautiful fluorescent yellow stripes and often a blue-tongue lizard will come for a visit from the reserve across the road. It won't be long until Lachlan will be introduced to the worm farm we have. How fun is that? I loved worms as a kid!

If you don't grow your own veggies or flowers, take a trip to the shop and sit your toddler in the shopping cart to share in the experience with you. Lachlan loves it when we visit the produce aisle or go to the farmer's market. We stop and smell the oranges, cantaloupe and lycees. He feels the furry kiwis and prickly pineapples. If there are fresh flowers we have a little sniff. The shop becomes a fun and engaging experience and you don't even have to buy anything if you don't want.

So the next time you are out and about, don't forget to smell the roses...or irises; whichever you prefer. A sniffer is a wonderful thing so don't neglect it. Plan some smelly time with your child. His nose will thank you and you might thank yourself too. After all, what overworked mom couldn't use a good sniff of relaxing lavender, eh? You could even put some in bubs room to see if he'll sleep better. Now don't get too excited, but you never know! Until next time, Happy Sniffing!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Atelierista in You

Recently we returned for a long holiday in Europe. Most of it was holiday, but some of it was work related. I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Reggio Emilia, Italy, the place where the Reggio Emilia Approach was birthed. The Reggio Emilia Approach is one that recognises children thrive and learn best in an environment that supports individualism, creativity, respect for oneself, others and the community. It is a curriculum that is guided by the children; this is accomplished when teachers observe their students closely and form close bonds and communication with them and their parents in order to provide the necessary resources to the environment in which they can explore and learn. Teachers use provocation to stimulate the act of questioning and peak curiosity. The Approach is unique because it heavily relies on parent and community input and support; because each and every community is different, the Reggio Approach can not be replicated or put in a box and taken to another part of the world for use. Each community would offer its own qualities and culture. So while schools and childcare centres can use principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach, they will never fully function like a true Reggio school.

One fascinating aspect about the Reggio Approach is the place it has for atelierstas or art teachers. Reggio schools have a separate atelier (studio) in all the childcare centres that is supervised by an atelierista. Children share this space and the materials within, known as 'the hundred languages of children,' with other classrooms. The materials are appropriately called 'the hundred languages' because they are what the children use to express their thought, feelings and emotions. Access to varying materials is very important in creative expression. The resources provided should stimulate all the senses so that the young budding artists have a kaleidoscope of media to choose from. The materials are so important because they are a means of symbolic representation, in which the children can manipulate to reflect their thoughts and ideas. Thoughts now become something that others can see and even feel. The end result is left for further interpretation by others. The materials affect the children--each stroke of paint may encourage another...and another. The child not only influences the material, but the material influences the child. As the child alters the material to accomplish a particular goal, the material will move or present itself in a new way that will further inspire the child. As you can see, a beautiful relationship between the artist and material is formed. This is probably why so many artists and musicians talk about their work with such passion; they too are transformed during the creative process. This is also why children tend to always gravitate towards certain media--'they just like the way that it feels', they will tell you. The simple-minded adult will assume that the child is talking about how the material makes them feel physically; perhaps gooey, smooth or cold. An atelierista, however will see the emotional side and ask the child, " how does it make you feel?" Perhaps the child may respond with, "happy or excited." I once asked a child this very question while she was painting a picture and she told me that the painting made her feel pretty. When I asked why she said because she could paint herself to look however she wanted. She really wanted her ears pierced but her parents wouldn't let her until she was eight (sure was a very mature six and a half going on sixteen). Through painting, she could paint herself and have as many piercings as she wanted!

