Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Mile in Mom's Shoes

One thing that I really love about all the activities off of Productive Parenting is that for the most part you don't need any special materials to make them work. No last minute run to the store for supplies, you just get to have fun. Take today's activity for example:
All I did was give Erik a pile of shoes, and let him go to town. It was really fun to watch him pick through them all and decide which ones to try on first, and it was even more fun to watch him try to get some of them on.
Which ones to wear first?!
He's actually trying to put my shoe on MY foot. He thought at first that we were getting ready to go outside to play, and he knew I wouldn't go out that door until we both had shoes on. 
He finally caught on to what we were doing though. 
Erik loves trying to walk in our shoes. He loves trying to lift the weight of the heavy shoes, and trying to figure out how to balance while walking in them. This is such a great way to build up those leg muscles!
How's a kid supposed to get his toes in these things, they're so darn tall! 

I did it!

One of the biggest things a child is working on with this activity is balance. Make sure you're there to catch them if they topple over. 
 It was cute to see how proud Erik was of himself when he managed to take some steps in a big pair of shoes. Such a great confidence booster!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Peanut Buttered Banana Pancakes

I made these for Erik's dinner the other night (hubby was working late and I knew Erik wouldn't care what we ate so yes, we had pancakes for dinner) and he loved them. I think he ate seven of them. Wouldn't you?
Let's rewind to several months ago, when I was looking around for ideas for things to tempt Erik (he can be super picky!). I found an idea somewhere online (sorry, don't remember where) for banana pancakes. They had you dip banana slices in pancake batter and then cook them in a skillet. I thought this sounded genius and decided to give it a try. It flopped. The batter didn't want to stick to the bananas so it all ran off and left the top exposed. The batter on the side of the slices didn't get cooked well, and it was basically a flop. 
Now, fast forward to now, it's a few minutes to supper time and I've got nothing ready to go. I'm standing in my kitchen and see the box of whole wheat pancake mix I had yet to put away from my grocery trip that afternoon, and it's sitting next to the bunch of bananas on my counter. I think to myself how sad it was that the banana pancakes flopped, and then suddenly the solution pops into my head. Here's the secret:
Start by mixing your desired pancake batter as you would normally do. Put a small amount onto your chosen pancake pan (just like you would normally do, except smaller), you want it to end up being just a tiny bit bigger than a slice of banana. After the batter has cooked a few seconds, place a slice of banana onto each pancake and press down slightly so it's sunk into the batter. Like this:
 Next, place a small dollop of batter atop the banana slice, like this:
When it's ready to flip, just be careful not to mess up your little pancake and banana tower. 
Now, I was trying to decide the best thing to top these with (Erik doesn't know syrup exists. Seriously, why teach my kid that he can drizzle his food with liquid sugar when there are options like PB, applesauce, fruit spreads, etc...) when I realized that there couldn't be anything better than peanut butter. Who doesn't like the banana+PB combo? So, right after I flipped my little pancakes, while the second side was still cooking, I smeared some PB onto each pancake so it'd get warm and gooey. 
 As soon as they were cooked all the way through I took them out of the pan, let them cool a minute or two, and then handed them over to Erik. I just knew it would be love at first bite. I was wrong. He spit it out and looked at me like I'd betrayed him. I thought maybe he didn't like the PB with it, so I scraped it off one bite and tried again. Same reaction. What could have gone wrong, they looked so perfect? I popped one into my mouth to see if I could figure out the problem. HOLY CRAP! MOLTEN HOT BANANA LAVA!!!!!
So apparently it takes about forever for the banana to cool down to a reasonable temperature. So long that the pancake part will be cold (and I do mean cold, not just a little cool) before the banana is edible. At least you get to bite into a warm gooey banana-ey center. Once we got them cooled down Erik loved them and ate a bunch (plus the other half of the banana that I hadn't cooked). I think he'd eat them every day if I would make them for him.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mixing Bowl Madness

This fun activity is so simple, but so fun. It's a great way to work on a few vocabulary words and several other skills (see link for examples) and to fill up a few minutes of the day with fun. 
 All you need are a few mixing bowls (preferable in a variety of sizes to stack and nest), maybe a few small toys, and a baby to play with. Turn them loose and see what happens.
Spatial Relationships: Will this bowl fit into the other one?
Paisley had a great time exploring the materials and finding out how to manipulate them. She especially loved dropping toys into a bowl and listening to the sounds they made and watching them swirl around in the bottom if she shook it.
Hand-Eye Coordination and Gross Motor: Look, I made a tower!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Finger Print-Making

