Sunday, January 31, 2010

One... two... three!

The day we brought Baby L. home my mom said, “Does she have all five fingers and toes?” Starting right that minute, the counting began. In a sing-songy voice, I tickled each of L.'s tiny digits, saying, “One baby toe... Two baby toes... Three baby toes...”

About three weeks later, without really thinking much about it, I started counting the snaps on her onesies whenever I was getting her dressed. “One SNAP! Two SNAPS! Three SNAPS! Yay!” She screetches in delight when I do this, so of course I do it every time now. Anything to make my baby smile!

Two weeks later, we were dancing around the apartment to Baby L.'s favorite music and I absent mindedly started counting to the beat. “One two three, one two three, one two three, one two three.”

And then, about one month later, I started singing this song, which I guess I remembered from my own childhood!

By the following week, Ladybug's Picnic had become our changing-table song. Every time L.'s on the changing table we sing it. (My husband is getting a little bit tired of it—especially since I usually can’t remember all of the words, except the counting).

About three weeks ago, I unwrapped a present for Baby L. It was a musical toy frog, that played the song Five Green and Speckled Frogs. I sang it over and over, tickling her chin on each number, which makes her screetch with joy. It turned out to be the perfect bath-time song. Glub! Glub!

And just last Thursday, my friend E.B.S. gave us our new favorite book, 1, 2, 3 New York by Puck. We added it to our other counting books, Mommy Hugs, and Counting Kisses both by Karen Katz. And of course, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. The list of fun counting books could go on and on! L. especially loves to count the pepperoni pizzas (they're from Fornino, I'm sure of it), and the yellow taxi cabs!

Now, Baby L. and I count fingers, onesie snaps, the beats to her fave songs, and we sing counting songs and read counting books morning, noon, and night.

One... two... three!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cooking With Baby

It was late Sunday afternoon when our groceries were delivered. Baby L. was still awake, and normally I would have just waited for her next nap before putting away the groceries. But this time I had a brainstorm. I dragged L.'s swing to the edge of our kitchen where she could watch me put the groceries away. As I pulled the items out of the delivery boxes I talked about them and described what I was doing. Someone walking past the door to of our apartment would have heard, in a sing-songy, baby friendly voice:

"Ooooooh! Here are the yellow bananas! Yum yum! Bananas! Where do the bananas go? Over here, next to the bread box... Now what do we have? Ooooooh! Butter!"

Call me crazy, but the teacher in me was really happy with all the vocabulary I was sharing with my little girl. I was tucking in food names and kitchen words like "bread box" and "refrigerator," not to mention words like "in," "under," "next to." Every early childhood teacher knows how important all those words are.

L. loved looking at all the cool stuff coming out of the boxes, and stared at the doors of the cupboards opening to reveal what was inside and the shiny refrigerator door swinging open. She was totally entertained - and I was getting stuff done!

I started to get really into it. After the groceries were put away, L. was still happy, so I decided to try for the dishes too. Same thing:

"Yay! Here's the coffee cup I used this morning. It's empty now! I'm putting it into the dishwasher, right next to the cheese grater!"

When the dishes were done, I thought, hey, why not try to cook dinner? L.'s swing was on the side of the kitchen opposite the stove, so I didn't have to worry about any dangerous hot stuff getting near her, and she was very content to keep watching.

So I did a little cooking show for my daughter. I cooked macaroni and cheese, walking Baby L. through each step, bit by bit. I held up each of the ingredients to tell her all about them. I jingled the measuring spoons. I held the milk up close while I poured it from the container to the measuring cup. I even got to use MATH when I talked about measuring!

"Look Baby! Two and one-thirds cups of milk! Not the skim milk either. Whole milk-- yum yum! I'm putting it in the pot now!"

I know she's just a baby. But I also know that research has shown that talking to your baby helps build language and vocabulary. The more you talk to your child, the more words she learns. When L. is older she's probably going to roll her eyes at me and run the other direction. But for now, she's my captive audience while I feed her language and vocabulary!

