Tuesday, October 16, 2018

5 Month Update

Goodness!  It has been a couple of months since I updated on Archer (I blame a baby who hates naps).  Here's a quick update on how he's growing.

I had had big hopes for the crawling track, however, with him spitting up vast quantities, he didn't use it nearly as much as I had hoped.  Tummy time was hard for a while.  Now, he still spits up like crazy, but he's better at holding himself out of it.  We've switching to using these foam mats (similar to these).  They give him a safe place to play (especially when he first started rolling over and landing a bit hard) and save our carpet!  They're so much easier to wipe down.  The set came with eight interlocking squares.  We actually use them in two sets of four, to provide a place to play in two different rooms.
Now, however, he's learned to push himself backwards.  He ends up far away from his toys and sometimes right off the mat.  I've learned to put toys all over the mat, so wherever he wanders, he has something to play with (chew on).
He also loves being outside, so I've been able to get a few outdoor chores done while he hangs out on a picnic blanket.
While I like to avoid "baby holders," I did break down and get an exersaucer second hand.  It actually has some "blank" areas where I can put whatever toys he's into at the moment.  I also do not have batteries in it. He loves being able to stand.  This is also how he watches his baby DVDs, since he no longer has any tolerance for the bouncer.
The doctor gave us the ok to add baby cereal and puree.  Archer LOVES eating!  So far, he hasn't met a food he hasn't liked, although I am sure that day will come.  He has also taken an interest in "helping" us hold the spoon to feed him.  Poor kiddo still really eyes table food.  Daddy ate a cookie the other day and Archer's bottom lip stuck out and quivered with every bite.
While he hates his car seat, Archer really enjoys being worn.  I think he likes being able to see more.  He definitely likes the constant motion.  Usually, it is the only way I can make it through a store without him screaming.  I don't know how I survived Xander's childhood without a good carrier.
Archer has just started sitting up.  He can't get there by himself, and still falls over if he gets overly excited or launches himself at a toy.  For now, I try to keep the Boppy behind him, just in case.  I'm hoping that in a few more weeks he will be steady enough for shopping carts, which should make outings much more enjoyable for him.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Early Readers - Fall Book

For me, September, means welcoming in the fall.  I've decorated the house and I'm reading to do some fall activities with the boys.  Recently I added a section for early reading books to the blog, so I decided to make a fall themed book.  I am making three version of each book, one in English, one in Spanish and one with both.  I am still kind of playing with it to see which ones I will print.  This time I printed the Spanish only version.

Here are example pages (words on one page, picture on the following).

And then here is what my printed one looks like.  (I printed on cardstock and laminated the pages . Then, I used a 3 hold punch to make the holes and used 3/4" binder rings to "bind" the books.)

You're free to download the files to use with your little one.
Fall Book - English
Fall Book - Spanish
Fall Book - English/Spanish

If you're looking for other Fall resources, you might check out my 3 Part Fall Vocabulary Cards.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Our Cloth Diapering Journey

Generally I mostly share about our Early Education Journey, but I figured sharing about our Cloth Diaper Journey might be helpful to other mamas too!  It is definitely a subject I've searched the momsphere for!

With Xander, cloth diapers were not even on my radar.  I didn't know they really existed anymore.  Then I started teaching environmental science.  I think that is one of those subjects where the more you know, the harder it is not to care.  I started looking for ways to reduce my environmental impact and cloth diapering popped up, among other things.   
At first I was envisioning folding and pinning and all kinds of work.  The idea of all the extra pee and poop was definitely a deterrent, but I figured I should at least explore the option.  When I was pregnant I looked into all the different kinds of diapers and shells and inserts.  Luckily, my background in education prepared me for all of the acronyms!  I bought a couple of styles used to try out and then kind of forgot about it until Archer was born.
Based on lots of advice I read, I knew I didn't want to use cloth with a newborn.  They are so little they have to have a special size, they go through a gazillion diapers a day and we were given lots of newborn diapers for our shower anyway.  Then as he got a bit older, carrying the garbage bags full of smelly diapers outside just made me sick to my stomach.  I hated the idea of that much waste just sitting around in a landfill for years to come (even "biodegradable" diapers cannot break down under most landfill conditions).  I did a little more research, joined a couple of webgroups and got some encouragement from a few friends, and decided to try.

What I've Learned:
Well, we've been in cloth, other than nighttime for over a month now.  Here's what we have learned.

