Top Tips for Teaching Toddlers LETTERS!

A little while back I wrote a post about using your child’s name to introduce letters. That post was called “It’s In The Name”. Think of that as the relative starting point for your toddler’s “learning letters” journey. Think of this post as the sequel to that post. Like an “adding on”, for what to do after you begin work with your child on their name.

I’m telling you…in fact, I promise you…that learning letters is more than just memorizing symbols and regurgitating songs. Learning letters is making connections between the spoken word and the written word. As a parent, it is one of your proudest moments. Or maybe in my little teacher heart at least I’ve convinced myself to believe it is one of your proudest moments. If it’s not, flatter me and just say it is!

And GUYS. There are so many fun things you can do with your child to make learning letters FUN. Yup, I said it. To make learning letters FUN. And no, it doesn’t involve flash cards and letter drills or spelling tests and literacy worksheets.

I’m about to list my top ten tips for making learning letters fun and meaningful for your child. But remember, it’s not a one size fits all model. Kids will learn at different speeds, in different ways, and with different tools. What I suggest may not work for your child. And that’s OK! It’s not failure. I will never say I have all the answers. I simply have suggestions.

So here goes:

Start with simple exploration…grouping and sorting by features. Getting kids to notice things like letters with sticks and letters with curves or letters with little curves and letters with big curves helps to teach them the language needed to talk about letters and their features. Talking about letter features helps kids better differentiate and distinguish between letters that may be very similar (like X and Y or b and d).

Meaning makes it stick. Teach in conjunction with letter sounds (and talk about letters and the sounds they make in context when encountering them naturally and authentically in print during reading)! I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. It will take longer (and be more confusing!) for kids to learn letters if they are learning them in isolation (think old school flashcards) than if they are learning them in conjunction with the sounds they make and in the context of books they read.

Recognition then formation. Recognition usually comes before formation, but it is ok to teach them simultaneously (i.e. if you have a letter of the week, it would make sense to focus on both recognition AND formation during that week). Teaching formation is also a great opportunity for you to use the “letter language” you established through exploration (go back to the first tip if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about!). If you are using “letter language”, then try to use the same verbal path every time too. For example, to teach D, you might say “Big stick down, back to the top, big curve to the bottom”.

Uppercase before lowercase. Teach all uppercase letters first, especially for formation. Once uppercase letters are mastered (or most of them at least), move to lowercase. There are some letters whose lowercase is the same as uppercase, so some of that comes easy once uppercase are learned. And it IS appropriate for kids to be writing in all capitals first before they learn lowercase letters – that’s why you see my son’s name in all capitals on all his work.

Models. And scaffold when needed. Have letters around you, in your environment, as models for your child to look at while attempting to form his own. Whether it’s letter puzzle pieces or magnetic/foam letters or a simple handwritten letter on a sticky note by yours truly, having a model for him to refer to is extremely helpful. And when your child gets frustrated or stuck, jump in to help without doing it for them. Go back to the verbal path, or pull out the model, or hand-over-hand.

Make and build, not just write. Deep learning occurs via the process of doing. Take riding a bike for example. You could tell your child how to ride a bike. Or you could try to explain it. Or you could even show them by riding a bike yourself. But the only way they really learn to ride a bike is by doing it. This is called kinesthetic learning, and it applies to letters too. Providing tactile, sensory letter activities (rather than paper and pencil practice every time) will move your child’s learning process along (and they’ll probably enjoy it more too!). Along these same lines, practice, practice, practice…and once a letter is mastered, don’t forget to revisit from time to time for maintenance (go back to the bike analogy if you need to: if you learn to ride a bike at age 5 but never get on a bike again until age 36, chances are you will be a little bit…or alotta bit…rusty – same goes for letters).

Lastly, FUN. Make it fun. This is a rule for learning in general. But really. It’s easy to go to the bookstore and pick up a few workbooks, or to search the internet for a printable worksheet. Or invest in a deck of letter flashcards. But easy does not equal engaging. Go the extra mile to make it fun when you can, and you’ll see the payout sooner (cost benefit analysis for all my business people out there). For the record, engaging doesn’t always mean complicated either, take the sticker letters below for example. No prep needed, simple materials. Done!

I’m sure I missed some other tips, but this is enough to at least get you started! Do you have any good ideas or activities for letter recognition or formation? Send them my way…I’m sure the bruises would love some new and creative learning tasks thrown into the mix! Happy letter learning!

Just Say No

We live a pretty active lifestyle. No, not in terms of exercise (I wish!…still haven’t found my groove after baby 3), but by staying busy. Yeah, the pandemic has caused us to adjust. Still, we like to get outside and do things and go places. We ARE homebodies, but we have trouble staying home/indoors because that’s when the bruises go nuts, the bow gets clingy, and this mama gets fed up, anxious, and antsy. (Notice hubby didn’t get mentioned – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him stressed out a day in his life. It’s like his body and mind do not know stress. I wish so desperately this could be me!)

