In Defense of the Binky

defense-of-binky

The first few weeks of Harper’s life were completely pacifier-free. Unlike with Hadley, the hospital hadn’t shoved a Philips Avent-style sucker into her perfect little mouth.

Of course, they were totally different. Hadley screamed from the get-go. He was a ravenously hungry 10+ lb. bruiser, so I can see why, despite my research saying that using a pacifier would deter successful breastfeeding, the nurses had little choice but to stick one in his mouth. It was either that or let him cry it out…another theory we don’t subscribe to.

Harper, though, was just over a “petite” 8 pounds. She also had a hard time working up much noise at all. We called her our little bird, with her mouth agape but little rising to the top. It was actually concerning for awhile. I still have to have my ears perked throughout the night to make sure I hear her rustling. It’s the only way she can get her meals.

But, after awhile, we gave in to the pacifier.

Why?

Well, it started innocently. Just the occasional bout of crying at a family get-together or rough patch.

Then, while she’s a “good sleeper” (I hate giving kids those “good baby/bad baby”, “good sleeper/bad sleeper” labels since they change so easily and quickly), I came to realize that she was far calmer and slept better when she sucked on a paci for a bit.

I officially gave in.

At first, there was a bit of guilt on my part. My mother said that my three siblings and I used a pacifier for a month each, and, of course, my grandmother used none. I think that she (and, to an extent, I) was proud that our little girl was able to forego the superficial tool. And, I’m sure she probably could.

But, why the guilt? As with most things regarding children, guilt is the enemy of good parenting. There is no award here. If our children grow into healthy, well-adjusted, kind adults, we’ll all get a “Good Job!” participation trophy. There is no gold, no silver, no bronze. The only losers here are those who truly don’t CARE for their children, and those who parent solely based on the guilt.

So, I won’t allow it to seep in.

There are pros and cons to using a pacifier. So, it’s up to us to make up our own decision.

I don’t intend for her to use the binky long-term.

She has a firm grasp on breastfeeding (and I actually use it to calm her when she gets too “in her own head” fussy to take the breast; it’s a fabulous trick that helped with Hadman, too).

She has learned to self-soothe, especially because she doesn’t take a firm hold onto a binky very easily. Actually, if she simply keeps pushing it out with her tongue, I’ve learned not to keep trying. She’s clearly telling me she doesn’t want it. So, suck on her hand, she will, if need be.

I know her cues. A binky isn’t a replacement for good, old-fashioned snuggles and comfort. When it pops out because her tongue’s working full-time, it doesn’t go back in; she’s clearly hungry.

So, with that, she continues using her favorite little shamrock bink for the foreseeable future.

No apologies.

Just a happy baby.

Babywearing

For those readers who’ve never heard the word before, “babywearing” may sound a little odd. Even I found myself choking out the words when I wore Harper at a recent family event – “I’m going to wear…the baby will be in a carrier.” While I may be unapologetic about the choices we make, it doesn’t make it easier to be the odd man out sometimes. 😉

So, what IS babywearing? It’s exactly what it sounds like: wearing your baby as an option of carrying or traveling with your little one. It keeps baby soothed and the sound of mama’s heartbeat is reminiscent of  when baby was in the womb. Babywearing is the one of the most literal aspects of “attachment parenting.”

But one of the most appealing parts of babywearing comes when you have more than one bambino. Whether at the grocery store, traveling, or just trying to get something done with your hands free (like chasing a 3-year-old), it helps exponentially.

There are several different styles of options for wearing a baby: an easy structured carrier (we have an Ergo), slings, wraps of all fabrics (we love our Moby), and mei tais. They range in ease of use and price, and offer options regardless of your child’s age. Yup, you can babywear from newborn to toddler.

When Hadley was born, I was so overwhelmed and absolutely drained by nursing and his feisty personality, so when I finally got around to trying him in a carrier, it didn’t stick. Kind of like cloth diapering, at that point I was simply in survival mode and didn’t feel the need to stress myself out more for the sake of giving this method a go. It didn’t make life easier at the time.

