Monthly Archives: February 2011

Comparing: Does my little one match up?

This week, I’m attempting to answer some questions presented by a reader.  First up … making comparisons.   

I am having a hard time looking at the educational blogs for children and thinking that my daughter should have these skills down. I see some of the things you’ve tried with your son at my daughter’s age and it just seems like she is so far from having enough attention span or ability to follow directions that I often get frustrated. (comments from reader)

I think ALL parents have these comments go through their head at some point.  I have. It is so hard not to compare, both in real life and in the virtual!  It really doesn’t do our kids justice though.  They are truly each their own.  I’ve had to learn…. and practice because it doesn’t come naturally for me…  to search the plethora of ideas solely for that purpose, for ideas and for inspiration.  If they are discouraging more than encouraging, I have to turn the computer off.  Honestly.  I will even say the same for all of my readers, turn my blog off if it isn’t encouraging for you.  That’s not the purpose at all.  I will say I have gotten better at remaining detached, learning to read the blogs as I would an activity book from the bookstore.  This helps me get the inspiration I need without getting worried because my son doesn’t necessarily match up with someone else’s child. 

The age groups on this blog are there just as a guideline, hopefully to make the searching process easier for parents. They are not absolutes by any means.  They are based on my experiences with one child.  I’m sure my next child will require me to move at a different pace.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  There are things J could do at ages when his friends weren’t quite able to accomplish them yet.  There are also things J could NOT do at ages while all his peers could.  The point is, don’t get stuck on age!  Focus on your child’s current needs.  When searching this blog, I suggest looking at activities in your little one’s age group, as well as both the previous age group and the next to come.  So if you have a 20 month old child, I would look at pretoddler, early toddler and toddler activities (check out the favorites page for some highlights, or use the age categories in the sidebar). You will likely find activities from each category that would work for your 20 month old.  But, keep in mind that there will be activities that just won’t fit your little one’s needs.  Don’t feel pressured to try them all. 

We as parents are learning too.  That’s part of the process. Let’s face it, frustration is part of parenting and it starts from day one.  Frustration doesn’t mean we give up.  It might be we need to reevaluate what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.  We find a good fix and keep consistent.  Any good teacher will tell you the same.  Give yourself the time to learn too.  Sometimes that means allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Don’t expect perfection.  Afterall we’re working with toddlers! 

Typing up a quick review to post of an activity that I did with J doesn’t tell you everything that occurred during it. 

  • I don’t mention the 2 potty trips and 1 accident that occurred during the igloo activity, leading to a very frustrated mom (I probably should’ve waited another day to let potty training sink in a bit more!). 
  • You don’t read all the details about how J (typically VERY cautious with new textures and experiences) was hesitant to dive into the snowbox at first.  Our first attempt was mildly enjoyable and I had to stay there playing with him the entire time even for that.  The 2nd and 3rd attempts were huge improvements and eventually he loved it and would ask for me to bring it out again and again.  
  • When we first started with activities like plastic eggs in egg carton or sorting beads into trays, we had our fair share of dropping them onto the floor instead.  It was apparently so much fun to watch them fall! Or how he was one day adamant that the red bead should go in the same pile as the green when sorting. An individual activity might last all of 5 minutes tops.  But 5 minutes developed into 10 and then 20 minutes.  He also learned that just like dropping food from the highchair wasn’t allowed, neither was dropping toys (crayons, paintbrushes, paint!). 
  • Did I forget to mention that J decided that one of our letters of the day made the sound “poopoo” and refused to be told otherwise?

These are just a few examples.  Every activity blog, every classroom, and every homeschool kitchen table has similar stories of the learning process in action. 

If an activity or conversation doesn’t go well, I evaluate why.  It may be because I chose the wrong time of day (close to nap or mealtime), maybe I’ve been lax in discipline lately so simple obedience was really the issue, maybe I expected too much from him and need to try something a bit more basic, maybe it was too easy and therefore boring for him, or maybe I didn’t present the activity well enough and need to find a better way to teach him. There could be many reasons something didn’t go well. 

