Saturday, February 25, 2012

Signing Saturday

Imagine this situation:

Your 11 month old little boy approaches you crying, clearly distraught about something. You ask, "What is wrong sweetie?" and he brings his hands up to his chin making the sign for "blanket." You give your child their favorite blanket to snuggle and he is immediately comforted. You feel great that your child was quickly comforted and had his need met.

Now, imagine this:

Your 18 month old little girl begins to fuss and throw a tantrum in the middle of your living room floor. You feel as though it came out of no where and have little idea of what it is about. You ask your child, "What is wrong?" but, you get more crying. The only difference in this situation is that your child has not learned how to sign her needs and wants. She continues to tantrum, about something that you can't put your finger on. You are frustrated, and so is she. All she wanted was for you to help her find her favorite stuffed animal. Unfortunately, you aren't sure how to help her and instead, tell her, "Stop crying and big a big girl!" Her needs during that moment went unmet.

Obviously, there will be times in our child's life regardless of signing ability that we are not able to meet their needs, or are able to meet their needs with a little bit of creative thinking. Wouldn't it be nice, though, to avoid some of the uncomfortable situations that a lack of language and voice create for young children? The good news is that we CAN help to give them a clear voice. No matter how old your baby or toddler is when you begin, teaching your child sign language is invaluable.

Some simple signs like; "more," "finished," "eat," and "drink," can really help to diffuse and resolve many frustrating situations for you and your child. You don't need to have an extensive understanding of sign language to begin to sign with your child. Actually, it can be fun to learn new signs right along WITH you child. There are MANY difference resources that are already out there to help you both learn to sign. Books, DVD's, classes, and toys, are just a few of them.

Here are a few signs to help you get started!





(This is not me in the videos. Just a signing mom that I admire.)

The best time to introduce a new sign to your child is when they are in a good mood, and try to introduce the sign in the context that it will be used. For an example; If you want to teach your child to sign, "more" try teaching them the signing while eating.

Step 1.) Give them a piece of food and after they have finished eating it ask, "Do you want more?" while signing more.

Step 2.) Then say, "Sign more!" while signing it again.

Step 3.) Tell your child, "This is how you sign more." Gently take your child's hands and help them make the sign.

Step 4.) Tell your child again, "Sign more!" while signing it again.

Step 5.) Give them a moment to try the sign, or move on if they don't show any interest.

You may have to continue to model the sign for the child many times before they will sign it back to you. Do not become frustrated if they do not sign it back to you at first. Depending upon the age of the child, you may have to sign something new for a few weeks before they attempt it themselves. Of course, if your child signs something, give them lots of praise! even if the sign is not perfect (and it probably wont be). If your child seems frustrated, move on to something else. You want your child to associate using sign language as a positive way to communicate, not as something that is being forced.

I began signing with the Stink Bug when she was somewhere around 6 months old. I expected that she would pick it up quickly, and was disheartened when she didn't. I stuck with it anyways (even though I felt silly signing to her repeatedly without any response). It really was quite a while before she began to signing anything back. If I remember correctly, it was about a month or so. Once she began signing, though, she seemed as though she had just spent that time soaking up what I had been signing, and was finally confident enough to try on her own.

My suggestion is to start with the basics, a few signs at a time, and work up from there. You might find that ten or twenty signs are all that you want to teach your child. That is fine. No one says that you have to have a child who can sign EVERYTHING. The idea is to help their communication with you and to avoid situations that might be difficult. My guess is that once you get started, and start to see your child signing, you wont stop at just a few though!

If you continue to sign with your child regularly, there is no reason why your child couldn't sign 100 or more signs before they turn two. Who wouldn't want to have a two year old who can tell you if they are sick, thank you, or I love you far before they can say it?

Concerned that teaching your child to sign will limit their speech and language development? Well, I am happy to report that that is NOT the case. Teaching sign language to children does promote language development. You can check out a great article here that has links to some good studies that have been done on communication and language.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

1, 2, 3 Montessori

What is Montessori Really?

Check out this great blog post by John Bowman, author of the book, "Montessori At Home." His post examines the idea that, "there are many approaches to helping young children learn that we tend to consider distinct and separate. Waldorf, Reggio, and Traditional programs each have their adherents." I love his post because it gets to the heart of what is important about Montessori leaning and teaching. That it is our job to follow the child and help the child lead. No matter if in order to stay true to following the child, you become less Montessori "looking" and more "Waldorf," or "traditional," or "Reggio." The importance really isn't in the name at all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tot School: 18 Months

Tot School: 16.5 months

~18 Months~

This week we pulled out some new supplies to work with. Well, more than anything it was an opportunity for me to introduce them, and their vocabulary to the Stink Bug. We talked about paper, scissors, and glue in detail. Ok, so only in as much detail as a toddler would understand and have patience for!