But staying busy also forces me to be more aware of and accept the fact that I need to say no sometimes.

It’s Labor Day weekend. The perfect weekend for one last hurrah or one last summer weekend getaway, right?

We said no to this weekend. We said no to Cape Cod (sorry Nardos!), we said no to Block Island (sorry Lex – miss you so much!), and we’ll probably say no to anything else that comes up…By “we” I mean “I” but my husband is pretty supportive and usually lets me call the shots (again, no stress, go-with-the-flow). We even got into a silly argument because it’s my birthday this weekend and he kept asking me what I wanted to do for it. And all I wanted to do is NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING FOR IT AT ALL. I didn’t want to be the one to make decisions for once.

After the chaos of this past week getting the kids back into their school and daycare routines and the bananas start to a new school year, I knew my body and my mind just needed a break. I wanted to have normal Friday pizza night with a side of s’mores at the fire pit. I wanted to wake up in my own bed at no specific time. I wanted to not care what my kids dressed themselves in each morning (let’s be real..Dominic will probably run around naked all weekend anyway). I wanted to finally be able to wage war on the chipmunks (don’t worry, I don’t plan on harming them) who keep eating the tomatoes from our garden. I wanted to sit on the deck and drink my coffee while the bow got her normal morning nap and the hubby took the bruises to the grocery store (side note: first time taking the kids back into the grocery story since the pandemic and I feel weird about it). I wanted to do dishes and laundry on Saturday morning so that I’d feel somewhat organized and have my sh*t together, and therefore enjoy a relaxing rest of the weekend. So that’s what we did and that’s what we’re doing.

We’ll drive down to the CT shore tomorrow for a little taste of the beach. But a day trip was about all I could handle in terms of plans. While my social media and group texts will probably be flooded with the traditional last of the seasons – beach days, camping trips, cocktail hours, girls’ nights, and big nights out – I’ll be content with my little family nestled up at our house with nothing to do.

I think it’s really important to feel like it’s ok to say no sometimes! Social media forces these absurd expectations on us – like we have to go out and get the perfect pictures every day just to stay alive. That’s not reality, and I’m most happy in the small, simple moments of my life. So that’s what I’m toasting to this weekend. Whether you have big plans or small plans, I hope you remember to do the same!

We said no to this weekend, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Happy Labor Day weekend, y’all, and remember to take care of yourself!

Where are all these emotions coming from?!

(Part 2) First Day of School Night

What in the holy heck was that? Literally I blinked and it’s 9pm. I’m pretty sure I blacked out today, not from alcohol or any other inappropriate activity. But from stress and adrenaline. Is that even a thing? I guess it was a good thing that I was out-of-my-mind busy while at work, because it didn’t leave me any time to FEEL the feelings I had last night.

She did, they did, we did.

She did great. Well, my standard of great. If you read my post yesterday or know all about my chronic diva problems (to be fair, they aren’t problems…) with Tessa; you’d know I really wasn’t sure how she’d do at her first day of daycare. I was right about a number of things. Nope she didn’t take a bottle. I swear she’s actually sarcastic about it. Miss Darcy said she sat there and played with the bottle nipple and spit it back at her nonchalantly. Yep she had a few episodes of stranger danger/mama attachment issues resulting in uncontrollable crying fits. At least she came out of them ok after either crying herself to sleep or Miss Darcy distracting her with some of her solid foods. BUT after all that, I showed up at pick-up and my bow was happily playing with her toes sitting in a stroller watching the older kids play outside. She locked eyes and immediately burst into wide mouthed smiles and reached her arms out to snuggle. In that moment, my mama heart exploded and I knew she’d be ok in all the days to come (even though I’m a little nervous she’ll try to make up for her lack of bottle drinking all day by nursing all night long tonight…).

They did great. The oldest bruise got a special day of exploring with Gammy since he doesn’t go back to school until Wednesday. He hiked and explored and snacked and even went swimming decked out in sweatpants and a t-shirt (no swimmies, no problem). The youngest bruise was abnormally shy and had two pee accidents, but no poo accidents (WIN!) and no biting or hitting episodes (WIN!). He greeted me at pick-up by running to me waving and yelling “Hiiiiii Mommy!!!” And he was so excited to carry his own backpack to the car and get home and tell Luca and Daddy all about his new friends Quinn and Colby and his old friend Ellie that he hasn’t seen since March.

Sooo we did great because they did great. No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was still great in my book. My terribly stressful day really didn’t matter anymore and was promptly in the rearview mirror once I snuggled my bow and played with my bruises at home again, back where I belong.

Here’s to doing it all over again tomorrow!

Where are all these emotions coming from?!

(Part 1) Back to School Eve

It was a weirdddd weekend for me. I’m usually not the emotional type, but I’ve somehow caught myself in unusual emotional moments the past 3 days, and to be honest it blindsided me.

