Keeping Your Children’s Eyes Safe – A Parent’s Guide

By Guest Blogger: Aaron Barriga

Author Bio: 

 Aaron Barriga is the online marketing manager for Insight Vision Center. With a knack for understanding medical procedures, and an interest in eye and vision health, Aaron loves to share what he knows and what he learns. He blogs to inform readers about the latest eye care technology and other topics related to eye care, especially LASIK. Aaron loves collecting coasters from the different bars and restaurants he visits during his travels.

 

Keeping Your Children’s Eyes Safe – A Parent’s Guide

It isn’t unusual for children to spend a lot of time playing with toys. As a parent, you must ensure that the toys they play with are developmentally and age appropriate. At the same time, you must prioritize eye safety and ensure the toys and other household objects don’t bring any harm to their eyes and overall safety.

Common Risks of Eye Injuries to Children

1. Danger from Toys

Toys with sharp edges or age-inappropriate toys are a risk to children. Look for ‘ASTM’ label on toys packaging as this label indicates that the product meets the national safety standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials.

2. Risk from Falling from Furniture or Stairs

Falling from furniture can hurt the eyes. Even sharp edges of furniture can be a reason for cuts or scratches on the eyes. You can prevent this by padding or cushioning the sharp corners of furnishings. Adult supervision is essential when kids play on or near the furniture.

3. Sand or Dirt Particles

Sand or dirt particles can scratch the cornea and harm the eye. Wash the eyes immediately if they enter the eyes and protect them with protective eyewear when you go for outdoor activities like treks, rock climbing, etc.

4. Danger from Kitchen and Garden Tools

Kitchen and garden tools like forks, knives, scissors, even pens and pencils may be dangerous and cause eye injury. Make sure your children use them responsibly and keep them away from the kids’ reach when not in use.

5. Contact with Harmful Household Products

Common household objects like detergents, glues, paints, fertilizers, chemicals, etc., can cause some serious harm to children’s eyes if they come in contact with them. Keep these items locked away and always supervise their use.

6. Flakes of Metal, Glass, or Craft Materials

If the child works around workshops in schools or as a recreation, they may put their eyes at risk as flakes of metal, wood, glass or stone may enter their eyes.

7. Automobile Accidents

Automobile accidents may harm the child’s eye with broken glass or sharp object that may get exposed during the accident.

You must know basic eye injury treatment in case your child hurts his/her eyes at home.

Maintaining Safety to Prevent Eye Injuries

1. Indoor Safety

  • You must use safety gates at the top and bottom of the stairs
  • Improve stair safety by having proper lighting and handrails
  • Cushion sharp edges and corners of furnishings and home fixtures
  • Use guards on all power equipment
  • Install cabinet and drawer locks in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Keep paints, fertilizers and pesticides in a secure area
  • Wash hands after using household chemicals
  • Keep desk supplies, cosmetics, kitchen utensils and toiletry products out of kids’ reach
  • Follow directions when you open bottle tops of carbonated beverages or wine
  • Don’t mix cleaning agents around children and turn spray nozzles away from their faces. Use chemical safety goggles

2. Toys Safety

  • Read safety instructions and warnings on toys
  • Allow kids to play only with age appropriate toys
  • Avoid flying and projectile-firing toys, especially around kids under the age of five
  • Avoid toys with sharp points, edges, rods or spikes
  • Keep BB guns, slingshots, dart guns and arrows away from children

3. Car/Automobile Safety

  • Always use occupant restraints like children safety seats, safety belts, booster seats and shoulder harness in cars
  • Never let children under the age of 12 ride in the front seat of the car
  • Make sure you store loose items, if any, in the trunk or secure it to the floor since loose objects can prove quite dangerous in a crash

Outdoor Sports Safety

  • Kids must always wear protective eye gear that is specifically designed for the sport they play. If your child plays baseball, basketball, field or ice field hockey, lacrosse, skiing or racquet sports, buy the appropriate protective eye gear
  • Ensure that the protective eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate material
  • Don’t substitute protective eyewear with ordinary glasses or contact lenses as they don’t offer any protection against eye injuries
  • Set an example by wearing protective eye gear yourself and consistently enforce the wearing of appropriate eye protection during sports activities.

If there is a serious eye injury, take your child to a pediatric optometrist immediately.

Baby Conversations Are an Important Part of Language Development

Baby Conversations are an Important Part of Language Development

Oral language development is a HUGE part of a child’s development! But the rate at which oral language develops is not merely about immersion and exposure. You can’t just turn a TV on or talk around babies in order for them to develop oral language, it’s all about being RESPONSIVE with interactions.

In an amazing book about children’s development called Nurture Shock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain in their chapter titled, “Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t” that,

“it’s not what a child hears from a parent, but what a parent accomplishes with a well-timed loving caress” (p. 207).

Babies developing oral language need us to notice when they are trying to communicate, to give them eye contact, to engage with them, and to respond to them. I like to call these moments baby conversations.

Baby Conversations

These mock conversations involve touch, eye contact, facial expression, and turn taking. Bronson and Merryman provide an example where,

“the baby coos, and daddy responds, ‘Is that so?’ The baby babbles again, and the daddy in jest returns, ‘Well, we’ll just have to ask Mom'” (p. 212).

Being a responsive parent means that you notice and pay attention to the cues that your baby is giving you and respond to them with vocalizations and touch.

In studies of language development, Bronson and Merryman discovered that,

“How often a mother initiated a conversation with her child was not predictive of the language outcomes – what mattered was, if the infant initiated, whether the mom responded” (p. 208).

When your baby is awake, alert, and looking around, get into a comfortable position about 12 inches from his or her face and simply make eye contact. Notice what your baby does. Does he kick his legs excitedly? Do his eyes light up with joy? Do you notice a hint of his first smile? Is he ready to make his first sound?

If he makes a sound, respond to it by nodding your head, smiling, rubbing his head or back, give his hand a squeeze, and say, “Good job!”. Then pause to give him a chance to talk again. Instead of chattering nonstop yourself (which I’ll admit, is tempting to do), continue this pause and respond conversation loop.

Bronson and Merryman also noticed that,

“While most parents seem to intuit their role in this turn-taking pattern spontaneously – without being told to do so by any handbook – they don’t all do so equally well. A remarkable study of vocal turn-taking found that when four-month-old infants and their parents exhibited better rhythmic coupling, those children would later have greater cognitive ability” (p.212).

Having better rhythmic coupling means that you are really in tune with your child, giving him or her an abundance of eye contact and plenty of chances for conversations.

Progression of Sounds

Baby babble may all sound like gibberish, but it follows a progression of overlapping sounds and each type of babble becomes more sophisticated than the one before. When parents notice that their babies are trying to make new sounds and respond to them, it encourages them to progress further.

It takes a year or more for babies to be able to control their vocal tract with no less than 80 muscles to control. There are five major stages of babbling development.

  1. Phonation Stage – In the first two months of life, newborns will cry, cough, grunt, and sneeze, but these sounds do not involve the vocal cords like speech does. The larynx (or voice box), begins to practice the type of vibration necessary for true vowel sounds while the rest of the vocal tract is at rest. You’ll start to hear quasi-vowel sounds from your baby as this develops.
  2. Gooing Stage – From 2-3 months of age, babies start to move their lips and tongue and consonant sounds start to emerge. At this stage, babies start to coordinate their gooing sounds with eye contact and are ready for baby conversations.
  3. Expansion Stage – Beginning at 4-5 months, we start to hear fully resonant vowel sounds and babies explore pitch and intensity with squealing, yelling, growling, whispering, and my favorite…laughter!
  4. Canonical Babbling – Around 6-7 months, the articulators, resonance, and voice become fully coordinated, and you’ll notice sounds that are real syllables. It starts out as repeated syllables but will soon transform into a mixture of consonant and vowel sounds. (It’s not so much that they are trying to say words as they are trying out sounds.) Sounds not in the child’s language will drop away while the commonly heard sounds are mastered. (This is why children who live in a bilingual household benefit from hearing both languages at a young age.)
  5. Integrative or Jargoning Stage – The last stage typically begins between 10-15 months when real words mixed with complex babbling form jargon (or words that make sense in the context of what is happening). Intonation (the rise and fall of the voice while speaking) also develops so nonsense gibberish will sound like comments, questions, and commands. Gestures, body language, and eye contact are also involved. At this stage, children can understand far more than they can say.

Speech and language pathologist Deborah L. Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP recommends that,

“If the stages of babbling are delayed or absent, or if first words do not emerge by 15 months, the baby should be referred to an early intervention speech and language pathologist for evaluation.”

