Don’t forget to pretend.

It’s January.  The batteries are fresh and the volume is up.  Sometimes it can be hard to find something in the toy aisle at Target that doesn’t involve a blue tooth or laser beam.  As mentioned in a past post, when shopping for toys, whether it be for your own child or someone else’s (parents will thank you!), look for toys that involve the imagination. You’d be surprised when a child doesn’t know how to push a car around the kitchen floor because he is fixated on pushing the buttons that make siren noises and lights flash.   Pretend play is a crucial part of childhood.  It’s when a child practices fine motor skills as he pours invisible coffee into a cup, when she develops her communication as she talks to her stuffed animals, when he practices his balance while pushing a shopping cart around the kitchen, pulling items out of your pantry.  Pretend play encourages exploration and problem solving, strengthens memory skills, creates expectations to learn from.

You would be surprised what a child can do with an empty box, a few plastic cups, or a piece of tinfoil.  The next time you give your child something new, whether it is a toy or something you came across in the junk drawer, give it to them without saying a word.  Well, build it up with “ooohs and aaaahs” but then, let it go.  See where it goes.  And play along!  Blocks don’t have to be stacked and spoons don’t have to be just for stirring.  By allowing your child to play in their own way, you are strengthening their imagination and their self esteem, which in turn will lengthen the time they can play on their own!  Hellooo coffee time!

What is your child’s favorite non-toy item?  Pots and pans? Pinecones? The dog leash?

Now, go play!  And don’t forget to pretend.

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Put a bow on it.

Here it is!  Your guide to holiday shopping for the little ones in your life.  These are Play to Grow’s fave items for gift giving.

Tips for toy giving:

  1. Buy something that does not take batteries.  The parents will thank you.  And so will the child’s brain.
  2. Look for something that can grow with the child, that they can use throughout their childhood.
  3. Stay away from gender stereotypes!  Boys can play house and girls can drive toy cars around.

All of the gifts are linked to buy them but PLEASE visit an actual store!  Although the holiday crowds can be crazy at time, remember it’s important to interact with people on a daily basis! Brick and mortars for the win!

Disclaimer: Play to Grow does not receive any monetary reward for this post or any of the links you click on.  They are truly just great products!  Wouldn’t that be nice though? (So, hey! Any retailers reading this, hit us up!)

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Latch puzzle

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Toy house

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Shopping Cart

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Tea set

 

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Kitchen

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Legos

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Sit and Stuff Bean Bag

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Books
And more books

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Step Stool

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Pop up Tent

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Shape Sorter

 

 

For more ideas on gift giving, check out this past post.

Looking for ways to keep it all together despite ribbons and bows, click here.

 

Now, go shopping.
Then, go play!

 

Inspectors

Have you ever watched your child observe a school bus drive by?  Have you seen your child try to put legos together or stack blocks only to have them fall down?  This is your child’s brain developing cognitively.  Babies are observers and as they get older they become explores, question askers, and doers.  By providing this experiences for your baby from day one you can help them develop to their fullest potential.

Make the world accessible.
Show your newborn her house, each room, look out the windows, walk the neighborhood, go to the grocery store.  Allow your baby to feel the breeze, lay in the sun, listen to music, touch (gasp) the dirt, the grass, anything that is a part of their world.

Narrate each day.
Label, describe, point, repeat, sing and read.
By talking to you child your are encouraging their language to develop.  If you have never heard a word you don’t know it exists, and if you aren’t taught what it means, you’ll never use it.

Create opportunities.
If you want your child to roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, talk, ride a bike, play baseball, make their bed, be kind, help others, and grow, show them how to do it.  All of it.  It’s been said before, you don’t need the most popular toy, a new app, the latest iPhone, your child just needs you.  You are the one they want, who’s attention they crave, so show them how it’s done.   Provide your child with the means to grow with what you have available.  Sit with your 5 month old and help him balance, reach for a toy and place it just within reach during tummy time, encourage sharing by sharing at home, say hello and thank you to the cashier at the grocery store, take her to the park to watch a softball game, have books on the couch, in the bathroom, in the bedroom, and everywhere in between.  Allow your child to observe, try and try again.

