Friday, March 20, 2015

The totally fun zero mess art activity

Yesterday morning we tried out some great new kid's markers. They're a large size, perfect for little hands to grip, and are designed with a sturdy tip that can't be pushed inwards if they're pressed too hard on the paper.


Drawing with markers gave LB the chance to practice putting lids on and off. Something he dearly loves doing. With every lid he finds. All the time.

 I thought Little Bean would love this activity but it was met with limited success. He loved the drawing part but kept crying "Ewwww" every time he got ink on his hands. Out came the wet wipes and problem solved. Hmmm, maybe not. His cries became quite upset because there were still faint ink marks. 

After washing his hands for the third time, I'd had enough of trying to get him over his ink phobia for one day. I decided a cleaner art activity was in order. Enter one jug of water and a large paintbrush.  The neighbours had held a wedding reception - street party in our little laneway cul-de-sac the previous day and the gazebo was still up. Perfect for an outdoor activity. We set up under it and  "painted" the concrete laneway with water. As time went on, curious kids came out and had a look. Within 15 minutes, we had half a dozen kids "painting" with us. One of the kids even "painted" flower pots and her front gate. Loads of fun was had by all and there was zero mess to clean up. Just a few paintbrushes needing a quick rinse. This will be a regular activity I think.

One of my clearest and fondest memories from kindergarten is "painting" with water on the side wall of the school. I remember being so excited to go to play lunch because it meant that I could go and "paint". This activity would work well on many surfaces. Your kids could "paint" the house, the garden path, the driveway or you could even get them to "paint" (and wash) your car.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Animal theme activities - week 3

We've started Gymboree art classes and also have lots of art and craft activities planned for at home. One of our art activities this week was stamping. We used some kangaroo and koala stamps. See this post on art activity trays.

I have rearranged the kitchen and made it possible for Little Bean to safely access the kitchen bench. I'm not able to buy a Learning Tower (Santa?) or to make one at the moment so I had to improvise. We still have LB's old cot sitting in the dining room area. We used to use it as a bed - play pen when he was a baby. I was going to get rid of it but realised I had a new purpose for it. A make-shift helper platform. I pushed it up against the kitchen bench and LB can stand in it. Problem solved. The existing height settings are either too high or too low, so I'll have to drill some more holes to give us some better options. More on that project another day.

 This was his first time helping me cook and he loved it. He was in charge of the mixing bowl and stirring. He also helped sift flour, pour in the liquids and added the eggs after I cracked them into a cup for him. On the first day, we made banana cake for morning tea. We also made the almond milk to use in the cake. Another day, we made bacon and vegetable egg slice. He wanted to taste everything, which was fine for cake batter, but a bit weird for raw egg slice. He also cut capsicum and carrot sticks using this awesome crinkle cutter we bought from the How We Montessori shop. It was only AU$3.95

Animal recognition is happening. After our art activity was packed away the other day, Little Bean went and got a rubber ducky, pointed to the picture of ducks on his table and put them together. Happy dance.

We added some new animal figurines. He is now learning African animal names and sounds too.

I made Little Bean this activity board. For more details, read the full post here.

Instead of putting the dolly pegs in the pocket of the activity board as I had planned, LB often threaded them onto the front piece of fabric. This gave me the idea for this next activity. Putting dolly pegs on a tin can.

This week I added a spooning activity for the first time. He is using an Asian soup spoon with animal counters.

LB is using tongs for the first time too. These are a small pair that I found at the supermarket for a couple of dollars. He picked it up within a few minutes and really surprised me. I didn't think that he'd be able to do it and just wanted to see how far off he was. Instead, I am now planning more tong activities for next week. I gave him animal counters to see how he went with hard objects. I think I will try something soft like pom poms next.

I have been meaning to try this next activity for a couple of weeks but never found the time. Well, this week, our shell washing activity will happen. We will do it at LB's hand washing station. This red tray is actually for drying dishes on and includes a draining rack. I got the two wooden brushes from the fruit and vegetable section of IGA supermarket in Australia. They're for scrubbing potatoes. I bought both so that I could see which shape would suit little hands best.

We haven't had a discovery basket for a while so I thought I'd make one up with the new containers I've been collecting for another opening and closing activity. It has a small gift box, pill box, lunchbox, cardboard box, plastic container and a drawstring bag.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Art activity trays for toddlers

Little Bean went to his first Gymboree art class last week and loved it. The kids got to play with play dough and make collages. The first collage was a flower with seeds glued in the centre with colourful paper and foam pieces on the petals. They then drew around the flower with some really cool, soft, silky crayons from Crayola. I can't recall the product name but will find out and update this post later. Then the kids made a cone hat, covered it in glue and rolled it across a tray of feathers and pom poms. This class will definitely be a weekly activity for us.

