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My son will be three years old in less than a month. Most of his buddies are already in preschool or are starting preschool this fall. Supposedly, going to preschool can help the child’s social development and teach them colors, numbers, letters and some basic reading and writing. Preschool can also help with learning arts and crafts, since there is a lot of coloring and working with play dough going on.

I don’t have anything against preschool, especially if you have an only child, who is beginning to get bored at home. Or, if you want  a little break from your kid to do yoga, hair and nails. Every Mom deserves some free time!

However, I noticed that many of my friends had second babies by the time their first ones turned two or three years old. This way, they can send the oldest to preschool and spend uninterrupted time at home with the youngest, so that the youngest feels as special as the oldest felt, when they were a baby. This sounds logical. Unfortunately, this thinking appears to be against nature.

The second child was not meant to get the same attention and one-on-one time as the first one. This is why they were born second. They were meant to have an older sibling to learn from (something the first one didn’t have.) If you send your older child to preschool and play at home with the little one, you are creating an artificial environment for both. You are robbing the younger one from hours of learning from the older one and you are not letting the older one learn how to lovingly share. Children learn from each other. They also learn to adjust to the new family structure. The older one needs to understand that the younger one is here to stay and the younger one needs to learn that the older one needs his or her time with Mommy, too.

This is where “at home preschool” comes in. I teach my older kid numbers and art and letters, while my 8.5 months old twins try to eat our crayons and I think it’s the best setup, because it minimizes any jealousy or sibling rivalry there may be. My oldest learns about socialization right in our living room and my youngest twins learn how to build castles and read books. A kid who comes home from preschool wants his or her Mommy. The little baby wants his or her mommy all the time, and this is a problem for both. This is where the older one can get aggressive or whiny. If the older one stays home, both him/her and their little sibling learn to lovingly co-exist with the limited amount of  “Mommy-time.”

The problem of socialization with the kids outside of family can be easily solved, as well. You can join  a local mommy group on meetup.com, you can go to playgrounds, you can enroll your child in various classes and activities. You can organize your own playgroup, where you and five other mommies agree to meet at a specific time in a specific place once a week. I know many will disagree with my view, but I believe if a woman is a stay at home mother, she should stay home with ALL of her children, not just some. What do you think?

 

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In an attempt to perfect the knowledge of a Russian alphabet in my (now perfectly) bilingual almost-three year old, I came up with this game:

Firstly, we cut letter shapes out of colorful paper. If your child is a toddler, you will probably need to hold his/her scissors, while they are cutting. Make sure the scissors are toddler-safe. Then, we move the letters into groups, which we sort by color. This way, we end up with a pile of green letters, a pile of blue letters, a pile of yellow ones, etc… Then we make words, putting the letters from each pile together.

Lets take our yellow pile, for example. Lemon is yellow. Squash can be yellow.  So, using this logic, we take our yellow letters and spell the names of yellow objects. Then, we move to the red pile and spell words, like “strawberry,” or “tomato.”

Finally, we group our words together. We move all of the “fruit” words into a group and we move all the “vegetable” words into another group. Someties, we take this one step further and “make a salad” or a “soup.” We think about the ingredients for the dish and move the names of those ingredients together on the table.

Since toddlers are notorious for having short attention spans, this game can extend over three hours. We make some letters, we play with the trucks, we make some words, we play with our brother and sister, we make some more words, we throw a little tantrum. 🙂 This game teaches fine motor skills, color recognition, shape recognition, letter recognition, object recognition and conceptual thinking.

When we are done, we put all of our letters in a box, so that we can continue playing this or a different letter game later.

 

Father’s day is his weekend.

Daddy can get a new electronic gadget, a wallet  or a pair of cufflinks, or he can get something funny, like this Tshirt I found (with a matching onesie):

Mr. Big Baby sees cars everywhere. He tries to make every art project we do about vehicles. If we sit down to draw a    flower, he wants to draw a small flower next to a big car.  At almost three years old he already knows every model and every  make of every car.  But he doesn’t know how to write numbers well.

Here’s a little system I came up with to help my son memorize his numbers:

Every day, we create a large number on a piece of paper with an object that this number resembles. For example, one is a tree with a branch, two is a swan, three is a snake, four is a house. Then, we draw cars next to the numbers. If number one is a tree, then we draw a parked car next to it, if number six is a purse, we draw a car around it, to show that the purse is left in the car. To create the numbers and the objects, we use painting, drawing, glitter, cutting and pasting: anything my son feels like at the moment. The key here is to make learning the number fun for the kid. This project teaches kids to think creatively, to use their imagination, to paint, draw, cut and paste and use play dough. Most importantly, after you spent thirty minutes on creating a number eight that looks like a lady, you are not likely to forget number eight.

