“Have Yourself A Meaningful Christmas”

Something I have thought about before having kids is to pass on some meaning to the holidays we celebrate-and Christmas most often comes to mind because it is such a well-loved and widely celebrated holiday that it has its own “season”, really. “Christmas Season!” Granted, it is mostly December, although every year it’s prepared for earlier and earlier. Just like my parents did in a lot of ways, I want to make sure we as parents take advantage of the Christmas Season (and other holidays, which I will get to as well) to really teach our kids, in a fun way, what is most important about the holiday.

A little more discussion on Christmas first; then I’ll give a neat little list for some ideas I’ve seen and thought of that maybe you could use with your family as well if you would like to teach some Christian (and in our case, Protestant) meanings of Christmas.

I just love the simplicity and peace of this pic :) we just had the camera on the tripod.

I just love the simplicity and peace of this pic 🙂 we just had the camera on the tripod.

Thoughts on Christmas
So, here are the issues and reasons I feel its best to be intentional about imparting some meaning to our children for Christmas. Not surprising to many, Christmas has more and more become about giving amazing, exciting, and expensive gifts. You can even see signs at the bank for making a “Christmas Savings Account” which really makes me want to gag. Don’t feel judged if you have one of those. If you find it easier to have a savings for Christmas gifts to make it happen, regardless of it being hundreds or thousands you set aside-I just find that the fact those exist and are advertised year-round highlights how much we really focus on gift-giving as a country (as many other countries do, I’m sure.) Also, an unfortunate thing I’ve noticed is that all the fun things we do with kids during the Christmas season really have nothing to do with Jesus or grace-and I know that can be hard because it’s not as in the here and now in a tangible way. Are we, even us churchgoing Sunday School-teacher types-really, truly trying our best to make those lessons tangible? I think we could do better as a whole. Mostly, kids probably think of Christmas Eve as being exciting because of Santa or cookies, or maybe an early present to open; then “oh, lets all go to a dark, quiet, Christmas Eve service and fall asleep on the adults from boredom and sugar crash because that’s what we have to do.”

What if we did some fun things that at least have a hint of the meaning of Christmas so that they’re tangible and easy for kids to learn and remember? And fun for the adults as well? Here are some ideas I’ve had or borrowed:

1)Happy Birthday Jesus Party-This is something my parents did-maybe not every year, but enough that I remember it and enjoyed it. It was probably celebrated before or even after Christmas. The picture I’ve seen shows my sister and I dressed for dance class, so it probably wasn’t even the week of Christmas. And that’s really okay. If travel and commonplace traditions make it so you find little time left for these things (although you could consider cutting what you can out if it’s interfering with a meaningful celebration..), you can do it beforehand. The anticipation of Christmas is all part of Christmas, too! In some ways, no matter what you come up with-the unbeatable tradition of gift exchange is probably going to win out for excitement with our kids, so why not let them look forward to the Happy Birthday Jesus party at an earlier time so it can be enjoyed without kids looking over their shoulders at their presents under the tree? I think one of the big points is to not let Christ be like the vegetables you have to eat before you have dessert, but let Christ have His own place in your children’s lives where they can see Him as exciting, joyful, and fun!

You may notice the Nativity as well as that Santa bowing to Jesus thing I mention elsewhere in the blog post.

You may notice the Nativity as well as that Santa bowing to Jesus thing I mention elsewhere in the blog post.

On a year-round scale, I think our children’s pastor and others I’ve seen out there do a fantastic job in these more modern times of making Jesus something more vibrant and fun for kids. Music, games, and talking about real-life application has taken the place (although not entirely so it loses its narrative meaning) of the quiet, flannel board discussions. I still like the flannel boards, so don’t get me wrong, Sunday school teachers a generation before me! I just like the added emphasis on making church fun for kids and discussing applications a lot.

Back in the 90s what my parents did wsa fun and simple: a Christmas themed table cloth, a manger scene, and a Betty Crocker box cake, and some Juicy Juice. We did a Happy Birthday Jesus party lst year on Christmas morning at our apartment before we went to my parents’ house. Our son was two at the time, but he doesn’t like sweets and it was morning when we chose to do it. What we did instead was let him open his stocking stuffers from us and eat some of his yogurt bites (which to him is as wonderful as cake to the rest of us). We blew up balloons, put the manger scene on the table, and sang happy birthday next to a sign that I made in about 30 seconds on printer paper. No, he can’t read yet, but he probably gets that it signified something and that way he can see pictures and know what was going on there later when he can read. AFter that, my husband read a short summary of the Christmas story from Ethan’s precious moments Christmas treasury book. I may have led us in singing one of the songs in the book too-can’t remember. I felt it got off to a great start!

2) Songs-You can easily get hold of fun, upbeat renditions of Christmas songs that actually include Christ from Christian kids music , to Signing Time Christmas DVD, to Jars of Clay’s Little Drummer Boy song (for the teens, maybe). Putting a little thought into your playlist while you put up the tree can be an easy way to mix in some Christian with some secular holiday favorites.

3) Get creative and mix it up with your usual traditions-We were given some cookie cutters that included the usual gingerbread and snowmen, but also crosses, stars, and little mini chapels. You can talk to your kid about the shapes you’re making and talk about favorite Christmas stories, both secular and Biblical.

