Empower Your Toddler With a Visual Schedule

Have you ever thought about the sheer lack of control toddlers have over their day?  They are typically told when and what to eat, what to wear, how to act, when they can be loud, when to be quiet, when to sleep, when to wake up…the list goes on and on and on.  We literally control every single aspect of their lives.  Is it really any wonder that toddlerhood often brings tantrums?  At this time in their life when our growing babies are yearning for ever-increasing independence, most parents are yearning for compliance.

If you have been around me at all, you’ve probably heard me utter the term “respectful caregiving.”  Respectful caregiving involves viewing babies and children differently than the mainstream and it warrants its own blog post (or many blog posts!) with details and examples.  That post is in the works!  In short, what respectful caregiving means to me is viewing children as whole people from birth.   While this includes many things, a few of them are: including them in age-appropriate decisions and day-to-day happenings, explaining everything that is going to happen to them, treating them the way you would want to be treated, and accepting and empathizing with their feelings.

One way to put respectful caregiving into action is to provide your toddler with a visual schedule of their day.  Knowing what is happening “next” helps young children make smoother transitions through the day and gives them a sense of control over their lives.  Stella thrives when she knows our plan for the day.  This is especially true if we are going to be doing something out of our normal routine, but even on the days we are staying home, she does best when we talk about what we’re going to do.  For all of these reasons, I decided to create a visual daily schedule for her.

I totally obsessed over how I wanted to do this for waaay too long instead of just getting it done so we could start using it!  I’m pretty detail-oriented (obsessed?) about certain things and that can be a blessing at times and a major pain at others!

Anyway, I used Pages to create an 11×17 document for the layout of the day.  I had it printed in Holton at Marketing Concepts — it is great quality and the price was very, very reasonable!

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I used Google Image Search to find clipart, created the activity/routine cards in Pages, and  printed all of the the cards on photo paper.  I laminated everything, cut out the activity cards, and applied Velcro dots.  I laminated an extra 11×17 sheet of paper to store and display the activity cards that aren’t in use. I will probably have to use the back of it, too, because there are at least twice this many cards!

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Here’s the finished product:

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I forgot to print a “Breakfast” card!  Grrr!  Of all the cards I made, I forgot the one that starts our day!  Part of me wanted to use an entire sheet of photo paper and a laminator sheet for ONE card (there’s that obsessiveness!).  Don’t worry, I talked myself out of being so wasteful and decided to just wait until I have something else to print and laminate 🙂 Until then, it WILL drive me nuts!

I anticipate Stella loving this!

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Baby Doll Birthday Party

Stella’s great-grandma, Connie, made her a mini chocolate cake today, just because she’s sweet like that. I decided to add to the fun and turn the mini cake into a birthday cake for her baby doll, complete with a candle and the “Happy Birthday” song. Stella thought it was quite fun 😉

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Parenting with Empathy and Respect — it works

I know that gentleness and respect “work.”  It’s the foundation upon which I ran my infant/toddler classroom and the way I now interact with my own one year old daughter. Sometimes though, in the midst of a difficult situation, I overlook the obvious.  It’s nice to be reminded through interactions, like this one, of the power of empathy and respect:

Stella had a fever before bed last night (teething), so I gave her some Tylenol.  She has been HATING taking it.  I had to give it twice the day before (which is a lot for a mom who RARELY gives meds!) and she cried and got very worked up both times.  I had to put the syringe in her mouth with her resisting.  I kept telling her it was yummy (even though I tried it and it was disgusting) and tried to make a game out of it by pretending to drink it myself — “Mmmm!  It’s good!  Look, Mommy’s drinking it!  Here, you try!” — but it just made her more upset.

Last night, the same thing was happening, but then I realized that she could see right through the tricks (duh).  She knew that I was being fake and dishonest with her and she was probably feeling very unheard.

I stopped and said, slowly, calmly, and kindly, “Stella, I know you don’t like the way this tastes and you don’t want to drink it.  You have a fever and your teeth hurt and I have to give you medicine.  It will help you feel better.  Will you please take this medicine?”  She looked at me for a moment and then reached out for the syringe with a cringe-y look on her face (like she knew it was going to taste bad) and she put it in her mouth.  I pushed a little out and she swallowed it, made a “yucky” face, and turned away.  I said, “Thank you for taking some of your medicine!  There’s still some left.  Will you take some more, please?”  She did the same thing over and over until it was gone.   I said, “You took all of your medicine!  Thank you so much!”  She looked at me with a big smile.  I picked her up and she laid her head on my shoulder — a stark difference from the day before when the medicine-giving ended with a teary-eyed, distraught one-year old and a mommy who felt the same.

She totally didn’t want to take the medicine, hated the way it tasted, but was cooperating because I empathized with her and gently invited cooperation rather than trying to force compliance.  Wow!!!

