Asher Michael has arrived!

Asher Michael has made his way into the world on Thursday 22nd March at 5:18pm, weighing in at 8 pounds 1 ounce and 6 days overdue. All of our prayers have been answered for a great birth and his safe and healthy arrival. We are home with his very excited brothers and sisters and will be taking some time to recover, relax and get to know our precious little boy.

Make your own toddler toys: Jar of spoons

I love this kind of activity. It takes approximately 30 seconds to put together and older babies and toddlers love it! Obviously being glass, care must be taken so that it will not drop onto a hard surface. I use my jar for highchair time, in the playpen or for mat time as these all occur over carpeted floors. You may prefer to replace the glass with something metal but make sure it makes a great sound as that is part of the attraction.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child drops the spoons into the jar which makes a satisfying jangle and tips them back out again. That’s it!

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Baby and toddler toys – beginning posting

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development
  • Concentration

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • 1 jar
  • a bunch of small spoons

Routines: Playpen time – Toys and starting late

An example of my playpen ready for playpen time. An attractive selection of age appropriate toys - not too many - of different types.

My toys are stored in plastic crates so that a good selection of toys of a variety of types are all ready for me to pop into the playpen. Crates are rotated from day-to-day so that interest in the toys presented stays high for quite some time.

For those of you who have older babies or toddlers who have not yet been introduced to playpen time, here are some notes on starting late.

Starting late:

For a baby or toddler who has had a lot of freedom, the transition to a playpen can take a little time.  Make sure it is a good time of day to begin (not when they are hungry or tired) and start will a small increment of time – even 5 minutes. Put in a small basket of toys, or a toy or two in each corner of the playpen, instruct the child that they need to play here and that Mummy will be back to get them in a little while.

Yes, they probably will cry and that’s ok. If you are consistent and stick with it, your child will come to play happily for this time. You may like to play a CD or favourite book on tape, letting you child know that they can come out when the CD or story finishes or set a timer and tell them that playpen time will be finished when the timer beeps. Having a cue of some sort to signal the end of playpen time is helpful in the training period because it lets the child know that it is the signal, not their crying, that has decided playpen time is over for the day.

Start with the small increment of time and stick to it, coming in immediately once the signal sounds (timer beeps etc.) and with a happy face and positive tone say something like “Playpen time is finished, you can come out now.” A well fed, well rested child, with age appropriate toys is not harmed in any way by a little time in the playpen, in fact it actually helps them to develop those all important concentrating skills that will enable them to learn so many important things later.

Initially, have playpen time 2 or 3 times a day for 5 minutes. Once your little one is used to spending this short period of time in a playpen, gradually start to extend the time. Once they are spending longer blocks of time in the playpen, reduce the number of times in a day you use it to two and then once a day. By around 12 months all of my children would happily play in the playpen for around 45 minutes which extended to an hour by the age of 18 months. I have watched them examining objects with intense concentration, seen the cogs ticking as they use it in different ways and investigate everything about it. Babies and toddlers often do not do this for longer than a few moments unless you create situations that foster this skill.

Once a child is characterised by happily spending time in a playpen then on odd days you can make exceptions when they are not happy eg. extra tired, sick etc.

Although you may be thinking “My boisterous 12 month old will never do that” let me encourage you that they will. There will certainly be a transition time involved, however if you are consistent, playpen time will be a pleasant time for you both.

Introducing playpen time as part of a daily flexible routine will greatly improve the success you have with it. Trying to implement one planned moment in a day of chaos and unlimited choices for a child will be very difficult.

Routines: Playpen time

What is playpen time?

Time when a baby or young child plays in a safe environment within a set boundary with a selection of age appropriate toys for a set amount of time.

Why have playpen time?

Playpen time is introduced as a regular part of a flexible daily routine. Independent playtime away from all other distractions teaches a child how to focus and concentrate on a few selected items, rather than flitting from one activity to another. It teaches them to be content on their own and to know that it is ok to be separated from Mum for a short time – that she will come back. It alleviates the separation anxiety many young children feel when Mum leaves the room because they know through experience that she will return and they will be ok.

Playpen time provides you as a parent with a period of time where you can take a shower, complete some of your own responsibilities or homeschool older children – all the while knowing that your younger child is safe and happily playing with their own toys.

How do I introduce playpen time?

