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Monday, January 26, 2015

Tot School: Patterns & Letter L

I was excited about playing with patterns. And now, having seen how it went with Calvin, I am not sure what I was so excited about... He definitely didn't seem too into it.

And I just want to say again that the purpose of Tot School is just to be thoughtful about ways to play so that Calvin and Henry get a variety of play experiences and opportunities to learn. So when Calvin resists or won't participate, I make an effort to engage him but I don't push too hard because if it's not fun, it's not worth it.

I will still share the activities I planned/tried - even if they flopped - partly because I think it's funny and other moms can probably relate to the toddlerness of it all, and partly because they might be useful activities for other kiddos or for us to try again in the future.

So here we go with patterns!

Pattern Paths

I thought this was going to be super fun. Like playing follow the leader or hopscotch while saying a pattern in rhythm. My idea was to start by walking along the pattern and saying the pattern out loud, then maybe hopping or jumping along the pattern. Then if he got the hang of it, we'd pick up the cards and lay them down one at a time trying to predict the next picture as we go along. I had made a few different sets of cards, some with ABAB pattenrs, some with ABCABC patterns.

Seemed pretty brilliant to me. 

Maybe the concept was too new for Calvin and he wasn't getting it. Maybe he just wasn't in the mood to follow along! Either way, he basically watched me walk and hop and jump along the path and say the pattern and when I encouraged him to join in, he either stared at me blankly, tried to get me to play with a different toy, or picked up all the cards and threw them. Should've gotten a picture of that! LOL. Whatever. Again, just because my kid wasn't into it on this particular day doesn't mean it's a bad activity :) I'll probably try it again one day. Maybe with sidewalk chalk like an actual hopscotch board!

Pattern Snack

Calvin did play along with this one. He helped me organize the Cheerios, apple chunks, and cheese slices into a pattern using the ice cube tray. A fun way to do this would be to do fruit kabobs. We didn't have enough different fruits in our pantry at the time. 

Toy Patterns

Once again, I wasn't able to engage Calvin in giving a crap about making a pattern, but I tried! I did manage to get him to talk about the colors of the pegs...

You could do toy patterns with anything. It doesn't have to be colors. It could be, like car, truck, train, car, truck, train - if you have a lot of vehicle toys. Or animals or shape blocks or whatever. You just need a bunch of toys where you have at least a few of each type to make the pattern. 

Pom Pom Paint Pattern

This time we made the pattern by taking turns. I had the red paint, and Calvin had blue. The only hard part (and this always happens with stamp art) was getting Calvin to be patient and wait until his turn to stamp! Once that paint-covered object is in his hand, he is ready to attack the paper! It took a lot of patience for both of us. But I think he finally got the idea of an alternating pattern: blue, red, blue, red... Calvin, Mama, Calvin, Mama...

Rhythm Patterns
I don't have a pic of this one, but we had musical instruments in our toy rotation this week so I used some of our jam session time to introduce sound patterns. I did patterns by drumming on the table and tried to get Calvin to copy me. He declined. Shocking, I know. But he was definitely interested in watching and listening to me drum out a pattern. At least it was entertaining for him :P

Our letter of the week was lalalala... L!

Words that Start with L

I went around the house and collected things that start with L. For each item, Calvin told me what it was called, I wrote the name, and then we used the L magnet to help us find the letter L in the word. 

Pom Pom Paint L

To help Calvin get famililar with the shape of the letter, we used our pom pom paint brushes to decorate an L. 

Shaving Cream Writing

This is what I had in mind.

This is what Calvin had in mind.
The idea was to do a little sensory play and try out writing the letter L with one finger. Calvin still has a hard time with the texture of shaving cream. I also tried letting Henry play with some shaving cream, and of course, the second I looked away he got it into his mouth. Must use whipped cream next time!!

Calvin had much more fun once we pulled out the dinosaurs. We pretended they were in the snow :)

Lemon & Lime Stamps

More stamp art, this time with fruit! L is for lemon lime.

