Thursday, December 27, 2012

A New Year's Resolution

As we make our New Year’s resolutions–the usual weight loss, exercise, save money, and healthy life style–I would like us to think about what we want, not for ourselves, but for our children. When asked what they most want for their child, parents say things like, I want him or her to be happy, to have a fulfilling life, to have enough money, to have friends, and to have good health.
My challenge to you this year is to consider what you do as parents of young children to assure that you are doing the kinds of things that increase the odds of your child achieving the kinds of things we hope for. We will start 2013 considering what parents can do to raise a child who will be happy.
Are you happy? For the next 18 years after birth, a child will live with adults who model by their actions the way they feel about life. I am always in wonder, looking at the faces of young children in their preschool years. A child’s facial expression begins to take on the look that I see on the face of their parent. Parents who live in a state of unhappiness, fear, sadness, or anger model this attitude for their children. Parents who find happiness in each day’s activities, who smile and laugh, model this attitude.
In the face of the child you see the reflection of the parent’s life. To raise children who are happy––be happy.


Thumbs are in the thumb place
Fingers all together
This is the song
We sing in mitten weather

When it’s cold outside
It doesn’t matter whether
They are made of wool
Or made of finest leather

repeat 1st first verse, mime actions

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Books for Christmas

It is hard to ignore the commercials we hear on television at this time of year. Stores are pushing parents and grandparents to buy the latest and greatest new toys–as if one can buy the love of a child with the gift of a toy. With almost a month to plan, you can take the time to consider what you might give and why. Here is one suggestion:
I read a column by David Brooks. He spoke about school age children who were given 12 new books of their own choosing. The children who received the books had significantly higher reading scores than the other children. Children who grow up with books in their home stay in school longer and do better educationally. However Brooks cites an interesting observation from a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It is not the physical presence of the books that is responsible for the huge impact. It is the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, members of a group—members of a group of readers.
Trying to decide on a gift that will have a lasting impact on your beloved child? Wondering what to give a two year old? –a three year old?—a four year old and beyond. Here are your top 3 gift choices.
Another Book
More Books

Here’s the children’s Christmas tree
Standing straight and tall
Here’s the pot to put it in
So it will not fall.
Here are two balls
Bright and gay
One ball, two balls see?
And two tall candles red
To trim our Christmas tree.

Pantomime motions using big arm motions for the tree and the pot, finger motions for two balls and two candles.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Development from age one to two

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 and keep your use of ‘no, no’ to a minimum. Next week we’ll watch and be amazed at development from age two to age three.

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, September 23, 2012

Artsy Fall Leaf Creation

It was such a gorgeous fall day, this past Saturday, cool, crisp air and beautiful sky and leaf colors. Making the most of the season, Kim Schueller, a fourth grade teacher at the Ladysmith Elementary School, created an art project to go with the season for the Toadally Artsy Kids’ Event.
It is a project you can do at home with your preschooler. Go for a walk and collect some maple or oak leaves and a stick about a foot long. Collect some scraps of an off-white muslim or cotton fabric about 5-6 inches wide and 12-14 inches long and piece of yarn about 2 feet long. Locate a few bottles of craft acrylic paints in fall leaf colors. Find another color or two for the background, such as light blue or green or violet.
Lay one leaf on the muslim and trace around the leaf with glue. Gel glue seems to work the best. Do a few leaves. Let the glue dry if you are patient, but if not, the hanging will still be beautiful. If you have a small spray bottle, spray the fabric with a little bit of water to help the paint spread.  If you don’t have a spray bottle, thin a small amount of the paint with a small amount of water or dab the fabric with a damp paper towel.
Now paint the red and yellow paint onto the leaves. Paint the outside with your alternate color paint.  Let it dry and glue your stick to the top of the hanging, using the yarn on each end of the stick. Voila! -- a memory of a beautiful fall day that you can save and hang on your wall. If you’d like to see photos of the project on the web you can go to the webpage

Climbing up the ladder
Look at me!
I’m at the top of the apple tree.
I’m picking apples,
One, two, three.
Now the tree is bare as it can be.

