Sunday, December 27, 2009

Topics for 2010

Thank-you for your kind comments this past year concerning our little column about the early years of parenting young children. I am always honored and humbled by hearing what you think and grateful for the ideas you offer. One would think we would run out of things to talk about after five years, but that is not the case. In today’s column I would like to preview the topics suggested by readers for 2010.

One area of concern that has surfaced is the dwindling amount of active playtime, especially outdoor play. Along the same lines is a suggestion to talk about the importance of sharing the natural world with our young children.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. I will share various things I have learned about caring for the teeth of young children. We will end February with a visit on Friday, February 26 by Dr. Stephen Reisner on WLDY’s talkline where you may ask Dr. Reisner your questions.

Another area of interest that has been brought to my attention is the topic of challenging behavior. I am asked at conferences to present on this topic, so I would like to share this information in the column. In the same vein, a very old but always enlightening piece of writing on this topic is the ‘Seven Principles of Discipline’. We will review those seven principles in 2010.

The discussion of sleep routines, sleep problems, and night terrors will provide us with interesting food for thought. Eating, eating problems, and mealtime routines are another topic readers have suggested. Breast-feeding and the host of questions surrounding the mother’s nutrition are important topics for 2010.

When I asked for ideas for the column, I received an email from my very first childhood friend. She wrote, "Ponies define who I am." Her email did not exactly suggest a topic but gave me the idea to write a column about pets and other animals in our world.

I have had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Harry Ireton, a developmental psychologist from the Minneapolis area. He responded to my request for topics with a document on "Parents’ Development." I will try my best to do justice to this well written and valuable resource in 2010.

Did I cover the topics you are most interested in? If not, please email ( or call (532-3209) with your suggestions for our next year of Bringing Up Baby. Thank-you and have a great New Year!

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What makes a great gift?

Merry Christmas! As you read today's column, you probably have finished most of your preparations for your celebration. The gifts are wrapped and under the tree, (or hidden away for that special Christmas moment in your family's tradition).

When the little ones in your family open gifts take some time to observe what grabs their immediate attention. After the Christmas season is over, observe what toys and activities have long lasting play and learn value. These observations will help you the next time you shop for a child's gift.

Today, I would like to share my thoughts about gifts that have long lasting value. Some presents are appealing to young children because they have seen advertisements on television. We all know how seductive television advertising is for children and adults. However, when the shiny, colorful package has been ripped off and added to the landfill, what remains behind is sometimes a toy with limited creative or educational value. These kinds of gifts will soon join their packaging material in the trash or live in the back of a closet until the young child grows up and moves out of their room.

The toys that will stick around and are always out on the living room floor are the ones that help children imagine and create their own play. They are the books that are read and read again until they are outgrown and stored to be handed down as precious treasures to the next generation. They are the blocks that can be stacked and lined up to create bridges and buildings and forts. They are the puzzles that challenge children to solve the picture faster and faster. They are the one doll or one teddy bear whose hair gets pulled off and whose ear has been lovingly chewed.

What gift is your child playing with over and over again in the months following Christmas? Knowing the answer and understanding how children grow and learn will help you make a good choice the next time.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Last week we began a conversation about the use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and how a mother’s use of these drugs during pregnancy will affect her child. Today we will focus on the disease called fetal alcohol syndrome.

There are many things that are known about fetal alcohol syndrome. Babies born to mothers who use alcohol during pregnancy have a lower birth weight and a smaller head circumference. These babies show a significant difference in the size of the brain compared to babies whose mothers did not drink. Fetal alcohol syndrome babies have brains that are much smaller. Brain imaging studies such as the MRI also show abnormal brain development especially in regions of the brain responsible for judgement.

These babies did not grow well before birth and they show slow growth and poor coordination after birth. Many children with fetal alcohol syndrome will have abnormal heart structures that affect the health of the child. A pediatrician or other trained professional will notice variations in the structure of the child’s head, eyes, nose, and mouth. These babies even look different from their peers.

As they grow, behavior problems begin to arise. These children are usually retarded and have attention deficit disorders. How severe the retardation is and how serious the behavior becomes is a function of both how much alcohol the mother drank and when in her pregnancy she was drinking. The outcome for any fetal alcohol syndrome child is not good and the ultimate effect of the syndrome is unknown.

If you are pregnant and drinking, I cannot tell you for sure how severely retarded your child will be, but I can tell you that your child will experience the life long effects of retardation and challenges in behavior. Fetal Alcoholism is a disease. It is a preventable disease.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Effects of drugs and alcohol on the fetus

On WLDY’s radio program I introduced the topic that will occupy us in the next few weeks of the column. It is about the use of drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and how the maternal use of these affects children in all stages of their growth.

Let’s start prior to conception. Teenagers who drink and experiment even a little with drugs will have changes in their developing brain. The area of the brain related to judgement is greatly affected. This translates into risk taking behavior, conflict with parents, poor judgement when driving, and aggressive relationships with peers leading to sexual assault. The same outcomes from drinking and drug experimentation are true for older teens and adults.

The fertility of males is negatively affected and the genetic code transmitted by sperm has an increased rate of mutation. A child conceived by this sperm would suffer the effects of this genetic mutation. These measurable effects are an increase in the number of children with birth defects, children with hyperactivity and attention deficit, and children who grow up to be drug and alcohol users themselves. Men, you make a big difference. The difference you make is your choice.

The maternal effects of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use are even more observable in children. A pregnant female who smokes has a smaller, less healthy newborn. Newborns who are small and unhealthy grow into children who are sick and less bright than their healthy counterparts. This is not just about avoiding the common cold or the occasional stomach upset. This is about the beginning of a series of illnesses that are lifelong and goes with the affected person to the grave.

The use of addictive drugs such as crack and prescription drugs have an observable effect even before birth. The fetus is addicted and experiences withdrawal just as the mother does. At birth the harsh withdrawal from the addition is evident in the seizures and inability to take in nourishment. Addicted babies die or are saved to live of mental deficiencies.

Next week I’ll share what I know about fetal alcohol syndrome.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Development from 4 to 5

This is our last look at The Developmental Map of the First Five Years by Dr. Harry Ireton. Those of us interested in early childhood development owe a great deal to his work. e has provided in this simple tool a way to look at the development of a child and gauge where they are functioning. The map helps us begin to look for discrepancies in the rate of growth in each developmental area. As the words of Mr. Rogers suggest, “Everything grows together, because we’re all one piece”. If you believe this is not the case with your child’s development, it is wise to seek the advice of your child’s pediatrician, our Rusk County Birth to Three Program, or the early childhood team in your school system. They can help pinpoint where on the map your child’s development may have gone astray. More importantly they can help you understand your role in helping your child reach his full potential.

So here we are with our child age four to five years old. She will enter kindergarten in the next year and you will move to a different place in how you parent and she will move to a different place in how much guidance she needs from you.