Stella’s 1st Birthday!

Stella’s first birthday party was a great success!  She was a bit overwhelmed when everyone arrived, but soon warmed up to all of the attention and enjoyed watching everyone and playing with her cousins.  Here’s a run-down of the whole shebang!

Theme: “Sunshine, Lemonade, and Fun!” Oh, and pink.  There was lots of pink.

Treats: Homemade ice-cream (made by Nana and Papa and Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa), homemade semi-healthy chocolate cupcakes (with not-so-healthy frosting :)), and pink lemonade.

Treats

The goodies!

The cupcake tower was made from antique cake stands and the pink baking cups were Wilton brand.

The cupcake tower was made from my mom’s antique cake stands and the pink baking cups were Wilton brand.

Mason jars were used for the pink lemonade.  I adorned them with pink chevron and polkadot ribbon using glue dots.  The daisy lids and paper straws were ordered from Amazon.

Mason jars were used for the pink lemonade. I adorned them with pink chevron and polkadot ribbon using glue dots. The daisy lids and paper straws were ordered from Amazon.

Pink depression ice bucket and bowl for the lemon slices.

Pink depression ice bucket and bowl for the lemon slices.

Decorations: 

Tissue paper pom-poms.  Stella LOVED the poms.  I put them up a few days before her party while she was napping.  When she got up from her nap, she noticed them right away and started clapping, pointing, and giggling with excitement!  She couldn’t wait to get her hands on them!

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Fresh flowers.

Flowers

Antique birthday poem (that my mom gave me for my birthday last year).

Poem

Buntings made with scrapbook paper and ribbon.

"Happy Birthday" bunting

“Happy Birthday” bunting

"One" bunting.

“One” bunting.

Giant “1” on the wall made from pictures of Stella’s first year.

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Activities for the older kids: Balls, water balloons (they didn’t last long!), sidewalk chalk, and bubble station.

Balls

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Gifts: Books; dress; Royal’s t-shirt; farm puppets; a baby place-setting from Tiffany’s; and drawings by her cousins.

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Favors: Homemade almond butter granola bars.

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We took like 200 photos (thanks Cassidy)! Here are a few of my faves:

Blowing out the candle.

Blowing out the candle.

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Opening presents.

Eating her very first cupcake!  A semi-healthy one, of course :-)

Eating her very first cupcake! A semi-healthy one, of course 🙂

Loving on Nana and Papa.

Loving on Nana and Papa.

Stella will get to celebrate with more presents again tomorrow at Nana and Papa’s house and then with just Mommy and Daddy on her actual birthday (Tuesday).  What?  You know you want a week long birthday celebration, too 🙂

As the party was winding down, my brother-in-law asked me what the one word was that I would use to describe the first year.  My answer — joyful, fast, and life-changing (yeah, yeah, I know that’s three (four?) words).  With more time to think about it though, I think the one word that would best describe it all is “blessed.”  God has blessed us so much through the gift of Stella.  Even at age one, I can already see her kind soul and loving heart shining through.  Her smile makes my heart sing, she can move me to tears with her contagious laughter and sweet hugs and kisses, and her mind amazes me every day. She is simply a joyful little person and I am blessed to be her mommy.  Those smiling eyes say it all.

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Happy 1st Birthday, Stella!

Sensory Play: “Doesn’t she put that in her mouth?”

I post a lot of pictures to my Facebook page of Stella engaging in sensory play.  I try to offer some form of sensory play every day (it doesn’t always happen though) and I enjoy sharing what we do to give other parents ideas.  In almost every picture’s comment section, you’ll find someone asking a variation of, “Doesn’t she put that in her mouth?” or “How do you keep her from eating that?”  It’s a common question and a valid concern, so I decided to go ahead and blog about it.

Soapy, sudsy water and a whisk (7 months).

Soapy water and a whisk (7.5 months).

To answer the question, yes, Stella puts things in her mouth.  In fact, she puts almost anything into her mouth that she can get her little hands on!  Mouthing is a typical (and good!) baby behavior because it is one of the important ways they learn about their world.  Putting objects in her mouth helps a baby discover obvious things, like taste and texture, but also not-so-obvious things, like size and shape.

Because mouthing is an important part of babyhood, and because I believe it’s important to avoid constantly telling a baby, “no,” I don’t offer a lot of things to Stella that I’m not comfortable with her putting in her mouth.  That being said, my comfort level may be different than yours…and that’s okay!  I’m comfortable with her putting most of our sensory items into her mouth.  Some of these things include:

-Play dough (I make ours, so I know exactly what’s in it)

Dry rice

-Salt (to a certain point, anyway)

-Flour

-Paper/cardboard (until it becomes soggy and could break off in her mouth)

I haven’t always been comfortable with babies putting things in their mouths.  Even after learning about the importance of letting babies explore with their mouths, it took at least a year of working with babies every day at an early learning center for me to actually feel comfortable with it.

