Why Play on the Playground?

Earlier this fall, our family of 3 took a brave vacation to Europe. One of the best things about vacationing is changing your surroundings, getting out of your comfort zone, and learning just through experience

(I could go on about travel tips with a one year old, but we’ll save that for another time.)

Traveling with our kiddo was different. Instead of searching for wine bars, we were hunting down playgrounds on city maps. Instead of sleeping in on weekdays, we sought out the finest bakeries in our hoods at the opening time. Nothing beats a piping hot pastry. Ahhh, vacation indulgence.

Check out that spider web in the back!
Check out that spider web in the back!

The playground search became a thing. Of all the spots we traveled to, The Luxembourg Gardens won my heart. Uneven and unsteady climbs, small slides, big slides, a sand pit, massive trees, rope bridges, and did I mention… zip lining?!?!

You just don’t see those kinds of things at an American playground. Europeans have been in the forefront of allowing kids to entertain “risky behaviors” during play, and for no other purposes but for learning and exploration. We have to remember that for children, play is their job. And with busy schedules, errands to be ran, and sometimes some helicopter parenting… we forget that this is what they’re supposed to do.

5 Reasons why you should bring your kid to a playground, right now:

1. Problem solving. They’re learning how to conquer something new. Typically learning through the guess and check method, but their brains are firing and working hard to figure out “well how far do I have to duck so that I can fit under here?”

2. Self-discovery and self-expression. After they’ve figured out what they can do easily and what requires a bit more problem solving, they start to develop self-confidence and can feel proud of a new. What a great conversation topic for post playground antics.

3. Repetition. Doing something again and again strengthens brain pathways. So your kiddo is integrating motor, sensory, emotional, and language experiences. Stronger pathways means faster processing.

4. Social skills. You know what’s great about a playground? The ease of unplanned play dates. Kids learn from each other. They thrive from the social interaction, turn taking, communication, and learning empathy (we always send hugs to a new friend that’s sad from a fall, and needs some TLC).

5. Imagination overload. Slides can be towers, monkey bars can be a swamp, sand pits can be parking lots and construction sites… Your child can transform into a king, queen, guard, fireman, Mom, Dad, etc. The pretend play is where language and cognition meet and do a happy brain dance together.FullSizeRender-1

Here in San Francisco, we’ve become creatures of habit and go to the same one or two playgrounds in walking distance of our apartment. Great for repetition and forming expectation, but sometimes you gotta switch it up a bit. We try to venture to some indoor playspaces and meet friends at new spots too. 

Is it getting chilly where you are? Bring the playground inside. Throw some pillows and couch blankets on the floor and practice crawling, hopping, climbing right in your living room.

Now I want to hear from you! What’s your kiddo’s favorite thing at the playground? Swings, slide, sandbox? Is there something incredible at your playground that your child can't get enough from? Share it with us in the comments below!

12 Questions to Ask Your Toddler

You’ve probably heard me talk about one of my favorite people in this world… my niece. She’s [almost] 5, she’s the first kiddo that made me an aunt, and she’s in kindergarten (where they’re probably doing calculus these days).

Now that she’s gone all day, you’d think that she’d have a ton to tell about. Every time I call her (which is minimum 3 days a week!), I’ve had to get more creative about the questions I ask to get her to spill the beans about her day.

“How was school?” I ask…. “Great!” she says.  I follow up with, “What’d you do?” And sometimes I get details, but a lot of times… crickets…

We’ve got be more creative with the questions we ask our kids.

It’s gotta be open-ended, but specific so that you can get some details. It’s gotta be kind of funny to keep them interested too.

Here’s what I’ve been trying out:

  1. What was the best thing that happened today? What was the worst?
  2. Did you laugh at school today? Tell me what made you laugh!
  3. What happened that made you or someone sad today?
  4. What happened that made you or someone angry today?
  5. Did you help anyone today?
  6. Who had the best snack at lunch?
  7. Did anyone do really good (or not-so-good) listening to the teacher today?
  8. Tell me someone who you forgot to talk to today
  9. When was your teacher serious today?
  10. What made you feel proud today?
  11. Tell me three times that you used your pencil
  12. What do you think the teacher will talk about tomorrow?