Right now her social skills are at the level where she follows simple rules in board games or card games and where she can show leadership among children. The self-help markers from age four to five include self-toileting, usually looking both ways before crossing the street, and buttoning one or more buttons. Gross motor skills include propelling herself on a swing by pumping, skipping or making running broad jumps, and being able to hop repeatedly on one foot without support. She can print most of her first name, draw a person that has a head, eyes, nose, mouth and maybe even arms and legs, and she draws many other recognizable pictures. Language development is taking a new leap as she can read a few letters of the alphabet and maybe some words. She can tell you what she knows about things, “What is a cat?” She can follow a series of three simple instructions.

She is just five years old, five years of growth and development. This development of your child did not occur in a vacuum. It occurred within the love and support you gave her. Knowledge about child development is a great tool. It is what you do with this knowledge as you live your life and raise your children that makes the difference.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Development from Age 3 to 4

If you take a look at the markers of development for the three to four year old on Dr. Ireton’s map, you will see our boy being able to accomplish a great number of tasks we consider pre-academic. In social skills, he gives directions to other children and plays cooperatively with minimal conflict. He is also protective toward younger children.

Hurrah! We no longer need to tote a diaper bag because he is potty trained. Other skills in self-help development include washing his face without help and dressing and undressing without help except for tying shoelaces.

His coordination is superb, a testimony to everything working together. The gross motor markers include riding around on a tricycle using the pedals and steering. I have watched many a three to four-year-old careen around corners on two wheels of a trike and not tip over. His balance is great. He can even balance well enough to hop on one foot.

The three to four year old is intrigued with scissors, drawing materials, and paper. He can cut across a piece of paper (often with his jaw chomping up and down in rhythm to his hand manipulating the scissors!) He is beginning to draw a recognizable object, such as a circle or a face in the circle.

He is also quite a conversationalist, having mastered the connecting words of conversation such as ‘and’, ‘or’, and ‘but’. Other markers in language development point to his academic prowess. He identifies four colors correctly, counts five or more objects when asked, “How many?” and he understands concepts of size, number, and shape.

With all these new skills, your three to four year old can really enjoy and learn from the experiences you give him.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Development from 2-3

From age two to age three pretend play becomes the dominating theme in social development. Our little girl imitates us and wants to help with simple household tasks. She imitates the play of children around her and wants to play alongside other children with dolls or cars or building blocks. She loves to take a role in pretend play (the mommy, the teacher, or the driver of the car). Interestingly, from a Mr. Rogers perspective on how everything grows together, all the other markers on our developmental map in self help, gross motor, fine motor, and language skills are based upon the imitation of the behavior of others.

The markers in self-help skills from age two to three include opening a door by turning a knob, washing and drying hands, and dressing herself with help. Consider a two to three year old in an Amazon jungle society without doorknobs, clothing as we know, or sinks, soap, and towels. The two to three year old in this society would still have the drive to imitate adult behavior, but the markers to her development would be different. They may be pulling aside palm fronds to enter a living space, using a stream to wash, and putting on a beaded necklace. In other words this little girl, developing at the same pace as a western culture child, would have different makers to self-help development based upon the behavior she sees everyday in her world.

Gross motor developmental markers in this age range include climbing on playground equipment, standing on one foot without support, and walking up and down stairs with one foot per step. All of these markers require the development of strength and balance but also the drive to imitate the climbing and moving as she observes others in her world. We can imagine our rain forest child imitating the movement patterns of adults and children in her society, climbing on trees and rocks as they go about life.

Dr. Harry Ireton indicates the markers in fine motor development in our western culture include scribbling, drawing a vertical line, and making cuts with scissors. Our little girl has watched our behavior for two years as we write letters or cut coupons. No wonder that with her ability to manipulate small objects she is now driven to write and cut as we do. Our jungle child might be collecting feathers and stones to use in her art work or making grinding motions with smooth stones as she watches her mother prepare food.

Language development takes off at an unbelievable pace from now on. Our little girl talks in two to three word sentences most of the time and understands at least four prepositions such as in, on, under, and beside. She probably says NO a lot, continuing her drive toward independence. If her hearing hasn’t been hampered by the effects of secondhand smoke or other physical limitations to hearing and sound production, she has heard our words clearly and we now hear her words clearly also as the mechanics of producing sound develop. I cannot guess what our child of the rain forest is saying, but if I could hear and understand how her parents speak, I could guess at what her language would be. Whatever her language might be, she would be driven by the need to imitate those around her whom she loves and looks up to.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Development from one to two years

In the past three weeks we have looked at key markers of development from birth through age one. Our baby has achieved great things: the beginning of independent walking, the beginning of language, and the beginning of being able to take care of himself. Last week I suggested to you that your little man understands a lot of what you say, especially the phrase, “No, no.” This week we will look at how that understanding of ‘no, no’ plays itself out in the development from age one to age two.

First we will look at the markers in social-emotional development. After age one, your toddler wants to have a stuffed animal or doll in bed with him. He gives kisses or hugs and will greet people with a little wave or ‘hi’. Soon he will show sympathy to other children who he sees as hurt or sad by trying to comfort them as he has been comforted. These behaviors do not appear out of the blue. They appear because we have given him a cuddly toy when we put him to bed; we give our little guy lots of hugs and kisses; we look for him when we come into a room and say ‘hi’; and we comfort our baby when he has been hurt. He has had direct experience and he has learned from us. Of course, he also has had direct experience with the meaning of “NO” so it is natural for him to use the phrase when we interfere with his ideas. However, our mostly compliant little guy will usually stop what he is doing when we correct his behavior.

In self-help skills, most of the markers of his developmental progress are in eating. He begins to manage a cup, use a spoon and later a fork, and before age 2 he can eat with a spoon spilling only a little. “No, no” behavior is evident in self-help skills also. He insists on doing things by himself such as feeding and taking off a coat or shirt. One of our tasks as a parent is to organize time and environment so that we can happily let him take the lead.

Gross motor developmental markers center on the evolution from standing to running. He needs to run everywhere at 18 months and we run too or get left behind. By age two he can walk up and down stairs alone. Not only can he do this, he will insist upon doing it by himself, because the assertion of self is a primary force that began with that first little ‘no, no’.

Fine motor developmental markers include stacking blocks, holding two toys in one hand, scribbling with a crayon, and turning pages of picture books one at a time. This is the time to join in his play rather than telling him what or how to play. If you choose to dictate his use of blocks or crayons or books, you will trigger more ‘no, no’ and ‘ME DO’. This dictating behavior on your part will increase his need to assert himself. Instead, use side by side play. Enjoy letting him take the lead in knocking your blocks down.

Refining and expanding his communication is the focus of development on the language map. At age one he is using one word, before two he uses at least 10 words. More importantly he uses language to get what he wants. His behavior tells us that he understands far more that he can say. Give him interesting things to observe and talk about. Talk about things in his world. Keep your use of ‘no, no’ to a minimum.

