Mirror Mirror on the Wall

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When H was a new baby, I was excited to decorate her room. I wanted a beautiful space that would prove calming for both of us. Coincidentally, the colour scheme we had (soft blue, cream and taupe) also worked for Y (although we did change up the textiles).

One of the elements of her room that brought opportunity for interaction was a series of adhesive mirror wall decals I had purchased from Target (which briefly graced Canadians with its presence when H was a baby).

I chose to add the mirrors to the wall next to her change table so she could amuse at herself after changes. Not only was this pretty and practical, but it offered opportunity for socioemotional development.

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When Y was born, we moved the change table (which was essentially just a dresser, into the closet). Y enjoyed the mirrors when I carried him but when he started sitting up, I thought about purchasing a new set and sticking them lower to the ground so he could access them independently.

In the fall, we visited the library after quite a hiatus. The space had been renovated and had a new part, perfect for babies. Part of its charm were mirrors at baby’s eye level.

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This reminded me of my plan so I ordered some new mirrors from Amazon. I have to point out that these were not glass mirrors but acrylic ones, so safer for children.

They sat in my drawer as the months passed.  I was planning on incorporating them into a sensory wall project but it slowly became clear that that was not going to materialize. Waiting for things to become perfect was going to thwart my good intentions so I decided to just go for it.

Since by now, Y is able to pull himself up to standing, I decided to arrange the mirrors vertically, leaving space to add to the top as he grows taller.

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He was excited and tried to add some himself (and remove them of course!) This is why I chose not to include any that would fit into his mouth so I don’t have to worry about choking hazards if he does manage to remove any.

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Not only is it fun for him to look at himself…

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But it also offers interesting new perspectives and quite literally helps me see things in a new way.

As with when this was H’s nursery, the room is a calming place. But this time, I’m paying more attention to texture and practicality. It’s still a work in progress but I love seeing how the same space, colours and furnishings have taken on a different life.

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Super simple sensory snow set up

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I used to do a lot of sensory play with H. Because she was an early winter baby, by the time her first spring and summer rolled around, I was able to take her outside and experience our wonderful world. She felt the grass on her knees and the sand between her fingers. And I didn’t have to do a thing.

Y was born in mid-May, so he briefly experienced autumn, however he was not mobile then. He goes outside with me every day, so while he routinely feels the cold wind and the giant wet snowflakes kiss his face, he hasn’t played in the snow yet.

I’ve been dreaming about spring and summer and taking my baby out to crawl and toddle about but I woke up this morning to yet another blanket of snow (it continued to fall all day), so this afternoon I finally decided to bring some in.

It was a super easy and quick set up. I placed Y in his play yard so I could go outside and grab some fresh snow (otherwise he would’ve been up the stairs).

image I put down a table cover we use for art, and filled some snow in the baby bathtub (which is no longer used for baths). I added some kitche tools, bath toys, little people and a few sand toys that I washed off.

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Y was eager to get to the toys. He tried three times to get the pink starfish but recoiled each time, shivering. He was not liking the cold and instead opted to just collect the people.

 

 

H played intermittently, warming up her hands in between. I offered Y some snow but he touched it and decided it was not going to happen.

 

The snow was wet and excellent for packing. I used a baking spoon to make a “macaroon” and Y took it right out of my hand and decided the snow would make a  good teething biscuit.

 

If you would like to see some great ideas for snow/ice play in indoor and outdoor settings, check out this past post.

Snow Day Indoor Play

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Living in Canada, you quickly have to accept that winters are long and days are short. As great as it sounds to get outdoors with the kids everyday (it is possible!) it can be quite challenging.

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This winter, independently caring for two children who were on different nap schedules (as my partner worked long hours and took evening classes) while simultaneously trying to keep house and get dinner on the table was making us all a little crazy. We needed to find a way to get our move on while being trapped indoors.

The most challenging times were the early evening hours so here were some of the things we did at home the past few months to use up energy and share some giggles. My main focus was engaging in gross motor play (play that uses up large body muscles such as legs) since that’s what H was missing out on the most.