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Now, go play!

What is Early Intervention anyway?

Between 0-3 years old, babies’ brains are growing like a wildfire.  Everything is new and exciting.  And they are growing to be able to explore their world by crawling, walking, reaching, grabbing, communicating, and more.  Some babies need a little extra boost to reach milestones, and some are predisposed to ailments both minor and major.  The Early Intervention (EI) System is a service provided by the government under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  If you are worried your child is not advancing as his peers, talk to your pediatrician.  She can point you into the direction of the Early Intervention System in your state.

Now, that being said, not every child develops at the same rate.  And just because your neighbor’s 11 month old is walking, doesn’t mean your 11 month old should be walking.  Instead, focus on what he CAN do, not what he can’t.  When a lacking skill impairs your child’s daily activities, Early Intervention can be resourceful.

Early Intervention is not a bad thing!  Do you take your child on play dates because you want him to socialize?  Do you take your child to the playground so he can be active?  Do you allow you provide and play your child with age appropriate toys?  These are all opportunities an Early Intervention Therapist would take part in.  An EI therapist will show you specific activities you can do to help your child meet those milestones.

Don’t think you don’t have time for EI.  The therapists will work around YOUR schedule.  They will come right to your house or meet with your childcare provider.  Whatever works FOR YOU.  The earlier you begin EI services, the better for your child.

Now, go play!

Back to School

September means back to school for some and for others it can be a reminder to re-establish, or simply start, a routine.  Any routine can be helpful for everyone in the house.

Having a routine, whether it is a schedule to get to work and school on time, or favorite traditions before bed, helps children feel safe, calm, and in control.  Which is why when something unexpected happens, so does a meltdown.  Playing outside when some one’s diaper is sagging – try and take that toddler inside will be like pulling an alligator away from it’s dinner.  Here are some simple ways to establish and reinforce routines for everyone to have a smooth day.

Routines can be a schedule – wake up, potty/diaper, brush teeth, breakfast, get dressed, play, daycare. Boom.  Sticking to the same schedule every day creates familiarity.  Kids know what to expect. Ie, when play time is coming, and coming to an end.

Or a routine can be a reminding list – “We are playing cars now, soon we will get our diaper changed and put our shoes on to go to the grocery store.   You can ride in the cart and help Mommy pick find our favorite foods.”

Either way, through each stage of the routine, remind your child of what is happening. Literally, repeat the list after each step.  Be prepared for some resistance with babies and toddlers, after all, they’re babies and toddlers.  But, constant reminders of the routine and what is to come will help to control outbursts.

And quite possibly the biggest part of reinforcing a routine – don’t make it a chore!  Involve your child in the conversation.  Making a child feel included will create a sense of importance and he will be more likely to engage in the routine then acting against it.

“Toys are all done, we have to go to the store, let’s go.”
vs.
“Let’s clean up so we can go to the store.  What should we pick out for dinner? Noodles or Chicken?  What about for dessert?  Peaches?”

 

Lastly, a routine is never in stone.  Skip a nap to play at the beach, stay up late during a summer BBQ, leave dishes in the sink to play Legos.  Snuggle when the snuggle is real.

Now, go play!

Seriously, let’s play.

If it’s been said once, it’s been said a hundred times, a child’s sole job is to play.  If they are not eating or sleeping, they should be playing.  Children don’t have to fold laundry, run errands, or check emails.  All they have to do is play.

When their little eyes open at the crack of dawn, read a short book in their room, sing a song, do a little stretching/massage to wake up their muscles.

After breakfast, and coffee of course, lay some toys on a blanket, on the couch for standers, in front of a pillow for tummy time, or using masking tape to attach light weight toys (or every child’s favorite –random household materials: plastic cups, coasters, sponge, wipes package, deck of cards) to the walls of a hallway to encourage standing and walking.

Get outside!  Go in the yard, walk to the park, drive to a trail.  Allow your newborn to feel the warm sunshine, the breeze, fresh air, a few rain drops.  Follow your toddler’s lead.  What they are interested in.  Picking up sticks? Throwing rocks? Playing in the dirt? Running?  Back home, create a sensory bin with their favorite outdoor items.