The next day, I was trying to think of a song for the letter L and all I could think of was Lollipop, lollipop, oh lolly lollipop... Lollipop! So then I let Calvin have a lollipop because we happened to have a couple left from Halloween :) I let Henry taste it, but it kept making him mad because I would only let him lick it and then I had to take it away so he wouldn't choke on it. He probably thinks lollipops are the worst!

Another week, another theme, another letter! I haven't flaked out on Tot School yet! This week we are on to the letter V and textures, so I guess we'll need some Velvety Vests and Voluptuous Velociraptors... Maybe it'll turn out to be more fun than patterns :P

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Henry Wellness Update: New Year, New Skills!

Henry has been working hard and making a lot of progress over the past two months! Right around Christmas and New Year's, we took a couple of weeks off from all the boys' therapies and during that time a lot of exciting changes happened for Henry. It was really exciting to see his therapists again in
January and tell them all about how great he's doing :)

New Moves

In the fall, Henry started scooting around on his tummy and figured out how to push himself up into a sitting position from lying down. Now, at 18 months old, his arms and torso are strong enough to hold himself up on all fours!

He gets up on his hands and knees and rocks a bit, forward and back, and sometimes he'll give one big push with his knees and kind of slide forward onto his tummy :) Although he looks like he is ready to crawl, he isn't quite strong enough yet. The way his physical therapist explained it, he's strong enough to hold himself up on four points (two hands, two knees) - which is great! - but he needs to be strong enough to hold himself up on three points in order to crawl. He's got to be able to lift a knee and bring it forward, and that takes more tummy and arm and torso strength. But he's close! And working on it every day!

Henry reeeeaaaalllyyy wants to stand. He wants it bad. Every time we try to set him down to sit on the floor, he puts his feet down first and wants to stand with our help. He often pulls himself up onto his knees at our coffee table (train table) and in his crib. In his crib I have even seen him pull himself all the way up to standing! That only lasts a couple of seconds before he plops back down on his tushie :) But, when he gets up onto his knees at the train table, he can stay there long enough to reach for things on the table. And destroy parts of the train track, to Calvin's dismay... #henryzilla

New Noms

Henry is eating real food!! No more baby food for us!! Can I get an AMEN?!!

Cheerios, scrambled eggs, PB&J, pasta, chili, oatmeal, quinoa, green peas, black beans, broccoli... you name it!

Ok, not any anything. He doesn't really have enough teeth for crunchy stuff like raw veggies, so they have to be cooked, and meat is also a little too tough to chew unless it's ground, but I don't cook much meat anyway. The best part? He's not picky!! I cannot tell you how weird and amazing it is to have a child who will eat anything that I feed him without complaining. Wish my other kiddo would do that (I'm looking at you, Bean!). Henry has a big appetite too. He eats more than Calvin. His occupational therapist says that kids with low muscle tone have to use so much more energy to move their bodies, compared to typical kids, that they likely burn a lot more calories. So with all Henry's new moves, it's no wonder he eats so much!

He is learning how to feed himself, but by far I still have to feed him. He can feed himself things that are large enough for him to pick up, but soft enough to mush in his mouth once he gets it in there, because he hasn't figured out how to take bites from a large piece yet. Crackers and small pieces of cheese are perfect for him to feed himself. Fruits are hard because they're slippery. Cheerios are a little too small, but he sometimes manages to get one in without help :)

Henry has a history of difficulty with swallowing liquids. We've been using a thickener in his formula for almost a year now. But since his surgery he has been doing much better with swallowing and now he is able to take small sips of plain water from a spoon and even drink formula without thickener as long as it's in a bottle with a slow flow nipple (meaning that he can only take small sips, not big gulps).

Henry with his occupational therapist, Julia
 We have even started working on teaching him to drink from a cup. We use a special therapy cup that allows him to make the same shape with his mouth as he would with a regular open cup, but restricts the flow of the liquid so he is still taking small sips.

It's the same cup we used to teach Calvin and it came from Calvin's occupational therapist back when he was 13 months old. She called it a "dot cup" because of the three little holes that allow the liquid to flow out. I don't know if that's the real name for it...?

He is starting to look like such a big boy! 

