Friday, May 20, 2011

Making Decisions for our children -- finding the right fit for preschool.


Next week, our “baby” graduates from preschool.  While it’s hard enough for me to believe that she’s old enough to transition to elementary school, it’s equally as hard to realize we will no longer have a child in a preschool that we’ve enjoyed so much.  For our family, preschool has been a wonderful time, not just for learning and getting ready for school but for the opportunity our children have had forming bonds with adults other than family.  Our preschool has been a community of love to our family and a launching pad for lifelong learning that we have been most thankful for.

I remember trying to choose a preschool for our oldest. It seemed like a huge decision for me at the time and was likely more emotional/dramatic than it needed to be when you consider that at the time I had a newborn strapped to my body 20 hours a day that vomited with severe reflux about every 5 minutes, a 21 month old trying to potty train, and was coming off maternity leave. Thankfully my friends, who at the time were less frazzled and puked on than me, took the lead in researching local preschools and giving me the abbreviated versions of what was offered in our area.   I was most grateful for the simpler version of processing all that information at that stage in my life as a mother. When brainstorming blog ideas, we thought it might be helpful to share some of that information with you.

First of all…why preschool at all? A friend of our family who’s taught Kindergarten for close to 30 years explained it to me this way.  She says that as a Kindergarten teacher, she notices it takes children who did not attend preschool from September-January to acclimate to leaving their parents, standing in line, sharing, raising their hands to be called on. She finds children who have attended preschool are ready to learn on day 1 of Kindergarten.

Studies support the importance of pre-K programs so strongly that many states now offer “Universal Pre-K” for a year free of charge through public schools for this reason.  When choosing a preschool, there are many things to consider but the biggest question for yourself before you start on this search, is what your goals are for your child and your family with preschool.  Making this decision will help you in choosing a preschool that is the right fit.  Deciding this along with finding out the answers to these questions might also help you in this important decision.

Consider the following questions?
·      Do you want a more academic, traditional, religious, or artistic method?
·      What are the qualifications and background of the teachers?
·      What is the drop off and pick up process like?
·      What is the level of parent involvement in classroom and other activities?
·      Is there a policy on safety? Does the school perform background checks? What are the safeguards present to protect students?
·      What is the discipline policy?
·      What does a typical day look like? What is the class size? Teacher/student ratio?
·      What concepts are covered?
·      Are there extra enrichments like music or language?
·      What is the cost?
·       Are families expected to bring snacks or does the school provide?
·      Is there an allergy policy with food?

Once you’ve decided what your family's goal is related to preschool, you can explore a variety of options.  There are many to choose from including traditional, church based, or Montessori (which emphasizes children learning at their own pace with a more multi-sensory approach). Some schools have achieved certifications (such as NAEYC) that hold them to a standard of certain teaching styles and to a high standard of parent interaction.

Whatever you choose, I hope you’ll enjoy preschool as much as we have! My kids have completely enjoyed all that comes with it – letter of the week, PJ and beach day, field trips, show and tell, Christmas programs, visits from the crazy Leprechaun, and a sweet-as-can-be Mother’s Day Tea among others.  They’ve made wonderful friends and grown so much in the years they spent in preschool.  My older daughter still runs into the arms of her preschool teacher as if she just left the school yesterday. For me, that’s all I need to see.  It shows me we made the right choice for her at the time.



 Some of our favorite Preschool Memories through the year. Enjoy making your own!
Saturday, May 14, 2011

There's an app for that!


Each day more apps for smart phones and iPads are added to our online marketplaces.  Adults can track calories, read jokes, and play games, but what about our children? There are numerous apps for them as well for both learning and for entertainment.

As early intervention therapists, we admit, this increase in technology is exciting in many ways.  For example, did you know that iPads are now used as a way for children with communication challenges to get their thoughts across? The traditional “speech device” that plays recorded messages paired with pictures are no longer the only option for these families. An iPad with specific software provides a portable versatile way for non-verbal or children with limited expressive language to speak from simple words to complex sentence structure.    There’s even a group called Babies With iPads (check them out on Facebook and their own blog - they are very cool) that support this technology for infants and toddlers to develop their communication, play, pre-literacy, cognitive, visual/auditory and motor skills.  In our own daily work we’ve used apps for learning and for distraction while challenging a child to sit, stand, or walk.

We decided to provide our loyal readers a list of some of our favorite apps for infants and toddlers – some are ones that we enjoy ourselves and others were recommended by our friend and Occupational Therapy co-worker (thanks Leslie!).  Because the sheer number of apps out there is overwhelming, we listed a brief description for each that we found online.  Some are free and some have a small charge.