But then I realized it.

First, we made it through 2 weeks of quarantine as of this Friday, of which the first 7 days we were convinced our kids (and probably us too) had COVID and I swam in mom guilt. They were showing symptoms, and one of my kids had confirmed positive exposure so we thought it was a done deal. After several agonizing days of waiting for 3 kids’ test results to come back, all were negative. Really relieving, but at the same time we were hoping these mild cold symptoms were all it would be if it actually did hit us. So a little disappointing in that sense?

Second, the second 7 days of a quarantine were official back to work days for me, except I had to do it all remote instead of in person because of this quarantine. You’d think it’d be a silver lining to have 7 extra days home with the kids. But by Thursday and Friday of this past week, I was in back to back to back meetings from 8am till 5pm daily with a four year old, two year old, and almost eight month old basically fending for themselves. We survived, but it was hell.

Third, I’m realizing now that it’s been since March 13th with my little family unit. I’ve watched my four year old turn into a little independent human. HE actually taught ME how to play a board game this weekend. One that I didn’t even know he knew how to play. I’ve watched my two year old become the wild one with big feelings that I’m pretty sure he’ll always be. I’ve watched my newborn infant turn into a baby girl full of sass and zest and playfulness.

Months of us all together, all the time. Though hard at times, it’s been precious, and we’ll probably never get anything like this back again, at least when the kids are this little (unless of course, the COVID situation goes to sh*t again and we’re back in stay at home orders). Now it’s about to end, and we have to try to get back into some sense of normal. After spending months figuring out what our new normal was.

Fourth, I’m about to leave Tessa after an unexpected almost eight months of being my little baby kangaroo, attached to my hip all the time. If this year was normal I would have left her after three months. But it’s been eight! A lucky eight, for sure, and I’m so grateful for the extra time. But it’s making this normally rational, normally logical, normally put together mama extra emotional. Add that to the fact that she still doesn’t take a bottle and cries when she’s with other people. You know. I’m feeling….good about it? Nah not really.

I know there are so many other parents who have already transitioned back to work or back to school or back to whatever their normal was before COVID. I know it can’t stay this way forever.

We’ll do it though. Tomorrow will come and go and we’ll survive it. I’ll probably look at pictures all day long and text my husband wondering how everyone’s doing. We’ll do it though. Tomorrow will come and go and we’ll survive it. I probably won’t cry but I will worry and I will watch the clock go by minute by minute. We’ll do it though. Tomorrow will come and go and we’ll survive it.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Check back tomorrow for part 2. Cross all your fingers and sleep with your pjs inside out for me please!

It’s In The Name

This post is a little tricky for me because it’s hard for me to paint the whole picture of literacy when I start talking about things in isolation. As in, I would never want someone to think activities I suggest are random and disconnected. All of my activities have context, and are done as a piece of a bigger picture. Think of the literate child as a giant puzzle. There are lots of pieces that go into that puzzle, and those pieces work together to create the masterpiece. Each individual puzzle piece doesn’t have a lot of meaning on its own, and they don’t have a lot of meaning if they aren’t put together correctly.

One of the pieces of the literate puzzle is letter recognition and formation. (I’ll do a different, more detailed post on this later and I’ll also do a separate post on language development and the foundations of reading.)

One of the ways I’ve begun work on letter recognition and formation with my own kids is through their name. In fact, I’ve done and still do a lot of informal and casual work with my toddlers around their name. Why? Well, two reasons. The first is more philosophical, the second more practical.

  1. As you begin to teach toddlers letters, you want the letters to mean something. Think about it. Toddlers are in an extremely egocentric stage of life. There is NOTHING more meaningful to a toddler than their name. And you don’t just want them memorizing symbols with no understanding of what they actually mean. As toddlers get older and pass through the stages of emergent reading, they’ll build a foundational understanding that letters (graphemes) are the symbols we use to represent sounds (phonemes) in our language, and sounds are put together to form words or chunks of words with meaning (morphemes).
  2. As a parent, god forbid my kids are ever in a situation where they’d need it, I want them to know their personal information. Start with first name (recognition and formation), then move to last name, then address, town, phone number, etc. Remember though, all of this takes months and years of work – you’re not just teaching a kid his first and last name, address, and personal information in the span of a week or two. Go slow. You want it to last.

Where To Start

Not sure where to even begin? Start with talk, start with modeling it, start with environment, start with recognition. Talk. Talk about your child’s name with him. Talk about the letters in his name, talk about the sounds the letters in his name make, especially the first one. Show his name to him, write it for him. Point out when you see his name, point out when you see the letters in his name…around the house, in the car, at the grocery store, anywhere! Noticing print in the environment is fun and peeks curiosity, and also helps kids begin to understand that letters and words have meaning. Once you make this type of talk more of a habit, you’ll notice it just kind of embeds itself into your daily conversations and play, making it a naturally occurring part of your child’s life. And as your talking about it, casually help your child begin to recognize it.

