Monday, December 17, 2012

Nativity Matching Game

This post contains affiliate links.

Last Christmas Erik was given an adorable Fisher Price Nativity set that is perfect for babies/toddlers. I just love it! I want the real reason behind Christmas to be as important to my children as it is to me, and this is a great way to really help a child learn to love the story of Christ's birth. 

 As I was looking for a solution to our Christmas tree dilemma, I found a set of wall stickers that make up a Nativity scene. I was so excited. I pulled them out and with a little bit of help Erik got to stick them up on the pantry door (okay, a lot of help, he wanted to stick them all in a pile so I came back later and rearranged the stickers so he could see them all). We've been talking about all the different characters trying to help him recognize them, and today we made a game out of it. We brought his Little People nativity over to the wall Nativity and started trying to match the 3D figures with the stickers. He loved it. Matching the toy in his hand with a picture or video of the same thing is one of his favorite things to do. We kept this up for a while until I made the mistake of trying to get him to match up the stars. As soon as he discovered how to make the one on the stable light up, that was it. All he wanted to do was sit and push the button over and over and listen to the song play. Oh well.
This was a really fun, festive way to help Erik practice sorting/matching skills, fine motor skills, and language development (we talked lots about the names of the kinds of animals, etc...). 

*Diedre Mower is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Working on Standing

Now that Paisley has mastered sitting up independently, her next big hurdles are crawling (which she is SO close to figuring out) and standing. She works pretty hard on crawling all day. We make sure there are tempting toys just out of reach for her to have to work towards, and she does the rest. Standing, on the other hand, is something she cannot yet work on on her own. We practice this in a couple of ways. You can hold her hands or around her waist and help her balance while she stands. You can also help her find other objects to gain support from as she works on this. A good example of a place for her to practice standing would be your couch. Nice and soft in case she falls, a great place to set toys to entertain her with, and a comfy place for you to sit while she plays. Another one that we like lately is to just help her stabilize herself against the wall. It helps that right now we have lots of interesting things stuck to the wall for her to look at. Just make sure you stay close by so when she gets tired or distracted you can help her get down without face planting into your solid wall. 
 There's no way she'd be ready to stand on her own any time soon, but she is working hard at building the muscles and practicing the balance she'll need before striking out on her own.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Tree!

This post contains affiliate links.

As we were debated about what to do about a Christmas tree this year, we were really stumped. Where would we put it in our tiny apartment? How on earth would we ever keep Erik from destroying it? We could decorate a mini one and just keep it up on our kitchen table, but could we stand to listen to the 24/7 whining that would go on because Erik would be able to see it but not reach it? We finally decided that we weren't going to do a tree this year, there was just no way humanly possible to make it work. And then, as I was digging around in my box of Christmas stuff, I came across the Perfect solution! Not only would it enable us to have a tree of sorts, but it would make a great activity for Erik. So, what is this little bit of Christmas magic I'm talking about? STICKERS!
Okay, so right before we got started Erik dumped a big cup of VERY cold water all over his shirt, which meant he got to go topless for the tree decorating. Oh well. 
 The main body of the tree was four stickers that had to be lined up perfectly to look right, so the grown-ups did that part, but Erik got to help put on all the individual decorations. He loves stickers and is getting pretty good with them. Now if we could just convince him that the ornaments go on the tree, not the wall...

 We love our little tree. It's perfect. It gives us that Christmastime feel we were looking for with none of the mess and it doesn't take up any of our limited floor space. And...
 ...Erik can even drive his tractors on it without me having to worry about a thing. It's perfect!
As you may remember (or already know) stickers are a great way for a child to have a little creative license while practicing their fine motor skills. Decorating a Christmas tree as a family (even a less traditional tree) gives your child a chance to interact socially with the members of his family, while helping to build his self esteem by making him feel like a valued member of the group. What a great way to learn build some memories!

*Diedre Mower is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Part of One Fine Face"

Okay, if you can tell me where that title comes from *without* using a search engine, than you win the prize. Don't know what the prize is, but you would win it for sure!

Paisley is getting into a stage where she's realizing the power of her fingertips. No, that's not a typo, I did mean of. She has discovered the hand-eye connection; that she can reach for and explore the things she sees with her fingers. This means that she wants to be able to explore all the things she's been looking at for months now and get to know them better. Things like, for example, the faces of those she knows. Whenever you sit down and cuddle her while she drinks her bottle, those little hands of hers start wandering all over your face.