I recently read online somewhere (I really must start taking better notes of where I find things online) about making up trays for art activities. It suggested putting the drawing paper in a tray so that your little one can not draw off the page and on to the table. Brilliant idea! So this week, I have made up several trays for Little Bean using crayons and stamps. The stamps were a bit hit. It also gave him ample opportunity to practice his latest word "Ewww". Whenever he got ink on his hand or the table, he'd point to it and say "Ewww" and ask for a wet wipe to clean it up.

Little Bean continues to be very ambidextrous. He was stamping with both hands at the same time.

Little Bean got very enthusiastic and had the tray sliding all over the place, so I would recommend placing  piece of rubber non-slip mat under the tray like we did. It worked a treat.

We will continue with the art trays for other activities such as painting and collages. We will also use the trays for play dough.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Things I learnt from having a baby

When I was younger, I thought that starting a family would be easy. You get married (or not), decide the time was right, get pregnant, read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, pop out a cute bundle of joy, breastfeed exclusively and live happily ever after. As is so often the case in real life, the plan went awry.

Getting pregnant can be really difficult.

We tried IVF several times before we were successful. It was a harrowing experience and at times, downright heartbreaking. I know quite a few people that also underwent IVF to have their children. I just wish it was more affordable so that more people could access the services. Not everyone with a deserving heart has the money to become a parent this way.

Morning sickness sucks (and so does fish sauce)

No matter what the name has you believe, morning sickness is not confined to the morning. Nor is it confined to the first few months. I spent nine months with a never-ending greasy, nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. Bouts of vomiting were set off by various smells, seafood being the main one. Not good when you live in a country like Vietnam, where seafood is a staple and fish sauce is served with every meal.

Childbirth hurt so, so, so much worse than I ever imagined.

And that was with lots of drugs. I used a TENS machine during the early contractions. When that was no longer enough, I begged for pethidine. Later on, I opted for a walking epidural, which was great. I was able to relax and recharge for a little while. Once the contractions got more full-on, the epidural helped take the edge off but still allowed me to walk around and be in control when it came time to push. But near the end, I reached the point where I pleaded for it to be over. I truly reached the limit of my ability to endure pain but it didn’t stop there. Little Bean’s shoulder was stuck and he was in trouble. Eventually, all ended well but I vowed that there would be no more babies. I was so not doing that again. In hindsight, I feel bad for any other first-time soon-to-be-Mums that might have heard me screaming and cursing from neighbouring rooms. It would’ve freaked me out hearing that if our situations had been reversed. However, childbirth proved to me that I am a lot stronger than I thought possible.

 Sisters are awesome.

My husband was in Vietnam with our older boy when I had Little Bean in Australia. I asked two of my sisters to be my birthing partners. Best idea ever. No-one can make you laugh like sisters can, even in the midst of pain. During the first stage of labour, my younger, childless sister was sent on a drinks run to the hospital canteen. She returned holding a pamphlet on contraception. I’ve never laughed so hard in all my life. Between her and my older sister, who has two kids, they kept me grounded and strong. The time went much quicker with them to keep me company. I couldn’t have done it without them.

A good midwife & obstetrician are worth their weight in gold.

I had a student midwife attend my doctor’s appointments and join me in the birthing suite. She was amazing. She helped me so much and didn’t take anything personally. I vaguely remember her trying to help me focus on breathing, only to be told to back the f*** up before I punched her in the face. We laughed about it afterwards but I still felt bad. Childbirth pain really does make you temporarily insane. I also had several other midwives and they did such a great job when the shit hit the fan. They were so fast and professional at doing what needed to be done. My obstetrician did a great job too and managed to keep me calm while I was waiting to find out if Little Bean had made it or not. No easy feat. They were the longest few minutes of my life.

The aftermath is not all cute babies and overwhelming joy.

