Sunday, July 31, 2011

Art with Babies

In my last post about art I explained why we start with markers. As the kids have gotten older, we have moved on to many other types of art.

Art done with markers

Stickers are great for developing fine motor skills and kids love using them. We do watch closely to make sure they don't eat the stickers. The smaller the stickers the more difficult they are to use, so start with larger stickers and as kids master them, move on to more difficult stickers.

 Sticker art on top, sponge painting on tree

Finger painting is also a lot of fun for everyone. While it is non-toxic paint, we still discourage the eating of it. After a few times of reinforcing this it isn't that difficult. One tip, is not to let the kids do art where they eat. Having a separate area makes it more clear what they can and can't eat. We usually do finger painting at a table or just on the floor.

Finger paintings

We also do brush painting, usually on the easel. While holding the brush and controlling it develop the same muscles as using markers, the different feel and texture are important. Kids can mix paint and seeing the colors mix and large globs of paint roll down the paper teaches them many important lessons. Working on the easel also provides a vertical surface for doing art. When painting on a vertical surface different muscles are being used than when painting on a horizontal surface. The vertical works more of the wrist and finger, while the horizontal works more of the hand and finger muscles. All of these muscles will later be used for writing, so developing all of them is important.

Paintings (finger and brush), stickers, markers

Once children are older you can ask them what their art looks like. You can get great feedback and see their thought processes. At this age, it's just a ton of abstract art. When this starts to drive you nuts, and if you are like me it eventually will, there are a couple of options. The first option is to let the kids paint on paper and then draw and cut the image on top of them. This allows the kids to paint wherever they want and you still get the well painted picture.

Finger painting in middle, brush painting around outside

The second option is to print a worksheet or image and have the kids paint it. My kids were actually fairly decent at painting the correct part so this worked for us. Granted my kids were more interested in painting the lines rather than inside the lines, but whatever works.

brush painting and markers, Brown Bear art

I do think it is important that the majority of the art is more about the process than the product. I would guess only around 5% of the art we do is on a worksheet. The kids are much more proud of their art than the pictures. So keep in mind what you are doing for you and what you are doing for them. As children get older it is even more important to focus on the process of doing art and enjoying the different options, rather than focusing on what it looks like when finished.

Stickers, painting, tissue paper animals, gluing projects

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chiropractic Care

During pregnancy I had awful back pain. It's like I was huge and carrying twins. I remember calling a chiropractor who specializes in pregnant women and begging for her to get me in that day. She was able to work me in the next day and I was amazed at how much it helped. I saw her regularly for the rest of the pregnancy and it helped a ton until about 37 weeks and at that point I just lived with the back pain. I'm so glad I didn't live with the pain for months.

No wonder my back was hurting

A few months after the kids were born their pediatrician commented on their head shape and our son's lack of bending. She referred us to another chiropractor. There were two main issues.

The first was head shape. While my son's head shape wasn't perfectly round, it wasn't too extreme. My daughter's head was clearly misshapen. It was flat - not even slightly rounded - in the back. I'm not talking about one little flat spot, the entire back of her head was flat. We didn't get a lot of great photos, but hopefully these will help you see what I'm talking about. We rarely took photos of the back of the kids heads.

 The entire back of her head was flat.
 Another angle of the flatness
 Halfway through treatments
After 6 months of treatments. Slight curve noticeable now

The chiropractor the pediatrician referred us to started treating the head shape 4 times a week. As it got better, it did back off to 3, 2, and 1 time a week. By the very end we were only going once every 2 weeks before she released us from her care. Our daughter required more than 90 visits over 10 months to correct her head shape. This was a huge commitment from us, but now her head is round and you can't tell any difference.

No more treatments!!

Many babies have flat spots on their head and are treated with the large helmets. The most common in the US is the doc band. These are expensive, often not covered by insurance, and only prevent more flattening rather than correcting what has already happened. Chiropractic care was more effective and cheaper (though still not cheap or covered by insurance). I highly recommend chiropractic care for anyone who has a baby with a flat spot on their head.

While my son's head had a flat spot that we did get corrected, his biggest issues was his stiffness. He was diagnosed as hypertonic. Basically, he was stiff as a board. He didn't bend and when forced to bend he would cry and be upset. The first chiropractor treated him, but it just wasn't helping. She even told us he would probably never walk or bend since she couldn't help him. We went back to the pediatrician who wanted us to try another type of chiropractic treatment. She gave us another name and we called that chiropractor. After a phone consultation, we realized we could not make the intensive schedule and cost work for our family. I called the chiropractor that I had seen during pregnancy and discovered she did the same type of treatments for babies and we could afford her!

