Saturday, January 28, 2012

Baby Book Keepsake

Just before Jo was born, I'd found out that the White House will send a letter of congratulations if you mail them a birth announcement along with your return address to:

White House Greetings Office
Room 39
Washington, DC

I finally got around to sending Jo's announcement just before Christmas. Today, this arrived for her in the mail:

Friday, January 27, 2012

100 (Attempted) Ways to Entertain a Young Toddler, Day 65: Car Ramp

Today's toddler activity idea came from my childhood friend's Facebook page. She has a daughter just a few weeks younger than Oliver. In a photo she'd posted, she had a shelf set up like a ramp with race cars strewn about. It was obvious her daughter had been shooting cars down the ramp, and I thought, "Why didn't I think of that?"

I brainstormed what I could use around the house for a ramp. Andrew's aunt had sent us a name plaque wall hanging for Jo, so I pulled that off of the wall and set it up in the living room (upside down, to protect the front) as a ramp. It didn't hold very well, so I used the coffee table to hold it in place, like this:

I then showed Oliver how his little cars, which Santa had brought him for Christmas (free from Kohl's using the $10 coupon they'd sent me for signing up for email alerts!), could roll down the ramp. He loved it! He spent about 15 minutes shooting cars down the ramp. Jo decided to watch (she's his number one fan):

This activity didn't last any longer than most new activities, but it was something fun and new. It was also very easy to set up and really didn't involve any clean up time. I opted to keep the board downstairs so that it'd be readily available, and I caught Oliver setting up the ramp again himself a few hours later. It's obvious he had fun.

I assume most people have some wheeled toy in their house for their kids, but, if not, I think it's worth a few bucks to pick one up. Use your imagination to make a free ramp with things you have available around the house. In a pinch, you could probably use your largest, hard-cover books to make smaller ramps.

The ease and fun of this classic activity make this a good one. I give it an A!

Monday, January 23, 2012

100 (Attempted) Ways to Entertain a Young Toddler, Day 64: Humpty Dumpty

"Humpty Dumpty" is one of the many activities we do at Oliver's music class. He loves it so much that we've started doing the activity at home, too. I knew going into this post that "Humpty Dumpty" gets an A+ grade, but I wanted to share it with parents who are looking for fun things to do with their little ones.

Let me preface this activity description by telling you that Oliver's music teacher (who has her master's degree in early child music education, or something like that) told us that the single, best thing you can do with a toddler to help foster learning and literacy is to use nursery rhymes. So, I like to think of this activity as educational and fun.

OK, so to do the "Humpty Dumpty" activity, all you need is you and your toddler. Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you. Sit your toddler on your legs, just above your knees, facing away from you. Put your hands under your toddler's armpits. Say, "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall..." Then, bend your knees. They raise up like a wall, and your toddler is almost sitting on them. Then say, "Humpty Dumpty had a great fall!" Drop your knees back to the floor so that your toddler falls (safely assisted by you, of course!). Then, sway your child back and forth as you say in your sing-song voice, "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again."

Here's Oliver up on the "wall":

Here he is, giggling with delight over his great fall:

And here is Oliver playing "Humpty Dumpty" with his stuffed dog. He's making the wall:

This activity is perfect in every way. It's fun (Oliver just laughs and laughs the whole time), it's simple, it's free, it can last a long time or a short time... It's just the perfect toddler activity! A+ for sure. I hope your toddler enjoys it as much as mine.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

100 (Attempted) Ways to Entertain a Young Toddler, Day 63: Stacking Cheerios

I've really enjoyed flipping through all of the activity ideas on Toddler Boredom Busters. Oliver is younger than her kids, so not all of the activities are appropriate for him. I'll save the site to go back to throughout the next couple of years. Today's activity, Stacking Cheerios, came from that website, and Oliver had a good time with it.

The activity set up is easy, and, if your house is like mine, you already have all of the supplies on hand. I took a glob of Play-Doh and stuck some pasta on it. I had angel hair pasta, and it worked fine, but spaghetti probably would be stronger (some broke during the activity, but it wasn't an issue). Then, I sat Oliver down and asked him to thread Cheerios onto the pasta. He jumped right into it!