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Puppy Love

When Daddy B. and I were expecting our daughter, Baby L., we received tons of advice about how to help our dog, Indigo, adjust to his new life. Anybody who knows us knows that Indigo was the center of our attention. He pretty much ran our household, controlling everything from what time in the morning we woke up, to our weekend activities, to how late we stayed out with friends at night. He seemed to need constant cuddling, snuggling, playing games, tugging on his favorite rope, fetch, doing tricks...

When we moved all the office furniture and books out of Indie's "bedroom" to turn it into Baby L.'s bedroom, Indigo was incredibly upset by the change. He cried and moped around for days during the switch. That room had always been "his," from the time he was a puppy. So, during the months leading up to L.'s birth, we made sure to play with Indigo as much as we could in the baby's new room. We even gave him treats in there so that he wouldn't think of the baby's room as a bad place in the apartment, and when L. was born, Daddy B. brought home a hospital blanket for Indigo to sleep on before Baby L. and I came home from the hospital so that her scent would be familiar to him.

I'm and avid reader of doggy-lit. I read dog-centered websites and books. I watch dog-related shows and movies. You name it. From all this research, I've pulled out four essential things you can do to help your doggy and baby love each other:

1. Right from the beginning, teach your dog to always stay calm near your baby. That means no playing with the puppy near her when she’s in her play-gym, no tug-of-war next to her while she swings. And no more playing with baby with one hand, and throwing the ball to Doggy with the other. While it might seem perfectly safe to get your pup all excited while you're holding your three month old safely in your arms, you may want to reconsider. By keeping the dog calm near the babe, you can establish a routine that will keep your baby safe as she grows older and you can't be right next to her and the dog every minute.

2. Give your pup his own special place(s) around the house. It could be a dog bed, the rug he likes to curl up on for naps, or his favorite spot on the couch (or all of the above). Don’t allow the baby (or her toys) in his spots, so that they don't have her scent. We keep Indigo's dog beds baby-free (yes, he has several dog beds around the house - though he sleeps in ours at night).

3. Early on teach your child to be gentle to your dog, so he can trust her. Be especially careful when your baby and dog are new to each other. Over the years your doggy will learn to put up with more and more poking and fur-pulling, but let him learn to love your baby first – that way he’s more likely to be patient with her later on.

4. Doggies love routines – just like babies! Make sure that there are times in the day that you give your dog some attention. Maybe you always do a couple tricks with your dog when you come home from work, or maybe you always snuggle with him after his morning walk. Our dog knows that after Baby L. falls asleep, we’re all his. He comes looking for some extra lovin’ as soon as she’s asleep, and sticks to us like glue for the rest of the night.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Here A Book, There A Book, Everywhere A Book

Every good teacher knows that a supportive classroom environment reflects the things that matter most to the teacher and the children in that community of learners. When I was teaching, children's writing and books were everywhere you turned in my classroom - on the walls, on the shelves, and at their tables.

Likewise, the environment at home can support what you value most in your child's learning. Numerous studies have shown that kids who grow up in a print-rich environment are at a distinct advantage in school. Not to mention, when you model a love of books, your child learns to love them too! And it's never to early to start.

On the coffee table in our living room, we've got little stacks of board books for Baby L., and our fave magazines and books for us. In L.'s toy bag, mixed in with Sophie the Giraffe and her rattles and shakers, she's got a bunch of cloth books with different textures for her to feel on each page. Her favorite is Good Puppy! On the kitchen counter there's a stack of recipe books, including a homemade one that my mother-and-law and I have been adding to for the last year or so. Our hallways are lined with books. On the bedside tables in our bedroom, there are stacks of parenting books, like Your Baby's First Year, and Baby 411, plus of course-- more board books. In L.'s bedroom, there are always picture books scattered on the guest bed plus more in the basket on her dresser.

Some other ideas for creating print-rich environment at home:

1) Put clippings from your favorite magazines or blogs on the refrigerator, or post them on a bulletin board.

2) Keep your family photo albums out somewhere (yes,
this counts!). Switched everything over to digital? Try ordering a bound book online from services like Snapfish. They have pre-made templates so all you have to do is click & drag your pictures to where you want them.