I have a picture of my son and I that was taken when they handed him to me for the first time. I was so tired, so happy and so very, very relieved. I had just spent the past few minutes not knowing if he was dead or alive. It’s only now, 19 months later, that I can look at that first photo of us together and feel happy. Before, looking at how frail and blue he was in that picture, I would feel that panic all over again and would end up shaking and crying hysterically. I had read about how difficult childbirth could give you a form of PTSD and about debriefing sessions for new mothers. I never understood how traumatic childbirth could be. Now I do. Luckily, I was able to cope with the feelings I was having. Many are not so lucky. Many new mothers suffer from PTSD, post-partum depression and anxiety attacks. I think that it is really important for new Mums to remember that they are not alone and that others feel the same way. It’s okay if you need help. Please don’t be afraid to ask for it.

 Pelvic floor exercises are really, really important.

I did the recommended amount of daily pelvic floor exercise throughout my pregnancy. We had a difficult labour and because Little Bean became stuck in the birth canal, my hoo-ha was not itself for a very long time. Neither were my pelvic floor muscles. Thank the Goddess, I never actually had any accidents, but I did come close more than once. My bladder felt fuller quicker and I certainly couldn’t hold on for long. I did so many pelvic floor exercises after he was born to get back into shape. Knowing what I know now, I recommend doing them EVERY spare minute you have while you’re pregnant. Or even better, do them constantly. I wish I had.

Breastfeeding is hard (and has many OTT bully advocates).

For something that is so natural, it seems that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Little Bean wasn’t able to latch on properly so I had to express my milk so it didn’t dry up. In the vain hope that I may eventually be able to breastfeed, I gave him practice nursing, plus tried to express milk that never really came in. I had very little time to sleep and became exhausted. Then I got mastitis and had to take medication to try to up my supply. We had to supplement my milk with formula so he had enough to drink. Nothing really worked and I ended up switching to bottle formula full-time. I am a staunch advocate for women being able to breastfeed in public without judgment, so I was completely surprised by the criticism I got for bottle feeding. I had people I knew, as well as complete strangers, quiz me about my choice and basically tell me I should’ve tried harder. I found that the most opinionated people were the ones screaming loudest for their right to publically breastfeed. So much for equal rights and non-judgement for bottle-feeding Mums.

Sleep deprivation was way more fun in my 20’s.

I fondly remember the days when going without sleep was not only fun, but relatively easy. It doesn’t seem very fun at 4am when you’re doing yet another feed and nappy change. I must admit that I got very lucky and had Little Bean sleeping for 7 hours overnight by the time he was a few months old. I highly recommend the book “The Baby Sleeps Tonight” by Shari Mezrah. It saved my sanity.

You don’t need half the baby stuff you think you do.

To be honest, I went a bit nuts and bought all sorts of baby stuff that I thought was cute, cool or possibly useful. I didn’t end up using half of it. Cute outfits are great, but they inevitably get covered in one of the three Ps; pee, poo or puke. I recommend one or two outfits for special occasions or photos. Stick to singlets and onesies the rest of the time.

Monday, March 16, 2015

DIY activity board for toddlers

I have seen so many great activity boards on Pinterest, especially latch boards. I understand the theory behind latch boards and see the great opportunity to work on fine motor skills. However, I'm not sure I want my toddler knowing how to open, unlock and unlatch the very things that keep him safe around our home. I came up with this alternative activity board instead.

I used a laminated shelf that I kept from a cupboard we recently threw out. This made it easy as I didn't have to do any drilling. I was able to screw everything in by hand. Little Bean is obsessed with light switches at the moment so it was a given that one of those be included. There are also hooks to  hang washers on, eye hooks to thread string through, a pocket for a postcard, a pouch for dolly pegs and two trolley wheels that spin and swivel.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Animal theme activities - week 2

It's the second week (or so) of our animal theme. As far as this series of posts go, I'm sure you've noticed that my week isn't always a week long. I usually change the activities every seven to ten days. It usually depends on Little Bean's level of interest. Plus, sometimes I get busy and don't have time to come up with a new set of activities every week or get to post straight away. This is a post for activities we did a couple of weeks ago. Hubby works FIFO so I'm basically a single Mum most of the time and am finding it difficult to balance everything at the moment. Since our return to Vietnam after two months away, Little Bean's sleeping pattern has changed, he is back at Gymboree classes twice a week and he decided that he wants to start toilet learning. Plus I've joined a mothers group and am returning to work a couple of nights a week. It's been a lot to get used to in a short space of time. We've finally started to find our rhythm and hopefully this will mean that I can blog with more regularity.