“Oh my gosh, I found your name on your art project! Let’s look. Do you see any place with letters? What letter do you notice? L? I notice L too and I know Luca starts with L. Yup, you found it, that’s your name! Now let’s read your name. Oh my gosh you can read! Look at that, you just read your name. Do you know any of the other letters in your name?”

The best part of name recognition activities is kids don’t have to know the other letters in the alphabet yet. Here are some examples of some more formal (but not very fancy!) name recognition activities.

Before you write it, build it.

Once you’ve noticed your child more successfully finding and recognizing both the individual letters in his name and his name as a whole, you might start building the bridge between recognition and formation. Before you jump to formation, consider the middle ground. Provide lots of opportunities for your child to build his name before he’s forming it independently. There are so many good toys and tools out there that allow for this type of work. But you don’t need anything fancy either. Most of the time either I make the materials we use for name building or the kids help me make the materials. We’ve used everything from painted rocks to popsicle sticks to cut up squares of paper to foam or magnetic letters. I’ve been dying to get my hands on some letter beads lately too! (And these are all the same things you might use for word building later on down the road.)

A couple things to keep in mind when helping your child navigate the building phase: At first, provide a model. Have your child’s name written and displayed in a place where they can see it while they work their way through building it, matching and checking each letter as they go. As they get better and better, you can remove the model slowly so they are building it on their own. Also consider only giving them the letters from their name at first (i.e. if I want Luca to build his name, I’m only going to give him an L, U, C, and A first – I’m not going to mix in any other letters of the alphabet yet). Each time they build their name, have them tell and touch each letter in order, and then run their finger under the entire word while saying it. (L, U, C, A, Luca.) “Tell and touch” and “Run your finger under it and say it” become good strategies down the road for reading other words too, not just one’s name.

One At A Time

When you’re ready to move from building to forming, aka writing, go slow. Introduce one letter at a time, beginning with the first letter and going in order. Provide lots of different opportunities for your child to practice that same letter again and again over multiple days and even multiple weeks. Scaffold for your child if needed. Scaffold means to provide your kid with a just-right amount of help (not too much so it’s too easy, and not too little so it’s too frustrating) for them to be able to start connecting the dots on their own. Examples of scaffolds for letter formation include providing a model for them to refer to, doing hand-over-hand letter writing, tracing, giving start dots, and using the same verbal path every time when describing how to write the letter (the verbal path for L might be “big stick down and little stick across”). Make the opportunities as kinesthetic as possible – don’t just use pen and paper every time. Use chalk, paint, play doh. Write with your finger in sand, in play doh, in shaving cream, in dirt. Write with pencils, write with crayons, write with markers, write with sticks. Be creative. It doesn’t get boring if you’re changing it up constantly, and the research behind kinesthetic writing is SOLID.

Maintenance

It’s so important to not just “one and done” it. When he’s mastered a letter or he’s mastered his name, you’ll want to revisit it often. Like the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” [Side note…is that how the saying goes? I’m not sure I got that right and if I didn’t, well it’s my saying now.] And also don’t be surprised if, as you begin to introduce other letters, you see regression. (N?! That doesn’t look like an N and you were just doing N’s perfectly last week!!!!) That’s ok! Think of how many things that little brain is trying to keep track of. As you add new things, other things get squeezed and moved around. Everything needs ongoing practice to not get rusty or smushed out! Lots of ways you might do maintenance activities, from quick rainbow writes all the way to fun crafts and art projects involving your child’s name.

Accountability

Once you’ve considered a certain letter or word (in this case, your child’s name) mastered, you now should hold them accountable for reading and writing it regularly. In a sense, accountability is just another strategy for maintenance. And remember, you only ever hold a kid accountable for something you KNOW he knows and can do easily. Right now, I hold my 4 year old accountable for his first name because he knows it and has mastered it, even if each letter isn’t formed perfectly every time. I don’t hold him accountable for his last name yet because he hasn’t mastered it. He has mastered the first letter, but still sometimes mixes up other letters and has trouble remembering proper formation of all the letters. So if he has to write his full name, I hold him accountable for writing his first name, then I jump in and write his last name for him. We’re at the point now where I’m beginning to hold him accountable for the first letter of his last name, then I fill in the rest from there.

Ultimately, you should be able to see how a lot of these suggestions go for any letter learning. You might see some of these things show up again in future posts. If there’s one thing you remember, it’s that we start with names because names have meaning. If you’ve ever taken a biology class or a cognitive psych class, you may remember Bartlett’s famous experiment. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone? Well, long story short, Bartlett helped us (or maybe just me) understand “schema”. Schema are a set of preconceived ideas that your brain uses to perceive and interpret new information. While schema are better known in terms of how one views the world, they apply to learning too. Your toddler is literally being pummeled by a million bits of new information on a daily basis. How your toddler’s brain decides what sticks and enters his schema and what bounces back (to be absorbed hopefully on another day) is based on what has meaning to him. How do we begin to make letters stick? Start with a name because NAMES HAVE MEANING!