  • Try multiple kinds!  I started out thinking that covers and inserts were the way to go.  What I thought I'd like best, I hated.  What I thought I'd hate, I ended up loving.  (More details about which of ours I like/dislike below.
  • It is easier than thought it would be.  You have to figure out what kind of diaper you like and your wash routine, but it is pretty simple.  Since Archer spits up like crazy and I do laundry daily anyway, it really didn't add that much laundry.  I currently have enough diapers to wash about every other day, and am hoping to expand that.  The pre-wash is diapers alone, but the main wash can include all my other regular small laundry, which cuts down on the number of loads.
  • It doesn't have to be all or nothing. I am allowing myself some flexibility.  We have some leftover disposables that fit, so I use those if someone else is watching him.  I also use disposables at night still, because he is still waking up enough that I usually change diapers in my sleep.  We also plan to take disposables on vacations.  Not making myself be perfect, makes it much more manageable, so it is easier to continue.  Overall, I figure that's still less waste in landfills.
  • It may become addicting.  I had no idea they'd be so cute!  For a boy mom who doesn't get hair bows and nail polish, it has been so much fun looking for cute diapers!  I'm a little sad the weather is changing and I'll have to cover them up.

For those of you on your own journey and wanting to know more about the kinds, here's my opinion on what we've tried.
  • Covers and inserts - I thought I'd like these the best.  The idea is that you have a waterproff outer cover and then absorbent inserts.  You change out the inserts as needed, but can reuse the cover multiple times until it gets soiled.  They're the cheapest and require the least prep.  However, the two brands of covers I have are a little bulky on him (granted, I know he'll grow).  What I really ended up not liking was having the wet insert sitting right against his skin.  I felt like they were just holding the pee on him.
  • AIOs - These are diapers are supposed to be the easiest.  They have everything in one piece.  It is less cost effective than covers, because you change the whole thing every time. Also, changing absorbency is hard.  I have two brands, Bum Genius Freetimes and Imagine All-In-One Snap Diapers.  The Bum Genius have flaps of inserts sewn in but can still fold out, so that they clean and dry easily but do not require stuffing.  Right now, they're a little big and bulky for Archer.  However, as he grows, I think I'll like them a lot more.  The Imagines are a little smaller, so fit him better.  Actually, I've already let out all the rise snaps, so am not sure that they'll fit him as he gets much bigger.  They have an insert that snaps into place (so I'm not really sure if that is a true AIO or not).  They seem to absorb just fine, but the inside kind of looks worn and shaggy already.  I use them in my rotation, but don't absolutely love them.
  • Pockets - These are a shell that looks like a diaper, but has a pocket that you stuff with different kinds of inserts.  Once they are stuffed, they function like an AIO or regular diaper.  Once again, pockets less cost effective than covers, because you change the whole thing every time.  I thought I would hate these because I didn't want to spend the time stuffing pockets and I'd need a bunch. After using them, pockets are my favorites. I felt like I got a better fit with them.  The pocket also lets you add extra inserts or use different materials to adapt to your baby's needs.  Plus they are SUPER CUTE!  I call them the mommy equivalent of trading cards.  
    • I tried Kawaii, Alvas and Mama Koalas.  Kawaii was the first diaper I tried when we made the switch and it was a disaster.  There was poop EVERYWHERE.  Something about the way they are shaped, I cannot get them to fit around Archer's legs.  Needless to say, we do not use them anymore (to be fair, there are some people that love these diapers).  The Mama Koalas ended up being my favorites.  They fit Archer the best, but only have two snaps on each side, so go on pretty easily.  Unfortunately, they are a growing company so have limited diapers available at any one time.  When I decided they were the ones I liked, I had trouble buying them in boy friendly prints, so ended up supplementing my stash with Alvas.  Alvas are just a little bit taller and have three snaps instead of two.  They fit well and will probably fit longer on a bigger baby.

We still occasionally have a few kinks to work out, but my intention is that we'll be able to stick with cloth until Archer is potty trained (and hopefully use some of them on future children as well).  I'll let you know how it goes!

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Simple Science: Acids and Bases

It has been way too long since I did any posts with science experiments!  Here's one we did recently to introduce the concept of acids and bases (we did not get into PH or the chemical reactions that occur with them).  

From conversations we've had when he's been sick or when pregnancy gave me heartburn, Xander already knew that certain foods like citrus fruits are acidic.  We explained that bases are the opposite of acids and neutral means something is neither acidic nor basic.

To prep, I cut up a head of purple cabbage and then boiled it about 6-7 cups of water for 15 minutes and strained it.  I was supposed to use distilled water, but accidentally used filtered instead and it still worked.  Now I have a jug of distilled sitting around.  Oops.

Then I had Xander line up a bunch of glasses and we added a different liquid to each one.  I had Xander make a list of the different liquids, so he could make predictions and record observations.  We used pickle juice, lime juice, milk, hot sauce, water with baking soda, white grape juice, sparkling water and regular water (for the control).