As he is becoming more capable and more aware of his surroundings, communication is starting to be challenging. He doesn't have ways to tell us exactly what he wants or exactly what's wrong when he's upset, and his upsets aren't always the usual baby needs anymore (poopy, hungy, sleepy, ouchie). He had a speech evaluation recently and will likely start speech therapy soon, which will help both him and us have some guidance when it comes to communicating together. The therapist who came to do his evaluation gave me some helpful input on how to work with him on some communication skills. Simple commands like "come here," and "give me the ____" and helping him to start pointing/gesturing with his hands, for example. 

Henry and Calvin are also interacting and playing together more, and it's so sweet to see! They make up simple little baby games on their own. Like, Calvin will turn the lamp on and off and Henry will laugh and shout when the light comes on. They play peek-a-boo with pillows. They play a kind of fetching game where Calvin brings a toy to Henry in the high chair, Henry throws it on the floor, and Calvin brings it back. Over and over again with lots of laughing. They love to both get in Henry's crib and just kind of bounce around together :) Sometimes Calvin gets too rough with Henry. He's definitely figuring out the limits of what makes Henry laugh, and what makes Henry cry. And occasionally, he does seem to make his baby brother cry on purpose... but that's normal sibling/toddler stuff, right?? 

Hooray for Henry! :) Thanks for reading.

Any milestones or celebrations to share about your kiddos this week?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tot School: Shapes & Letter A

For our second week of Tot School, we played with shapes and spied the letter A!


Here are some of the ways we explored shapes. I focused on triangles, circles, squares and rectangles. Calvin was already really familiar with stars and hearts and flowers, but not so much the basic geometric 2-D shapes.

Shape Sorting: 

I cut out one large triangle, circle, square (ish), and rectangle. Then using a few colors, I cut out smaller versions of each shape. 

We played with the shape cutouts for a while and talked about their names... made pictures of houses and ice cream cones and people in funny hats... and then I laid out the big shapes and Calvin went to sorting without any directions needed. He did pretty well! He put all the squares and rectangles together, and I almost corrected him, but then I thought it was actually clever of him and I left it alone. I mean, with no instructions he sorted them by number of sides. It's not what I was expecting, but it's a totally legitimate way to organize the shapes I gave him. 

Last, we glued the small shapes onto the big shapes so we could hang up his masterpieces as collage art.

Shape Hop:

I taped two of each shape on the floor: triangles, squares(ish), and rectangles. I couldn't figure out how to tape a circle ;) He knows circles better than the other shapes anyway!

I put two of each shape so that we could start out with him copying me. I'd say, "Put your feet on a triangle!" and I'd put my feet on one, so he'd copy me and put his feet on the other. The first day we did this activity, we kept going like that. I'd go first, and he'd copy me. Jump on a square, hop on a rectangle, put your hand on a triangle, etc. 

Later in the week, I had him try it without me going first. 

Shape Object Sort:

For this sorting game, I collected items from around our house that were shaped like circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles. Man, it was hard to find things shaped like triangles!! Luckily I happened to have a necklace with triangle beads and a patch from the Exploratorium shaped like a triangle :)

This was after naptime. Look at that bed head!!

Shape Hunt:

My original idea was to hunt for things around the apartment that were shaped like triangles, circles, squares, and rectangles. Kind of like the object sort. I was thinking of things like our rectangle-shaped TV, the square shelves on our bookcase, the silver circles on our speakers, etc. But I wasn't sure Calvin was familiar enough with the different shapes to be able to see them in objects he sees everyday. 

So instead, I cut out paper shapes and "hid" them around the living room for him to hunt for like Easter eggs. He had fun with it. And the funny thing was, when he was finished finding the paper shapes, he started noticing shapes around the room! It started with the remote control. He excitedly showed me that there were circle, square, and even triangle-shaped buttons on the TV remote. Then I mentioned a couple of shapes I could see on his train set, and he started finding more shapes around the room :)

Shape Sensory Bin:

We use the same sensory bin that we had used last week to talk about colors! Same exact buttons. I got these buttons in different shapes and colors from a craft store called Beverly's. They're great for sorting and matching, but this time I just let him play with the buttons and rice. 

