Why My Kid and I can’t get enough Coffee

It’s 6:40 AM on a weekday, we’re already up, showered, dressed, and halfway through breakfast and my almost 2-year old says, “Coffee?”

Yes. Coffee. Does he know me or what?

But his brilliant cognitive mind is NOT thinking of his Mama first, unfortunately. He’s [once again] thinking about himself.

We’ve had the Green Toys Tea Set since his first birthday, and it’s been in our toy rotation ever since. But in this house, we’re not much of “tea” drinkers. So we’ve always called it his “coffee set,” to create our adult-world in his child-centered play, just as Maria Montessori would suggest. 

I’m also a huge fan of breaking the gender norms when it comes to toys. My son has a tea (ehem strike that) coffee set, baby doll, and serves soup out of his kitchen like a master toddler chef. In fact, the Green Toys Tea Set in Blue is my go-to First Birthday gift for every boy pal just to be different, because I know that blocks, trains, and cars are always going to be in the mix.

Toys that promote a sequence of events during play (like tea/coffee sets), create more complex cognitive patterns in the brains of our little ones. The language that accompanies each of these events is rich with the ability to give your child an opportunity to hear more different words, which has been found to maximize vocabulary development.

So the sequence of play, and vocabulary magic would go something like this:

  1. Brew the coffee in the pot (cue loud brewing pssshhhh—puh puh noises)
  2. Pour the coffee in the cup, be careful not to spill!!!
  3. One scoop of sugar and just a tiny dash of milk, please
  4. May I have a spoon, please? Stir it up, mix slowly and carefully… oooooh, this is going to be delicious.
  5. Eek! It’s hot. Can you help me blow? Cool it down…. ok, ready now!
  6. Cheers!!!
  7. Drink! (cue loud slurping, gulping, and over-exaggerated MMMmmmmm sound)

Now, my toddler isn’t quite ready to do all 7 steps solo, but I can walk him through these and we serve coffee to family members and our closest stuffed animal friends, of course. Doing this sequence again and again promotes repetition, which is exactly what little brains need to grow.

Remember that play is your child’s job. So the next time you’re brewing your real cup of coffee, let your little one watch as you work the Keurig and once you’ve had your fix, your kiddo can brew a pretend cup to follow.

It’s kind of our morning routine now.

10 Words to Teach Baby

You know that moment in motherhood when it looks like your baby is actually looking at you? Focusing on your face, your mouth, perhaps even locking eyes for that brief second. It happens before they’re 3 months of age, and oh does it feel glorious.

From the moment babies are born, their brains begin to decode language. By 3 months, they’re cooing and using those magical vowels. I have this incredibly vivid memory of my first born’s early coos. It actually sounded a bit more like a pterodactyl call… but it was beautiful to me.

The babbling follows shortly after (and of course it’s always “Dada” first) and then… those precious first words. My kid’s first word was “cheese,” so not sure if I actually have the clout to write the rest of this blog. But here goes….

How to Teach Baby First Words

Babies are fascinated by you. It’s true… makes you feel kind of like a champion Mom when you can get your babe to smile with a big “Hellllloooo!!!!” face. And as they watch you, yes you…. they’re gathering tons of information from looking at the way your mouth moves, your eyebrows raise and beginning to understand social and pragmatic cues. For instance, Mom is happy when her yes are bright, Mom is serious when she's looking away.

Since they’re watching your face and your mouth as you talk to them, exaggerating sounds will help show baby how to talk. Sounds that are made with your lips, like “m,” “p,” and “b” are easy for baby to see.  Teaching words that have “visual sounds” are often the first words that baby says.

Even more important is teaching verbs to baby, not just nouns. Using verbs in your daily chatter will help give function and meaning to the word, which makes learning more salient. More simply, hearing what an object does helps a baby to learn what it is.

So … my list of favorite 10 words to teach baby are words that have function and also words that are visual (or have sounds that you can see).

*Notice that “cheese” is not included on this list — but sometimes, food is an incredible motivator ;o)

Top 10 Words to Teach Baby

  • Mama/Dada
  • Baby
  • More
  • All-done
  • Up
  • Open
  • Hello/Bye Bye
  • Uh-oh
  • Eat
  • Wash

If you're into baby signs, you can learn all of these signs in Week 3 of Baby School. So now I want to hear from you... what was your baby's first word??