Now, I didn't major in the expressive arts but I do consider myself creative (you really have to be when you are in my line of work and especially as a mom!). I have learned through experience and interactions with other colleagues and children that you can turn anything into anything! Children are especially good at teaching this lessons. Most of what I do was inspired by someone under the age of six and that is the honest truth! The beautiful thing about children is that they remind you what it is like to be a child and to think like a child--there are no boundaries and no rules when it comes to art and it is always okay to colour outside of the lines (an important lessons for parents and grandparents to remember.) Lachlan and I try our best to engage in one creative experience a day; this may be through painting, cooking, sculpting, you name it--the list goes on. I try to determine what he is interested in and go from their. For children under two who are pre-verbal, you achieve this by lots of observation and jotting down a few notes (these notes help when the mommy brain sets in). For example, Lachlan has been really interested in anything that turns (cars, gears, pinwheels, etc) and stars. Stars are the first shape that he began identifying when he was 6 months and he's been obsessed with them ever since. I found some foam star cut-outs at a dollar shop and offered those along with some strips or recycled corrugated cardboard for him to make a collage with. This was his first collage so I showed him how to use the glue-stick by covering his paper with it. I pressed a small bit of cardboard on so he could see where the process was going. I then stepped back and left him to it. I went to get the camera and when I returned he had already placed several stars and stripes on the paper. I praised him for his work. He added another star and then decided he was done. The who process was only a few minutes and then he was ready to hop off of his chair. He was very proud of his masterpiece! Later this week, I will take out some small paint rollers for him to experiment with on canvas. The rollers should excite him as they turn and I'm sure he'll mostly end up with paint on his hands then anywhere else!

When engaging in creative activities with children, consider the following tips:
1) Make sure the activity is fun! If your child isn't interested then don't force them. Sometimes they just aren't comfortable with the materials or aren't ready yet. Wait a few weeks and try again.
2) For young children, show them what the art tools are used for first and then let them have a go.
3) Remember that it is their masterpiece, not yours! Avoid altering or encouraging them to make something in a particular way--that is not creativity, that is replication.
4) Offer a lot of different resources. Recycled goods are best! Old birthday and Christmas cards cut into strips are great for collages. Boxes and containers can turn into cars, animals, etc.
5) Put a mat down on the floor or table that is easy to wipe clean and always keep a wet rag handy for quick clean up of surfaces and hands.
If you don't have a paint smock, put your child in one of your old shirts. You can use a clothes pin to bunch up the excess material in the back.
6) When your child is finished, display their work of art where they can see it so they know you are proud of their accomplishment.
7) Ask open-ended questions about their work. Don't just say that you like it, ask them to tell you something about it; this also allows you to figure out what it is that they made. After all, you don't want to call it a beautiful cat when it is really a moose!
8) You don't have to buy expensive materials. You can use an adult easel if you already have one, lower it to the bottom for your child. You can also make your own paint stand by using a shoe box. Cut circles on the bottom of the box that will fit the paint cups. Make the holes slightly smaller so that the cup lip won't fall through the hole. An example is shown in one of the pictures above. You can also make your own paint cup holders by using small yogurt container tubs that have plastic lids. Use and exacto knife to cut a small circle in the cent of the lid, large enough for the paint brush to fit in. If the plastic is sharp after cutting, cover with some masking tape. These containers prevent paint messes if your little one accidentally tips over the paint cup.
9) When buying paint, buy the basics! All you need is the primary colours: red, yellow and blue. It is a great lesson for your child to mix the colours. Imagine their surprise when they mix red and blue and get purple! You can also provide the hues white and black to make additional shades (such as mixing white with red to get pink) and contrast.
10) Be creative with your art tools. For example, a toy car can be used to make a painting by rolling the wheels in paint and making tracks on the paper. You can also make wheel tracks in play dough. Leaves and feathers also make fun paint brushes. Don't forget about the body either; mix it up and instead of painting with your fingers, use your feet! Long butcher paper is great for this.

Wonder what is in Lachlan's atelier?
1) Lots of natural light! Put easels by windows if possible.
2) Recyclables: shredded old holiday cards, corrugated cardboard, egg cartons, paper towel rolls, foil, small boxes and containers, rings from milk and juice jugs, lids, muffin paper.
3) Finger paint and poster paint
4) Hand stamp paint
5) Paint brushes, various textured rollers, textured stampers, sponges
6) Die cut foam shapes
7) Feathers, gum nuts, dried leaves, small twigs
8) A4 paper and rolls of butcher paper.
9) Adult easel which is shared with his daddy.
10) Paint smocks
11) Shoe box paint stand
12) Crayons, markers, chalk (sidewalk chalk for outside)
13) A4 display book to showcase artwork after it is removed from the wall.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

