Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Post! Boosting Your Child's Brain.

I met Tracy on Twitter and we became fast friends and bonded over our love of chocolate, wine and Rachel Zoe! Tracy is the genius mama behind Sweet Harper, the super fabulous hair clips for little girls. If you haven't checked out her site go there after you read her post below about boosting your little ones brain!

Thanks Alana for letting me get all teacherish today. Put on your thinking caps, sit up straight, and no talking with your neighbor...we're getting serious about brain boosting activities for your toddler and preschooler today. Just a note, I am a certified S.M.A.R.T. instructor, and a licensed pre-primary elementary I'm not just any old looney toon. Please keep in mind while you are reading that not every activity may be appropriate for your child depending on their age and/or ability. Small children should never be left unattended with small objects.

First, let's start with the basics...crawling! Every now and then I hear a proud parent sharing that their child "just skipped the crawling stage" and I cringe just a little bit. Crawling is one of our very first experiences with basic coordination, and if a child skips this stage, they are missing vital brain experiences. I always tell those parents that although it's super that their child is walking, be sure they get plenty of time crawling too. You can do this by playing chase games around the house-crawling instead of walking. Put flat objects or cards on the floor and have them crawl like a dinosaur and slap them with their hands (modeling this yourself will help). Buy an expandable tunnel for them to crawl through, and play peek-a-boo on the other side. The moral of the story, even if your child skips the crawling stage, be sure they still have lots of experience crawling.

Cross Pattern Movement-This is all about integrating both sides of the brain and can help strength academic skills such as reading readiness through eye teaming, and hand eye coordination. Pretend that there is an imaginary line down the center of the body, the goal is to get kids crossing the midline with their hands and feet.

Cross Pattern Ideas:

  • Place food and dip on opposite sides of the plate so they have to cross over their body to reach it. See the example pictured, the ketchup and fries are on opposite sides of the plate. (Not the healthiest example, I know!)
  • Put on a fast song and have them mimic your movements, right hand taps left knee, left hand taps right toes, etc.
  • When sorting or cleaning up, try to place the basket so that the child has to reach across their body to reach it.

Fine Motor Skills-This is the most asked question I get from parents, especially parents of kids on the spectrum. Fine motor is important for so many aspects of school-cutting, writing, typing, etc. However, so many students seems to be missing it. Surprisingly, studies have linked the fact that infants are placed on their backs for sleeping (unlike in the "old" days) and they are not doing simple and basic movements of pushing themselves up as often which helps develop fine motor skills. Babies should still always sleep on their backs, but it's just even more important to help our kids develop their fine motor skills.

Fine Motor Ideas:
  • Making muffins-have your child use tongs to place objects into the cups of a muffin pan. Start with firm, easy to grip objects such as Legos, and build up to trickier items like cotton balls.
  • Tweezers-use tweezers to pick up items and place them into a bowl (for preschoolers only). You can use rice, popcorn kernels, dried beans or lentils, etc.
  • Bead stringing-using a thicker string with a large knot tied on one end, have the child slide large beads onto the string. Add an additional element and have them make patterns when they're ready.
  • Clothespin Clipping-have your child use one hand to clip clothespins onto the bottom hem of their shirt. Start with their dominant hand, and have them progress to using their other hand.
Vestibular System- read more here as to why the vestibular system is SO important for proper brain readiness. It's just the tip of the iceberg, and SO important!!! Should I mention it again, did you read the link?

Vestibular Ideas:

  • Helicopter spins-arms out, spinning in place, looking at feet for 15 second intervals. Then break, and stand still for 15 seconds. Repeat ten times in the same direction. (You can do the other directions the next day.) Add music to make it fun! You control the music and they spin while it's on (15 seconds) and are still when it's off.
  • Log Roll-remember the days when you could roll down a hill? Kids just don't do this as often these days. Make a point to do it, because it's not just fun, it's good for their brains!
  • Inversion-ADULT SUPERVISION ONLY! At the playground, have your child hang upside down by their knees for as long as they are comfortable. Have them say ready when they want you to help them up. You must stay within an arms reach of your child at all times during this activity-obviously!
Ok, that is just a small part of brain boosting activities for your preschooler (and some for your toddler)...are you feeling overwhelmed yet? Try doing one activity a day with your child and build up to more. Although these are fun activities, they also need to be done correctly and purposefully in order to best help your child. These are only suggestions; you know your child better than anyone so only do what you feel is appropriate. Most of all, have fun!

Monday, January 24, 2011

I'm Trying To Get a Handle On This Toddler Thing.

Yesterday I mentioned on Twitter that I was reading "Happiest Toddler on the Block" in order to get a hold on this Toddlerhood we are now entering! Toddlerhood is upon us and it is here with a vengeance! The meltdowns, the crying, the tantrums, oh my. I swear he woke up on his first birthday and another baby took over my sweet, lovable, mellow one!