Yes, I do mean finger print-making, not fingerprint making. Two different things, and I'll show you what I mean. First though, I apologize for my pathetic lack of posting over the last week or so. My grandpa passed away and that was pretty much all I could think about for several days. Don't get me wrong, Erik and Paisley were cared for as carefully as always, and we played and had fun. I just didn't want to think about taking pictures and typing up posts and all that stuff. I'm ready to get back into real life though, so here we go...
I saw this idea a while back, and even had it on my list of things to try in the next month or two, but on this particular day it just kinda happened without prior planning, and it was really fun. Erik had been begging for days to paint. Any time the cupboard with all our activity supplies got opened up he'd beg and whine and if he managed to get his fingers in there he'd grab a bottle of paint and then try to run away before I could take it away from him. Then, we woke up to this outside (which Erik was SO not interested in playing in), and I decided that maybe it was time for a painting day since I knew we probably would be stuck inside all day.
I plunked Erik into his high chair, put a paper on the tray and squirted some globs of paint onto it with the intention of just doing regular old finger painting. It didn't take long before Erik had used up all the space on that paper and wanted another one. I was just removing the paper and getting ready to put down another one when I remembered this post about Mono-Printing. Instead of giving Erik another paper, I just squirted the paint right onto the highchair tray and let him go at it.
Yay for getting to make a big mess all over the place!
After a minute or two I took a clean piece of paper and let him help me press it down onto his paint creation. I lifted off the paper and viola!, we'd made our first print. We kept this up until Erik was done painting. After almost every print I'd add a little more of at least one color of paint to keep things interesting.
Okay mom, I'm ready to make another print! Hand me that paper.
Erik had a great time, and we got some fun pieces of artwork to display.
For the one with the hand prints, I just held a paper over my hand and told him to give me a high five. His hands were already covered in paint, so we got some great ones. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How DOES Your Child Benefit From Play?

As I was looking around for something totally unrelated, I stumbled across an article about exactly how playing benefits a child, and it also has suggestions for parents/caregivers to maximize the potential in play time.
It's been really fun to watch Erik and Paisley play, both together and separately. Erik is just starting to show signs of pretend play, which is so exciting (and dang cute) to watch. Paisley is fascinated with everything around her, and loves the fact that she can crawl over to anything she wants and check it out. We're getting lots of social interaction/training as we learn not to take toys away from each other and how to deal with it when someone else is playing with something you want (we've got a long ways to go in this department!). It's so fun to watch these two showing off their new skills as they play, I love to be able to see them figure out something they couldn't do the day before.
Gotta love the winters here. This was taken in December :)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Body Parts Song

I discovered this little song to help learn body parts, and we love it! We even did it over Skype with Wyler and he loved it too.
Erik is pretty good at identifying his facial features, even the less mentioned ones like his cheeks and chin, but it doesn't hurt to review. The great thing about this song is you can add in any body part you want. So we can sing about legs, arms, elbow, hair, or whatever else we want. The main point behind this is to build Erik's vocabulary, but it's also a fun way to get music into our day.
We also have another song that we like to use for learning body parts, although this one isn't quite as adaptable. Erik's pretty good at doing it (although in the video he gets too distracted to finish off the last little bit, but that's okay), which is fun since he didn't know where his shoulders or knees were until we learned this song.
Remember music AND movement combined can do amazing things for your child, so take a minute and sing a song or dance and know that you've changed your child's life for the better.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Peek into Erik's Cupboard