  1. Dancing – This is a staple in our house. When all else fails, I just put on music and we start dancing. In the early days of Y being a baby, this was a daily occurrence. He would be sleeping in the baby carrier and we would dance to songs like “Follow the Leader.”  Other times, we sing songs that have actions. Our favourites are “Penguin Song” and “Go Bananas” both of which my daughter started singing this summer  at camp. We love disney songs as well as various fast world music genres. Y loves watching and has started “dancing” along too.
  2. Races – It started as crawling races when Y started crawling, but other races we’ve had are crab walk, bear walk, slithering like a snake, potato sack (we used pillow cases) and scooting.imageAs adults, it may feel silly to be doing these things but it’s actually quite refreshing to not have to walk on your legs. Not only does it give you a new perspective and help you see things from your child’s point of view (literally and figuratively) but you have new realizations like “wow, it’s so dusty under the couch” or “that’s where all the baby toys are hiding!”
  3. Props– Add any prop and suddenly, every day movements become more exciting. One of my favourite things to do with children I work with is to tie a ribbon to a stick/twig and watch as they start to dance, and move their arms in new ways as they try to make the ribbon dance. Bonus: If you have an older child and an infant, the infant will be transfixed watching the older child and their colourful ribbon swirl about.
  4. Tape up the floor – Whether you use masking tape to tape different types of lines to the ground (straight, zig zag, giant spiral) or create a traditional hopscotch, sometimes creating a defined path for children helps invite movement.
  5. Pop! – Whether you reuse furniture packaging or buy a roll at the dollar store, bubble wrap taped to the floor can add novelty. I distinctly remember taping a roll of bubble wrap to the hallway between the kitchen and living room last month as I cooked dinner and my 4 year old and infant played happily for almost an hour.  What will start as just walking across will soon turn into running. image If your children start losing steam, ask questions like:
    1. What happens when you walk on your tip toes?
    2. How can you make a really loud popping sound?
    3. How can you make a quiet popping sound?
    4. What happens when you crawl across?
    5. What if you hop, skip, jump?
    6. Can you find ten bubbles that aren’t popped and use your finger?
    7. What if your wear your rainboots and walk across? How about your party shoes?
  6. Colours and Shapes – I cut different shapes out of different colours of construction paper and taped them to the floor. Then, we played a game where I said the name of a colour in French and my daughter jumped to it. We did the same in reverse. Then we did it with shapes. My daughter decided they should have numbers so she practiced writing numbers on the shapes and then practiced writing her name and “Mama” on the shapes. Not only was this a great gross motor activity, but it also had a cognitive component and helped with second language acquisition.imageI’m not sure how worthwhile or sustainable this would be in a home with mobile infants (it only lasted a few days in our house before Y tore them all off) but I just viewed it as an opportunity for him to practice his fine motor skills as he strengthened his finger and hand muscles by ripping up the paper. image
  7. Building – We used boxes, cushions, a play yard, dupattas/scarves, and a building toy to build a variety of tunnels and unique spaces such as forts and trains.
  8. Balloons and Bubbles – These were super easy items we had on hand that were equally fun for H and Y. As the months passed, Y went from just watching the bubbles in confusion to actively popping them. image

As Y is gaining more control with standing, I predict that he will be taking his first steps sometime this spring. I am excited to see how gross motor play between the children will change both indoors and outdoors, once that happens. I cannot wait for spring!

Infants, Grasping and Emergent Curriculum

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For many new parents, it’s one of the sweetest, earliest memories when their baby holds their finger. Thanks to the grasp reflex, babies are primed to wrap their palms and fingers around whatever is placed in their palms. As they grow, they lose this reflex and grasping becomes more intentional.

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I remember noticing Y’s fondness for grasping things that provided some kind of holes. Infants often start by grabbing into gasping rings but it became very noticeable to me when he was repeatedly drawn to items with multiple holes.