Pantomime climbing a ladder
Point proudly to self
Point up high
Pantomime picking 3 apples
Shrug shoulders

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thumb Sucking

As I was slicing tomatoes today, I nicked my thumb. When I put it in my mouth I began to wonder whether today’s parents are concerned about thumb sucking. It seems as if parents’ concerns about this are not as worrisome as years ago. I can recall hearing my grandmother recount tales of cayenne pepper and other totally useless and sometimes cruel management of a toddler’s thumb sucking. Perhaps, I mused, parents are more knowledgeable concerning the needs of their babies and more knowledgeable about behavior that is normal in different developmental stages.
Why do babies suck their thumbs? Most likely the reasons are similar to why we, as adults, eat when we are not hungry, chew on the end of our pencil when we are thinking, enjoy sipping a glass of wine or beer when we want to relax, and have coffee when we want to feel energized.
We find ways of meeting our sensory needs with these little habits, just as babies meet their needs by sucking their thumb or pacifier, twirl their hair when tired, or rub a favorite fuzzy blanket. If we simply try to eliminate thumb-sucking behavior because it makes us uncomfortable, we are doomed to failure or doomed to see this behavior replaced with another sensory, comforting device.
Developmentally, the baby should find ways of soothing themselves and if thumb sucking concerns you, I would only offer this bit developmental wisdom: your child will not continue thumb sucking when they go off to college or get their first job or get married.

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Baby's Communication

I had a lovely visit with my 10 month old grandson this past weekend. Watching him initiate communication with his parents and other adults and children gave me the focus for today's column.
The first time I saw him initiate communication was during a long ride in the car after  picking up the family from the airport. He was playful, engaged, and happy for the first thirty minutes. After that he started to look more serious, maybe a little concerned as he sat in his car seat. He turned to his mother and opened and closed his fists a few times. “Oh, you would like some milk.” She acknowledged his communication and empathized with his desire to eat. “We will eat soon, we are almost there.” At ten months he was able to understand her awareness for his needs and to wait a little longer before eating.
The second time I realized he was communicating was during some floortime play with me. Whatever we were doing was good fun but suddenly he stopped playing and turned toward his daddy, reaching his arms out. “Oh, you would like to walk around.” His daddy helped him up and he happily cruised around the room with his dad.
Both examples required that the parents tune into the non-verbal communication that their child was giving. Long before the first words are spoken, a baby’s movement, gestures, pointing, facial cues, and even baby sign language can help parents understand what their little one is asking of them. When babies know their communication is understood, they do not have to resort to other ways of having their needs met.

Rhythmic Chant

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake,
Baker’s man!
Bake me a cake
As fast as you can!

Pat it, and prick it,
And mark it with a B.
Put it in the oven
For Baby and me!

This nursery rhyme is one of the familiar baby rhymes that can easily be extended and appropriate for preschoolers.  It has a strong beat and rhythm so try some simple clapping variations. Use the first letter of each child’s name (even if it doesn’t rhyme!) to include each child personally in the chant.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Whole Village

     I hope I do not bore you today with some philosophizing about raising children. I have no concrete suggestions in today’s column, just some musings about how the future of today’s children is in our hands. These musings come from a poem I just read and was very moved by called Through This School by Joseph Robert Mills.
     First and most importantly, the future of today’s children is in the hands of the parents, beginning with genetics and reaching into how parents impart their values to their children by their own behavior.
     When things go wrong, most of the blame goes to these parents. However, one must step back and take into account how they were raised and who their parents are. One also must take into account the society in which the children are being raised. When parents have all they can do to put food on the table and not lose their homes, the outcome for the children is not good.
     So we look to the society the children live in, the local communities, local schools, churches and organizations, but also the policies of the states and nation we live in and beyond that, the world with the challenges faced by global warming and fighting between nations.
The poem I mentioned at the beginning of the column considers the speech given to parents by school principals, “Through this school comes our future, senators, mayors, doctors, and lawyers….He doesn’t mention through the school also comes future plumbers, nurses, and custodians, and there’s not a word about the future thieves, deadbeats, and arsonists, or that some of the ones who go through do so with difficulty, blocking the way like kidney stones until they’re painfully passed.”
I believe it does take a whole village (with every villager taking responsibility) to raise a child.

Brown Bear
Brown Bear
What do you see?
I see Robert looking at me.

Robert, Robert
What do you see?

Adapted from the book by Eric Carle.  This game takes a group in which most children are social enough to either point or say a child’s name.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Object Permance

  In the developmental period beginning around four or five months children are learning something very important. They are learning that when something leaves their sight, it will not necessarily be gone forever.  The concept is called object permanence. This can be a difficult lesson to learn, especially since some things that leave are gone forever and some things come back. The child struggles to figure this out, often through tears of anguish when the object which has disappeared from sight is the parent. It can take our little one a year or more to really get it. Then, when a new situation occurs, such as the beginning of going to preschool or day care, we might see our little one dissolve into tears. The unspoken question is, “Will mommy really come back this time?”