In Conclusion

When you’re caring for a new tiny human, you’re also probably sleep deprived and worried about things like feeding, diaper changes, and keeping your baby from being fussy, but as babies leave the so called “4th trimester”, they crave more and more stimulation. By giving babies our full attention, eye contact, and presence during these very important baby conversations, their oral language development will grow quickly and progress from one stage to the next and before you know it, you’ll be hearing the beautiful sound of non-stop chatter.

Simple Homemade Hummus Recipe

Simple Homemade Hummus Recipe

One of my favorite snacks in the whole world is homemade bread topped with homemade hummus, green olives, and fresh tomatoes from the garden. This hummus recipe is easy to make, super nutritious, and oh so very delicious!

Homemade Hummus

Homemade Hummus

Ingredients

  • 2 15 oz. Cans of Garbanzo Beans (drain and save the liquid)
  • ½ Cup Tahini (make sure it’s evenly mixed)
  • ¼ Cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Lemon (juice from one lemon or more if you like it tangy)
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic (peeled and sliced, more or less depending on taste preference)
  • 1 t. Cumin (Some recipes don’t call for this spice, but I think it’s what completes the flavor.)
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • *Blender (You could also use a food processor.)
  • *Parsley (as a garnish, optional)

Directions

  • Drain the liquid from the garbanzo beans and add them to the blender. Set the liquid aside to add later as needed to get the blender going.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients (tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper). 
  • I like my hummus on the thicker side, so I try to add as little of the reserved garbanzo bean liquid as possible which is usually about half of a can.
  • In order to blend everything evenly, I use a large spoon to stir, blend, stir, blend, repeat until the consistency is nice and creamy.

In Conclusion

By having some delicious homemade hummus prepared ahead of time, you can be sure that when hunger strikes you will have a healthy snack on hand. I love chopping up fresh carrots and celery and using the hummus as a dip or putting it on top of my homemade bread. Delicious!

Hummus on Homemade Bread

Hummus on Homemade Bread

Super Simple Homemade Bread Recipe

Super Simple Homemade Bread Recipe

When we were first married, my parents got my husband and I a grain grinder. Since I was so busy with teaching, my mom actually taught my husband her famous bread recipe. He was the main bread maker in the family until we had two kids and I became a stay at home mom.

Scott is teaching his sister how to make bread in our old apartment back in 2006.

Here’s an old picture from 2006 where Scott is teaching his sister how to make bread.

When I have the time, I actually prefer making sourdough muffins (I never have been able to master a sourdough bread loaf recipe.) because it breaks down the phytic acid, but this whole grain bread recipe is great for when I just want a quick and simple loaf of bread.

This recipe will make 3 loaves. Before you get started, preheat the oven to 350° F. Also note that while this recipe is simple, it does take about 2 hours start to finish until you’re eating bread. (Don’t worry though, it’s not so much work as it is waiting.)

Ingredients

  • 6 c. Flour – I use organic prairie gold wheat berries that I order from Country Life Natural Foods (you can get prairie gold wheat berries on Amazon too) and grind my grain fresh with this grain grinder. If you are just looking for flour, this sprouted grain flour is the best. (Sprouting is another way to break down phytic acid.)
  • 1 c. Hot Water – Many recipes will call for warm water, but I like mine scalding hot to dissolve the coconut oil and honey. I make sure it’s not scalding when I add my yeast though!
  • 2 T. Coconut Oil – I buy my coconut oil in bulk from Country Life Natural Foods and keep a large yogurt tub full of it on my counter for greasing pans and cooking. If you don’t need such large amounts of coconut oil as I, then you should check out Nature’s Way Coconut Oil. *You could also use extra-virgin olive oil instead of coconut oil.
  • 2 T. Raw Honey – The yeast needs something sugary to consume, and I think raw honey is the best, but you could also use regular honey or even plain old sugar. I like finding local sources for raw honey, but you can find organic raw honey on Amazon as well.
  • 8 t. Yeast – I usually pick up something like this Red Star Active Yeast at the grocery store, but these individual yeast packets are really handy too.
  • Salt – You’ll be sprinkling some salt onto the dough during the kneading phase (any earlier and it can kill the yeast). I like using Real Salt because of the taste and high mineral content.
  • *3 Bread Pans – I like using glass baking pans. You could also trade out a loaf of bread for a pizza crust.

Directions

  1. Activate the yeast. In a large bowl, combine the hot water, coconut oil, and honey. Stir until the coconut oil and honey until dissolved. Sprinkle in the yeast, gently stir, and cover with a towel for 10 minutes.

    Activated Yeast

    Activated Yeast

  2. Add the flour. The mixture should be nice and frothy from the activated yeast at this point. Add 3 cups of flour, stir, then add the remaining 3 cups, and mix everything thoroughly. If it seems too wet, add a bit more flour. If it seems to dry, add a bit more water.
  3. Knead the dough. Dump the dough onto a floured table and knead the dough by folding it in half and rolling it over itself, turning the dough, flipping it over and repeating this process over and over again. Try to knead for 5-10 minutes. The longer you knead the dough, the more it activates the gluten and sticks together. You’ll notice a change in the texture after kneading for a bit.

    Kneading the Dough

    Kneading the Dough

  4. Break into three loaves. Evenly divide the dough into three lumps and continue kneading each one for about 5 minutes each. (You’ll be surprised how much easier it is once it’s divided!) As you knead, sprinkle salt onto the dough about 3 times for each loaf.

    Three Loaves

    Three Loaves

  5. Let it rise. Grease your pans, roll the dough into the shape of a hot dog bun with a crease on the bottom, and place inside of the pans. Set them on top of a stove that’s pre-heating or somewhere warm for about 40 minutes to an hour. To help the dough rise faster, sometimes I’ll open the oven door with the pans on top or put them inside the oven set to the lowest setting with the door open.

    Dough Baby

    Dough Baby

  6. Bake. Once the dough has doubled in size, it’s ready to bake! Bake at 350º F for about 35-40 minutes. You’ll know when it’s ready by the bready smell!

    Two Bread Loaves and a Pizza Crust Ready to Bake

    Two Bread Loaves and a Pizza Crust Ready to Bake

  7. Eat! There is simply nothing better than a fresh warm slice of bread topped with butter and honey. This is our traditional reward for a bread well done!
    Fresh Baked Bread

    Fresh Baked Bread

    Fresh Baked Bread with Butter and Honey

    Fresh Baked Bread with Butter and Honey

In Conclusion

There is something so satisfying about making your own food from scratch. My kids always love helping me make bread and eating the dough along the way. I love this recipe because it’s simple, easy to follow, and makes the most delicious bread ever. Another favorite snack I love to enjoy with my homemade bread is a fresh slice topped with homemade hummus, chopped green olives, and fresh tomatoes from the garden. Yum!

Homemade Bread Topped with Hummus, Green Olives, and Tomato

Homemade Bread Topped with Hummus, Green Olives, and Tomato

My 10 Favorite Resources for Teaching the ABCs Embracing Motherhood

10 Best Resources for Teaching the ABCs

Learning the ABCs (letter names AND letter sounds) is the bedrock for learning how to read. While you can certainly do a lot with just YouTube videos and some homemade supplies, these are the resources that have helped our four children learn their ABCs really really well in a way that revolves around play.

1. Leapfrog Fridge Letters

If you could only buy one thing to help your child learn his or her letters, it should be these Leapfrog Letters!  All of our children have enjoyed playing with these letters, learning about letter names and sounds, spelling words, and listening to the sounds and songs that are played.

Leapfrog Fridge Phonics

Leapfrog Fridge Phonics

Below is a video of my daughter Ophelia at 21 months playing with her Leapfrog Fridge Phonics set, and also some wooden magnet letters (that I’ll talk about next).

2. ABC Foam Magnet Letters

I love these foam letters because they are durable, fun to handle, and I love there are multiple copies of each letter including upper and lowercase.

foam-abc-magnet-letters

Foam ABC Magnet Letters

You can get also these cute Melissa and Doug wooden letters, but I have had some problems with them peeling apart (especially after they’ve been thrown into the water table or toilet a time or two). I also like using a muffin tin like this for teaching my children how to spell three letter words.

My ABC Magnet Station

My ABC Magnet Station

3. ABC Bath Letters

The bath can be kind of boring without a few toys, so why not make it fun and educational with some bath letters? If you’re taking a bath with your little one, this can be a great time to talk about letter name and letter sounds.