4) Put a cover on your child's artwork or writing, and then put your child's book on the shelf or coffee table with all the other published books in your home. Staples has lots of options for slip on covers or binders. Or better yet, spend some time with your child doing some book-making!

5) Talk about the every-day kinds of writing you do: post-its and lists, thank you cards, emails. Show this writing to your child and invite them to do it (as best they can) too!

6) Set the family computer's screen saver to some kind of text. A short poem, the lyrics to a children's song, or even a slide show of cool pictures will help immerse your child in a home where pictures and print aren't hard to find.

7) You don't have to spend a fortune on your child's own private library. Visit the public library and sign out some books together. Even your baby can let you know which board books they prefer. Hold the book up to see if she is interested. If not, put it back and try another one. If you keep trying a wide variety of texts eventually you'll figure out your little one's preferences, even if they don't have the words to tell you!

Have fun filling your home with books! Your baby will thank you later!

What's in Your Diaper Bag?

It was raining cats and dogs in Brooklyn today, but I was dying to get out of the apartment with Baby L. So I planned an outing to Willburg Cafe, just across the street, where they have plenty of space for strollers and the baristas don't seem to mind the sound of a crying baby.

I was a little nervous about going to a cafe with the baby by myself for the first time. So I worked out a strategy-- I waited until just before L.'s nap time, then placed her gently in her stroller where she promptly drifted to sleep. I figured this would give me at least an hour of peace while I figured out how to have lunch with myself, my laptop, and my baby for the first time.

Alas, as soon as we stepped foot into Willburg, Baby L. awoke with a fuss. I felt all eyes on me as I bounced around the cafe with L. She started to cry the instant I sat down with her, so I danced around while all the normal people sipped their lattes. Luckily, within minutes, a family with another baby arrived, so I didn't feel so out of place.

I figured going out to lunch with Baby L. was a lot like going on a field trip with my first graders when I was teaching. After all, bringing my baby to different places around the neighborhood is a great way to teach her all kinds of new vocabulary, give her new experiences, and expose her to the big world outside the apartment. When I was a teacher, I always carried a huge backpack full of supplies on field trips. Now, my diaper bag was just as crucial! As L. grew more and more cranky, I reached into my diaper bag to pull out various items, one after the other, keeping her entertained with each new activity:

1st) Her favorite jingly toy, a handmade fuzzy soft elephant. I jingled it and attached it to her the toy bar on her stroller. She reached for it! An exciting first! But two minutes later, she was basically uninterested.

2nd) One of her favorite swaddling blankets, which I wrapped around her bottom half, leaving her hands free for sucking. I thought it might comfort her. It did, for about a minute.

3rd) The extra hat and mits that I keep in the bag. I have a bad habit of forgetting her hat when I leave the house. I thought maybe she was feeling chilly. She wasn't.

4th) My Bebe Au Lait nursing cover that my mother-in-law gave me as a gift. Maybe L. was hungry? I fed her and she ate a whole bunch, but I don't think that was really the problem.

5th) Her diaper changing mat. It's called a Patemm Pad and I get compliments on it everywhere I go (Thanks M.W.!). Around the edge of the circle are pockets where I keep extra diapers, a tiny bottle of Purell, a small tube of Aquafor, and a travel pack of our favorite baby wipes from Seventh Generation-- which you can use on her hands & face as well as her bum since they have no perfumes, chemicals, or dyes-- just water. Baby L. had fun getting changed, but as soon as we were finished, she was ready for somethin' new.

6th) Personally, I think it's a little rude to put dirty diapers in someone else's trash can, so I stuck her dipe in a doggy-poo bag. It's like they say on the mountain when we're hiking: "Pack it in. Pack it out. Leave no trace." I keep a little dispenser of plastic bags in our bag just for this purpose. It's just like our dog's little red bone-shaped dispenser, except L.'s is pink.

I stuck her back in her stroller and tried rocking her back and forth while I snuck bites of my garden omlette (which was delicious, even though it was cold by then). I finished up quick so I could take Lily home where she could take a real nap in her crib.