This time, though, it DOES make life easier. There’s a learning curve (especially when wrapping!), but between the fact that Harper seems to be a snuggler and our Moby wrap has allowed us to actually get out of the house, it’s a lifesaver.

babywearing

My favorite examples? Our first time using one, we hit up a local Christmas tree farm. Seriously, we NEVER would’ve been able to get a tree as a family of four (with a “doesn’t listen to ‘STOP!'” kiddo in tow) without the thing. It. Was. Perfect. The fact that it was a super warm day (the whole month of December was…blah) helped.

The first time Harper and I left the house one-on-one, I had some groceries to get. I threw on the wrap, carefully snuggled her in, and she slept during the entire trip. Plus, if people want to see her, it’s fine – but she’s still at a safe distance to avoid all the yucky germs being passed around this time of year.

Then, our first real family outing was a huge success thanks to babywearing. We hit up our favorite “local” getaway spot, Cooperstown, on a chilly day. Harper and I were both dressed in layers (I actually wrote about how to babywear in cold weather a little while back), and she slept most of the time. It. Was. Awesome.

When Harper’s a bit bigger, I look forward to getting out for some walks with the Ergo (which is more structured and pretty quick to put on and take off), and hope to continue wearing her for our summertime outings.

While we do have a stroller (a double one, actually), which we’ll most likely use for farmers’ market trips and other lots-of-walking-involved trips, this option is perfect for so many applications.

If you’re interested in giving babywearing a go, check out Babywearing International to see what style will fit your family’s needs.

Now, to get the Dorky Daddy to give it a try!

5+ Great Simple Ideas for Non-Food Easter Goodies

Happy Monday, guys! Can you believe Easter is in less than a week?? Today, I’m sharing a few simple ideas for Easter basket gifts, aside from the candy.

We keep the sweets at Easter to a minimum. Sure, we still enjoy a visit from the Easter Bunny, and our little man definitely gets his fill of candy (a small amount of organic from the Easter Bunny and some of the “traditional” stuff from his super generous grandmas), but as far as what he gets for the day, the candy isn’t the main event.

We don’t treat the holiday like the next coming of Christmas, either. It’s a pretty low-key day for us. We have a couple of family events, so it’s really all about the FUN FUN FUN rather than the STUFF STUFF STUFF.

That said, here are a few of our favorite non-food treats for H to find in his Easter basket that never get old:


Clockwise from top left:

Urban Infant Chunky Chalk – This will be the first year we take to the streets for some sidewalk graffiti, but isn’t it fun?? Since spring is just around the corner for us (or already underway for some of you), Easter is an awesome excuse to give “think spring” gifts.

Ollie’s Easter Egg – We have multiple of these Olivier Dunrea board books with feature various adorable fowl (chicks, geese, etc), but any books your little one will enjoy (Easter-related or not) will be fine. This is one area that I don’t mind overdoing a bit. 😉

Kids Tool Set – Another beckoning of springtime, these tools will allow the whole family to get their hands dirty this planting season. Yes, it’s messy, but it’s also incredibly fun, educational and rewarding. Toss in a couple of organic seed starter kits (from the $1 area at Target, score!) and up the excitement level.  

Zoe b Organic Fantastic Beach Toys – Any little beach toys or ball or pail will work, but we like to give any new “summertime fun” stuff at Easter time. Feel free to include a floppy hat and sunglasses if you want.

Melissa and Doug Sunny Patch Turtle Bubbles – We ALWAYS got bubbles (and jump rope, which Hadley’s too small for yet) in our baskets. Even on the coldest Easter, we’d beg to go outside and blow a few bubbles. It was heaven when it was warm enough to actually do so, but most of our memories involve frozen fingers and very brief outdoor visits.  