Don’t give up.  There have been times simply placing an activity or concept on hold for another month was all that was needed.  There have also been times my husband came home from work to try an activity with J that bombed just hours earlier with me… and has great success.  My husband just found a better way to help J with it.  That’s a little frustrating!  It’s also perfectly understandable and just one more reason I’m grateful for my husband!

Letting frustrations keep up from trying again would mean we miss out on the growth that we get to see over time and we’ll miss out on all the “‘fun” along the way. 

Go have some fun!

(To see links to the other posts in this series, click here)

How do we make learning activities work?

I am having a hard time looking at the educational blogs for children and thinking that my daughter should have these skills down. I see some of the things you’ve tried with your son at my daughter’s age and it just seems like she is so far from having enough attention span or ability to follow directions that I often get frustrated. Did you have specific expectations or goals for your son at this age or was it just a slow process of working on things and small concepts; more of a parent directed play? I’ve tried to do some crafts with my daughter and it just doesn’t go well. She has a hard time following my directions and accomplishing the craft. Are my expectations too high for her age and when will I start to see some improvement on her attention span?

One of my readers asked these questions and thankfully agreed to let me use them to kick-start some posts this week (thanks April!).  I think they are great comments and extremely common among parents.  Since there are so many points in her comment, I’m going to split them up into separate posts (links below) so we just tackle one issue at a time. I’ll do my best to answer each question and would love to hear other readers suggestions and perspectives too.  I know there are lots of parents out there with great tips!

We’ll start tomorrow!

Comparing – Does my little one match up?
Getting Started (part 1) – What’s your purpose?
Getting Started (part 2) – Choosing an Activity
Foundational Skills (part 1)- How can I make the activities run smoothly?
Foundational Skills (part 2) –Ways to help them practice, practice, practice!

Sticker Igloo

This igloo craft was a lot of fun to make and I think it turned out really cute too!


What you need:  blank label stickers (I actually used mailing labels and cut them down to size), construction paper, scissors, glue, black marker

What you do:  Have your little one build a wall on the construction paper, using the labels.  Once they’re finished, turn the paper over and draw a semi-circle on the back.  Either have them cut out along the line, or you do the cutting for them.  To create the door, cut out a second semi-circle and have them color a black door, then glue on top of the larger piece.  After gluing his igloo together, he added some snow to his picture. 

This was honestly supposed to go with a winter unit I was going to do with J… but 3rd trimester exhaustion has set in so the unit didn’t happen.  I ended up cutting out the upper and lower case letter I, letting him fill those in with “ice blocks” and decided reinforcement learning was enough this day!  J was quite proud of his final work of art. 

This idea is from the Frugal Family Fun Blog.

Toddler’s First Chart

This is another of my beloved sticker activities (gotta love cheap, easy and educational!).  J did this on one of our plane trips and it worked beautifully. 

Sorry the picture isn't very clear; I was using my iphone on a dark plane

Prep: I created a box chart for J to fill in with the number of columns corresponding to the number of colors I had on a sticker sheet.   Since he was charting colors and this was the first time he had ever charted anything, I outlined each box in the correct color.  Honestly I think I made it too easy for him with this.  I just didn’t want to be stuck on the plane with him getting frustrated by an activity that was too difficult.  Sadly I underestimated him!

I gave J the long sheet of smiley face stickers of all different colors and he was throughly focused on charting them.  The sticker sheet had different shades of each color, so it was also good practice combining the various shades of purple/green.  After he was finished, I had him point out the longest line and the shortest line and explained how this helped us gather information about the stickers (which had the most and the least).  We then counted and labeled each bar to see if our deductions were correct.  Of course, he didn’t understand it all completely.  That’s ok.  To me, it’s a matter of introducing words and concepts that we’ll build on as he gets older. 

Look through your sticker collection to see what you can chart!

Age Attempted: 32 months

Great Benefits to Nursery Rhymes

Don’t underestimate the age-old success of nursery rhymes!  I think sometimes we get caught up in the new and improved that we forget the great benefits to the tried and true.

