Winkies and Whoo-Whoos

I had a moment last night. A moment of “pinch me am I delirious or is this really happening?”. Felt like it could have been out of an SNL sketch. It was happening. Here’s what happened.

Look at poor Tessa. What do you think is going through her head? THESE TWO NUTBALLS I HAVE FOR BROTHERS, HERE WE GO AGAIN! P.S. She’s happy if she has her sponge. Doesn’t let that thing go when she’s in the bath. Loves her dang sponge.

Threw these three into the bath together because Daddy was still in work meetings and Mommy was already running wayyyy past bedtime. Usually the bow gets a bath first by herself and then while mommy puts the bow to bed, the bruises get a bath together. I wasn’t prepared for this, and honestly, I see-sawed between just straight up laughter or parenting meta-moments wondering if I should really be jumping in and being the voice of reason? Or explanation?

Luca started it with “Mommy, me and Dommy have a winky and Tessa has a whoo-whoo!” Just randomly. Like no big lead up and no precursor studying of naked baby bodies before the onslaught of questions and comments. I immediately buckled up.

Dommy: Why does Tessa have a whoo-whoo? Where’s my whoo-whoo?

Me: *Crickets* (I’m too tired for this so I’m sitting there quietly weighing my options for how I want to proceed.)

Luca: Because girls have whoo-whoos and boys have winkies.

(Luca for the win!)

For the record, I tried to explain the appropriate anatomical word for female part and male part a while back, but it never stuck and just made my husband feel awkward (He says it’s weird if they say “vagina”). Who knows, if, to this day, they even know the real scientific words for private parts. But regardless here we are in the middle of bath time tossing around “winkies” and “whoo-whoos” like it’s our job.

Dommy: My winky’s right here! *Furiously pulls on his winky in his best effort to show me…as if I haven’t seen it before…and as if it can detach from his body.*

Luca: Dommy, my winky’s bigger than yours!

Dommy: NO! My winky’s bigger! (Is this a boy thing? Why do they compare winkies so freaking much?)

Luca: *Giggling and pointing* And see that’s Tessa’s whoo-whoo! That’s where her poop comes out!

*Dommy leans down and stares intently at Tessa’s whoo-whoo trying to process that’s where poop comes out, which it is in fact NOT where poop comes out.*

For this fleeting moment in my head I had to think about whether or not I actually wanted to explain the difference between the poop hole and the pee hole but honestly I was so exhausted I just let it go.

And then Luca did it for me.

Luca: My pee comes out of my winky! See! *Begins peeing in bath straight across Tessa (she’s in the middle) towards Dominic and thinks it’s hilarious.*

Dommy: *Looks down at his own winky, which is still submerged in the bathwater (thank goodness – otherwise we would have had criss-crossing fire hoses straight across Tessa).* And I start seeing a stream flowing and now know he is peeing in the bath too, right in Tessa’s direction.

Poor girl is sitting right smack in between her two nutball brothers getting her whoo-whoo scrutinized while being peed on.

So I guess my question is this: That was normal right?! That’s totally what happens when kids start to notice private parts and think potty talk is hilarious. I handled it fine right? Maybe I shouldn’t have put Tessa in the bath with them? But goodness they’re only 4 and 2, that’s fine right? Or is Luca or Dommy going to tell everyone at school that they showed Tessa their winky and they saw her whoo-whoo?! Oh god oh god oh god.

Also, how do I get boys to stop peeing in the bath? And to think it’s gross instead of funny?

And, like, how on earth am I ever going to handle the birds and the bees conversation? Actually, I won’t have to, at least for the boys. Gona make dad handle that one.

I think I’ll just keep bath time separate from now on, that was too much for my exhausted brain at 7:30 at night on a work day. Time for wine. And bed.

Good thing they’re cute.

The Snow Day Box

It’s September 17, 2020. September 17. Just acknowledging the fact that I’m about to start talking about Christmas and it’s September 17. Too soon? Nah, no such thing.

