Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Program - Naturally Social Babies

So, I'm ready to try something new with Isla!

Over the past year I have taken a real interest in the philosophy of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) and I have put many of the ideas into practice with Isla. To begin, I stopped using all of the baby gadgets that are marketed as a necessity. The baby swing, the exer-saucer, bright, loud and flashy toys - all gone. And I have to admit it was really nice to rid our house of so much baby gear and replace it with a simple blanket and simple toys - balls, scarves, cups and teethers. I then began waiting and watching as she 'played' laying on her back on her blanket. First with her hands and then her toes. Then reaching, grasping, rolling, etc. All at her own pace. No expectations of her, simply letting her body dictate her development. It also never got her into the habit of being constantly entertained - by music, by lights or by movement that comes with all of the gadgets. Isla is able to focus and play for great lengths of time - the reason could be because she is a second child, but I really like the simplicity it has brought to our home and the ideas behind the theory make sense to me.

The idea behind RIE, created by Magda Gerber, is to encourage babies to be attentive, active, exploring and to be aware of their own bodies and others around them. RIE also focuses on encouraging babies to develop naturally at their own pace and to begin socializing at an early age with other babies to learn important social skills naturally through interactions as opposed to being taught by an adult. RIE helps parents to be confident in their supportive role and to trust and offer respectful communication with their child.

This is not an all or nothing philosophy. Many of the ideas have resonated with my natural parenting inclinations. The ideas are simple and straight forward and have been very insightful. I have taken many of the suggestions and added them to my own parenting tool box. For instance, the very idea of spending more time observing your child to get to know their interests and abilities from infancy as opposed to doing so much for them from the start. This is not to say that infants are not dependent on us, but it recognizes that they are not simply objects to be moved around and entertained, they are individuals from the very beginning. I like the goal of fostering a child's creativity, motivation and self confidence by simply waiting more often and allowing your child time to try, to solve their own problems, and to feel the joy of doing something by themselves.

Isla exploring her basket

From talking with many parents about these ideas, there seems to be quite a lot of interest in learning more about the program or in taking part in discussions on how to work RIE principles into their parenting. I would like to begin a playgroup that is open to interested parents and their infants to take part in at A Gym Tale. The play group would come together in a relaxing, infant friendly environment to take pleasure in observing their child's unfolding development and play. Janet Lansbury, a proponent of RIE, highlights beautifully the benefits of successful infant playgroups in her article 'The Baby Social Scene'.

This is not a structured program like the New Magic class, which is a 12 week program in which your space is guaranteed each week and introduces parents and babies to songs, baby massage, mirror play, gross motor and sensory activities. This program would be complementary to the New Magic class and allow greater time for the infants to move freely and interact with other babies and parents to discuss their observations. The curriculum would follow the parents and infants in attendance and what they observe their child doing at A Gym Tale as well as their observations of their babies at home. Some of the topics may include age appropriate expectations, the importance of play and observation, balancing parents and children's needs, sleep and setting limits.

This would be a pilot program as I am still learning much about the philosophy and will not be available to take the full training until the summer. But I thought this would be a great opportunity to gain more experience and to introduce the concepts to interested families.

Currently, the program will be open to infants under one year and it will take place on Tuesday mornings from 11:30-12:15 in the Enchanted Forest for the same rate as Drop In Play - $3 per visit. There is no preregistration and I can have up to 10 babies and parents at a time. If the demand is high, then I will open other time slots.

I am looking forward to meeting new families and babies and putting these ideas into practice.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nursery School and Prehistoric Play!

This week and last we have been exploring Dinosaurs at Nursery School. All of the children, including both boys and girls, have really been enjoying the topic. The topic also lends itself to great language, math, science, sensory and dramatic play opportunities. When planning any of the Nursery School themes the learning goals and objectives are planned out to ensure that each opportunity to play is serving a purpose. So if you have a dinosaur lover, take advantage of the many learning opportunities that can present themselves!

Contributing to the children's exposure to language and reading is always a priority. Some of the language activities that we have focused on have included the numerous books available on dinosaurs - from science books to stories with dinosaur characters. Two of my favourites are Patricks Dinosaurs and the Curious George dinosaur book. We have also been brainstorming the many synonyms for the word 'big' to emphasize how huge dinosaurs really were.

The dramatic play with dinosaurs has included a natural area with logs, sticks and rocks and dinosaur figures to go exploring. The children are also using mini dinosaurs in the block area to make caves and houses for the dinosaurs. The favourite dramatic game has definitely been pretending to be dinosaurs while running through the indoor playground of course!

Number concepts have worked their way into dinosaur themed number songs, matching games as well as comparing the size and weights of the dinosaurs to various things surrounding the children today - for example, did you know that a Brachiosaurus weighed as much as ten elephants or that a Stegosaurus measured as long as 5 cars?! Comparing the dinosaurs to things the children can picture helps to put their size into perspective.