Ideally, introduce playpen time from before your baby can even crawl. (See tomorrow’s post on starting late.) An emotionally healthy baby can lay or sit for a short period of time happily focussed on their own toys in a secure and safe environment. Make it a part of your daily routine, a couple of times a day for 10 or 15 minutes right from a very young age. If you wait until they can roll and crawl to get where they want and then suddenly impose a barrier, baby will be frustrated and let you know. If they are used to spending some time in a playpen every day it will simply be something they expect and happily participate in.

Obviously babies need lots of time with Mum and other family members, cuddles, attention and the like – I am not advocating using a playpen continuously throughout the day. It is for planned periods of time and for a reasonable length of time.

Where?

Somewhere that you can check on your child regularly, but where they cannot see you. Somewhere away from the traffic flow of the house. When siblings or others walk by, a child’s attention is diverted from what they are doing and they will swiftly become discontent with being there. If they see you check in on them, they will likely cry for your attention and want to get out, whereas once settled an uninterrupted child will happily focus for an extended period.

When do I use it?

When your child is well fed and well rested and at a consistent time each day. Make it a part of your routine so that the child begins to know what will happen throughout the day and is happily ready to go in when that time comes.

Toys

Choose a small selection of toys. Too much choice means that children will not focus on any one item but swap and change from one to another. Ensure that toys are age appropriate; not too easy or too difficult for them to use. If the toys are not interesting to the child, playpen time will be a struggle. Rotate toys so that there is regularly “new” toys to enjoy.

I sort my baby and toddler toys into several plastic crates – one for each day of the week. This way, I don’t have to go though wondering what to put in today – I simply put in the next crate. It also means they only see the toys once a week so they are fresh and interest stays high. When I only had one child, I didn’t have as many toys as I do now so rotating was harder, however I will be adding lots of ideas of toys to make for toddlers and babies so check out those blog posts for ideas. You could also swap toys with friends or join a toy library.

Toy storage

Do not expect children to pack toys in to bags or boxes, it is too fiddly and time-consuming. Open baskets and crates are best as toys can quickly and easily be plopped inside. Large toy boxes are also not a good idea as all the toys get jumbled together, pieces are all mixed up and it is very difficult to quickly pull out a good selection for playpen time.

I have a mental list of categories to help me ensure a good selection of toys which varies according to the age of the child:

(For babies) Something to:

  • mouth or cuddle (favourite teddy or any suitable baby toy)
  • look at (stimulating cardboard books, fabric books, photograph books)
  • listen to (music makers, squeakers)
  • feel (texture related toys)
  • kick or bat at (dangle toys, those that clip on the side of the pen)
(For toddlers) Something to:
  • read
  • push (vehicles)
  • stack
  • open and shut
  • touch and handle, tip or put into the containers (shells, rocks, pegs)
  • wear (hats, necklaces, bangles, scarves )
  • build or construct with (Mega-blocks, Duplo, magnetic blocks, stickle bricks, train tracks)
  • pretend play with (teddies, dollies, bottles, dishes, cups, clothes, food)
  • post (a hole in the top of a small cardboard box with something to post like noodles, blocks, pipe cleaners, straws or pegs)
  • practice with (I wander through the house looking for items they are currently interested in like hair brushes, hats, shoes, cleaning cloth, tea towel, hair clips)
  • solve – puzzles (beginner peg puzzles)
  • make music or noise with (maracas, clappers, drums or other percussion, pots and pans or battery operated toys)
Toddlers plus:
See this post on room time.
Packing away

Teach your child to pack up right from the first use of the playpen. Initially it will be you packing away with them watching. Encourage them to help you put the toys away, perhaps placing a small item in their hand and guiding it to the basket and thanking them with a big smile for helping Mummy pack up. It won’t take long for them to understand what you want them to do and you can gradually pull back on the amount of packing you do until the child is completely responsible for this task themselves.

Several of my children have been heard to vigorously start throwing toys back in the crate without me telling them to do so – a very clear sign that in their opinion playpen time is done! While this is very cute, it is important that they realise Mum decides when playpen time is done, not them, or they will simply pack their toys away after a few minutes and expect to come out.


Routines: Commercial activities for highchair time

Following on from this weeks posts about highchair time and highchair time activities for babies, here are some pictures of commercial toys I use with my babies and toddlers for highchair times. Go for a walk around the house and see what there is to collect. If you have older siblings, you’ll be surprised what you can borrow from them to keep a toddler happily playing.