After two or three minutes, he "mastered" the threading and then moved on to removing the pasta noodles and replacing them. I realized that I probably just should have let him do the pasta part initially. Some pasta noodles broke, and Oliver learned you can't just fix them.

After he re-situated all of the noodles, Oliver threaded more Cheerios. Then, it occurred to him that Cheerios are also for eating. He stopped playing and chowed down!

"Stacking Cheerios" didn't keep him entertained for all that long (maybe 15 minutes), but it was so easy to set up and clean up, that it was worth those 15 minutes of fun. Plus, I'm likely to always have the supplies on hand, so it's an activity we can easily do when boredom strikes. The ease of the activity makes it a good one, so I give this an A-.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Love the Terrible Twos (I Think)

After Joanna's birth, Oliver has become increasingly more independent. He amazes me daily. With that independence comes some feelings of guilt on my part. I'm used to spending almost every waking moment with him. He plays for hours by himself now, and I can't help but wonder if that's OK.

Oliver has always wanted to do things himself. He wants to load the laundry. He wants to start the dish machine. Recently, he's grown bored of some of these activities, but he gets upset if I do them without him. Oh, two year old logic! So, I have to be sneaky when I do chores around the house, or I have to bribe him to help me to avoid tantrums.

When Oliver does have a fit, he is often able to calm down by a quick time out. We have him stand in the corner, and we count to some number. The more severe the tantrum is, the higher we count, but we never count for more than two minutes. This has spawned a love of numbers from our favorite 26 month old. We have not actively taught Oliver numbers like we did letters, but he's picked them up from doing things like helping us use the microwave. Oliver can count up and down to 27 all by himself! He seems to recognize all of the numbers by sight, although he makes mistakes occasionally. He enjoys counting things. If there's a lot of something, he just counts them as 27. If there's a small number of something, he'll count them. He always gets it right if there's 1 or 2 of something, and he almost always gets it right if there are 2 to 6 of something. The kid just loves numbers (like his mama!).

Oliver now "reads" all of his books at night. His memory is amazing. He knows all of the books we regularly read. Unfortunately, he gets upset if I (or Andrew) try to read any books to him. This makes introducing new books nearly impossible. At night, he reads about 6 books to us from memory. Recently, he's started to delay reading them to delay bedtime. It's a struggle because if I try to read to him to move things along, it results in a tantrum!

As for night time, Oliver is still sleeping in his crib. He hasn't tried to climb out yet, but we want to move him to his big boy bed soon to free up the crib for Jo in a few months. Still, it's hard to be motivated to move Oliver when I know it might result in less sleep for Andrew and me. With a baby in the house, every minute of sleep is precious. Oliver does nap in his big boy bed sometimes. When we put him in the big bed for naps, he sleeps about half the time. The other half of the time, he just sits or lays on the bed and plays instead! So, we use the crib for naps a lot, too.

We still don't watch any movies with Oliver, and we rarely let him watch TV. He watches a lot of Sesame Street music videos on the computer, though. He's memorized about three dozen songs and tries to sing along with them. It's the cutest thing ever, and I love listening to the words he sings with the songs. I'm not sure how much I should limit his music video watching. When I need to nurse Jo, I let him watch his videos. After his nap, when he's crabby, I let him watch his videos. In total, he's probably actually watching music videos for 3 hours a day. That's a ton! Considering he's only awake for 12 hours out of the day, it's shocking to me that 1/4 of his awake time is spent watching music videos. There are days I decide that there won't be any video watching at all. He does pretty well with it and will go entertain himself in other ways while I nurse his baby sister. But when he runs off and plays with some electronic toy with blinking lights, I wonder how that can be much better than Sesame Street music videos. So, we only do 1-2 days a week with no videos at all. Sometimes, I think a children's movie might be better than videos because he can learn to follow a plot. But, I'm not exactly sure if he's able to follow a lot of a movie yet anyway. We might introduce a kid's movie soon.

As for letters, I've just started to teach Oliver some of the lower-case letters. And by some, I mean I taught him lower-case "G." I introduced him to lower-case "A" today. Of course, he has no problem recognizing lower-case C, O, P, S and Z on his own.

