Friday, December 23, 2011

Looking back at 2011 and looking forward to 2012

I hope you had a lovely holiday with your little ones this year. Through the magic of video conferencing, we were able to see our grandchildren. It is, as you may guess, it is not nearly as good as being right there with them, but knowing that they are healthy, happy, and can connect with us has its own rewards.
Now, at the end of the year, I scan through my clippings from Bringing up Baby, looking at the topics I covered and whether the information was written well and conveyed the messages I value. I think about the topics I may choose to cover in 2012. 
In 2011 we covered the topic about the difference in boy thinking and girl thinking, oral health with a talkline conversation with Dr. Nilesh Thakker of the Marshfield Dental Center, math skills, literacy, a parenting talkline conversation with Dr. Harry Ireton, principles of good discipline, picking up trash, and sharing our values with our young children. These are all important topics to revisit every year, but I wonder what readers in 2012 may be interested in that I may have not talked about? I hope you call or email with your ideas on bringing up babies so we can have a great conversation in 2012.
For all of you who have new sleds or skis or snowsuits, here is a song to end our snowless December.


Oh Mr. Cloud, Cloud, Mr. Fluffy Cloud
Please snow down on me
Oh Mr. Cloud, Cloud, Mr. Fluffy Cloud
Snow is what I want to see
These little children are asking you
To send some snow, Oh Please won’t you?
Oh Mr. Cloud, Cloud, Mr. Fluffy Cloud
Please snow down on
Please snow down on
Please snow down on me!

(tune:  Oh Mr. Sun)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What is truly important

In these last few days before Christmas, let’s look at what is truly important in gift giving for young children. What do we want our young children to value? Let’s think for a moment about what they learn by watching us. If they see us buying gifts simply to assuage our guilt at not spending quality time, they learn that material things are most important; taking time to be with loved ones is not.
The richest people I know do not necessarily have a lot of money. They have the kind of wealth that comes from knowing that they are loved and have love to give. The only way this happens for young children is when we place the highest value on spending time with our children and our parents.
It is not the toy, quickly unwrapped and almost as quickly discarded that shows our children how much we love them. It is the time we spend playing with them, the guidance we give through consistent discipline, and the time we take to listen carefully to what our children have to say when they are speaking.
May you and your family have wonderful holiday times together this Christmas.


Where was Baby Jesus born?
He was born in Bethlehem.
Where did Baby Jesus Sleep?
In the manger near the sheep.
What did Baby Jesus wear?
He was wrapped in cloth with care.

Tune: Twinkle Little Star

It is nice to have sturdy figurines from a manger scene available for young children to handle.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Play Dough for Christmas

Here is another idea for an inexpensive Christmas gift for preschoolers that will be enjoyed until it has been used up—homemade play dough. There are many variations on homemade play dough. They all have either flour or cornstarch, baking soda or salt, and water. Some recipes call for oil. Alum or cream of tartar is often added to help prevent mold. Food color can be added to any of the recipes. One recipe that I have tried has kool-aide for color and smell and another uses flavored gelatin. Most of the play dough recipes I have liked best are cooked. Here is one example. It takes less than 10 minutes to make
2 cups of plain flour

1 cup of salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups of colored water

1 tablespoon oil
Place dry ingredients in a medium size pan and combine. Add the 2 cups of colored water and oil. Stir and cook slowly on medium-high until the playdough thickens. After it cools enough to handle, knead until smooth. It keeps best in your refrigerator in plastic containers or a plastic bag. I’ve kept it out of the refrigerator for a few weeks.
To find other variations that I mentioned you can look on the web,