When we are finished with this developmental sequence to age five, we will take a week to consider what happens to baby’s development if you dictate his play rather than join in. Next week we’ll watch and be amazed at development from age two to age three.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Developmental Map, 6-12 months

The key markers in development from six months to one year that are most memorable are in the area of gross motor development. Our baby sits alone on the floor without being propped up; maneuvers himself on his hands and knees; and begins to toddle around on two feet holding onto furniture or our fingers.

The social skill markers listed in Dr. Ireton’s Developmental Map are the ones we find most endearing. In these skills the personality of our little man begins to unfold. At 7 months, he shows by crying that he is upset if we leave him alone and by eight months he begins to enjoy ‘peek-a-boo’. In a few short months he will wave ‘bye-bye’ and play ‘pat-a-cake’. The crowning achievement at the end of the first year is his ability to imitate simple social play such as hugging a dolly.

Some independence in eating can be observed in his self-help development. These markers include feeding himself a cracker and holding onto a spoon and even getting some of the food on the spoon into his mouth! The start of ‘It’s MINE!’ appears as our little man resists having things taken away from him. At 12 months, he will even help us when we dress him, by holding his arm just right and pushing through the sleeve opening.

The developmental markers in fine motor development include being able to hold two things, one in each hand at the same time. This skill appears around the 7th month. He begins to use his fingers to poke at or into objects and with his finger and thumb picks up objects for closer examination. At eleven months he will have good time dropping these objects into a container. At twelve months his fine motor skills take him on a literacy track: he turns the pages of a book.

The markers in language development begin with playing with sounds. In the first six months, the developmental milestone was baby babble. Now we hear vocal play as he changes the consonant beginning the sounds he makes. We hear sounds like ma, ba, da, ka, and ga. Very soon, maybe a month later, we hear repeated sounds like ‘ga-ga’ or ‘da-da’ and a month later he will imitate some sounds we make. He will give meaning to some of these special sounds (ma-ma and da da) as we celebrate his first birthday. However just before that point he will show us he understands our language, especially in the much-used phrases such as ‘all gone’ and ‘NO-NO’.

If you look at one developmental area next to another, you can see how everything grows together. Our young man would not be able to achieve the self help skills in eating if it were not for the development in fine motor skills, giving him the tools to hold that cookie or spoon. Conversely, without the motivating cookie, the reason to hold things in his hand would not be there. Next week we will see where the language of ‘no-no’ takes us from age one to age two.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Development in the First Six Months

In the first six months of our baby’s life she racks up a great list of accomplishments. These accomplishments can be thought of as markers to our baby’s development. Dr. Harry Ireton took these markers and organized them into a map of five developmental areas: 1)social skills, 2)self help skills, 3)gross motor skills, 4)fine motor skills, and 5)language development. We will look at this Developmental Map from Dr. Harry Ireton and to see how growth in each areas is intertwined with the growth in other areas and how this all works together as baby’s physical self grows. As Mr. Rogers would say, “everything grows together because we’re all one piece.”

Let’s begin with social skills. At birth, our baby can see very close up. Have you ever noticed the way we hold our newborn when we interact? We bring our face close to our baby’s face. Babies appear to recognize the importance of faces and research has shown that babies spend more time looking at simple face drawings than any other drawing. This internal brain wiring helps our baby develop her social skills. Dr. Ireton lists the markers to development in social skill from birth to 6 months: quiets when fed, makes eye contact, will give us a social smile, recognizes mother, then recognizes other familiar adults, interested in her image in a mirror, reacts differently to strangers, and finally reaches for a familiar person.

Self help skills follow a similar path. We all know that newborns sleep a lot; more interesting is how alert they are when awake. They are taking it all in and showing us by their movements and behaviors how they are learning to take care of their own needs. The developmental map lists this alertness and interest in sights and sounds as the first marker in the development of self help skills. Following this we see our baby react to the sight of the bottle or breast. She doesn’t yet have the motor skill development to be able to reach and hold her bottle, that skill will show up in fine motor development a little later. Next in the growth sequence we see an increase in activity when we show her a toy. Just think what this leads to. Soon she will be able to occupy herself with interesting objects she can learn from. By four months she will be reaching for objects and by six months she will be looking for objects that disappear from her sight such as the toy falling from her high chair tray.

The first six months of gross motor skills begin with our baby wiggling, kicking, and thrusting her arms and legs in play. Remember the social smile in the 2nd month? In gross motor development our little one is actively holding her head up to look around. There’s something out there to smile about!

The progression of the markers in development of fine motor skills begins with focusing and then following a desirable object with her eyes. She will clutch at objects, hold them briefly in one hand, and by 6 months, she will transfer an object from one hand to the other. A lot of those objects will go into her mouth!

In the area of language development, our little one goes from undifferentiated cries to crying when she is hungry. Around 2 months she will be making cooing sounds, laughing aloud, or squealing in delight. By six months she will be very interested when mommy talks to her and will begin talking back in her own language—baby babble!
Development is all inter-related and our task is to engage our infant which will support the growth in all areas of development. Next week we will look at the markers of development that occur from 6 to 12 months.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ages & Stages of Development

We are heading into the last months of five years of this column. I reviewed the topics we have covered--covered in many ways more than once! I would love to learn what readers would like to hear more about. Please call or email to offer your suggestions. Now as I look back I decided to bring back a topic that was important to me in my career--ages and stages in development.

There was a song by Mr. Rogers often used on his program, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that comes to mind. I cannot remember all the words, however it goes something like this: “Everything grows together, because we’re all one piece. Your ears grow as your fingers grow as your arms grow because we’re all one piece.”

In these next few weeks we will explore stages of development from birth through age five. You may have seen these stages listed and outlined at the doctor’s office or your child’s day care or preschool. One of my favorite charts was compliled by Dr. Harry Ireton from Minnesota. I met Dr. Ireton at a conference on young children. Like Mr. Rogers he is a kind, easy to talk to gentleman whose work gave us ways of looking at the stages of child development. This helped us to screen for problems in children.

Using the Ireton’s‘Developmental Map’ we will discuss how growth in each area of development (motor, language, social, cognition) are inter-related, how ‘everything grows together’. We will add another component to the map, how our parenting is intertwined with everything growing together.

Let’s start at birth. Our newborn comes to us with many reflexes: startling, rooting, and sucking. Socially, the child will quiet and calm when it is fed, wiggle and kick when happy, stare intently at faces, and communicate need by crying. Within a few months, the crying may stop as the infant sees the mother and begins to anticipate something nice happening. This is related to improvements in vision and also to learning a pattern: first mom comes and then my tummy is full. Communication between mother and infant begins.

Next week we will look at development in the first 6 months and what parents do to support their baby’s growth.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pretending with The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Last week I shared two of Julie Reinaas's ideas for extending play using familiar songs and nursery rhymes. She had an additonial idea for us that could either fall under the topic of extending play or under the topic of helping children transition from playtime to nap or bed time.