A few more ideas…

Clothes – I know, boring, but depending on the season (and if he’s already got sneakers he’s using or not), we’ll include a pair of sneakers or sandals, and maybe one outfit. It’s a fond memory of mine to have our white canvas “play” sneakers peeking out from the top of the basket.

Stuffed animals – We’re not huge stuffed animal fans, so sometimes we’ll reuse a forgotten little bunny or chick here and there. May not be able to do that for much longer, though. 😉

Coloring books and crayons/markers/watercolor paints – This one’s always a hit, especially if you buy a book with some favorite characters. 😉

Play-Doh – I know it’s not super eco-friendly, but just one new canister of a new color blows his mind. Sooooo, yeah.

A figurine of some sort – We’re into the Fisher-Price Little People ones, so we’ll grab one of the two-packs to fit in the basket if he doesn’t have too much yet. We definitely try to keep tabs on how much he’s getting!

I’m hoping to be back this week to share with you some food treats that the Easter bunny does bring. We’re not complete monsters, y’know. 😉 They might just give you some new ideas of what to give your little ones!

Feel free to share any additions you’d like to make in the comments!

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Beatles Songs for Toddlers

You wouldn’t think the words “toddler” and “Beatles” belong in the same sentence, right? Well, in our house, they do. We’re pretty big on educating our little guy that there’s a wider world past his Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (not that there’s anything wrong with that…in doses). He already enjoys a variety of classical music (he can actually name numerous composers by song), 1940s big band, and 1960s/’80s pop. 


So, given that Dave and I are big Beatles fans, it was only a matter of time before our Pandora listening with the little guy started showing the Fab Four. But, better yet? While listening to some Beatles recently, I rediscovered that they’re not all psychedelic storytelling and upbeat love songs. There are actually some valuable life lessons that can found within those awesome, timeless tunes.

Hello, Goodbye – Ohhhh, disagreements. Obstinence. It’s all part of a toddler’s daily to-do list. (Sad but true.) I love the lyrics in this song for so many reasons, but particularly in the idea of opposites. You could use this song with children simply to point out the opposites (“you say yes, I say no…”). A fun spin on an argumentative tune!  


We Can Work It Out – Another song about getting along with others. My favorite line? “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.” Preach, brothers.

Blackbird – Perfect lullaby, and although it’s actually about racial tensions in the South in the 1960s, kids can take it in the more literal sense and still find beauty. Even after great pain, we can fly and thrive.

Yellow Submarine – What’s better than a little drinking shanty to sing with your kiddos? I actually sang (and loved) this song in kindergarten (even better than “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor”). It’s actually a fun song that seems to build friendships and solidarity between the singers. See also – Octopus’s Garden

Good Day Sunshine – What an upbeat, happy song! Why not spread the joy?

Here Comes the Sun – Similar to Good Day Sunshine, this is a sweet love song that perfectly describes the coming of spring. Great for teaching seasons!


Penny Lane – Just a fun story of an English street set to music, but great for the imagination.

All You Need is Love – This is my mantra for life and was the “closing song” at our wedding reception, so of course I’d love for H to be exposed to such an epic tune. Definitely helpful with creating peaceful minds.

If You Want to Push the Boundaries… 


Here are a few that, if you think they’ll go over your child’s head (which, in general, they will), you can try. Otherwise skip over them and assume I’m a bad parent. Go ahead!

All Together Now – A super adorable, upbeat song about child playtime listing numbers and colors along the way. Let’s just hope the kids don’t ask to take their friends to bed.

With a Little Help from My Friends – Okay…if you’re a family who’s not shy about nudity (“I can’t show you but I know it’s mine”) and you can explain that getting “high” means lifting your spirits, you’re golden. Or not, up to you. 😉

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite – I can’t say that any of the lyrics are questionable here (it describes carnival-like festivities), but the minor key and general “strangeness” of the melody might scare some children. Our son, however, has a preference for minor keys and finds nothing scary about them.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – Considering this “technically” came from the mind of John’s son and “allegedly” NOT about an acid trip, maybe your little one would appreciate the silly lyrics and imaginative happenings. Seriously, keep your kids away from Sgt. Pepper’s if you’re not into this one.


