Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happy Second Birthday to Evie!

I'll have more to say later on, but for today...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Teaching Babies and Toddlers

Richele posted a comment on Evie's 22 month post asking about our schedule and my methods for teaching Evie, so this post is in response! Thanks, Richele, for the suggestion because I enjoyed writing this.

However, I am also hesitant. I'm a first-time mom to a toddler and my teaching background is with teenagers, so I am far from an expert. But I always enjoy reading about what other moms do with their kids, and often get ideas from them, so I'm happy to share my thoughts in that spirit and not as an authority on the subject. Please read my tone here as conversational, not as preachy. I am under no illusions that Evie is "gifted," especially since I tell her many times a day to take the (pencil, toy, rock, etc.) out of her mouth and remind her that we eat food and play with toys, not the other way around. If she were gifted, wouldn't she have figured that out by now? Anyhow.

First, our schedule. There's really nothing special about our routine, compared to the average SAHM (stay at home mom), except that not every SAHM gets out of the house with her kid(s) as much as I do. We go somewhere (playdate, park, swimming, shopping, etc.) almost every day, usually in the morning.

It's as much for Evie's stimulation and socialization as it is for my sanity. Since she was an infant, she's been a social butterfly and tends to get cranky when we stay home all day. My mom says I was the same way and would cry as she carried me back over the threshold back into our house, while Evie tends to whine in the car when we make the turn into our neighborhood and she realizes we're headed home (of course this is usually headed home for lunch and nap, so she might just be starting her nap protest).

As we eat breakfast each morning, Evie inevitably asks me "go bye bye?" and I tell her where we are going that day. Sometimes I tell her our schedule the night before, and then she'll prompt me at breakfast "go park?" or "go simmin? (swimming)." We rarely go anywhere further than 20 minutes away, so her time in the car isn't too bad.

Anyhow, I don't have a specifically scheduled time during the day to sit down and teach Evie anything. Instead, I try to use teachable moments throughout the day. Catching a teachable moment is like catching quiet alert time with a newborn. I think toddlers learn best when they are alert, but not hyper, and calm, but not tired. For Evie, these moments happen when she is focused on something, like having a conversation with me, playing with a specific toy or reading a book. Sometimes I'm too busy or distracted to notice her mood, but often enough I do take advantage of those moments to teach a new word, demonstrate a fine motor skill or reinforce something else that she's learning.

As far as teaching goes, it's challenging for me to write down a set of things I do because most of it is automatic/intuitive. My mother is an early childhood educator and did many of these techniques with me when I was a pre-schooler. Although I don't remember much of my early childhood, I think that I must have unconsciously learned from her? Anyhow, after thinking about this a lot I think there are 4 general principles that I follow as a "baby teacher."

1. Follow the child's natural interest; everything is easier to learn when you're interested in it, no matter what age you are.
Example: A couple of months ago, Evie's favorite books were Angelina Ballerina's Shapes and Todd Parr's The Silly Book of Shapes. She also loved to play with her shape sorter. So I started pointing out shapes to her in the world while we were out and about, and identifying the shapes of other things she played with. I didn't push the issue, just followed her interest and supplied the words she needed. Now she can identify and name all of the basics (circle, square, triangle, heart, star) and also some harder ones (oval, rectangle, diamond).

2. Learning is fun and fun is learning; for toddlers, play is their job, it's the primary way they learn anything.
Example: When we are at the park playing, I have the opportunity to teach Evie about:
  • looking right and left when we cross the street
  • grass is soft and cement is hard
  • you're swinging up and down
  • going up 1 2 3 4 5 steps
  • let's go down the red slide and then the blue slide
  • be careful because that baby is littler than you
  • that boy can swing on the monkey bars because he's bigger than you
  • keep your hat on to protect your eyes from Mr. Sun
  • it's hotter in the sun and cooler in the shade
  • if you put your feet down you'll go slower on the slide and if you pick them up you'll go faster
  • the sign says n-o-s-m-o-k-i-n-g "No Smoking"
  • etc.
3. General principle: Books. Lots and lots of books.