Today's activity is something we did with Erik when he started showing interest in what his hands could do, and now Paisley can get in on the fun. Whenever she reaches out and grabs your nose mouth ear or whatever else she may grab, make sure you tell her what she's got. She seems to have a different favorite facial feature each day, and today's favorite is my nose, so we've be talking a lot about noses all day. Whenever Erik's handy I'll point out his nose to Paisley, and let him point to hers. We make sure we verbally label whose nose we're talking about. "There's Erik's nose" or "Here's Paisley's nose". Before too long Paisley will have all the parts of the face down well enough to start pointing to things when you ask her where they are. It's so much fun to watch these little guys learn and grow!

This seems like such a simple thing, but just making sure you talk about everyday things will help baby's vocabulary explode. It builds their confidence and the bond between the two of you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Piggy Bank Play

I want to welcome my first ever guest poster, Carolyn. She blogs over at Carolyn's Cozy Corner and Cookies 'n' Cows. Carolyn's little guy Wyler is just a few weeks younger than Erik, so they are often doing and learning the same things at the same time. When she sent me this idea for an activity to do with Erik I invited her to share her experience with Wyler. Here's what she had to say:

I wanted to share something I discovered with Wyler that Erik might enjoy. From reading your Playing to Learn blog this would work on fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. I was putting spare change in Wyler's piggy bank and he came over to see what I was doing. So I emptied out all the change (thanks to Grandma Darla there was about $2 in dimes and a small (really small) hand full of random change I have added.) He picked up a coin and tried to put it in the slot. The coin didn't fit with the way the slot in the bank was oriented, so I turned the bank and after that he was hooked. (If I had left the bank where it was he would have had problem solving skills as he tried to figure out how to get that coin in.)
 Once all the coins were in he picked it up, and shook it. Nothing came out! He handed it to me so I could take the coins back out, and once they were dumped he put them right back in. This happened anther time or two. He wanted to keep playing, but I had a few other things I needed to do, and couldn't supervise this activity all day long.

I think this sounds like a great activity. As you know, I'm a big fan of taking things you've already got around the house and turning them into a playing/learning activity. I can't wait to try this one out with Erik!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Surprise on a String

This activity sounded like it would be pretty fun, and required very little set up, so we went for it. The gist of it is that you take a few toys, tie each one to its own piece of string, attach the string to baby's highchair tray, and then they have to pull the toy up on the tray to play with it. In practice it just wasn't working out. I used tape to attach the strings to the highchair tray, but instead of pulling up the toys, Erik just pulled the tape off his tray and dropped the toy, string and all, without ever even trying to pull on it. He just wanted a snack, after all he was in his highchair! 
So, we made a few adjustments to the idea and it became a hit. As you can see in the pictures below, we tied the toys to the back of a chair and then Erik sat on the seat and pulled the toys up. It worked out pretty well. This activity is a great way to help your child develop problem solving skills, hand-eye coordination, and work on those arm muscles. 
 We did discover that the longer the string is the harder it is to get the toy up and over the back of the chair. Erik just couldn't quite figure out how to pull it hand over hand to get that toy.

 I shortened the strings and things went much better. That is until Erik noticed the empty box in the room. Don't you love how something as simple as a cardboard box can trump any cool activity you try to put together? He was never this excited about the toys on the strings.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rock 'n' Row

Okay, so not only did I steal the idea for this activity from another website, but I stole their name for it too. It was just too cute and I wasn't feeling clever enough to try to come up with something of my own.
Basically you sit on the floor with your legs in a V. Place the baby sitting up on the floor between your legs facing you. Holding baby's hands, gently pull/push baby forwards and backwards as you sing the song "Row, Row, Row your Boat". Simple, right?


