Toddler Thursday: Letter Recognition Activities

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We all want to give our children the skills to make the most of their educations. One basic concept that we can encourage our toddlers to develop is letter recognition. Children who know their ABCs early are at an advantage, and may quickly move onto becoming fluent and critical readers.

My girls are well beyond learning their letters now that they’re 9 and reading at a middle school level. When they were younger, I had a repertoire of alphabet toys and “ABC games”, as a I called them, at my disposal. I think that these, in combination with constant access to age appropriate books, regularly being read to, and observing me read, helped my daughters become the strong and willing readers that they are today.

Alphabet Toys

I don’t believe that toys, in isolation, can teach our children to read, but educational toys have their place alongside literacy experiences shared by parent and child. In my experience, Leapfrog is the leading brand when it comes to toys that help to teach literacy and numeracy skills.

The LeapPad2™ Power is one of several literacy-related toys produced by Leapfrog.

I personally prefer their hands on toys, such as their Fridge Phonics set, to their tablets for getting toddlers excited about the alphabet.

Fridge Phonics' music may get stuck in your head in the worst possible way, but it does help your toddler learn the letters of the alphabet!

We had a much older version of this toy nearly a decade ago. Its repetitive song of “‘B’ says /b/, ‘B’ says /b/, every letter makes a sound, ‘B’ says /b/” may have driven me a little batty, but my daughters did learn their letters! The letter magnets are interchangeable on the base. Press on the magnet, and it sings to your child the name of the letter. The musical note button sings the Alphabet Song.

I apologize for the vacuum cleaner in the background. Loved that Roomba!

Flashcards

I picked up a cheap set of letter flashcards at our local dollar store and kept them in the car. When we were stuck in traffic, I could hold a card up over my head and show my toddlers a letter. At first, I’d just tell them what the letter was. After a few weeks, they were able to tell me the name of the letters I showed them. Next, I started listing all the words I could think of that started with that letter. As my twins got older, they began to offer up their own words.

Scavenger Hunts

As I mentioned in my college campus post, one simple activity involved writing each letter of the alphabet, in both upper and lower case, on a sheet of paper on a clipboard. We went outside or looked through books and magazines, crossing out each letter on the list as we found it.

Alphabet scavenger hunts are great fun for a toddler, who doesn't even realize she's learning!Label Reading

One way to keep my kids occupied when we were running errands was to assign them each a letter of the alphabet to find. They could last an entire grocery shopping trip, hunting for the first letter of their names or looking for every “E” in sight.

Keep your toddler occupied at the store by having him scour the labels for a particular letter or number.

What games do you play with your toddlers to teach them the alphabet?

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Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday: Daddy Dolls

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Categories Dads, Emotion, Holidays, Products, Talking to Kids, Toys, Travel, Wouldn't Do Without WednesdayTags , 48 Comments

Monday was Memorial Day, the American remembrance to honour all who have given their lives in service to the USA.

Too often, we get caught up in the excitement of a day off work, family barbecues, and widely advertised sales, forgetting the Memorial part of the day altogether. My daughters’ father is a career soldier and has served 3 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While we’re thankful that he has never been injured, I’m very aware that not all military families are so fortunate. On this day of the year, I always remember a waitress I met near where we live. We started chatting about our families when she noticed that my girls were twins. She was pregnant with her twins, she told me, when her husband was killed on duty at the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001. She moved back to Texas so that her parents could help her raise her three children even as she grieved.

It’s easy to overlook how war, especially war that takes place far from our shores, impacts children. It does impact them, though. My daughters have known all their lives that Daddy goes away to catch bad men. They know that he carries a gun, and so do the bad men. They also know that most of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan are just mommies and daddies and kids who don’t want any fighting. They just want to be together.

These conversations with my daughters were not easy. They were at least as hard as the conversations we’ve had about divorce and that mommy and daddy don’t love each other any more. Now that M and J are 9, they can verbalize how they’re feeling. When they were younger, it was much harder, especially with Daddy away more often than he was living with us at home.

To help my daughters talk about and process their father’s absence, I turned to Daddy Dolls, a company started by two Marine wives. They turn the full-length photo of a loved one into a doll for your child to interact with. Ours came out wonderfully. They held up through 2 years of daily hugs and countless runs through the washing machine, looking just as they did they day we received them. Sadly, they’ve been left at the bottom of the toy bin since shortly after the divorce, despite my efforts to bring them out to play.

I ordered the girls’ dolls the day that my now-ex left for his 3rd combat tour. We took photos of L in front of our garage the morning he deployed to Afghanistan. The company removed the background image and printed a smiling picture on each of two camo-backed dolls.

Daddy dolls give the military child something to hold onto while a parent is deployed.