(Home-made practical life and other toddler activities will be posted individually from time to time under workjobs and Montessori activities.)

Routines: Highchair time activities for babies

After the post about highchair time yesterday, I thought it would be timely to follow-up with some suggestions as to what to give an older baby or toddler in a highchair to hold their attention and promote the concentration and patience we are working on.

I like to think of toy types in phases of development:

1 to 12 month old babies love toys that are good to mouth and sensory based toys that make sounds, feel interesting and look visually stimulating. Obviously within this age range there is a big difference in the kind of baby toy they are interested in, but in essence they are all “baby” toys for holding, touching, pulling, sucking, crinkling etc.

12 to 20 months olds enter the transition zone. Over the next few months the baby toys begin to lose their appeal and imaginative play has not yet kicked it properly. This means that the shiny red car is looked at, possibly mouthed for a minute or two, shaken, the wheels are spun around a couple of times, possibly pushed along and interest is gone. It doesn’t DO anything exciting and the child does not yet identify it as a small version of a car and drive it around making car noises because the pretend play element is not there yet. What they do like are toys that respond to their actions – that DO something. Pull a lever and an animal pops out, pop a ball in and music plays, tap the pegs and the turtle’s head pops out. This is the hardest age to supply toys for, because interest dies very quickly and those bright, colourful and interactive toys are expensive. You can join a toy library, swap with friends or make your own. (Lots of ideas coming soon.)

20 to 24 month olds and up are beginning to use their imagination, especially if they have siblings or a willing parent to show them how to play. They will begin to have tea parties, feed a teddy, set up the train tracks and create their own pretend play situations. The possibilities open up enormously and this age is so much easier to cater for.

In general, there are some great baby and toddler toys that can be purchased, however interest in most is short-lived as the child moves on to the next developmental level or simply has seen it enough to no longer be attracted to it.

Why not capitalise on the toddler’s natural attraction to learning new skills, copying Mum and Dad and using “real” things around the house to put together your own activities. They are cheap to make and can be disassembled once interest has passed. Important practical life skills can be introduced that will be used every day, many of them developing fine motor skills that will be vital for pencil grip and general hand control later on.

Here is my list of activities to make for babies with instructions for each. Practical life and general toddler activities will be posted individually from time to time and categorized under workjobs and Montessori activities so keep an eye out for them.

Routines: Highchair time

Do you want your baby or toddler to be able to sit and focus for an extended length of time? Do you want them to be able to sit and wait patiently during an unexpected delay in a public situation? Do you want time to tidy up the kitchen after meals, clear and wipe down the table and move to the next activity of the day without leaving a trail of devastation that needs to be cleaned up later?

Like all behaviours and character traits, we must actively work to build patience and concentration in our children. Highchair time is a practical way to achieve this goal with our little ones. It is easy to consistently implement and work into the daily routine without having to change much at all.

After each meal is finished, simply wipe up your child and hand them a book to read or small toy to play with. Around 20 minutes is a good time to aim for and if put into place after breakfast, lunch and dinner, gives you three daily training periods to work on these skills.

Initially, your little one may not be thrilled with Mum’s new plan and a common response will be to cry, complain, whine, throw the books and toys down and other such behaviours. If you ignore this kind of behaviour and simply go about cleaning up the kitchen, you will find that over the next few days, your child will be showing great strides towards happily sitting and concentrating on whatever it is you have chosen to give them.

If you pick up toys that are thrown down, then a very amusing game of fetch will be instigated. You may leave a child for 5 minutes and then return a dropped toy, instructing them that they need to stay in the highchair until Mummy is ready to get them down. If it is dropped again, leave it there. They will soon come to the conclusion that it is better to have something to do than nothing at all and keep what they have been given.

You may need 3 or 4 little toys or books and change them over every 5 minutes or so to keep their interest,  however this should be in Mum’s timing, not the child’s.

If you have heard about the 4 personality types, you will know that a choleric child loves to be in charge. A lot of the battles you have throughout the day and at bedtime with any child, particularly the choleric child, will be eliminated by instigating a parent led routine throughout the day, rather than allowing your young child to plan their own day or giving them large blocks of free time to fill.