Julie uses one of Eric Carle's beloved stories, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The story gives children the opportunity to learn many different things. On one level, children can learn about the concept of metamorphisis. The book follows the development of a butterfly from a tiny egg, to the caterpillar stage, to the cocoon stage, to a beautiful butterfly. On another level, they can learn one to one correspondence and begin counting with Carle's vividly colored fruits and foods. Carle covers the topic of eating healthy by letting children know that after the caterpillar ate chocolate cake, candy, and other sweets he had a tummy ache.

Using a caterpillar puppet that can be purchased with the book, all the foods in the story (plus anything one could imagine!) can be fed to the caterpillar puppet. After eating, the puppet can 'go to sleep' and by turning th puppet inside out a beautiful butterfly will emerge. Without the puppet, the child can pretend to eat pretend foods and then go to sleep under the covers and emerge as a beautiful butterfly. At this level of storytelling, we can touch upon a concept that all young children understand: growing up. Julie says it has been a great way to finish bedtime stories and to go to sleep happy.

The book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is available at both the Bruce and Ladysmith libraries. You will be able to find other Carle stories at your library, such as “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth and Little Cloud.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Extending Play

I had a great time last Friday morning on WLDY’s talk line program. We were talking about following a child’s lead in play. Julie Reinaas called in to share a few of her strategies for providing a structure and then following a child’s lead in a few favorite nursery rhymes.

She told us about doing the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme with a little boy. After he heard the story and pretended to jump down from a wall, he asked her for band-aides. He taped himself up with them and then pretended to sleep. When he ‘woke up’ he pretended to be all back together and ready to play Humpty Dumpty again.

This is a fantastic example of how to encourage children to extend their play. This little boy extended the play by using language to ask for bandaides. Next, he taped himself up, fixing Humpty Dumpty. Lastly, he extended the play by pretending to sleep and then woke up as though Humpty Dumpty was all back together again. He stayed focused for a very long time and because he was in charge of the play, he was excited to keep playing. Extending play is important because it helps children stay focused for longer and longer periods of time. The extension of play is one way that we can help children practice staying focused, an important learning tool.

Julie gave another example using the nursery rhyme, Jack Be Nimble, Jack Be Quick. In this little rhyme, children can pretend to jump over a candlestick. When you play this game with your little one, be sure to use a 'safe' candlestick, such as a pretend one you might make out of a toilet paper roll.

Can you think of other ways of extending play in songs, fingerplays, nursery rhymes, or stories? Please send your ideas to or by calling 532-3209. I will save a musical toad for you that you can pick up at Janelle Thompson's Mad Cat Studio in Ladysmith! For ideas for songs and fingerplays, visit our little website, or visit the children's section of our beautiful library.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Competent and Capable Babies

Active play teaches our baby that he is competent and capable. If we direct our baby’s play, our baby will become a passive bystander. On the other hand, if we allow our baby to organize and direct his own play (and we become the very interested audience and safety watchman!) he will learn that he is an amazingly skillful person. He will learn that he is capable of creating imaginative works of play and capable of engaging and directing us in social interactions. When you interact with your baby in this way, he will have confidence in his own skills and the ability to take on whatever life offers in the future.

Here are two sample parent-child interactions. Which parent is more like you? Which one would you like to be?

Susie is 10 months old. She has just been given a set of beautiful alphabet blocks. Susie takes a block in each hand and knocks them together. She scoots across the living room floor with a block in each hand dropping the blocks along the way. She pulls herself up to standing on the couch.

Parent A: Mom picks Susie up and places her back in the pile of beautiful blocks. “See the pretty blocks? Can you build a tall tower?” Mom builds a tall tower as Susie looks on. Susie swipes at the blocks. Mom steadies the tower. “No, no, Susie. See. Put one block on top of another.” Susie puts one block on top of mom’s tower, knocking the tower down. “Oops we have to be careful”, says mom as she gently moves Susie aside and starts to build the tower again. Susie sits passively for a while and then scoots away from the block activity.

Parent B: Mom retrieves a small handful of blocks. She places them on the floor near Susie. Susie moves around the sofa and steps on a block. Mom looks surprised and Susie looks to mom before reaching down to pick up a block and hand it to her mother. “Oh thank-you!” mom says. Mom places the block further down the sofa and looks at Susie expectantly. Susie smiles back at mom and searches for another block. She stoops to retrieve it and quickly rights herself moving with the support of the sofa to mom. She hands the block to mom and mom thanks Susie, putting the block on top of the other block. The third time this happens, the block tower tumbles over. Mom laughs and Susie laughs. Susie picks up two blocks and tries to build a tower. Mom steadies the blocks. When Susie has finished the two-block tower, mom removes her hand and Susie swipes at the blocks, knocking the tower down. Susie giggles and looks at mom. “You knocked them down!” says mom as she gives Susie a hug and a tickle.

Your own little Susie will become a more self-directed learner if you can be more like parent B.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Settling Down for a Nap

The September broadcast of the WLDY Talk Line show version of Bringing Up Baby produced some great conversation with two grandmothers who called in their ideas for settling babies down for naps or bedtime. Their suggestions were very good and so I would like to use today's Ladysmith News column to share and comment on the different kinds of strategies they presented.

We need both pro-active and re-active strategies in our repetoire to meet the challenges of raising young children. Pro-active strategies are those that are consciously built into parenting. We think about them ahead of time and we decided to use them. We use pro-active strategies because they are good, they work, and we use them whether or not anything goes wrong.

Re-active strategies can be good or can be not so good. They are the strategies we turn to when everything else seems to be failing. We sometimes use them appropriately when children are sick or fussy. We sometimes use inappropriate re-active strategies when we are overtired or sick and have lost our patience. If we rely only on re-active strategies, we may be driven to do them all the time and this will make it harder for us and our children.

Both callers provided good strategies. One was a pro-active strategy and one was a re-active strategy. See if you can understand which was which and how and when you would consider using them. The first caller's strategy was to take a fussy baby for a car ride around the block a few times and play the radio to lull the baby to sleep. The second caller's strategy was to develop a naptime/bedtime routine that could involve a warm bath, lowering the lights, reading or singing, and most importantly to keep a daily consistancy in the routine. Which strategy is best to rely on every day? Which strategy could you use when you are at the end of your rope?

Thank-you readers and listeners for your great contributions to the column. The next WLDY talk-line edition of Bringing Up Baby will be September 25th at 8:30. I hope readers of the column will listen and call in suggestions for great parenting ideas.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Seeds of Compassion

The Seeds of Compassion was the title of a week long conference in April of 2008 in Seattle. The conference brought together researchers from all over the country to discuss what research tells us about how children learn to be compassionate human beings. We are all born with innate compassion. We are also born with a set of behaviors and skills that help us learn to trust our families and to be wary of strangers.

As we develop, our awareness of family becomes stronger. Researchers have observed this by setting up experiments with babies: babies between eight months and two year as develop such a strong attachement to their parents that they often will not go with a grandparent or babysitter without howls of protest. This is a biological phenomenon that helps protect children from being carried off by strangers.