Christmas cookies
Christmas cookies
Mom just baked
Mom just baked
A star, a bell, a tree
A star, a bell, a tree
I’ll eat all three
I’ll eat all three

tune of Frerer Jacques

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stocking Stuffers

Last week I wrote about books, blocks, and puzzles, my favorite choices as gifts for young children (as opposed to gifts that are marketed to children based upon the latest television show or movie). Sometimes larger gifts seem in order and other times we need ideas for small, low cost, stocking stuffers.
Many of us remember the smell and feel of new crayons, or the power of having our own pair of scissors, or the joy of spreading the wet pastels of watercolors over a sheet of blank paper. These are also great choices for the three to five year old child in your life. They are wonderful gifts because they allow children to enjoy the creativity and problem solving of making something.
Simple card games like Go Fish and Slap Jack are easy games for the four to six year old. They foster playing together and for most of us, they evoke fond memories. They are also gifts that do not break a budget.
Gifts for new infants are sometimes helping gifts for new parents. If you can cut and sew, you can make a cuddly baby blanket or some bibs. If you enjoy baking and cooking, you will be able to make something yummy for the new family to eat. These are lovely ways of giving something of yourself. Isn’t that what Christmas is truly about?


Smells like Christmas,
Smells like Christmas
Mmmm so good!  Mmmm so good!
I can smell the pine tree.
I can smell the cookies.
Mmmm so good!  Mmmm so good!

Peppermint and Gingerbread
Peppermint and Gingerbread

Chocolate and Cranberries
Chocolate and Cranberries

tune of Frere Jacques

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Gifts for young children

Many of us went shopping this past weekend, hunting for bargains and purchasing gifts for Christmas presents. If you have not finished picking out gifts for the little ones in your life, you may enjoy and benefit from today’s column.
Many of the toys on the market that are advertised on television are toys that will have no lasting play value. These are the toys that come from the most recent children's movie or television show. They leave little to the child's imagination. Their play value is only in re-creating scenes from the story that a child has already seen.
What toys do have lasting value? What toys give children the opportunity to use and develop their own imagination? What toys are handed down from one generation to the next?
My top choices for gifts are books, blocks, and puzzles. A gift of a book goes farther than just the story in the book. It gives time to cuddle with mom or dad; it places value on reading and learning; and it builds enjoyment of language and the written word. A gift of a set of blocks gives the child time to imagine through his own creativity, gives concrete practice with math skills, and gives children opportunities to work out social interactions. Puzzles are lovely to hold and feel the outline of shapes that fit together. They build confidence and concentration as a child completes the puzzle over and over.
These kinds of toys are handed down from one generation to the next. They are not based upon the most current movie nor the most current fad in child development. They are lovely, lasting gifts.


We’re Santa’s little elves,
Working at the North Pole,*
Santa’s little elves,
Working at the North Pole,*
Making all the Christmas Toys**
For Santa to bring to the girls and boys.***
Oh we’re Santa’s little elves,
Working at the North Pole
Busy, busy elves.

Wrapping all the gifts,*
Wrapping them up with ribbons and bows*,*
For Santa to take them when he goes.***

Loading up the sleigh,*
With cars and trucks and dolls and bears,**
The sleigh is now ready to fly in the air.***

Tune: Little White Duck

Monday, November 28, 2011

Three additional strategies for Kindness and Empathetic Children

In the past two weeks we have been talking about how to raise kind and empathetic children. We have learned that being kind ourselves and showing empathy for our child’s feelings are the only real way this can happen. However, if we have not been parented that way ourselves, it is a challenge to actively change our own behavior, consistently behaving the way we would like to. To do this, we have to turn off the automatic responses in our own behavioral repertoire and insert well thought out responses and activities in their place. 
Here are three strategies we can practice: 1) We can support our children’s natural compassionate behavior; 2) We can teach children what to do when they are angry; and 3) We can organize a “caring” project for our family.  The following are some examples of these three strategies for preschoolers.
1) Children are naturally compassionate. When we see our little one do something nice, we need to recognize the value of their behavior. “I feel so proud of you when you help your little brother by picking up the toy he dropped. You are such a kind brother.” 
2) Children can learn how to keep themselves in check when they identify their feelings. Many of us have strategies for keeping ourselves from saying something we didn’t mean to say. The first step is in identifying the feeling of anger and giving it a name. As we see or sense our young child becoming angry we can help him identify his feelings. “Tommy, tell daddy, ‘I’m angry. I want to play outside now!’” Of course, we are not going to reinforce anger by quickly taking Tommy outside. The best response is to use empathy, “I know you want to go outside right now. I’m sorry, we can’t do that, but I am very glad you could tell me. Tomorrow after breakfast we will go outside.” By doing this, we teach our children to talk about feelings such as anger without physically acting out our anger. 
3) Children enjoy participating in projects with their family. Tommy can help packing a special box to mail to grandma that includes one of his toys or drawings. He can help shovel the walkway of your elderly neighbor. He can help carry a meal to a sick or grieving family. Any time children are included in altruistic activities, they learn how good it feels to do good.


