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My friend Erica sent me a link to Counting Coconuts, an amazing blog for mothers of small children. The blog is full of creative ideas, projects and inspirations. I especially liked their “sensory tub” ideas. Sensory tubs, are, in essence, plastic boxes filled with stuff joined by a unifying theme. The lady behind Counting Coconuts Blog is very organized. She writes detailed lists and instructions for every tub and project. I  hate lists, can’t follow instructions and love to feel moved by inspiration, even though I admire those that are better organized than I am. Like my husband, for example. He puts everything in files.

Anyway, this is how we got the idea to do The Earth Project.

Firstly, we got a large plastic box. Then we went on a treasure hunt. While the twins were sleeping, my boy and I went outside in search for interesting Earth-themed” items, like pine cones, twigs, tree branches, rocks, dry leaves, etc…We put all of these treasures in the box. Then, we raided the Dollar Store. We bought gummy worms, caterpillars, rubber snakes, fake flowers, a tiny shovel and a fork.We also bought some green paper and cut leaves out of it. Then, we put some of our dollar-treasures into the box, filled with earthy items and – voila! Project Earth was ready.

My son loved digging in the box for hours and finding the same worms over and over. He loved wrapping the rubber snakes around the twigs and putting a plastic caterpillar on the rock, so that “he can sunbathe.” If you want to try something like that, remember that nature and a Dollar Store are a winning combo.

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How do you get your child to like fruits and vegetables? Eat the veggies and the fruits yourself and make the whole thing fun.  Or, here’s a little shortcut:

 

 

For a fun and easy art project, get some colored papers. Take scissors and cut some fruits and vegetables out of the colored papers.  Make some red apples, blue eggplants, green cucumbers, orange carrots. etc…

Then ask your child to put all fruits in one pile and all veggies in another one. You can ask your child to also divide the “produce” by color – “Put all the red fruits over here and all the green veggies over there.”

Then get a bowl and  a pot. Give your kid a pair of child-safe scissors and watch closely, as he or she chops the “vegetables” for the “soup.” The child can cut the paper “vegetable” in strips or in chunks or in squares and let those pieces fall into the soup pot. The child can be taught how to finely dice an onion, using a paper vegetable or how to thinly chop parsley. They can learn which vegetables work for the soup and which ones do not. Later that evening, you can feed them a real vegetable soup and they are likely to have a lot more interest in it than they normally would.

The bowl is for the salad. You can make a vegetable salad, by cutting the veggies into thin strips and you can also make a “fruit salad, “by cutting bananas and slicing apples. While you are playing these games, you can teach your child about how fruits and vegetables grow and how they make us strong. This game is good for fine motor skills (hence the  use of the  scissors,) color recognition, patterns, grouping objects that are alike and learning some basic cooking skills.

You can take it one step further and glue the fruits and the vegetables back together, assembling the pieces on a white sheet of paper. In this case, draw a large basket and put all the newly glued produce in it to make a nice picture.

 

      My son loves to build. So, I bought him three different kinds of blocks and eventually, he got bored with all of them. It  was time for a new project. We cut different shapes out of colored papers. We made rectangles, triangles, squares and  circles. Then, we put them all on a table and started building a town. We made houses, trees, cars, trains and people. My  son loved the game! The best part is that this game is portable ( just put all the pieces in a ziploc bag and take it with you  to a restaurant or on a plane ride.) While building , you can also discuss shapes, sizes and colors, therefore, learning them.  You can count shapes:  “Find how many circles we have?”or count shapes and colors: “Find how many blue squares we have?” … etc. Additionally, this is a perfect rainy day activity.

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?

 

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.

 

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!

I jut finished reading Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child by Maja Pitamic.

I believe every parent of a preschooler should have this book. It presents simple activities that you can do with your preschooler to help encourage his/her cognitive development. If you consider yourself not too creative and imaginative, the book will give you tons of ideas of learning by playing interesting games with your child. If you are already full of ideas for fun and productive play, the book will give you more.  The instructions are brief, clear, and well illustrated. The activities are fun, and generally don’t require a lot of prep on the parents’ part. The recommended materials are easily found in most homes.

There are five chapters with activities you can do at home or in a classroom setting: Life skills, Developing the Senses, Language Development, Numeric Skills and Science Skills. Each activity has a picture next to its description, a numbered list of directions, a list of  what you will need as well as other, similar,  activities to try. In the back of the book you can find worksheets to accompany some of the activities shown in the book: everything is simple, concise and well-organized. I highly recommend this book.

 

My friend Sasha gave me a great idea for some simple creative toddler fun. All you need is a large sheet of paper and some finger paints. Let your child cover their hands with paint of their choice, then put the hand on a piece of paper, like a stamp. Under the hand print, write the date and frame the whole thing. You can cry over it when your baby gets married.

Or, you can be even more creative, dip the palms of the hands in red and arms (from wrist to elbow) in green. Put the palm and the arm on the paper: you just made a tulip! Two palms, placed with wrist parts touching create a moose or a flying bird and two pink hands make a heart. You can also try painting with your feet. The possibilities are endless: please, let me know if you come up with anything new and interesting.

Mr. Big Baby got way too excited about the project, so we mainly made a mess, after which both of needed a shower, but I am very excited to try again in the future.

 

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Oups… I should have titled the post: “How to Diffuse Your Reaction To a Tantrum.” Whatever others do, even if they are your children, essentially has no meaning. What gives  actions their meaning is your reaction to them. Our kids look to us for reactions in order to learn how to react themselves.

As Mr. Big Baby transitioned from the terrible twos into the terrible threes, I’ve been noticing getting angry at him more often. The screaming and the stomping of the feet gets really irritating when you are trying to breastfeed one baby and change the other one. I understand that most of the time, the toddler just wants your attention, affection and recognition, but the ways he/she chooses to accomplish that can be way too annoying to keep your cool.

So, I developed this reaction technique for whenever he goes nuts about wanting to wear a bib, or wanting to have his fire truck at the table, or not wanting to go to the park, or not wanting to take a nap in the afternoon. I noticed that my son reflects my emotions: whenever I approach his tantrums from the point of calmness, he calms down faster and whenever I surround him with extra love when I want to be angry at him, he relaxes and comes to me for a kiss.

This technique came from my knowledge of yoga and reiki. Let me know if it works for you. And, please, let me know what else works! 🙂

Whenever your child starts a tantrum (screaming, throwing, crying, falling down, hitting,) visualize a bright light in the center of your chest. The light has to be warm and glowing. It can be any color you choose. I like pink or green (the colors of the heart chakra.) Now, visualize the same light in the center of your child’s chest. Imagine a beam of warm light, going form your heart center to his or hers.  Keep visualizing the beam of love until you feel calm enough to speak to your child and address the issue.

 

As adults, we tend to think in linear ways: if we are doing a particular arts and crafts activity with our kids,  it’s difficult to visualize how it can also be a game with toys in it. Or, how to take it one step further and make a library with books out of it. Playing, creating, imagining and visualizing is wonderful for growing brains. My kids taught me how to expand my mind, so I came up with these fun ideas for small art projects:

Combine your drawing lesson with your playtime:

-Draw a garage or a road for the toy cars to park in or to ride on.

-Draw a field for the rubber ball.

-Draw a doll house for your favorite doll and then add dimension by putting play dough furniture in it.

-Draw some people and “feed” them real berries and other healthy foods.

– Make a “library” out of stacked books, put a doll in it and read to it together.

– Use watercolors to paint the sky and let your toy helicopter fly.

– Paint a sea for your toy fish or for your little ship.

The possibilities  are endless, as long as you realize your limitless creativity. Enjoy!

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