What do you think? Would you add any songs I haven’t included? What’s your favorite music to listen to with the kiddos?

Our Favorite Toys

Kids can be fickle. Food? Um, always. Cartoons or shows? Change weekly, if not daily. Toys? Completely.


So, today I thought it’d be fun to share our family’s favorite toys. You know. The ones that haven’t been brushed aside for a paper towel tube (a “doot-da-doot”) or one of my cooking utensils (“my tool, Mama!!!”). 



1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7

Farm Animals Sound Puzzle (Melissa and Doug) – Any and all solid, basic puzzles are huge winners at our house. Add to it the fact that the learning experience is enhanced by animal sounds when inserting the correct puzzle piece (does that sound wrong to anyone else??) is icing on the cake. And the day that your kid realizes the sounds will go off if you smack at the sensor hard enough? Priceless. 😉 

Manhattan Toy Peanut Snuggle Pod – Looks can be deceiving. This is THE perfect girl-or-boy dolly. It’s not perfect for the realistic pretend experience (um, no legs to speak of), but perfectly-sized for some nurturing, feeding, and general lovin’. Side note: I hunted for a non gender specific doll for quite awhile and we couldn’t be happier with this one. So that should say something! 

Little People Lil’ Movers Airplane – We love Little People!!! We love them generic or even trademarked (like Batman villains with muffin tops!!). This was one of our first Little People experiences, so add to it the fact that it’s a mother effin’ plane that MAKES AWESOME NOISES and I’m done!! See also: awesome farm!!!

Melissa and Doug Cutting Fruit Set – It’s no surprise that we’re into play food at our house. I searched high and low for a *safe* fake knife for our budding chef. The fact that this came with healthy wooden food that velcros together (making it truly fun to cut) made it impossible to pass up. Oh, and of course he loves it.

Wooden Train Set – Our little guy is a Thomas the Train Engine fan. Okay, we kind of are, too. So, when my friend, Beth, gifted him a generic (yes!!!) wooden set similar to this one awhile back, we were thrilled. The fact that he’s still playing with it religiously should show how much he loves this thing. (Plus, it’s easier than a trip to Barnes and Noble to play with their set!)

Lego Duplo Set – I know Legos might not be the most eco-friendly of items, but I figure these will last into oblivion AND they’re awesome for building hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and imaginative play skills in general. I highly prefer the Duplo versions for a couple of reasons. First, their quality and age-appropriateness. (Seriously, I don’t care if he EVER wants to use the tiny Lego counterparts.) Secondly, they’re what I grew up with at my using at my babysitter as a kid, so they have a soft spot in my heart. We only have about enough to fill one small plastic bin and it’s just enough. No need to get a thousand. And for littler block users, try these B. One Two Squeeze Blocks. They’re great for little hands (and teethers!) and our buddy still loves stacking them. The Tego Magnetic Blocks are great as they get a little older, too.

Green Dump Truck – Girls and boys alike will love this rough-and-tumble, eco-friendly dump truck. Built to last and from recycled materials, this is my favorite of all H’s vehicles. (We also love the airplane and submarine!) And, clearly we don’t push “boy” items on our child (see above dolly), but he just happens to love vehicles right now — and it’s awesome.

What do you think? What did your kids like at this age? Anything fun to add? (By the way, I didn’t add coloring or Play-Doh since it’s hit-or-miss lately.)

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Today’s Tip – Actively Fun

This is part of a new series that I’m calling “Today’s Tip.” I hope to share little tips and tricks (or “life hacks” as the kids these days are saying) to make your life just a wee bit simpler. The topics will range from parenting to cleaning to green living to just general time savers…and anything else that pops into my brain that might be helpful.
 