Nursery rhymes are definitely tried and true. 

They are great for infants through to preschoolers (and probably beyound).  The beauty with nursery rhymes, is it doesn’t take much effort to entertain our little ones with these.  Very little prep work involved AND great benefits.  The sing-song effect is very calming. They offer a great variety of vocabulary (and our little ones are learning from what we say whether we realize it or not!). Hearing the rhyming words over and over teaches detailed awareness of the language. They learn to listen for the sounds that make up a word (phonemes) which helps them learn how to work with the language.  And they are doing all of this without worksheets or lessons.  They are learning and we don’t even realize it.

Ways to include nursery rhymes in your day:

  • Read compilation books with the best of the best nursery rhymes written.  
  • Recite them outloud while driving in the car, going on a walk or changing their diaper (they are great distractions for even the tiniest babies).
  • Use hand motions and act them out.   
  • Sing them.  
  • Use them to encourage your toddler during clean up. 
  • Find rhymes that coincide with topics of interest or unit studies (ex: Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush would work well when teaching basic hygiene; The Itsy Bitsy Spider works with lessons on bugs)
  • Add a nursery rhyme to your letter, color, or number of the day lessons (Little Boy Blue for blue day; Jack and Jill for J-day) 
  • March to the beat of a nursery rhyme (a great way to practice rhythm!)Do all of the above and do it consistently.  Consistency is the goal. 

But isn’t it funny how sometimes the easiest things are the things we forget about?  At least that’s me.   I’m counting this post as a reminder for myself 🙂

So here are a few popular rhymes in our house to get us started:

  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Row Row Row Your Boat
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  • Jack and Jill went up the hill
  • This is the way we wash our hands
  • Old McDonald
  • Ring Around the Rosie
  • It’s Raining, It’s Pouring
  • Rain, Rain Go Away

Ok, this list is looking pretty typical, huh? I’m no nursery rhyme expert. I’m not even sure everything on the list counts as a nursery rhyme. I just use what I know.  Sometimes I even forget the words and make something up that rhymes!  My poor child will never know the real words for Lullaby and Goodnight but oh well.

Here’s some popular websites where you can print out both words and pictures for nusery rhymes, or even hear them with animation. 

There are tons of books that compile nursery rhymes. J got A Treasury for One Year Olds as a gift that we still use now.  The series offers a new book for each year, though we haven’t gotten any of the others. The older books apparently also include popular stories too. Of course there are cds you can buy that include nursery rhymes.  We don’t personally own any, but my mom plays some for the grandkids and they love them.  You could also record your own (see this post on recording stories on cd yourself).

This is something you can try right now!

Sally’s Cozy Cone Motel

I bought a set of orange cones last Spring in Target for $1 or $2.50 (by the way, I saw the same set in the store this morning).  We’ve used them both outside and inside for obstacle courses or even as an easy way to tell J how far he’s allowed to go down the sidewalk. 

This winter, I cut doors into each cone and created Sally’s Cozy Cone Motel (from the Disney movie, Cars).  How easy is that!  J loves the movie and knew exactly what they were.  He’ll often want to put his cars to sleep at night in their Cozy Cone.  A simple change to an old toy to bring it to life again and add to a toddler’s pretend play!  We can even still use the cones for their normal uses. 

I think this would be a fun addition to a homemade highway.  We might just have to break out the painter’s tape again!

My Little Helper: Laundry

We focus A LOT in our house about how we’re a family and a family works together to help each other out.  This is in fact one of my parenting goals that I have listed down. Doing simple chores is just one way to put this goal into practice and hopefully create a good habit that we’ll reap the benefits of in the future!

It’s been awhile since I’ve added any new responsibilities to J’s week.  I got lazy with early pregnancy.  Now that the nesting stage has hit, I’m trying to introduce some things that will hopefully help in the future.  Note that he’s just learning which means these new chores take longer to complete right now.  He’s also still in the stage of finding them fun (I try to make it a game).  I try to enjoy this because he does get to the point where mom must require it with some chores.  The older chores (that’s he’s had for a year or so) he is now capable of completing on his own without my help. This is a great stage to work towards!!  