I’m thankful for mama
I’m thankful for papa
I’m thankful for family
I’m thankful for me.

I’m thankful for my grandma
I’m thankful for my puppy
I’m thankful for my nice toys
I’m thankful for me.

This lovely little song is augmented with the use of sign language for the word thankful, mama, papa, family, and me.
In the second verse use children’s choices of what they are thankful for.  Being thankful is a difficult concept for preschoolers.  Using this song many times before Thanksgiving will help give meaning to this concept.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kindness and Empathy--Three Strategies

This week we are looking at three strategies to teach kindness and empathy to the two to five year old. These strategies build very naturally upon the work we have done with our infant which was to read the emotional cues and add our words in empathizing with our infant. The three strategies for this week are 1) continue empathizing with the emotional cues our preschooler gives and adding our words to our child’s experience; 2) give our child practice in understanding and imagining the feelings of others from books or television; and 3) help our child remember similar experiences and feelings in their own lives.
1) When families move from one home to another, the stress is felt by everyone. Especially challenging is the stress felt by our toddler because of the lack of power they have over a scary situation that they cannot begin to fully comprehend. One little girl, fully potty trained stood in the midst of her once familiar living room surrounded by moving boxes. With a look of great unhappiness, she peed on the floor. What could the mother’s response be in this situation? If she is terribly stressed herself, she may not be able to empathize with her daughter’s feelings. However the very best response is to put comforting words to the child’s experience. “Oh honey, this moving business is hard for you. It must feel scary having all your nice toys packed away in these boxes. Let’s clean up and have a little cuddle and we’ll talk about how we are feeling.”
2) There are a great many wonderful books for preschoolers which give voice to the feelings children are experiencing. The ‘Little Critter’ book series by Mercer Mayer includes many books about feelings: sad, angry, or scared. There are also books in this series which put the Little Critter in relationships with members of his family where these feelings occur. These books give us an opportunity to discuss feelings when the feeling is not overpowering to the child at the moment, “How would you feel if you were the Little Critter and your friends teased you?”
3) Another great strategy to teach kindness and empathy is to use cuddling times with your child and ‘remember’ events in your child’s life that you can help your child remember and relate to others in his or her experience. “Do you remember when we visited your big cousins and they would not let you play the game they were playing? Do you remember how badly you felt when you were left out? Do you think Susie feels that way when you and Katie play together without her?” This strategy is so much more helpful to the development of kindness and empathy than the strategy of telling children. “You had better share with your baby brother!—or else!” Next week I will close this important discussion with 3 more strategies to teach our children to be kind and empathetic.

A turkey is a funny bird
His head goes wobble, wobble.
And all he says is just one word,
“Gobble, gobble, gobble”

Hold head with hands and wobble it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kindness and Empathy

My apologies for not posting these two blogs on time--in line with the column in the Ladysmith News.  Although, I will be 'cramming' in three posts in the next three days, I am plunging ahead because the topic is so very important.
In these weeks before Thanksgiving, we will talk about raising kind and empathetic children. Doing this goes beyond raising a child who mimics the words, ‘thank you’ when prompted by a parent or teacher.
I have often heard parents say things like “pet the puppy nicely”, or “be gentle with the baby”. However to teach children to be kind and empathetic, we need to begin with kindness and empathy toward our own children and each other.
Mothers of infants begin right after birth to read the emotional cues and empathize with their infant. You may hear a mom saying to her fussy baby, “Your tummy hurts, what can I do to help you. Does it feel good when I move your little legs up and down?”
You can do this all the time with your infant: putting your words in place of the cues baby gives you. Here is an example of empathizing with a 3-month-old who is beginning to smile and laugh. “You are so happy! Did you like it when Daddy blew raspberries on your cute, little belly? So fun. Do it again, Daddy!”
Later in development when your one-year-old is screaming because his favorite food has fallen out of his reach onto the floor, you can put words to his feelings and give him a strategy for coping, “What happened? Timmy’s cookie fell on the floor and he is angry. Tell daddy, I’m mad! I need a new cookie.” In this example the parent is responsible for both sides of the conversation.  He says what Timmy might say if he could talk, and he tells Timmy that daddy understands the dilemma and will help
What did Timmy learn by this experience? He learned that his dad has empathy for his feelings about the loss of the cookie. What if dad did something else? What if dad heard Timmy screaming and simply gave Timmy a new cookie. What would Timmy learn by this? He still may learn that dad is kind and will give him a new cookie. However, he could also learn that if he screams he gets rewarded. The most appropriate response gives Timmy a rich interchange of language and empathy that will help him take the next step in his own development as a kind and empathetic human being.