I wasn’t actually starting to think about Christmas (except if you know me, you DO know I start early…), but I’m participating in an Usborne Books Party on Facebook tonight that got me thinking about this. And aside from the To-Go Packs, The Snow Day Box is my other “best idea I’ve ever had”.

What is it, you ask? Simply put, it is exactly what it is. Santa delivers a box (old Amazon box wrapped in wrapping paper) for each kid filled with snow day activities. I started it last year and will continue it every year for the foreseeable future. It checks all the boxes: Bruises. Bows. Books.

Here’s why: I fill it ONLY with no-tech, developmentally appropriate, play-based literacy, STEM, art, and music supplies. Last year’s boxes for the boys were filled with books, drawing pads, coloring books, learning activities/supplies, new (and fancy!) markers and crayons, craft kits, slime kits, puzzles, stickers. Googly eyes and colored craft sticks and tissue paper and buttons and pom poms and glue. And they ATE. IT. UP. I can’t wait to build Tessa’s box this year.

Some of the stuff we took out and added to our art table right away, like the crayons and markers (needed to replace old ones anyway). But the majority of it stayed in the snow day box, and we only took it out on snow days. It was hard for the bruises – they wanted to take stuff out all the time – but if we did that I knew they’d blow through everything within a day and then have nothing for snow days (which defeats the purpose). And what it did was make room for lots of eager anticipation and excitement for snow days, a lesson in patience (good things come to those who wait), and not because it was a day off from school, but because they not only got to go play in the snow but also spend all day creating and building and crafting and reading…with ZERO (ok maybe there was a teeny bit here or there, but exponentially less than before!) screen time. I went from surviving snow days with movie marathons to enjoying family time doing things that grew our brains!

Want another tip? Doesn’t just have to be snow day boxes. But rainy day boxes or boredom boxes or cool down/calming boxes or quiet time boxes or….when we went into quarantine…I reintroduced an iteration of the snow day box as the learning box or the school-at-home box.

All year long, I’m constantly on the hunt for affordable, smaller items to fill these boxes. I like getting things that double as on-the-go items they can put in their to-go packs. Kill two birds with one stone, you know? I’ve had the most success with a few brands/stores. To bring it full circle, why I started this post, Usborne kills it in this area…regular books, activity books, sticker books, learning books, drawing books. Sooo many different options and the literacy specialist in me just screams! I’ve always preached Melissa & Doug and it rings true in this area too. My kids are big fans of their oversized coloring pads, re-useable sticker books, paint-with-water, and on-the-go sets. And to be honest, I get most of my stuff from the clearance end caps at Home Goods, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx. Found some great mini nat-geo slime kits and gems and rocks kits last year on clearance for three bucks. THREE bucks! For all miscellaneous craft supplies and glue and crayons and markers, Amazon definitely takes the cake.

And just to bring it back full circle one more time…it’s September 17. Hallmark movies are probably starting to play as we speak (EEK!). It’s not too early. Start now, a few bucks a paycheck, and you’ll have plenty to fill a snow day box by Christmas. Happy Christmas shopping!!

Who Says a Mom Can’t Have Her Cake…And Eat It, Too?

In other words, what it’s like to be a 33 year old Mom on a bachelorette party…!!!

In a few short days, my best friend and long-time college roomie is getting married. And COVID has really messed it up for her big day. She originally had a wedding planned for December at a resort in Mexico. To say this mom (me!) was eager for a real adult vacation is an understatement. And she having been a maid of honor at my wedding, I couldn’t wait to be there for her big day…the one she’s deserved since she was put on this earth. But, stupid COVID. So she planned a smaller, more intimate wedding for family in Cape Cod later this month. But then the Mass. governor put all the travel bans in place, and with her fiance’s family being from the Dallas area, that had to be canceled too. Stupid COVID. So finally she settled on an elopement in a few short days. No family, no friends, just her, her fiance, and a JOP. Stupid COVID. She’s gone through the ringer when it comes to this wedding, so we wanted to make sure she felt special for one last weekend, COVID restrictions and all. Kristen, we love you!

