Monday, May 23, 2011

Setting up a Playroom

We are lucky enough to live in a house with a room we designated as the playroom. Our real estate agent called it a formal dining room, but we need a playroom much more than a 2nd dining room. For the first few months this room consisted of very little. We placed a large classroom carpet on the floor which immediately made it feel like a playroom.  These carpets can be very expensive, but I actually won this one in a contest so it was free. We placed their toys on the floor and on the Ikea bookshelf. We turned the shelf on its side so it was 2 squares tall and 4 squares wide. This allowed the kids to reach everything on the shelves, but not on the top.

Carpet and Ikea shelf

Next I found someone selling their toy box and knew I wanted it. We still have the sign that says it was made by "grandpa Trent" proudly displayed. It's a conversation starter if nothing else!

ABC toy box in corner

I spent a lot of time looking for the perfect bookcase. I knew what I wanted and was having trouble finding it. I did find one being sold by a family that was moving and picked it up. This was all that we had in the room for a long time. It gave the babies lots of room to roll, crawl, and safely explore.

Perfect bookcase :)

Then it was time for the big sale. There is a kids furniture and toy company near us that has a huge warehouse sale once a year. Everything is 50-80% off retail. This is high quality wood furniture and they had many things I wanted. This is not a sale for wimps. No kids allowed, stand in line for hours, and parents literally fighting to get what they want. There were a couple of things I would have liked, but was not willing to get in a physical fight so we went without. Still, we did great. We got 8 things for less than the cost of one of the larger items retail. Otherwise, we wouldn't have any of the wonderful things you see in our photos.

 Truck table in top right corner
 Dress up station, toy box, and kitchen
Close up of dress up station
Ikea shelf, book shelf, and giant doll hosue

We changed the arrangement of the room multiple times. I drove my husband crazy with all of my requirements for arranging the room. Here's a short list of some requirements - The dress up clothes needed to go next to the kitchen so it would be the "dramatic play" area. The furniture that would have toys dumped from them and played with on the floor couldn't go near each other. This would include the ikea shelf, bookshelf, and kitchen in our room. By keeping these separate, it slightly reduces the mess and all of the toys don't end up in a giant pile. Everything needed to be secured so the kids couldn't pull it over on themselves. No furniture they could climb on could be near the baby gate so they wouldn't climb over. Our playroom doesn't have a door, so this was extremely important. Here's the layout we ended up with:

This gave the kids things to pull up on around the outside and plenty of room to learn to walk in the middle. The table did not have chairs at it, they were put away for when they were old enough to use them safely. This was a great set up until just after the kids were a year and a half. That change will have to wait for another post though!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Setting yourself up for Success

We all know what it looks like to set yourself up for failure. But how do we set ourselves up for success? Personally, I research every decision so I feel more confident and more likely to stick with a solution. I start by deciding what I want (or don't want) and then following the steps necessary to get there. This is the same way to solve a math problem, determine educational goals, and most other things in life.

 Dressed for success (and contained to get a picture)
I loved this suit. He was tolerant, for the most part.

Sleep was one of my biggest concerns when pregnant. How would I get two babies to sleep at the same time? How would I find time for sleep? I started with the research. While many great books are out there, I read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child mostly because it's the one we found at Half Price books. I like the graphs of how much sleep children need by age and my favorite quote "Sleep begets sleep. It's not logical, it's biological." (I don't remember what page it was on and have since passed on my copy of the book.) With this knowledge in hand I would love to tell you how my kids were sleeping through the night at a month and how well rested we all were. That would be a huge lie though. The book even points out that before a certain age, babies shouldn't be put on a schedule. If you read the post on breastfeeding, you know sleep wasn't happening.

Not sleeping, but happy!

However, as they got older it became much easier. They both took naps at the same time and sleep through the night at the same time. Here's our plan for successful sleeping. 1. Stick to a schedule. Our kids don't do well when off schedule. I know kids who are flexible, but for us keeping nap time and a strict bed time is a must. 2. Wear them out. When they are awake, we are always on the go. They are rarely contained by a car seat, stroller, etc. We keep them busy and they keep us exhausted. 3. Watch what they eat. This one may not seem related to sleep, but if a child doesn't have a nutrient they need, they are more likely to wake up. Every meal is balanced with vegetables, whole grains, fruit, protein, and dairy. We avoid foods that cause a "crash" and don't keep kids full.