The main activity that I used to give her experience was a "collage" type of an activity. We looked through magazines together, and when she got to a picture that she liked she would point to it, and tell me what it was. I would slowly cut it out, put a dab of glue on the back, and ask her to stick it to the paper.

It was a lot of fun to see her experience the stickiness of the glue stick. She has just recently learned to say, "sticky" so it was especially fun to see her put the word to good use.

When we started, I had only planned on filling up half of a large sheet of white construction paper with cut out images. Much to my surprise, she kept wanting to do more, so I unfolded the paper, and we kept on going!

By the time we were finished we had page full of things that are currently interesting to the Stink Bug. Almost a snapshot of the things she likes, and some of the words that she can say.

Of course, we did a few obligatory Valentines day activities this week as well! I couldn't miss an opportunity to hear the Stink Bug say, "Art!" over and over again while she put foam heart stickers into an ice cube tray.

This week I also began making some small, portable, activities that the Stink Bug can do in the car. We are going to be heading to a family reunion in just a couple of weeks and I want to be sure that I have enough "fun and new" things to keep her busy on the 10 hour trip there and 10 hour trip back. If you haven't heard of them before, many people call them "busy bags", or "activity bags". There are MANY ideas out there, and even a few books dedicated to them.

The first one that I worked on, and tested out with the Stink Bug, was a button snake.

Basically, just a ribbon with buttons on either end, and a handful of pieces of fabric with button "holes" in them. In this case, I used some leftover felt, and was sure to make the button holes over sized, and the buttons large.

I also made a "pom-pom stuff" activity. You cut a hole in the top of a container, small enough that you have to stuff a craft pom-pom into it, rather than just have it fall in. Viola, a wonderful toddler activity!

I am not even kidding you, she stuffed all of the pom-pom's into the container three times in a row before she became bored of it and wanted to do something else.

There is nothing like a simple (somewhat free) activity to keep your child engaged for 10-15 min! I may stick this one in my purse when we get back from our trip! It will come in handy I am SURE!

I added this cute picture just because I just can't get enough of the Stink Bug in pigtails now that her hair is long enough!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Details, Details! : A New Schedule

toddler schedule

Oh gosh! Where did my little baby Stink Bug go this week!? I have no idea! She has been growing and changing faster than my head can keep up with. Tantrums, and fussy idle times have become frequent around here. So, I decided that it would be a good idea to try to enforce a bit more a bit more of a schedule to see if that helps the Stink Bug's mood.

Until now, our Tot School routine varied in structure, time, length, and place, from day to day which worked well for me but, not for her. When I really think about it closely, most of our schedule has been pretty regular, except for between times. Those times between meals and napping. Those really shouldn't be the in between times. I think that those should be the main parts of our day, with the meals and naps as the break, not the other way around. It's time for a change of mindset, and some additions to our schedule.

The Stink Bug's New Schedule:

8:00-8:30 Wake up, care of self. (Some independent dressing work. Help when needed, but encourage to try do it first.)

8:30-9:00 Prepare breakfast, eat, clean. (Same applies here. Kids love to cook, and enjoy cleaning their table and chair with a soapy dishtowel.)

9:00-9:30 Free play time while Mom checks e-mail, etc! (Don't forget to take some time for yourself!)

9:30-10:00 Circle/calender/opening time shortly followed with independent work with Montessori lessons and Tot School. (No calender time for us just yet. A simple song is enough for us!)

10:00-10:15 Clean up lesson materials, roll mat, etc.

10:15-10:45 Imaginative role play, Waldorf inspired, natural materials, and/or art.

10:45-11:00 Clean up and quiet transition into nap time. (Perhaps part of a Praise baby DVD or other quiet and calm activity. A small snack or glass of milk may help here.)

11:00-1:00ish Transition to nap time and actual sleep time. (Nap time length will vary from day to day. Reading and free play times adjust accordingly. This is a good time to prepare materials for the next day's lessons and clean up anything missed - especially from art projects!)

1:00-1:15 Quiet reading together time in bedroom.

1:15-2:00 Free play.

2:00-2:30 Prepare lunch, eat, clean. (Give a job to do. Fold napkins? Get out cup and bowl from low shelf?)