You cannot bring up dinosaurs without including a myriad or science concepts. Discussions on where the dinosaurs lived, what they ate as well as their environment had many of the children eager to participate. The children also very much enjoyed being preschool Paleontologists and digging for dinosaur bones as well as brushing them off and spraying them down afterwards - all offering excellent science, sensory and fine motor opportunities.

The children have explored their artistic talents through painting giant dinosaur murals, ripping paper and gluing the bits as scales onto dinosaurs and today creating fossils with baking soda clay. The children really liked the sensory experience of kneading the clay and then using various shells and dinosaur to make prints. The baking soda clay was very easy to make and used items you probably have in your kitchen. It consisted of 2 cups of baking soda, 1 cup of corn starch and 1 1/4 cups of water. To begin, mix the ingredients in a pot and heat over medium heat while stirring continuously for about 5 minutes. When it begins to look like mashed potatoes remove it from the heat and let it cool. You can begin to mould the dough or store it in an airtight container. It will need overnight to dry and then can be painted the next day.

Dough looking like mashed potatoes.

Dough rolled into balls ready for the children to knead and flatten.

Fossils set out to dry.

Lastly, if you are able to squeeze in a trip to the Museum of Nature to visit the dinosaurs, which is our plan for this weekend, you have completed a very thorough exploration of a preschool dinosaur theme. Hopefully this has given you some new ideas to share with your little ones. What are your favourite dinosaur themed activities?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My babies are growing just too fast!

This weekend we celebrated Isla's first birthday! It is so hard to believe that one year has passed already since Isla made her dramatic entrance with an unexpected home birth! In such a short time, Isla has changed from a calm, relaxed and content infant into a loud, laughing, and very mobile toddler who loves to climb everything! She is a happy and smiley girl who has quite the sense of humour and loves to make everyone laugh by putting everything on her head! She also adores her big brother. No one can make Isla laugh like Ewan and as soon as she opens her eyes in the morning and after nap time she is calling for him.

We had a wonderful party on Saturday for Isla where she very much enjoyed her cake and balloons. Elizabeth Fulton once again worked her magic and we have some beautiful pictures to remember this adorable stage. A Piece of Cake Ottawa also did an amazing job with both Isla's smash cake and our party cake - they were stunning and delicious! Isla was  also a very lucky little girl and received some precious gifts, including a little carriage and cradle for her new doll, puzzles and pull toys, and a new pink chair (so the rocking chair that quickly became a safety hazard with a little climber could be removed!)

Just as I am coming to grips with my baby now being a toddler, I have to go out tomorrow and register my preschooler for Kindergarten tomorrow - this is going to be too much for me in one week! I have never so much identified with the quote "the day's are long, but the years are short" as I have this week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Our ever-evolving sleep story

I have to start by saying that until recently I have loved having a family bed. I do not regret at all having the kids sleep with Alan and I - both he and I have enjoyed cuddling our babies all night long. We provided a safe environment and we were conscious of the risks. It was also the best way for us to all get a good night sleep, especially since I had gone back to work very quickly after having both kids.

However, recently there has been a growing realization that it simply was no longer working for our family to have all four of us in bed together. Maybe the first time around I had more time to nap during the day, but with two children and working, I am needing significantly more sleep than I have been getting for a long time.

New Year’s day was the day that I decided that I was going to make a solid attempt to have both Ewan and Isla sleep in their beds all night. I had been feeling that all four of us in bed was just too much for probably the last month. Isla was beginning to nurse constantly, Ewan was waking me up first thing and then waking Isla and I was getting up angry many mornings out of frustration. When a king size bed begins to feel too small there is a problem.

My inspiration arose from the RIE theory. I have been following a Resources for Infant Educarers blog for a little while and I am really liking the ideas, suggestions and reasoning in regards to interacting with both infants and children. The theory emphasizes listening and observing your baby/child and following their unique developmental pattern while speaking and acting with the same respect you would grant any other adult. Although many of the principles I had already worked into my parenting style and the programs at A Gym Tale, I am becoming more aware of the importance of these practices. For example, in the Gym and Music classes I emphasize following your child's lead - the goal of the program is to provide a safe environment for your baby / child to explore, test and build their gross motor and social skills along the way. I may provide suggestions and vary the set up of the gymnastics area, but it is up to the children how they will interact with the environment. I also emphasize getting down to the children's level and addressing them directly, asking permission to help them and maintaining a regular routine so that the children always know what to expect.

Three particular articles resonated with me in regards to the growing sleep issue - Reasons to Calm down about Babies Crying & The All Night Diner & No Cry Sleep is Exhausting. I found these articles really helped me to remain calm and to have the confidence that this is what we all truly needed. I also liked the fact that I was not leaving the kids upset and that is something that I personally am not able to do. But with this plan Alan and I worked with both kids.

