Hands

Continuing with our theme “all about me,” Mon Cœur (MC) and I have read quite a few books around the hand.  I had found a really cute craft where kids painted and “stamped” one hand and then their other hand was traced in sharpie and then filled in with pastel.  I loved the trio of hand themed books that we had picked out, because even though they all talked about hands, they were all so different! Below are snapshots of each book.

Hands and Hearts by Donna Jo Napoli 

With beautiful illustrations by Amy Bates, this book tells the story about a day at the beach with a mom and daughter.  Simple prose with a corresponding illustration of sign language is on each page. 

As we read the first time, I made the signs as I read the word.  The next time we read, I encouraged MC to try the signs with me.  The following time we read, I explained that some people can’t hear or speak (or both) and so instead of talking with their voices like we do, they use their hands.

Simple signs such as “hands,” “run,” “dance,” “sun,” and “sunset” are taught with illustrations.  It’s easy enough to try on the fly as you read the book, and even simpler to demonstrate to little listeners after a little practice, or after the third time reading!

Hands to Heart by Alex Bauermeister

This was another excellent book to read over and over again, and explore in many different ways.  It has amusing animal illustrations by Flora Waycott to accompany the text.  Turns out, this book is more yoga based, and the title comes from the yoga pose where you bring your hands to your heart. 

The words in the book are simple and explain various yoga poses that are good for relaxing and boosting one’s mood – the cow, cat and downward dog among others.  I love how it shows and tells you to do the poses, yet the author isn’t preoccupied with teaching the name of the pose.

We both take the time to explore the words, the pictures, and try the poses as we read along.  MC’s favorite?  The cobra snake!

Stretch your legs long behind you like a cobra snake!  Lift and lower your chest.  Cobra is sleeping – then awake.

from Hands to Heart

My Hand by Satoshi Kitamura

It’s a quick read, with funny pictures and a little cat.  Hands can push, pull, tickle, walk, wave, point…and sometimes…when it’s bored…Mon Cœur’s favorite…pick your nose!  We’ve been laughing through this dirty little habit for the past few months (just so I don’t yell!).   At first, my initial reaction was, “No!” and then I started asking, “Do you need a tissue?”  The answer was always, “No!” So now I just hand her a tissue when I see her reaching for her nose, and say, “Tissue!”

Do you have a favorite book on the subject of hands?

The importance of choices

We are a few days into our first beach trip with Mon Cœur (MC). Her routine is slightly different – meals, naps, and bedtime are all a little later than usual. So we’ve had some meltdowns, because she’s tired or hungry, however, we’ve been able to avoid many other meltdowns by simply giving Mon Cœur (MC) a choice between things.  

Yes, I am still in charge.  No, she isn’t running the show. 

  • Do you want to go up for lunch in five or ten minutes?
  • Do you want a peanut butter sandwich or pizza?
  • Want to build a sandcastle or walk and look for seashells?
  • We need to get dressed – do you want shorts and a tee or a dress?
  • Do you want to brush your teeth first or try to potty first?
The lifeguard puts the red flag up, just as we arrive at the beach for the day. I give MC the information that we can’t go in the water right now, and give her a choice between searching for shells or building a sandcastle.

These may seem like silly questions. They add a minute or two to what I may be trying to accomplish, however in the end, she is more apt to cooperate, since she is buying in with her choice.

I’ve talked before about choices, and with my recent experience with MC- here at the beach as well as being with her at home, all the time– I thought it might be worth diving into again. 

Please note, I’m no parenting expert, I simply enjoy (seriously!) the opportunity to read, learn, and grow as a parent and human, and this is one trick I’ve found works for me. A lot.

This is a “tool” that I learned from reading Joanna Faber and Julie King’s How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen. Faber and King’s book has been such a game changer for me, and I’ve mentioned them in previous posts. (See the bottom of this post for a list.)

They offer real advice that allows children to be empowered in their learning of how the world works and navigating it, while the parent is still in charge.  It talks about acknowledging feelings while still setting firm boundaries, giving kids choices, providing information to build understanding of the world around us, encouraging cooperation and resolving conflicts.

A fellow blogger, Lizzie at The Workspace for Children often touches on similar topics and tools I’ve read in the book, providing me with additional examples of how to make them work. I enjoy following her and appreciate her words of encouragement to all parents, as well as reading about her wins and challenges as a parent.

Saying “No” to Yes-No questions

I have learned from experience that when I ask a Yes-No question and I want a “Yes,” the answer from MC is inevitably a “No.”  Therefore, I have pretty much eliminated Yes-No questions from my conversations with MC.  