It is so important to note that just like TV, apps and use of smart phones or iPads with children should be used for short periods of time. Remember that using these tools is most helpful to your child when YOU are involved in the use! Think of using the app as a book or a toy, pairing your own language and physical touch to help your child enjoy and learn.  Most importantly “screen time” (time in front of a TV or computer/gaming system or phone) is not recommended for children under 2 years of age and limited to less than 2 hours total (combination of TV and other screen viewing) for toddlers 2 year and older. Time using technology is time away from motor play and sensory exploration and learning.  App learning has its benefits but should be limited and balanced with other types of play.


Here are some our favorites – check them out!

 Virtuoso – features piano keys and the ability to learn songs
 Vocal Zoo – real photographs of animals paired with the noises they make
Baby Shapes - allows your child to identify shapes in animal puzzles. Provides opportunity for eyes development as children process simple shapes and high contrast images
Sparkabilities - Designed especially for babies 3 – 18 months old.
Includes engaging movies from the Sparkabilities "Babies 2" DVD series that are designed to entertain and develop essential learning skills. Eight sets of interactive Flash Cards correspond to movies. Parents can use flashcards with baby at younger ages or baby can use cards independently as fine motor skills develop.
Peek A Boo Barn - Peekaboo Barn is an interactive iPhone app that can entertain and teach children about different farm animals.  The app opens with a shaking barn, which makes an animal sound.  Children can attempt to guess what animal is hidden behind the barn doors before tapping the barn.  The doors will open and a cartoon of the animal will be shown, along with the animal’s name in text.  The name will be said out loud and the animal sound will be played.
Itsy Bitsy Spider - the app is obviously based on the popular children’s song, but this offers a unique and interactive way to enjoy it.  You will follow the Itsy Bitsy Spider and her friend the fly as you walk your way through this musical book.  Your child can poke the spider to move to the next page, or poke the fly to have it answer certain questions.  Your child will love touching all of the different interactive objects on the screen and will learn as they do it too.
Glow Draw – glow in the dark drawing opportunity that erases when you shake your phone or ipad.
Talking Tominteractive cat (named Tom) that repeats sounds and words spoken to him in a silly voice.  This is a wonderful way to encourage verbal language.
Ilovefireworks - With iLoveFireworks, you can create beautiful fireworks display by easy tap operation! Touch the screen and you immediately see breath -taking fireworks in 3D graphics and real sounds.
Look Baby - Allows your baby enjoy the visual and aural presentation of shapes, colors, and sounds.  Bouncing bunnies, flowers, and a teddy dancer, will stimulate the senses of your baby.
I Hear Ewe - Entertain and educate your toddler with this simple game full of 24 different authentic animal sounds and 12 different vehicle sounds. When your baby taps on an animal or vehicle icon, the game will verbally announce what type of animal or vehicle it is and play a recording of its real sound.
The Wheels on the Bus - Created by parents, Wheels on the Bus is a fun, interactive musical book, based on the popular children's song. Come aboard the bus to spin the wheels, open and close the doors, swish the wipers, pop some bubbles, make a dog bark, and much more!
Encourages cognitive, language, and motor development:
- Sing and read with your children.
- Listen to the song in English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian.
- Record your children’s singing!
- Hear the music played on a violin, cello, piano, and even a kazoo.
- Touch, explore, and discover fun surprises in the captivating, interactive illustrations.
Fish School - Fish School HD is an educational app with an underwater twist that helps toddlers and preschoolers learn letters, numbers, shapes, colors and more, all while having fun.
Drawing Pad - With the help of Drawing Pad, you can create your own art by making use of in-built ‘actual-sized' option. The whole drawing kit includes markers, colored pencils, photo-realistic crayons, paint brushes, stickers, roller pens and lots more for your entertainment. Play with Drawing Pad application and save all your artwork on your Drawing Pad Album and later reload it as your masterpiece. You can even save all your creations to Read MoreiPhoto or share them through Email, Twitter or Facebook
Color and DrawColor&Draw boasts beautifully crafted, specially designed springboard drawings, voice recorded invitations for all drawing for children to add to or complete the drawings, a lovely color palette, multiple stroke and erasers, multiple 'undos' and new sticker collections including, transportation, animal and dinosaur stickers!
The drawings are simple enough for young children to explore drawing and colors, to go beyond realism and to expand the limits of their imagination. The voice prompt invitations give kids autonomy over the app. Each illustration presents an opportunity to enhance both skills and imagination. And, of course, to have fun with art making.
Kid Art - The application consists of various imaginations that make us entertained by doing variety of work like drawing, stamping and saving all the corresponding masterpieces. Moreover, with the help of this iPad application you can easily share all your creativity with friends and family.
Toddler Counting - Toddler Counting & Alphabet takes a unique approach to teaching the ABC’s and numbers. Your toddler is encouraged to put together various images of dinosaurs from cut up strips. Each strip is labeled with a number or a letter, depending on which game mode is chosen, and has a corresponding the letter or number in the placeholders below. The strips are randomly scattered and the goal is to put the image back together using the the numbers or letters as a guide. As your child matches the numbers and letters on the strips with the placeholders, they are continuously exposed to the correct order of numbers and the alphabet that will help them better understand how to count and learn the alphabet. As a reward for learning and playing they are also awarded the final image and a sticker to place on the dinosaur egg. 4 options available: counting to 10, to 20, and learning upper and lower case alphabet letters.
Animal Fun - Animal Fun is a simple animal learning program for children. Children learn about animals by seeing and hearing the sounds an animal makes. It combines an easy-to-use interface and fun sound effects to entertain children while they learn. Features 50+ animals, touch/tap ability to change animal and hear the animal name, the animal sound effect, or the animal name spelled.  Individual letters are highlighted as the animal name is being spelled, and the ability to set the default sound when the animal is first shown to "Animal Name", "Animal Sound", or "Spell Name"
Sound Touch - Sound Touch is targeted toward kids aged 2-4. Kids simply tap a picture in one of the six categories (domestic/farm animals, wild animals, birds, vehicles, musical instruments, and household items) and a photograph of the object pops up along with the sound it makes.
Alpha Baby - provides music pronunciation of English letters in "tune."  Simply press a letter to hear the sound. An all ages app, it can be used for educational or entertainment purposes. Teach children how to sing ABC with the sounds of a female vocalist or Spell out names to a tune (T-O-M-M-Y).
Classic Simon – remember that game? Children and adults can enjoy a memory challenge when trying to repeat the patterns of red, yellow, blue, and green tiles that light up in patterns.
Kids ABC Letter Lite – allows for formation, recognition, and naming of letters in a variety of fun games.
Kids Connect The Dot – digital connect the dot game