4)Go through light displays that also include Nativity themes-or visit a “living Nativity” some Churches do this for a free ministry. Some have plays and you can even pet the animals that are part of the Nativity scene. That is a VERY tangible and fun thing for young kids.

Ethan was stacking ornaments on top of each other. Love that he is old enough to take part in the decorating!

Ethan was stacking ornaments on top of each other. Love that he is old enough to take part in the decorating!

5)Get the Little People Nativity for young kids. They can act out what they’re learning.

6)Movies-Although I haven’t seen all that’s out there, or even many for that matter-depending on the age of your kids you can get a realistic or more cartoon, Veggie-Tale style story of Christmas and related principles. Make a fun family movie night of it and talk about what you watched. It might sound or feel dorky to plan it, especially a discussion part, but its important to getting your kids to learn and talk about it.

7)ADvent Wreath-My parents got an advent wreath in Germany when they lived there, and I think it’s a big tradition there. You light a candle and read a portion of the Christmas story on nights leading up to Christmas. It may not be flashy or seem as “fun” but it Is tangible and memorable-so that’s a lot of what you are going for here.

8)BAlance out the priorities of what you talk about in anticipation of Christmas. This is where some Christians who all want a meaningful Christmas get divided-Santa or no Santa? How much Santa? How hard do we try to make the kids believe Santa’s for Real? It’s a personal choice, but I will say I think the more you go on about Santa, the less time and priority there is for Christ-to me is as simple as that. I’ve worked with kids in daycare, therapy, and teaching settings and I’ve heard several kids equate Santa with God. Well, why not? If Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good and so does God, are they really all that different? Some 4 year olds and even 2nd graders have had some really strange theology going on in their heads because of the whole Santa-God confusion. My kids may even have that confusion just from all they hear about Santa outside the home. For various reasons, we just rean’t going to tell them Santa will get them gifts or be good, Santa’s watching. This post isn’t really about that, so if you’re curious you can comment or message me if you know me personally to ask.

What I will say, though, is this: the message of being good or bad to get something is in direct opposition to the message of Christmas-God’s son coming to give GRACE-an undeserved gift. Pushing both messages are kind of confusing and weird to us, and really just not worth our time. We have year-round plans in place for discipline and rewards. Don’t feel sorry for my kids-they will get presents. The tags will say “from mom and dad”, etc. They will know the gifts are being given to reflect that Christ received gifts and He is the ultimate Gift that we do not deserve. So our kids will not get more or less gifts at Christmas based on how they acted from October to December.

Also, they can watch all the Rudolph and Santa movies they want-I don’t care. We already own them, Ethan got them as gifts last year. Ethan wore a Santa apron to make Christmas cookies last year, which inluded Frosty (big fan of that guy-He makes no demands lol) and Santa. Just to show you I’m not so on the fringe of society that you can’t take my tips seriously.

9)If you do choose to do Santa or Elf on the Shelf (which I’m sorry, but in my opinion is adding yet another distraction from Christ-and just more thing you have to keep up with as busy parents, but hey that’s just me..)then at least try to balance and make if meaningful rather than just a threat that the lifeless doll you bought at Wal-Mart for $20 is creepily judging them. Maybe just make it a reminder or a funny prank to find in the morning or something. (You have all seen the pictures of what those elves are up to at night, right? I mean the clean pictures! You can even make the kids do some kind of Scripture scavenger hunt or find the baby Jesus with the Elf having the note with clues…I don’t know. We aren’t doing Santa, so we sure as heck ain’t doing the dang Elf haha I’m just trying to throw some ideas out there! As far as Santa, you could again go historical and discuss St. Nicholas and what he did for the poor, and that he was a follower of Christ. I can go for that, personally. If you want to tell your kid Santa is bringing their gifts, though, you can discuss St. Nick and get creative in tying that all in with Christ in a way that isn’t confusing. You get to come up with that part yourself .

10) Do your own simple research and find the meaning that people forget in origins of Some Christmas traditions-leave the pagan ones alone (e.g., Christmas trees-but hey, I love trees.) For example, the 12 days of Christmas has roots in the earlier persecuted church symbols so they could celebrate Christ without it always being overt if in danger. Some of those things may be reserved for as your kids get older, but there can always be pieces they can understand more and more of each year. The point is to try and be intentional. If you have a piano or some other instruments in the family, make that something you all do after supper here and there throughout the season and discuss the origin of the songs. My dad read historical stuff to add meaning to holidays. There’s gotta be intention or your holidays WILL just look like a JcPenny commercial. Maybe that sounds wonderful to you because your gatherings look more like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but aim higher. Maybe putting all the pressure off the ONE day in the year when all the aunts, uncles, unresolved anger, and alcohol are all present. (Just going off Christmas Vacation Movie again there. ;)) It is your family-you make the holidays teachable in the way you see fit. I feel like some kind of Christmas Cheerleader here…

11) Decorations and signs-Visuals are great reminders and bring up the curiosity in children. We bought a Santa (gasp! yes a Santa) bowing at baby Jesus’ cradle not because we are big Santa people- if you read above, you know we aren’t-but because I think its a good reminder of what Christmas is about. We have talked about making ornaments with images that correlate to different prophecies that foretold Christ’s birth because that reminds us as well as kids, hopefully, that there was such a desperate need for Christ’s coming, death, and resurrection. We are so blessed because it is already here, but there was a longing for the King before Christ’s coming as an infant. It is also a great way to discuss (with older kids) how they could know Christ as indeed the Son of God (followed up by more fulfilled prophecies on the first Easter, of course.) We haven’t made this yet, but I wanted to mention that idea as well. Perhaps using those symbols in an advent calendar with little treats would also be nice.