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Hey, guys! Raise your hand if you’re feeling a bit sluggish lately. I know I am! Thanks, Obama winter weather. It’s to the point where we have so much snow piled up, it’s not at a “let’s have fun in it” stage. It’s more at the “sink down, can’t move” phase. It’s fine, we’ll deal.

But, I feel like the little guy needs to get some more physical activity. He’s a bundle of energy, and between sleeping better and acting better, getting physical only helps him enjoy his fun little life. So, I recently decided to try some “let’s get moving” games with him.

Here are a few things that I tried, which not only got me active as well, but made me realize that he’s reached a new level of “little boy, not little toddler.” His hand-eye coordination and ability to follow directions is way better than I expected! Call me proud (and a touch sad).

Mama Says – H isn’t quite ready for “Simon Says” since the “Simon didn’t say” rule evades him. But, he had been having issues with following directions, so this is my far the best activity for a 2 1/2-year-old. Just say, “Mama says…” and fill in the rest with whatever you think your little one can do. Touch your head/nose/knees/toes; act like a monkey; stand on one foot (he couldn’t do it for long, but boy was he proud that he could do it at all!); turn around three times; hop like a frog. This goes as long as your imagination can hold out.

Let’s Stretch! – You can start your “exercises” off or end them this way. There are lots of stretches that you can do, so keep them as simple as “touch your toes” or as complicated as downward dog. It’s also a fun way to practice counting. “Bend over and touch your toes for five seconds, count with me – one, two, three, four, five!” Simple, fun…and totally made me realize how inflexible I’d gotten! 

Dance With Me! – Dance party time! Turn on Pandora or your favorite workout mix and get a-movin’! You’ll see your little one start on day one using one swaying dance motion, then building up an arsenal of hilarious self expression. Our guy has been saying “oh, yeaaaah! Oh, yeaaaah!” while he does some helicoptering arm motions lately. Very Kool-Aid Man. Very awesome.

Tumble Together – One of my favorite memories as a kid was doing somersaults, rolls, leg lifts, and tumbles in our living room with my sister. Sure, it’s not always safe, but when Mom gets into it with you, you’ll at least have a spotter. Pile the pillows and jump or use the ottoman to roll on your stomach (used to do that at my grandparents’ and adored it). Just get silly and remember: horse play isn’t always a bad thing.

What indoor activities do you do to get the blood flowing and energy out? I’d love to hear!

Impatient Parenting

Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Crafts

Happy Friday the 13th! So, the one and only way that we get anything done around this place is by taking everything in several small steps. That said, it’s no surprise that I just finished our Valentine’s Day crafts last night. Under the wire, yeah!

I love what we did SO much and for several reasons. One, they’re completely handmade. Two, they’re 100% F-R-E-E. Three, they’re easy enough that even H and I could do them (albeit over several days). Four, and most importantly, they’re downright adorable.

Here are the Valentines we’ll be giving the special ladies in H’s life:


All I did was give him a white piece of construction paper to paint. We stuck the paintbrush in a mix of white and red, then random splotches of magenta which ultimately gave for mostly pink splotchfest artwork. Then, just last night, I cut the art into three strips and free-handed Xs and Os (as you can tell…fancy) that I then glued to more folded white construction paper. Instant card!

The fact that he wears my old theater shirt from my high school senior year as a smock melts my heart. That thing has splatters from every set I ever painted, and now splatters from every piece of art he has done.

Anyhoo, I love that this art was free form and simple. The only instruction he needed was “here’s some paint, go at it!” He’s still not great at taking directions, so the fact that I took what he created and made it into something practical is pretty rad. Oh, and it has a total Eric Carle vibe to it, which I absolutely adore.


In that last picture you’ll also notice a rainbow heart stack. We started with this tutorial and simplified it to only a few colors. Simply put, I cut down a diaper box into 1″, 2″, 3″, 4″ and 5″ squares, had him paint them, cut them into hearts and glued them together. Then, I punctured holes on the top and strung them with some kitchen twine, and ta-da! Cute little decoration and gift in one.