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I decided to intentionally provide materials he could weave his fingers in to promote his interest in a safe way.

One of the first things I did was hanging up a belly dance scarf within arms reach for him to explore during a diaper change.

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Then again with H as I looked on.

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Because of the small coins on the scarf, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone to play with it for long periods so I started thinking of what else I could create.

I remembered an idea from the book Loose Parts 2: Inspiring Play with Infants and Toddlers where embroidery hoops were used with different textured materials. So I decided to use a mesh bag that previously housed babybel cheese as my fabric of choice. I left the tag on because infants are drawn to tags.

In addition to creating this toy for him, I also became more mindful about our environment and started thinking about things we had at home that he was drawn to grasping that perhaps weren’t independently accessible (artwork, towel holder ring etc).

I’ve been ruminating over how I can make his bedroom and the children’s play space more inviting and engaging. I will share the process and results of this in a future post.

Observing Y the past few months has been especially satisfying for me because while I have quite a bit of experience using emergent curriculum (planning play environments and learning opportunities for children based on demonstrated interests, needs and abilities), it’s mostly been with preschool-aged children. To witness the amazing progression of skill in infants is really something special and these days, I find myself more drawn to creating meaningful play opportunities and environments for Y.

In the 3.5 years that have elapsed since H was this age, my knowledge and understanding of play and development has not only deepened, but I’ve been able to connect to likeminded parents and educators which continues to serve as inspiration. This along with getting to live out my learning firsthand is a reason to get excited!

Rings and Things

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I remember seeing a photo on the internet somewhere of parents and educators using a paper towel holder as a stand for stacking rings, similar to the plastic or wooden rainbow coloured stacker toys commonly sold for babies. I did have a 5-ring plastic stacker toy that I bought for H in BC when she was a baby, although the middle ring has been living at my parents house in Toronto for the past 3.5 years. I thought I would give it a try for Y because we already owned a paper towel holder, and I’m all about repurposing things.

Most of the photos I had seen online used beautiful wooden rings or wonderfully beaded bracelets. Because I don’t vigilantly supervise my children when they play, I decided to pass on the beaded bracelets for now and I didn’t have any wooden rings. Coincidentally, all the rings I had were metal: curtain rings, mason jar lids and a few steel bracelets.

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Y doesn’t have the skills yet to stack the rings or pull them off of the paper towel holder independently yet (it’s quite tall compared to the commercial stacker toys) but he really enjoyed moving the rings up
and down.

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He knocked the paper towel holder over and started spinning the rings. I held it horizontally for him to give him more access, and not only did he spin them, but he discovered he could make a beautiful sound when they hit one another.

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He picked up the rings that had fallen off
the holder and proceeded to bang them together, amusing at the sound. To extend this idea, I gave him a metal spoon.

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The sound the metal parts made when they interacted is not too different than the sound Y makes when he uses a spoon or his hand over the metal grills in our house. This is all adding to his concept of
metal among others.

Another fascinating thing we discovered together that built upon the previous post was what happened to the paper towel holder when we rolled it. Cylinders typically roll straight but since this was more of a cone shape (one end was much smaller than the other) it actually rolled in big circles. Y and I were both intrigued, especially because it still rolled (albeit not as well) with the rings on. I think it would be neat to intriduce paint one day and see where the children take it.

Update: Y played with this again today and I noticed that when its lying on its side, he has figured out how to remove the rings.

He also continues to take great joy in holding a ring in either hand and hitting them together.

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By now he has figured out how to maneuver the holder with one hand.

As Y continues to master this, I will add other rings and experiment with size, colour and material. I intend on adding some chooriyan (traditional south Asian bangles) to the mix.

Round and Roll

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One of the earliest interests I noticed with my son when he became mobile, was his fascination for things that rolled and spun. He was constantly army crawling over to his stroller and spinning the wheels. He did the same with a trolley bag we had in our living room for a while. He loved balls and anything else that rolled including empty bottles and rolls of tape. I took this interest and thought about what else I could provide that would further allow him to experiment.