My favorite thing to do is answer my questions before she answers. So if I say, “Tell me about a time you felt embarrassed,” I’ll jump in with “Me first. Today I spilled coffee on my white shirt and my shirt was dirty all day, and I felt sooo embarrassed. Your turn.”

Any other ideas? What works for you to get your kid talking about their day? Leave a comment below and tell me what gets your kid talking.

5 Brain Boosting Reasons to Talk with your Baby

You’ve probably heard that talking to your baby is important. From the minute your baby is born, their brains are ready and wired to hear, process, and learn language. It’s true that in the first 3 years of life, your baby’s brain triples in size; craving more stimulation to help that organ grow.

So… no pressure, right? I remember that first day of maternity leave when my husband was back at work and my Mom just got on a flight to head home. It was just me and baby.

Now, I've made a career out of teaching kids to talk, teaching stroke survivors to talk, and even getting my husband to talk when it was time to over-communicate and hash something out.

I know all about talking. Trust me on that one. But in the beginning, I was sleep deprived, focused on this little human’s eating patterns, and lucky if I had a decent meal other than cheese and crackers. Changing a diaper required mental energy! How could I possibly narrate every waking moment of the day when I had so little brain power?!

Luckily, things got easier (sort of). And once you’ve figured it out (and you will if you haven’t already), there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to talking:

Your baby needs face time.

Not the video version of grandparents and cousins on your iPhone, but your actual face. Your face gives so much information into what you’re saying and can make your words more meaningful. So start perfecting your “close talker” game.

Chatty Cathy’s preferred.

Talk as often as you can, about whatever you can. If you’re in the car, narrate some directions. If you’re chopping vegetables, narrate the process of holding a knife appropriately. If you’re catching up on emails or texts, read them out loud with emphatic expression.

Don’t shy away from baby talk.

Research shows that going goo-goo-gah-gah and talking in that high-pitched, sing-songy way actually boosts baby’s language, and might get your baby talking sooner.

Keep your thesaurus handy.

Well, not really. But studies show that the number of different words that parents use when they talk with their babies is what can help them succeed with reading later on. For instance, instead of saying “the bird is flying,” try “soaring” or “gliding in the sky.” Admittedly, this is taxing and exhausting to do sometimes. So look for other ways to expose your baby to different words, like books with rich vocabulary or songs.

More than words.

Of course talking is critical to language development and brain development. Your baby can’t learn language from staring at a television all day. It’s the personal communication, love, and attention that they need for learning. Understanding relationships and the beginning of social skills are the perfect foundations for the brain.

More words means bigger brains. Give your baby a boost and get talking.

Now I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below and tell us what your baby loves hearing about the most! Stories? Songs? Do they love when you talk about cars, or food?

8 Awesome Non-Food Treats for Halloween

Confession time... 

Before becoming a Mom, Halloween has been an all or none holiday for me. If it happened to land on a weekend, and some friends initiated plans, I did my best to come up with a creative costume and joined the party. I just have to brag for a quick second… one year I was a Box of Wine. Still my hall-of-fame costume, to date.

Once you’re a Mom, you’ve got to do Halloween! Even if it's a Wednesday, it’s kind of your parenthood obligation to post either a pumpkin patch picture and/or ridiculously adorable costume picture of your kiddo on Facebook.

Besides pumpkins and costumes, I’ve gotten in the spirit over here in San Francisco. We’ve got some of my favorite Halloween stories, including Skeleton Hiccups (a quick read that my little guy thinks is hilarious!), Ten Timid Ghosts (a fantastic counting and rhyming story, and for $3 it's a must-have) and The Ugly Pumpkin (a lovable pumpkin who doesn’t get picked but finds his place at the end of fall).

Now let’s talk Trick-or-Treating. My little guy is almost a year and a half. So, he hasn’t really had candy and I’m certainly not trying to get any into his Halloween bag, because then I have to fight my own willpower to stop myself from eating it.

I’m actually loving all the buzz about the Teal Pumpkin Project. A movement that is raising awareness for food allergies and promotes giving away non-food items too!

