Lessons from an 18 Month-Old Toddler

sand play with toddler

You don’t always need toys:

Okay it is embarrassing to admit this as a toy expert, but I was reminded of how little kids need to have fun. Our assignment after Ben was born, was to occupy Will, 18 months, each morning so mom could get some rest. After assembling all the needed items for a jaunt to the beach—snack, extra clothes, diapers, wipes, books, etc—we proudly took off, later to realize that we had forgotten the bag of beach toys. No problem. Luckily I had brought my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee so we had a cup as well as shells to scoop the sand and make castles.

Stop to examine the beautiful things in life:

On our trip through the Airlie Gardens today with azaleas and spring flowers in full bloom, Will moved at a slow pace to examine petals, pine cones, butterflies, mulch, moss, rocks and swans. Nothing was too unimportant for examination and enjoyment. Everything was an opportunity for learning. If we could only slow down and appreciate like this as adults.

Find books that YOU like and enjoy!:

I am constantly amazed at the books that kids like at every age. There is no formula. That’s why it’s best to expose them to a variety of books and see what they like. Will has a stack of books to chose from before nap and bedtime. I offered him a choice of some standbys like Corduroy and Bunny Cakes which he likes. He invariably picked Gaggle of Geese and a Clutter of Cats.  Now this would not have been a book that I would recommend or choose for an 18 month-old because it is all about the goofy names given to groups of animals like a school of fish or a gaggle of geese.  When I mentioned his preference for this unusual book to his dad, the mystery was solved. Peter said Will likes it so much because of how he reads it to him–he says it like a rap and dances to it! No wonder Will chooses that book. He gets a story as well as a show by his dad.

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Two Babies, Doubly Blessed!

 Toddler creative play

Joy of joys! I have become a grandmother twice in the last 3 days! We had the privilege of being awakened at 2 AM to hear that our daughter-in-law, Katie was going into labor 3 weeks early! After an exciting, sleepless night, Benjamin Shepherd Artemenko arrived , at 6 pounds, 9 ounces. We hopped in the car and drove the 11 hours to North Carolina to help out with big brother, Will, 18 months.

So far our outings have included the beach, the gardens, a ride around the neighborhood on his tractor, and dinner out with the “new” family. Being called “Sh” is music to my ears, and I am happily collecting hugs and kisses. Basically we wear ourselves out playing with Will, and then fall asleep holding baby Ben.

Three nights later, as only a son could do, Andrew announced that his wife, Laura, was in labor and at the hospital by text-messaging us! We waited anxiously until he called an hour later to say our first granddaughter—and first Artemenko girl in 2 generations—had been born. Caroline Anne Artemenko weighed in at 6 pounds 9 ounces.  Both moms are doing well for which we are thankful.

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Early Potty Training with Baby Signs

potty training using sign languageI love to check out what is new in the world of babies, parenting and language. Today in my Google Alerts, I was directed to an article called “Later Potty Training Spells Trouble for Children, Parents and Environment” which is promoting and new program designed to potty train your child between the ages of 12 -24 months. This new program is by the well-known developmental psychologists Dr. Acredolo and Dr. Goodwyn who earlier put a national spotlight on the benefits of teaching your baby sign language.The premise of this program is that it is better to potty train your child before he sets in to the “terrible twos” and resists your attempts. Also, according to this article, Dr. Goodwyn said, “After age 2, children develop the ability to experience shame and embarrassment about bodily functions which can lead to additional problems, such as low self-esteem and stool-withholding, a tendency that can result in chronic constipation.” An added value is the benefit to our environment if we can decrease the amount of disposable diapers used and accumulated in our landfills.Since the program is recommended for children 12-24 months when expressive language can be limited, it is combined with sign language to ease communication with your child. So check it out,  Potty Training (Baby Signs) and let me know how it goes. I always say the two biggest challenges for me in raising my three boys were toilet training and teaching them to drive!

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Best Pirate Ships for Pretend Play

Maybe because I am working with a lot of boys lately or it’s spring and the ships are sailing, but my thoughts are turned to finding a great pirate ship for pretend play. Kids love to invent a story about the pirates, sailing on the seas, blasting off cannon balls, searching through their telescope and standing a pirate behind the driving wheel.

Having played pirates for many years, I can tell you good ships that bring out your child’s language and pretend play. Always look for interchangeable parts–maps, telescopes, cannons, sails, parrots, pirates etc., who can be manipulated as your child invents his story and explores the open sea!