5 Things I Learned Going from “Parenting Expert” to Actual Parent

Friends, let me introduce you to Melissa Georgiou. When I first stumbled upon her blogging, I just couldn’t stop reading. Every post resonated more and more than the next. But this one hit home. More affirmations that as parents, we’re all just doing the best we can, in the most loving way that can do it. Sing on, Melissa….

By: Melissa Georgiou

The biggest experts on child behavior, nutrition, sleeping, and general parenting are usually people who don’t have children of their own.

I used to be one of them.

The next biggest experts are lucky parents who have children who are naturally well-tempered, eat everything and sleep soundly.

I expected to be one.

Then there is everybody else. The parents who go about this ever evolving process of mess, disruption, and learning and mistakes. They seem to take the process of parenting in their stride, work out how to keep on moving, while trying to be present enough to experience, find joy and ultimately thrive.

I am trying to be one.

This process keeps evolving but accepting this moment and all it entails is my only anchor. It sounds trite but I have realized that it is the only way to keep going when parenting challenges become tougher than I had imagined.

So this is my apology letter to all of the people that I have pissed off in the past with my all-knowing, high horse knowledge. It’s not that I knew better. I didn’t. In fact, I now see that I know so very little. I have felt guilty about being a solution-based know it all. I feel embarrassed. I feel silly.

In the process exercising self-compassion and kindness, I won’t even say that I was wrong.

I wasn’t wrong- I just didn’t understand.

Now I understand better.

To the friend that struggled with infertility. I suggested you overhaul your diet before trying IVF. It was insensitive of me. I didn’t know better until we struggled for almost three years before conceiving. After the umpteenth person told us to ‘relax’ it was the last thing I wanted to do….

Now I understand.

To the family with the 2 year old child still sleeping in their bed. I suggested you let the baby cry it out in the cot and set firmer boundaries around bedtime. I had opinions about weirdos who parent in such a way and found that sort of attachment ‘unhealthy’. I had no idea what it meant to have a wakeful child. I have never been able to let my baby cry it out. He will sleep alone when he is ready, when he is confident. When he feels safe. I write this blog as he sleeps on my chest. The best feeling in the world. I treasure it.

Now I understand.

To every parent with a child with a food allergy. I judged you for not trying hard enough to get to the bottom of the allergies via healthy, nutritious, non-pharmaceutical means. I judged you for probably exposing yourselves and your kids to too much crap food. I had my opinions about nut-free schools. I thought- ‘Why on earth should others have to change their food preferences for the allergic few?’

I have a beautiful child with severe allergies to nuts and many other foods. It’s hell. It’s anxiety inducing. It’s lonely- especially when you feel like every child and parent around you is luckier-and at liberty to order anything off a menu for instance without a second thought. And they can! Allergies are an ongoing daily battle in my life now. I didn’t know before. I didn’t realize what you faced. But now I know. I wasn’t right.

Now I understand better.

To the parents who look at their smart phone while out with their kids: I judged from my mindful present high horse in the meditation sky… I wondered why you bothered having kids if you didn’t want to look after them? Now I realize that we NEVER know what goes on behind closed doors and unless I am with you for 24 hours a day, I have no idea whether it is your first minute on your phone or the 100th. And even if I was with you 24 hours a day- it is actually none of my business anyway.

Now I realize that parenting can sometimes feel lonely and disconnected from your tribe. Sometimes after intense one on one time with my little one in the home, the first time I get to look at my phone and connect with my mother or a friend might be while he climbs and plays at the park. I cherish those moments and they help me keep going when I am tired, stressed or looking for advice about something. I didn’t know before how much I would need to connect with my tribe and that in some cases, the phone is the only way.

Now I understand better.

To the parent who allowed their child to throw tantrums and seemingly did nothing about it. Just like the apology above, I have no idea what happened before this moment and nor is it my business. You were probably simply choosing your battles and that wasn’t one of them. I didn’t realize the meaning of determination until I had a toddler of my own. Heck, the definition of determination is toddlerhood! I didn’t realize that punishment doesn’t actually work. I understand now that in trying to understand a little being’s needs, sometimes you have to simply be. Be present. Not intervene. Allow.

Now I understand.

More realizations continue to come every day. I now take each one as it comes. I didn’t know any better before. Now I understand.

Bio Shot copyMelissa Georgiou is a mindfulness teacher, joy advocate, and mother. She also holds a Master of Education. When she is not playing mindfully with her son, she helps pregnant women and new families in the areas of good food, doing less, mindfulness, and emotional wellbeing. You can find out more and get lots of free goodies at www.happybabybrain.com.