So, that’s it! Cards and hanging hearts, but they were made with pudgy little fingers and love.

Did you make anything homemade to celebrate V-Day? Food? Gift? Do tell!
(I’ll be back tomorrow with my clean eating challenge. Half way, folks!)

In Defense of Daniel

No matter what boundaries we parents swore we’d set (or still attempt to enforce), kids do an awful lot of TV watching. So, as parents to toddlers, we also ingest a ton of the stuff. Some of it’s awesome. Some of it’s pointless. Some of it’s downright stupid. Then, there’s “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”. 

There seems to be a clearly-drawn line between parents who hate-hate-hate “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and those who truly love it. I’ve seen fights erupt online (I’m not kidding) over whether the songs are the “most annoying things EVER” or if they’re useful tools to help our children learn, grow and understand how to deal with life’s little challenges. I’m usually put at ease, at least, by the fact that everyone agrees that we all miss Mr. Rogers, himself and the original show.

Image courtesy of PBS Kids

For those of you who don’t have little ones in your house (and presumably don’t have the opportunity to partake in the PBS Kids’ fare), “Daniel” is a cartoon-based show that loosely utilizes some of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe characters from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” to teach the new generation a plethora of positive life lessons. Daniel, himself, is actually the son of Daniel Striped Tiger (the original adorable puppet character) and is about pre-K aged. His friends are the children of other known characters – O the Owl (lives with his uncle, X), Katerina Pussycat (Henrietta’s daughter), Miss Elaina (the daughter of Music Man Stan and Lady Elaine Fairchilde), and Prince Wednesday (whose old brother is Prince Tuesday, and parents are King Friday and Queen Sara).

The story lines are simple but incredibly realistic. So many of the topics – potty time, feeling left out, a new sibling, bath time, and many more – are ones that I either see firsthand with our own son or have seen over the years with my younger students.  

As a passionate fan of Mr. Rogers (the man AND the show), I was immediately skeptical a couple years back when Dave happened upon that familiar trolley sound, accompanied by unfamiliar cartoon characters. The questions arose: “Wait, are those the same characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, or…they’re their kids. Lady Elaine’s not a b**** anymore? Get out!” and “What would Fred think?” and “There’s something way too basic yet not at all pandering about this…” So. Many. Questions.

But, after awhile, the questions died down and we all found ourselves truly enjoying the thing. Yes, most of the songs are definite earworms that we find ourselves humming while doing dishes, but that’s the charm. They’re so simple yet so memorable that they fit perfectly into our lives, good for calming down both child and parent when an emotionally-charged moment could be turning out badly. And the GET kids. Like, really GET them. (One reason we’ve finally, after a long-felt annoyance over Caillou, given in. We like it because it’s exactly the stuff a young child goes through, said the exact way a child would.)

Plus, the show is actually produced by the Fred Rogers Company (which is also partly responsible for “Peg + Cat”, which we LOVE; that one’s just as enjoyable for the parents, if not more so). Not only is it funding the project, but it’s letting viewers know that, yes, Fred Rogers would appreciate this and encourage its use. If we can’t have Fred, Daniel’s the next best thing.

In fact, I like to think that Daniel’s “neighborhood” is actually an actualization of the world Mr. Rogers hoped to create. The kids on the show (be they animal or otherwise) are the next generation to reap the benefits of those raised on his ideals of love, acceptance, specialness and patience (among others); just as we were raised with these warm thoughts, we can pass them on through Daniel (as well as through the innate lessons we learned from him). The fact that every adult seems to universally know the exact same song for potty use may seem ridiculous to us as adults, but in fact it’s showing an environment filled with adults who all completely love, support and nurture the children in the neighborhood, giving them the ultimate sense of security. It’s idealistic, but if one can’t have some ideals, one can’t have a future worth looking forward to.