Now that we have the technology to study the brain, we know that the continued development of compassion is learned through experience in everyday conflicts and resolution. The innate compassion, present at birth can also be unlearned if the baby watches parents treating each other harshly, without compassion. It is unlearned if the behavior stemming from the baby's developing curiousity is met with punishment rather than redirection.

Here is an example. A crawling baby scoots up to an electrical cord and pullson it. (It does look like an interesting pull toy!) The parent yells, "NO NO! I said NO!" The baby does not know what no means but learns that something interesting happens when he pulls that cord. So he pulls it again and more interesting things happen. By the time he learns to talk he will use the same phrase, "NO NO! I said NO!" when he does not like something with the same loud voice.

A more compassionate approach would be to move the baby to a safer play area and give the baby a safer object to pull. Spending time with baby with the appropriate toys teaches baby that these are the fun and interesting toys for play. (And of course, rearranging the furniture to provide a baby-safe environment will go a long way to helping parent compassionately!)

Toad House Publishing

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Seeds of Compassion

Before I wrote this column I read a few web-based articles sent to me by my friend Mary Joslin. With the magic of internet links, I found a webcast of an event in Seattle, a conversation that took place in April 2008, "Planting the Seeds of Compassion". I continue to be grateful to Mary and others who provide me with seeds of ideas that I can share with you.

The five day event asked the question, "What can parents and caregivers do that will create a child who is compassionate, emotionally connected, and loving. Child development researchers spoke about the plasticity of the developing brains and how a baby's experience actually changes the physical structure of his brain. They shared some of their research with one of the wisest, most compassionate individuals on our planet, the fourteenth Dali Lama from Tibet who responded to their questions.

One researcher spoke of his research that was trying to get to the answer of the question, 'are children born with an innate compassion.' He first talked about how newborns immitate simple facial expressions such as opening the mouth or sticking out the tongue. Then he described three year old children observing a stranger/researcher who was pounding nails in a wall. After the third or fourth nail, the researcher 'accidently' hit his finger with the hammer, and showed by his voice and facial expressions that this hurt greatly. The three-year olds in the study became concerned, to the point of a child walking over to the researcher and offering his own special teddy bear as a comfort. Compassion.

Another researcher spoke of 3 year old who had been expelled from his preschool because of violent behavior: throwing a chair when he became angry and stating, "Don't touch me," and "I'll kill you." The researcher met with the parents and learned that an upsetting event had occurred at home a few days before. The father had lost his job and in his fear became angry with the mother, throwing a telephone at her. In her fear, the mother responded with "Don't touch me or I'll kill you!" In the heat of the moment, neither thought to pay attention to the little boy who now was very much afraid. When the little boy had an upset in preschool, he used the tools he had learned at home to cope with his own fear and anger.

This story had a positive end. When the parents understood how their behavior had put fear into their child the father opened his arms and his child came into his father's arms for a hug. The parents took responsibility for their actions and apologized for making him afraid. Through this act of apology, they rebuilt the bridge of compassion and love with their child.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Everything Man

The Hawkins Library along with all libraries in the country put on a summer program for children called Be Creative @ Your Library. Arlene Mabie, children's librarian invited Mr. Bufo-Bufo and me to do a 'toad event' for the children. After the event I talked to many of the adults and teens who are writing stories. One woman I talked to was Brenda Petkovsek. Brenda was at the library with the children from her day care, the Dis-n-Dat Day Care in Hawkins. Brenda told me about stories she had been writing for the children in her day care revolving around a real life person named Carl Hartman.

The stories started because Brenda believes in providing a social environment for the children where they learn good manners, help each other, and speak appropriately. One day, a little boy was looking out the window and called out, "The garbage man is here!" Brenda wanted the children to know that this man had a name and that he did many things for the community besides picking up the garbage. With a song and a story later, Karl the Everything Man was born. Through Brenda's story, the children learn that Carl, the village maintenance man is more than just a 'Garbage Man".

I returned to the library for the culminating event of the summer. Karl the Everything Man was read to the children. After each description of what Karl did, hang Christmas lights, plow snow, etc., the children would chant a repeating line from the book, "What else does Karl do?" Following the reading of the story, the real Carl Hartman came forward to share something else that he does. Carl Hartman has taught himself to play the bagpipes. He demonstrated several bagpipes and demonstrated how one can get started playing the bagpipe. As he finished, Arlene handed out kazoos to all the children and we were treated to a kazoo and bagpipe parade down main street.

This little parade was a combination of the Pied Piper of Hamlin and the Music Man. It was wonderful! If you might be interested in learning the bagpipes, you can attend the Labor Day Parade in Hawkins and if you are not late, you will see the leader of the parade, the real Carl Hartman playing the bagpipes and leading the parade, the real everything man from Brenda Petkovsek's story, the music man from Hawkins. If you spend some time talking to him after the parade, you might find yourself learning to play the bagpipes!

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Celebrating 20 Years

This week we will celebrate 20 years of continuous operation of Building Blocks Child Care in our community.

Building Blocks Child Care is a family child care center licensed by the state of WI in business since 1989. At that Lisa Bucher was a little girl in elementary school and her mother, Sheila Rudack did child care in her home. Soon Building Blocks outgrew the house and expanded by converting the attached garage into an insulated and fully equipped day care. In 1997 Lisa bought the business from her mother who continued to help, filling in for Lisa when needed. After the tornado, Clint and Lisa Bucher bought a home on Lake Avenue and created a child care center similar to the previous building by finishing the walk-out basement, designing it to be a self-contained child care center with a great fenced in backyard complete with a beautiful view of the river.

Lisa participates in the WI State Food Program. She cooks each meal in her daycare with as little processed food as possible to ensure better nutrition for the children. Besides a healthy menu, Building Blocks offers a small group size, daily art activities, daily learning experiences with children of all ages, and age appropriate toys. It is licensed to care for children 6 weeks-10 years old. Lisa has 12 years of experience and education in the child care field.

When you visit Building Blocks you can see that Lisa focuses on nurturing and developing each child. She reads books to the children every day and creates stimulating activities such as art projects, singing, and group participation games. As well as doing different activities, Lisa emphasizes a structured time frame for each day to keep her children on schedule and to avoid upsets of “tiredness & crabbiness” that happens when children do not know what to expect. Lisa has 12 years of experience and education in the child care field and it shows in the activities, learning experiences, and age appropriate toys that she provides.

At Building Blocks Child Care Center, Lisa understands that some of the most critical and developmental years of a person’s life are spent before the age of 5 and Lisa structures the children's day so that they have a stimulating atmosphere that promotes learning and that is, above everything else, FUN. Congratulations to Building Blocks on 20 years of helping families with bringing up babies!