Once we were at home and L. was dozing comfortably, I wondered what clever things other moms might keep in their diaper bags for field trips around the 'hood. What's in your diaper bag? Any tricks to share?

Wee See

Brinton and I don’t own a TV. It’s not that we’re totally anti-television or anything. A few years ago we cancelled our cable because our service was always out, no matter what the cable guys did to fix it. Our old TV set sat in a corner collecting dust until we finally gave it away. In the meantime, my husband set up a projector hooked to our computer and a screen on the wall in our living room so we could watch movies and seasons of Lost on Netflix.

Now that Baby L. is here we talk a lot about whether or not we’ll ever get a TV again. Who knows?

The jury is still out on the actual effects of watching television. Many adamantly argue that too much TV “rots your brain,” and a common belief holds that too much television makes kids behave violently. Studies have shown that exposure to video games and television actually can also make kids fearful of violence. The fast paced nature of most programming, which consists of sound bytes, also can make it difficult for kids to really focus or study something in detail.

On the other hand, others point to the potential benefits of educational programming, like Sesame Street, which support language and vocabulary development, as well as general background knowledge on a wide variety of topics that a child would not otherwise encounter. There’s also an argument in favor of media-literacy that maintains that children learn to navigate different kinds of programming quite easily and can learn to discriminate between fact, fiction, and everything in between with a little help from adults.

I will say this – At three months old, L. is FASCINATED by television on the rare occasions that she actually has seen it. She’s mesmerized by the bright colors and sounds. And when she’s upset, it seems like it’s as good as a binky (which we don’t happen to use, but that’s another topic). But call me overprotective. I feel guilty hanging out in front of the boob tube with my infant daughter. Is it rotting her brain? Probably not. Are there better things I can think of doing? Absolutely.

wee see - collection one from Rolyn Barthelman on Vimeo.

Here’s some baby TV I can feel good about: Wee See. Just try it. You’ll see. The delicate sounds and gentle movements are just the thing maintaining a calming feeling throughout the house, even with the TV on. The black and white designs are right up Baby L.'s alley, and the slow movements and basic shapes are great for encouraging her to carefully examine and study what she’s seeing, rather than typical TV, which is basically designed to shorten your kid’s attention span. The DVDs even have a still life option, so that you can decide when you want introduce movement.

Happy television watching!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Baby's Favorite Author

At the beginning of December I pulled out all my favorite wintry-themed books, like any good teacher would. I stacked up The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, and of course several Jan Brett texts including The Mitten, The Hat, and Gingerbread Baby. I chose books for their gorgeous art, and rich literary language – and of course their ability to set the mood for the holidays. Of all the book in our house, Baby L.'s favorite was... drum roll please….a simple board book called Where Is Baby’s Christmas Present? by Karen Katz that we had received as an unmarked present in the mail – something must have gone wrong when somebody ordered us a gift online. Either that, or it was a present from Santa.

L. loved looking at the pictures in all her books, but with this particular book she would squeal with delight after we read each page – which of course delighted us too!

Over the next several weeks, Brinton and I read Where Is Baby’s Christmas Present? about a thousand times. When we took Baby L. to Vermont to visit her grandparents and aunts and uncles, they all heard W.I.B.C.P? a few thousand times as well.

By the time New Year’s came around, it was time for a new book. So, when I was at the bookstore, I stocked up on Karen Katz books, figuring if L. liked W.I.B.C.P, then she would love Where’s Baby’s Birthday Cake? and Counting Kisses, and Mommy Hugs.

Sure enough. All these books were a hit. Baby’s first favorite author.

Thanks Karen Katz, wherever you are! (And thanks Santa for introducing us to her!)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Seeing Things in Black & White

I think I first noticed how much Baby L. loved black and white designs the day she was born. In the hospital room she stared and stared at a card that somebody had given me that was a black design against a white background. She was mesmerized by my mother-in-law's black and white striped shirt. A few weeks after she was born she began to screech with joy at the set of black and white paintings my husband and his friend had made. When I realized that black and white would make her smile - that's when I started to look for black and white things to show her.