SOS, Haircut Help!!

Pre-haircut. Hiding out of fear when I found him.

You know when you sign your kid up for an activity or it’s a new school year so the teacher sends a “get to know you” form to fill out? And on that form is usually a box for “your child’s fears”? Usually I write ‘loud noises’ and ‘itchy tags’, because he’s uber sensitive to loud noises (won’t ride a school bus, covers his ears when a smoke alarm goes off, gets scared when a motorcycle drives by…) and he loses his sh*t if an item of clothing has a tag he can feel (Nike is THE WORST – absolutely massive tags).

So what’s this have to do with haircuts, you ask? Well the two things he fears most in this world – loud noises (buzzers) and itchies (hairs) combined into one. It is the definition of sensory overload for him. It also doesn’t help that a while back, a hair stylist accidentally nicked his ear, too. You’d think it’d be no big deal, but he remembers it vividly. The kid has PTSD, I swear. And I’m not making light of PTSD – I legit think he has it. Haircuts have progressively gotten worse and worse as he’s gotten older (it wasn’t this bad when he was much younger).

30 seconds post-haircut.

The last time we actually went to a barber, it took my hubby plus TWO other employees to restrain him and they didn’t even make it all the way through the haircut – meanwhile I sat in the car with the other littles and refused to go in with him because it is traumatizing for ME to watch! (Yes, I hesitate to use the word ‘restrain’ because of such negative connotations but this is MY truth so, judgements and trolls, beware!) We’re at that point where we can’t even take him to the barber anymore. It’s too traumatic and embarrassing for all of us.

There’s not a lot that really gets me in the momming world, especially with the oldest. But haircuts with my little big guy make my heart shatter into a million pieces.

This is what they look like these days…(And time-lapse gives us the grace of making it look a little better than what it’s like in real time.)

Before everyone starts suggesting things we can try to help ease his fears and get through haircuts, here are the things we’ve already tried:

  • Electronic distractions: iPad in his hand or favorite show on the TV, no difference.
  • Desensitization: Backtrack and just use scissors, watch his brother, watch his dad. Slow lead up.
  • Treats: We’ve tried treats during the haircut and the promise of treats after the haircut. No dice.
  • New toys: Does that count as treats? “Luca, if you let us cut your hair you can pick out a toy on Amazon” (pandemic). Or “Luca, if you let us cut your hair we can go to the toy store after!” (pre-pandemic).
  • Ripping off the bandaid: Not mentioning a thing about him getting a haircut until we walk through the door (or sit him in the chair if it’s at our own house).
  • Giving plenty of notice: Talking about it a week ahead of time, and letting him ask any questions he wants, or share any emotion he feels.
  • Model: Watch the buzzers on Daddy’s head. On Dommy’s head. Feel them on your arm. He does this all just fine…on his head/near his ear is a different story.
  • Mama snuggles: “I will hold you and hug you and kiss you and won’t let go of you until it’s all over. You know I love you and you are brave and you are strong.”

I’ve consulted everyone I can think of, too. The hair stylists at the kids’ place where they usually go. My hair stylist. The pediatrician. Even put a poll out on IG stories a while ago.

I’m at that point where I’ve only got one more thing up my sleeve. I’m taking a page out of my special education colleagues’ background with this one. Just made him this social story and gifted it to him today. He LOVED it, and read it to his brother right away. And we’ll keep it in our playroom library till the next haircut. It’s my last hope!

If this doesn’t work, I am really not sure where to go from here. Am I scarring him for life? Maybe just not ever take him to get a haircut and let him grow his hair out until forever? Or at least for a while until we attempt it again? Honestly, help!!!! Is there anything – ANYTHING – I haven’t tried that I could try? Special tricks that I don’t know about?

This mama needs your help, or at the very least, your sympathy!

In case you’re ‘masking’ about it…

School’s around the corner. As in teachers go back next week, and kids the following week. EEK! Our district is currently following a hybrid model, like many others around us. That means teachers go back in person full time, while cohorts of students cycle in and out of the building in a weekly rotation: one week in, one week out. Everything back-to-school is so politicized and sensationalized right now that the way I’ve kept my family grounded and myself rational is by preparing logically. One of the many topics up for debate has been masks. I won’t (and this blog never will – it’s not the point) get into the politics surrounding our communities, but I will share how I’ve been finding the fun as best I can in all the chaos.

When I realized masks were here to stay, I made a decision to embrace them regardless of how uncomfortable, scrutinized, and debated they are. Who knew masks would be fall’s hottest accessory? We’ve had a whole summer…and even some of spring…to get used to them, and I think we’re ready for it. Want to get your family ready for it too? These 5 tips and tricks just might help!