First Swim Lessons

Lachlan had his first swimming lessons over the weekend. I have to say that his little bum-bum looks sooooo aodrable in a teeny tiny speedo! If his attitude of the first lesson is any indication whether he'll be the next Ian Thorpe, we aren't crossing our fingers. Okay, so I'm being a little hard on our little man. It wasn't that bad. He was actually quite interested in getting into the pool when we arrived, that went down the drain as soon as another parent hopped in the pool and accidentally splashed water in Lachlan's face. He began to cry, which carried on for the first five minutes of class. He clung on to his father's arms and shoulders with a death grip. After five minutes he settled and moved up his status to 'willing observer.' The instructor was very nice and reassured us that we would move at Lachlan's pace and when he was ready to participate he would. Ky-Anh went through all the swim play exercises along with the other two parents. At the end of the lesson, the instructor sang and went through the movements of 'The Hokey Pokey' in the water. I watched from the side of the pool and caught a first glimpse of a smile on Lachlan's face. It only lasted a moment, but it was there. I'm sure he was surprised and relieved to hear a familiar song, one which we sing as a modified version during his dressing routine, wiping hands after meal-time and even when brushing our teeth.

After his lesson the instructor encouraged us to watch a video on water safety provided by the government. It had a lot of good tips on how to get Lachlan more comfortable with the water. Things that we actually did with him as a new born and in infancy but stopped which was a mistake because has forgotten how much he used to like playing in the water with his face and mouth. The video suggested saying 'Ready, Set' before pouring water of your child's head, which is done to condition them to get used to water in their face. At Lachlan's next bath time, I tried this and he didn't even fuss after the first time! That was the trick--all he needed was a little advance notice and he was fine. Guess he doesn't like surprises. Unfortunately in the pool, splashes are often unexpected but he'll just have to get used to that I suppose and learn to love it!

I'm so glad that we have enrolled him early in swimming lessons--when you hear that over 300 children died last year from drownings it makes you realise how important it his to have children who are capable swimmers or at least know how to float. Check out Kids Alive-Do the Five for more information on water safety.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Returning from a Big Adventure

Well, where has the time gone indeed? It has been a loooong time since our last post and so much has happened and changed in the life of Lachlan! Most recently, we have just returned from a lovely vacation in Europe. We were gone for over a month and it was really amazing to see how much Lachlan has developed over the period that we were away. He began so many first such as building block towers , balancing things on his head and performing more social gestures such a waving and clapping which he wasn't too interested in before. He meet a lot of new people and formed several close bonds. He was such an amazing traveller also. Not one tear on any of the seven flights. We were very proud of him!

Lachlan was trenched in culture during this trip. In Italy he learned how to say 'Ciao' and eat gelato with the best of them. He also found a love from Italian women and would chase them as much as possible; they were more then willing to stop and say, "Ciao, Bello" which would bring a sheepish smile to his face. In Poland he learned that he likes Polish cheese cake and pierogis. In France he stared curiously at Monet's Waterlilies, chased pigeons in Jardin du Luxembourg, smiled at Mona Lisa and discovered a passion for croissants and blood sausage. It was a very exciting trip for him; it is a shame that he won't remember any of it but we took over 2,000 photos to jog his memory!

Now we are back from our trip and have finally gotten over the jet lag which really took its toll on the whole family. Our little travelling sunbeam turned into a firecracker when we got home. We had almost a week of trying to put him to bed at his normal time only to be combated with screaming for over five hours. He was so used to sleeping in the same room with us or even in our bed during the trip that it seemed as if he was terrified of his bedroom, when he had always enjoyed his time in it before and would always lie down so nicely at the end of a long day. With a lot of patience and persistence, we saw an improvement after four days and after a couple more he was back to his normal self; but there were lots of sleepless nights for us all!

Lachlan also brought back with him six new teeth! He has a little mouth full of chompers now-14 total, two of the newbies being his one-year molars; it just sounds so grown up, doesn't it? The following week after we returned, Lachlan began taking his first steps! That was just last week so he is still building up balance and confidence but he is doing really well. He'll walk the whole length of the house but then revert back to crawling as he knows he can get there much quicker. The second day he learned how to walk, he also learned how to walk backwards. It was a riot to watch! He thought he was pretty cool, though. He's always been a backwards kid though; he still graces us with his Michael Jackson Moon 'Crawl' which he loves to do across our hardwood floors. He literally does look like he is crawling on air.
So stay-tuned for more of Lachlan's journey. I have lots of photos and ideas of things you can do with the special little ones in your life. It will just take me a while to catch up and post everything! Until next time...Happy Parenting!