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We spent a lot of time and web-surfing trying to decide what to get Erik for Christmas. Our budget was small but our dreams were big. We didn't want to just buy some cheap toy that would fall apart in a few months, we wanted something nice that he would love and enjoy for a long time (and that would hopefully last long enough for future brothers or sisters to enjoy as well). After thinking about his likes/dislikes and searching around we decided to get him some food/kitchen based items. But throwing a spatula into his toy box just didn't seem like quite enough, and we didn't have room to get him a play kitchen of his own. We did a little brainstorming and rearranging, and came up with what we think is a great plan.
We moved all the contents of one kitchen cupboard into other locations, so now Erik has his very own kitchen cupboard. We went to the dollar store and bought a bunch of little things to put in there (mixing bowl, sifters, salad tongs, etc), as well as ordering one nicer item from amazon to round it all out. He loves it! He can sit next to me while I'm cooking dinner or washing dishes and play with his utensils. He feels like he's part of the action, and I get a little freedom from having him hanging on me begging for attention. I don't have to worry about him losing or breaking any of my things (or his for that matter) because he has all his cheap ones to do with as he pleases.
When I went to take this picture I discovered he's hauled most of his things down the hall to his bedroom, but I wasn't about to risk messing up nap-time to get them for the picture. So, not pictured: a turkey baster, another little sifter, a measuring cup, a muffin tin, and a small cake pan.
Our one big purchase for this was the set of condiment bottles. They are awesome! Each has a color coordinating lid that is held on by a magnet. The top of each bottle is a slightly different size than the others, so each lid only fits perfectly on its own bottle. They are solid wood, with the "labels" painted on. I figured it would be a while before he figured out the color connection, but almost as soon as he unwrapped them Christmas morning he started putting the lids on the correct bottle without seeming to even think about it.
When we bought all the other pieces from the dollar store, we tried to get things that were similar to the ones he likes to steal from my utensil drawer, as well as things that would be useful in other learning activities. The scoops and sifter will be great for playing in a sensory bin or the bath tub. The mixing bowl can be used in so many ways. The muffin tin would be great for sorting activities, or for holding paints. The salad tongs are there because the tongs are the first thing he goes for if he ever gets his fingers into my cooking gear.
In my tiny kitchen it's been a bit of a sacrifice to give up a whole cupboard, but I think it's totally worth it. Erik loves every minute he spends playing in it.

*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. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bouncing Baby?

When Erik was little, he LOVED to stand on the floor or on our laps and jump up and down. When I saw this idea I thought it would be perfect for Paisley. Surely she'd love it as much as Erik did. What you do is hold your baby's hands/arms while they are sitting on the floor and help them pull up into a standing position. From there, you're supposed to encourage the baby to bounce (or jump as we always said with Erik, though I guess bounce is technically more accurate), which helps build their legs muscles and balance. 
Sorry this pic's a little blurry, my camera is giving me fits lately!
Paisley so far is not interested in bouncing. She loves to stand, but that's it. So basically we just turned this into an activity to practice pulling up. I'd hold her hands while she pulled up, and then after a few minutes I'd sit her back down and we'd start over again. She loved it, but it just wasn't quite what I'd envisioned.
I do want to try this again soon except this time I want to add music and encourage Paisley to move with the music. Maybe that will get her bouncing.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Barn Yard Matching Game

This post contains affiliate links.


This game is basically the same thing as our Nativity Matching Game we did during Christmas. All you need are some farm animal toys and a book with pictures of the same types of animals. 
We love doing this game with this particular book because most of the animals are the same color as our toys. 
Sit with your child and help them find the toy animal that matches the one in the picture you are looking at. To help cement the connection in their mind you can find the toy's nose, and then the nose of the animal in the picture. Talk about the sounds the animal makes. 
 
 One thing I love about doing activities like this is that they help Erik make connections between the things he sees in his books and real life objects. Since we got these little farm animals Erik is obsessed with any book he finds with animals in it. He loves to find a cow and says "moo" as soon as he sees one. Anything I can do to help nurture a love of books and reading in my son is important to me. I want him to love them as much as I do.

*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, January 11, 2013

Mountain Climbing

This idea is basically a mini version of this activity that we did with Erik a while back. Now that Paisley is crawling, that opens up a while new world of adventure and exploration for her. I thought it might be fun to give her a new way to work on her gross motor abilities, so I grabbed the pillows off my bed and we had a ball.
 I placed an interesting looking toy on the other side of the pillow from Paisley and then clapped and cheered as she worked her way over the obstacle to get to it.
So close!
I DID IT!
So much joy and excitement over a little string of pearls. 
I actually have to admit that I made the mistake of starting this off a little too hard for Paisley. I used multiple pillows to make a pyramid for her to climb, but it was just too hard and intimidating. She sorta gave it a try but VERY quickly lost interest. I caught on to what she was trying to tell me after a few minutes and removed all but one of the pillows and things got much better from there. Moral of the story: while it is good to challenge your children, if you make it too hard it doesn't do anyone any good. We'll have to work up to a pyramid of pillows, but for now, one is plenty for Paisley.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Basket Pull