An excellent resource for routine planning is Terrific Toddlers by Mel Hayde. It is my “must have” toddler and young child training book and I have gone back to it over and over. It is an easy read but is full of wisdom and excellent advice that will enable you to love the toddler years and eliminate the “terrible two” syndrome that everyone talks about. I will be posting ideas of activities to give your little one during highchair time over the next couple of days.

Preparing for a new baby

Having now prepared 3 toddlers for the birth of a sibling and about to do it all again with 2 more, I thought it was time for a quick review of some of the ways to do this so that the whole family greets the newest arrival with joy and enthusiasm. I have tried all of these ideas myself and the transition that occurs when a new baby joins our family has generally been fairly smooth.

The hardest so far were the twins who were 9 weeks premature and stayed in hospital for 7 weeks. That put a bit of a spanner in the works, however we still tried to keep everything as smooth as possible and have not seen the jealousy that some families experience. The rough road with the twins stemmed more from me being away for home on a daily basis than any negative feelings over the babies themselves and the children were so glad to finally have their babies (and Mum) at home with them. They have in fact been heard to complain that we should have had triplets as there are not enough babies to go around.

My “how to” includes:

  • Put routines in place well in advance to give you time to work through the kinks before bub arrives. Think about feed times (how many and when they may occur) and plan around these. You may have around 5 feeds when toddlers are awake to begin with, so plan good independent activities for these times that they are well used to doing without your help or interaction. If you can’t mop the floor or cook dinner in peace now, with a well occupied toddler, then there is no way you will be able to breastfeed in peace later!
  • Involve siblings in choosing a gift from them to the new baby and have the baby “buy” one for them in return. When the children came in to the hospital for their first visit we always have a small gift waiting for them in the baby’s cot. Gifts are exchanged after time with Mum and meeting their new baby.
  • Plan for their first meeting with the new baby to be a time when there are no other visitors around to compete with Mum and Dad’s attention. Try and time it so Mum is not feeding or holding the baby so that she can greet children with a big cuddle and kiss before introducing the baby.

  • Have children visit regularly if you will be staying in hospital for any length of time and take a pack or box of toys, activities and small snacks to the room. The novelty of looking at a sleeping bundle wears off very quickly! Mine still remember that we let them have mini tiny teddy packs when the third was born. It was a highlight for them! Poor treat deprived children! 
  • While the twins were in hospital, the children all drew pictures and wrote about their new babies. I scanned and shrunk these on to one A4 page and laminated them. They were stuck up on the end of each of the twin’s isolettes. Every time the older children came in to visit they could see their special work on display.

  • Ask friends and family to be mindful of not bypassing older children for the baby during visits. They can fuss over them being a big brother or sister now as well. That said, of course this will happen to some extent regardless, just be a little aware and try to make them feel special too. Children also need to be taught to be happy for their sibling when they receive something special. This is your first opportunity to begin teaching this attitude. There is no need to have a gift for the older children every time the baby receives one, but there is something to be said for keeping that side of things a little low key.
  • Get all changes to bedrooms, big beds, car seats etc. made well ahead. Closer to the time, talk about where the baby will sleep, where they will go in the car, their room, that you will be away for a little while, who will look after the children and any other arrangements you can think of. Do not tell children they will have a brother or sister to play with – there will be no playing for a very long time!
  • Practice being gentle with teddies, pets, dolls, teddies and other babies and talk about delicate bodies, being easily hurt, not touching faces etc. This is especially important for the toddler in the family.

  • Read books about caring for babies but be wary of the kind that promote the idea that there will be jealous feelings, Mummy and Daddy will be too busy for them now and other negative themes.
  • Borrow/buy/make a baby change mat, mini bath, little bed or any other baby related stuff you can think of, with all the accessories like spare facecloths, nappies, cotton wool, empty paste container etc for children to use with their special teddies and dolls. They may enjoy making them out of boxes and cut up fabric and other bits and bobs close to the time that bub is due. Even young boys at this age will often be surprisingly into this for a little while before reverting right back to their car loving selves. When you are busy bathing or with some other baby chore they might like to copy and work right alongside you with their own “baby.”
  • Have lots of really positive conversations about how wonderful it is that they will be a big brother/sister, how lucky they are to have a new sibling coming, how much the baby will love having them as a big brother/sister etc.
  • Pray. This is a wonderful time in a family and babies are a gift and blessing from God. Teach your older children this attitude right from the beginning.
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