This week was mostly about animals, plus I introduced some new toys and musical instruments. Little Bean loves to sing and dance, so it was no surprise that he loved playing music too. I gave him a new tambourine, clapping sticks, shaker and a pair of maracas. I also reintroduced his xylophone piano. He hasn't played it in a while because I hid it. He was smashing the keys one day and the noise was driving me nuts. I hid it and hoped he'd forget about it. He did, and so did I. I remembered it again this week when I got the other instruments out. He is playing it gently now and my poor addled brain can take it this time around.

I love these farm animal counters. There are six types of animals in five colours. I also bought the matching bowls to use for colour sorting later on. I put a handful of the counters into two plastic jugs with lids. Little Bean removes the lids, pours the counters from jug to jug, then replaces the lids. Over and over and over again. I introduced this activity in the morning and Little Bean spent nearly three hours playing with it, minus a quick toilet and snack break. He couldn't wait to get back to it. I have never seen him so focused before. He only stopped because he was hungry for lunch and then had a nap.

This wire spoon was the perfect size for scooping these rubber duckies from bowl to bowl. I introduced this in the evening and he spend over an hour on it before bedtime.

Little Bean saw me doing some hammering and became fascinated with trying to get my hammer and hit things too. A toddler with a real hammer is a scary thing so I bought this wooden hammer and ball set. It was an instant hit and my breakables were safe once more. Down the track, we'll also use this toy for colour recognition and matching.

I have been impatiently waiting for Little Bean to be ready for this toy. I've been dying to play with it. You put little cars on the top ramp and watch them roll and flip their way to the bottom. My favourite is a two trailer car that does awesome flips over the edge and then swings to the next ramp.

This snail from Fisher-Price was a firm favourite when Little Bean was crawling. It lights up, plays music and has a mirror. All popular with little ones. The green part is a wheel, so he would lay it on its side and spin it around. I got it out of storage and this time Little Bean has worked out how to roll it across the floor.

Little Bean started pulling hats out of his drawers so I chose a few animal hats to play dress-up with. We took turns putting on hats and making animal noises and actions. Lots of laughs.

We did Little Bean's bedroom makeover this week and he wanted to help. When Daddy put up the shelf for his TV, it was his job to hand Daddy screws. He is really eager to help with everything so I try to find a new way to help every day.

Monday, March 9, 2015

LB's new toilet learning area

Little Bean has shown little interest in using the potty. For the past few months I've had the potty in the bathroom and tried to coax him into using it. I've tried getting him to sit on it, fully clothed, to read a book. I've tried getting him to sit on it while I use the toilet. I've tried reading him cute kids books on potty training. So far, the best response was him sitting on there, with pants on, for a couple of minutes. However, the most common response was a near-tantrum. I decided to treat it the same way I treated brushing his teeth. If trying to get him to do it was going to end with an upset, crying child who comes to hate the task, it's better to forget it and let him come back to it when he's ready. I was reminded to follow the child.

Little Bean hated me trying to help him brush his teeth. He would get worked up to the point of hysterics. I gave up and just let him do it himself. His diet is very low in sugar so I figured that it wasn't too bad to just let it be for a while. Sure enough, a few months ago, he started that phase where kids love to copy everything that Mum and Dad does. Suddenly, he's following me to the bathroom, watching me brush and asking for his toothbrush. He even wanted me to help him finish job properly. I must admit, I did a happy dance. On the hard days, it's the small victories like this one that remind us to hang in there.

Back to the potty. Last week, out of the blue, Little Bean sits on the potty while I went to the toilet. And yes, I did another happy dance. Through out the day, he continued to follow me to the bathroom and sit on the potty. Albeit, this is all with pants on but it was progress. The next day, he let me take his nappy off when he went to the potty. So far, he's only staying on there for a few minutes at a time and hasn't actually done a wee or poo yet. I decided that the couple of books by the potty wasn't going to cut it anymore and decided to make a proper toilet area for him.

I put a shelf beside the potty to hold pull-up nappies, wipes, toys, books and plastic bags for stinky nappies. I also added a small washing basket for soiled clothes and a non-slip mat under the potty. We usually use a modern cloth diaper with press studs but it's not practical for toilet learning so I've switched to pull-up disposables for now. I have lots of training pants but he's not ready for them yet. Recently, he's been wearing a lot of summer bodysuits (onsies) as he had really bad eczema on our last trip to Australia and we had to buy bodysuits for him so he couldn't scratch his tummy and back. Between starting toilet learning and his eczema clearing up, I've switched him back to t-shirts and shorts with an elastic waistband. He still needs help pulling his nappy and shorts up and down, but he's improving every day.