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!