ABC Bath Letters

ABC Bath Letters

You also might like this really great storage caddy to keep them organized and within easy reach during the bath.

4. Leapfrog ABC Toys

Pretty much all Leapfrog ABC toys are great, and this Leapfrog ABC Tablet has been a real favorite.

abc-tablet

Leapfrog ABC Tablet

I like looking for Leapfrog learning toys at garage sales and thrift stores, but you can also buy some new like this ABC Dinosaur, ABC dog, and Alphabet Zoo.

Below is a video of Ophelia playing with our Leapfrog tablet.

5. VTech ABC Toys

This company makes really great educational toys for small children, and this ABC Apple is something that all of our kids fight over.

abc-apple

VTech ABC Apple

Some other great looking VTech toys are the ABC Bus, Spelling Station, and Write and Learn Creative Center.

6. Preschool Prep Videos

Meet the Letters and Meet the Phonics – Letter Sounds will cover everything your child needs to know about letter names and letter sounds in a very fun and engaging way.

preschool-prep-letter-names

Meet the Letters

preschool-prep-letter-sounds

Meet the Phonics: Letter Sounds

You might also enjoy getting the entire boxed set which has everything your child will need to know about letter names, letter sounds, digraphs, blends, numbers, shapes, colors, and sight words.

7. ABC Puzzles

Puzzles are a great way for toddlers and young children to explore the alphabet in a tactile manner. I really like this Melissa and Doug ABC puzzle because the pegs make it really easy to handle each letter, and I like the pictures associated with each letter too.

Melissa and Doug ABC Puzzle

Melissa and Doug ABC Puzzle

This stand up wooden puzzle and this flat wooden puzzle with upper and lowercase letters are great ABC puzzles too. When your child is ready for a more complex puzzle, I love floor puzzles like this giant Eric Carle ABC Floor Puzzle. We also love using our matching pairs puzzle.

abc-matching-pairs-puzzle

ABC Matching Pairs Puzzle

8. ABC Rug

If you have the space for it (and the money), this rug has been one of my favorite purchases ever. The kids love running in circles around it saying the letters, and the solar system in the middle is another great teaching tool.

abc-rug

ABC Rug

At 5’4″ x 7’8″, this rectangular rug fits in our homeschool room perfectly, but you can also get a 7’8″ x 10’9″ rectangular rug, a 5’4″ x 7’8″ oval or 7’8″ x 10’9″ oval rug as well. This ABC rug looks really cute too.

9. ABC Posters

All of my kids have loved learning their sign language ABCs, and this ABC sign language poster is a great addition to any room. Check out this great sign language ABC video, and this one, and this one too.

abc-sign-language-poster

ABC Sign Language Poster

I like having handwriting posters up as well. Here’s the one I like for print, and here’s the one I like for cursive. This ABC “poster” (pictured below) is really cool because each letter is actually a sticker which allows you to get creative about where you put it.

ABC Bulletin Board

ABC Bulletin Board

For a more interactive poster, I love using my wall hanging pocket chart with these beginning sound cards. There are many other cards you can get from Smethport that are useful for teaching other skills as well.

10. Robot Letters

These ABC robot letters from Lakeshore Learning have been an absolute favorite with our son Elliot. He has always loved transformers and robots, and these were great for helping him to learn about his letters. We got these for him for his 3rd birthday, and at that time, we had to help him transform the robots. When he was about 4, he was able to transform them on his own.

alphabet-robots

ABC Robot Letters

Lakeshore Learning has so many amazing and wonderful things, like these alphabet tubs for learning letter sounds, this alphabet maze, these learning locks, and so, so much more!

alphabet-tubs

Letter Sound Alphabet Tubs

*Starfall

Okay, so this is really #11, but it is the most amazing resource I have ever come across. Now, you will need a computer, ipad or iphone to access the Starfall website or app, but it is an absolutely amazing resource for teaching children the ABCs and so much more.

Starfall abc

Starfall ABCs

People have asked me what I think of other programs such as ABC Mouse, Always Ice Cream, and Clever Dragons, and nothing I have seen or used holds a candle to what Starfall provides. You can play the ABC portion on the website for free, or you can get a home membership for $35/year. You can use your phone, ipad mini, or regular ipad to play the ABC app (for free) which is very easy for little ones to use with the touch screen. *Here’s a video of me using Starfall Math with our son Elliot.

*If you’re looking for more great apps for preschoolers, check out my blog here: Best Teaching Apps for Young Children (Ages 0-6).

In Conclusion

Teaching the ABCs is the foundation for learning how to read and these resources in addition to creating an environment conducive to learning have helped all of my children to learn how to read at a young age and have fun doing so! For more information and resources about teaching your child to read, check out my reading program.

Apps That Encourage Imagination and Creativity

If you’re looking for some open ended apps that foster creativity and imagination, you’ve come to the right place! If you’re tired of games that are all about winning and losing, competition, and points, look no further! Yes, these are the games my children between the ages of 5-8 have enjoyed, but many of these are really great for all ages…even adults!

1. Monument Valley ($3.99)

monument valley

Monument Valley

This plays like an intricate, moving, 3D puzzle where you have to go from one level to the next guiding your little figure through whimsical architecture and hidden pathways that must be unlocked.

There is just something magical about this game. I love watching my children play this, and they can get lost in it for a long long time. Each movement is beautiful and the music and sounds are peaceful and tranquil. The problem solving necessary isn’t overwhelming, but just challenging enough to make it satisfying.

2. Easy Music ($3.99)

easy music 2

Easy Music

Just like learning to speak, learning to read, and learning how to do math, there is a logical progression to learning music. This app teaches notes, pitch, rhythm, and melody using beautiful landscapes and peaceful sounds. In one section, you can practice these music skills and in another you can make and record your own musical ensembles.

As soon as I introduced this game to Ruby (6) and Elliot (5), they were completely hooked. Elliot LOVES music and immediately began creating intricate melodies and beats focusing on melody and rhythm. Ruby explored it more tentatively, learning and testing things out with careful thought and planning.

3. Sago Mini Doodlecast ($2.99)

sago mini doodlecast

Sago Mini Doodlecast

It all starts with a simple drawing prompt, like a pair of eyes or some icicles (or you can start from scratch). The app records the entire drawing process, including everything you say, and then you can watch them back! This is a great way for children to express themselves through both art and conversation. *Only available on iOS devices.

When I introduced this to Ruby (6), she disappeared for like two hours, reemerged to get her brother, Elliot (5), this app on his iPad, and then they both disappeared again for what seemed like forever!

4. Colorfy (Free, in-app purchases)

colorfy app

Colorfy

This is actually an adult coloring app, but my 6 year old daughter LOVES it. It keeps her busy for hours as she zooms in to color intricate pictures in the categories of: florals, animals, famous, messages, cats, gardens, patterns, mandalas, oriental, exotic, places, zodiacs, special dates, there’s even a way to create your own!

There are a certain number of free templates in each category that would certainly keep a little one busy, but you can buy a membership as well, but that can get pretty pricey ($2.99/week, $7.99/month or $39.99/year). You can do a trial version for 7 days, however, to see if a paid subscription would be worth it.

5. Pixie 4 ($9.99)

pixie 4

Pixie 4

Pixie 4 is a really great drawing tool for kids that is super simple and easy to use. All options can be chosen using easily understandable graphic icons, and reading is not really required. You can choose different writing tools, thicknesses, and colors. There’s shape icons that you can use to make word bubbles, a really cool symmetry feature where you can make really cool designs, text boxes that you can use to write, a huge library with a variety of backgrounds and stickers. You can also easily import images from a Google image search (just copy and paste). The possibilities are really endless.

That being said, I’m a much bigger fan of downloading this onto a desktop computer rather than using it as an app. It costs $19.95 for the home edition or you can free 30 day trial (don’t get the $39.95 academic edition made for school use).

6. Minecraft ($6.99  iOS)

minecraft world

Minecraft

I know that there are plenty of  people out there complaining about their kids being addicted to Minecraft, as if this is a bad thing, and I am just not one of those parents. Yes, my 5 year old son Elliot likes to play this game for a ridiculous amount of time, but we work to set reasonable screen time limits, we have a behavior management system in place in our house where our kids listen and respect our rules and limits, and I think this game is an excellent outlet for creative and imaginative play.