Just like when we wanted her to ride the horse at an uncle’s house, I didn’t ask her, “Do you want to ride the horse?”  I asked her, “Do you want to ride the horse with Daddy or Mommy?”  I’ll tell you now, Daddy wasn’t ready for the choice or the answer, and you can read more about that experience here.

Instead of MC saying no and then me fighting her to do what I want, I have learned to ask better questions.  She is ultimately saying “yes” to my question, but with a personal choice among the options I have given her.  I remember all the times I goofed up before:

Do you want to take a bath? –No.

Do you want milk? – No.

Do you want fruit? –No.

Will you help me clean up these toys? –No.

Are you ready for breakfast? – No.

Options that are a win-win

So I don’t ask “Do you want to take a bath?” anymore.  I provide information, followed by a choice: “Tonight we need to wash your hair.  Do you want to take a bath or a shower?”  It’s a win-win for me and she gets a choice in the matter.  I give her the information “We need to wash your hair” because she is still sometimes finicky about getting her hair washed, and when she needs it washed, she prefers a shower.

At dinner she chooses between milk and water, a fruit cup or applesauce. It’s always milk and almost always a fruit cup that she requests, but it’s her choice.

I don’t ask her anymore if she’s ready for bed, I tell her, “It’s time for bed. Will you help me pick out two books to read?” Her whole bedtime routine is actually full of simple decisions – potty or teeth-brushing first; choosing which to put on first – the pants or shirt of the pjs; the books to read.

Instead of, “Will you help me clean up these toys?”  I ask, “Do you want to clean up your blocks or your dolls first?” She’s actually really good at putting things back when we’re done playing, and we have a very simple song (Il faut ranger, 1, 2, 3, 4 – We must clean up, 1, 2, 3, 4) that I will begin to sing and she continues to sing until everything is cleaned up. I caught her teaching that song to a friend that was visiting, and was just amazed at the power of a simple clean-up song.

At breakfast time, I tell her, “It’s time for breakfast! Would you prefer waffles or eggs today?” Even if she tells me “I want oatmeal,” instead of choosing between the two proposed breakfasts, she’s still planning on sitting down to eat her morning meal. I’m not proposing that we eat, offering her the opportunity to say, “No,” I’m proposing what we eat. If she requests a different breakfast, that works for me, too. I’m choosing my battles, and totally okay with her asking for something other than what I had offered. The objective, after all, is to feed her breakfast.

Other opportunities to be in charge

MC loves to pick out her clothes, but she has so many to choose from, she would take all day to decide. Or, she would find a nice long sleeve dress for an 80 degree day. So for right now, I pick out two outfits and she decides between those. Sometimes she feels super opinionated (read: bossy) and tells me what she wants (most often, “Baby shark dress!”) and that’s fine, too. I’ll grab it for her.

Sometimes she does want to wear her Snoopy sweatshirt in 90 degree weather, and I have to provide her with information, like “It is going to be super hot today, and Snoopy sweatshirts are for cold days. Why don’t we pick a tee-shirt instead?”

I have been trying to work more on independent play, so I’ll give her options among activities she can do on her own – coloring, play-doh, water pen mats, etc. I also keep those activity spots close to where I’ll be working: if I’m in the kitchen, I will provide opportunities for activities she can do at the kitchen table, if I’m in the living room, I’ll get her started in her little nook area.

Sometimes she gets more screen time than I would like, so when she proposes tv, I’ll quickly say, “How about a game? Do you want to play Sneaky Snacky Squirrel or Memory with Madeline cards?” When we do give her time on the tablet, she picks how long- 10 or 15 minutes.

Most recently, I’ve been asking, “Do you want to call (whoever) before or after nap?” or “We need to call (person). Do you want to see them or just hear them?” We’ve been trying to keep in touch with family and sometimes she suffers from FaceTime burnout because we get calls back to back which are typically long in duration. Letting her decide when and how we call helps her feel empowered, while I am still able to make sure we contact family.

Avoiding meltdowns

For the longest time at bedtime, I would rush to get her to bed, and I’d put her toothpaste on her toothbrush.  She would meltdown, “I want Mooma’s paste!”  

So I would try to remember before preparing her toothbrush and I would ask, “Do you want Mooma’s paste or your toothpaste?”  I was floored – 99% of the time, she would say, “My paste.”  I just had to give her a choice, which added five more seconds to the bedtime routine, and also eliminated the whining and meltdowns. I don’t give her this choice every night – I have to read her moods…If we are close to a meltdown, or she asked for Mooma’s paste that morning or previous evening, I will provide her the option.