Great big turkey
Great big turkey
Hear him gobble
Watch him wobble.
Running all around
Making such a sound
Great big turkey
Great big turkey.

tune:  Frere Jacques
Pantomime motions

Sunday, October 30, 2011

More skills than a robot in block play

We have talked about the importance of playing with blocks to develop math concepts. Block play in preschools also helps children with a number of other skills including eye-hand coordination, social-emotional development, and imagination.
When a toddler places one block on top of another, he is completely engaged in the challenge he has given himself. He is integrating what he sees with what is happening with his hand and the block. It has taken engineers and computer scientists years and years to program robots to do what this child is accomplishing around one year of age.
Now let’s imagine putting 4 or 5 robots in the block corner. Each robot has a computer program running to create structures with the available blocks. However there is a limited amount of space for the robots to move in and a limited number of blocks. Will the computer scientists and engineers ever be able to program robots to work together? Our little children between the ages of three and five can accomplish what the most sophisticated technology cannot.
Imagination? Can imagination ever be programmed into a robot? I think not; but I do think many four year olds have imagined themselves as robots this past Halloween and can pretend to be a cranberry, a pumpkin, or a turkey in this song for Thanksgiving.


A Cranberry ran away
Before Thanksgiving day
Said he, “They’ll make a sauce out of me
If I should stay.”

A Pumpkin ran away
Before Thanksgiving day
Said he, “They’ll make a pie out of me
If I should stay.”

A Turkey ran away
Before Thanksgiving day
Said he, “They’ll make a roast out of me
If I should stay.”

Six simple characters can illustrate this song.  The child holding the cranberry runs away and finds the picture of the sauce. The pumpkin finds the pie and the turkey finds the roast.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blocks and Fractions

Last week we spent time in the block corner of preschool with a little boy who pulled blocks off the shelf to the exclusion of other enticing activities. We determined that our best strategy was not to prevent the ‘dumping’ of blocks but to expand the block play for this child with our own interest in building with the blocks.
It can be helpful to understand the typical developmental sequence in block building. Lining up blocks to create a choo-choo train and putting a single block on top of another are the first stages. We know this from the researchers who have spent a lot of time on the floor with young preschoolers. To make your block play modeling or demonstrating more interesting to your preschooler doing these simple forms will be more productive than creating elaborate structures that are beyond the child’s development and interest.
What do children learn from lining up blocks either horizontally like a train or vertically like a tower? Besides developing coordination to achieve their desired result, children can have the physical experience of fractions. Preschools usually have blocks that are in distinct units of length, one long block equals two medium length blocks or four shorter blocks. When children play with these kinds of blocks, lining them up and stacking them in their own way, they are experimenting with fractions. In other words, they have the physical experience of these fractions before they put pencil to paper later in school. Having time to play and learn in this way will make learning fractions a snap later on.

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, “My it’s getting late”
The second one said,
“There are witches in the air”
The third one said, “But we don’t care”
The fourth one said, “We’re ready for some fun”
And the fifth one said,
“Let’s run and run and run”
OOoooooo went the wind
And out went the light
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.