Elliot mostly enjoys playing this game in creative mode where he can build to his hearts content without any limits or restrictions and no real threat of dying (unless he jumps into a void). In survival mode, you have an inventory, need to collect items to build things and eat things, and your character has to be in shelter at night or the zombies and creepers will get it. If you want to learn more about Minecraft, check out this very helpful Minecraft wiki. I don’t really know a lot about it except for that my son LOVES it and has no problem navigating it on his own. He also LOVES watching these Pat and Jen videos where you can watch them play Minecraft and talk about it as they’re playing.

There are lots of different ways you can play Minecraft. You can download it and play it on your computer for $26.95 or you can get it for your iOS device for $6.99. There are randomly generated worlds and fewer options, but it’s still a great mobile experience. We have enjoyed both versions equally.

7. Geometry Dash ($1.99)

geometry dash

Geometry Dash

In this nearly impossible to beat game, you jump and fly through obstacles while some catchy rhythm based music plays in the background, but that’s not the creative part of the game. Using the level editor, you can build and share your own levels. Our 5 year old son, Elliot, LOVES this game!

8. Zen Studio (Free, $1.99 to unlock all templates)

zen studio main page

Zen Studio

Using a grid divided into triangles, you swipe your finger across either a boundless canvas or guided templates using a variety of colors to make different pictures. Relaxing music accompanies each stroke of the finger.

This is definitely a peaceful, tranquil, and zen like app that allows chubby little fingers to make beautiful pictures and designs using a variety of easy to select colors. (Our 2 year old daughter, Ophelia, loves it!) With the free version, you get a few free templates and for $1.99, you can unlock them all.

9. Bebop Blocks ($2.99)

bebop blocks

Bebop Blocks

Adorable little creatures play and sing inside blocks that are built into shapes like trains, elephants, and submarines. Using 12 interactive musical puzzles, you can make unique music by playing and muting blocks. It helps develop problem solving skills, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills. *Only available on iOS devices.

This game is made by the same creators as my favorite Endless Alphabet app (check out these apps and more in my post: Best Teaching Apps for Preschoolers) and it has the same silly, educational, and engaging feel to it. This is kind of like an early version of doing more challenging tangram puzzles like this one for kids with no rotation (free with in-app purchases), or this more challenging one (free with in-app purchases).

 

In Conclusion

By doing some research and helping your children to find games that combine creativity with technology, they won’t get lost in a sea of Candy Crush Saga and other such mindless games. I like to create rules and routines about the use of technology in our home and when they do use it, I like to know that what they are doing is stimulating, engaging, and fun. Every child is different, so by sitting alongside your children, you can help to customize the content they are exposed to based on their interests.

 

Setting Reasonable Limits for Screen Time

I’ve seen many articles that talk about the dangers of screen time and heard many parents complain about children being exposed to too much technology. While tablets are a fairly new technology, guiding children towards spending their days in a productive way is not. The research actually shows that children who were exposed to educational technology early on performed better in school when they were older. Trying to ban screen time for children under 2 isn’t as effective as setting up rules and routines and teaching children how technology can be a healthy part of their lives.

Set a Good Example

When my husband and I think about our own screen time usage, we are constantly checking ourselves to ensure that there is a healthy balance. Sometimes, we have to stop for a minute and say,

“Okay, we are just looking at our phones too much.”

And then we put them aside, out of reach, and make an effort to connect with each other more. I think it’s important for kids to see us struggle, and to talk to them about it. Sometimes, I find myself caught up in the world of my computer, and when I pull myself out of it, I’ll apologize and say,

“I’m sorry I got so caught up in my computer. You guys are way more important to me than any technology.”

When kids see how we struggle and how we overcome it, it provides them with a model worth following.

Guided Use

Just as we reflect on what is appropriate and what is not for ourselves, children need the opportunity to reflect on this as well. If we don’t show our children how to find educational and stimulating programs and games and instead leave it up to them to find and use whatever they want, is it any surprise that they may choose “Candy Crush” and violent video games?

How are they going to know the good that is out there (and there is good out there, just as there is bad) if we don’t guide them? I know it can be hard to stay one step ahead of kids, especially as they get older and more “technologically savvy”, but it’s our JOB to stay one step ahead of them, and it’s our JOB to guide them.

We like to spend time WITH our children as they navigate technology. We research apps, games, and programs. We test them out, look at reviews, and watch what’s out there before we bring it to them. Then we sit beside them to play these educational games and watch these educational programs with them. In doing so, we figure out what they like and what they don’t like, and it helps us to figure out what to do next.

Using Screen Time As a Babysitter?

As a busy mother of five, yes there are times when I use screen time as a babysitter, and I think this is perfectly okay! I always strive to create a stimulating environment that encourages independence, creativity, and learning, and I try to involve the kids as much as I can when I cook and  do chores, but yes, there are times when I need them to park it, not make any more messes, and let me get caught up.

For me, it’s important to be able to prepare healthy food, keep the house clean, and find a little time for me to blog or whatever. Doing these things makes me happy…and this makes me a good mom. Some people talk about how messes don’t matter and how the most important thing is quality time, and I’m sorry, but if my house is a disaster, it makes me feel overwhelmed and out of control. I don’t need every thing to be spic and span, but a clean and organized home makes me feel in harmony. If allowing my children to watch some educational programs, play some educational games, or have some choice time to watch or play what they want (with things that we approve of), then I say it is very well worth it.

Rules About Appropriate Content

YouTube is a great portal for tons of videos, but it can be very easy for children to stumble across inappropriate content. At the very least, you can scroll down to the bottom of the YouTube screen (on a computer) and where it says “Restricted Mode” select “on”. This will make any content flagged as inappropriate off limits. When kids use YouTube on tablets, we only let them download YouTube kids. There are several options with this where you can tailor it to the specific ages of your children and choose whether or not to let them use the search bar.

Allowing for Choice

Some day, our children will be on their own. I know it seems like they will be under our thumb forever, but the reality  is that someday they will have freedom, they will make choices on their own, and they will pay the full price for those choices without us there to help them pay the price. What will they do with their freedom? Will we condition them to always do what we say just because we say it, or will they buy into the reasoning behind our choices?

I like seeing what our children gravitate towards during their “choice time”. When I was a kid, we got to watch one show and play one video game per day. My brother always chose Heman, I chose My Little Pony or Rainbow Brite, and we both loved playing our Atari 1200, especially Super Breakout, Joust, and Dig Dug! Now, there are so many choices it can be overwhelming. We like to introduce our children to what’s available and then let them discover what they like.

We recently bought a Wiiu, and Elliot LOVES Mario Maker! Ruby and Elliot both love Super Mario 3D World and Kirby because they can explore and play together. On computers and ipads, they also both really love watching toy reviews, game reviews, and video game walk throughs, and people making really fancy cakes on YouTube, and they have each had their passing phases with shows they’ve liked on Netflix like Zig and Sharko and Digimon. On their ipads, Elliot really likes playing Goblin Sword, Robot Gets Kitty, and Ruby really likes things like Monster Shave and Alice in Wonderland.

We also like to teach our children about educational choices (like my favorite teaching apps for preschoolers), and often times these are so fun that they choose them even during choice time!

Why We Don’t Set Time Limits

When I was a teacher, I learned not to set too many specific rules because it would just encourage kids to try to find the exception for breaking them. Instead of saying, “no throwing things, no blurting out, no running, no gum chewing”, and on and on, I said, “The number one rule is to show respect,” then we talked about what that would look like and what that wouldn’t look like. We even acted out scenarios.

If I set time limits on the technology, then the time is the enforcer, not me. I might need them to be occupied for 3o minutes or for two hours depending on what I need to get done. If I say, “Only one hour of technology a day,” then I have to stick with that. Consistency is so important and time limits do not help with this, in my opinion.

Setting Limits with Rules and Routines

With these rules and routines, I try to go through each day using as little screen time as possible and only use it when it’s really necessary. Mornings are when our brains are the most active, and so I like to limit screen time (sometimes we watch something while we eat breakfast) as much as possible. With my littler ones, I usually don’t bring out my educational YouTube playlists until they have had a full morning full of cuddles and activities and are getting a bit fussy while I need to get a few things done. It makes me happy to know that they are learning something valuable at this time. With my older ones, I have found that it’s really helpful when we stick to the following routine.

1. Morning Routine: We eat breakfast, brush our teeth, get dressed, and make our beds. 

If we’re not going anywhere or having anyone over, I don’t mind if kids stay in their pajamas for awhile. With the little ones still in diapers, they don’t really have pajamas, just comfy clothes that they can wear day and night. Sometimes we watch shows while we eat breakfast.

2. Do Something Creative: They can build with blocks, draw, make a craft, play an imagination game, or something else creative.