This little idea came from Productive Parenting, and it's been a huge hit. I actually put this one together a few weeks ago and have been trying to get a good picture of Erik with it ever since. It seems like every time I catch him playing with it the house is a mess in the background, or he's half naked, or he's running so fast all I get a picture of is a little blur. I finally have resigned myself to another post with less than stellar pictures and so I now bring you (drum roll please......)
Yep, I know. You were expecting something way more awesome than this.
This activity is pretty self explanatory. Tie some string to a basket (a shoe box would also work great) and tada! You've created tons of fun. Erik puts all kinds of stuff in here and hauls it all over the house. I think he mostly just loves that it follows him wherever he goes, sometimes he just pulls it around empty. 
See, what did I tell you. Half naked, messy house, crappy lighting, blurry. And this is one of the good ones. 
This is great for building large muscles as your child walks around the house, and fine motor skills as your child holds and pulls the string. They develop their sense of spatial awareness as they find out what objects fit or don't fit into their basket.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Repairing a Broken Board Book (updated)

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So for a long time now I've been looking around for information on how to fix board books, specifically for ones with cracked spines. It's amazing to me that there's not much out there. I read through lots of websites that talked about how to repair regular books, but not board books. I finally decided to just take what I'd gleaned from my research and go for it.
Let me start with a picture of one of my repair candidates to show you why I didn't want to just slap some duct tape on and call it good, as so many websites said to do.
As you can see, Erik bends his books backwards until the spine snaps, typically in two or three places. From there it's way too easy for him to start pulling the book apart page by page. Even if he doesn't pull the book apart, the pages now have no foundation and start becoming misaligned, which makes turning pages surprisingly hard. I could just put a piece of tape over the spine, but that wouldn't do much of anything for us. 
Before I start I need to say that if you are repairing a book that you want to last for a long time (for your grand-kids to read some day down the road, perhaps?), you need to do a little research and be willing to spend a little extra money on glues and tapes that won't harm the paper in your book. I am not really looking to make my books last forever, but I don't want to buy Erik new books until he learns to take care of what he's got so I need these to last a little longer.
Okay, so what to do about your poor broken books? Let's gather our supplies:
-White glue, preferably acid free (I got mine for less than a dollar at my grocery store)
-Small paint brush (my preferred brush has a flat head, but I bet you could make any small brush work)
-Clamps (or anything heavy)

I did a lot of reading about what kind of glue to use (there are apparently "rules" about what ph your glue should be depending on the type of paper, etc) and finally decided that just regular white glue should be okay for my needs. I did finally find one blog that had a post about how to repair board books (she has removed the content though so I can't share a link), and she used the same method I'm going to show here except she used Mod Podge. It seems like that would work fine (again, if you're looking for repairs to last decades, you may want to do a little research before using ANY type of glue), but I didn't have any Mod Podge on hand and after reading this I wasn't about to try making my own. So far the plain old cheap glue has done great.
What to do:
First you want to apply a thin but even coat of glue to both sides of the insides of the cracks in your book's spine. Make sure the glue goes in as deep as the book is split, you don't want bubbles in your pages. When you're done with your brush, be sure to rinse it thoroughly if you intend to use it again.

Next, you push and pull on the pages in your book until the edges are all lined up (as much as possible anyway) and then clamp the spine. At this point I applied a light coat of glue all over the outside of the spine to just make sure every crack was sealed. Leave your book in the clamps for several hours (I've left my books anywhere from 8 hours to overnight) until the glue has had PLENTY of time to dry. 
*If you don't have clamps, you could just stack a pile of big heavy books on top of the book you just glued. Basically you're just looking for anything that will provide constant and VERY firm pressure to your book to hold it while the glue dries. 
Next, remove the clamps, and determine whether the little flap of paper that covers the spine is worth trying to save. On this book it was 95% gone, so I decided it wasn't worth saving. 
If you're like me and you've decided not to save the spine cover, than take some scissors and carefully trim the jagged edges so that it looks nice. I don't know about your kids, but if there is any kind of a flaw in a book Erik can't leave it alone and picks at it until he's destroyed the book. But, if I make sure all the edges are smooth and straight he typically won't mess with it. 
 If you've decided there is enough of the spine cover to try to save it, then..... Here I have to admit I have no experience, yet. (See update at bottom of post) I did not realize when I started this project that my hubby had polished off all the clear packing tape I had planned to use for book spine repairs. So, I have had to set aside all my books that need the spine cover repaired until after I get to the store. But, from past experience in making covers for some of my textbooks, I do have a tip. When taping the spine of your book, make sure you do so with the book closed. When a book is open the spine folds up on itself, making it smaller. If you were to tape a book while it was opened you would be unable to close it.
As soon as I get to the store, I will update this post with anything I learn from the experience of fixing the cover.
And now, just for showing-off purposes, here is the same book after the repair process is complete.