On his own, he started pulling out pairs of buttons that were the same shape and showing them to me. He would tell me they were "friends" :) He would tell me if he found a big one and a little one, and we talked a little bit about the colors. 


Our letter of the week was A - the second letter in Calvin's name for our second week of Tot School. 

Letter Matching:

We started the week by matching the letters in "Calvin" again to reinforce the concept of letters in his name. Same as last week: I wrote his name on the easel and he used the letter magnets to match each letter in his name, placing each letter magnet over the written letter. 

Words with A:

I collected a few items from around the house that begin with the letter A and I would show him one at a time and let him tell me what it was called - or who was in the picture in the case of Granny Anne, himself, and his friend Autumn :). After he named the object/person, we wrote the word/name on a strip of paper. Then I asked him to help me find the letter A in the word and I underlined the A's where he found them. 

Letter A Stamping:

Calvin was very stamp-happy and it was really hard for him to find the A before delivering the stamp! Next time, we should look for the letter before I even give him the friggin stamp!

Our set of kid stamps happens to have several pictures that have the letter A somewhere in their words: bear, train, star, apple, and leaf. So the idea was to look at the stamp shape, watch Mama write the word, find the letter A, and then put a stamp on the letter A. 

If you don't have a set of picture stamps, you could have pictures of things with the letter A, write the word and just use any stamp to mark the letter A in the word.

A is for Alligator:

Um, I think Mr. Alligator here could use some Invisalign treatments... maybe Calvin's daddy can help him out with that... ;)

This would have been best paired with a book about an alligator like Alligator Baby,  or The Lady with the Alligator Purse. Or even a science book about alligators. As it was, I pulled this activity out in a rush  on Saturday morning to get Calvin to stop whining keep Calvin busy while his breakfast was being cooked :P 

I'm posting these the week after we do them, so at the moment we're starting patterns and the letter L. So far this Tot School thing is only driving me slightly crazy, and it's been a lot of fun so I think it's worth the extra effort to plan ahead and stick to the plan (ish). And bonus: Calvin does seem to be learning some stuff... He is definitely more familiar with colors and shapes than he was two weeks ago!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tot School: Colors & Letter C

I started off the year with a new plan for Tot School for Calvin (and Henry, as much as I can include him). My goal is to be more intentional and organized with introducing concepts and skills through playful activities. Just a couple of activities per day, and lots of time for therapy and outings and free play and even being bored in between :) If you're curious about why and how I started this whole Tot School thing, please check out my first post about it here: Tot School.

Here's how our first week went!

It was the week of Jan. 5-9, 2015. Our theme was colors, and our Letter of the Week was C.

In addition to these activities, we read lots of books about colors and we did a little bit of hunting for the letter C in books and in "environmental print" - which just means print that you see in your home or the places you go. Things like labels and signs. From time to time, I would also talk about colors that we could see around us... on our clothes, around the room, outside, etc. Calvin generally shrugged off  my attempts to get him to talk about colors. 

On the Sunday before, I sat down and put together this plan of activities for our theme and letter with the hopes of doing one Tot School activity in the AM and one in the PM each day. 


Colors - dinosaur color sort

I used Calvin's dinosaur obsession to engage him in a sorting game. We gave each color dinosaur their own "island." At first Calvin's instinct was to sort them by species. All the spinosauruses together, all the triceratops together, etc. We talked a lot about the colors and which ones were the same color, and we got them all organized onto their islands.

Monday afternoon I totally forgot about our Letter of the Week activity. Oops!


On Tuesday, we ended up doing all our Tot School activities in the afternoon. It worked out fine. Calvin was really into it.

Colors - mixing paint in bags (sensory play)

I poured red and blue paint into one bag, red and yellow paint into a second bag, and blue and yellow paint into a third bag. I poured the colors side by side, so that the resulting mixed color would appear in the middle and I sealed the bags. To be extra safe, I could have put them into slightly larger bags and sealed them again, or taped them. It was fine. No paint spills :) The boys had fun smushing the paint around and looking at how the colors changed. 