2:30-4:30 Outdoor play (if possible), or gross motor play. (Really try to focus on gross motor activities if indoors. This is also great time to head to the park or do another activity away from home.)

4:30- 4:45 Hydrate and snack time at a small, child sized table. (A good time to have the child work on new eating skills at a non stressful time. Examples: Have the child cut their own banana or pour their own drink, and/or practice using open cups.)

4:45-5:30 Free play.

5:30-6:30 Prepare dinner, eat, clean. (Another great time to practice some practical skills.)

6:30-6:45 Night time activities like bath time or spending some time playing with Dad.

6:45-7 Get ready for bed. Pajamas, teeth brushing, read a few books. (Let them lead as much as possible.)

7:00 Bedtime

This schedule lends itself to some flexibility. If we have morning plans on a particular day, I can swap out her "directed learning" part of the morning for one, or both, of the free play times in the afternoon. Oh, and I do have to say that I am not a stickler for watching my clock, and keeping everything perfectly on schedule but, the Stink Bug will sure let me know when it is time to eat or sleep. Without fail, if I have not been watching the clock around nap time, she will pull her blanket out of her crib, and come to me saying, "Night, night!" She is definitely a creature of habit!

What do you think? Am I missing anything important that we should be doing? What type of a schedule do you keep with your toddler? I would love your input!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tot School: 17.5 Months

Tot School: 16.5 months

~17.5 Months~

As the Stink Bug is nearing 18 months old, I am beginning to transition some of our work into more "typical" Montessori style activities. Not that 18 months is a magical age or anything, it just seems to be that she is ready to be challenged in a different way, and it is a good "goal age" for my head to wrap around. I had set in my sights to begin to focus our time a little more specifically at 18 months (as long as she enjoys it) and want to continue with that in mind.

Some Montessori things that we will begin to work on include; more activities done on a mat, more pouring and transferring, and some more practical life activities. We will also begin some more traditional "direct" teaching activities. These will be more along the lines of color, alphabet, and object lessons. Sounds like a lot huh!? We will see how she likes it! All I can do is try, and if it doesn't work, adjust what we are working on!

This week we began using a mat (although I rolled it for her and showed her where to put it away) and we started our first transferring type activity.

In this activity, the Stink Bug was given two bowls. One bowl about half filled with dried split peas, and the second empty. I gave her a small scoop on the tray, and showed her how to scoop up the peas, and transfer them into the second bowl. She work on this until she was no longer interested (usually leaving some of the peas behind) but, that was ok with me.

I also modeled her the "control of error" by spilling a few peas on the tray myself, picking them up, and putting them back into the bowl. The Stink Bug did spill some peas and picked them up but, was not so diligent about getting them all picked up just yet. If you would like to learn a little bit more about control of error you can check out some good information here. I was very impressed with her interest in the activity and it was just difficult enough without overwhelming her! Yay for peas!

We gave salt dough another try this week. The last few times that I have made it for the Stink Bug to explore she wanted NOTHING to do with it. This week, she really opened up to the idea. So much so that she was willing to stamp things into it, and tear pieces off.

Gotta love learning while still in your pajamas!

She only tried to put it in her mouth once, and quickly realized just how gross and salty it was. Needless to say, she didn't try to eat it again!

The Stink Bug had a lot of fun pushing her finger into some little circles that I made for her with the bottom of a toy.

The Stink Bug also worked on her scooping skills in our rainbow rice table.

Of course, some times it's just more fun to do everything upside down!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years

I just finished reading the book,"Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years," by Elizabeth Hainstock, that I was given for Christmas. It has lots of good insight and ideas for a mom new to the ideas of Montessori. A rather short book at 115 pages but, it had some nice quotes to roll around in your brain. Here is one of my favorites!

"Too often the precious formative years from birth to six of age are wasted by parents and teachers who feel that the child is too young to learn. In many cases it is actually they who are too lazy to teach. Observe the mountains of information that your three-year-old absorbs from watching television. Can you then truly tell yourself that a child of this age is not ready for learning experiences? " pg 11 "Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years," by Elizabeth Hainstock.

Now to find something a bit more detailed to read! Any suggestions?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tot Art

Around the age of 18 months, tots scribbling may go from very random, linear looking, to having a more controlled look. You might start to notice that their scribbling changes from lines, into more circular patterns with lines interspersed as they gain more fine motor control. As this stage in development, tots will scribble simply for the kinesthetic enjoyment, not at an attempt to portray the visual world.

Here is a little piece of the Stink Bugs art!

Find out more about scribbling, and its importance here!
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