  1. Build a collection. Buy or make a lot! If you’re working in an environment that requires non-medical grade masks all day long, every day of the week, you quickly realize one or two masks hanging from your rearview mirror just isn’t gona cut it. So I invested. Planned for two masks a day, five days a week, knowing each mask would have to be properly laundered before wearing again. That’s 10 masks a week if you don’t want to be doing mask laundry every day! For me, I’ve hit up Old Navy and Kitsch, and I’ve been lucky to have my Aunt Cathy who’s been mass producing masks for our family personally. For the boys, I invested in Crayola’s SchoolMaskPack too and I love them. They even came with a mask laundry bag so you don’t lose them like socks in the wash!
  2. Have fun with it. My necklace thingy became my mask thingy and I’ve had fun making sure I have enough of a selection of masks to match whatever outfit I might choose. And Aunty Cathy even made Tessa and I a matching mask and bow set! The bruises’ have fun prints and patterns and they get to pick the mask they want to wear each time they need one. Different styles and types help too, and lately I’ve even found that some of mine are better for really hot days than others based on how thick they are.
  3. Normalize it. Even if you disagree with masks, save those conversations or hot-headed remarks for adult time. If kids hear you speaking negatively or fearfully or anxiously of masks, they will internalize those same feelings. Point out other people wearing masks, and look for others you like. (“Mommy I want a dino mask!!!”) If it’s normal to you, it’s normal to them, and really they won’t think anything of it.
  4. Practice it. Build a mask tolerance. On our very first outing once lockdown was lifted back in the spring, we ventured down the road to the garden store on Mother’s Day weekend. It was a 15 minute trip, if that. Just enough time to practice mask wearing and see how the kids would tolerate it, and they totally surprised me! Since then, our kids wear them any time we are out in public. We’ll take them off if we are far enough away from people (we’ve only ventured to outside places – my kids still haven’t been back inside any stores or inside any restaurants), but as soon as we’re close to people it’s MASK TIME! (Like MAIL TIME…Blues Clues anyone?) Also super important to have them practice putting them on and taking them off – if you do it for them they won’t know how to do it once they’re at school on their own.
  5. Survive it. Remember, this is temporary, even though it feels like it’s already been forever. Temper the storm. We will go back to mask free days. And sooner rather than later if we all do our part!

Pee and Poo and Potty Parties

Potty Training. In case you’ve been following my IG stories and wondering why we’ve been living in PJs and no pants and never leaving our house, this is why.

It’s time to face the music. I’ve just been putting it off and off. This bruise has been ready for a while now, and we finally took the dive and committed fully this past week. (We weren’t anticipating committing fully – at least I wasn’t – until I got off a work call and randomly found my hubby with this guy on the mini potty. “He said he wanted to go potty.” One week before we all go back to school and daycare. Sure, that sounds like the most optimal and convenient time to attempt potty training!) I’ve been knee-deep in pee and poop ever since.

So let’s rewind for a bit. Flashback to two years ago when we potty trained the oldest bruise. Mike and I agonized over when to do it. Should we do it now? How about now? Is now a good time? Do you think he’s ready? What about now?

We ended up setting a goal: If he doesn’t come around to it by Christmas break, we boot-camp-it-out over the holiday. Well, turns out this kid just started doing it on his own the first week of December. He was a little over 2.5 years old. And for whatever reason I don’t remember it being so bad. We stayed at home for 2 days just so he could learn to wear underwear and get used to it, and he did great.

We ventured out to Chipotle on day 3 (we figured this was our safest bet) and I vividly remember being down on my hands and knees cleaning up a massive puddle of pee under his high chair while the rest of the joint continued eating around me. I was mortified but I’m not really sure anyone else noticed? Maybe they did but just honored me with grace knowing what was going on. Yeah, let’s go with that.

But honestly, after that day we never looked back. It was a lot easier than I had anticipated. Occasional accidents here or there but it was rare.

Fast forward to now, with my middle bruise. I can’t even begin to tell you how different it has been so far. While this kid has been able to sit on the potty and make himself go pee for a few months now, Dominic has been having trouble noticing the urge when it comes naturally. And it takes everything in my silent willpower not to get frustrated.

So, what’s my secret?

Wish I had one. Things with Luca just kind of fell into place on their own. But here are the things we’ve been doing this time around to hopefully help our cause.

Treats. I’m kind of worried he’s going to force himself into a UTI because he is so enamoured with treats that he literally jumps up and yells “Time to go potty!” every 20 seconds because he knows he gets a treat right afterwards. I can’t figure out if I’m harming him with this reward system or if it’s going to pay off.