Who knew there was a whole cottage industry of black and white products for babies? It makes sense. Doctors, scientists, and mommies have known for a long time that babies see high contrast images best, and that they see best when something is 6-12 inches away.

One of L.'s favorite things to do these days is to stare at these lovely cards from Wee Gallery. A mommy friend gave them to me one day at one of our meet-ups at the Williamsburg Y when Baby L. was just seven or eight weeks old. She loved them then, and now that she's three months old, she still enjoys them.

She loved the cards so much that I made a trip to one of my favorite baby stores, Mini Jake, and got the wall decals to match and hung them over her changing table. Now whenever she's being changed she smiles, coos and screetches at the lions, zebras, and giraffes keeping her company.

When she's looking at the animals, I talk about the designs using my best exciting baby-friendly voice (but not nonsense words or baby talk). In theory, I'm teaching her lots of vocabulary when I talk to her like this - plus, it just seems natural. What else would I do - hold the cards up silently? That would be kind of weird. Also, I noticed that she has a pretty long attention span when it comes to the cards (compared to other things) and I know that it's good for kids to learn to study things closely and carefully and for long periods of time from early on. Mostly though, I'll just do anything to make her smile. What mommy wouldn't want that?

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Little Night Music

After singing Lily "Twinkle Twinkle" for the millionth time, I decided I need to expand my repertoire of lullabies. So once again, I caved to my Pandora and iTunes addictions, and while Baby L. napped, I explored children's music and rediscovered some old favorites, like Ella Jenkins, and Free To Be You and Me, and came across some newer faves!

Heather Forest uses a fantastic mix of old school storytelling and music to tell classics like "The Mitten," "City Mouse and Country Mouse," and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Her storytelling voice reminded me of my first grade teacher, who used to play guitar and sing us songs like "This Land is Your Land" and "You Are My Sunshine." It's warm, lyrical, and inviting, just the kind of voice a first grade teacher ought to have. Not to mention, the stories themselves are just the thing for developing your child's developing sense of story and vocabulary! Have a listen: The Mitten: Ukrainian Folktale for Young Listeners.

Also, Check out Elizabeth Mitchell's music and you won't be disappointed. I highly recommend making an Elizabeth Mitchell Pandora station. In fact, while you're at it, download her albums on iTunes, so you can listen - and sing along to your little one - anytime! I especially love her album "You Are My Sunshine."

Renee & Jeremy's album "It's a Big World" is lovely and sweet. Just the thing to dance around the apartment to when the baby just needs a little extra mommy time before bed.

And may I suggest a Ladysmith Black Mambazo Pandora station while you're at it. "In the Jungle" puts L. to sleep every time.

This New Mom Depends on Her Online Friends

I am one of those people who likes to be prepared for, well, everything. I am super-organized, to the point of being a bit obsessive. And I like to know EVERYTHING ahead of time.

When I was pregnant, I read tons of books, went to classes, researched online, talked with every mom I knew, and still I wasn't prepared for mommy-hood.

One of my most valuable resources is a local online listserv that I joined early on called Brooklyn Baby Hui, for moms like me in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. This is a place where I can post any question at all - about pregnancy, about childbirth, about parenting, health, baby gear, things to do in the neighborhood - anything! And the other gals in the neighborhood will do the best they can to share their experiences and point me to other resources. There are also tons of events and activities for new moms to attend. If you live in or near our 'hood, you should join it!

Before Baby L. was born I posted tons of questions on how to find a nanny in our neighborhood, and people sent me recommendations for actual nannies, not just vague suggestions. When I was having trouble breastfeeding, I found support from dozens of other moms who were either having the same problems, or had been through it before. When I wasn't sure what kind of stroller to buy, I was pointed in the right direction (I love my stroller!).

Now that L. is three months old, I find myself answering other people's questions for the first time -about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding. A group of moms have figured out that I'm a reading teacher, and now people email me directly with questions about schools and their child's learning.

Maybe there's something like it in your neighborhood. If not, maybe you should start one! Google Groups or Yahoo Groups are easy places to start. You could always try one of the web resources that are less neighborhood specific, like Urban Baby, Baby Center or Parents Magazine Online.