Parents and caregivers begin to see baby playing the “drop it off the highchair” game. Babies expect the adult to retrieve the fallen object and once they have the object—yes!--they drop it again! It takes lots of practice when you are learning object permanence.

There are a few great games to play with babies who are working on this concept. One of the games is peek-a-boo. We all love engaging the baby in this game, covering our face with our hands (while looking through the cracks in our fingers so that we can enjoy baby’s reaction) and then quickly opening our hands while saying the magic words, “Peek-a-boo!” You double the fun when both parents join in. One person hides their face and the other asks in a puzzled voice, “Where’s daddy?” As baby begins to enjoy the game, she will scoot over to daddy, touching his hands and maybe trying to pull his fingers away from his eyes.  “Peek-a-boo! You found him! You are so smart!” Everyone erupts in giggles and gentle tickles.

Another great game is hiding a favorite toy under a blanket. “Where’s Teddy?” In the early stages you may need to let part of Teddy stick out from under the blanket and help baby to locate Teddy. Soon baby will love to find all his favorite toys under blankets. Don’t make it too hard. The object of this game is to give baby lots of practice being successful. Help him find the toy if you’ve hidden it too well and give him full credit for your joint success.

The last great game is a combination of the two: Bug in the Rug. It has been one of my favorites for many years, not only with little ones but with preschoolers also. With the older toddler or preschooler it can be extended to give memory practice by hiding two and then three objects under the blanket. You can take turns being the bug to give the toddler who is in the ‘me-me-me’ stage practice in becoming more social.

I hope you have fun with Bug in a Rug this week. You might cut out the picture of the bug or make your own. Glue it to a small card, cover the card with clear tape or contact paper for durability, add a magnet and put it on the refrigerator within your child’s reach, and VOILA! You have your very own ‘Bug in a Rug’ refrigerator rhyme.

Bug in a rug
Bug in a rug
Who’s that hiding?
Bug in a rug

This little game is a version of peek-a-boo. Peek-a-boo is an early social game for infants and very, very useful for young children.  To play the game, cover yourself or child with a blanket.  Chant the little poem.  Ask ‘who’s hiding?’  Do not cover if  the child may be anxious.  When the child’s language skills allow him or her to remember and name the hidden person, add a favorite toy or another person so the child can practice remembering more than one person.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Little Boy and the Butterfly

Here is a lovely parable that I shared many years ago in Bringing Up Baby. As I watched the children creating their own works of art this past Saturday I thought about this story and wanted to share it again with you. 
The Little Boy and the Butterfly
Once upon a time there was a little boy who loved to go walking with his grandfather. His grandfather knew a great many things and would tell the little boy about all the wonders of nature. One day the grandfather and the little boy saw a caterpillar weaving a chrysalis around itself. The grandfather told the little boy about how the caterpillar would turn into a beautiful butterfly when it emerged from its cocoon. The little boy checked on the chrysalis every day and one day he could hear scratching sounds from within. He was very excited and ran to tell his grandfather. His grandfather smiled and told the little boy that it would take time for the butterfly to emerge and that he should be patient.
The next morning the little boy could hardly wait to run outside and see if the butterfly had emerged. He saw a tiny hole and something moving inside. He again ran to tell his grandfather. “You will still need to be patient and wait for the butterfly to come out on his own”, his grandfather said. The butterfly did not emerge that evening nor the next morning and the little boy began to worry that the butterfly was working too hard and would not be able to push his way out of the cocoon himself.
He decided that he could help the butterfly by cutting the hole just a little larger. He went to get his mother’s scissors and very, very carefully enlarged the opening for the butterfly. Then he watched and waited. The creature inside gave a tremendous push and emerged from the enlarged opening. As the little boy watched, the butterfly tried to open its wings, but it could not and it was soon dead.
The little boy sadly carried the branch with the open cocoon and the dead butterfly back to his grandfather. He told his grandfather how he was worried that the butterfly would not be able to get out of the cocoon. He told his grandfather how he had carefully enlarged the hole to make it easier for the butterfly. The grandfather smiled sadly at the little boy and said, “I’m sorry I did not explain why the butterfly has to work so hard. It must work very hard to become strong. If it is strong it will be able to open its wings and fly. By making it easier for the butterfly to get out of the cocoon, you took away the hard work the butterfly needed to do to become strong.
We hope to see many of you this coming Saturday at Toad House for more Toadally Artsy Kids’ Events! 