A quick note: I don’t always offer all of these choices to MC – it’s really about reading her and knowing when I need her to cooperate and that she might not be in her best place (read: tired or on the verge of a meltdown), when I make sure to provide these options. Other choices, like milk or water and fruit or applesauce at dinner are options that I almost always give her.

I have found how powerful providing choices has been, both for eliciting cooperation from MC as well as for her, learning to make decisions. She certainly has an opinion, and enjoys sharing it, especially when asked.

Previous posts that touch on the “tools” from How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen:

Did something resonate with you in this post? Do you have a parenting win involving choices? I’d love to hear in the comments section!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information about affiliate links, please see my “meet Maman” about page.

A new twist to our morning routine

For this past week, Mon Cœur (MC) and I have been adjusting into a new routine, one that has given me a little more “wake up” time and a little more calm before we start our day. An added bonus, it’s playful and educational for MC and we get a chance to bond.

I have been following the Coronavirus news too closely, and worrying about how we will be affected as it continues to spread through our nation, our world, and now for us, our local communities.

Despite the onslaught of unfortunate news, I have found the silver lining. In light of these unprecedented times, where schools are closed for indefinite periods of time and people are encouraged to stay at home, bloggers have reached out to their subscribers. They have written to offer tips, hints, and activities for kids and have shared links to fellow bloggers’ sites who have equally impressive and inspiring content.

I have recently become very aware of the truly remarkable bloggers in the areas of homeschooling, literacy, and enriching toddler activities. I am in awe, and, let’s be honest, a bit intimidated by these women and their focused blogs. I’ll be sharing these marvelous finds in another post soon!

A fresh start to our mornings

Over at Days with Grey, she has some amazing ideas for “Breakfast Invitations”. The author, Beth, found a way to get her kids engaged in an activity other than TV first thing in the morning. And I was hooked.

MC typically asks for TV before I’ve had a chance to finish my coffee. And depending on my energy level and creative juices, I may give in. BUT, magic this week! Taking some of the ideas from Beth’s website and making them for our mornings, MC has enjoyed her morning activities. These activities have put the TV watching off until evening time, and have given her something fun and educational to do.

As a bonus, since we are just starting these, and she doesn’t know yet how to do the activities independently (we want that and we are working up to it!), she is snuggling in my lap at the table, we’re having our coffee together and she’s completing the activities with some modeling and help from me. Below are activities we’ve tried this week that have been successful.

Shapes, Numbers, and Clockwork

MC received a really nice wooden clock puzzle for her 2nd birthday. We would play with it occasionally, but mostly she was shaking pieces out and I was putting them back. But now, she gets that the shape and color of each puzzle piece corresponds to where it goes.

One morning, I simply took the pieces out and put them next to a sheet of paper with colored dots. I had her organize the pieces by color. Afterwards, she asked where the clock was and she worked independently (smile!) on putting it back together for about ten minutes. We counted the numbers together and talked about the basic shapes.

Numbers and Counting 1-12

Another morning, I had made a numbers mat from one to 12 (to use with the clock number pieces), and I gave MC the magnetic numbers to sort. These numbers only went up to nine, but she sorted them very well on her own, I only needed to draw attention to a couple numbers she had placed in the wrong spot.

This morning, we used the same mat, but with the clock puzzle pieces that had numbers one through 12. This activity did not go over so well. Why? Maybe because we were up about an hour and a half earlier than usual. Maybe because the numbers on the mat didn’t quite match the same number style as the clock numbers (the ones in particular). Maybe because we hadn’t yet had our coffee. We’ll try again another time.

Letters and the Alphabet

We seriously haven’t worked with letters much, other than organizing a few by their colors, but MC really has taken to this, much like the clock puzzle. The first day we did letters, I had only written A-H and we did those letters together.

Later in the week, I had finished writing the alphabet on the paper, and I matched most of the alphabet. I asked her to help fill in about ten of the remaining letters. She enjoyed matching the magnetic letters to the alphabet mat and was able to do so fairly independently.

An added bonus for all of these activities I’ve tried and those featured on Beth’s site, is that the activities can be done in any language. Youpi! (Yay!)

How I am organizing and creating my materials

I love how Beth uses butcher paper and painter’s tape for a lot of her activities. I will eventually morph into that. For now, though, I am making resources that can be slid into a plastic sleeve protector and be reused.

These little sheets take less than five minutes to make, and require materials you probably already have at home: paper, a writing utensil (I’ve been using markers), rulers (if you’re a bit of a perfectionist) and sleeve protectors (totally optional, but help make the sheets toddler proof!).