I've also tried to teach Oliver how to read a little, using capital letters. I think he understands that letters spell words, and he likes to listen to me spell "Oliver" to him. He won't tell me what words are by themselves without a picture to go with them, but I think he will soon. We've been working on "Mom," "Dad," "Oliver," and "Jo."

Oliver's pretend play continues to expand. He pretends to be a dog sometimes, and he absolutely loves playing with all of his stuffed animals. When he uses his pretend kitchen, he adds pretend spices and pretend water.

He's also putting a name to some feelings, which I think is just great. Actually, he really only does it with "mad," although I've been trying to teach him what sad and happy mean, too. He'll tell me when Jo is mad, and he'll tell me when he is mad.

Speaking of Jo, he loves to help his little sister. He tells her, "Good morning!" when she wakes up. When she cries, he yells, "I'm coming, Jo!" He plays with her stinky feet and loves to give her hugs and kisses. He wants me to put her on his lap to hold her all the time. He also wants to help me give her baths. I let him wash her feet, and he will dump small cups of water over her head to rinse the shampoo out.

Oliver wants to do a lot on his own. He'll frequently tell me to stay where I am or wait. He'll also kick me out of his room sometimes so that he can play blocks by himself or "read" by himself.

I get concerned a lot that Oliver doesn't get enough time interacting with others. I try to utilize MOMS Club to get him more exposure to other kids, but being around lots of other kids seems to result in an endless tantrum, so we usually end up leaving.

One final observation about Oliver's stage of development is his shyness. Oliver is very shy with other people around, and if he makes a mistake around other people, he acts humiliated. For example, if he grabs the wrong person's cart at the grocery store or falls on his butt at the bottom of a slide at the park in front of others, he lays down and tries to bury his head like an ostrich. He's just absolutely embarrassed by his mistakes. My brother was like that as a child, so, thankfully, my family understands his behavior and gives him the space and distance he needs in those moments. Strangers, though, often make it worse by huddling over him, asking him if he's OK, or (worst of all) teasing him for it. The worst thing you can do to Oliver is laugh at him. So, we do our best to hide our laughter if Oliver does something cute, like make up the wrong words to songs.

In summation, I actually like Oliver's "Terrible Twos." He's really becoming quite the extraordinary and independent little guy. It's not always fun dealing with the tantrums that come along with it! However, I love being amazed by him on a regular basis. I'm just so proud of the two year old that he's become.

Monday, January 9, 2012

100 (Attempted) Ways to Entertain a Young Toddler, Day 62: Color in a Bag

Oliver's activity for today came directly from Disney's Family Fun website, and it's called "Color in a Bag." This activity takes some prep (Approximately 45 minutes), but I decided Oliver would enjoy doing thee work. For him, this activity would be two-in-one!

Here's what you need for Color in a Bag:

1 cup of cornstarch
1/2 cup of sugar
4 cups of water
food coloring
ziplock bags (gallon-sized, preferably)

In a pot over medium heat, stir together the cornstarch, sugar, and water continuously until it begins to thicken (this took about 10 minutes for us). Take the pot off of the heat and continue stirring for another minute until the mixture reaches a pudding-like consistency. Allow the mixture to cool for 30 minutes.
Once the cornstarch mixture is cool, divide it into three separate bowls. Using food coloring, dye each bowl of mixture a primary color (red, blue, and yellow). Put approximately one cup of red and a cup of yellow in a ziplock bag. Repeat with the other two bags using red and blue in one and blue and yellow in the other. When your child plays with it, the red and yellow will make orange. Red and blue will make purple. Blue and yellow will make green. Seal the bags tightly, using tape if necessary.

I only made two bags because I only had two bags. Once I finished spooning in the goo, I gave them to Oliver. He went nuts over them for about, well, three minutes. But during those three minutes, he had a ball tossing the bags, squishing them with his toes, and mashing them with his hands while squealing loudly.

Just as quickly as the fun started, it ended. Oliver wanted to open the bags. I told him no. He got up and went to play with his kitchen. An hour later, he still hadn't gone back to his color bags. After another hour, I just decided to chuck them rather than risk him opening them when I wasn't looking.