Here are some of my favorites:

Mega Bloks My Pirate Ship with Blocks and Figures: Recommended ages 24 months-6 years.

mega blocks pirate shipThis ship has three removable levels for varied play–you can put your pirate to sleep downstairs, go into the map room or take a nap on the middle level or shoot off the cannon on the top. Kids can lock different characters in place as well as props such as the telescope or sails. Add the parrot to the tree and the mermaid and you are off to sea!

Fisher-Price Little People Lil Pirate Ship: Recommended ages 24 months-5 years

Fisher Price pirate ship

This pirate ship lives up to the reputation of the little people sets by Fisher Price. With the potential for lots of action like swinging in the hammock, spying in the crow’s nest, walking the plank, or nappping below in the sleeping quarters. Pieces are removable and interchangable so your child can invent new stories. Heads up because kids love to launch the cannon ball!

Playmobil Pirate Corsair: Recommended ages: 4 and up

playmobil pirate ship

For the older child you can’t beat a pirate ship by Playmobil. A starter chip would be the Playmobil Pirate Corsair. It is the least expensive and has fewer accessories but you can always add on to the shipmates with related pieces like the Playmobil Pirate Treasure Chest. Just open up the chest and pull out the pier to receive the ship. You have eating accessories, a monkey, trees, a secret compartment hidden by rocks, and a cannon for protection. Another accessory that kids love is the Playmobil Pirate Raft, used to escape the island or go for a sail.
playmobil pirate raft

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, 6-8 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Shopping List of Educational Toys for Parents and Therapists

When I speak to a group of new moms, I often ask how I can be most helpful to them. Recently one mom said, give us a shopping list of good toys and books for developing language. As you know I am constantly on the search for the best toys, games and books to encourage language development. I try them out with the kids I work with and learn of good products from parents who know my criteria by now of what builds their child’s language.

My “Reviews” and recommendations on my “Blog” are toys, games and books that I have tried out with kids and seen their language and “fun” value. I am very careful and picky about what I recommend, will rarely post a negative review because I want to be promoting the best for parents when it comes to toys and books.Who needs a shopping list of what to get and what not to get? I would rather spend my time showing you how to chose a good toy or book and give you worthy suggestions.

Each week I spend 15-20 hours working with kids, constantly analyzing the value of the materials I use and how they build a child’s language. The two groups of children that I work with–kids who are developing typically and those with special needs–have a lot in common when it comes to benefiting from quality products that are fun, stimulating and beneficial. I have had 4-6 year-olds beg to play Funny Bunny, Diggity Dog , and Froggy Boogie over and over again and just recently heard from a speech therapist friend of mine who purchased both games and her kids are loving them in therapy sessions.

My hope is that my carefully selected recommendations will benefit all kinds of kids, parents and therapists.

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The Importance of Pretend Play for Language Development

When you watch two three-year-olds preparing a meal at their kid-sized kitchen or taking their trucks for repair or cars to the car wash, you know that they are doing more than just playing. Their creative and inquisitive minds are bridging the real world with their pretend world as they invent stories, collaborate with a friend, take turns, and take on roles in their pretend world. Children practice story-telling as they invent characters and change the action. These scripts are building their language as they expand on their theme whether it is shopping, cooking, driving or taking a sail. Good story-tellers enjoy reading because they are interested in stories, and go on to be eager writers because they have been practicing inventing stories orally.

Beginning at 1 year of age, your child might pick up an empty cup and pretend to drink. At 15 months, she might offer that same drink to her teddy bear, now involving others in her pretend play. From 2 to 3 years of age, she will enjoy imitating your activities with miniature replicas of adult “toys” like a vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, or dare I say iron?? Kids like the noises of my toy iron but it makes most moms groan and say they don’t use one!

chilren's play pirate shipI had a gratifying experience with one of my favorite 2 1/2 year-old playmates, Ian, the other day. I had introduced him to the fun of pirates with Rub a Dub, Pirates of the Tub (see my full review under “reviews”) and the Mega Bloks My Pirate Ship. He couldn’t wait for me to arrive with my pirate ship and gang. His mom told me that after I had left the other day, she found him in a large basket, with a tiny wheel he had found, pretending to drive his pirate ship. Hooray! His imagination had been stimulated and he extended our play to his own creative plot. I suggested that mom gather a few more props to be available for him so he could lead the play and use his imagination. The next time I came to his house, there was the basket with an empty toilet paper tube for a telescope, a stuffed animal owl (hey a parrot wasn’t available) and a small wheel for driving his vessel. I always encourage parents to have props available to spark your child’s imagination. You are being the producer of his play, by putting out good props but not the director of his play–that is your child’s job! Stand back and enjoy the show.