Number seven is my son’s favorite: We made a chin-up bar out of play dough and drew a figure of a boy on it. Then we took my son’s picture, cut his face out and pasted the face on the boy’s figure. And then my babies tried to eat the play dough, but it’s a whole other story!

My eight months-old twin babies are eating real food. Not the stuff that comes from jars and costs 99 cents per 1/4 cup-size portion. I am not a pediatrician, I am a mother and a nutritionist, so take my advice accordingly, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to feed your children healthy, nutritious whole foods from the time they are about 6 months old.

 

Firstly, you need to change the way your family eats. I know, easier said than done. Keep in mind, whatever you eat is exactly what your kids are eventually  going to end up eating, so the occassional pizza or the French fries, or the “hidden” chocolate bar or a gallon of ice cream: they will find it and eat it, no matter how hard you are trying to never take them to a fast food restaurant or feed them a raw diet of carrots and broccoli.

So, the first step to the optimal baby nutrition is optimal family nutrition.

Grains, veggies, some organic meats, fresh fruits, nuts and seeds…. You know, the real stuff.  Not cheerios, pasta, bread pieces and weird baby snacks that cost $5 per handful. If you have an organic sweet potato lying around, think twice about buying the processed baby food jar full of sweet potatoes. First of all, one sweet potato yields about three-four jars of baby food. So, you are spending A LOT less. Second, you can make fresh food, instead of feeding your baby something canned, that could be three months old. Think of energy of that jarred food that’s eventually going to become your child’s thoughts. Would you personally eat all of your food from a jar? Than why do you think your baby likes it any more than you do?

If you fear bacteria in homemade food, use boiling water in cleaning any utensils that have to do with baby food. Rinse produce with boiling water, as well. People have fed their babies homemade food for generations and humanity is still here. Jarred food is a relatively new invention and we don’t have enough long-term studies to see its consequences on human development.

So far, my babies have tried: carrots, sweet potatoes, apples, bananas, broccoli, pears, butternut squash, cauliflower, cucumbers, avocado, quinoa and buckwheat. Some veggies have been  cooked and some were given raw, to preserve naturally present enzymes. When I cook grains for us, I always leave a bit for the babies. I don’t buy the “special” baby hot cereals, because it’s a waste of money. I don’t feed my babies the empty-calorie rice cereal. Some foods need to be cooked and mashed and some things (like bananas or avocado) only need a fork and three seconds of your time to be made into nutritious baby foods.

You don’t need a fancy food processor to mash up the baby foods: I have a 15$  small blender from my local pharmacy and it works just fine. I don’t spend a lot of time on ideas for baby dinners: I just take the foods we eat as a family and mash up a small portion of them for the babies.

My babies also snack on unprocessed foods. The Cheerio-eating babies are an interesting modern phenomenon: why give your child processed food that costs  a lot? Make buckwheat, put it on the tray in front of them and let them pick at it. Let them nibble on cucumber slices. Let them pick up and eat a banana. Let them pick up avocado slices. Blueberries work, too. A whole carrot or quartered apples are excellent for taking to restaurants, because they tend to occupy babies well, in addition to providing excellent nutrition. My children eat quartered apples daily from eight months old on. Giving your baby cooked pasta to pick at, is, essentially, giving your baby processed food. Try a chopped cooked carrot or some cooked broccoli florets, instead. Green peas are wonderful baby food, too.

There is an interesting method of giving your baby fresh whole foods as their first solids. It’s called Baby-Led Weaning.  I haven’t tried it, but heard many good things about it.  For example, giving your baby a cooked whole carrot, instead of a pureed one, to get them accustomed to table foods faster, is a baby-led weaning technique.

Another problem with commercially purchased purees is their texture. It is way too smooth. Babies generally don’t choke if there is a tiny bit of texture in their food. They do choke if you jam too much of it in their mouths. I am all for chopping fruits finely with a knife, instead of fruit purees, once the baby is past the first “intro to solids” page. Babies used to texture of raw foods, don’t cringe at salads later.

I am also for natural food combining. If you look at baby food jars at your local supermarket, everything is made to be sweet. Combos, such as green beans with apples are normal in jarred food world. Would you eat green beans with apples at your family’s table? Unlikely. Babies tend to do better as far as not becoming picky eaters, when they are introduced to non-sweet solids first. Broccoli, cauliflower, green beans : these foods are all great as first solids. Then, trying to stuff your baby full of banana would be a piece of cake.

Eventually, as your family gathers up for a healthy dinner, your baby will be a welcome participant, as he or she would have some of your mashed up grains, veggies, meats or casseroles. Your baby would be part of your family and not an alien, requiring a whole cupboard full of weird food that costs a lot.

 

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