Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The real world

Sorry for the interruption in our regular "programming." We'll get back to that innocent world soon. Promise.

In the meantime, I'm reeling from news from the real world and struggling to process it all. A friend of mine suffered the worst attack imaginable recently. She had a seizure following the brutal attack, which left her unable to speak or move. She passed away on Sunday afternoon.

Another friend, a teacher with two young kids, committed suicide recently. Her kids are now with her ex, and have emigrated to another country, where their father lives.

I can't make sense of any of it, and I'm so incredibly heartbroken for these two families.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Activities with toddlers: inside

If you've come across a great resource for easy activities to do with toddlers, or have ideas on things to do to keep them occupied, please share by leaving a comment.

We sing, dance and read a lot, but I thought I'd attempt to capture some other ideas too.

I'm no authority on the subject of toddlers, and this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but here are some cheap and/or easy strategies I've learned along the way from other parents, and ideas that have kept our kids gleefully occupied in and around the house while having fun and learning. I hope this helps an overwhelmed parent to claim a few moments of sanity!


Divide their toys into tubs/baskets/containers so they don't have access to all of their toys every day. Hide them in a closet or a room they don't have access to. Out of sight, out of mind. Then rotate the toys. I bring out a different tub every morning or whenever they become whiny/bored and it works wonders because they have renewed interest in their toys. I've found that at least 4 days is the ideal amount of time to "hide" a toy.


Sometimes I change where the toys are kept that they have access to. I'll switch the contents of cubbies and containers around, or move the ballpit balls from one place to another. They often play with toys they haven't touched in days if they discover it in a new spot. It's fun to watch them "find" and rediscover forgotten items.

I often change which toys are kept in which room. Since we have 3 toddlers, we have childproofed our living room, our enclosed porch and a part of our lower level. When they start to get antsy, I herd them outside or into a new space with other toys. Often, changing the environment helps as much as changing the activity. More on that in part 2 and 3 of this series of posts.


Before naptime and bedtime, we sing a clean-up song while I try to put things away. They don't always help me, but they're starting to help more often and for longer periods. Oh, those short toddler attention spans! Sometimes they'll put things away without prompting, and say in a sing-songy voice, "clea-mup... clea-mup!" just to dump them out again. This, of course, is what toddlers do best and is a worthwhile endeavor too. Just not as much fun for me.

But I do think it's starting to sink in. It helps them "categorize" and learn to search for items, and follow instructions. E.g. "Let's clean up all of the blocks. Oh, look, there's a block behind the teddy bear. Can you bring it to me?"

Let's pack up all of the red balls! (Hold up a red ball.)

Oooh, can you find all of the teddy bears among the soft toys?

This game is endless, depending on the characteristics you point out and your level of patience.


Our kids have way too many toys, but sometimes all it takes is a bunch of plastic containers. It can be your Tupperware, or not. Sometimes the bigger yogurt containers make excellent toys, because they can:

- fill them and dump the contents
- attempt to open and close the lids
- bang on them like a drum

Plastic bottles.
We rinse small soda/juice bottles, remove the labels and lid (choking hazard) and hand them a bunch of straws. Our kids have spent a solid 30 minutes inserting straws into soda bottles and dumping them out again. Great for dexterity and working on fine motor skills. Of course, this is a closely supervised activity because of the straws.

Wooden spoons. These make great mallets to bang on stuff.

Stainless mixing bowls (oh, shiny object!)

Measuring cups. They have three different sets of stacking cups, but my measuring cups are more interesting to them because they are stainless steel and have handles.

Colorful tins with pictures.


Keep big boxes. We go through so many diapers (sorry, planet Earth, as much as I wanted to, I ended up not having it in me to clothdiaper three). We always have big diaper boxes on hand. These make awesome toys to climb on top of, sit on, climb into, and dump stuff into and out of. We've pushed them around the house in the boxes too, making swoosh!, zoom!, brrrm! and beep beep noises. They also like pushing them around more than their expensive push toys.


In our former life, we used to go camping. Now the air mattress is an excellent way to spend 30 minutes on a rainy day getting some exercise. Jumping at this age is a critical skill to learn, and when your kids have gross motor delays, it serves a very important purpose while having fun.


We purchased a play kitchen from Craigslist for $60 (it retails for over $300.)


We have tubs with:

1. Small animals.
Some are finger puppets, some are plastic toys, some are bathtime animals, and some are soft toys.

2. Tiny little books.
They love books and have board books out all the time, but what makes these books special is that they're tiny and fit neatly into a tin that I wanted to discard but decided on a whim to keep. The tin has kept them almost as busy as any other toy, trying to open and close it, bang it, put other stuff in it. And they discover these books anew every time they play with this tub. Because there are sooo many of the little books, they never get tired of them.