I know that for the alphabet, numbers, and colors, I can reuse those sheets with different materials to make it fresh for MC. This will also give her the repeated exposure that will help make these important concepts stick. All of these sheets are finding a home on MC’s filing cabinets. Because they stay out and visible, MC at any given time may ask me if she can work with any of these activities.

As I add to these resources, I’ll be sharing the ones that work for us. If you have suggestions, questions, or want ideas for a particular topic or theme, please let me know!

Sending good vibes, warm thoughts, and hugs to you all. Stay strong and find the silver linings!


What do you think of this new morning routine? If you have any ideas, need ideas, or have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section!

When the tablet needs a break…

Between the trip and Mon Cœur (MC) catching the flu and being sick, she’s had a lot of television and tablet screen time. Typically, we give her about 30 minutes of television in the morning and then 30 more while I’m cooking dinner. With the tablet, we’ve been using the same system as I explained before, and she chooses 15 or 20 minutes and I set a timer. She gets to play in the am and once after her nap. That adds up to…a little under two hours of screen time per day.

She was finally really feeling herself a late last week, so I explained to her, “You’ve been sick, Mommy and Daddy have let you watch a lot of tv and play on the tablet, but now that you feel well, we won’t be playing with the tablet that much.”

Two minutes later, MC comes running up to me, tugs the hem of my shirt and says, “Mommy, I don’t feel well. I play with tablet? (Big dimpled smile)” We found something else to do – what a crafty little gal she is.

That night, after she went to bed, I got crafty myself and wrote a letter and put it where the tablet usually is.

I hid the tablet and then waited. The next morning she looked for my tablet and asked me, “Where’s my tablet?” I said, “I don’t know, is there something where the tablet usually sits?” and she brought me the letter. She sat in my lap at the table as I read it to her, like I explained in a previous literacy post. She put the note back and ran off to play with something else. She didn’t ask about the tablet the rest of the day, and she only watched television while I was making dinner.

Day 5

MC still asks daily about her tablet. Today she told me it was feeling better. Aside from a quick daily question, “Where’s my tablet?” and a quick response, “It’s not feeling well,” she drops it.

I am surprised at the amazing decrease in screen time just from hiding the tablet. She doesn’t ask to watch tv much anymore, and she’s really started wielding her markers and crayons and coloring lots more. We’ve been spending more time outside and using our imagination. We’ve been observing more and talking more. I’ve been blogging less…

I feel a little deceptive in this scheme, and yet, it’s given us a break from the tablet. I plan to bring it out again soon, and show her on our new schedule when she will be able to play with it. There are some really wonderful apps that have educational songs and games, and I believe that if we can strike a balance with screen time and real-life time, then there really are benefits in using the tablet.


Have you ever needed to give your toddler a break from technology? How did you do it?

Five ways to introduce literacy to a toddler

I really wanted to name this post “Five ways I am introducing literacy to my toddler,” but that made the title too long. Although I was a teacher for eight plus years, teaching English as a Second Language and/or French and incorporating my love for literacy with students along the way, I make no claims to be an expert.

I’ve had a lot of time to work with students and try many different activities to varied degrees of success. I’ve never worked with toddlers to teach any sort of literacy skills, although I’ve read, studied, and applied many different theories regarding language and literacy development. I feel sufficiently qualified to play around with language and literacy with Mon Cœur (MC).

The five ways I am exposing MC to literacy, below, are what I’ve found works for us – it’s fun for the both of us and it’s teaching her about literacy along the way.

The Alphabet

Ah yes, the alphabet. Such an obvious choice! We love to sing the song, we read alphabet books, we take alphapup on walks…

MC’s love for the alphabet goes back to when we got her first alphabet book and were beginning potty training. We always stock books in the bathroom to keep her entertained, and so we kept the alphabet book in there.

It was her top choice for about two months before we cycled books out. We would sing the alphabet and I would point to each letter on the inside cover. Then we would read each letter, point to it and look at the corresponding animal – with Eric Carle’s colorful illustrations- on every page.

After a few weeks of reading this book, MC would burst into the alphabet song by herself. The alphapup also helped her learn the alphabet, as she would walk him he would sing the alphabet and she would chime in.

Reading

Another evident choice of activity to expose toddlers to literacy. Hello. Let’s dive a little deeper, though.

We love story time at home and the library. We probably read about ten books a day. Aside from reading books and talking about the pictures and stories found in those books, we like to read other (real-world) literature.