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Most Amazing Broccoli Experiment

Last week I told you I would share the story, The Most Amazing Broccoli Experiment. It is about the change that occurs before a child’s second birthday in his or her ability to take someone else’s perspective. If you have a child who is a little over a year old you can enjoy seeing this change take place within the next year. Our experiment goes something like this:

Baby is seated in the highchair at the table. You have two bowls on the table. One bowl contains something you know baby loves like Cheerios or animal crackers. The other bowl contains small pieces of raw broccoli. Push the bowls toward your baby and ask, “Want some?” (They never take the broccoli!) After baby takes a piece of his favorite fingerfood, you choose a piece of broccoli and say whatever you might say when you like something, such as “mmm, yummy” as you eat the broccoli. Next try a piece from the other bowl, the one baby liked. This time, make a face as if it is awful and say what you might say when you don’t like something such as “oh yucky”.

Now push the bowls toward your baby, hold out your hand and ask baby to give you some. A baby who is younger than about 18 months will give you the animal cracker because he likes them even though he saw that you didn’t. A baby who is older than 18 months will give you the broccoli because not only could he see that you preferred the broccoli but because he could begin to understand that your perspective is different than his own.

This developmental milestone has many implications for how baby’s learning will now develop. He will still be egocentric and will demand things to go his way, but he will be able to enjoy story books about other characters. You will sometimes be successful in getting him to share a toy with his baby sister when you are there to watch over and encourage him. And on the down side, he will be a little bit sneaky about doing things he would like to do if he perceives it is something that you would not like (such as the other amazing experiment in which plastic cups are flushed down the toilet to see them disappear)! He can understand that his thoughts are different from yours.

You can find this information and other amazing stories in the book, Growing a Reader from Birth by Diane McGuinness. It is at our library. If you have toddler over 18 months old, keep your eyes open and your house childproofed!

Toad House Publishing

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Monday, July 27, 2009


Broccoli! I have harvested and frozen the last large heads of what I planted this year. I like using the thawed florets in salads or warmed with a little butter and salt. While I finished my task I thought about a little boy at a potluck dinner this summer. Jack and Jackie Pederson's son Eric had come from Alaska with his wife and two children to visit. The older child is a little boy about 2 1/2 years old. As he ate he talked about many things that were about to happen after lunch. He began to negotiate with his mother concerning the finishing of his lunch.

The negotiation apparently went well on both sides. As I watched, the rest of his bratwurst was removed from his plate and three pieces of broccoli remained. He continued to sit and finish the broccoli. Quite impressive!

There are at least two lessons we can learn or surmise from this story. The first is about giving children the responsibility of making decisions for themselves. The little boy's mother could have 'put her foot down' on the topic of finishing everything on his plate; after all there was only a bite or two of bratwurst left. In this scenario, she would have had all the power and the child would have had none. I have seen this story play out many times. Eventually, the parent loses out. The child will probably make a scene over the decision and everyone will go away stressed and unhappy. In the long run, the child will not have learned to make good choices because he hasn't been given the opportunity to practice making choices as a young child.

The second lesson is about being consistent and following through on what you say. If this child's experience with his mother is that she would eventually give in about eating the broccoli, I don't think he would have finished it without more negotiation or worse, whining. I can surmise that in his home he more often hears his parents following through on what they say. In other words, he has had some power in making a decision, and by being consistent his parents help him follow through on his decision.

Next week, I'll tell you another story about broccoli. It is called The Most Amazing Broccoli Experiment.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

More on Lullabies

Last week's lullaby column has touched a "chord" with our readers! Thank-you, everyone, for your lovely comments. Many of you shared your favorite lullabies with me and Roberta Baye told me about her enjoyment of singing lullabies to the little ones in the baby room at Tender Learning Center.

One of the important parts of singing a lullaby to a baby is how the act of humming or singing is helpful and calming to the parent or caregiver. A crying or colicky baby in our arms creates a need to "DO SOMETHING!" However, at that very moment we may have exhausted all the possibilities we think we have. The anguish of not being able to help, to fix the problem, creates tension and anxiety in our own bodies. That tension is subtly communicated to our child. Sometimes our communication is not so subtle and we do things we are not proud of . yelling or worse.

But there is something very valuable we can do for our child and for ourselves. This something takes self-awareness, trust, and patience. Start humming a quiet song, don't start with words. Neither you nor your child has need of the words right now. It will only add confusion to an already chaotic moment.

If you can do this, you will become more aware of your own feelings and need to help your child. While you hum you can think. You will begin to think and to trust that the crying will not last forever. You will begin to trust your instinct that the very best thing you can do is what you are doing. You will need patience to do this, but in return you will become more patient, more trusting, and more aware. It is love made real by your actions not words.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, July 12, 2009


Lullabies are sung around the world by people of all cultures to 'lull' babies to sleep. The Brahms Lullaby, Rock-a-bye Baby, Bye, Bye, Baby Bunting, and Hush Little Baby come to mind for many of us in the western culture. I have been partial to the gentle sounds of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star when my own children were little.

I now have a new favorite lullaby. It has an everchanging melody and lyrics that are made up on the spot. I heard this lullaby sung by the mother of my sweet little grandson and I was privileged to listen and watch as she used her lullaby to help him get ready to sleep.

It is not easy for a two year old with seemingly boundless energy for learning and doing to relax enough to let go of the excitement of his day. The lullaby she sang gave him something to think about after she layed him down in bed. I think it gave him pleasant memories as he calmed down and drifted off into sleep.

His mother tells me it also gives her the opportunity to remember her day with her small son. It wasn't all dirty diapers and refusals to try a spoonful of food and struggles with dressing and the toys all over the house and the cries that come when a two year old doesn't get exactly what he wants when he wants it.

She softly sings a happy song of his day: the playing in the sand, the yummy lunch, the tickle game with daddy, the visit from his grandparents, aunts, and uncle. Then she sings the words of tomorrow's day: getting up with daddy, eating a good breakfast, playing with the new truck, doing the puppy puzzle.

Unlike the Brahms lullaby, this song will never be sung again with exactly the same words and melody. Tonight's lullaby will be forgotten tomorrow, but each night she sings it, it is the most beautiful song my little grandson has ever heard.

Toad House Publishing

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Natural Hand Sanitizers

Last week we spoke about health hazards for young children who may, in their curiosity, taste common household products such as lotions, mouthwash, and hand-sanitizers. These products, so common to our culture, are said to be safe "when used as directed". The risk lies in unsupervised their unsupervised use and the young child's drive to learn through their senses. Babies and toddlers taste almost anything they can put their tongues on!

Aside from keeping these products, medicines, and cleaning products out of reach of young children, (For the two to three year old climber, this means also assuring that they will not be able to get into medicine cabinets by crawling onto the bathroom sink.) there are a few more things parents and care-givers need to consider.

A child poisoned from the alcohol contained in hand sanitizer was giving a squirt of sanitizer in his hand. The well-intentioned adult assumed the child would rub the sanitizer around his hands and prevent the spread of germs. The child did not do that. Instead he brought his hand to his mouth and licked the squirt of sanitizer off of his hand. "YUK," you say, "Why would children do that?"