And now I’m about to tell the world what it’s like when two of the most opposite things in the world collide: being a mom, and a bachelorette party.

Let’s start from the beginning.

I have not been away from my kids overnight since September 30th, 2019. I know the exact date because that’s the weekend my husband and I escaped to Nantucket for a long weekend as a babymoon in preparation for Tessa’s arrival. My daughter is 8 months old now. And most of you know she has never taken a bottle, no matter how hard we’ve tried. Sooo safe to say I had some anxiety leading up to this weekend. The cherry on top being that my husband has also yet to be on his own overnight with all three kids too.

The good news? Well, a couple pieces of good news. One, I haven’t seen my college friends in ages and we had a pretty awesome day planned so I had some excitement to counterbalance the anxiety. Two, when I asked my husband, he had absolutely no anxiety or nerves surrounding the weekend whatsoever, even though I envisioned a baby crying all day and night because the boob was nowhere to be found. Three, two other nursing mamas also on the trip, and friends with lots of understanding and compassion.

Fast forward: Instagram ready on a chartered boat out in Boston harbor with a jet ski, driving green, plenty of spiked seltzers, and neon wigs. Definitely not a normal page from my reality. (If you can’t guess which one is me, just look for the loose fitting mom sweater and long mom skirt…)

The reality? Ha. Just you wait. There’s lots going on under that neon wig and mom outfit. Including but not limited to a panty liner to catch the pee I will leak all day long, a dose of antibiotics to stave off current UTI symptoms, high-rise spanx underwear UNDER my bathing suit to hold in all the extra skin and still look (halfway?) decent, nursing pads to catch the let downs that occur every time I think of my baby girl, and a huge black bag in tow that just happened to be filled with my breast pump, a mini cooler for pumped milk, and a hands-free nursing bra so I could pump and still enjoy some spiked seltzers. Also, about the hairy legs and unmanicured nails. Oops! And of course, I DIDN’T remember to pack my nursing poncho/cover…which just meant I was pumping for all to see whether I liked it or not.

But you know what, why should I be ashamed of that? Why should I worry about hiding all that? Why couldn’t I be a mom AND a good friend having a great time on a bachelorette party? Screw that, I totally could! So I pumped a lot, texted the hubby often to see how things were going (she took her bottle FINALLY at 6am this morning!), and yawned my way through dinner wondering how on earth I’d stay awake till the end of the night.

But I did it. I embraced the sh*t out of the situation and felt more free than I ever have in my life..well at least in a really really long time. The captain may have seen a few more boobs than he bargained for, but it was worth the good laughs and special times with friends I rarely get to see these days because of my reality. And my homecoming made for the sweetest (and usually unusual) extra snuggles from the bruises, with no plans to dictate our Sunday…and a hubby who, despite being on his own all weekend, still let me sneak in an afternoon nap to make up for the late night out (home by 11pm, that counts as late, right?).

In retrospect, I had two choices facing me this weekend: drain my cup and wallow in the challenges of trying to have fun in a social situation while filled with anxiety, OR fill my cup, refresh my soul, and come back a better mother for it.

I filled my cup, and I’m feeling pretty grateful. ❤

Top Tips for Teaching Toddlers LETTERS!

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

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

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

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

So here goes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Say No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are all these emotions coming from?!

(Part 2) First Day of School Night

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

She did, they did, we did.

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

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

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

Here’s to doing it all over again tomorrow!

Where are all these emotions coming from?!

(Part 1) Back to School Eve

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

But then I realized it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s In The Name

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

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

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

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

Where To Start

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

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

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

Before you write it, build it.

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

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

One At A Time

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

Maintenance

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

Accountability

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

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

SOS, Haircut Help!!

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

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

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

30 seconds post-haircut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In case you’re ‘masking’ about it…

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

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

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