Posted in 3-6 year-olds, Birth-3 year-olds, Elementary School Age, Preschool, Strategies to Encourange Language Development, Toys | Leave a comment

Do Babies Need Flashcards To Learn Language?

Whenever I speak to a group of new moms, I learn what is on their mind. Yesterday I talked to a delightful group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital and some of the same questions came up like how to raise your child bi-lingual, what about baby talk and when should we dump the pacifier. But a new question to me came up–Is it okay to use flashcards?

I’ll be honest, my first reaction when I hear the word “flashcards” is wait a minute, that’s what you use to drill skills with kids who are behind. Why would you use them with your baby or toddler? Then I remembered several moms whose homes I have visited who shared “cards” that their children loved. These sets of sturdy cards with individual objects, animals, and things that go can serve the same purpose as a good book if used properly.

You want to be your child’s play partner, not a teacher drilling words or concepts. Kids like play, not pressure. So use the cards (I prefer to call them that rather than flashcards) as you would a good book whose pages you would describe. “Here’s some sticky red jelly that we can put on your sandwich.” After naming the object, use the word in several sentences describing the object and relating it to your child’s experience to expand their language. Do NOT use the cards as a drill to try to teach your child numbers or vocabulary. They will learn these concepts naturally as you have fun with the cards and enjoy the play experience.

Kids like to manipulate the cards and choose ones for you to elaborate upon. The cards really become a book taken apart so your child can hear about the pictures in whatever order they want. One set that is loved by kids is the My First Touch and Feel Picture Cards by DK. The series includes First Words, Animals, Numbers and Counting, and Colors and Shapes. These interactive cards have textures to describe and keep your child interested. A 9-month-old will enjoy looking at the pictures and start to become interactive, feeling the textures, while a 12-month-old or 18-month-old will start to name the pictures.

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18 Months Old: Best Developmental Toys and Books to Encourage Language

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6 Months Old: Best Developmental Toys and Books to Encourage Language

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At six months of age, your baby can understand a few words she hears frequently, is babbling to herself and others, experimenting with her mouth and vocal system much to her delight! She might start a conversation with a yell, or laugh when something strikes her fancy. This is a time to continue to talk and read to your baby as she is listening to differences in sound combinations and words. Chose interesting toys and books to match her growing listening and talking skills:

Manhattan Toy Put and Peek Birdhouse is one of my personal favorites and kids love it too. You can open, close, take in and out,look through and in the birdhouse to gather up the four amusing birds. Each one is different enough for you to describe their textures, colors, shape, sounds and patterns to provide lots of vocabulary for your baby.

Lamaze Trotter the Pony has some pretty wobbly legs that you can tug on to show long and short. Each hoof makes a different sound to describe and he iscovered with varied textures–bumpy corduroy, shiny smooth tail, slick rings, fuzzy face and slippery feet. Babies love his curly hair atop his head and smile in response to his face.

Melissa and Doug Deluxe Candy Jar Fill and Spill is filled with goodies that all have a face–giving your baby someone to converse with–whether it’s a wrapped candy, lollipop or gingerbread man. These soft candies are the right size to shake and chew on and later take in and out of the candy jar. The clear plastic allows you to see and talk about all the goodies inside.

Tiny Love Activity Ball is constant entertainment to your little one as he starts to sit up and swat the bulgy eyed ball to get it to move. Every swipe at it evokes a noise to teach cause and effect. Describe all the parts on him–bumpy rings, patterned arms and legs and pull the lets and head out for fun. Kids love to chew on his antennae.

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3 Months Old: Best Developmental Toys and Books to Encourage Language

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At three months of age, your baby shows excitement when a toy or book is placed in front of her. Now she can move her eye muscles to examine things of interest, identify most adult colors and is generally interested in looking at a toy or book. Language enhancing toys for this age have lots to talk about as you describe the toy, read the book or talk about the illustrations. Therefore chose toys that have contrasts in color and pattern, texture, and sound as well as flexibility in movement so you have opportunities to describe using varied and rich vocabulary.