Both Paisley and Erik love this one, it's been a lot of fun (and depending on how far you rock, it can be a good ab workout for mom!). This is a great way to work out those back and tummy muscles that baby (and mom) needs to be able to sit up and become mobile. It's also a good, interactive music activity, which is SO good for your baby. It you didn't see my previous post on the importance of music, read it here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Muffin Pan Sorting

This is another example of the awesomeness of pinterest. I love all the great ideas that are to be found there, especially when they're as simple as today's activity (which comes from here).
I've collected a few paper tubes from paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls as they've become available so that when I had enough we could do this. The prep work is pretty simple, you just cut your tubes into pieces and give them and a muffin pan to your little one and you're good to go. Toddlers love to put objects into things and take them back out again (especially the taking out part!).
This activity takes advantage of that built in desire to put in/ take out, and builds hand eye coordination and fine motor skills at the same time.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Trot My Pony

This is a little game that I remember my parents doing with my siblings and I when we were little. Erik has loved it for a long time, and I just introduced it to Paisley recently. She really seems to like it, and it's fun to pass it on to someone new. 

In case you want the words, they are:
Trot my pony,
trot to town.
Watch out pony,
don't fall down!

While this isn't exactly a song, it has qualities that it shares with music such as rhyme and rhythm.
Music has been shown to have a huge impact on infants and children and their ability to learn and develop. In the November issue of Parenting magazine, it said "Playfully dancing or singing to your baby could boost his pre-language communication skills and make him easier to soothe, according to research from McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario. In the study, 6-month-olds were assigned to take either an active music class, in which parents played musical games with their infant, or a passive music class, in which parents used blocks or read books with their baby while recorded music played in the background. After six months, the babies in the active class smiled more, were easier to soothe, and showed less distress in new situations than the infants in the passive class. 'There's something about the rhythm and synchrony of music, and engaging in it together, that increases the social bond between a parent and child,' says researcher Laurel J. Trainor, PhD., a professor in the department of psychology, neuroscience, and behavior".
Since reading this little snippet, I've been trying to come up with ways to get Erik and Paisley more involved in music, and I hope to be able to share them with you here.
So, you heard the professor, get out there and dance with your baby!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

All the World is a Sensory Bin

During Thanksgiving break, Erik loved having Mom and Dad to himself all day long for a whole week. We spent lots of time just enjoying being together, but one of our favorite things to do was play outside. Thanksgiving morning we went for a walk to enjoy the BEAUTIFUL fall weather. It was just too pretty to pass up. 
One of our main goals for this walk was to find some fun fall textures for Erik to enjoy, in particular we wanted to find a good pile of leaves for him to play in. We went over to a subdivision a short distance from our apartment that has lots of big trees and there we hit the jack-pot! 
We sat on the side of the road and just turned Erik loose. There was no traffic, and nobody else in sight, so we felt pretty safe letting Erik wander around as long as he didn't get too far. I think the taste of independence was good for him. He got to explore whatever he wanted without any interference and just have a blast!
He loved the leaves. The sound of them crunching underfoot, the nice autumny smell, the feeling of scooping up armfuls, and the sight of them flying through the air when he threw them were all such awesome sensory stimulation.

Like I said, we let Erik be pretty independent. If he wanted to check out a fire hydrant or a mail box we let him, as long as he wasn't hurting anything.
Whenever Erik was ready to move on to a new location, we followed suit.
He loved being just like his Daddy and pushing the stroller around. What a great way to build self confidence and gross motor skills at the same time!
Exploring the texture of a picket fence...
He stumbled upon this tree stump that had a pile of little chunks of wood of various shapes and sizes. He climbed right up there and started exploring the blocks of wood, seeing if they would stack, what they tasted like, etc...
And then, being a boy, he started throwing them...
This was a really fun little family outing and was packed chock full of great learning and growing experiences. Getting outside with your kids is so good for everyone involved, give it a try!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Official Resource on Playtime

As the wife of a scientist (in training, about to graduate with his Masters in Wildlife and Fisheries Management) I am learning that if I can't cite a source from a peer-reviewed journal than my argument doesn't count. If I just say something like "Oh, I read online somewhere the other day that (fill in the blank with some interesting tidbit of info)" his response is often "Oh yeah? Says who? Did that come from a peer reviewed journal?" So, I was really excited to discover recently that there is a real, peer reviewed journal dedicated to PLAY! It is called The American Journal of Play and it is "a forum for discussing the history, science, and culture of play. The Journal aims to increase awareness and understanding of the role of play in learning and human development and the ways in which play illuminates cultural history." Source
All of the issues of this journal are available for free on their website, which is in linked in the first paragraph of this post. If you want to see what kinds of things the journal has, here is a list of some interesting looking articles.
One thing that makes this journal especially interesting is the wide range of topics they cover. It seems to me that just about anyone could find an article that interests them. Just in the most recent issue, there are articles on the influence of play in the professional work place, the influence of play on cartoon drawing, introducing autistic children to playing in group settings, and a study of play in monkeys, just to name a few.
Now, when you tell someone something interesting you learned about the importance of play, you can have the knowledge that your info came from a peer reviewed source.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Paisley's First Sensory Bin