Then I had Xander try each one and write down observations about how it tasted. 
I only let him dab his finger in the hot sauce instead of trying to drink it. 
Then I had him add 1/4 cup of the cabbage juice to each cup and we recorded what happened.  We were looking for color change.  Then I had him use the color changes to try to determine which was the strongest acid and which was the strongest base.  (It will turn bright pink for acids and teal for bases).

It ended up being a fun way to spend an afternoon.  Xander concluded that acids usually taste sour.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Why I'm Teaching My 2nd Baby to Read

When Xander was a baby, a good friend introduced me to the books by Glenn Doman, and therefore, the world of early learning.  From there, I ate up all the information I could find, joined some early learning parents groups and our activities (and the blog) evolved as I learned. (I've also started writing reviews of several of the books I read that you can check out here).
Now with my second baby, I've had some experience and acquired more knowledge about early education.  The question wasn't if I was going to teach him to read, it was when and how I would start!  Every family is different and each parent needs to decide what works for their family.  Here, however, are five reasons I'm going to start teaching my second baby to read.
1.  It Gives Us Something Fun to Do Together:
First of all, I love having meaningful time with my kids.  I love playing with Archer and making him smile.  I adore watching his curiosity and effort to learn to do things.  However, little babies are a bit limited in what they can do, so teaching him to read gives us a set of activities that is fun for both of us.  He is much happier when he is engaged and I'm thrilled to engage with him in ways that will be beneficial.  The time I spent teaching Xander was some of the most memorable bonding time we had.

Furthermore, I am very type A.  I have to feel productive to be happy.  I'm the kind of person that makes myself color coded weekly planner pages and likes to feel like I got a lot done at the end of the day.  Being a mother to an infant is kind of the opposite. So much of the day is spent nursing and rocking him, or doing piles of laundry.  While these things are important, feeling like he and I had some great bonding time that also taught him something valuable, helps keep me feeling like I accomplished more at the end of the day than a stack of dishes.
Sneaking books into his bed instead of sleeping.
2.  It Works
We know from experience that teaching babies to read works.  Since testing takes away from the fun, I wasn't sure at first.  I figured out Xander could read words when he was about 18 months while playing a game, he was reading easy readers by 2 and when he was evaluated in kindergaten, they stopped the evaluation when he reached 5th grade level fluency.  We're not sure where his reading level actually was at the time.    Babies are primed to learn language.  They learn to speak their native language almost effortlessly.  Reading is just another language, arguably an easier one to learn.  When babies learn spoken language, they have to content with accents, varying volumes and inflections and figuring out where one word ends and another begins.  Written language is much more consistent.  (You can see my post about teaching my first baby to read here).
3.  Babies Love Learning and Teaching Them is Easy
Look at any baby and you will see a tiny human who is constantly learning and exploring. Their brains are learning faster than they ever will again in their lives.  The younger they are, the faster they learn.  Teaching Xander took some organization, but less than 10 minutes a day (in addition to reading stories together or letting him watch a DVD).  He loved it.  I literally could not make new materials for him as fast as he wanted to learn them.  Even when he could read, he still loved watching reading lessons on Little Reader or Your Baby Can Read.  I literally had to hide the DVDs.  The other nice thing, is the content is so much more age appropriate when the learn as babies.  Six year olds aren't that impressed with books about the cat that sat on the mat.
4.  I'm Happy With the Results
Gearing up this time is so much easier, knowing the potential outcome.  Xander LOVES to read.  He could easily spend hours a day reading and often does.  He almost always has a book with him in the car, often takes one when we're on errands or when we have to wait in waiting rooms.  He gets so excited about his new books, that when the school book order comes, he pretty much doesn't talk to me for the rest of the night (mixed blessing).  This summer, he received the Heroes of Olympus series and that first afternoon he was pretty upset we made him put down his book to eat lunch.  Since then he's read them all again and again.  I love watching him get excited about acquiring the next book in a series or our trips to the library.  With reports of crazy percentages of kids struggling to read, it is so reassuring to have a who has is proficient.  I know it will help him in every school subject.
5.  Reading Opens Up New Worlds of Knowledge and Creativity
When a child can read independently, they are no longer dependent on an adult to introduce them to stories and ideas (we parents have to get laundry and dishes done sometime, right?).  On their own, they can explore a variety of adventures and information, finding their own interests and preferences.  I try hard to let him read whatever he likes, as long as it doesn't contain inappropriate content.  Sometimes that means he reads graphic novels, sometimes he reads encyclopedias.  Xander's head is full of a crazy amount of random facts from reading.  When he plays with friends or with toys, he has an imense imagination, because he has so many fantasy worlds from which to draw.  His vocabulary is phenomenal for his age, because he was exposed to so new words in his novels.  Sometimes stories have sparked an interest that has driven a lot of non-fiction reading as well (like his current mythology obsession).  Basically, he had YEARS of extra knowledge that he would not have had if he had waited until school to learn to read.