The activity itself was less than stellar. It was fun to make it with Oliver, but we could have just as easily baked cookies or brewed coffee, and he would have had a good time. If he was older, the activity might have been good for educational purposes, but he's still too young to really learn about primary and secondary colors. As it was, it seemed like a big, fat waste of effort. Forty-five minutes of prep work for three minutes of fun. It also created a lot of dirty dishes. I give "Bag of Colors" a D for young toddlers, but I might revisit this activity in another year or so when Oliver learns about mixing colors. Of course, I might also just squeeze some paint onto a paper plate to save time and not make such a mess!

Two Months

Joanna turned two months old yesterday! Oliver's first few months seemed to fly by (flashback to his 2 month update), and Jo's are no different.

She's very interactive with us. She babbles and gurgles, and she's very smiley. In general, she's very happy. She really doesn't cry much. In fact, when she wakes me up at night and in the morning, it's usually by cooing and talking from her bassinet. When she does cry, there's almost always a reason (that reason is usually wanting a nap or wanting a new diaper).

As far as babies go, Jo is a great sleeper. She usually sleeps from about 8:30pm to about 7:30am, and she usually gets up twice around 2am and 6am. About once or twice a week, she treats me to an 8 hour stretch of sleep. On the flip side of the coin, she also decides not to sleep well on occasion. About once a week, she wakes up every hour and a half to nurse. Those mornings, I'm pretty miserable.

Jo is still sleeping swaddled at night, and she naps swaddled about half of the time. When she's up, she nurses every 2-3 hours. I enjoy the longer times between nursings. Oliver wanted to nurse all day long! It's nice to be able to get out sometimes without worrying that she'll flip out at whoever is watching her. Just as Oliver did, she's decided she no longer likes bottles. So, that means no long excursions away from the home, but I find I don't feel the need to get away like I did when Oliver was a baby. I think that's because Jo isn't screaming all the time!

Jo doesn't take a pacifier, but she is a master at putting her hands to her mouth and sucking. She doesn't suck her thumb yet, but I'm sure she will in due time. However, I thought Oliver was going to be a thumb sucker, and that never materialized.

Her eyes are currently blue. Her hair is still quite dark in the back, but it's much lighter on top and in the front. It's very soft and fuzzy. She's very "tall" for her age (23.75", which is the 91st percentile). She has big feet and outgrows the feet in her clothes before anything else. She no longer fits her 0-3 month clothes, and she's pretty much outgrown her size 1 diapers. She still isn't wearing our cloth diapers yet, but she should fit into them soon!

Jo's likes:

*Daddy. He's her favorite person.
*"Talking" to be people and smiling at them
*Sucking her hands
*Getting her diaper changed
*Watching Oliver
*People playing with her feet
*Having someone help her "run" as she lays on her back

Jo's dislikes:

*Wet diapers
*Her car seat

Monday, January 2, 2012

100 (Attempted) Ways to Entertain a Young Toddler, Day 61: Pipe Cleaner Colander

Thanks to a friend who recently got me hooked to Pinterest, I found a fellow mommy's blog site called "Toddler Boredom Busters." She comes up with all sorts of interesting crafts, projects, and snacks for her little ones. Many of the projects seem too advanced for my two year old, but I bookmarked (or "pinned") a few to try out with Oliver.

Today's activity is so easy, it's genius. "Pipe Cleaner Colander" requires just two things: a packet of pipe cleaners and a colander. The photos on her site basically tell you all you need to know. Give the pipe cleaners to your toddler, and let him or her poke them into the holes. Your toddler can bend them and make loops or, as Oliver preferred, just leave them sticking out every which-way.

Oliver enjoyed this activity. I timed him, and it kept him entertained for 13 minutes. That's not bad for a two year old! He wanted me to sit with him ("Mom, sit"), and he congratulated himself every time he poked a pipe cleaner into one of the holes ("Good job, Oliver"). Once he decided he was done, though, he left the activity alone for the remainder of the morning. I finally decided to clean it up so it wouldn't lose it's novelty. I'll bring them out next week sometime for him to play again.

Here are some snapshots of the activity:

The simplicity really makes this activity a good one. I don't know if it's worth running out to your local craft store to buy a packet of pipe cleaners just for this. However, if you have some on hand from other projects, this is a great way to keep your toddler entertained for a short while. I give this activity a B+.