12)I also mentioned somewhere else that you could have the kids find the baby Jesus for the manger scene, but since it was in the middle of talking about the Elf, I thought I’d mention it here. Some families do thi and I’m borrowing the idea-you basically do not put baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas Day so the kids anticipate and then see the tangible reminder that Christmas means “Christ is born.” A scavenger hunt would also be fun.

13)Don’t forget to connect the Christmas and EAster stories for kids and teens. If you just talk about baby Jesus rather than that Baby’s reason for coming- well, they may just forget the whole reason was He came and not give it a thought the entire Christmas season.

14)The thing that actually comes most quickly to people’s minds when thinking of a meangingful Christmas is probably doing things for the less fortunate. I think that is a good thing to do year-round and honestly I think you can even focus solely on this and ignore the part about Christ coming to redeem our souls-the physically poor as well. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good way to have a meaningful Christmas season, though! First of all, it is just nice to do obviously, and second of all it culd be a good witnessing opportunity. Finally, I think all of us in the family can benefit from the reminder that not only should we be grateful for what he gives us and to be good stewards of those provisions, but also we should remember that where there is physical need in teh world for food, clothes, etc., we have a spiritual need. Those deeper meangings are best understood by the preteen and teenaged children in your families, but kids of all ages can participate in acts of service for others.

I want us to also have meaningful Easters and my husband and I have also discussed celebrating Passover in a Messianic (Christian) fashion as well. I’ve been to a Messianic Jewish Seder, or Passover Meal, and they definitely have tangible ways to commemorate what God has done for His people-Jewish and Gentile-and seeing the symbolism that points to Christ is really something worth experiencing. The Jewish customs surrounding Passover are really good at helping children understand the meanings. So hopefully I can write about those sometime.


More Bang for your Buck with Baby Stuff (and kid stuff)

Some of these may be well-known, and some not. Either way, I know sometimes I get in a rut and need to hear some tips for me to get more serious about being on a budget or just being smart about getting use out of things. So here are some tips that I have come across so far:

1) MULTIPLY THE USE OF YOUR ONE PRODUCT/TOY. Think of multiple uses for any toy or baby/kid gear you have to increase enjoyment of what you do have, to increase your family’s creativity, and to save on space and money! For example, this inflatable pool is a space saver, but it is also helping us get the most out of what we paid for it (which was around $30 I believe, not bad!) by doubling as both a pool for outdoor use and a large ballpit (or other creative use) for the indoors. (So far we have been using Ethan’s Pack N Play as a ballpit-another way to multiply use of that! Soon that will be rather small for a ballpit for an older preschooler, though.)

I didn't feel like putting all the balls in the pool since he was about it swim anyways.

I didn’t feel like putting all the balls in the pool since he was about it swim anyways.

So much fun to see him play in it this summer now that he can stand in the pool.

So much fun to see him play in it this summer now that he can stand in the pool.

I haven’t tried this yet, but I would think the inflatable pool would be another way to avoid messes when playing with arts and crafts things. I bought the pool at Wal-Mart, by the way, and I ended up buying an all-purpose electronic inflator/deflator. It is worth it. I aired that thing up with a foot pump the first time! yeah..plus it can be used for air mattresses too.

Double use of this product..playpen for indoor and outdoor use that I also use unfolded as an indoor clothesline for Ethan’s diapers. They are only being used for both purposes simultaneously for the purpose of this picture-I know diapers hanging that close to a toddler won’t last. 😉

2) MULTIPLE-USE PRODUCTS/TOYS: Some wonderful companies have created toys that already have multiple uses that can be used for different ages and stages. Some we have or are shopping for are the “Lay and Play” http://www.firstcry.com/fisher-price/fisher-price-ocean-wonders-kick-and-crawl-aquarium-gym/285/product-detail
(with toys dangling above for young infants) that can be later turned into a tunnel. Now, we didn’t actually use it for that. Ethan enjoyed using it for “tetherball” while sitting up when he was older. Another multiple use product that I am shopping for later this week is Little Tikes’ Mirror http://www.littletikes.com/baby-toys/activity-garden-safe-n-fun-mirror/invt/632068 that is lying horizontally for younger babies doing “tummytime” then stands upright for toddlers and preschoolers. I really want one because Ethan could use a large mirror in his room for fun but also watching his own mouth to help with speech development. (also walking incentive). AFter looking into mirrors some, I saw that this Little Tikes one seemed cheaper than the wall-to-wall (or part of a wall) mirrors that originally had popped into my head. Fine with me, I just want him to be able to see himself. And this is more budget and apartment living friendly.

2) MAKE USE OF REWARDS POINTS, COUPONS, AND PROOFS OF PURCHASE. I am not one of those “extreme couponers”, but scouring your Huggies box for a book of coupons and/or Huggies rewards points to enter into your computer is so easy and you can very quickly accrue points to get either toys, DVDs, or even Shutterfly prints if you use disposables exclusively. I was able to get 100 prints from Shutterfly (had to pay shipping, but still a good deal) after just a couple of months of entering the Huggies reward points.