How did I become okay with it?

I had to be mindful of my feelings and question whether I was redirecting a child from putting something in their mouth because it was actually a safety issue or simply because I didn’t want them to (for any number of arbitrary, often unnecessary reasons).  I did this by pausing before I said, “That’s just for your hands,” and asking myself, “Why not?”  (Asking yourself, “Why not?” before reacting to something your child is doing can be a powerful tool in lots of areas, but more on that in another post.) If I couldn’t think of a really good and legitimate answer to “Why not?” then I didn’t redirect.  Instead, I just went with it.  “I bet that play dough tastes really salty.”  “How does that flour feel in your mouth?” “That rice is probably kind of hard, huh?”

Playing with dyed rice and stacking rings (7.5 months)

Playing with dyed rice and stacking rings (7 months)

Just because I allow Stella to explore things with her mouth, doesn’t mean I would let her eat a handful of salt, rice, play dough, etc.  I’ve offered sensory experiences since she was a tiny infant — I think we were playing with rice by the time she was three months old (I didn’t let her put sensory items in her mouth until after she started solid food at six months though), so she has had a lot of exposure to it.  Often, she will put something in her mouth a few times and then she’s satisfied (because I let her actually have the experience) and will just use her hands.

Rice play at 4.5 months. Feet don't have to be excluded from sensory play!

Rice play at 4.5 months. Feet don’t have to be excluded from sensory play!

Even though I feel comfortable with Stella exploring a lot of things with her mouth, there are obviously some things I can’t allow for safety reasons (mostly choking hazards) — water beads, dry beans, rocks, etc.  In cases like these, I just do lots (and lots, and lots, and lots) of modeling and redirecting when necessary — “These are just for your hands.”  “Keep them out of your mouth.”  “Look how we can…(squeeze these water beads, drop these rocks, scoop these beans, etc.).”  It takes a lot of patience.  I also don’t offer these types of sensory experiences unless I am going to be right beside her the entire time to help her keep them out of her mouth.  Not cleaning up the kitchen with her on the floor nearby.  Not visiting with a friend.   Not checking Facebook.  RIGHT BESIDE HER and actively engaged, making sure it’s not going in her mouth.

Stella exploring water beads.

Stella exploring water beads.

If you want to offer sensory experiences and want to allow your child to mouth things, but aren’t entirely comfortable with it yet, you could start out by acknowledging what they’re doing — “You’re putting the play dough in your mouth.  I bet that tastes salty.” — and then try to gently redirect — “I’m going to roll my play dough into a ball.  Oh, that’s neat!  Now I’m going to squish it!  Do you want to try!?”  This way, you’re not denying them their experience or telling them, “no,” but you’re also attempting to get them engaged in a way you’re more comfortable with.

It can take a lot of exposures to sensory play before a baby or toddler will avoid putting the objects in their mouth and actually use her hands to play with it instead, but it’s so worth it!  Remember, they can’t learn if they don’t ever have the opportunity!

So, is your jaw still dropped from reading that I let my 8-month old put play dough in her mouth?  It’s okay; I’m used to people thinking I’m a little crazy when it comes to babies 🙂 A few years ago, I would have thought the same thing!  Just give it a try — it may surprise you how quickly your baby can learn!

Adventures in Baby-led Solids

Have you heard of baby-led solids?  Basically, it means skipping purées and baby cereals and moving straight into “real” foods cut into large chunks that baby can easily grasp and gnaw on.  Putting food into the baby’s mouth for them (i.e. spoon feeding) is avoided.  The thought behind it is that a baby isn’t ready for food until she can put it into her mouth herself.  It puts Stella in charge of whether she eats or not, and how much.

Stella (6.5 months here) eating slices of avocado and acorn squash.  Other common foods we frequently offer her are large slices of pear, half of a banana, baked sweet potato fries, strips of bread, and round-sliced squash and zucchini.

Stella (6 months here) eating slices of avocado and acorn squash. Other common foods we frequently offer her are large slices of pear, half of a banana, baked sweet potato fries, strips of bread, and round-sliced squash and zucchini.

My plan had always been to make my own baby food purées and I had lots of yummy combination ideas I wanted to try out!  But, after researching baby-led solids, I changed my mind about purées and decided that doing a baby-led approach is what would be best for Stella.  Here are a few reasons why we enjoy this approach:

1. Stella is in control of what goes into her mouth.

2. I feel more comfortable with her learning to chew and maneuver food while her gag reflex is still closer to the front of her mouth.  The gag reflex is what protects us from choking and it moves further back on the tongue as a baby grows.