I like to make a charts of all of the different creative things to do in case they need some ideas. Sometimes, I have to really play with the kids to encourage them to extend their activities. I think that teaching kids how to play is very important.

3. Reading Time: They can read to themselves, to someone, or have someone read to them.

I like having baskets of books tucked pretty much everywhere around the house. I make sure to keep the books organized and rotate them so they stay new and interesting. I don’t ever say that they need to read for a certain time or anything.

4. Play Outside: We all have to go play outside together for an extended period of time.

I’ve found that if I let kids have their outside time one at a time, it’s usually pretty short. So I make it a point to get everyone out at the same time. Once this happens, they get so busy playing with each other that we can easily spend a long time outside.

5. One Chore: Do one chore before having a choice

I just added this recently, and it’s brilliant! Basically, I have them help me with whatever I need to get done: dishes, laundry, pick up rooms, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, sweeping, etc. Knowing that they have to do a chore before choice time is a GREAT way to make them extend their activity time! (Why didn’t I think of this before???)

6. Choice Time: This might be short or long depending on how the day is going.

I usually try to make the choice time of the older ones coincide with either the nap time or educational video time for the little ones. This is when I like to prepare or clean up lunch, get dinner ready, make kombucha or sourdough muffins, clean up, call a friend, take a shower, blog, or whatever!

7. Repeat as Needed: This routine allows for a lot of flexibility.

Based on how our day is going, I can repeat this routine as needed. So if, for example, we go through all of our activities really quickly and have choice time early in the day, I may say that we need to go through all of the activities again before having more choice time.

*Rules and Routines Over Breaks: Be clear about expectations

Read my blog about how we set up a summer routine here. When all the kids are home for the summer, I like to have things a bit more structured than I do over winter or spring break. I call it “homeschool summer school”, and everyone has goals that they’re working on and certain activities to keep them occupied.

What Happens When You Stray From Your Rules and Routines?

It is inevitable that you are going to stray from your rules and routines from time to time. Routines work best when there is a tremendous amount of consistency,  but once they are established, you can stray a bit and still get things back on track. The important thing is to explain why things were different.

There was a time when both Julian and Ophelia were getting their molars, for example, requiring me to spend copious amounts of time soothing them, and so I let Elliot (who was 4 at the time) have more choice time than I would have liked. It happened gradually, and then one day, I was like, “Uh-oh, I have let things go too far.” After that, I just explained to Elliot that I had needed to spend more time with Julian and Ophelia and had as a result let him have more choice time, but now that they weren’t teething anymore, we would be going back to normal.

There have also been times when we have needed to give all technology a complete break in order to reset expectations. Read about a time that happened here.

Taking Away Screen Time as Consequence

Screen time, and especially choice time, is what we like to categorize as a privilege. We talk to our kids about how they have certain rights such as food, clothes, shelter, etc. which we will always make sure they have, but that screen time is not necessary for survival and so it is a privilege. Therefore, if they are not behaving appropriately, it is a privilege that they can lose.

In Conclusion

When we spend time with our children monitoring what they watch, use, and do, I don’t really see why “screen time” should be any cause for concern. I think that the reality is that it’s not so much about screen time as it is about being able to set rules and boundaries with your children. If you’re looking for some tips and tricks for eliciting positive behaviors with your children based on what I learned both during my teaching and parenting experiences, check out my blog: Guiding Children Towards Positive Behaviors. If you’re convinced to start incorporating some educational choice time into your day with your little ones, check out these blogs:

Should We Homeschool Our Children? A List of Pros and Cons

When you have a lot of kids close in age, it can seem like the most natural thing in the world to homeschool them…especially if you are already a stay at home mom and a former teacher. Every year before school starts, I contemplate homeschooling my children, and this year is no different.

I’ve published this blog before, but I edit it every year and republish it to go over my list of pros and cons once again. This year is no exception. I currently have five children. Ruby will be going into 3rd grade (the grade I taught) and Elliot will be going into 1st grade. At home I have Ophelia, who is 4 years old, Julian, who is 2 years old, and Jack, who is 5 months old. This summer has been VERY busy with everyone home and a new baby, so I’m leaning towards sending the older ones to school so that I can focus on the younger ones who have had a hard time sharing attention with a new baby, but it’s still a good thought experiment to conduct nonetheless.

Pros of Homeschooling:

1. I would get to be with all of my kids as much as possible. They grow up so fast, and I want to be there for as many of the moments as I can.

2. I would know exactly how they spend their days. Whenever I ask Ruby and Elliot about their days at school, it’s like pulling teeth. I have to go through each subject and each time of day just to try to elicit the smallest response.

3. I am totally qualified to do this! Not only did I teach for 8 years and get my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an Emphasis on Linguistics, but I loved it as well! In my heart and soul, I am a teacher. Who better to teach than my own children?

4. I could make sure they learn everything right the first time. When Ruby was in 1st grade, I noticed that she made a few of her letters in a really backwards and random fashion, and I was sad that I wasn’t the one to teach her how to write her letters. With Elliot, I did a more structured “homeschool preschool” approach and was able to work with him side by side every day to write his letters. If I were to homeschool, I would be by their side for everything they learn.

5. They could work at their own pace without competing with others. Ruby really struggles with timed math facts tests. The concept of a timed test caused her a lot of anxiety, and she freezes up when looking at the sea of numbers. At home, we work on the concept of addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. and find patterns in the numbers instead of just drilling random facts. If she were at home, I would be able to work with her as long as she needed in the areas where she struggles, and zoom through the areas she’s good in.

6. I could differentiate every subject as needed. Ruby is a very advanced reader, but she still spends just as much time as all of the other kids learning about phonics. Sure, she may have chapter books for homework, but there is a lot of wasted time in her day where she is “learning” things that are way too easy. At home, I could make sure that all subjects were in the zone of proximal development for all of my children.

7. I could choose my own resources. I would be able to pick and choose whichever resources seem exciting to me, and whatever I thought would meet the specific needs of each of my children. I could also tailor instruction to meet whatever passions each of my children expressed.

8. They would maintain their innocence. Teachers can only see and control so much. There are lots of things that happen in the classroom and on the playground where children are exposed to things like bullying, inappropriate language, boyfriend/girlfriend drama and so much more. They will experience it all eventually, but helping them to maintain their innocence at a young age is a precious thing.

9. They wouldn’t feel as much pressure to conform. School is meant to create cookie cutter kids. They set the bar at average and help all children to comply. Having children ONLY interact with children of their exact age is not reminiscent of the real world, and school creates this feeling that anyone who is different stands out and can be potentially ostracized.

10. We could accomplish way more in a day than is possible at school. With 28 kids in a classroom of varying abilities, transition times, lunch time, two recesses, busy work, behavior management, and so on, how much actual learning takes place? I know from experience (both being homeschooled and being a teacher) that the amount of actual learning in a 7 hour school day could easily be done in 2 hours at home. That would allow me to get through all of the standards and skills with plenty of time for free exploration, imagination games, outside time, crafts, field trips, and more!

11. Their tanks would be full of love. When Ruby and Elliot home from school, decompress, do their homework, play with her siblings, and have some choice time, there is very little time that we actually get to spend with them. What would life be like with all five kids are in school? How would we ever be able to fill all of their tanks with love? If they were at home with me all day, however, I could parcel out special one on one time for each child throughout the day.

12. They would learn from each other. Yes, there are varying abilities in any classroom, but in a homeschool environment with siblings ranging in age, the younger ones can learn from the older ones and the older ones can learn from teaching the younger ones.

13. They would learn more about life. In a big family, children can learn how to take care of babies, cook meals, keep the house clean, and work together. They could see how I manage the house on a daily basis, and I could teach them valuable life skills that would serve them when they are independent and on their own.

14. I’m here anyways! I am going to be home anyways with Jack for the next five years, so why not throw a few more kids into the mix while I can!

15. We could stay up late and sleep in. Even during the summer, we try to keep the same bedtime because the little ones need it, but there are occasions where we want to stay up late. Letting the kids sleep in until they naturally awake is a precious thing to make sure they are getting all of the sleep they can without any alarms.

16. We could take vacations whenever we wanted. Instead of worrying about the school schedule, we would be able to make vacation time happen whenever we wanted.

17. My heart always tells me to homeschool. In my heart of hearts, I keep feeling like it is what I should do, but then the cons start percolating in my mind, and I just can’t seem to make that decision.

Cons of Homeschooling:

1. Public school provides a big social scene. Ruby and Elliot love recess most of all because of the huge social aspect. When at school, they get to be a part of a big group with PE, music, concerts, group activities, field trips, and more. Sure we could find homeschool groups to join, but most of them are based in religion, and that is not what we are looking for.

