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.

How to get your Toddler to TALK

You know what gets me really jazzed? Meeting awesome parents, like you!, that crave more and more information about their child's development. That's why I've teamed up with Adrienne Patterson from LearnWithAdrienne.com to give you boat-loads of ideas of what to do with your toddler.

The great thing about this video is that you've already got these very non-fancy toys laying around at home, so you can start boosting language, vocabulary, and play skills immediately. Check out the video here:

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!

8 Holiday Shopping Ideas for Every Kid on Your List

Tis the season for indulgence and extra pie, cyber shopping, caroling, and gift giving. So this week, we’re bringing you our holiday toy guide, 8 essential tips for holiday toy shopping for every kid on your list.

These 8 key categories will teach you how to spot the best toys for language learning and getting cognitive wheels turning!

Go Old School

The classics are classic for a reason! Baby’s first Christmas? Check out these Uncle Goose classic blocks. Second time around, upgrade to these awesome Hape blocks. Maybe you’re kiddo is a bit older and ready for Legos.

My favorite toy ever is a shape sorter. Any shape sorter. Check out this First Shape Sorter for a newbie, or more challenging ones like this. More complex puzzles or toys that require building and use of size/matching concepts (like putting together train tracks) are perfect for creative minds.

No Batteries Required

Batteries are a hassle regardless, so simplify your child’s toys because simple can be better. Sounds and lights can be distracting, and take away from the language rich environment that you could be providing for your child during play. When you have your child’s full attention, you are optimizing a learning moment.

More words, less letters

Young children should be more focused on word learning and language development, rather than identifying, writing, and saying letters. Sure, we sing ABC’s for fun, but actual letter and number learning is more of a pre-school concept. So for the toddler, keep it simple and bombard them with strong vocabulary and language to enhance their development. Tell stories, sing songs, and really wait for your child to respond.

Forget Gender Toys

Why can’t a boy have a baby doll? Research has been done since the 1970’s showing what gender specific toys do for our children’s minds. The result, “girls toys” helped develop communication skills and emotional literacy, while “boys toys” encouraged more technical knowledge. Give your child the best of both worlds!

Bookshelf Awesomeness

Using pictures and book reading can always boost your child’s language and word learning. Choose books that have vivid vocabulary and opportunities for you to ask questions during reading. Take book reading to the next level, with new books this holiday season. Check out our recommended book list for ideas.

Get Real

On a budget this holiday? Sometimes the best “toys” are not toys at all. Children can learn and use pretend play using real adult items. For instance, an old set of pots and pans for pretend cooking, or head to the dollar store for some cheaper cooking or cleaning items, or set up for a tea party. Basic stationary and office items like envelopes, post-its, and paper bags can also make for great craft projects, like puppets.

Toy Rotation

If you haven’t heard about toy rotation, get on board. It’s a great way to use and reuse old toys, or swap with friends to give your child a new experience and an opportunity to build a new set of skills.

Less is More

Remember, that when it comes to the tangibles, less is more. The best learning opportunities happen when you are present as a parent. So get outside, get playing, pretend, read, and spend quality time with your kiddo, that you’ll never regret.

Happy Holidays!!!

10 Holiday Books, Not to be Missed

No spoiler alert here… books are amazing. In addition to all of the language and literacy benefits, they bring a child to a world they might not otherwise discover. They’re great for learning new vocabulary, building associations, and opening more flood gates to creativity and imagination.

In case you missed our Facebook post, a novel idea in Advent calendars is wrapping 24 books in anticipation for each day before Christmas.

(and since you’re getting this a tad late, you only have 22 books to go ;p)

They don’t have to be new books. Wrap some hand-me-down books, some favorites, some back of the shelf books, or library books!

If you’re looking for some holiday book recommendations, don't think I was going to leave you hanging!

The Littlest Ones (0-12 months)Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 9.55.22 PMScreen Shot 2015-12-01 at 9.58.07 PM

The “This ain’t my first Christmas!” Ones (1-3 years)

The Christmas Veterans (3 and up!)

Now I want to hear from you... What are your favorite Christmas stories? Are you establishing reading traditions at home? Are you a fan of the classics or do you have any off-the-radar books to share? Tell 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?

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.