Time to cook dinner?  Baby wearing comes in handy here.  Baby can observe the senses in the kitchen while you get check off your to do list.  More on baby wearing later.  Let your little one play with pots, pans, and wooden spoons in the kitchen while you prep.  Supply toddler with some plastic cups and a small amount of water, pouring back and forth will intrigue him.  Paper towels on stand by.

Being a parent is exhausting.  But the more active baby is, the happier and healthier (and more tired) baby will be!

Now, go play!

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

And traveling with babies!

This task can be daunting whether it’s a day trip to Great-Grandmas or boarding a 6 hour flight for a week long vacation.  A friend of mine who works as a speech-language pathologist lives in the DC area but has family in Chicago and New Jersey, and friends across the country so every other weekend they are planning a trip.  Did I mention she has a 6 month old?  Not only is she an expert in communication but has great tips for traveling with a little one.  Here is what she shared with me:

For starters, take a deep breath.  Traveling with a baby can be scary.  It’s hard!  But there are ways to make it easier.  And if all else fails, turn on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and call for room service.  In all seriousness though, if things get too hectic, baby is overwhelmed and inconsolable, take a break.  Excuse yourself from the party, skip out on going out to breakfast with your in-laws, give baby a little downtime, quiet time, mommy time.  Remember, that’s all they want.  YOU.

Now, let’s get that bag packed.

-blanket for playing on the floor

-a few small toys

-a couple of books (favorites here here and here)

photo album of family members (Shutterfly has free prints via their app!

-songs/finger plays (they don’t take up any space!)

  1.  Keep a small bag of these toys in the trunk of your car for when you end up stuck at a friends house who doesn’t have kids.
  2. Lay the blanket down to establish a play space.  Do not expect baby to sit happily on the blanket for the rest of your trip but make it clear, to play with toys, you have to be on the blanket, or sitting in mom or dad’s lap.  This way, your crawler/climber/runner is somewhat contained and not all over the airport or under the dining room table.
  3. However long you are going, hours or days, give one or two toys at a time and rotate in and out to help maintain interest.  If you dump all of the toys out, within 5 minutes, you are going to be desperately digging in the diaper bag for something, ANYTHING.
  4. Somewhere without toys or baby is over it?  Chances are there are plenty of non-toys within your reach.  Empty water bottles, Tupperware, coasters, deck of cards, plastic cups for stacking/building/knocking down, tinfoil balls, basically anything in the kitchen that isn’t a knife.  (Pro tip – check out the junk drawer)

 

Airplanes:

Keeping a baby/toddler/adult happy and busy on a flight can be the most intimidating task of all.  Have you ever sat still for an entire flight?  NO.  Neither can your baby.  The same activities listed above can work.  In addition, toddlers can be kept occupied for a tad longer but do require some more advanced activities then a simple rattle.  Here are some options when you have SnakesToddlers on a Plane, or anywhere else (doctors office, extended car ride, restaurant).  Maybe you will even be lucky enough to board a plane where the passengers actually cheer on a crying baby.

-Notebook, stickers, crayons

Use an old wipes container as a travel art case.

Glue a dry erase or chalk board to the inside of the lid if you are crafty.

Pro tip – triangle crayons.  No rolling.

-Window clings if you are lucky enough to have a window seat.

Or stick them on the tray table.

-Play dough

-Toy cars/trucks and masking tape to make a road map across the tray table

-Snacks.  Snacks.  Snacks.  Snacks.  Snacks. Aren’t we all happier when we are eating?

-If you are lucky to be flying with a companion, and both of you are feeling brave,  choose seats away from one another.  This way you can trade off.  One person can get some quiet, and the surrounding passengers get a break as well.

Last but not least, you can do it.  There is always an end in sight.  Just like labor.  And if your child cries, so what!  Just remember, you set the tone.  If you are stressed, everyone else will feel it.  So try to have fun wherever you are.  It’s a vacation!  And don’t pass up the time for relatives to pitch in and help!

Happy Traveling!