2. School has introduced new things. In kindergarten, Ruby really took off with writing more than I was ever able to do with her at home. In 1st grade, she learned about Pixie 4 in her computer class, started reading chapter books, and got excited about taking care of the Earth or whatever else they were learning about. Elliot struggled socially at the beginning of kindergarten (he has TONS of energy and very little impulse control), but made nice growth in his behavior by the end of the year among other things.

3. Getting to school is a huge motivation to kick off the day. During the summer, it’s a struggle to even convince the kids to get dressed (Are we going anywhere? Is anyone coming over?), but when we have to be out the door at a certain time for school, they get dressed, eat breakfast, and brush their teeth and hair in record time.

4. Would I have enough time for everyone? Ruby likes to do a lot of intricate projects that require a lot of help from me. In doing these projects with her, I’m not able to spend as much time with the younger kids who need me too. I’m just worried that if I were to homeschool, there just wouldn’t be enough of me to go around.

5. One day our kids will be out in the world, shouldn’t we prepare them for it? Being independent, being autonomous, being on their own, learning how the world works…these are all things that public schools help to teach our children. How young do children need to learn this, however, and/or do they?

6. What about the long winters? In Michigan, the winters are looooooooong. It starts getting cold in October and doesn’t really warm up until June, so for 9 months out of the year, the weather is inclement and it takes great effort to go outside. Often times, we long for a mall or children’s museum on the weekends just to let the kids stretch their legs. Going to school allows for some activity to break up the monotony of winter.

7. It would cost money that we don’t have. We are already pretty strapped financially with five kids and a single income. How would we be able to provide all of the necessary materials to teach them properly? I’ve always dreamed that the $4,500 that is allocated for each of my children to attend public school could be rerouted to me, and then OH MAN could I ever do things right…but in reality, the best things in life are free, and with the Internet, library, and my imagination, I could probably conjure up just about everything I need.

8. When I was homeschooled, I missed the social interaction and wanted to go back to public school. When I was a child, I was homeschooled starting in the middle of 2nd grade. I was bored at school and loved the idea of staying home every day. But then, starting in 6th grade, I started to get bored at home and longed for something more. My mom finally let me go back when I was in 8th grade, but let me tell you, 8th grade is no walk in the park. I felt like I was thrown to the wolves and experienced a lot of bullying, peer pressure, and very little academic growth. Would I have done better if I had been in the system all along or would it have been better for me to never go back? That is the question that I always have when I reflect on my childhood, and it makes me think that it has to be all or nothing.

9. What if they complain? What if I work really hard to get materials, books, and supplies, set up a routine, and get everything all into place only to have them whine and complain about it? I imagine that I would just keep going back to the drawing board until I got it right, but it could be frustrating.

10. What if they spend too much time in front of a screen? I would have a pretty set routine that wouldn’t allow for too much screen time (like we do over the summer), but what if I’m up late in the night with little ones, or feeling sick, or have too many things piling up?

11. The kids don’t want to be homeschooled. Elliot is my sweet loving guy who cries sometimes when he has to go to school because he’ll miss me, but when I talk to him about homeschool, he says that he would rather go to public school. He LOVES being around all of the kids and so does Ruby. They love belonging to a community and being a part of something structured.

In Conclusion

I keep coming back to the idea of homeschooling because it seems like something I should want to do. But every year when I reflect on the idea, the cons seem to outweigh the pros. It’s probably because I always have a baby in my lap and so many little ones in diapers, and it makes me think that as they grow older and more independent, it could be the other way around.

We have actually decided to allow our children to go back to our local school (where they can ride the bus and thus save a 20 minute drive each way for drop off and pick up). We decided to switch schools originally (mid-year when Ruby was in kindergarten) because of test scores, resources, and community, but now that we’ve experienced both, we can see that there’s really not much of a difference.

In the end, I feel like I homeschool all of the time whether or not I actually do. Our home is full of learning stations and bright minds that inquire, create, discover, and explore over the summer, on weekends, after school, and on breaks from school. In this house, learning is something that we do all of the time and school can provide a break that will at the very least engage them in social norms and allow me the time to engage someone that I have to keep content more than anyone else…myself.

Jack’s Hair Tourniquet: One of the Most Traumatic Nights of my Life

Last night while we were sitting around the campfire with some friends, I started digging out lint from my 4 month old son Jack’s toes. After one of my friends had a hair tourniquet around her son’s toes recently, I have been a bit paranoid about this happening, so whenever I hold him I pick the lint out of his toes and do a quick check.

When I looked down to check his little piggies, I was astounded to see a tightly wrapped hair around his middle toe. As luck would have it, my friend (the one who previously experienced the hair tourniquet on her son and is also studying to be a midwife) was sitting beside me, and we both quickly rushed inside to get some tools.

Once inside, she held Jack and armed with a needle, tweezers, and scissors, I attempted to free him from this invisible constriction. My first thought was to cut it with a pair of scissors or a knife if the hair was over the nail, but it was just at the cuticle line. Next, I tried to press down on the area below the hair with a needle hoping to slide it under and break the hair. When I did this, blood started to spill around the entire length of the hair.

I started to panic at this point realizing the seriousness of this infliction. Just then Scott came in, realized what was going on, and tried to see if there was a way that he could get at the hair. Thankfully at this point, Jack did not seem to be bothered, but I was already starting to panic when I said,

“We need to take him to the ER.”

We had hoped to stay up past dark and do some of our 4th of July fireworks early, so it was 8:30 and a bit past bedtime by the time we started pulling out of the driveway at our friend’s house. I dropped Scott off at home with the four older kids (10 minutes away) and took Jack to the ER (3 minutes away).

When I checked in, I was in a bit of a panic, but relieved that we would be in good hands, have some kind of anesthesia, and be able to get it taken care of. The nurse that assisted me in getting Jack’s vitals (a mother I knew from one of my son’s field trips) recalled her brother getting a hair tourniquet around his penis, which made the toe seem practically benign!

Being the researcher that I am, I read a medical article about removing hair tourniquets when Scott was driving us home so I knew our options would be dissolving the hair (although not really a possibility since his skin was broken), trying to get at it with more delicate instruments than I had access to, or giving him a local anesthetic and making a perpendicular incision.

When the doctor came in to check (about 9:00 p.m.), he decided that his first course of action would be to put a topical numbing agent on the toe and try to work it out with tweezers and small pliers. I had to hold Jack for about an hour (which was good because I was able to nurse him and get him to sleep) while they waited for the area to get numb.

I was hoping that Jack would be able to sleep through the procedure and that it would be done quickly. As I sat on the exam table holding Jack, his foot resting on the bed and held down my one of the nurses, I thought that this might be a possibility, but this was not quite the case. While his eyes remained closed and a pacifier hung from his mouth, he started to cry every time the pliers were used, and it was clear that the area was not very numb.

I tried to remain calm and hold my tongue for as long as I could, but after about 10 minutes of holding him down while he writhed in pain, I asked,

“Is there something else we can do?”

The doctor sat back, and I could tell this was traumatic for him too, but his mind was buzzing with protocol and logic knowing that now it was time to move on to phase two. He calmly explained what was going to happen next, and we prepared for the next phase.

As I’m writing this now, I don’t know if I can relive this memory again. My eyes are already welling with tears and I can feel myself starting to tremble. The next five hours was one of the most traumatic times of my entire life.

The entire time this is happening, I’m posting on FaceBook and texting my mom and husband to keep everyone in the loop. The support I was receiving really helped me to keep things under control, and I put myself in the mindset that this doctor knew what he was doing, and was going to do everything necessary to help Jack.

I didn’t know if I could look once I saw the needles and scalpels, but I wanted to be a voice for Jack, so while soothing him the best I could, I looked, and I saw everything.

Cutting Jack's Toe

Cutting Jack’s Toe

He was asleep when they started, but once the needle with the local anesthetic had to be injected into his toe numerous times, he woke up screaming bloody murder. After more pokes than I could count, I whisked him up to rock, bounce, and calm him down again knowing that if he was calm and numb it would be the best for everyone.

At this point, it’s about 10:30 p.m., and the small town hospital ER is a ghost town except for the doctor and three nurses in our room. As I prepared Jack in my lap and sat on the bed, I started thinking about the research that I had read on the way over and knew that now there would be an incision. I held onto Jack’s torso and when the doctor asked me to also hold onto his leg, I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle that, so asked one of the nurses to do so.