The question of why is not as important as knowing that it can and does happen. If you choose to use hand sanitizers, medicinal creams, or hand lotions with children, you need to be responsible for making sure the child "uses as directed". You can read the labels on products you feel you need and choose products that do not contain alcohol or other ingredients that should not be ingested.

With that in mind, I searched for all natural hand sanitizers with no alcohol, wondering if such a product could be found. Viola! I found two on the web: Zogics alcohol-free hand sanitizer and CleanWell all natural hand sanitizer. I haven't seen either of these in our stores, but if you find them, let me know!

Toad House Publishing

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Are Hand Sanitizers Safe for Young Children?

In today's column I would like to share with you another safety alert for toddlers and preschool age children. This one is specifically about hand sanitizers, but more broadly about products such as mouthwash, hand lotions, and other common products in our homes that are "safe when used as directed".

An e-mail has been circulating about the dangers of hand sanitizers. Young children who ingested small quantities of the product from a single squirt into their hand have been poisoned and hospitalized. Hand sanitizers work because they use ethyl alcohol to kill germs. Hard liquor actually contains a lower percentage of alcohol than hand sanitizer. Some of the e-mails call for the banning of hand sanitizers. However, before throwing out this baby with the bathwater, parents should consider how they use and store other common products.

It is dangerous to ingest any household products that are not intended for human consumption. We know that all babies learn by putting things in their mouths. When old enough to imitate, toddlers copy our behavior. They see us putting clear and colored liquid in our mouths, so they do the same. Any time soaps, lotions, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizers are kept where toddlers can get to them, they will. They are driven by their curiosity to learn and try everything they can. One of our many tasks is to keep the learning environment safe.

Do not lose sight of the fact that hand sanitizers are safe when used as directed. However, remember that the best way to prevent the spread of germs is by washing your hands. Many generations of children grew into healthy adults before hand sanitizer became popular. Could it be that we are relying on this product because we are not disciplined enough to wash our hands?

The decision as to whether or not to keep hand sanitizer in your home is a personal one. If you cannot keep this product out of reach of the children in your home and you are unable to supervise its use, you probably shouldn’t have it. If this is true, I would suggest there may be other substances you need to remove from your home as well.


First you get your hands wet

And you get some soap

Rub it all around

And then rinse off the soap

Turn the water off

And then you dry your hands

Put the paper towel

Right into the trash can.

Tune: Sing a Song of Sixpence

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Safety First

For many of us, summer and winter activities in our community include things like riding lawn mowers, four-wheelers, and snowmobiles. We are using them all the time and those of us who are caring for babies and toddlers may be tempted to give them rides as we go about our chores and recreational activities on these motorized adult toys. Along with others of my generation, I see the inherent danger in holding very young children with one arm, while steering, operating the brake, and operating the gas with the other.

I have been riding my father's four-wheeler lately. The steering has no power assist; it takes my two arms to maneuver tight turns. The gas is operated with my right hand and the brake with the left. I shift between forward and reverse with the clumsy use of both hands and the strength of my whole body while negotiating the shift lever with my left foot. Where would I find two more arms to hold a young child? Could I trust the balance of the child on the narrow seat between my knees as I drive? Would I?

Car manufacturers and our laws have come a long way since my own children were babies. I drove blissfully around without car seats and seat belts to protect them. But every once in while, when a deer or cat or bunny, or another car loomed in my path, my heart caught in my throat with the realization that I could have seriously mutilated or killed my own children.

I do not hear of any laws prohibiting operators of recreational vehicles, lawn tractors, or even farm tractors from holding babies and young children in arms while driving. But I when I read about the accidents that happen, I wonder.

Thank-you to Ruth Meszaros for suggesting this timely topic and to Steve Baye for the art in today's fingerplay.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Turn the TV off

Most of us are not used to reading scientific literature. The title of the research is usually a few lines long, just a little daunting. Following the names of participating researchers there are abbreviations for their titles that we may not have been exposed to. We wonder why we should continue reading!

I read the synopsis of a recently published piece of research that is definitely relevant to parenting and child care environments. With the exception of a few twists in writing style and wording, the research and conclusions were easy to understand. I would like to share the research and the conclusions with you in today's column.

A group of researchers wanted to test the idea that when the sound of the television is on, there will be less talking between a parent and a young child. To do this, 329 preschool children wore digital recorders at times for a period of two years. Computer software analyzed the sounds the children heard and the sounds the children made.

It was found that each hour with the television on was associated with significant reductions in the speech of the child and there were significantly less verbal exchanges with the parent. The researchers conclude that the results may explain why children in homes where television is on a lot have delayed language development.

(Now, that was not so hard!) I would like to thank my friend, Elizabeth Beall, PhD, from Park City, Utah who sent an email with this research summary.

Toad House Publishing

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Secret Places that Children Play

I am excited about the articles I have been reading concerning play. I hope to distill some of the key points of the articles for readers and point you in the direction of these articles.

It seems every article tries to define this illusive concept. The following definition is from an article from the Alliance for Childhood: Play is a set of behaviors that are freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated. The full article, "A Playwork Primer" will be on the Bringing Up Baby website,

The article describes how secret places that children play are vanishing from their lives. Especially in cities, contrived and rigid playgrounds are the norm and play spaces where children can use their imagination, where risk taking and safety are in balance, and where children of many ages play; are disappearing from the neighborhoods.

The author describes adult designed playgrounds as being empty of playing children but areas of weeds and trees and loose debris as being a magnet for them. Through the author's observations we learn that children choose to play where they can move objects and their imaginations to create play. In creative play places, children use cardboard and sticks and bits of grass and stone to build house for fairies and dragons. Other children using the same space will role play firemen and pilots, mothers and teachers, or cops and robbers. Children will challenge themselves physically and intellectually in play spaces like this. This play can last for hours and hours and no child who has the opportunity and space to create their own play is ever "bored".

Adults who were asked to describe their favorite summer memories of childhood do not describe the summer camps or baseball or swimming lessons. They describe those times when they crawled through the tall grass to find a sheltered and secret place where they wove complex stories of challenge, beauty, and intrigue. Is there a place and time for your child to create his own play this summer?

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Importance of Play

It is the last week of school for our little preschoolers. They have grown considerably in this one year of school with new structures and new friends in their lives. With the thought of three months of unstructured time, parents might be worried that the lack of organization will put their child at risk when September and school comes again.

Actually, just the opposite may be true. I am reading a document from an organization called the Alliance for Childhood. It is a short book, just published in March of this year. It contains research about kindergarten structures and calls for administrators to support practices in kindergarten that value and promote children's self-motivation to play.

No Child Left Behind has left play behind. It has downplayed the value of play in favor of teaching to the test of academic standards. When this happens, the child's innate ability to want to learn is severely curtailed.