3) IF YOU ARE ABLE TO, TRY CLOTH DIAPERS. We just started this, and now we are wishing we started when Ethan was little ESPECIALLY because he was on Lasix, a diuretic medication, before his heart defect was repaired. In case you are still puzzled, diuretics make you pee like CRAZY. Newborns/infants already pee a lot; infants on diuretics? I wish we knew how much we paid for diapers back then, I’m sure it was astronomical. With an almost two-year-old, we were paying around $20 per week on disposables. So far our utilities seem virtually unchanged since having to wash cloth diapers, and we have even had success with Ethan sleeping in cloth diapers overnight with no leaks. Even though he is almost potty training age, he still doesn’t cue or poop on the potty so we feel it will still be awhile until he’s potty trained and will therefore still get our money’s worth with cloth diapers. Plus you can use them on future kiddos! Something to think about if you are wanting to save money…So many others blog on Cloth Diapering and I’m certainly not an expert, but if you would like more info on our experience feel free to comment and ask.

4) MAKE YOUR OWN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES. There are sometimes things worth buying, but you can replicate almost anything in my opinion. I make Ethan’s flashcards from magazine pictures, drawn symbols, or coupon pictures (like food items.)

Homemade flashcards

These are some of the flashcards I made from index cards and magazine/ad pictures.

Even printing from your computer will probably be cheaper than store-bought flashcards, and you can make them specific to what you know your child will more readily relate to or recognize. I don’t even think kids need as many toys as we have. Kids thrive on being creative with their parents guiding them to make something from empty oatmeal cans, cardboard tubes, etc. And younger kids just enjoy playing with these. There are some awesome children’s toys on the market, so I’m not saying go back to Little House on the Prairie, but try to get creative to save money and help your kid’s imagination. Speaking of cools toys, another tip is…

5) DON’T BE AFRAID TO BUY USED TOYS AND CLOTHES. I think most parents are “onto” this one, but I have a feeling every parent (in the US anyways) has this nagging feeling that they “should” have brand-new things for their kids. Why do we think this way? I’m not too good for used clothes. I LOVE it when someone gives me cute hand-me-downs. So why shy away from used things for kids? They can have more toys if you buy used and are on a budget. And if you just can’t stand the thought of making flashcards or other items because you are overwhelmed with time crunches, maybe looking at used things like this on an occasional shopping trip would be a good thing to consider.

Those are the general tips. The last few are for parents of kids who are on thickened liquids or have special needs…

6)Find out if your child’s insurance (primary or government insurance for special needs) will pay for thickener to be paid for. We spent hundreds of dollars on thickener before we learned that Ethan’s insurance would pay for a medical supply company to deliver a huge box each month to our doorstep! You would think they would tell you this in the hospital but not always…

7) If your child’s special needs cause frequent visits to the doctor or therapies, find out if your child’s insurance or some government entity will reimburse gas money for the visits.

8) Ask as many people, and ask as many questions you can think of pertaining to what might be covered for your child’s special needs. Depending on your state, a child with special needs may even qualify to have Ensure/ Boost or regular diet foods to be paid for by government insurance.

9) In our state, I’m told that children can get diapers paid for by government starting at age 3. (Some kids struggle with potty training and/or accidents when they have certain disabilities.)

PArents of typical kids or parents of kids with special needs, let me know if you have any questions or have something else you would like me to write about! Things vary by state for special needs but I will try to steer you the right direction. What are your favorite ways to save money for your family?

22 Month Milestones and sleep apnea

HE CAN WALK!!!! Ethan finally took some of his first steps this month! Just before this, he started sitting to standing with no assistance! 12 steps in a row is currently the record.

We have been working with him drinking from a straw because it is recommended to help kids with low muscle tone build the muscles while drinking from the straw. We tried to no avail with the Honey Bear cup, and then we finally found some thicker “Bubba” straws thanks to a few friends who recommended them! Ethan has done pretty well with them so far. I ended up ditching the cup for the time being and just sucking some into the straw myself, holding the liquid there, then offering the straw to Ethan. We’ve had to take a break from practice because he is really congested right now and is less interested in eating in general during the course of his cold.

Ethan has been eating bits of cheddar and is in love with pretzels. Still mostly pureed..we have been told we should be thankful for the variety he DOES eat, though, because some kids eat only puree or have feeding tubes for a long time. Every kid is different, its just about celebrating the steps they make and knowing you are trying your best for your kid and to be content in that. 🙂 But don’t get me wrong, we do try to push for the highest potential in Ethan and his interventions. Still..being content is something I’m allowing God to work on with me, and that includes where Ethan is in his development.

SIGNS: Newest ones are “book.” ( he is in love with his books.)

table, cold, again, down, etc. I really can hardly keep up he tries out so many new signs. We usually watch a little Signing Time (on DVD or some newer ones on Netflix) or Baby Signing Time each day and I sign along with everything I say to Ethan. We also have an I Pad “Baby Sign” ap. Honestly, the biggest help is doing signs as you go though, I believe.

OTHER COMMUNICATION and MEMORY RECALL: signals “I love you”, not ASL, but a special signal his Daddy taught him. 🙂 points to chest, then to us. Ethan’s memory seems to have lengthened quite a bit..he will recall games we play or words from a song. If I leave off a lyric, he will sign the word that comes next even if I wasn’t signing at all in the first place.