“Can we get another pair of hands here?”

I asked, knowing how important a still baby would be (especially as I recalled the tongue tie procedure I had to go through with Julian…right up there with top traumatic experiences). The doctor said, “Yes, let’s get another pair of hands in here.”

Honestly, I can’t write about what happened in the next 20-30 minutes with much detail, but let’s just say there were several cuts with a scalpel, digging with a needle, more cuts, more digging, me seeing Jack flinch when they cut him, asking if the area was really numb, more shots of local anesthetic right in the cuticle, a few more incisions going deeper this time, more digging, Jack screaming bloody murder the ENTIRE time, lots of blood that the doctor had to wipe up himself in between cuts, and finally me knowing that he had been put through enough and saying again,

“Okay, what needs to happen now,”

The doctor tipped back in his chair and pulled the magnifying glasses to the top of his head sighing and said,

“I feel like I’ve done all I can here, and I don’t feel comfortable going any deeper. At this point, with my limited tools, I have no way of knowing if I actually got the hair.”

I asked if we would be going to the Devos Children’s Hospital (in Grand Rapids, about an hour away), and he said probably yes, and that he was going to make some calls. The entire time he’s telling me this, Jack is still screaming. Nothing is calming him down.

Finally everyone leaves the room, Jack nurses, and as he’s perched calmly on my shoulder, I FaceTime with Scott and tell him what’s going on. Thinking that I would be home anytime, he was up doing fireworks with the kids, but knew then that he would have to put everyone to bed by himself. Next, I FaceTimed with my mom to see if she could meet me at Devos because I didn’t want to be alone.

As I started filling her in on what was going on, it suddenly hit me what they were going to have to do at the Children’s Hospital to get the hair off. I saw images of me holding him down again while they gave him more shots with more blood and scalpels or of him having to go under (which JUST happened with Ruby only the day before for a tooth extraction and was a very traumatic experience as well), and I felt myself slipping into what I can only imagine is a panic attack.

My heart raced, my limbs felt numb, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I could feel myself slipping into darkness like I might pass out or go absolutely crazy. I was silent with my mom for several long seconds as I tried to breathe deeply to get the feeling to pass. It was 11:20 at that point, and my mom bolted up in bed and said,

“I’m coming to you honey.”

“Okay mom,” I replied with tears in my eyes. At that point a nurse came in to get something, and I asked her if she could find out for sure if we needed to go to Devos, and she said she would check.

I started to feel like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs and followed her out as she went to get the doctor. I followed her right through the door into the central nurses station and blurted, “I need to get some air, I think I’m having a panic attack.” They saw the crazy look in my eyes and one of the nurses quickly bolted up saying, “Here, give me your baby and you go get some fresh air.” I was so happy to have her take him because I felt like I might pass out at any moment and drop him.

The doctor followed me outside and explained again what he had done and why. He said I did a remarkable job of staying calm while he did the procedure, and I thanked him profusely for his steady hand and for doing everything he could.

When I came back in, all of the nurses were playing with a happy Jack, and I kept telling myself that he was screaming bloody murder before because he didn’t like being held down, not because he was feeling every incision.

Nurses Holding Jack

Nurses Holding Jack

At this point, I asked for a phone charger because my phone was about to die, and they let me plug in using one of their personal chargers. I made a comment about how this was right up my husband’s alley since he was the IT guy at the hospital. Even though Scott works first shift mainly, he has gotten called in at all hours of the night, and everyone was like, “I thought your name sounded familiar!” I showed everyone Scott’s picture, and not that they weren’t super sweet before, but they warmed to us even more after that.

The Wonderful Nurses at Reed City Hospital

The Wonderful Nurses at Reed City Hospital

One of the nurses suggested going to the cafeteria to get me some food, and I realized that my blood sugar was probably low which was why I was feeling so faint. I didn’t feel comfortable holding Jack in case I passed out, so one of the nurses carried him for me while we went to the cafeteria. I heard them making a call to the cafeteria as we left saying to put anything I wanted on their account.

After eating some yogurt and apple pie, I felt a bit better. Once we got back to the nurses station, the doctor said that they were ready for us at Devos and that we could drive there when I was ready. I didn’t feel safe driving in the state I was in, so I told my mom to come get me. Just then, Scott called and said he’d be there in 90 seconds. He had gotten one of our friends to watch over our sleeping kids and came to be my night in shining armor!

When I saw him, I collapsed into his arms knowing that he could take over from there. My mom continued driving to relieve our friend and watch the kids. After I nursed Jack, we hopped in the car and headed to Devos.

My mind kept slipping into near panic mode as I thought about what they were going to do to my sweet little Jack, and I tried everything I could to stay sane. I even looked in the mirror and talked to myself about how it was going to be okay. I also prayed…a lot.

It was 2:00 a.m. at this point, and I was exhausted, so I closed my eyes and tried my best to sleep until we got there. After they valeted our van and checked us in, I felt myself slipping back into momma bear mode and knew that I would have to be ready to face whatever happened next.

As the doctor examined his foot, I almost crumpled to the ground in relief when he said,

“Well, I think he got it! The hair is gone.”

He went on to explain how the line on Jack’s foot would still be there for a bit but that there was no constriction anymore. He also looked at the incisions the other doctor had made and remarked on what a fine job he had done. I wept tears of happiness, and felt the greatest sense of relief a mother can feel. It was as life itself had stopped, and I lost everything, but was now getting another chance to have it back.

Getting Checked Out at Devos Children's Hospital

Getting Checked Out at Devos Children’s Hospital

By 5:00 a.m., Jack and I were snuggled into our bed nursing to sleep, and I felt such a great sense of appreciation and thankfulness for the outcome of these events. After only three hours of sleep, I knew I needed to write this story down a) because I wanted to share it with everyone that had been so wonderful, supportive, and concerned and b) to help myself process and accept the events that had taken place. At some point in the near future, I am going to write a thank you card to the wonderful staff at the Reed City Hospital, and I am also going to buy myself a bottle of Nair to keep on hand should this ever happen again.

 

Teach Your Child to Read by Age 3: A Free Reading Program

Teach Your Child to Read: A Free Reading Program

How DO children learn to read? Is anyone even asking that question anymore? Our government isn’t. The National Reading Panel submitted its findings about how children learn to read in 2000 and has not reconvened since, even though only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders are reading proficiently or above in the United States of America (according to 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress reports).

Well I am asking that question. I want to know how children learn to read. And you know what? I figured it out. I cracked the code. I learned…no, I discovered, that children can learn how to read EASILY by the age of 3. By applying what I learned while being a teacher for 7 years and getting my Master’s degree with an emphasis on Language Acquisition to teaching my own five children, I learned what they are truly capable of.

I created this reading program to give parents the tools to teach their children how to read by the age of 3. By starting this program when children are between 6-8 months of age, the learning can happen a little bit over a long period of time during a crucial time of brain development that will make learning how to read easy and fun. (Children can start this program at any age and still follow the same 8 steps, it may just require more repetition and time.)

This blog is a portal to a series of 8 blogs I have written that explain in full detail how to teach your child how to read. I have spent the last two years creating my own font, hand drawing and digitizing flashcards, creating videos, apps, and more because there is nothing out there that meets the needs of teaching children how to read from a young age. So, please, enjoy this free reading program and enjoy teaching your child how to read!

Teach Your Child to Read: A Free Reading Program

  1. How to Introduce Your Child to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3.  Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4.  Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6.  Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing
Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

Reading with 3 Month Old Jack

My Journey of Discovery

When my daughter Ruby was 6 months old (She’s now 7 and the oldest of my 5 children.), I started watching word videos with her and teaching her the ABCs. There was a silent period as she was soaking everything in, but then at 15 months, she had a language EXPLOSION! Not only did she know her letter names and sounds, but she was able to read the words we had been working on. People would say,

“Yeah, but she just memorized those words”, and I would say, “Yes!!! Memorizing words is a part of reading!”

I continued to work with her and read with her, and by the time she was 3, she was reading books. I worked with my remaining four children in the same manner, and I have seen that this is not a fluke, but a pattern with every child. An interesting thing to note is that due to a big move and some life changes, we did not start these pre-reading activities with our second child, Elliot, when he was a baby. Instead, we followed the same steps as with our other children but at a later age, and he learned how to read when he was 5. I really started working on creating my reading program with our third child, Ophelia, and she was reading fluently by the time she was 2.5. I worked with our fourth child, Julian, in the same manner. He is 2 now, and not only reads many words but has an extensive vocabulary as well. Our fifth child, Jack, is 3 months old, and I’m just starting to read with him now!