When our then 4-year-old daughters received their dolls, they were completely enamoured. You can see their reaction in this video.

A few days after we received the Daddy dolls, I walked over to J’s bed after brushing M’s hair. J had her doll in her hand, facing me.

J (age 4, as Daddy): Hi Sadia!
Me: Hi L (ex’s name)!
J: So, how are you doing?
Me: I’m fine, but I miss you. I have a hard time falling asleep.
J: I just came by to say, “You’re welcome.”
Me: I see.
J: You’re welcome for the dolls.
Me: I love you!
J: I miss you all, even Penelope (the cat).
Me: And we miss you.
J: (as J, addressing the doll) You and me only have the … What’s the hole called?
Me: A dimple.
J: You and me only have a dimple.
M (age 4): Mommy and me have moles!
J: Does Daddy have a mole?
Me: Yes.

Of course, the utility and value of these dolls isn’t limited to families with a deployed parent. Any child suffering loss might benefit. I gave a gift card to the site to a friend for her son when her husband passed away. Moving away from the morbid, when it comes time for holiday shopping, a Daddy (or Mommy or Grandma or Sister) Doll might make for a good present. We received ours in less than two weeks.

Wouldn't Do Without Wednesday at hdydi.com: This week, the gogo Kidz Travelmate.As with all Wouldn’t Do Without Wednesday posts, I received no compensation for this review.

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Toddler Thursday: Easing Fears at the Pediatrician

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Categories Parenting, Preschoolers, Talking to Kids, Toddler Thursday, Toys2 Comments

The holiday just before my girls were three, they got a toy doctor kit.  Immediately, it was a huge hit.  They checked out all their babies, and each of their stuffed animals took a visit to the vet clinic.

Dr kitWith their three-year check-up soon approaching, I decided to get in on the pretend action, admittedly with a bit of an agenda.

I made a big deal, talking about each of the different instruments, what they were used for…and how they were just like the ones Dr. F, our pediatrician, uses.  We took turns being the doctor, the nurse, and the patient, and I made a point to work into the scenario that someone was scared.

“I understand you feel scared, Mr. Bear, but you know Dr. A.  She’s been taking excellent care of you since you were a tiny cub.  First, she’s going to listen to your heart.  What a cool stethoscope!  Ooh…is it cold?  Does it tickle?  I know it does hurt.”

“Now she’s going to take a little peek in your ears.  It’s OK…there’s no need to be scared!  She’s just checking to make sure you didn’t lose any bananas in there.”

“This little band measures your blood pressure, how fast your blood is dancing around inside your body.  Is your arm ready for a hug???”

The girls got very accustomed to the routine, and soon they were repeating it to all their babies.  They were very encouraging, even to the most scared bear cub.

The real key (advice I got from a friend) was the positioning of the shot.  There’s truly nothing to be afraid of as far as the exam goes, right?  But shots hurt…no way around it.  And that’s the approach I took with the girls.

Mr. Bear, it’s time for a shot.  It will hurt, but ONLY for a second!  Then you’ll be ALL DONE and then we’ll go do something fun / get a sticker / have an ice cream [insert reward of choice]!”

My girls are now almost six, and they haven’t cried at the pediatrician — even for shots — since before they were three.  Empowering them with information and perspective has made visits to the pediatrician nothing to sweat.

(And, as a side note, my girls still play with their doctor kit almost daily.  “Vet” is a huge theme at our house.  That’s what both girlies say they want to be when they grow up, and they make sure to get lots of practice.)

MandyE is mom to 5 1/2-year old twin girls, A and B.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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Make-It Monday: Thank-You “Notes” for Pre-Writers

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Categories Activities, crafts, DIY, Make-It Mondays, Preschoolers, Toys2 Comments

We recently went to Chicago to see the sights, and also to visit some friends and family we haven’t seen in far too long.  When we got home, I wanted to have the girls make some type of thank-you gestures for those we saw.  I think it’s a great way to help them remember what we did, with whom…and I knew our friends and family would love seeing the girls’ handiwork.

I asked the girls what they most enjoyed about seeing Aunt and Uncle K.  They unanimously named Aunt K’s corn on the cob (she fixed it twice for them, seeing how much they loved it), and playing soccer with Uncle K.

I came up with a couple of fun crafts for them to make…

Craft1For our ear of corn, I gave the girls yellow paint and showed them how to dab it onto a long oval shape I drew.  [This was the first time we’d used Q-tips with paint…it was great!  We’ll be coming up with more “dabbings” soon!]

When the paint was dry, the girls added green hand prints for the leaves.  (I didn’t take pictures of this part of the craft…even at age 5 1/2, I stay pretty close by when we start getting our hands covered in paint!)