So, sure. We’re Daniel fans. We love that he’s still young enough to have his insecure, need-your-parents moments yet gaining his independence in leaps and bounds. We love that Miss Elaina wears backwards clothes and is boisterous. We love that O the Owl is highly literal and far more into books than playing pretend. We even love the ridiculousness that Prince Wednesday’s brother, although an heir to the throne, works as a babysitter and waiter. It’s all good.

And we’re sure that Hadley’s gaining from that good, in turn.

All the World’s a Stage

Kids are natural performers. Our little guy comes by it honestly, of course. Both his mom and dad were active community theatre actors before he came along (actually, we did a show in our first trimester, so…). When he sees a stage, he bolts for it. Lately, he’s been inclined to frequently “a-tap, a-tap, a-tappa,” doing his own version of tap dancing. Before he could walk, I held him up in amazement as his little legs flailed, his brow furrowed, attempting to emulate an Astaire routine he was watching. It’s apparently in his blood, but I also believe that the force is strong in all children.  

There’s a lot of awesome to be had from this level of creativity. It builds social and mental development, to say nothing of the confidence it creates.

But, what if your child is a major introvert? Does that mean that he or she will miss out on all of the benefits of “performing”? Absolutely not. Our guy isn’t always “on.” He has his shy moments. There are tons of very different ways to get the best out of this form of play (I like to think of it as play, at least), and oftentimes kids come to them naturally. Just watch the next time they’re playing independently and see if they’re actually, secretly, performing by doing any of the following:


Pots and Pans Pretending. It seems like almost all kids gravitate to the grown-up pots and pans, don’t they? Our little one uses them for their intended purpose…or, at least, pretends to be a chef. Others use them to let out their musical inclinations. Still others use them for, well, whatever the heck they want. I know it can be a pain at times, but let them and even encourage it. (Oh, and providing their own tools to continue this pretend play helps, too. If they like to “drum,” give them toy percussion instruments. We gave Hadley some cooking tools of his own and his own “pantry area”, too.)

Dance Parties! Dance and general bodily movement is so integral to brain development, it’s crazy. Certain motions trigger sections of the brain to start synopsing, such as cross-over hand and foot motions and other slightly complex movements. Plus, it’s a fun exercise that you can do as a family! It definitely helps us take ourselves less seriously (especially if it’s silly music) and even gets the parents off their hineys. 

The Type of Toy Matters. I’m building a post specifically about this, but I’ll just put the premise out here: “character” toys are fine, but make sure there’s a good mix of simple and creative toys available, too. I have a definite love-hate relationship with purchasing toys because it’s a character on a show that our little man loves, or buying the whole Disney gamut of products. Additionally, lots of toys DO SO MUCH (noises! lights! letters! songs! colors! gah!) that they don’t allow the rationalizing parts of a child’s brain do their thing. So, this Christmas we’ve been sure to ask Santa for more Duplo Legos, Play-Doh (I know, I should be making my own or buying eco), a generic doctor kit, and my “homemade” gift for him is for total imaginative play.  

Dress-Up. We’ve been working on a “dress-up box” for Hadman since well before he was born. Um, yeah, we’re a little weird. I think part of the reasoning is that WE love playing pretend, so we hope to encourage it if our kid(s) feel an interest, too. For now, he has one or two pretend items (like a bandana and a soft pirate hat) in with the rest of his toy stuff for if and when he wants to use it. As he gets older, he’ll have a designated dress-up area that he can pull whatever he’d like out of. Oh, and you don’t have to spend a million dollars on this stuff — perusing your local thrift shop may turn up some fake glasses or an awesome artist’s beret (just wash it first…ew).

Pretend of Any Kind. Whether it’s structured role play, play time with a sibling or friend, or just letting your child play independently, this is crucial to their development. It teaches problem solving, the ability to work (and occupy oneself) alone, and much more. Plus, as a parent, the first time you hear your child talking amongst himself about the scene he’s playing out before him? Melt. This is how we first heard his rendition of the alphabet. They open up this new side to the world, a completely non-self-conscious little person who will lay it all out because either they don’t realize anyone’s listening, or they don’t care. Can’t we all learn something there?