FLASHCARDS: This sounded really early to me when I first heard of people having toddlers use flashcards, but it is especially recommended for kids with Down Syndrome to learn whole word language through flashcards first. (I am not the expert on that, but this is what I have gathered from talking to parents and researching programs online.) I want Ethan to already recognize several words when he enters kindergarten so that he has that boost of “hey, I can read!” while he works on whatever methods are taught by the time he enters school (right now it is phonics, I believe, just as when I was in kindergarten.)

We are using flashcards i made from cut out magazine pictures or drawn symbols to accompany the words themselves. Ethan recognizes the “banana” card as well as the “up”, “down”, “ball” and “cheese” card. He only needed a word prompt for “cheese” as of yesterday out of the above mentioned words. We do not drill on it all day, maybe once per day at most. I have read that going through the cards quickly is the idea in working with kiddos with DS so as to keep their interest.

Because of Ethan’s sicknesses, quarantine before and after heart surgery, flu season, etc. , we had never left him in a church nursery until a few weeks ago. He went to a toddler room at a “megachurch” as many would call it, so there were upwards of ten other toddlers in the room, who could all walk pretty well from what I could tell. I was concerned Ethan would be overwhelmed, but he signed “please!” to me to go into the room and tried to open the doorknob so he could go in and PLAY! I hid around the corner then peered in to see how he was doing, and he was already standing and trying to walk toward another child. It did my heart good to see how much he enjoyed himself. The Sunday School worker said that he was “like a pro” and only cried when I came to pick him up. 😉 We’re hoping to slowly work him up to being around more and more kids at once. Hopefully he will be ready to join a developmental center next summer when he is 3 years old.

Ethan had been receiving all 3 therapies in the home, but he now goes up for his 3x week PT and 2 x week speech at the center, meaning he is having more exposure to other kids. I think its been good for him.

POTTY TRAINING. He goes “pee” in the potty every time he is put on the potty…I mean every-time. He still hasn’t signaled for us to take him, therefore we bought some cloth diapers to save money in the meantime because we think it could be a bit before he is fully potty-trained. He’s got Cars, Pirates, Monsters, (from Sunbabydiapers) the works on boyish diapers. Going really well so far!


First of all, I will share a link from a website that is a great resource on all things Down Syndrome because they have done all the research and word things so well, whereas most of what I write tends to be more reflective of our experience (although I will share some info along the way..)

Information about what sleep apena is and why people with Down Syndrome have it so frequently:https://www.ndss.org/Resources/Health-Care/Associated-Conditions/Obstructive-Sleep-Apnea–Down-Syndrome/

Since Ethan has had a pronounced snore and has some difficulty oxygenating at night while in the hospital for RSV this season, he was scheduled for a sleep study. At the sleep study, there were wires all over, and he had to sleep on his back. He also had to sleep with these pediatric arm weights/restraints. Not very conducive to sleeping, but he did end up falling asleep for 6 hours.

A few things you may want to know if your kid is getting a sleep study (at same hospital as us, if you know us personally you know where..)
1)Its VERY cold.
2) Your kid may need restraints if they're young.
3) If your kid has an early bedtime, say 7:30, they will not get to bed on time at the study.

It was found that he has mild sleep apnea (They measure obstructions, oxygen saturations, and things of that nature.) We are waiting to hear for sure from the ENT since that is who will make the "call" on getting his adenoids out, but his pulmonologist (lung doc) said she thought the ENT would probably choose to have Ethan's adenoids, and maybe tonsils, removed. This should help with the apnea as well as swallowing issues (although I do not think it will completely get rid of the issues from what I have heard.) He will go to see ENT at end of June, so we will see for sure at that point! Adventure, adventure.

Exciting months ahead, though! Baby BOY cousin on the way (Ryan's bro's son) as well as the big "2" for Ethan!

Teaching toddlers at home

One of the things I find gets Ethan (and most kids) interested is being sure to cover more than one kind of learning style-not just auditory and learning “by rote”, which was was a large portion of past teaching styles. These traditional, narrow styles have gone by the wayside to make way for a more multisensory approach. It has become widely known that children with Down Syndrome and Autism learn well visually. This does not mean they can’t learn in other ways, and I personally like to tap into all the different ways I can think of to get concepts across. Since children (and people in general) learn well and remember well through emotion and engagement, making learning FUN is of utmost importance!

avoid underestimating kids

Objects to illustrate the “b” sound alongside the letter “b.”

To make learning fun, I think you need to have fun trying to teach your child something as well. Kids can tell if we are impatient and irritated by their lack of understanding or consistent results. I find myself feeling like Elmo, Big Bird, Julie Andrews, and Barney all rolled into one when I am teaching and playing. For preschool age, I think that is a good thing! If you can see the excitement reflected in your children’s faces, then you have their full attention and they will respond best to what you are teaching at that moment versus when you are visibly exasperated or just plain tired-looking.