For the soccer ball, I let the girls trace small hexagons (we have these awesome stencils). They cut out the shapes and glued them onto a piece of card stock.  Craft2 Then they traced a larger circle and cut it out.  Viola!  I am seriously in love with the way this turned out.

Craft3

Here are the finished products…

Craft4

The girls wrote little messages and signed their names.  I’m going to print a couple of pictures of A&B with Aunt and Uncle K to accompany the crafts.  I know they’ll be tickled to get this little surprise in the mail…and I love that my girls are still talking about Aunt K’s corn, and what soccer tricks they want to show Uncle K the next time we see him.

Do you have any tricks for making thank-you notes with pre-writers?

MandyE is mom to 5 1/2-year old twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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An Exersaucer Just for Twins? Yes, Please!

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Categories Products, Toys, Twinfant Tuesday, Unique needsTags 2 Comments

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably walked through the baby section of the store or seen a handy baby gadget at a friend’s house, and thought, “I wish they made that for multiples. It would just need a [insert brilliant recommendation here].”

And if you’re anything like me, you probably moved right on with your day.

Allow me to introduce you to Karan. She had an idea for a twin improvement, and has actually done something about it!

Meet Karan, twin mom and inventor of the Twin Funsaucer.
Karan, twin mom and inventor of the Twin Funsaucer.

Karan’s a MoM, just like us. Her mono/mono identical boys, Nolan and Gabriel, turned a year old in May. Karan saw how much her little guys enjoyed their one exersaucer and bought a second one, but wished she could have just one that they could share and interact in.

Identical twin brothers.Karan drew up an idea for a two-baby interactive exersaucer. A Twin Funsaucer, if you will. There’s a spot for one baby in the center, and the other baby has a spot around the outside of the exersaucer, like a snuggly wriggly solar system of joy. You can see a diagram at Quirky, where inventors can submit their ideas, and the best ideas can get turned into reality.

If you want to help get the Twin Funsaucer to market, or just help another MoM out, please visit Karan’s invention on Quirky and give it a nice big thumbs up. You do need to register to vote, but you can connect your Facebook account or create a Quirky-only account with your email address. I did the latter, and it took less than a minute to sign up and vote. I imagine that Facebook is even faster.

I asked Karan how inspiration struck, and here’s what she had to say:

The inspiration for my idea was essentially that our boys always want to play with the same toy at the same time, but with exersaucers and jumperoos, it wasn’t possible.

karan water

[Gabriel and Nolan] like interacting, but there also needed to be enough space between them that they couldn’t grab or hit one another. We have exersaucers, and this other Bright Starts toy that has an activity table with a seat attached that allows freedom of movement around the table – like a walker.

I thought, if you could combine those things, then two children could play at once. Then I thought, why couldn’t you sell an another seat for triplets? And for that matter, possibly even create a way to turn the seats into walkers when they are not attached?

I am an ideas person, but I never had something I felt so filled a niche. My mother-in-law helped me come up with a couple of possible design concepts and that was that!

More About Karan

karan umbilical knotAbout her sons, Karan says, “They are so smart and funny. We feel incredibly blessed that they have done so well – especially when their umbilical cords were so knotted.” Karan had to return to work only a week after the boys came home from the NICU. Her husband had been laid off from his bank manager job and stayed with them for nearly 8 months. Now that he’s back at work, they consider themselves very lucky to have found a daycare they trust with their sweet boys.

Karan and her husband met later in life. His 11-year-old daughter lives with them during the school year. You can see what a great big sister she is, and how she is adored in the photo below!

Big sister with twin brothers!Karan started trying to conceive at age 38 and lost a pregnancy. She and her husband tried again a few months later and Gabriel and Nolan joined the family. Karan is a sonographer by day, so she discovered that she was expecting monoamniotic twins on her own! She went into inpatient care at 24 weeks at the University of CT Health Center and delivered via scheduled C-section at 32 weeks. The boys were 4 lbs 1 oz each and spent 40 and 42 days in the NICU/step down unit respectively.

Karan, expecting twin boys!Karan loves everything about motherhood much more than she thought she would. The biggest challenge she faces being a twin mom is not being able to help them both at the same time. The boys are still too little to understand that she only has two arms and doesn’t have the power to make all their hurts go away.

Look at that proud Daddy!

Karan confesses that having twinfants is also stressful on a couple. She calls her husband a patient, forgiving person, admitting that she can be hotheaded. I think a lot of us can relate to that!

You can reach Karen by email… and don’t forget to give her Twin Funsaucer your vote of confidence!

What’s your brilliant idea, just waiting to be produced?