Letter C - match magnet letters to Calvin's written name (motor skills)

Calvin and I have done this activity a few times before. He knows that these letters make his name, and we sing a song to spell it to the tune of Bingo. I write his name in all caps on the board and I give him the magnet letters. It's his job to match the magnets to the written letters. He doesn't always get the orientation right, but sometimes he does and we talk about it. He often mixes up A and V (totally understandable), so we also talk about the little differences between those letters. He always says the letter I looks like a dog bone! 

Letter C - choo choo stamping (motor skills)

I wrote the letter C a few times around the paper and I had him put a train stamp on each letter C. Ok, I admit that "choo choo" is a stretch for a word that starts with C, but I had limited stamps to work with! When I looked back at this activity, I thought of a better way to do it, which I tired out the next week with the letter A. 


Wednesday we were super busy and we didn't get around to Tot School, so our activities got pushed a day late, and we ended up not doing the Friday activities at all. 


Colors: buttons in rice (sensory play)

This is also an activity that I've done with Calvin a few times before. I bury colored objects (this time, buttons) in the rice bin and he digs them out and then together we sort them by color on the little color coded paint tray (I used Sharpies to color the paint tray and I got the tray from Michael's).

Calvin did pretty well with it this time! He would almost always take two tries to match the color. For some reason, he would often guess randomly and quickly at first, then think about it and get it on his second try without me saying anything about it. He self-corrected, as we reading teachers would say :)

Henry played with some rice and buttons on his tray, but I had to take the buttons away pretty quickly when I realized that yes, they did fit in his mouth after all! He also ate some uncooked rice... but I don't think it hurt him...

Letter C: make the letter using play dough (sensory play & motor skills)

This was reeeeeaaaalllyyy hard for Calvin in terms of his motor skills and patience. I was thinking it would have been better if I'd had some cookie cutters with words that start with C... car, cat, cow... Or we could have made cookies out of the play dough! I am learning too as we go along with these activities, so I'll use those ideas in future weeks. 


Letter C - Caterpillar C (sensory play, motor skills)

Calvin loved this project. He thought the caterpillar was cute, and he really likes using pom poms. I got the idea for this from the website No Time for Flashcards.

I put glue dots on the paper letter and he stuck the pieces on. 

Colors: paper rainbow

This is one of the color books we'd been reading. I cut out construction paper pieces to glue together into a rainbow and the idea was that for each page of the book, we'd add that color to the paper rainbow. 

We made it to orange.

Then Henry woke up and I brought him into the kitchen and put him in his high chair. The pom poms were still on the table from the caterpillar project, so Calvin decided it would be more fun to give his brother pom poms to play with than to finish the rainbow we were making.

Fair enough. He was right. It was more fun :)

I posted a little video on our Instagram & Facebook pages of them playing with the pom poms. Super cute!

So we didn't get to every activity, and not all the activities were a hit with Calvin. But, some of them were and I'm getting some better ideas for upcoming weeks. At the moment, we're in the middle of shapes and the letter A, so I'll post next week about how it went!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tot School

I became familiar with the term "Tot School" thanks to Pinterest. I often search Pinterest for play ideas for Calvin and Henry and I started coming across blogs that were referring to play-based learning at home with babies and toddlers as "Tot School."

The term seems to have come from blogger Carisa at 1+1+1=1 and she has great resources for Tot School on her blog, including an FAQ page in which I think she does a nice job of explaining the concept and the thoughts behind the concept. In her words,

"Tot School isn't really school at all, it is simply a name given to the idea of learning through play at home during the younger years. Tot School is nothing more than intentionally providing your tot with age appropriate activities that are fun and engaging. By choosing specific toys and activities, we expose our tots to a variety of early learning skills. Mastery is not the goal, FUN is!"

So all the art projects, sensory bins, DIY toys, etc. that I've been making/using/doing with Calvin and Henry could be called Tot School. But this year, I find myself wanting to take it a step further. Especially because we have decided not to pursue preschool for Calvin until after he turns 3. 

So here are my hopes for our Tot School:

I want to be more intentional in choosing concepts to introduce to Calvin and Henry. 