Freddy the Firefly, My Friend Emily the doll, and Pupsqueak the dog by Lamaze all meet these requirements for multiple opportunities for description. As your baby looks at the toys, give her words for the various characteristics like smooth, rough, bumpy corduroy, or blue, orange, red and yellow tummy, or crinkly, rattle, or squeak. Each little square of fabric around Emily’s skirt provides the opportunity to talk about different shapes, textures and sounds. Each toy has an opportunity for movement or change that you can describe: lift up Freddy’s wing for peek-boo or go flying, take Emily for a walk or sit down, and feed Pupsqueak his bone. Research shows that the more you talk to your baby, the better it is for her language development. So having toys that are stimulating on many levels, builds her language. That being said, don’t forget to have breaks too! No one likes continuous talk.

Whoozit by Manhattan Toy: is a baby’s favorite with varied black and white contrasting patterns on the back and a smiling face on the front with seven appendages to flog and rattle to keep your little one entertained.Many variations have been introduced like Baby Whoozit and Baby Tizoo who sports pink for the girls. Lots of textures and shapes to describe, this toy even has a peek-a-boo nose.

Tug and Hug Horse by Sassy: has plenty to entertain your baby too. With some hard surfaces to plunk as the horse trots off, this toy has stripes, polka dots and bright contrasting colors. Just press his saddle for a trot, a neigh and clearing his nose! Pull on his legs and describe long and short, in and out. His friendly face invites conversation and attracts your baby to stimulate talking. Babies are attracted to faces and talk more to a face, especially a familiar one. Always look for toys with a face to encourage language.

Taggies Look at Me! Activity Mirror: is angled for your baby’s best viewing and engages your child with eight faces on one side that they can manipulate as they get older–feel the fuzzy bear, flip back the giraffe and pull on the hippo. Lights and sounds can be activated but aren’t necessary for the fun. Flip it over when baby is bored and you have the three pigs to put in their numbered houses and the cow to jump over the moon.

Play With Me! Activity Bumpers: by International Playthings has stimulating action on both sides, first a black, white and red penguin and zebra with clever tags to play with in a mane or hand, and then a multi-colored side bursting with a cow jumping over the moon, a pig peek-a-boom, a fuzzy lamp to pull up and down and a taggie rainbow in the stars.

Peek-a Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti: This clever, bright contrasting flap book engages babies every time I read it. It has all the components for a perfect read-aloud for your baby–rhythm, bounce, fun, rhyme, bright contrasting pictures and fun animals. Just as your baby is looking at the picture and listening to the rhyme, you flip down the flap to reveal the cute animal face and say its sound.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr/Eric Carle: This book is a crowd pleaser for babies to kindergartners. I have never read this to a 3 month old who didn’t look enthralled as I read the text. The bright, beautiful collage illustrations of the individual animals are exciting and the repetition of the “What do you see?” promotes learning and gives comfort to a child over repeated readings.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney: There is no end to the love a mother has for her baby as this mama bunny and her baby try to one-up each other in the breadth and depth of their love for each other. The intricate drawing and soft colors match the lovely story.

Baby Talk by DK: At 3 months, your baby will enjoy listening to you say baby’s first words and flipping the flaps but as she gets older she will enjoy becoming active in the reading process. Babies love to look at other baby’s faces and these will capture your baby’s attention as they reveal some first words that babies speak like “yum-yum” or “hee-hee” or “boo-hoo.”

Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star by Rosemary Wells: As part of Wells’ Read to Your Bunny, Very First Library, this book is a song put to pictures. Each page has a stanza from the song, a constellation in the sky for mom and dad, and a beautifully illustrated sequence of mama bunny getting her baby ready for bed including her bath, pajamas, a cup of milk, a story and lights out.

Butterfly Kisses by Sandra Magsamen: This is part of a new series, the Snuggle-me stories which include a little finger puppet of a butterfly whose purpose is to give kisses at the end. What parent doesn’t want to “tickle, giggle and play?”

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton: A perfect beginning Boynton book, this tale is about the farm animals and the sounds they make. Everything is fine until the pigs say “la la la.” Boynton’s humor keeps parents and kids coming back for more! She has lots of fun, goofy sounding words that promote listening skills and teach kids that sounds are fun like “snort,” “snuff,” and “ruff.”

Fuzzy Bee and Friends by Priddy: Cloth books are perfect for little hand to grab as your baby approaches 6 months and wants to put everything in her mouth! The problem is that many of the cloth books don’t have strong contrasts in colors like the board books for have a good tale to tell. This book and its series has clever rhymes about Sally Spider, the dragonfly, beetle, worm and others. Kids love the shiny and textured fabrics used on the bugs.

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