Nudity. Yup, good ole fashioned no pants parties and potty parties. At first it’s super cute seeing a little butt playing all over the place. But after a while I feel like the joke’s on me – especially when we are firehose peeing all over the ground (or secretly peeing in random spots only for Mommy to find a few hours later because of the stink), and especially when his older brother regresses because he sees all the attention on the little guy. Basically everyone is running around my house naked or in underwear right now. Not just my house either, all around the yard too – the neighbors must think we’re crazy.

Portable potties. Even when we are house-bound, portable potties are super convenient. If I want to take all the kids outside to play, it’s a lot easier to tote around a little portable potty than have to run inside every 20 minutes for potty breaks. Ones with splash guards (like the one pictured above) are a major plus, especially for boys! I have to be honest, I’ve been running around like a crazy person trying to find our portable potty for the car from when Luca was potty training. But think I can find it? Nope. Just ordered this one as a replacement from Amazon to go in the car. The replacement bags are also a must have to be able to easily dispose of portable pee and poop!

Lots of extra underwear. Especially because this bruise is having a heck of a lot more accidents than the first one ever did. It’s been a lifesaver to be able to throw poopy splattered underwear right in the garbage rather than trying to clean and disinfect everything. Maybe I’m just lazy?

Patience and calmness. I need to preach to my own choir with this one. Because when my child went pee pee on the potty and earned his treat today, I proceeded to find him outside standing in the front yard pooping in his underwear while eating his treat. (He’s successfully potty trained when naked; add underwear to the picture and it’s a different story.) It took everything in my power not to lose my sh*t. On one hand I feel like the little bugger knew exactly what he was doing. On the other hand, I have to consciously tell myself he’s 2 and learning – every kid’s journey is different. Woosahhhh.

This moment today is also when I went back to Dr. Google out of frustration to refresh my memory on potty training. It can take 3 to 6 months, they say. Respond to accidents with kindness and calmness, they say. Each kid will potty train differently and at different ages, they say. Have kids clean up their own accidents, they say (Uhhhh this sounds like a terrible idea to me – I envision my 2 year old playing in his poop….anyone else?). Be patient and offer lots of encouragement, they say.

I was hoping to write this blog post once we were considered officially potty trained and it was considered a success. But I’m quickly realizing this might be a longer journey for Dominic, so we’re in it for the long haul and I’m practicing patience. In the meantime, enjoy this video of my kids mowing the lawn in their underwear. (And if anyone wants a good laugh these days, just take a drive by our house.)

Building Math Muscles

Tara, this one’s for you!

First of all, I kind of feel like I’m a big cheater with this post. Cheating on my books and my literacy passion. Cheating on my soulmate. I guess that means I’m a pretty faithful and loyal woman, right? Nonetheless, I’m gona cheat, and it’s gona be ok.

I’d also be a fraud if I only ever talked about books and reading and writing on the “books” section of this blog because my roots with math go deep. Way deep.

When I was a little girl, math was HARD. I was the little girl who absolutely loved school – woke up on weekends disappointed it wasn’t a school day, played school with my fisher price chalkboard and stuffed animals (I even stole my first grade teacher’s chalk holder – I guess that makes me a thief, so yeah, there’s that.). But every day, when it was time for math, my heart sank and my stomach did somersaults.

I fell victim to the whole ‘women in math and science’ conundrum. Elementary school turned into middle school and high school, and by high school I was just trying to get through algebra and physics memorizing every formula. I still did well because formulas were rote and as long as I memorized I did ok enough to at least pass. I was never stellar, and despite AP and honors courses in humanities, I was much slower with math. And any time I had a novel problem that required me to think about what was needed to solve the problem rather than just apply a formula I had memorized, I failed. Epically. I cried and I stayed after and I doubted myself and I gave up. I HATED math; I’d never be a math person.

Looking back, I was so concerned with doing well in school that my strategy for memorizing only got me so far. I (nor my teachers) never took the time to actually help me understand what it meant. I didn’t have the number sense to make sense of numbers! I’m still the type that will pull out my cell phone calculator to figure out tips at restaurants or use my fingers for simple addition or subtraction.

Luckily I married a math guy so I don’t think my kids will have it too bad. Needless to say, I swore this off for my own kids. I wouldn’t let them fall victim to my own shortcomings, especially Tessa. I’m a mom on a mission with this one.

So we do math. We do math a lot. Not like “Hey it’s math time get your whiteboards ready!” But lots and lots of conversations and games and play based activities involving math. By golly these kids will have number sense if I kill myself trying. (And funny enough these activities have all helped me build my OWN number sense at 32 years of age..shh don’t tell anyone.)

I went back into my archives and pulled anything and everything math related with my kids that I ever documented. I organized it all into the math standards via Common Core, plus some add-ons. It’s not perfect…I’m much less confident in my math brain than I am in my literacy brain! (And I also know that making mistakes – mommys included – is ok, so I’m not afraid to be imperfect.) Hopefully I get your math brain going, and give you some ideas for what you might want to try with your own littles.