 Image provided by Tina Phillips: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=503

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Show me the sign!


Teaching your baby sign language is a great way to provide them a way to communicate before they are developmentally ready to speak.  Sign language can reduce frustration in your baby because they are better able to express themselves.  And, believe it or not (and you should believe it because research supports it), teaching a means of nonverbal communication, like sign language, brings about verbal language sooner.  In fact, this is the #1 hesitation of parents to teach their baby sign.  But no need to worry, once your baby develops a word for the sign they are using, they will quickly drop the sign and use the word only.  After all, it is natural for all of us to want to be verbal communicators, it is the example our babies see/hear most often and it is the easiest form of communication.

There are several great resources out there to help you to start teaching your baby sign language.  A couple of our favorite websites are:  www.signingsavvy.com and www.mybabycantalk.com.  And your local library should have plenty of books and videos on sign language too.

We recommend starting around the age of 9-10 months.  Start with the words/signs that are most functional to your baby within their daily routine;  "more" to request more food at the dinner table, "all done" to indicate when they are finished in bathtub, "please" for when they want to request something.  When you begin, model the sign for your baby, then take their hands and help them to perform the sign.  Always pair the word with the sign so your baby begins to understand both verbal and nonverbal communication.  It may take several times of you modeling and helping your child perform the sign, but eventually all they will need is your verbal prompt ("Do you want more?") and then they will begin using the sign spontaneously.  And how exciting that is!  Your baby's first spontaneous communication!  *Make sure you write that down in their baby book :) *

Yesterday at the park, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a little one snacking in her stroller.  She spontaneously signed "more" to let her babysitter know she wanted more to eat.  Being then nerdy SLP that I am, I got so excited!  Good for her and her caregivers for teaching that little one a way to communicate besides screaming and crying.  Teaching baby signs can make your life a lil easier as you transition into the toddler years.  And the toddler years hold many challenges all their own, as many of you know...so if you can ease that transition by giving your baby a way to express themselves early, why not?!  Happy Signing :)
Thursday, May 5, 2011

It takes a village -- or an incredible MOMMY POSSE

Each year as Mother's Day approaches, I naturally think of all the mother's in my life. I have a beautiful mom (inside and out) that encourages, challenges, and loves me so well. I've been blessed with a grandmother who is still generous, mobile, ornery, and fun....she's my friend and I love being with her. My brother married a woman whom I am thankful for each day. She is both friend and family. My mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law, and sister-in-law have always linked so much of my husband's upbringing to our own daughters' path - plus they taught him to live with multiple women well :) I have many aunts who have modeled strong and loving mothering both to their own children and to me. And I send a big prayer and hug above to my other grandmother and my aunt (my fairy godmother) that I miss constantly.  These ladies have shaped and molded me into the mother that wakes up each morning, makes that cup of coffee, and tries to do a better job raising a 5 and 6 year old than she did yesterday.