Example: We've been reading Goodnight Moon to Evie every night since she was 6 months old or so, and she's gone through many phases with it. At first she was unimpressed, then went through a phase where it was the only book she'd sit still for. Then she was bored with it, and then figured out the game of finding the mouse and was fascinated once more. After another phase of tolerating it, now she has developed an interest in the text and will point to the words and say "A B E C L M P X Y" or something to that effect. One night last month she pointed to the words on one page and correctly said "Goodnight stars." Of course she can't read, but she has memorized the words to this book from constant repetition and has now linked the picture, text and phonics together, which is a step toward learning to read some day. Most recently, she likes to hear us read the book to her while she nuzzles in our necks with her blankie. It's so familiar that she doesn't care about the pictures any more. But when we are drawing pictures with crayons she asks us to draw her a pink moon, and then she says "goodnight pink moon." She has many books in her library, but her intimate relationship with this one book has given her the opportunity to relate to it in many different ways.

4. Sing. Songs use rhyme, rhythm and the vocal instrument to exaggerate and emphasize phonics, grammar and storytelling. Thus, they lay the groundwork for future reading skills. They also get a child's attention, so they are a great distraction from misbehavior.

Example: Awhile back we were reading books at bedtime and telling Evie that her Nana and Papa would arrive for a visit the next day, which ended in J and I singing a duet of "Tomorrow" from Annie. Evie did not criticize our pitch. Anyhow, now anytime I tell her something will happen "tomorrow" she starts singing "Tu-marra, tu-marra, I lub ya, tu-marra!" in jubilant tones. It's cute and silly, but it is helping her learn the concept of future time, and delayed gratification.

In the comments, I'd love to hear from everyone else about their techniques for teaching little ones.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Spread Thin

We are staying very busy these days.

We spent 2 weeks in Mississippi visiting my brother and sister-in-law while she is on bed rest with twin boys, dilated to 3cm. Praise God, the babies are staying put a little longer and hopefully will be born around 35 weeks, healthy and strong. As I said before, Evie and I will probably visit them again once the babies arrive, to help out in our limited, crazy, mommy and toddler manner. Evie had a great time with her 3-year-old cousin, but the chaos she added to house pretty evenly balanced out the help I was able to offer with laundry, shopping, food prep and playing with my nephew.

Now that we are home again, Evie is going to start a parent's day out (PDO) program on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I'm going to start a bible study on Wednesday mornings, we'll attend toddler story time at the library on Monday mornings and Evie has started gymnastics class on Tuesday evenings. I'm excited to start our little routine and get done some things around the house that desperately need my attention. For example, I haven't washed windows in a full year, and haven't dusted the blinds properly in months. I've always been an efficient housekeeper, but now that I'm a full-time mom I'm a veritable whirlwind of cleaning energy when I have time in the house to myself. Watch out house, I'll be home Tuesday morning at 9:30 and I'm breaking out the microfiber cloths and having my way with you. On Thursday, I might just pull out the orange oil and polish furniture! On top of everything, I'm tackling a big project at church of re-organizing all of the cabinets in the classrooms and kitchens and the pantry, cleaning the shelves and lining them all with contact paper. This kind of thing is right up my alley as a Type A neatnik.

Anyhow, until I get through this period of busyness, which I think we all experience in the fall, I'm going to be taking a blog break. I'll post for Evie's birthday in a couple of weeks, and I'll post if we hear anything about the second adoption, but other than that I'll probably be silent. We'll see. Here is a fun picture of Evie from our trip to Mississippi:

and a short video of her jumping off the diving board at the pool there (in Mississippi):

The floatation device she's wearing is this:

I can't recommend this product highly enough. IT ROCKS. It gives Evie total confidence in the water and almost complete independence. Using it, she's learned to kick her legs and propel herself through the water, spin in circles and jump into water by herself. I'm not receiving any kind of incentive to promote the puddle jumper, I just think it's awesome. In my opinion, every kid 30-50 pounds who can't swim yet will love it.

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