Your child will remember things best if they get a chance to
1)TEACH it to someone else…this could be in a video you allow them to make (when they’re older), repeat it back to you, do an action while hearing the word, etc.. They will next remember what they
2)DO…hands-on activities, signing while talking and singing, playing with objects while saying the name, etc…then what they
3)SEE, (flashcards, videos, gestures, books, etc.) and last, what they
4)HEAR. So of the different learning opportunities, the least valuable or memorable one is the one that has been so widely used in traditional classroom (and undoubtedly homes since parents often take their cues from teachers.) I do not mean to say that it is not valuable at ALL and some children will be more auditory than others. (I happen to recall a lot of things by what I hear)

In this hierarchy (that I am recalling from undergrad studies with a preschool-4th grade ed program and other readings), remember that EMOTION is something that will probably transcend the learning hierarchy because memories connected to emotions are the ones that will be most remembered, and possibly, learned. For example, if my son learned how to say “banana” because he really wanted one and had an emotion of eagerness when he heard me say the word “banana”, he was more likely to recall that word. Emotions tied to the way in which we RESPOND to our children demonstrating their new skills is also very important. If my son has emotions of pride and excitement at my husband and I cheering then giving Ethan a piece of banana when he says his new word, it is more likely for him to recall that yes, the syllables “banana” do in fact mean the oblong, yellow, delicious fruit.

Using ascending tones on child's keyboard to illustrate the number 3. Also showing quantity of th numeral 3.

Using ascending tones on child’s keyboard to illustrate the number 3. Also showing quantity of th numeral 3.

There is some research connecting music to success in math. It makes sense with the order and counting that goes along with music, just in listening to it and music composition/reading sheet music has even more obvious connections..I just use music and singing because children remember it (and people in general do), and it just makes learning fun for kids.

Hands on playing and learning about a bee as well as practicing his "b" sounds.

Hands on playing and learning about a bee as well as practicing his “b” sounds.

Yes I used a made up little chant with the above bee as well..”I’ve got the bee (clapclap) I’ve got the bee (clapclap( I’ve got the bee, bee, bee, bee BUMBLEBEE (pass it off to Ethan ) “(YOU’VE got the bee, you’be got the bee….” (Etc.) So this is helping with learning what a BEE is using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (tossing the bee), and its also teaching I and ME. I do not always think of those things beforehand when making up a little ditty, but I do try to be as intentional as possible in teaching my child things. Will kids learn anyways through play? Sure, but trying to instill repetition and monitoring what is working best, especially if you are concerns about delays, is important. I would still want to be intentional in teaching typical children because perhaps you are focusing on only one thing if you aren’t being intentional, or maybe you (or someone else) is teaching something negative, or just not accurate (“Red and yellow make BLUE?!! Who knew?” ) Being intentional in teaching selflessness and other virtues as well as Scripture and spiritual matters, etc. also needs to be intentional, but I am not quite there yet on my parenting journey to be able to speak from experience (not quite anyways, we basically sing Jesus loves me, pat the Bible, and I tell Ethan to be gentle if he looks like he is not being gentle! I want to be intentional in a plan for how we as a couple want our children to be taught though.)

Showing numerals and related quantities for into to numbers

Showing numerals and related quantities for into to numbers

Ballpit+theratogs=great workout! See more on theratogs on my milestones and new therapy gear post.

Ballpit+theratogs=great workout! See more on theratogs on my milestones and new therapy gear post.

The ballpit above was bought primarily because I heard it could help with muscle resistance for kids with low muscle tone, but I have also used it to encourage Ethan to say, “more.” I try to have some toys (such as his ballpit) that he doesn’t have access to EVERYday so that it can be an extra motivator for learning opportunities, like requesting something.

My brother has teased me about releasing an album with “30 second children’s songs” because of all the directions and teachable moments that I make up a little ditty for. I do this because I see that it makes Ethan laugh and respond. He has always loved music and I try to use that to my advantage when trying to encourage him to do or learn something.

Some of what I’ve said may be quite obvious to a lot of parents, but I personally enjoy and get inspiration from hearing what other parents do to teach their children. Let me know of any great ideas you have come across!

Our Favorite Children’s books and how they can help your child or student

Being an avid reader as a child and having an undergrad in Early Childhood Ed, I have a particular interest in children’s literature and of course, like most mommies, reading to my toddler. 🙂

I know almost anyone could probably figure out how these different books could help with certain concepts, but pointing out certain ones may help if you want to add or start your child’s book collection and have no idea where to start.

Here is my list and breakdown of what literary, math, or social-emotional benefits they give.

imageI will start with some of Eric Carle’s books because I actually had a book baby shower when I was pregnant that was Eric Carle themed! So I happen to have a lot of those books!

OPPOSITES, DIRECTIONS, SCIENCE-Papa, please get the moon for me talks about things growing and shrinking in size, eluding to the moon phases as Monica’s father goes to get the moon for her. It also talks about things being very LONG and HIGH, also focusing on UP and DOWN throughout the story, making it great for littler ones learning those concepts.

2.MATH 10 Little Rubber Ducks is of course helpful with math (counting, ordinal numbers 1st, 2nd, and so on).

3. SOCIAL EMOTIONAL, SEQUENCING, MEMORY RECALL The Mixed Up Chameleon is helpful in a few ways. The main theme I see in this book is being yourself os the most valuable way to present yourself. It also helps with memory recall and sequencing as each page includes a different animal to build upon the different types of animals the chameleon is trying to be. My book also has tabs that show a tiny image of each animal the Chameleon has taken on to be a part of itself in his quest for identity. The tabs provide a way the reader can glance back and see on the left hand side of the page what was already discussed, like a quick ongoing review. Pretty unique!