On occasion, MC receives a card or letter in the mail and I read those to her. Sometimes, when we have a lot of housework to do, I will make myself a list and I will make MC a to-do list, too. I read it to her and let her choose what she wants to do first. We check things off as we complete them and re-read the list as we go.

When we are out and about and I want her to heed an instruction, it is often conveniently noted on a plaque. So I will go up with MC, and pointing to each word as I read it, let her know about a certain rule for where we are.

For example, in the Paris Catacombs, I wanted to make sure she didn’t touch anything. Conveniently, there was a sign mentioning the same wish, “You are invited to not touch anything and not smoke in the ossuary.” That’s quite an invitation. So I read it to MC, and we talked about the symbols too before entering into the catacombs.

Any time I have an opportunity to read her a sign that gives her a behavioral cue, I like to read it to her. She appreciates the signs, and it’s not me telling her she can’t do something; it’s the expectation of the place where we are for all people, including me.

“Writing”

We do writing two different ways. Sometimes MC wields the pen and makes her scribbles. Then I ask for the pen and simply say, “What did you write here?” and I write exactly what she tells me.

I make an honest effort to create my to-do list for the day every morning over coffee, and MC often wants to help me. Other times I’m making Chouchou’s lunch (or dinner) and I ask her to write a note to put in his lunch box. She makes the scribbles, then tells me what she wrote and I write it verbatim.

I also like to do dictated stories with her. We like to get the stickers and a sheet of paper out. She will make a scene using the stickers and then I will ask her to tell me the story. I ask the names of each person, animal, and character, and then I ask her to tell me a story. Sometimes I have to ask her a question or two to keep the story going, and then I read it back to her. Then she chooses where to hang it so we can see it and read it later.

Letter exposure

I am in the process of making a little nook in the corner of our living room for MC – right now it’s just a couple of file cabinets and a bench…it’s a bit of a hot mess, but I have dreams for this space.

The file cabinets are perfect because they hide a bunch of my school resources and they are also the perfect spot to put magnetic letters so we can “play” with the letters of the alphabet.

We’ve played with the letters a bit, I’ll ask her what she wants me to spell, and I’ll make words like “horse” or “Bingo,” depending on her focus for the day.

We haven’t really done a lot of practice with matching letters to their name, putting the alphabet in order, etc (I haven’t made that a priority yet) so I am not really pushing that. Instead she sees the forms of letters, and we focus on color, shape or size and sort a couple of letters at a time according to one of those themes. Later, we will look at the letters, I will orient them correctly and point and say the name of the letter.

Additionally, I recently rediscovered a learning toy a friend had given us – Leapfrog’s Fridge Phonics. This is a handy little toy which teaches her the name and sound of each letter in a sing-songy, can’t get it out of your head rhythm.

It also doubles as a simple puzzle for her – she has to insert the letter piece in the correct orientation so that the toy will tell her the letter and sound of the letter.

Name games

MC has her full name down pat, thanks in part to a bedtime book we read – On the Night You Were Born, and bedtime prayers. When she first said her full name unprompted I was surprised. Then I remembered how we would repeat her name every night when reading the book. I decided to run with it.

One of the easiest ways to start with literacy awareness, learning letters and simple spelling is by using her name. It’s a word every child is invested in – their own name, so it makes it high-interest.

I have her name written on a slip of paper on the file cabinet and she uses the magnetic letters to match each letter of her name. The other day, I wrote her first name on her table, and then I cut up her name into individual letters. Then, making it into a “game” for her, I placed each letter in an Easter egg. She had to open the eggs and match the letter in the egg to the letter in her name, on the table. We’ve only been doing this for a couple of days now, but she matched letters quickly and accurately even the first time, and now she is starting to recite letters (not necessarily correct ones!) when she opens the egg and “reads” the letter card. Sometime in the near future, we’ll get the letter stamps out and let her stamp her name, matching each letter.


These five foci on literacy are helping to expose MC to the world of reading around her, in bite size chunks, without being pushy, and instead being playful. These stepping stones show MC the relationship between print and speech and are building on her alphabet knowledge, concept of what writing is and the many purposes of reading (for pleasure and for information).

All of these reading experiences are paying off, as she is exhibiting emerging reader signs. It is so rewarding to watch her and share in the experiences with her. She pretends to read our magazines (holding the magazine and flipping pages as we would), she reads simple, repetitive books from memory (Like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?), and she’s even begun to read and recognize book titles when she’s choosing books to be read to her.


If you have any questions about the tips above or want to share any ways you expose your toddler to literacy, I’d love to read in the comments section!