See Shows. We have yet to take our guy to a show. He’s still at a very wiggly, won’t-sit-still age. He knows that Mama and Daddy like to see shows (rare these days, but still) and he’s asked to go, too, but I know full well that it’ll be a disaster of a night. However, we’re on the lookout for short, kidcentric shows (like “Sesame Street Live!” which comes around every year or so, or other short, live-action performances of famous story books) to give him his first performance. Another thing I’d like to try out is a public library read aloud or puppet show (I know, I’m a librarian and I haven’t taken him yet) since it’s so different than a one-on-one book reading at home.

Get Artsy Fartsy. Stock up on whatever art supplies suit your little one’s age and encourage an art project when you have the energy and time to do so. I lack in this department a bit, but even keeping around a little finger paints (I wait until about 20 minutes before bath time, strip him to his dipe and put him in his high chair to minimize clean-up) or crayons with a coloring book or two can help. I’m excited that he’ll be getting a Melissa and Doug kit for “early artists” where the color appears when you brush water on the coloring pages; perfect for our budding creative kiddo.

Listen to Music or Old Radio Shows. Not just for dance parties, we expose the whole family to a wide variety of music styles and genres (Dave has played classical in the car since he was an infant; I’m so proud!). I feel deeply that musical connection enriches our lives more than anything else, culturally speaking, in addition to opening up paths in the brain for deep development. Needless to say, I can’t wait until I get a piano in the house again. In turn, listening to old radio shows (usually the humorous ones, like “Our Miss Brooks” and “Fibber McGee and Molly”) opens him up to a new creative outlet and the concept that, not that long ago, this was the world’s most popular entertainment and news retrieval system. Not to mention, it’s still a stellar form of entertainment for the family.

Watch a variety of movies. We’ve fallen more into the “watching TV together” trap than we had initially hoped we would. However, we try to expose Had to more than just children’s fare. He’s totally fine with black and white (although, give him the option and he’ll pick color; can’t blame him too much), and knows who Shirley Temple, Andy Hardy, Robin Hood, Tiny Tim, Uncle Scrooge, and ALL the characters from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” are. He’ll see the Monkees and the old ’60s Batman, along with the Sesame Street we were raised with. I think the sensibility of these programs is a bit different and, at times, more thought-provoking and heart-warming than some of the stuff today. So, exposure to different cultures, realities, and even history helps broaden their knowledge (and gives them fodder for pretend).

Readers’ Theatre. If your kiddo is on the older side, just Google “readers’ theatre” (or any variation of the spelling), and you may be surprised at how much you find. This can range from the earliest reader’s abilities to a lengthy, multiple-person diatribe, from a fun, fluffy story to a serious non-fiction educational role-playing piece. The cool part of readers’ theatre is the fact that there’s no memorization involved (it’s literally just reading a script and adding some props and costumes if you like), and it’s highly flexible (you could have three people playing tons of parts of eighteen playing individual roles). Also, it helps readers of high and low levels continue to grow and increase fluency. I could go on, but instead, I’ll move to my next favorite subject. 

Read, Read, Read. Never underestimate the quietest bookworm, my friend. Their imaginations are often swimming with the most incredible ideas, diverse vocabulary, and problem-solving methods in the room. And, regardless of your child’s age, it’s never too late (or early) to start reading to them every night. I’d say that about 95-98% of Had’s evening routines have involved reading, from the time he was one week old. He might have been too young to understand the words or to even see the pictures, but the rhythm of the books and the nurturing sound of his father’s voice (Dave has read most of the books, although I sit nearby often) created a child who absolutely loves reading. At less than 2 1/2 years old, he knows all of his letters and recites the alphabet (with some issues getting from L to P, admittedly), and I attribute it completely to reading.

So, what do you think? What creative outlets do you and your family utilize? Anything to add to the list? Share in the comments!