One afternoon, I gave him some plastic hair rollers. I had a new box of them that I bought forever ago and decided they would be much more useful as playthings for the children than they ever were for me. I liked that they could nest and gave him 3 sets to see what he would do. This was upstairs in my bedroom on a carpeted floor. Needless to say, they didn’t roll much, but that gave him the chance to explore other properties.

I laced them onto a scarf and swished them from side to side, as they disappeared, one inside the other.

Some point later, they ended up on our main level, which has laminate flooring. Here they could roll freely. I filled them in a clear container thinking Y might enjoy dumping them out, but he wasn’t yet there.

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Instead, when he threw one on the floor and it rolled away, he chased it, often pushing it forward when he went to pick it up, and then chasing it more. I saw him doing the same thing with plastic balls. I think it may have started off accidentally because he was learning how to grasp these objects but now he does it intentionally.

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A few days ago, I just added a muffin tray to the mix. Adding something with lots of compartments is a great way to enhance loose parts play. With my daughter, I often added ice cube trays and more
recently, the plastic inside part of chocolate boxes.

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But this was the first time I used a muffin tray- it had good size pockets for an
infant. I added a few curlers into the spaces and went to the kitchen. I was surprised when I came back and found he had started populating the spaces himself.

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My 4 year old daughter had done the same a few weeks ago (hair curlers with an empty egg carton) and I had actually introduced the muffin tray to Y with blocks the day before so it was interesting to see how their skills and approaches are evolving.

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I have a lot more hair curlers and have been debating adding some adhesive velcro to some of them so that the children can choose to stick them together and build with them. It would be great to find a large base with some kid me of pegs sticking out to see if Y can fit the curlers on top of the pegs (this requires more precision than placing them in pockets).

 

Super Easy Infant Sensory Baskets

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Setting up play opportunities for infants can seem daunting: they don’t talk, they may not have clear interests and may not even be mobile. Besides, they put EVERYTHING in their mouth (an excellent way for them to collect information since they have more nerves in their mouths than in their hands, and in the early stages, more control in this part as well). Then what are you supposed to “do with them?”

There’s a host of toys designed for infants. Most of them have some combination of lights, music and lots of plastic. If you are looking for something novel and spontaneous, this may help.

It’s important to realize that even though infants may not be able to verbally communicate their learning to us, do not be fooled. Their brains are working faster than yours and mine! Simply speaking out loud to them throughout the day, narrating your activities, making eye contact and having lots of physical touch is GREAT! Taking them along and including them in the sights, sounds and smells of your daily life is FANTASTIC. Giving them the gift of early literacy by singing, reading and doing finger rhymes is AWESOME. But what about those moments when you are at home and need a few minutes to yourself?

Making up a few bins of items grouped by themes is an easy start. Ideas of baby appropriate themes may include a specific colour, various texture/fabrics, things that make sounds, a particular material like steel or wood, a particular shape like spheres or rings. Depending on the age of your infant and their physical ability, you may decide to adjust your theme. For example, my eight month old is perfectly capable of maneuvering wood and steel items because he sits independently, but I probably would not have left him alone with those items when he was four months old and still lying on his back.

These photos are of a very last minute effort that served to not only stimulate my baby, but also involve big sister, making it an engaging play experience for all parties involved. I asked my daughter to pick a colour. She picked green and I picked yellow. Then I told her to go around the house and find green things her baby brother might like to play with and collect them in her basket. When she was done, I checked the items with her. We decided to remove a small green domino because it was not safe for him to play with on his own.

 

Later, I left him with one of the baskets while I cooked dinner and he happily tasted every item. He was most engaged by the thick yellow rope. Not only was it a new object for him, but the texture, weight, material, and shape played into his interests (this will be revisited in an upcoming post).

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Many of the items in the basket were traditional toys so the next time We do this and give ourselves more time to prepare, I’d like to challenge us to find
a greater variety of items as we think about texture, natural materials and other physical properties.