With Isla, the entire time she was upset I was sitting beside her crib or standing and calmly telling her that I understand this is different and hard, but she can do hard things. I just kept reaffirming ‘sleepy time Isla’ which is the phrase I always used when it was bed time. The first night she cried – but no tears, just yelling – she was so, so angry. She woke up four times and the same thing kept happening – lots of yelling and frustration for about 30 minutes. I stayed calm and kept reassuring her – patting her back if she wanted it, most of the time she did not want me to touch her.  The second night she woke up twice and did not yell for as long. The third night was really tough and Ewan and Isla both kept waking each other up. The fourth night she fell asleep while nursing but she slept the entire night through without a single sound. Ever since I put her in her crib after nursing her while she is very drowsy and she flops around a little, first talking and then whining a little but within 2 minutes she has been sound asleep. She tends to wake up once around 5am, but it takes only a moment of reassurance and she is back asleep again until 6:30 - 11 hours of sleep! I never thought having a child sleep through the night was an actual possibility - I didn't really believe any of you that it actually happened!

With Ewan, Alan had been bringing him back to his bed and reassuring him that he is safe and that this is important for us to all get a better sleep. It had been getting easier for a few days but then quickly he was becoming very upset with anything to do with bedtime. Then one night we heard him crying in his room wanting to come and see us, but he didn't want to upset us by leaving his bed. So we decided that we would wait for Ewan. Neither Alan nor I ever want him to be afraid to come and see us. Ewan still makes his way to our room between 1-3am, but silently crawls in to our bed and falls asleep. In the morning he is also going quietly to his room and playing with quiet activities until we wake up. This arrangement is working for us and we are all feeling so much more refreshed in the morning.

The changes in 4 nights are absolutely mind boggling to me. 
If you are feeling desperate for more sleep or that your current sleeping arrangement is not working for you like it was, I hope maybe this will give you the energy you need to make a go of it and maybe a different perspective may inspire you. I realize that sleep is such a personal and unique situation for each and every family, but I wanted to share my story in the hopes that it may provide motivation for another family to alter their arrangement if it is no longer working. 

Good luck!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday season! The month of December was a very busy time for us - with the Nursery School concert, preparation for Christmas, a short trip to NYC with friends (picture is of us in Central Park) and a weekend in Toronto for a wedding - but it was a wonderful month and I think we managed to keep things relatively calm and relaxed, which was my ultimate goal.

The Holiday concert with the Nursery School children - both in the morning and afternoon, went fantastic! The children all sang their little hearts out and were dressed in their fanciest clothes, it was a wonderful celebration of the season and all that we had learned so far this year. And the teachers and I loved all of the holiday cards and kind words - thank you so very much, my fireplace mantle was full of beautiful wishes for the holidays.

A Gym Tale's Winter session of the Gym and Music classes also began before the holidays and it was great to have so many returning families as well as having the opportunity to meet many new families. Play classes will resume next week and I do still have spaces in each of the age groups if you are still looking for an activity to keep the kids active over the winter months. With the weather we are having it has been difficult keeping Ewan active outdoors with how cold it has been and the sheer amount of snow that we have had recently.

Winter camps were also a great success this year. We were very busy this week and everyone really enjoyed themselves. The hostesses really enjoy the opportunity to get to know many of the children that they briefly meet during the birthday parties. It is also nice to have a more relaxed pace of the camp program as opposed to the time constraints with the birthday parties. The camps provide the guests with the opportunity to use the indoor playground, the gymnastics area as well as snack time, art activities and group games. Registration for March Break programs will begin mid January.

Personally, our Christmas was really enjoyable. Last year Ewan was very overwhelmed and it became more stressful trying to encourage him to keep up with the number of gifts, visits and parties. This year we kept it simple - gifts were drastically reduced and all were open-ended imaginative items, my last post goes into detail of what we chose to give to the kids. We also worked around the kids schedules - visits were shorter so the kids could get in their naps and get to bed at night at a decent time. Alan and I were also more relaxed and we were happy to let the kids play at home and enjoy not having to leave the house every morning to rush somewhere. The holiday pictures below were taken by Elizabeth Fulton.

And our New Year's Eve was the ultimate in relaxation - some may call boring, but after six years of running the New Year's Eve Sleepover at A Gym Tale, that is what we needed. We simply rented a movie and enjoyed a glass of wine and it was amazing! The Sleepover was always a great event, and we may continue next year, but this was a well needed break.

 Alan and I have had the opportunity to look back over the successes of the past year, including the Reggio inspired updates to the Nursery School program and the many upgrades and renovations to A Gym Tale as well as think ahead to new programming that we would like to implement in the future. We are very excited for 2013 and we are sure this will be a great year for A Gym Tale!