Since healthy eating is important in our house, I love the idea of giving away really cool, non-food items as TREATS. However, candy is hard to compete with. So without further ado:

8 Ridiculously Awesome Non-Food Treats for Halloween

1. Bubbles

An obvious choice. Check out these mini ones, great for the toddlers and preschoolers. Bubbles might not be as fascinating after that 😉

2. Stickers

Get festive with Halloween stickers of all sorts, this bulk buy allows you to just cut strips and give a few away at a time.

3. Play-Doh

I love Play-Doh. I use it just about every day at work (if you call playing with kids work!). Its great  for building sensory and motor skills, but I specifically use it to reinforce verbs during play. Open, shake, push, pull, press, squeeze, etc.

4. Wikki Sticks

What are these, you ask? Oh my goodness. I discovered Wikki Stix when a waitress brought them over for our little guy (instead of your usual crayons and paper) at a burger joint here in San Francisco. They’re great for keeping fingers busy, include instructional booklet if you want to use the stix to trace a design, or you can encourage your little one to create something new. And… best yet, if you have some left overs, in our adult world they work like charms for keeping wires together or marking wine glasses. Seriously! Buy these!

5. Glider Planes

I remember having these so vividly as a kid. My cousins and I would race them to see whose went the furtherest. We’d work on our negotiation skills and trade parts in hopes of creating the perfect airplane. They’re awesome for following simple directions when building, and great for using imagination during play.

6. Crayons, Chalk, etc.

There's no other childhood joy quite like using a new crayon or a new piece of chalk. They just don’t get old. Back to the basics is sometimes best.

7. Noisemakers

I’m torn on this recommendation. They give children so much amusement, but parents so much agony. Do what you will with this one. Or just be sure to give them all away.

8. Glow sticks

If these aren’t immediately put to use on Halloween night, then kids are stashing them away for their next sleepover or hiding in the dark just to see the amazement of neon lights. Be the cool Mom. Get the glow sticks.

Now I want to hear from you! Do you have any other non-candy Halloween ideas? Or maybe you’ve trumped my pre-Mootherhood Box of Wine Halloween costume from 2007? Leave a comment and share below!

3 Playtime Surprises for Baby

Ever since my little guy started crawling and cruising around the edges of the couch, he loved being chased. We’d pop out from behind a door with this expressive I’m gonna get you, he’d cackle in delight, and kisses and tickles directly followed. We’re still playing the chasing game, but now we just have to be more on our toes, since he’s getting kind of fast!

Does your baby love peek-a-boo too? Do they dig finding you hiding behind a wall? Do you get the same belly laughs that are pretty much the best part of your day?

Turns out that babies love being surprised. Why? Well, it actually helps them learn.

Babies have these sophisticated brains that start understanding what objects are capable of doing very early on. For instance, a ball can roll… a rattle shakes… and blocks can stack.

A recent study revealed that when babies are shown a surprising play idea, or they see the object do something that they don’t expect, they show deeper attention as they tried to understand the event. They examined the object and actually showed better learning, than the infants who were shown an event that they did expect.

You might have heard me preach about using toys in different ways.

This gives baby a chance to explore all the properties of one toy for better learning. And it’s up to us to show baby the surprising things too!

Playtime Action Steps:

  1.  Next time you shake a maraca, instead of holding it by the handle, hold it at the top and make an unexpected sound for baby. Try rolling the maraca across the floor or putting it inside another container and shaking to make it sound.
  2. Instead of building a tower with blocks, build a train and push it along the floor. Instead of putting blocks into a bag, put them through a paper towel roll, or in an old tissue box or oatmeal container and shake them up.
  3. Instead of just rolling a ball, you can bounce it, throw it up, or use a book and create an easy in-home ramp off the couch.

Surprise, Surprise!

So keep it interesting at home. Keep baby guessing and challenge what they already know. If you're looking for more ideas on how to make playtime easy, rewarding, and fun, then check out Baby School here.

The Mom Guilt is Real: A Pep Talk… and my BIG Announcement

We’ve all experienced Mom-guilt, and it’s terrible.