It is fun to do this by lighting a pumpkin or a pumpkin candle and blowing it out.  An alternate strategy is to clap hands once on the word out while having someone turn the lights out.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

In the Block Corner

Now that your four year old is well established in his or her preschool routine, you may be wondering about some of the activities that preschools generally provide. Today, I would like to focus on the activities that fall under ‘free choice’, ‘playtime’, or ‘center time’. In that category of activity, let’s take a look at what happens in the block corner.
Day after day, a little boy goes to the block corner, almost to the exclusion of enticing activities that other children are choosing. One of the hallmarks of this time in a child’s day is that they can choose whatever it is that they find most interesting. It is an important part of learning when you are four years old and in preschool. It is probably the most interesting compelling time of the day for you, because you are in charge of deciding what to play with and how to play.
In the block area, our youngest preschoolers may simply enjoy the pure pleasure of removing every last block from the shelf. It is very liberating, feeling the power to take ALL the blocks off the shelf. No one is saying, ‘don’t take them off the shelf unless you are going to DO something with them.’ This little one is learning that he has power; he is able to decide on his own what to do with the blocks. Those of us who have helped reshelve blocks day after day and worked to gain the support of the ‘block remover’ at clean up time are thinking this is not necessarily a good thing. But it is one important stage in development and our goal should be not to prevent this from happening but to help expand the activity with the blocks by our own interest in building. It is similar to the activity of the baby in the highchair dumping everything in reach.
Dumping everything out is a stage of development and during this stage children are learning quantity and volume, and learning to take charge of their environments.  We will spend more time in the block corner next week.

Pumpkin, pumpkin
Big and round
I’m glad you grow
Upon the ground
I’m glad you don’t
Grow in a tree
For then you might
Fall down on me!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Halloween and Self-Esteem

I would like to continue the conversation about developing a high self-esteem—believing in and valuing one’s self. Today’s examples will be about Halloween costuming, and how you can help develop your child’s belief in self. These examples are great for children in preschool through lower elementary, but I hope you will find what you need for your younger child.
I would like to suggest you open a conversation with your child about all the fun things one can pretend to be for Halloween a week or two before the costume is needed. Your child will be thinking about it and talking with friends at school. You might look through your closet or dad’s closet with your child to find articles of clothing that are no longer worn. Children love to try on clothes like this and perhaps hats, scarves, old shirts, etc., will appeal to your child, to modify with belts, glitter paints, or other accessories to achieve what your child (not you!) likes.
You might go to a second-hand store with your child and let her pick out just the right piece of clothing for very little money. It is akin to memories you may cherish of being at your grandmother’s house and being allowed to dress-up with some of her old clothes or grandpa’s old clothes. The best part of this activity is that it involves your child’s creativity. Your job is to facilitate, not to judge.
I’d like to share a personal story about a Halloween costume in our once young household to illustrate the point. It involved a week of layers of papier-mâché, followed by coats of paint and advice and comments from the elder sister and the younger brother. Seb, the creator of the dragon-head, paraded around our yard with the finished apparition as a huge, top-heavy hat after school on the 30th. It went on the school bus with him on the 31st. I heard later from his teacher that he put it on briefly when the children dressed in their costumes, but took it off for the traditional costume parade through the building. It was, of course, too big and heavy to wear.
If you understand that the process of creating the costume is far more important for the child than the finished product wearable for a brief moment in time, and you put that understanding into practice this Halloween and in other things you do with your child, then you are doing the very best you can to develop self-esteem. (addendum: Last year for Halloween, Seb’s oldest son was a garbage truck. As I understand, a great deal of masking tape was involved.)

Five little ghosts went out to play
In a haunted house one day
Mama Ghost said, “Boo, boo, boo”
Four little ghosts back home they flew.

(repeat four, three, two, one)

Mama Ghost said, “Boo, boo, boo”
No little ghosts back home they flew.
Papa Ghost said, “BOO, BOO, BOO”
Five little ghosts back home they flew.