Roly-Poly Caterpillar
Into a corner crept
Spun around himself a blanket
Then for a long time slept
Roly-Poly Caterpillar
Waking up by and by
Found himself with beautiful wings
Changed into a butterfly.

Pantomime creeping fingers to child’s underarm. Spinning motion, pantomime sleeping, waking.  Make the sign for butterfly with palms crossed, facing toward self and fingers spread as if butterfly wings.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Parenting Styles

All parents have different parenting styles based in part to what they learned from their parents, in part to what they want for their children, and in part to circumstances in their lives. Some parents consciously attempt to choose a style that is counter to their own childhood experience. Some parents consciously research and work at adopting a style that they believe will be best. Many of our split-second decisions are unconscious.
Parenting styles can be seen as a continuum from authoritarian (a parents-know-best approach that emphasizes obedience) to permissive (where parents provide few behavioral guidelines because parents don’t want to upset their children). Somewhere in the middle, I think is an authoritative style that blends a caring tone with structure and consistent limit setting.
Ideally both parents have an authoritative style (blending a caring tone with consistent limit-setting) because that is what fosters healthiest relationships. For those of you who would like to know more about this topic, you might start with the website:
For those who value arts education for your child, check out the Toadally Artsy Kids’ Events. This Saturday Andrea Korpinen will be exploring window art for children ages 3-12 at Toad House. Children will arrange natural materials into mosaic art to take home and hang in their window. You may register for any of the Saturday Artsy Kids’ Events. Pick up a flyer for the activities in August and September in the box at the porch door of Toad House.


My red balloon goes
sailing, sailing, sailing.
My red balloon goes sailing
Over the hills and down and pop.

Pretend to blow a balloon. Reach both arms overhead to indicate a large balloon, sway from side to side as you sing. Give a big clap to pop the balloon.  Choose additional colors to expand the child’s concept development and language.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Staying safe in the hot summer

After a spending few days in the hot sun, I thought I might review some safety tips for staying healthy in the heat of the summer.
Safety tip number one is to be sure you offer your young child water to drink many times in an hour. We all dehydrate quickly in the hot sun and wind. Our children have much less body mass and thus much less fluids in their bodies than adults. When you consider that our little ones play hard and do not pay attention to being thirsty until they are potentially ill, you can understand why you need to be vigilant for them.
Safety tip number two is to set up play areas in the shade for hot weather. The sun beats down and our body temperatures can rise. It is safer to use our lovely trees and shady porches to advantage. Use the middle of the day when it is hottest to be indoors.
Safety tip number three is to use suntan lotion to prevent sunburn and future problems with skin cancer. Hats are also important and sunglasses when your child will keep them on help protect eyes from dangerous ultraviolet light.
I am now taking my own advice. It is about 90 and sunny as I write this, and I am indoors with my glass of water on the table with me. I will go outside to pick beans after six when my garden is shadier. Stay healthy and safe this hot summer!

Mr. Snake, from his hole in the ground
Poked out his head and looked around.

“It’s too nice a day to stay in,” he said
“I think I’ll go for a crawl instead.”

 He swished his tail and gave a ‘hisss’
And off in the meadow he went like this.

pantomime motions

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sneak Peek at the Toad House