1. We sort.  I typically bring down all the laundry baskets from the bedrooms and J helps me sort the clothes into 4 different piles (darks, whites, mediums, and reds).  This is great sorting practice by the way.  We work together on this task for now.  He does a great job, but does randomly come across something he isn’t sure where it belongs.  I’m sure he could’ve even done this at an earlier age, though likely with a little more direction on my part.  Me being there also helps encourage him to stay on task.  He can get distracted by naming who wears each particular article of clothing or trying to find a match to a sock.  I would venture most 2 years olds could manage this activity with mom or dad working alongside them.

2. He helps to put the dirty clothes into the washing machine.  I have a frontloader which makes this very easy for him.  His favorite part is pushing the buttons!

3.  He helps transfer the wet clothes into the dryer (and again pushes the buttons). 

4.  He helps me fold the clean laundry.  Sort of.  As of now, his job is to separate all the socks and then to sort them into piles for mommy’s, daddy’s, and J’s.  When we wash towels, we’re starting to work on folding the washcloths but there’s still a lot of learning with this one!

Please note that this doesn’t always look pretty.  I’ve found that things run the smoothest if I stick to my routine (choretime after breakfast and before play).  If I randomly call him for chores, his attention span doesn’t last as long.  He also doesn’t help load each color.  If he’s nearby, he wants to help (so he can push the buttons) or I call him to help.  I do it on my own if he’s playing in his room, with dad, or napping.

Age attempted: 33 months

Here are some of my other “My Little Helper” posts.  More to come as I take advantage of nesting!!

My Little Helper: Grocery Label list (or fun scavenger hunt)

My cousin recommended this idea after seeing J’s grocery list on this post (My Little Helper: Grocery Shopping) and we finally tried it out at the store.

Prep: I did a quick search for some of the logos of items on my grocery list, copy and paste and I’m done.  The internet makes this so simple and quick!

I didn’t pull it out at the grocery store until I knew we were about to start hitting the items on the list so basically we’d already gone through produce and meats.  J’s list also did not include everything on my list.  It was funny how he immediately knew what certain items were when I handed him the list.  Like he knew that the Yoplait logo meant yogurt or the Lactaid logo was milk. This not only keeps them busy while shopping, it was also great practice with word recognition and letter recognition.   

J really liked this, even better than the other grocery lists honestly.  I think it helped too that I gave him a highlighter to check off his list rather than the normal crayon or pen 🙂

For younger ones, I would put the items in the order that you’ll reach them in the store. Another thing that works well is to fold the list in half or in thirds so they are just looking at a few items on the list at a time. 

You could use this as a scavenger hunt rather than a grocery list that kids would love (which means they’re focused while you shop!).  And this would actually make the list even easier to create since it wouldn’t matter which items you included.

Age attempted: 33 months

Valentine Necklace

This necklace was a Valentine treat I actually made for my niece.  It’s really too intricate for J to do on his own.  An older child could manage this activity just fine.  I think it would be a cute party favor for a tea party or Valentine’s party.

Of course, I made the necklace too short.  I really underestimated the length.  The instructions (here) said to make it 36″ long.  I guess I should’ve measured!  It will have to be a necklace for her baby dolls.  I also made a bracelet that should fit her though.  And she can always enjoy eating both, even if she can’t actually wear them.

Dump Truck Valentine Card

J made these Valentines cards for his cousins. 

What you need:  Unopened box of candy and a few extra pieces of the candy, construction paper, cardstock, car stickers, marker, and glue

 Prep:  I precut all the pieces of the truck for him to glue onto the cardstock and already had the “Happy Valentine’s Day” message on the cardstock. 

J  put the shapes together to create the truck and then added the box of candy at the end.  

The front of the card has a little road with some foam car stickers.  I thought it turned out pretty cute

This is from Busy Bee Craft .  Of course, I didn’t plan for the candy box to be glued on at a tilt (in effect, dumping its cargo).  Oops!