4.COLORS, SEQUENCING, MEMORY RECALL GROUP PARTICIPATION Brown Bear, Brown Bear what Do You See? is another popular of Eric Carle’s. It has as different colored animal on each paged that is called by its color name and animal name. It also names the previous animal while calling on the next, helping with review. At the end, it summarizes all the animals named in the book and then provides a chance for feedback as if being read in a classroom.

5. CREATIVITY, STORYTELLING- I see a song. This is an Eric Carle book I had never heard of, probably because it is a picture-only book. I think its pretty neat, myself, though. There are some recognizable, and some unrecognizable/abstract shapes in the book. It starts an ends with a picture of a conductor. I think this would be good to make up stories to your younger children then have the older verbal (or signing) children tell or sign a story when they are older. Kids are expected to write stories and some can have great anxiety about this when they are given open ended writing assignments and this would be a great way to start that. Also, it is just fun and good for their imaginations! Now I want to go buy more picture books!


Those were our Eric Carle favorites. Now for the others…

6. ALPHABET, RHYMING Right now, I would say Ethan’s favorite (at 19months) is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John ARchambault. It is just a fun way to learn the alphabet and it rhymes. Part of what makes Ethan loves this is me bouncing him when I get to the “boom boom!” part. I also try to pause at different lengths so he gets excited about it coming. Part of enjoying reading early are things like this. Also, using different voice intonation keeps it interesting. A new favorite we just picked up and read from the library is Basher ABC Kids from Kingfisher books. It has so much variety and meaningful learning of the alphabet by including several words and names on each letter page including a picture describing the often bizzare and funny image. Every page also includes the lower case alphabet with the current featured letter underlined so kids can see where each letter fits in the alphabet. This way kids can hear more than one letter sound. We may have to get him that one at the store for keeps!

7. MATH (SUBTRACTION)- Five Little Monkeys. We all know the rhyme, but the book I have is by Eileen Christelow. It is quite cute and includes both boy and girl monkeys. I had so many random monkeys I got for shower gifts and so on that I was able to act this out for Ethan with stuffed monkeys and he loved it!

8. PREDICTIVE TEXT- Flip, Flap, Fly! by Phyllis Root Ethan loved this early on because of the quick, simple rhyming book and the fact that I again incorporated movements into the readings. The illustrator, David Walker, included a glimpse of the animal that would be on the next page, and the author always gives a rhyming word with the animal that will appear on the next page, making it the perfect example for predictive text. That term isn’t used often, but I learned about it in my early childhood education program. IT is what it sounds like, the reader is attempting to predict what will happen next which helps with creativity and problem-solving.

9. Another predictive text book is a simple but very fun Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden. It shows the pattern of the animal or object that comes in the next page, and all rhyme with “boo” in peek a boo. Ethan’s favorite is the last page, which is a tiny mirror. “Peek-a-YOU!” It was a great stocking stuffer at Christmas as its tiny. Also great for a diaper bag.

10.BODY PARTS, GOING TO NAPTIME/BEDTIME- Lovable Furry Old Grover’s Resting Places by Jon Stone This is a book that was actually mine growing up. My parents read it to me and I absolutely loved it! My son is learning about body parts so I like to read this one a lot lately. It is silly and fun. Grover has little spots on the page that he prompts the reader to place on various spots to “rest.” It includes hands, bellybutton, nose, etc. It ends with Grover sleeping on his overall body resting place, so I used to read it to preK kids who wouldn’t nap to encourage them to go to sleep or at least lie down!

11. FEELINGS/SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL/TANTRUMS Llama Llama Mad at Mama is a great rhyming book that discourages tantrums but acknowledges angry feelings. I haven’t read the other Llama books, but I’ll bet they are just as great as this one.

12.SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL-SELF-ESTEEM- I want your moo, a story for children about self-esteem…I bought this one when I was working with pre-K kids in the mental health setting since many had self-esteem issues. It is a charming story about a female turkey who tries out other animal sounds because she doesn’t like her sound or looks but in the end uses her turkey-ness to save the day. LOVE it for so many reasons. Excellent illustrations by JoAnn Adinolfi as well.

13. SOCIAL EMOTIONAL/SELF-ESTEEM-ON the Night you were born by Nancy Tillman-I bought this for Ethan for Christmas because I want him to know how blessed we were when he was born. I think I addressed it generically though, because I got to thinking man all these books are personalized to just Ethan. If we are blessed withmore children, I want them to know we love them too! haha the things that go through mothers’ minds. It has amazing illustration…like I want to buy a poster for my house its that good illustration..Teh book says the design was by Nancy Tillman as well as Kathleen Breitenfeld. This is a very touching rhyming book that talks about how the animal kingdom, and just the world in general celebrated and responded when the reader was born. One of my absolute favorites!

14.LEARNING ANIMAL NAMES, FINDING PICTURES BY REQUEST- My Little Animal Book by Jo Rigg from priddy books. Someone gave this to Ethan on his birthday, and it is a great one to practice the skill of pointing out a certain requested animal. For example, since he has interst in dogs and has attempted to say it (and has signed it, woo hoo!), I have been asking “where is the dog?” and “What sound does the dog make?” The animals are arranged in pages by habitat , such as farm, babies, patterns, match the pattern to the animal, match the baby to the mom, African animals, etc. It keeps him busy and he will look at the pictures and listen intently for a good 5-8 minutes! Hopefully he will start saying animal names. He does sign “fish” when we come to the fish!