Many of my young friends have been curious about the goings on at Toad House. This Saturday, we would like to invite all friends, young and old to come and sneak a peek at what the toads have been up to. We will have music all day beginning with quieter indoor music and ending the day with music on the west porch. Please look for the article in this week’s paper about the Sneak Peek. It lists music schedule.
Musically, children will have an opportunity to listen to harp, guitar, and cello in the morning and maybe even hear a tune on a tuba! Our goal is to share a wide range of styles of music in this Toad House musical adventure.
Our first exhibit in the art gallery is the set of 30 original watercolors by Janelle Thompson from the picture book, TOADS. It is the first time this work is being offered for sale. This exhibit hung in our state capitol and in the Wisconsin Arts Board Gallery. It is a thrill to see the original artwork and match the originals to the pictures in the book. Both picture books will be for sale along with the musical toads. Please take time to enjoy the art and to have a art lesson on drawing a toad.
For my Young@Art friends, I will have a table set up to finger paint toads. Creative art activities for young children are valuable for the developing brain. Children learn problem solving, develop an aesthetic sense, and learn to value their own work. If we give children the opportunities to try many different was of doing things, they will learn a great deal on their own. I would like to ask those of you who bring young children to my painting table on the lawn to not be judgmental concerning what your child is doing and to try your very best not to offer suggestions as to how to do it. This is for your child to decide and explore. However, I do encourage adults who are Young@Art to explore their own creativity and try finger painting! And of course you need to ask about the big white toads hopping about the gardens!
I hope you will also take a slow walk down the pathways of the Enchanted Woods. There are some rules: help your children stay on the path, there are lovely plantings that need careful nurturing in the woods, (and it is true that I cannot vouch for the complete elimination of the poison ivy I found when we first obtained the property!) –and there are probably elves and fairies, hobbits and trolls, and of course a toad or two who need protection from walking feet!

Five Brown bumpy toads
Walking down a bumpy road
Eating the most delicious bugs.
One jumped into the pool
Where it was nice and cool
Then there were four brown bumpy toads.
Four..., three..., two….,
One brown, bumpy toad…...
Then there were no brown bumpy toads.

This is an adaptation of Five Green Speckled Frogs!
The picture is from TOADS illustrated by Janelle Thompson.

Friday, June 29, 2012


The baby has developed in the space of one short year from only minimal control of his head and neck to using his head to initiate rolling over from his tummy to his back. He developed strength in his torso and arms and began to bring his body into a hands and knees position. He rolled, crawled, and creeped around the house and now as he moves about he comes to a parent or a sofa or a toy and pulls himself to standing.
What a wonderful new outlook on the world this must be! With sturdy objects for balance he takes his first steps--baby is cruising. Cruising is the term given to the mode of movement for baby when he using an object for balance, pulls himself to an upright position, and walks, using the object for balance.
Babies who are cruising are strengthening their core and their brains are learning how to control all the  many large and small muscles. As parents and caregivers we seem to know that we should place toys or other enticements just out of reach on that sofa baby is using to cruise and we find great joy in watching him achieve this milestone.
As baby becomes adept at cruising we notice he often forgets to hang on to the sofa as he studies a new toy with both hands. We watch closely. Will he take that first step away from his support today? When we walk with him we hold his two hands. He loves this mode of transportation and if one parent is doing this, their own muscles cry out to stand up straight. As parents, we sit across from each other, encouraging our little one to take those tentative first steps toward each other. Then, this entire time of preparation is over. Most likely it has taken a little over a year, though times vary greatly from one child to the next. Baby is walking, toddling about. He has graduated from being a baby to being a toddler.

Ricky Rectangle is my name
My four sides are not the same.
Two are short and two are long.
So I can dance the whole day long.

(Make a larger Ricky and give children turns to show the short and long sides)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Variations of the Crawl

The house has been baby proofed and the little guy is free to explore much of his surroundings as he begins to crawl, still under the watchful eyes of the parents. Baby is motivated by his drive to learn, and crawling gives the baby practice with opposing arm and leg motions. Practice is important; it strengthens the brain connections that will help the child in all sorts of future motor activities.
I have found great fun in being able to observe children in this stage of development, not only because of the pure joy on their faces as they assert their independence but also in the many varied versions of the crawl I see.
There is the army crawl. Babies doing the army crawl stay pretty much on their tummies as they pull them selves forward using their upper arms. This is work! The front side gets the workout while the backside wriggles in support and occasionally brings a knee up under the tummy.
There is the pull and hop method. Babies doing this are using a galloping type of movement where the back half is not mimicked by the front half. Instead it does sort of a hop as if to catch up to the front side and sometimes the front side uses a hop & pounce strategy to move forward.
The standard crawl (or creep) is by far the most efficient, with opposing motion in the arms and legs. The baby uses his hands and his knees to move. Babies who have mastered this version can move lightening fast across a room and love to play ‘catch me if you can’ with mom or dad.
This weekend I observed a variation of the standard crawl with hands and knees. As the backside performed its part, this baby used his foot on one side most of the time–a sort of knee-foot strategy. The variation will help lead this little one into walking and running. (although not necessarily in that order!)

Sammy Square is my name
My four sides are just the same.
1, 2, 3, 4

(Make a larger Sammy and give children turns to count the sides)