To do this, we'll have a weekly theme that I will use to guide me in planning play activities. For inspiration, I'm checking out this list of Weekly Learning Themes from ALLterNATIVE Learning. I'm also going to pick things that interest the boys and James and me, and I'll consider the season/time of year. I'm not going to go ahead and plan the whole year out because I want freedom to change things/skip weeks/be flexible. I can't commit to a whole year plan. I'll plan about 6 weeks worth of themes at a time. Here are the themes for our first 6 weeks:

I'm starting out with really basic toddler concepts/skills. These are things we talk about all the time, but using them as weekly themes will give me the opportunity to really focus on each one for a week. 

And you know I can't resist a holiday, plus Valentine's is my FAVORITE, so of course we'll do a whole week of Valentine's Day themed play :)

We will also have a Letter of the Week. For the first six weeks we will do the letters of Calvin's name in order. I like using his name instead of going in alphabetical order because his name is something more concrete and personal which gives him a way to connect meaning to the letters we are talking about. At first I tried to match the theme to the letter, but that was too limiting. 

I want to be more organized about planning and putting together learning activities.

So it's back to lesson planning! A very familiar concept for a former teacher like myself. And no, I do not have an adorable clip-art decorated lesson plan template to share with you, sorry! At the moment, I am writing out my weekly plan on graph paper. Very fancy. 

I want to keep it simple. 

Our therapy schedule is pretty packed these days and it's important to me that we have time to go out and do fun stuff and also have plenty of time for the boys to just be at home and free play. Plus, we've usually got play dates and doctor appointments scattered throughout each month. I don't want to feel like I'm adding a big commitment to our schedule. I really don't want this to be stressful for myself or for the boys. So I don't even feel like I can commit specific times of the day for Tot School. 

Instead, I'm just planning two Tot School activities for each day: one to go along with our weekly learning theme, and one for our Letter of the Week. My goal will be to do the theme activity sometime in the AM and the Letter of the Week activity sometime in the PM. This way, I'm free to structure they day however it works best for whatever else we've got going on. And if we don't have time for them because we've got a super busy day, we can double up the next day, push our schedule into the weekend, or skip activities altogether. No stress. 

I want it to be fun!

This is not at all about introducing what it's like to be in school. The boys do not have to sit still. They do not have to focus if they aren't able to. We are not tied to a lesson objective and there will not be an assessment at the end of the week. If Calvin is distracted, fine! If he's not having fun, forget it! We'll stop and do something else that's grabbing his interest at that moment. We can always come back and try again, or try it a different way that's more engaging for him. 

For example, last week I was trying to engage Calvin in helping me make a paper collage rainbow and in the middle of it Henry woke up from his nap. I put Henry into his high chair near where Calvin and I were making the rainbow. But Calvin completely forgot about the rainbow, and instead he went to the other side of the table where I'd left a bag of pom poms and started giving Henry handfuls of pom poms to play with! Did I make him stop and finish the rainbow? Naw. We never did finish that rainbow. He and Henry were having fun playing together with the pom poms and that was waaaayy more valuable and special than the paper rainbow project! 

Obviously this whole Tot School thing is mostly for Calvin's benefit, simply because Henry is at a very different developmental level. He's got other fish to fry before he learns his colors and shapes :) Still, I intend to let Henry participate in any way that he can. I want him to feel included. So I will modify activities when it's possible, or give him something else to do in the same space where Calvin and I are doing Tot School. At times, we will likely do Tot School during Henry's morning nap, just for convenience. 

I've gotta confess, I'm pretty nervous about starting this whole Tot School thing because I'm afraid I'm going to get overwhelmed and flake out on it. Or just come up with a new Brilliant Idea and flake out on the first one. If there's anything I like better than making a plan, it's changing a plan. Sometimes my flexibility makes me really flaky. 

So I'm keeping it laid-back in the hopes that it will feel low-stress, and I'll share our experiences here on the blog so you can see whether we make it past these first six weeks ;) 

Anybody else doing Tot School with your little ones? Or something similar? How do you organize your activities?