Counting and Cardinality

Operations and Algebraic Thinking

Measurement and Data

Geometry

Math Talk and Math Language

(Honestly, ALL of what I do includes math talk and math language – I could have put every single photo in this gallery.)

Patterns

A couple odd notes because it’s Friday night and I can’t really organize my brain…

I try my best to incorporate executive functioning and fine motor practice into many things we do. Executive functioning is a set of mental skills that refers to one’s ability to organize, be flexible, plan, recall, and maintain self control. As adults, we use executive functioning skills subconsciously as we manage, plan, and monitor the many tasks that we must accomplish each day. It doesn’t come as naturally to kids – they need to be provided with experiences that help them struggle (in a good way!) through challenging tasks with the appropriate help and encouragement from you along the way.

Similarly, I think in today’s day and age we often take fine motor skills for granted. Fine motor skills are the coordination between smaller muscles. Think pincer grasp, cutting with scissors, threading beads, writing, buttoning, zippering (on the contrary think of gross motor skills like walking, running, throwing…). Therefore, I try and build these into as many activities as I can as well, especially and most importantly for the 2 year old.

Lastly, most (if not all) of what I do with the 4 year old is adaptable in some way to the 2 year old. That way I’m not planning double the activities, and they can use/benefit from the same materials. I tried to include the 2 year old in as many of the photos above so you can see how I tweaked activities slightly to match his developmental level. If anything, I ALWAYS let him participate even if it’s just free play with the same materials his brother is using. The brothers are each other’s biggest motivators, so I play on that as much as I can!

If anything, I hope this can be a good resource for you to come back to when you’re in need of something to do. Bookmark this page now so you don’t have to come digging later!

Boy Toys: Cars and Dinos and Blocks…Oh My!

Ok so I have to admit I have a major case of third child syndrome. Don’t know if that’s a thing, but we definitely had/have second child syndrome with Dominic, so poor Tessa doesn’t even stand a chance.

I did everything to a T for that first child, followed ALL the rules. Kept up with all the cleaning protocols, didn’t use a single product that wasn’t all natural. Talked to the pediatrician before trying anything new and talked to the pediatrician about every little worry or question that creeped into my mind. You know the drill. Back then, Whole Foods was my jam; now I consider it a weekly win if I make it down the organic or all-natural aisle in Stop & Shop. (For the record, Whole Foods is still my jam, there just isn’t one close enough to me right now for me to consider it a worthwhile trip.)

Second child meant the 5 second rule turned into the 60 second rule, we no longer carried the high chair/shopping cart cover with us everywhere we went, and Welch’s fruit snacks vs. Annie’s bunnies = same difference. Ditched the Babyganics shampoo and body wash for good ole-fashioned Johnson’s baby shampoo and body wash because it just smells so damn good.

You get the picture, let me cut right to it. This poor girl lives out her days playing with toy cars, dinosaurs, legos, and trucks. I wish I could say it is because I’m ignoring gender norms and raising this bow to shatter all the glass ceilings. That would be noble of me- and philosophically the beliefs and values I want to and try to instill in all my kids align with this. You better believe I want her to shatter ALL the glass ceilings. But this was just serendipity I suppose – causal result of laziness on my part.

I was talking to my mom about it – feeling guilty I don’t really have any feminine (girly?) play things for her. She made a good point. She said, “That’s not true all your baby toys are gender neutral, you just don’t bother to actually take them out.” New Year’s Resolution 1: make an effort to take out the baby toys more often (I’m allowed to make a New Year’s Resolution in August because I’m a teacher so technically my New Year starts at the end of the month.).

I thought about it more; it’s still kind of weighing on me. On one hand, there is zero reason I need to add any more crap to the already-overflowing playroom we have. But I do sort of have big girl dreams to be able to play dress up with my girl, to watch her play with a doll house, to see her take care of her baby dolls. Or at least let her have the option of choosing this (because I know if she chooses diggers over dolls or dinos over dress up, I’m totally fine with that too – believe it or not I was the BIGGEST tom-boy athlete growing up!). And if this is the case – to even give her the option to choose what toys she wants to play with – then I need to drastically overhaul the playroom. It is head-to-toe all things BOY right now. Time to make way for girl! New Year’s Resolution 2: Clean, purge, clear out (not a bad excuse to do this!).

No need for me to rush into buying all playthings girl right now, she’s still too young for it to matter. But thinking about Christmas and her birthday in January, I’m going to need all the ideas from all the girl moms out there. What’s the best girly gift for a one year old? Is there even one? Or is it really completely gender neutral until the toddler years? Do I just wait till she’s old enough to realize what she wants and wait for her to ask for it? Would love for you to drop me a comment below or follow me on Instagram to give me your insights!

Insta handle is Bruisesbowsandbooks. See ya there!