My Most Favorite Sign… and the timing couldn’t be better!

If your halls are decked, candles lit, lights bright and maybe some presents lurking under trees and left over from Hanukkah, my timing on this tidbit of information is key.

My favorite sign to use with kiddos is WAIT.

WAITING is hard. It’s the toddler version of us grown-ups in line at the DMV. Hard to understand, impatience escalating, and maybe on the verge of a melt down or two.

Maybe you’ve planted some bait (i.e. perfectly wrapped presents) under your tree already. Is your kiddo lunging toward it with overt eagerness to destroy and reveal its contents? (I mean really, you should know better…).

If you’re trying to teach the concept this holiday, or any day… try using this American Sign Language sign.

It’s a great sign, not just to keep them from ripping wrapping to shreds, but also if they’re in the high chair and waiting for food, waiting for the bathtub to fill up, or eager waiting to destroy a super tall block tower that you’re really proud of.

Are you into signs? Want to learn more? Subscribe to my friend and colleague, Adrienne’s YouTube channel at Sign with Adrienne. She’s teaching a sign a week with stellar memory strategies, and well, she’s awesome.

Did you like this tip? Like it, share it, tweet it, or tell us your favorite sign in the comments below.

Speaking of waiting… we’re taking a holiday break from blogs this season, so see you all in 2016!

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.

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.

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).

Prepping Kids for “Back to School”

So long summer. Farewell sprinkler, swim trunks, and water wings. Adieu late nights and sleep-in mornings. As we bid our farewells to the pleasures of summer,  there is only one thing on the family brain... back to school.

And whether your child is returning for another year of school, or just starting their first day - these 5 tips for prepping for the transition are sure to keep you on your toes when the big day arrives.

Create less chance for dreaded Morning Madness 

Start the morning routines now! Ease into those soon-to-be hectic 7:30 AM breakfasts, and try waking up and being out the door earlier. Plan an activity that creates an opportunity for punctuality, like a play-date or a volunteer gig at your local farm, food bank, or animal shelter. Start the bedtime routine sooner too!

Help your kids actually “see it coming”

Visual reminders are great for young children to understand the close proximity of the big day, and help them prepare for the transition. Use a calendar to mark the days or create a construction paper chain link - As the days go by, the chain gets shorter.

Be dramatic

Role playing can be a great way to prepare your child for new situations. Practice the drive or the walk to school for a visit. Try simulating a moment of attendance taking, lining up for gym, or meeting the teacher for the first time. Giving your child some “scripts” for new situations can ease anxiety and make them more successful when it’s really show time. Let them know what some of their expectations will be as students, and re-create those moments.

All hands on deck

You can’t be too prepared. As a parent, try to rid any anxiety you have too - make the necessary copies of emergency contact information and phone lists. Plan out breakfasts, bagged lunches, and maybe even freeze some dinners. Shop for the essential pencil cases and backpacks, and keep it in an organized and visible place for you kiddo to see in the days preceding school.

Check in, be present.

Talk to your child and make that essential one-on-one time for each of them. Your child needs that individual attention, and you need to be their sounding board to hear all their thoughts, fears, and hopes. Validate their nervous feelings and then generate a positive outcome too. Discuss the unexpected - and since you can’t be there all the time, try giving your child some go-to coping strategies in the event of an obstacle.

Remember that transitions can be tough and we all respond to change differently.  Though remember that by helping your child with these transitions, you can teach resilience to make it smoother.

Top 10 Books for Baby

We know that reading to your child is so crucial, even sometimes before birth. Introducing your baby to books early is fantastic for language development and brain growth! So wondering what books are musts for your shelf? Here are The Speechies top 10 books for your baby before age 1.

Babies Love Babies

Its a fact. Babies stare at themselves in mirrors, not because they recognize themselves, but because they are fascinated with faces. Your face especially, and other babies too! Baby Faces, by Margaret Miller is a definite must, and should be one of your baby’s absolute first books!

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 9.14.27 PM

Playing Peek-a-boo

Your baby is constantly listening to you speak, and sometimes simple is better. Babies will begin to imitate simple sounds around 6-8 months, and Peek-a-Who by Nina Laden, can provide ample opportunity to hear and even say some of these words! Want to get baby babbling? Make this book a regular read.