What's a parent to do? In the short term, meaning this summer, try not to over structure activities for your children. Join them in play when you can, letting them take the lead in spinning richly imaginative stories. Let your children spend their summer in play. In the long term, be an active supporter of play in school next year. Let your child's teacher know that you support play in the kindergarten classroom and let administrators and the school board know about the book, Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School. I will place a link to the pdf file on the website.

Toad House Publishing

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Fine Motor

Over the past two weeks we have been following our baby’s development of fine motor skills. We have seen the reflexive action of the little hand closing on our finger and the brief holding and exploration of a toy in her mouth. We have been amused at attempts to feed herself by using her whole hand to ‘rake’ in a fistful of food. We have also observed the refinement of the raking movement, allowing her to use her thumb and forefinger in a pincer grasp.

These early milestones in fine motor skills are leading to the skills which are necessary in school and in life. Our task is to work with the interests of our preschooler and provide experiences that build this skill. Sometimes these experiences are independent play with puzzles, legos, or other toys requiring children to use fine motor skills and problem solving. Sometimes these experiences are supervised play with playdoh, paints, glue, or other craft materials. Sometimes these experiences coincide with the real work of daily living.

There are two things happening when preschoolers are involved with the real work of parents. We are giving them opportunities to practice and refine fine motor development and more importantly we are interacting thorough language. When we involve them in sorting nails from screws and bolts, planting seeds in the garden, or cutting a stick of butter into small pieces for baking we are interacting in a way that builds emotional attachment, communication, problem solving, and increases the functional eye-hand coordination.

Bringing Up Baby has an assignment for you this week. Observe your child’s level of fine motor development and create an experience which gives your child practice. Observe her little hand closing on your finger and then search for other safe objects which will expand her sensations and give practice with the skill. Observe your child’s skill at using her thumb and forefinger and then search for objects that she can enjoy picking up and putting into containers. Observe your preschooler’s safety in handling small objects and look for a functional task that you can do together.

Toad House Publishing

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Developing the Pincer Grasp

In last week’s column we left baby’s fine motor development at a stage called ‘raking’. This is where baby uses the entire hand with fingers outspread to bring desired objects into the hand and often into the mouth. Let’s talk about what happens next as the baby moves from raking to picking up an object with his thumb and index finger, using a pincer grasp.

To learn about the motor movements involved you might want to put a small object like an eraser or lump of playdoh into the palm of your hand. Without putting it back down onto the table, how do you move the lump from your palm to your thumb and index finger? Watch your thumb move from the outside of the palm closer to the index finger. You roll the object across your palm until the object is in a more manageable position.

This is what baby does. However, it takes weeks and months of practice to coordinate all the movements in order to do this. As this is happening, baby’s gross motor skills are allowing him to refine how close he gets to desired objects and eventually allow him to sit when he gets there. With these developments in place, baby will be in a position to pick up objects in a more sophisticated manner. Instead of raking, he will now pick up objects with the flat side of the thumb and index finger. It is not yet as precise as it will be, but it is more refined than using the entire hand.

Our baby is now between one and two years of age. Cheerios on the highchair tray, bits of peas or corn, and small pieces of cheese or other soft foods will give baby functional practice with this skill. While feeding himself, he also gains the knowledge that he can do things for himself. The pride of the two year old is at hand with “ME DO” and “NO” along with the development of fine motor skills.

It will take all the years from toddlerhood through kindergarten to continue refining the pincer grasp. Enjoyable explorations with coloring, painting, playdoh, and cutting grow into using pencils and scissors with accuracy. In the column next week, I will offer ideas on activities for young child which both give pleasure and fine motor practice as development proceeds.

Toad House Publishing

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Beginning Grasp

Everyone is enchanted by the grasp of a newborn infant. “Look she’s got my finger!” exclaims big sister. In quiet moments with a newborn we gently stroke the palm of the tiny hand and the little fingers curl around our own. We feel a connection and the beginning of communication with our baby.

This grasp is reflexive. The ability to do this at birth is hard wired into our nervous system. We do not need to be taught nor do we need to practice the simple act of grasping. But baby does get practice in grasping, and one day the grasping will develop the nerve pathways to the brain to develop into a purposeful use of the hand. This growth is not isolated from the development in other areas such as strengthening the upper body. All kinds of developments are going on while baby practices holding on to whatever is placed in her hand.

When she is placed on her tummy, she strengthens her head and trunk muscles. She begins to work to bring her arms forward of her body. Then, those little hands will start a raking movement. Maybe the raking movement will help scoot her forward. Maybe the raking movement will put an object in her hand.

Raking is very functional for our baby and it continues to be the predominant method for actively putting an object into the hand for quite some time. My father enjoyed telling about how he put a cookie at the edge of the table and I, being too short to see what was on the table, would find it. I would use raking motion, grasp it in my hand, and plop down to eat. Very functional!
Babies continue to use the raking movement to feed themselves when they are placed in a highchair. As parent we are so proud our babies are beginning to feed themselves. We simultaneously are amused by the messes they make as food is fisted into the mouth and we look forward longingly to the use of a spoon and fork and less mess.

It will take some time to get there. For the moment I suggest spaghetti or chocolate pudding, patience, a sense of humor, and a camera.

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print

Thank-you Mary Joslin!

Last week a number of talented musicians performed a concert for young children in our community. Children were treated to the Trumpeter's Lullaby, played by Kirk Yudes, band director at Ladysmith High School; three contrasting violin/cello duets played by Dorothy Atchley and Jonathan Stanley; piano and African Drum pieces by Ann Jerry; and folk songs by Kim Rogers. Donations from local school administrators supported the event and provides door prizes for the children who attend the concert. Everyone enjoyed the concert and the sponsor of the event, the Rusk County Children's Council, is grateful to these wonderful musicians for their donation of time and talent and to the school administrators for their financial support.

The Rusk County Children's Council is a small group of men and women who meet each year to plan two special children's events and to select a special person to be honored as the Champion of the Young Child. This year's Champion of the Young Child was announced at the concert and previously announced at the Chamber of Commerce awards banquet. Honored for his commitment to providing dental health education to young children was Dr. Stephen Reisner. Dr. Reisner visits preschools and elementary schools in our community, teaching children how to brush and floss their teeth. By visiting children in classrooms before they need dental care, his warm personality helps bridge the first visit to the unknown dental office. If you have the occasion to visit Dr. Reisner, I hope you take a moment to congratulate and thank him for his contributions to our children.

The council also sponsors the Dr. Seuss birthday party in March where parents and young children come to the lower library level to have great fun with green goop, playdoh, a fishing game, and books to make. Everyone receives a free book from the Friends of the Library and meets the Cat in the Hat for this event.

The glue that holds the council together is Exeland resident, Mary Joslin. Mary's dedication to children began years ago when she was a teacher of young children and extends through today where her vocation is to support other teachers of young children in our state. Mary is a person who understands the importance of the time parents take with their young children enjoying a simple moment such as blowing puffy dandelion seeds into the wind. Here's to you, Mary! Thanks!

Toad House Publishing

Twinkletime Rhymes to Print