Friday, August 3, 2018

2.5 Month Learning Activities

I thought I'd share what learning activities we're doing with Archer now that he's about two and a half months.  He's still pretty young, so most learning comes from just normal baby life.  We spend a lot of time snuggling, nursing, bouncing, singing songs and reading books.
We're still using the baby gym and crawling track.  Archer LOVES the gym and is getting so much better at reaching for the toys (I usually use the toys I made in this post).  He likes when he can get them swinging or we swing them for him.  I still put books beside him to look at when he gets tired of the toys. Archer tolerates the crawling track.  Sometimes he likes it, sometimes he hates it, a lot of times he gets very frustrated he can't go where he wants to go yet, but I am glad he tries.
During the toddler years, I updated Xander's work shelves weekly.  Since Archer is still so young, I plan on keeping his shelves up for several weeks.
On the left we have a simple rainbow stacker.  He's too little to use it, but we sometimes show him the different colored rings to occupy him.  Oddly, having it out must be tempting, because I'll find that Xander has been playing with it from time to time.  We also have a little car track.  Archer can't actually use it on his own yet, but we push the cars off for him to watch and listen to.  He seems to be interested and I like the eye tracking aspect.  They make an even bigger one, and now I kind of wish I'd purchased that one instead.

On the top right we have some baby paper.  He really seems to like this when he's in his car seat, but it is also nice incentive for him during tummy time.
In the top basket I have a bunch of noise music makers.  I play each one for him, but vary where I play it.  For instance, I play it to the right side of him, or above his head, etc.  That way he has to look around for the sound.  His eye tracking has gotten so much better.  He loves this game and always rewards me with HUGE smiles.
Xander likes to get in on the game too.  

The second basket has various balls in it.  The little ones make different noises and the big ones are easy for him to grab.  I place these next to him when he's lying on the floor so he can try to grab them of move them.  Sometimes I will put them around him while he is in his baby gym.
We recently started having Archer watch Tweedlewink.  A lot of the parents in my Online Early Learning groups swear by them, so we thought we'd invest in them for him.  They definitely follow the Right Brain approach to learning, using whole words and relatively fast display of information.  They cover a huge variety of subjects, but are simple enough so as not to overstimulate tiny brains.  As you can see from the picture below, Archer LOVES them.  Each lesson is about 8 minutes, and we let him watch one a day.  He sits very attentively the whole time, sometimes talking to the TV.   Xander usually insists on watching with him, also.  We will see what we think of them as he grows. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

New School/Playroom

As I've mentioned, we recently moved.  One of the things I absolutely love about the new house, is that it gave us room to have a dedicated school/play room (we gave up having a formal dining room for it). It is where we will do learning shelves with Archer, where we put Xander's desk and where we will leave a big open area for building and playing.  The "work" on the shelves will rotate, as well as the toys stored in here.  I find toys get played with more if I don't have them all in sight at the same time.  The rest of the toys are in the basement. 

The woods don't all match, but I was trying to go with what we already had.  The only furniture I purchased for the room was the white IKEA BESTA shelves on the left that we will use for Archer's "work."
For now, we have the baby gym and crawling track out in the main area.  We have the stimulation cards in the crawling track and it is elevated using a Hilltop (I bought these on super sale intending them for Archer in the future, but Xander plays with them quite a bit too).
The far wall has our old shelving unit with bins for toy storage.  On the open shelves I have a bunch of board books.  The two light colored shelves are IKEA TROFAST shelves we used previously.  The one on the left has mostly sensory bin tools and some empty space I am sure we will fill.  The right one has school supplies, Xander's workbooks and worksheets, some activity books and Archer's stimulation cards.  The top has a white board  I got on clearance from Target a while back.
To the right is Xander's desk.  Although, to be honest, he's getting a bit big for it.  Soon, I'm sure he'll do most of his school work at the kitchen table and Archer will take over the small table.  Next to the desk are our Magna-Tiles (and a bunch of other accessories from other brands).  That tub won't live there always, but we brought it up from the basement since Xander has been using them a lot lately.  The baby gate blocks off the kitchen and stairs, so that the dogs can't get in to the play room and the baby won't be able to get out.
The playroom leads into what Xander calls the "Library."  It is intended to be a formal living room, but we made more of an office/library.  My desk is in there, so that I can use the computer while the boys play (or at least that's the intention once Archer is playing more independently).  It has two sets of IKEA BILLY bookcases, where we still our books like I talked about in this post.  We've had to add a third bookcase to the basement, in addition the books in both of the boys' rooms.  Some women buy designer clothes/bags, I buy books for my kids. Luckily my husband is a nerd too, and encourages the book buying.
I'm sure I'll adapt these rooms as out needs change in the future.  I feel beyond blessed to have the space for the kids where we can focus on playing and learning together.

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