Today Paisley got to play with her first sensory bin. The inspiration for this came from here. I scrounged around the house looking for lots of soft, interesting looking things to fill up a basket with, and then I turned Paisley loose with them all. She really wasn't sure what to do.
Look who's sitting up like a big kid!
 When I couldn't get her interested in playing with the objects in the basket, we dumped them out around her feet to see if maybe she'd go for it then. Still no luck.
 Erik jumped in and starting playing with things, and with a lot of encouragement Paisley finally got involved.

This wasn't as big of a hit as I hoped it would be, but that may have been my fault. I realized that most of the items were boring colors, and some were way to big to pick up comfortably. All of them were unfamiliar and that may have scared her off too. So, next time I need to make sure the objects are easily manipulated, interesting, and at least one or two of them are familiar.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Technical Difficulties...

Well, both babies are napping and so I sat down here to type up a whole pile of blog posts. I was looking through my pictures picking the best ones, and thinking about how to put together each post. Then I tried to upload some pictures and my vision of a week's worth of posts done in one sitting flew out the window. Apparently blogger only gives you 1 GB of free upload space?! Surely there's a way around this, or does everyone pay to put photos on their blogs? Either way, until I can figure this one out, you're just going to have to wait to see what we've been up to. Dang technology!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pom Pom Tunnel

I'm always on the look out for cheap easy activities to do with Erik and Paisley. When I saw this 
one I just knew we had to give it a try. 

Let's gather our supplies:
-cardboard tube (think paper towel or toilet paper tubes here)
-tape
-pom poms
-small container

Now, this is pretty complicated, so you need to pay careful attention to the instructions here :)
First, you take your cardboard tube and tape it to a table or cabinet so it's vertical. Place the container underneath the tube. Next, you take a pom pom (or other small object), drop it into the top of the tube, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. 
Don't you just love the discarded sock? Goofy boy!
Erik was mesmerized. He spent a long time dropping the pom pom's through and then decided to see what else fit. He stuffed everything he could down that tube just for the sheer joy of watching it fall out the bottom so he could put it back in again. 
 This is SO simple, but such a great learning experience game. Erik worked on his fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination as he picked up the small objects and maneuvered them into the opening. He developed his sense of spatial relationships by testing different toys and learning which ones fit in the tube and which ones didn't. Funny that with all the money we spend on toys and education, a piece of trash is more fun than them all.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sit-Ups

Erik was sick last week, so Paisley had to stay home on Friday in an attempt to not catch our germs. Thus, you're not getting this post until today.

Paisley has been working SO hard at crawling and sitting up. She wants to do these things so very badly! We try to spend a few minutes here and there throughout the day helping her build the muscles she'll need to do these skills.
Sitting up is hard work! Paisley is making great progress, but she just needs a little more time and practice before she'll have the strength to do it alone. For now, this is what we've been doing.

Whenever she seems up for a bit of a work out, I surround Paisley with pillows to cushion falls that I know are coming, and help her to sit up. She tends to arch her back, so at first I have to help push her forward until she gets the hang of how hard to tense those little muscles. Once you help her get her feet arranged and her back straight, she can actually support herself for a few seconds in a completely upright position.
  After a short period of time sitting up, Paisley typically goes into what is called the tripod position.
This way she is supporting herself with one or both arms. Being leaned forward like this is NOT a failure. This is actually a skill she will need to develop as she's learning how to reach for and manipulate objects without falling down. It also gives her a break to rest those muscles. Come on, even big strong grown-ups need a break sometimes! Being able to feel that you're falling and process that information quickly enough to catch yourself is actually a critical life skill, and it's awesome that Paisley's got such a good handle on it.
A few things to remember: Keep it fun. Make sure there are interesting toys handy for baby to look at and reach for (reaching is another big milestone a baby should be grasping at this age, why not kill two birds with one stone?) Keep it short. This is a pretty high-intensity work out (for a baby), so don't over do it. If she's tired, stop! The more tired she gets the more she's going to fall down and get frustrated. So don't push it.
If you're interested in learning more about sitting up or other movement milestones baby should be working on at this age, check out this article and this one.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Egg Carton Craziness