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MiM: DIY Stick Horse

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Categories Make-It Mondays, Preschoolers, Toys2 Comments

DIY Stick horse instructions from hdydi.com. Cheap, simple classic toys that are SO MUCH FUN!Our very first homework assignment came to us when my daughters were in pre-school. Three years ago, when my girls were nearly 5, their daycare teacher gave us general guideline to make cheap DIY stick horses for a school “horsie” race. I was surprised by how much fun we had with the project and how much my pre-schoolers were able to contribute.

Three years later, my daughters still play with their horses. They’ve held up to rough play and continue to provide fodder for the imagination. Not bad for under $10 each!

Want to know how we made them? Read on! I’ve included a list of supplies at the end of the post, in case you decide to go shopping.

We started out by taking some sandpaper to 4 foot dowels from the home improvement store. Each horse takes one dowel. I was surprised to realize that my 4-year-olds were perfectly good at this task.

They then painted their dowels. This is certainly an optional step, but each of my girls definitely enjoyed picking a unique colour for her own horse.

100_0133Here’s the genius part of this project. The horse head? It’s a sock, stuffed with batting. We used Daddy’s old socks. M and J loved shoving the batting in there.

We tied off the bottom of the stuffed socks with yarn.

Next, M and J decided on the shape and colour of their horses’ ears, and I cut triangles of felt to their specifications. I sewed pairs of felt triangles together and turned them inside out to hide the seam. I hand-sewed them onto the socks at locations of the girls’ choosing. I also sewed on buttons for eyes.

100_0240I then cut equal lengths of yarn, and the girls used yarn needles to thread them through the centerline of the sock, from slightly in front of the ears down the back of the head. I tied little knots to secure them. At bedtime, the manes were still not quite thick enough to meet the girls’ exacting standards, so they gave me instructions to finish off the job.

When all of that was done, I hot-glued the socks onto the dowels. The glued part looked messy, so I wrapped it in ribbon and hot-glued that on too. I also glued a length of ribbon (picked by the children, of course) around the front of each muzzle.

The girls both tied an additional length of ribbon on to make reins. They’ve upgraded over the years, adding beaded reins and even earrings to their horsies. Have fun with this project and send us photos of your creations!

DIY Stick Horse Supplies

  • Wooden dowel: 4 feet long, 1 inch diameter
  • Sandpaper: 150-grit
  • Non-toxic paint
  • Batting
  • Felt for ears
  • Buttons for eyes
  • Yarn for mane
  • Ribbon for noseband and reins
  • Old socks
  • Hot glue gun
  • Needle and thread
  • Blunt yarn needle

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering. She blogged about this project on my now-retired blog Double the Fun when we first did the project.

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Help! How Do You Keep Holiday Gifts in Check?

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This is for sure a first-world problem, and not a new one, at that. But I’m really feeling it this year, and it doesn’t exactly fill me with holiday joy.

I have made a really concerted effort – as best I can – to keep my girls in check when it comes to material things. Our toy collection is far from overflowing.

For holidays and birthdays, we keep things really low-key at our house. The girls usually get one big, shared present (like their train set), and then they each have one gift to open. We follow a similar pattern for their birthday, and we always specific “no gifts, please” on the invitation to their birthday parties.

I consider toys and art supplies to be developmental necessities, and I’m pretty particular about what we have. If I think the girls would benefit from a new set of pattern blocks, for example, I buy it for them. I don’t necessarily wait for a holiday or birthday to come along.

I think it helps that we watch very little TV, so the girls are rarely exposed to commercials. We talk about the advertisements we see in magazines. The girls know those are working to make us think we need things; it’s up to us to use our brains and decide if we do, in fact, need something.

I am really happy with the balance we have…but that’s tough to maintain when it comes to family at the holidays.

We have a very small family, and they all live at least 250 miles away. My dad always asks me what the girls would like (or what I’d like them to have, as he {correctly} joked this year). My aunt asks, too…but then she feels she has to do more. “I can’t just give them house shoes!” she protested.

What’s frustrating is that my girls will be OVER THE MOON with some fuzzy kitty cat house shoes. They had some a couple of years ago, and they played in them all the time.

I witnessed last year my girls getting really overwhelmed during one family holiday exchange. Instead of giving them a gift bag of art supplies, each book / box of crayons / package of clay was individually wrapped. My B, then just shy of four years old, melted into my arms in a puddle of tears. That was so incredibly out of character for her…but she just couldn’t handle all the craziness, I guess.

I feel almost guilty that I’m complaining about people wanting to buy things for my children. I know my family finds a lot of joy in doing that. But I feel like I need to protect our boundaries…and protect my girls from being too overwhelmed.

Am I being too particular? Ungrateful, even? How do you manage the influx of STUFF at holidays and birthdays?

MandyE is mom to soon-to-be five-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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