I accidentally gave my kid the non-organic banana! (*GASP*); Oh my god he fell to the floor when I was RIGHT there and now there’s this terrifying shiner on his forehead (*GASP*); I didn’t or couldn’t breastfeed (*GASP*), Work has been craaazy and I barely got to feed my kid a sensible dinner (*GASP*); Was I texting on my phone too much and not giving him enough attention just now? (*GASP* [and probably guilty]).

Here’s the thing, you’re doing great. Moms stretch their limit every day with heavy physical and emotional challenges, balancing it all.

You’re probably doing things you didn’t even know you were capable of. Being a master of getting things done during a 45-minute nap (ugh, really kid? 45 minutes?!?)

Maybe you’re the CEO of the house and you’ve got everything house on the brain. Maybe you’re a working Mom dealing with emails at 10PM and a crazy boss that doesn’t get life with kids.

Kids are resilient. And truly, they thrive in a nurturing, safe, and stimulating environments where they are challenged too.

That’s right… they survived the non-organic half thought dinner of cheese and crackers the other night. That shiner finally went away and there were only a few pictures of evidence it ever even happened. Formula-fed kids are smart too (there’s proof of it), and he was perfectly happy throwing blocks around while you texted your friend about her latest in-law drama.

We all do the best we can. And I’m here to be your cheerleader, your compadre, and your go-to for a few tips on how to make short amounts of playtime count for quality.

Baby School

I want to show you how 10 minutes a day of quality playtime can start challenging your children, help them thrive, and make you feel like the champion you are in enriching their development.

You’re going to feel like the rockstar Mom that you are.

Baby School is here. What’s Baby School??? I’m so glad you asked. Find out more here.

Forgetting to enrich your kiddo’s vocabulary? No sweat! Quick tips for pretend play with cars

My little guy is 16-months old today. How the heck did that happen?!?! One of my closest friends here in San Francisco just had her first babe, and as I held this 4 day old baby and watched my [*gasp*] toddler walk around her living room, I’m quickly reminded how incredible the journey of parenthood is.

You know it. Those moments when you think, “How did you get so big?” and “Really, just stop growing, please… stop.”

However, one of the joys of them getting a little older, a little bigger, and of course smarter (!!!) is playtime.

After that 1-year mark, your kiddo will start trying their luck at pretend play. You can expect more advanced play sequences, like drinking out of cups, feeding stuffed animals, brushing teddy’s hair, and driving cars around every inch of your home.

Ahhhh. Cars. Whether you’ve got a boy or a girl, cars (or any vehicle) are classic, simple, and must-have toy for every kiddo.

Action Step: Help create play sequences for your kiddo. Something like two cars racing, or two cars crashing, or a car knocking down the most recently built block tower.

Don’t forget to use prepositions!! Kids that are exposed to more prepositions have been shown to have improved reading and math skills. Talk about the car under the couch, next to the ball, on the road.

Speaking of roads, try out this awesome road tape or train track tape, and start getting creative with road building. Under furniture, up the wall, on the couch, are fun ways for your kiddo to engage in pretend play, and an awesome way to bring prepositions into their vocabulary.

Now I want to here from you… What does your kiddo love most about vehicles? Driving? Crashing? Or spinning wheels? Tell us in the comments below!

5 Ways to Up Your Reading Game

I love reading to my babe. I’m sure you’re the same.

He’s totally got his favorite books that we both have memorized, and sometimes we even resort to reciting them (without the book on hand) during long car rides or walks for entertainment and soothing effects.

We’ve all heard of the benefits of reading to your child. Great for parent-child bonding, building attention skills, fostering social-emotional development, and of course excellent for language development.

My most favorite thing about reading to my kiddo is switching up the way I read every time.

Being dynamic. Emphasizing different words, offering a mix up of dramatic pauses, pointing out different details on each page. So despite having the text chiseled into both of our long term memories, there is a new information every time we open the book.

Here are 5 ways to take book reading to the next level:

1.) Channel your inner-actor. Use different voices, change your intonation, and be dramatic when reading. Exaggerating emotions of characters (imagine just how shocked Brown Bear is when we notices a Yellow Duck looking at him!) can keep your kiddo engaged and begging for the next page.