It's funny to me that despite my attempts to plan fun new things for Erik, so many of the things I post here are the result of desperation. Things like letting Erik help with housework or cook with me are really just desperate attempts to get him out from under foot and occupied while I do whatever I need to do (luckily these activities also really good for him).
Today's activity is no different. I was trying to cook dinner and Erik was hanging on me crying and begging for some attention. I had just used the last egg in my egg carton and hoping to get him off my back for a moment I handed it to him. Then, I realized that we could make this into something much more fun with almost no extra effort on my part. I took him and the egg carton over to the toy box and we dug through until we'd found a whole pile of toys that were little enough to fit inside. I showed him how to put them in and open/close the lid and he was hooked. It was awesome! The next morning, I pulled out some pom poms I had lying around and gave him those to put in the carton. He loved it!
This activity has great learning potential. In addition to working on the vocabulary words "open" and "closed", he also practiced hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills as he dumped the toys out and put them back in. He played with that egg carton for several days until he'd completely destroyed it, and then we had to throw it away. By the time I have another one empty for him it'll be like a whole new adventure again.


Where did they go?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stickers

I've been too chicken to try doing stickers with Erik, it just seemed like it would be to hard (and therefore frustrating) for him. That is, until a friend gave us some fun Disney Halloween stickers, and I figured we might as well give it a try. And, like always, I was wrong and Erik loved it! Don't get me wrong, it is REALLY hard for him and he isn't very good at it, but we'll keep practicing. 
We started out sticking the stickers on the outside of the book they came in. 

It didn't take too long before putting these on the paper got old and Erik decided it was way more fun to put them on himself. 

How is one supposed to chose which one to use next?

This is a great way to build fine motor skill and to give the child some creative freedom. It takes a lot of practice, but it's so much fun.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Baby Friendly Halloween Craft

 Happy Halloween! I'm sure everyone has a fun day planned today. I thought I'd share the little craft we did yesterday in honor of Halloween. I really wanted something that we could do with both Erik and Paisley, and I found this idea online. I wish I'd had better paper to do it on than just printer paper, but oh well, it works.
Erik made his to send to his grandparents, and Paisley's is going to her mommy and daddy when they come to get her this afternoon.

These were super easy to make, although I will admit I wasn't willing to tackle 2 paint covered babies at once. I did one baby's hand prints while the other was asleep. I mixed up my red and yellow finger paints to make orange (word of warning it really only takes ONE drop of red to turn a huge pile of yellow orange. Don't over do the red) and then stripped the baby down to their diaper and went for it. I only did one hand at a time and rinsed it off before starting the next one to minimize paint getting everywhere. With Erik I kinda smeared his prints a little to help make them more pumpkiny. Let the paint dry over night, and then use a sharpie to draw on the faces and there you have it!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Amazing Disappearing Toy

Today we tried a new game with Paisley that is kind of a spin off of Peek-a-boo. I most recently saw this idea on Productive Parenting, but it's in just about any list of things to do with infants. 

I started by propping Paisley up with some pillows against the couch (she's so close to sitting independently but is just not quite there yet) and gave her a toy to play with. I wanted to make sure that the toy I'd selected would catch her interest. 
I'd say she looks pretty interested, how about you?
 Next, I covered the toy with a blanket. It was still within reach, but out of sight. As soon as the toy disappeared, Paisley would start looking around her frantically. I couldn't decide if she was looking for the toy we'd been playing with or just something new to do since her toy was gone. She never did try to reach for her toy, or move the blanket.
Whoa, where'd it go?

I found it!

Again, notice she's moving in this one. The instant the toy was out of sight she'd start looking all over the place. 

I just loved how excited she was to see her toy every time I uncovered it!
The biggest thing this activity helps with is the development of object permanence. Eventually the idea that the toy is still there will stick and Paisley will start trying to get to the toy under the blanket. I think she must be pretty close to that point since she does act like she's looking for something when it's gone.