One baby bends and one doesn't

We started with weekly appointments and then backed off two every two weeks. There were a few times we were even able to only go to once every three weeks. While he is still being treated for this, we see a huge difference with each treatment. Before a treatment he is stiff and it hurts him to bend. After a treatment he can not only easily bend, but he's happier. As he gets older and is able to talk to us more we are beginning to get a better picture of what is happening. He will complain that his knee hurts the day before he stops bending the knee for example. He is walking, running, climbing, and everything else without limit. He has met each milestone differently, but has always been able to meet them.

 Babies should not be able to stand unassisted at 6 months
Only one could bend and sit

The most difficult part is watching him and knowing he can't do it the "easy" way other children can. When he was learning to pull up he would go from laying flat on his stomach to pulling himself up with his arms without ever bending at the waist. It looked goofy, but he was so proud of being able to stand. Our daughter, by contrast, followed the more typical pattern of going from laying to sitting, to pulling up, to standing. As I said, he is still receiving treatments so we don't know what the long term solution is yet. He also has other issues that we are dealing with to help him be happy and successful for the rest of his life.

Happy while crawling after a treatment

I am so thankful for the chiropractic care we have and are still receiving. It has quite literally changed our lives.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Kids and Pets (part 2)

Since some new research has come out about the benefits of raising kids with pets, I thought I would revisit the subject.

Petting the puppy

As I mentioned in the last post about pets, children with pets have fewer allergies than those raised without them. The new research confirms that, but goes farther into looking at which specific allergens are impacted. Pet dander was an obvious one, but children raised with cats and dogs also were less likely to develop allergies to dust-mites, ragweed and grass. Having pets does not seem to impact food allergies.

Both looking guilty

I had also mentioned how pets teach children to be more caring and nurturing. The new research supports this and finds that children raised in a family with dogs and cats show the same signs of "advanced nurturing" as older children who have 3 or more younger siblings. This is demonstrated through understanding the feelings and thoughts of others, taking responsibility for caring for others, and anticipating the needs of someone else.

 It's not nice to pull hair.
He thinks he's a lap dog.

While there has been a lot of research showing animals comfort people, a new study has come out showing children raised with animals are less anxious, even in situations where the animal is not present. Children taking standardized tests show different levels of anxiety and while looking into different variables that could help this, they discovered that there was a direct correlation between lower anxiety and students with pets. Of course, correlation is not causation, so research will continue.

Clearly a part of the pack

Having pets has also been proven to increase reading skills, including reading comprehension. This research has been done in many different studies. Some studied kids who have pets at home, divided by type of pet and a child's interaction with the pet. While cats and dogs were the most common, some kids with fish, rodents, and lizards also had a small benefit to their reading scores. The common factor seems to be how often the child talks or reads to their pet. Another study built off of this and tested if kids read to their stuffed animals if it would have the same impact. Unfortunately the answer was no. Apparently when reading to a live animal kids are more likely to correct themselves and explain the story and while reading to stuffed animals they often made up their own stories rather than reading the book. There have been other studies testing whether kids reading to a therapy dog outside the home would have the same positive effect. The answer is yes, but to a smaller degree. I know our local library has a Read to Rover program, so if you don't have a pet, feel free to look for similar free programs near you!

 Sweet puppy
He's looking back because she stopped petting.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Balanced Parenting

You may have noticed, I'm a stay at home mom. I love my kids and know how important every moment is that I spend with them. They will only be children once and each minute is precious. Yet, I am not defined by my children. I am more than "just" a mom. I have hopes and dreams of my own, while supporting my kids. One of the things I've always wanted to try is the trapeze. I really should have tried this when I was in shape before kids, but the opportunity never presented itself. We were going to a wedding in Florida and I was so excited I was finally going to be able to try it. Then we found out they don't offer trapeze lessons in the summer. (Seriously? Who made that rule?) I figured I would keep putting it off. For my birthday, my husband surprised me with a trip to Austin, TX to try the trapeze. It's not what most mothers of 10 month old twins would want for their birthday, but it was perfect for me.

 My wonderful husband learning how to hang
 My turn to learn
 The kids contained in the corner
Did I mention my fear of ladders? 
(Not heights, ladders. You read that right.)

After having this experience (with my kids watching) I realized how much I needed to spend some time doing things for me. I was able to start attending alumni activities for my undergraduate university. It helps that just a couple of months later I was no longer providing the breast milk for the babies. There were even a few evenings that I would just go to a coffee shop and read. My husband is great at encouraging me to take care of myself - physically, mentally and emotionally. I am a more balanced parent now. I still spend most of my time with my kids cherishing every moment, but it's important to also have time for me. What are some things you do to remain a balanced parent?

My husband's turn to try being caught.
My turn