3. Wooden blocks and stacking toys.

4. Puzzles with handles.
They still can't get them in by themselves, but we talk about the pictures on the puzzles (mostly anmimals) and try to match them to their "friends." I make silly farm animal or wild animal noises, tell them about the animals, and talk about what each animal eats or does.

They now get it right 100% of the time, although for the longest time I thought they weren't really into puzzles. I just kept at it and now they love it. Don't expect them to finish the puzzle, but praise praise praise if they point to the matching object, or attempt to bring the piece to where it belongs. The girls occasionally get a piece fully into the puzzle, and they're so proud of themselves when it slips into place.

5. Hand puppets.
Some are cheap washcloth "mittens" with animals on them (duck, seal, frog), but we also have an "Assemble a monster" toy. It's a velcro hand puppet made of fleece with different eyes/noses/horns/arms/legs that you can velcro anywhere on the hand puppet.

We make funny noises for each monster. Their monsters give hugs and kisses, are fed "milk" and whatever they can dream up, and sometimes do unexpected un-girly like things, like burp and then we giggle and talk about what to say. "Monster, when you burp, you need to say, 'Excuse me!' Teaching the monster is so much more fun than whining at my kids about manners! And they learn without feeling like I'm admonishing them. Goodness knows, they get preached out all day long, "No! Don't touch that!" "That's not a toy!" "That's dangerous!" "That's sharp/hot/dirty (fill in the blank)" so it's a wonderful change of pace when I discover a fun and effective way of getting the same message across.


- Backyard activities with toddlers

- Activities in the community

- I'd like to compile a list of their favorite purchased toys (with links to examples) and will post that soon.

With the girls' 2nd birthday coming up soon, what were some of your kids' favorite toys at age 2? Or if you have a toddler or are around toddlers, what have you seen them play with most?

>> If you have any tips to keep toddlers occupied, please share. We're always on the lookout for ideas. My sanity depends on it. (Yes, all about me.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Attachment, and reflections on personality

Attachment to Blankets
The girls are very attached to their "blankies" and "bershies" as they affectionaly call them. The blankets receive numerous hugs, are sometimes "fed" milk from a sippy, stroked, soothed, kissed, and are on the receiving end of the sweetest, whispered, "I love you, bershie" words.

The blankets remain inside the house, and they now say their goodbyes to the blankets at the top of the stairs each morning when we head outside. So cute.

Attachment to Toys
On the soft toy front, each child has a favorite lovey. Ada has an Otter, "Otterjasie" Julia has a panda, "Pandamonium" and Emma has a puppy, "Ore." The soft toys sleep with them, and are always near during the day. When we head out the door, the soft toys go along for the ride, whether it's in the car, the stroller or the Choo Choo wagon. Oh, how I love the sweetness of toddlerhood, when every fear can be assuaged by a lovey.

Lovey Personalities
Julia feeds Pandamonium "bamboo" from her sippy cup or spoon, and has squeezed him and loved on him that he's a shadow of his former self.

Julia insists that he understands English only. Whenever she has him in her arms and I'm speaking Afrikaans, she says to me, "Panda... English!" and then I have to repeat whatever I said in English, for the panda's benefit, you see. Cracks me up every time. She also laughs when I start speaking English to him. This child absolutely loves language. She has totally figured out that each object has at least two names. If I only give her the one name for something, she'll request to hear it in the other language. Blows me away.

Emma loves on her puppy all day long. She whispers sweet nothings in the puppy's ears, pets him, hugs him to death, and strokes his head. Puppy is often covered with her blanket and rocked to sleep. It's really sweet to watch her express her love. She's very gentle and sweet with puppy, and it reflects our most sensitive child's personality. She is most attached to her blanket and sucks on it to soothe herself, but the puppy is never far from her either.

Ada's otter uses his tail to tickle her feet. She makes him do that - it's not something I showed her. She says, "tick tick tick" and giggles. She greets him with, "More Otter" ("Morning, Otter") every morning when she wakes up. Ada loves her otter, but is not as attached to him as her sisters are to their lovies. Everything Otterjasie does reflects Ada's fun-loving, outgoing, confident personality.

Sharing Lovies
Every now and then one child will pick up all 3 lovies, and express their undying love for all 3. This is usually only "tolerated" for a minute or two at a time by her sisters, before someone reclaims their soft toy. If someone picks up the "wrong" soft toy on purpose, the owner will reclaim it by handing her sister the "right" soft toy.