15. ATTACHMENT/NOVELTY/GIFT: Classic Record a Story’s Ugly Duckling from publications international, ltd. (pi kids) This last one is near and dear to my heart for a few reasons…We all know the Ugly Duckling, but we bought one for Ethan that is a recordable book because I had to go back to work at my new job after the first week he was in PICU with flu and pneumonia when he was about 8 months old. I wanted him to hear my voice even though he was on a chemical paralytic. He could hear, but couldn’t move or respond and I couldn’t be there during the daytime hours. So even when I visited every evening, I really had no way to know whether he was awake and could hear me in a conscious way. I asked my husband and other family members to play the book while I was at work. So whoever came up with the idea of recordable books..that may not have been your intention, but it is wonderful for parents who have a hospitalized child. (More on that here.)

The story the Ugly Duckling was chosen from just a few that were present at the bookstore I visited, but I like Ugly Duckling because of its focus that being different is okay and even beautiful and special. A great message for a sweet child with Down Syndrome. But for any child. 🙂

If you are reading a blog, I probably don’t have to sell you on the importance of reading to your child and making it fun, but other ideas are:

Call or visit the website of your local library..there are more and more activities there these days for storytellings, crafts, even toddler movement activities. (moving bodies, not bowels. 😉 ) There are things for teens on our library website calendar, too. Have fun!


Mental Health Therapy Interventions

This is off the main topic of what I have posted so far, but I have been meaning to share these interventions for a while now. I don’t make my own interventions very often because I have lots of good intervention books that I draw from or modify them. I personally like the Liana Lowenstein books best.

But on with my 2 original interventions:

1) Truth or Dare Jenga (for therapy, not the kind that was first in stores in the 90s.)

This intervention was started for individual therapy for elementary aged children with oppositional Defiant Disorder or similar issues. It is to specifically encourage kids to take responsibility for their behaviors and to hold them accountable, practicing naming what they have done wrong rather than blaming others or lying. Some of the questions myself and kids made up were, “Have you ever made fun of your parents?”, “Have you ever laughed at someone?”, “Have you ever hit someone?” and similar questions. I chose to let the elementary kids on my caseload come up with questions so they would be even more excited about playing it (and it worked!)

In addition to the “truths” about defiance, I included questions about depressed mood or bereavement so more kids could relate to it (and the same kids with multiple symptoms could benefit from it in multiple ways and at the same time not feel they were being “grilled” with what they have done wrong the entire time.) You could include only “accountability” questions, however, as the “dares” level the playing field and make it equally playful and accountable. The kids made up most of the dares with the rule that it cannot be gross or mean.

I think some middle-schoolers could enjoy this too. Below is a picture of a few of the blocks.

Truth or Dare Jenga pieces-I had the kids on my caseload at the time help make some of them up and wrote with a skinny Sharpie on blank blocks

Truth or Dare Jenga pieces-I had the kids on my caseload at the time help make some of them up and wrote with a skinny Sharpie on blank blocks

2) Defend Your Castle

Shields and  popsicle sticks (or "swords" if you want to make them in the shape of swords or daggers). For the "defend Your Castle" game/exercise to learn defense mechanisms.

Shields and popscicle sticks (or “swords” if you want to make them in the shape of swords or daggers). For the “Defiend Your Castle” game/exercise to learn defense mechanisms.

Defend Your Castle-Kid game for reviewing defense mechanisms: This can be done as a race that two teams do with the same questions and the group has to match theirs before the other team. Match the sword to the shield; say what kind of shield it is: The sword is the description of the mechanisms: an example of how it is used in a scenario; put into two piles: metal or wood (to label which are the strong, long-term defenses vs. short-term)

Metal: Humor, assertiveness, undoing
Wooden: Acting Out, Denial, Zoning Out, Regression, rationalizing


1) You are embarrassed and angry at yourself about accidentally scoring for another team, so you make a joke that you have been a spy for the other team the entire time. (humor)

2)Someone makes fun of your art project, so you shove them into the wall in front of everyone then stomp away. Acting Out

3) You are upset about your dog dying, so you pretend he isn’t dead and fill up his food bowl. Denial

4)You are really worried that you have an “F” in math and can’t understand the work, but instead of telling your mom, you just play the DS all night. Zoning Out (AKA Disassociation)

5)You start wetting the bed when you move to a new town and new school . You also start sucking your thumb again.Regression

6)Your friend asks why you cheated on the test, and you tell him, “Well, I wouldn’t have needed to cheat if the teacher knew how to teach. In this case its okay I cheated.” Rationalizing

7)You shut your little sister out of the room and tell him he can’t play with you. Later, you feel guilty so you get her favorite dolls and ask if you can have a tea party with her. Undoing

8)A bully yells at you and grabs your backpack. You firmly tell him, “Stop. That backpack belongs to me; give it back!” Assertiveness

This can be done just as easily in family or individual therapy. I think it is good for kids to know some defense mechanisms so they are self-aware and know there ARE some more mature ways to defend ourselves. I hope this helps you, and feel free to share any ideas you have in the comment section!

(Natalie, LMSW.soon to be LCSW hopefully)