But there is another group of ladies who I always am thankful for on Mother's Day and every day -- THE MOMMY POSSE. The Mommy Posse is a group of ladies who aren't all necessarily close friends with each other (although some are), but they are the people in my life who support and encourage me, and enjoy my children as their own. They are my village - and I couldn't imagine raising my daughters without them.

In reflecting about the posse, I realize, it's likely natural I've sought out this support. My mother, after all, was and is blessed with a posse all her own.  When I was a kid, they were the ladies that drove me to dance when my mom wasn't out of work yet and braided hair for recital because my mom was only used to brushing down my oh-so-fabulous bowl cut.  They were 10 or so extra sets of eyes looking out as I entered the dating world. We vacationed together, had holiday celebrations together, and spent many long summer days together. They drove 90 minutes for an important try out, bearing signs and flowers, and cheering loudly despite the fact that it was a relatively quiet room. The got me pizza after wards. They remembered birthdays, celebrated scholarships and special occasions, and made dozens of cookies for my wedding.  When we lost a family member, these are the gals that come over, cleaned the toilets quickly and stocked the house with toilet paper and wine. They are fabulous and inspiring and I lovingly call them her "YaYa Sisters" these days. 

After growing up with this sort of support, how could I not seek it out for my own family? I've been blessed with an equally supportive gang that cherishes my children by my side. They each provide support in different way. Here's some pearls of wisdom that I've learned from my Mommy Posse:
~ "Put her in the crib and walk away. She will be okay and stop crying eventually."
~ "It's rare that one will look the same after kids as before - get over it and spend your time enjoying them."
~ "It's ok if she doesn't seem to care about learning letters, she will be fine in school."
~ "It's ok that she (different child) reads all day long, she will be fine at school!"
~ "I'll be there in 5 minutes, just put shoes on them."
~ "How about we just go for a walk? A drive? A little vacation?"


I have members of the posse that have older children and let me know what to expect. Some share my faith and teach my children in Sunday School and by beautiful example. I have neighbors and friends who are here in an instant and have picked up the pieces at times when unfortunate events occur.  My posse has shared recipes, breastfeeding tips, discipline techniques, play dates, and many needed girls-night-outs. One even picked up a "doggy mess" when my husband was out of town and I was pregnant and gagging! Some don't have children of their own yet but love mine as theirs and provide the oh-so-important reminder that I am my own person in addition to a Mommy. I don't have to be skinny, well dressed, constantly perky, or have a clean house with these ladies. They don't expect to me to wear makeup but notice if I do! Competitiveness is non-existent between us. They are the friendly familiar faces and the warm hugs that my kids recognize as an extension of my own love to them. They step in for me when I can't give 100% and they step in when I can and my daughters are blessed with 200%! They provide balance, extra arms, wet wipes, and sanity. I am thankful beyond explanation for each and every one of them and for how they enrich my life and my family's.

So on this Mother's Day, I wish all of you mothers out there - who have the hardest job around, extra hugs from your kids, a great meal that you don't have to cook, and maybe even a nap.  But I also wish you the blessing I know I am fortunate to know...the loving example and support of motherhood from family and the joy of a Mommy Posse all your own!
Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May is BETTER SPEECH AND HEARING MONTH

In case you didn't know, this month has been dedicated to raising public awareness, knowledge and understanding of communication impairments including hearing, language, speech and voice for the past 75 years!

Some interesting facts from the Michigan State University's Communicative Sciences and Disorders website:

*43,000,000 people in the US suffer from a speech, language, voice and/or hearing impairment.
*28,000,000 suffer from a hearing loss.
*10% of children have moderate to severe communication impairments.
*Approximately 1,000,000 people in the US suffer from aphasia - a language disorder resulting from brain damage (often caused by a stroke).

If you are concerned about a communication impairment/disorder, the following article is a good resource to help you decide if you should seek the help of speech-language pathologist or audiologist:
http://www.asha.org/About/news/Press-Releases/2008/detectdisorders.htm


Also check out the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's website for further information about Better Speech and Hearing Month:  http://www.asha.org/bhsm/

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JUST PLAY!

Welcome to our blog! As longtime friends, we recently decided to combine our professional experience (as a speech-language pathologist and physical therapist) and "Mommy Experience" to create a company dedicated to something we are both extremely passionate about - letting kids be kids! Milestones and Miracles, LLC was formed in 2010. Our mission is to empower parents in understanding the natural progression of their child's development (and not rush it along and skip stages). We develop and provide developmental products to support this learning process, bonding families through engaging, fun, and meaningful experiences! We are thrilled to share that our first product, 1 2 3 Just Play With Me is available for sale. Visit www.milestonesandmiracles.com to learn more and order a unique product for yourself & your child or as a gift! We will continue use this blog to share about topics that interest and excite us. Stay tuned!

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