3. We believe that “food before one is just for fun.”  WHO, AAP, CDC, and probably other organizations that I don’t know of, recommend that baby’s primary nutrition through the first year of life is breast milk.  Right now, giving food to Stella serves only as an introduction to various flavors, smells, and textures of food….not nutrition.  By letting her feed herself, I can be sure I’m not making her eat too much of the “fun” stuff (not a lot of the food actually makes it into her mouth!) and that her main source of nutrition is still breast milk.  I can also feel confident that she is gaining experience with and understanding of real food.

4.  It’s fun!  We love watching Stella figure out new foods that we introduce to her and she always gets excited about eating.  It has also been exciting to watch her progress.  She started out by mostly squishing, poking at, and smearing the food around her tray, but as she has gained more experience and watched us eat, she now actually puts the food in her mouth intentionally.

5.  It’s less work.  I would be lying if I told you this wasn’t a motivator for us to do baby-led solids!  We eat lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats, so we almost always have something with our meal that Stella can have, too.  I don’t have to prepare something different for her than what I’m already preparing for us.

When we don't have something with our meal that Stella can have, we always have bananas to fall back on!  Bananas are a super easy item to take for her if we're going to be out during a meal time.

When we don’t have something with our meal that Stella can have, we always have bananas to fall back on! Bananas are a super easy item to take for her if we’re going to be out during a meal time, also.

So, are there any drawbacks?  Well, let’s face it…handing your baby half of a banana, a couple of slices of avocado, or a pear doesn’t always end without a mess.  Actually, it never does 🙂  Baby-led solids is MESSY and, understandably, that can be enough reason for some parents to choose a different approach.  I don’t mind the mess, because I believe that exploring the textures of food (i.e. getting messy!) is an important part of the process of learning about food.  But, if the idea of wiping banana out of your baby’s hair and ears and armpits (and, and, and…), then, baby-led solids probably isn’t for you.  It’s not always that messy, but it definitely can be.

See?  Messy.

See? Messy. The bibs we use have a pocket at the bottom to catch dropped food. It helps a lot!

What about choking!?  This is the most common question people ask me when I tell them about baby-led solids.  I worry about it, too (then again, I worry about everything), but I worry less about it now than I did in the beginning.  It’s important to understand that gagging is different from choking.  Gagging is good.  Choking is bad.  Like I mentioned earlier, gagging is what protects us from choking on our food, so if a baby is gagging, it means she is working through it.  If a baby is choking, she will not be able to make noise and may start to turn blue.  Stella has gagged on her food several times (and, yes, I was scared and started to take action before realizing she was working through it on her own), but she has never actually choked on anything.

This article about baby-led solids has really great information about why introducing food in this manner isn’t a cause for increased concern of choking (see the section labeled “Won’t he choke?”).  I would recommend reading the entire article if you’re considering trying the approach. You should also discuss it with your baby’s doctor.

Stella (8 months) having fun during her first experience with whole-wheat spaghetti noodles!  (Poor picture quality from my phone...)

Stella (8 months) having fun during her first experience with whole-wheat spaghetti noodles! (Poor picture quality from my phone…)

I don’t follow baby-led solids as whole-heartedly as some parents do.  For example, once in a while, I will give Stella bites of food off of my spoon or give her a piece of food with my fingers, but I always let her come to the food rather than putting the food into her mouth myself. For the most part, we let her feed herself.

This is not an “all or nothing” approach.  You can adapt it to work for your family.  If the idea of a mess makes you squirm or you’re concerned about choking but are still interested in baby-led solids, then I would recommend just starting out with something that’s within your comfort zone.  If choking is your worry, then an overripe banana is a good option.  If the potential mess is holding you back, then try baked sweet potato fries.

We don't follow the approach religiously.  Stella eats from my spoon sometimes.

We don’t follow the approach religiously. Stella eats from my spoon sometimes.

Understandably, not all parents are comfortable with a baby-led approach to solids.  What do you think about it?  Is it something you would try?

Sound Boxes — a do-it-yourself toy for baby!

I saw this cute little idea over at Carrots Are Orange and just had to get in on the fun!  I bought some small boxes at Hobby Lobby for $0.99 each and filled them each with various things I already had around the house and then used my hot glue gun to seal them.  I used pasta shells, rice, pennies, cornmeal (I wanted one with a “soft” sound), and peppercorn, but you could use anything.

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I still need to drool-proof them with some clear packing tape, but I would like to paint them each a different color or mod-podge some pictures of family members on them before I do that.

Sound boxes are a great sensory toy because your child can explore the different sounds that each box makes….bonus points if you talk to them about the different sounds, too!  Sound boxes also teach cause and effect — baby learns, “when I shake this, it makes noise!”

This was probably the easiest “DIY” project I’ve ever done.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!