A Little Extra Lovin’

Touch-and-feel books are all great for engaging your baby in a language and sensory experience while reading books. Animal Kisses, by Barney Saltzberg is definitely on my bookshelf. Simple pictures and great adjectives, make this book a hit.

It’s a Zoo Out There!

Lift-the-flap books are also spectacular for keeping your child engaged and introducing them to basic concepts (like open and close) for following simple directions. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell is a classic, and an absolute must-have on your shelf. The language in the book is predictable and its filled with new rich vocabulary in a simple sentence structure.

happy hippo angry duck

Poor Hippopotamus

Sandra Boynton is an all-time favorite, and all 10 of this list could easily be by her. The natural favorite is But Not the Hippopotamus. It provides enriching vocabulary with a repetitive musical tone, and your child will be looking for that hippo on every page.

It’s Ok to Be Emotional

Another Boynton must is Happy Hippo, Angry Duck. Emotions are an abstract concept for babies, but they recognize the extremes. Remember that exaggeration is one of the best methods for new word learning, and this book allows you to get emotional and make book reading a salient and fun time with your tot.

Let’s Get Physical

Learning the names of body parts is one of the first 50 vocabulary words that most children have, and that is probably due to the constant repetition that we give them. Whether its during bath-time or getting dressed, we are naming things for baby to hear. Toes, Ears, & Nose by Marion Dane Bauer is another delightful lift-the-flap book that helps provide that repetition necessary for new word learning.

A Story in Utero

Surely Dr. Seuss didn’t intend for this one, but adapter Tish Rabe created something great for moms, dads, and even siblings waiting for a new babe to arrive. Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! A Book to be Read in Utero is a charming baby shower gift and adds to the excitement and anticipation of having a new little one. Plus, studies show that talking to your baby on the inside, actually does make them smarter!

Simple Ways of Learning

Orange Pear Apple Bear, by Emily Gravett provides simple illustrations and simple language that will teach your baby that words have meaning. The book only has 5 words throughout the story, but they are used in different ways to show how language is adaptable and introduces kiddos to the nuances of syntax. Its also a great book for older siblings to read to younger siblings, a definite must-have for the shelf.


More to Bear

We couldn’t give you a top 10 list without mentioning the guru of magical children’s literature: Eric Carle. We love Eric Carle for his use of simple sentence structure with predictable page turns and happy endings. Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a classic must-have for the simple illustrations to keep good attentiveness and opportunity for you as the reader to use different animals sounds and noises to keep your child engaged. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? does the same thing with a new set of vocabulary words to learn.

The most important thing is that you choose books that you like to read to your child. Take book reading to the next level, use funny voices, ask questions, engage your child in pointing to pictures, and make book sharing a special time. Remember, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” -Emile Buchwald

For more top book recommendations, check out The Speechies Resource page.

How to Start Using Signs with your Baby

Have you heard the craze behind baby signs? Interested in teaching your baby some signs, but not sure where to start? Using signs with your baby can give him/her early access to communication, while strengthening the ability to produce expressive speech.

Signs are easier for babies to use, since gross motor movements (like arms and hands) are much easier to control for a baby than the smaller muscles involved in speech (like the lips and tongue).

Remember that signs are the bridge to verbal communication. You nor your child need to be fluent in sign language, to make using signs at home effective.

How to Start Using Sign with your Baby

Communication is an exchange of information. Teaching your baby concrete nouns like cow, dog, and blanket don’t serve the same purpose as words that convey a basic desire. Starting with “give-me” and “more” can create more opportunities for early communication exchanges.

“Give-me” and “More”

6-13 more infographic

“Give-me” and “more” are the most basic requests that a child communicates. Giving your child the tools to communicate with their hands, before the muscles in their mouths are developed, can reduce frustration, increase social interaction, and improve self-expression. Children between 8 and 24 months are the ideal age to start using signs.

Start by using these two signs in a few contexts. For example, during snack time, give your child just one Cheerio (oh the agony for that little baby!)... model the sign you’d like to teach (for example, “more”), help your child do the sign with his own hands, and then applaud loudly and reward with that second Cheerio.

Other effective times are during bath-time play with bubbles, or playing with some other developmental favorite toys like blocks, mirrors, and puzzles.

Once you and your child have mastered the ease of these two signs, then continue to expand their vocabulary by using the key methods to word learning, paired with using signs throughout the day.