Scott Reading with Ophelia

Scott Reading with Ophelia

Brain Development

But don’t just take my word for it, take a look at the fascinating way in which children’s brains develop. From 0-3 months of age, the 4th trimester if you will, there is not a lot of brain activity, then at 6 months of age, there is an EXPLOSION of synapses (where two neurons connect). This happens because of EXPERIENCES and INTERACTIONS.  (Check out this AMAZING visual here.)

Whatever babies experience and whatever they interact with lays the framework for ALL brain development. This explosion continues until the age of 2 when synaptic pruning occurs and the brain starts to take a “use it or lose it” approach. (Read more about how children’s brains are wired for learning here.) If you lay the foundation for reading WHILE there is a synaptic explosion and BEFORE synaptic pruning occurs, it will make learning to read so easy!

Neural_signaling-human_brain

How the Brain Transmits Signals – Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (2013) Gif created from Inside the Brain: Unraveling the Mystery of Alzheimer’s Disease

You Can Do It!!!

You don’t need to be a teacher, and you don’t need to know what you’re doing AT ALL in order to teach your child to read by the age of 3. If you go through my 8 steps and use the resources I’ve provided, you will be learning alongside your child in a fun and easy way. It makes me sad to know that only 36% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders are proficient or above at reading in this great nation of ours, but it also makes me hopeful because I know that if as parents, we take on the task of teaching our children how to read from a young age, those numbers would turn around fast. But it’s not just about the numbers, I don’t teach my children how to read at a young age so they can be good at tests, I teach them so that they will have a LOVE of reading and use that to unlock the mysteries of the world for THEMSELVES.

1. Introduce Reading

When newborns arrive into the world, everything is new, and they need to be protected and sheltered as if they were in the womb. But then, starting at about 6-8 weeks when their brains have adjusted to this new outside world, they start to become responsive and crave human eye contact and interaction. This is where language begins. (See Jack and I having baby conversations here.) By the time babies are 3-4 months, they can hold their heads up, grab things, follow a moving object, and are more interested in shapes and patterns. This is the perfect time to start reading to your baby. Read my blog: How to Introduce Reading to Your Baby to see my tips for introducing reading to your baby as well as my favorite first books to read with babies.

How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

How to Introduce Your Child to Reading (Part 1 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

2. The Alphabet

Everyone knows that learning the ABCs is a crucial part of learning how to read, but did you know that children are totally capable of learning letter names and sounds by the time they are 15 months old? Why are we forcing children to wait until they are school aged when they WANT to learn earlier? The alphabet contains the building blocks of language, and when you teach babies starting at 6-8 months of age what this code means, their brains will weave this knowledge into its frameworks instead of trying to find a place to force it in later.

I have spent the last two years hand drawing my own font and creating flashcards, posters, a video, and an app (well, my husband made that) that will teach children the alphabet completely and thoroughly. Trust me, there is nothing else out in the market like this, and this is the reason why I was compelled to made it. So, check out my blog: Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading and you can have free access to all of my resources, plus tips on teaching the alphabet, and additional resources that will make it SO EASY to teach your baby (or child of any age) the ABCs.

Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning the Alphabet is the Foundation of Reading (Part 2 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

3. Memorizing Words

People are always blown away when my little ones can read words while they are learning how to speak them. Teaching children how to memorize words (starting at 6-8 months to be proficient by 12-15 months) as their oral language is developing is a perfect fit. This is a VERY important step in teaching children how to read and is missing from every existing reading program out there. Some programs teach children sight words, but I am not talking about sight words here. I am talking about teaching children that letters are used to form written words, that these written words have meaning, and that they can communicate with these written words.

I have carefully selected the words that I use in my flashcards, posters, video, and app to be meaningful to children. Check out my blog: Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do to learn more about the reasons why memorizing words is such a crucial part of learning how to read and to get teaching tips, all of my resources for free, and recommendations for additional resources that will help you to easily teach your child to memorize words.

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do (Part 3 of a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

4. Building Vocabulary

Children are naturally curious about the world around them. They want to explore, make a mess, figure out what everything is, see how things work, and learn what everything is called. As parents, we are their guides to this world, and the best way to teach them about it is to follow their lead and explain whatever they are holding and whatever they are interested in. In doing so, we are building their background knowledge which will aid tremendously in their reading comprehension abilities.

In these vocabulary resources, I have focused on creating materials that will help children learn colors, numbers, and shapes because these are as fundamental and foundational as learning the ABCs. Everything children learn is in layers, and if they can start at the bottom and work their way up in complexity, everything will stay in their zone of proximal development and be retained. Read my blog: Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes to get access to my flashcards, books, links to additional resources, and tips for helping children develop background knowledge.

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

5. Phonemic Awareness

Studies show that, “The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness“. But what is phonemic awareness?  Rooted in oral language, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds that the letters make. (There are 44 sounds in the English language; each sound is called a phoneme.) The first 26 sounds are fairly easy because they are directly correlated with the alphabet. (When first teaching the ABCs, I recommend starting with the short vowel sounds.) The next 18 are a bit tricky.

In my blog: Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success, I share resources that I have made to teach children (and adults) about the common spelling patterns used to make long vowels, other vowel sounds such as the long and short oo, r controlled vowels, and diphthongs, as well as digraphs.

Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success (Part 5 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

6. Phonics with Three Letter Words

Each letter has a name, each letter makes a sound, and when we put those sounds together we make words. This is phonics. After children are familiar with letter names, letter sounds, memorizing words, vocabulary, and phonemic awareness, they are ready to start building words. In most cases, children don’t start to learn about phonics until they are in school, and then they spend a LOT of time going over every possible way to spell words with a plethora of worksheets.

What I have found, is that by keeping the focus extremely basic (by just teaching three letter word families with short vowel sounds) that children will get the basic concept and be able to apply it to new words on their own. This is the Helen Keller water scene moment for children where they finally see how all of the pieces are connected and reading begins to occur “as if by magic”. Check out my blog: Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words to have access to all of my resources and recommendations for teaching phonics.

Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words (Part 6 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words (Part 6 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

7. Independent Readers

Reading is awesome. I love reading, and I love sharing my love of reading with my children. These days, I’m primarily into reading nonfiction research pertaining to blog topics that I want to write about. When my kids see me reading, I tell them what I’m reading and what I’m learning. My husband does the same thing. He’s very techy and is currently learning about programming. Not only does he share this knowledge with them, but he’s teaching them about programming as well. He also really loves fiction and reads his favorite Illustrated Classics with the older kids before bed every night.

I want our children to see our passions, to see how we learn, and to see our reasoning and thought processes for choosing what we do, not so that they can learn about the same things, but so they can follow their OWN passions. In my blog: Encouraging Children to Read Independently, I share my tips for creating a reading environment, tips on encouraging children to read independently, and my favorite reading resources for children of all ages.

Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Encouraging Children to Read Independently (Part 7 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

8. Enforcing Reading with Writing

When children are in kindergarten and preschool, they are taught to write letters WHILE they are learning how to read them. That is a LOT to do at once. Not only that, but the pace moves quickly and sequentially. If children learn letter names and letter sounds BEFORE they are introduced to writing, then they can just focus on writing and use it as a vehicle to reinforce what they learned about reading. Writing takes a lot of dexterity and fine motor control, and it’s not feasible to teach children how to write when they are babies like it is to teach them how to read.

That being said, there are things that you can do with children at a young age to prepare them for writing when they are ready. In my blog, Reinforcing Reading with Writing, I share my resources that will help prepare children for writing in addition to my favorite writing resources that will make learning how to write easy and fun.

Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

In Conclusion

There is a magic window to teach your child how to read between the ages of 6 months and 2 years of age. During this time, the brain is laying its foundation based on experiences and interactions. If we take advantage of this window and teach children the letter names and sounds, how to memorize words, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, how to sound out three letter words and do so through quality literature, then learning how to read will come easily and occur naturally “as if by magic”. When we start pre-reading activities with our children when they are very young, the lessons can be simple, sparse, and short. Spreading a little out over a long period of time is a much easier approach than waiting for a ridiculously long time and then cramming in a lot over a short period of time.

But even if you haven’t started with your child at a young age, it’s not too late. You may have to work a little harder to make these steps exciting and engaging for an older child, but rest assured that if you follow this process, your child will learn how to read. By presenting children with the gift of reading, not only will they have complete access to the world around them, but they will be able to follow their own passions, read about their own interests, and go farther than you could have ever possibly imagined.