2.) Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. It is the #1 way children learn words. Repeat phrases and sentences within a page, and emphasize different parts. For instance, “the caterpillar was still so so so very hungry.”

3.) Ask questions... good questions. Not just “Where’s the horse? or What’s he doing?” Ask about part/whole relationships, ask about feelings (Why was the cat so apprehensive about trying those green eggs?). If your kiddo is too young to answer these, ask them anyway and answer your own question.

4.) It takes two to tango. As much fun as reading is when you’re being this dynamic (I think I could probably entertain myself reading Peek-a-Who), let your child be as active as possible. Let them turn pages, give them time to practice sounds, and follow their lead for the speed of reading to make sure they’re still interested. It’s ok if you don’t get to the end of a book.

5.) Play charades. It’s true that using gestures can help kids learn words and language. So act out different parts of a book, with or without the book! If your child hasn’t quite gotten to the word phase yet, they’ll have a blast expressing themselves through actions.

Ok. So you’ve got 5 new tricks at being a pro reader, and your kid goes on to be one of the luckiest to have such a cool Mom. Need a few different reads to spruce up your book shelf? Check out the Resources page for more.

Now I want to hear from you. What are your favorite reads? These past weeks, we’ve been partial to Tip Tip, Dig Dig and Doggies.  Leave a comment to help all the other Moms out there find some new go-to’s.

Want your baby to have a big vocabulary?… Don’t miss out on teaching them this!

I know what it’s like to be in a Mom group. I love it…. and then… confession… sometimes I don’t!

I love hanging with other Moms, lunching while our babies hang out reaching for each other’s hair and eyes, dishing on the latest in-law gossip, giving live reviews of recent baby gear, and sharing any new baby friendly recipes to get that picky eater interested in something.

And then… I hate it. Not actually hate it.  But sometimes you leave Mom group, and you think “Ugh! Susie is already crawling?!?!” or “Jack already says Mama?!?!

Have you been there? We can’t help but compare our babes to others. But, as they say… all children develop at their own pace.

There’s no such thing as “normal.” Normal is a setting on a dishwasher. Our children are all so unique in their each way, developing a bit differently, at different times. That’s the reality.

However… we all want our kiddos to excel in any way, right?!? Well, this week I bring you a research proven tip that has been shown to predict vocabulary size.

It’s pointing.

Yup, the index finger point.

Studies show that a child’s use of gesture and pointing at 14 months is the best predictor of later vocabulary size. The study looked at how often a parent pointing during playtime, and how quickly children were able to learn new words. It also found that using other gestures (for instance flapping your arms when you see a bird), helped children learn words faster too!

So… How do you get your child to point? Model the behavior! Point to pictures in books, specific parts on toys (for example, the wheel of a car), or use bubbles during play or bath-time. Don’t be shy about acting things out (charades with baby can really make the time go by).

If by 15 months, your child has not begun pointing, consult with your pediatrician to address other issues related to language or communication delays.

Next Mom’s group, share this word-tip with your crew. Be confident that your baby is getting a boat load of stimulation, and try… just try… to remember that good things come to those who wait.

(I often have to give my impatient self this exact pep talk).

Foodie Baby, this one’s for you

I know that you fall into one of two categories:

1 - Your kid is a total omnivore, devours just about anything you put in front of them, tries all new foods instantly, and they LOVE eating, every meal, every time.


2 - You’re wondering if your kid willingly goes on a hunger strike at least once a week, just to test you… They loved your pasta yesterday but somehow today’s version is inadequate, but they always seem to have an appetite for goldfish crackers and lollipops.

The good news is, they can’t always be picky, right? It gets better… right? How many college kids only eat chicken nuggets and Cheerios?

So… if you’re looking for print to expand your baby’s food horizon (or at least up their vocabulary in the world of international cuisine), you’ve got to check out Amy Wilson Sanger’s series of World Snacks.

She’s bringing awesome tastes to your kiddo’s bookshelf. So check these out if you’ve got an adventurous eater, or looking to interest your best food critic in some new flavors, or know a foodie Mom that would love these books (maybe more than baby?).

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Hungry for more?! I would so appreciate it if you forward this email to a friend, and told them about these weekly word-tips!