 Rolling, pulling up, and cruising are great for wearing out babies.
Nightly walk before bed

That is our plan for sleep success, but the biggest factor is LUCK. We have kids who are good sleepers. I wish I could take credit and say this is the solution and it will work for every child, but that's not true. We set them up for success and then hoped for luck. I know families who do all of this and their kids aren't good sleepers, but at least they tried!

Universal sign of being finished

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Math with Babies

It's true we do basic math with our babies. This isn't what you think. We aren't doing addition or fractions, we are keeping it on their level.

We start by introducing shapes. Shapes they can put in their mouths and manipulate are best, but shape books are also included in this. We introduce what most teachers consider the basic shapes - circle, square, rectangle, triangle, pentagon, hexagon, octagon, trapezoid, parallelogram, rhombus, star, and oval.

Climbing on a shape toy

There are a few things you should notice about this list. There is no heart listed. It's not a geometric shape and most kids will learn it through society (Valentine's Day, on signs, clothing, etc). The other thing that will jump out at most adults is that they have never heard of a rhombus. This is what we were told was a diamond. Technically, a diamond is a gem and not a shape. When children get to school, they will be taught rhombus. It's much easier to learn something right the first time than to have to re-learn it. Proof of this is seen when trying to switch, as an adult, to calling it a rhombus.

The other thing many adults have difficulty with is pentagon, hexagon, and octagon. It's amazing how many adults have difficulty identifying an octagon when it's not red. Make a point of showing your child 8 sided shapes that aren't stop signs. Yes, you could also teach heptagon and nonagon, but we are holding off on those until our kids learn all 12 of these more basic shapes.

As babies this is simply letting the kids play with the shapes. We also mention 3 dimensional shapes and give them their proper names - a ball is not a circle, for example. By 18 months old my son was able to distinguish between all of the shapes except the octagon and hexagon. We had a lot of discussions about those.

Do I want the cube or the sphere?

As far as counting, we don't count much with the babies. We sang songs with numbers in them (in three different languages), but didn't focus on counting. Counting is a very abstract concept and while many kids can recite their numbers, most have no clue what counting actually is and how to use it. We will introduce counting as they get older, but this was not important to us in the first year.

We also introduce other important vocabulary that will later apply to Math. Words like more, nothing, and half seem to come up every day. There are also other phrases that we use that many people wouldn't even think of relating to math. For example, positional words - on top, beside, etc. Teaching fractions and order of operations will rely on an understanding of these words.

 I'm on top.
Beside each other

We also talk about patterns we see. We don't create patterns at this age, but will point them out when we see them. For example, house, mailbox, house, mailbox or flower, flower, tree, flower, flower, tree.

Dog park - dog, dog, human, human pattern

Other math concepts include sizes (big/little) and some comparative measurement (that book is 2 puppets tall). These are also concrete and easy to demonstrate and talk about with babies. We also spend a lot of time talking about differences. Sizes, shapes, color, weight, and on and on. This helps babies notice things they might have over looked. With young children it is easier to only have 1 difference to help them focus. A big red circle and a small red circle would better teach big/small than a big red circle and a small blue triangle. As they demonstrate they understand a concept more than 90% of the time you can move on to presenting two at a time and so forth.

She's reading Big and Little

One fun activity for older babies, is to go to a home improvement store and pick up some paint sample cards. You cut them up and let the kids sort by shade of color. For example, place 5 different shades of blue from lightest to darkest. You would want to start with 2-3 shades and work your way up. This helps focus and trains the brain to notice small differences.

The great thing about this age is it doesn't matter if they "get" it. It's really awesome when they do, but if they don't it's not a big deal. This is just an introduction and they will be taught all of these things again later. Have fun with it and remember to give them as many things to hold and manipulate as possible at this age.

Cooking (even pretend) can involve lots of Math