(Tune: 5 Little Ducks)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Developing a High Self-esteem

We have all heard, and probably agree, that it is important to believe and value ourselves and our own creativity—in other words to have a high self-esteem. Why some adults have this gift and others seek always to look for and need positive reinforcement from others is the question. What kinds of experiences in childhood send some along one path of high self-esteem and others along a path where they can only trust perceived experts?
I would propose that the divergence in paths occurs in the early childhood years, when children begin to use their imaginations. Some families and teachers, seeking to steer children’s development, will overuse praise. “Your picture is beautiful. I love it!” These children have too many experiences where the adult’s idea of ‘beauty’ is imposed upon the child’s creativity. The child cannot be confident that his or her own judgment is correct. What if the child really didn’t think his picture was beautiful? These same parents might offer ‘helpful’ suggestions, “I think it would look prettier if you used a light blue color.” Whose idea of ‘pretty’ is important here?
The Toad would like to remind you to take a walk along Highway 8 in front of Toad House and let your little one choose a mini pumpkin to decorate at home. You can poke some holes in the top with a small screwdriver and your child can poke asters, leaves, and evergreen twigs to make a fall centerpiece. You can ask the questions, “Do you like it? Do you think it is pretty?” If your little one tells you he or she likes it, you can put it in the middle of your table for all to enjoy. You will be building self-esteem, one little pumpkin at a time.

Halloween Dance
Everybody up and do your Halloween, Halloween
Everybody up and do your Halloween thing.
Everybody up and do your Halloween thing.
When you hear the gong say, “boo!”
(additional verses)
Fly upon your brooms like the witches
Wiggle on the floor like the serpents
Dance up on your toes like a fairy, fairy
Wave your arms around like an owl
Now you shake your arms like the skeletons
Hold your hands up high like the goblins
March around the room like the monsters

(tune: Dance of the Macabre) –If you would like to hear this fun Halloween song you can go to and choose the first option -- learn a song or fingerplay.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Memories from Leaf it to Rusk

It was a lovely Leaf it to Rusk week-end! I hope most of you took advantage of the wide variety of activities that were available and geared for young children.
On Saturday, our 2011 Mardi-Gras Queen, Shelly Makina provided the commentary for a one hour tour of Ladysmith. The Indianhead Transit tour looped around Ladysmith, going out to the County Park, the airport, the Wagon Wheel Hiking Trailhead and boat launch, through the Indeck pellet plant, the Copper Park Trail area, the library, and back to the Visitor Center.
The Art Harvest, sponsored by RAAA took place at Christy Mountain. Phyllis Stevenson, Jennifer Matlack, and I, provided a pumpkin painting and a pumpkin centerpiece art activity on the deck of the beautiful Christy Mountain Chalet while Ruth Meszaros provided an artist trading card activity. Rides on the chair lift and hikes down the mountain were another part of the beautiful day with beautiful art to browse and purchase inside.
I’d like to share my favorite memories of the Art Harvest with you. A little girl was creating a pumpkin centerpiece with collections of natural weeds, seeds, and flowers. She needed to cut the flower stem shorter and told her mom she needed the “squeezer cuts” to do this. Another family with three daughters spent a relaxing time painting and creating. All the girls were independent in their work and needed almost no guidance from their mother. This would not be surprising to hear of for the oldest daughter, who was probably in upper elementary or early middle school. And it was amazing to see the three-year-old painting for the longest time, very aware and careful of rinsing and drying her brush before choosing another color. But I will tell you, it knocked my socks off to watch her sister, who was not even two-years-old, manage with almost the same level of skill and definitely the same focus and concentration for over twenty minutes. They were all a delight. Thank you to the parents for bringing their wonderful children to the activity.
Over 60 pumpkin gourds were decorated on Saturday, I still have many left from my garden. Please take a walk along Highway 8 in front of Toad House and let your little one choose a mini pumpkin to decorate at home. The Toad will be happy that you did!
The seeds from milkweed pods were part of the collection of things participants could glue onto the pumpkin gourds. This week you can take a walk into a meadow and find almost-ripe milkweed pods with your young child. Here is a special fall fingerplay for the occasion.

In a milkweed cradle
Soft and warm
Baby seeds are hiding
Safe from harm
Open wide the cradle
Hold it up high
Come on wind
Help them fly!

Cup hands to show milkweed pod, peek into cupped hand to ‘see’ seeds. Open cupped hands, raise hands, and blow. Do this in the fall, showing children the milkweed pods.  Save the empty pods to make lovely tree ornaments or bird feeders.