I was afraid the glue would soak through the pages and make them stick together, but it worked great!
*7/20/13       I just wanted to say that this has seemed to work really well with all the books I did this too. Erik is still pretty hard on his books, so every other month or so I have to pull the tape and things out and re-repair a book or two, but I think that would be the case even if we started out with brand new books each time. 

I never did do an update about taping the spines, but after doing it on my books I decided that it's pretty easy to figure out as long as you follow my suggestion to always tape the spine of the book with the book closed. The tape does get in the way if you need to do another repair later on down the road, but it's not too hard to cut it away and then put new tape on when you're done. 

*1/12/15      All the books that I repaired before posting this almost exactly two years ago are still in working order. There is one that is just about beyond fixing, but the rest are doing great. I think that's pretty good considering they've now survived Erik, Paisley, and Sharli!

*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. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Full vs. Empty

I started this activity as a way to entertain Paisley, but it didn't take too long before Erik was in on it too. They both really had a ball with it. 
All you need are some cotton balls and a bowl (or two, or three, or however many your kids demand). Remember to watch your little one closely, the cotton balls would stick quite nicely into a little throat. I filled up a bowl with cotton balls and showed it to Paisley, telling her that it was full. We played with the cotton balls until the bowl was empty, at which point I made sure to tell her that it was empty. We did this a few more times, but by then Erik had joined in and I just turned the two of them loose with the cotton balls. 
Empty
Full 
I brought over a few more bowls when Erik joined in so we wouldn't have sharing issues.  
Erik found a small cup (it actually came with a bottle of cough syrup I bought, but it fell out of the medicine cupboard and Erik has claimed it as his own) and started experimenting to see how many cotton balls he could fit into it. 
This kept these two busy for much longer than I had anticipated, and they seemed to really enjoy playing together. The main purpose of this activity is to introduce the words "full" and "empty", but there is so much more to it than that. I could list it all here for you but I won't, because you can find all that info in the labels at the bottom of the post.
Paisley lost interest long before Erik did, but that doesn't mean she didn't have fun, she's just younger and has a smaller attention span. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Flour Finger Art

Happy Monday everyone! Today's activity is brought to you by the letter F. Actually, it is brought to you from this handy website that I've gotten quite a few fun ideas from. This one was so quick and easy to put together, although it did require a bit of clean up afterwords.

Just sprinkle some flour over a dark colored baking sheet, and viola! You're ready to go. I started by letting Erik just explore and get used to the texture of the flour. That got a little messy though. So I helped him hold the sheet in his lap, and showed him how to draw designs with his fingers.
 He LOVED this activity, and would've kept going all day until all the flour in the house was on the floor around him. This was especially fun today because I was making bread so we were both working with flour and he got to feel like he was involved in what I was working on. When we were done making a mess creating beautiful works of art, I set the baking sheet up out of reach and Erik and I stepped out onto the front porch for a quick dusting off. Then we came back in and he held the dustpan for me while I swept up the last remnants of our fun.
As we were drawing our little swirls in the flour, it occurred to me that this would be a fun way for an older child to practice writing his ABC's. You could also use a paint brush or other tools to move and shape the flour. This is a great way for a child to use his senses while creating a unique work of art, and also helps them with their fine motor control.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Edible Finger Paints

This week Erik and I have been loving having lots of one on one time while Paisley is home for Christmas break and Daddy is at his office writing like a mad man to get his Master's thesis ready for editing before school starts next week. I decided to pull out an activity that Erik and I did months ago and give it another try. It was a hit (again), and it made me wonder why we don't do it more often. 

Have you ever wanted to let your little one finger paint, but you weren't sure you wanted to fight to keep it out of their mouth? I felt the same way. I came across this idea on Pinterest to make baby safe paint. All you do is take flour and water and mix it together until you have the consistency you want. Then you add in a few drops of food coloring and you're ready to go. On the original blog the poster had her children using this paint on paper like any other paint, but I knew we'd get way too messy for that. So here was my solution...
Bathtub Painting! Baby has all the fun he wants, and then I get to wash all the mess right down the drain!
Erik had so much fun with this activity! The little stinker was even smart enough to find a way to destroy my dreams of the mess just washing away with a quick swish of water. He decided that painting the outside of the tub was more fun. Oh well. 
 Finger painting is a great way to build a child's imagination and self worth through creative expression. It helps a child practice hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills while allowing sensory exploration.
Feel free to check out our other finger painting adventure here.