We now are mad if we have a toy we wanted in the first place. Mad when he is not allowed to touch something. Mad when he falls. Mad when he throws a toy that he was playing with. Just mad and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the anger. I don't want an unhappy baby. It isn't fair to either one of us. But I do feel like it is my fault! Why can't I make him happy? I am supposed to be that person to comfort him and help him out. To wipe those tears from his eyes and make things better. I try to do just that and guess what? HE IS MAD! I can't win!

This is why I turned to reading a book. I never read any books regarding baby business when I was pregnant, or after I had Baby D. I kinda winged it and I feel like I did a pretty good job. My fear with reading too many books was that I would be bombarded with way too much information, be overwhelmed and do it all wrong. So I just kinda did what I thought worked for us and it was ok. Everyone is different though.

So here I am going against my own belief in over reading things and asking you all for advice! I am reading "Happiest Toddler on the Block" and would like to read one more book for another reference. 1, 2, 3 Magic and Toddler 411 were recommended to me by some tweeps. I am looking into those, but wonder if there are any others that you read that helped you through this tough time? Did you read anything at all? If not, what worked for you? I know this is a tough stage and it will get better. I just want to get a handle on the Toddler Meltdowns and help us both! Lord knows a happy baby makes for a happy mama!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Winter ONEderland 1st Birthday Party - Decor Edition

We celebrated Baby D's 1st birthday with a Winter ONEderland type birthday that will forever be in my memory bank as one of my favorite days ever!

I decided on the theme at the last minute. I already had another theme all planned out but this was by far so much more fun and easier to do. There are a million ideas out there and a million and one decorations at this time of year! I wanted to take advantage of the after Christmas sales to help with the decor and it worked to my advantage. I also did not want this party to have a Christmas feel, but rather more of a wintery and magical one. LA is not your typical winter place so I knew I needed to spruce up the place to give it a little more of a winter feel. The day ended up being 80 degrees and HOT! Not what I expected, but it worked.

I chose a color palette or reds, white, light blues, and silver. These were not your typical winter colors but they were fun and something I could easily work with. During my search, I surprised to find so many things with this color palette during the holidays. Target was full of stuff and I took advantage of their dollar bins, as well as their cheap ornaments.

I am huge party lover and am always going above and beyond for parties. That is my nature and what I love to do. I love to entertain and I love to decorate and plan for parties. This party was no exception! I had a blast planning every detail from decorations, to food, to gift bags. It was all very time consuming and I lost a lot of sleep over it but it was all so worth it and so, so fun.

Baby D means the world to me and I wanted him to have the best birthday party imaginable. A first birthday is a big deal and I wanted to make it just that! I want him to look back at this day and see how fun it was for everyone and how much love went into the day.
I think he will do just that! OR he will think I am nuts for having a Hot Chocolate Bar in the middle of a heat wave! Either way....

Here are a few pictures I took from the big day!

I'd like to start off by saying I am in no way a crafty person! I like to try and sometimes think I am though! This party and its crafts was a big deal for me. The fact that I pulled all this off is bananas.

I had seen balloon wreaths here and there on blogs and loved the idea. I figured I could try to make it and it could be the wreath on the door to greet people. I found a tutorial for this balloon wreath here and thought it seemed easy enough.
It was pretty easy and it took longer for me to get all the supplies than it did to make it! LA a traffic blows!

I started with the basic idea of the centerpiece being something that had a winter feel but not a Christmas tree. The branches for the centerpiece were found at the LA Flower Market. I spray painted them white and put them in a silver flower vase that I also found at the Flower Market. I printed 12 pictures of Baby D, one from each month, used a dye cut to make the scalloped edges and strung them with fishing line to hang on the tree branches. Some snowflakes and snow were added to add at the end to complete the look.
I LOVED this centerpiece so freakin' much! It was the perfect touch to the table!

When I decided on a color scheme, the search for a template for the invite, banners, and tags started on Etsy.
I kind of had an idea as to what I was looking for so it made it easier to narrow down the bazillion choices! I found this amazing and super talented lady who had most of the stuff I wanted designed. She worked with me on a few things and changed around the design a little to make it just what I wanted. She was great and so easy to work with!
I printed everything on heavy card stock, cut it out and strung it all with ribbon from Michael's. This took FOREVER but well worth it.

Water bottles with custom labels were also part of her package. This seems to be a pretty popular thing at parties so I decided to do it, as well. I printed and cut the labels and taped them on with double sided tape.

Living in LA I knew we were not going to have snow. In fact I knew we probably weren't going to have cool weather. I am not complaining to all of you people who are stuck inside due to snow! I promise!
But since the weather here is not your typical winter weather, somehow I needed to come up with snow and snow flakes in our house without renting a machine! (It crossed my mind people!)
The decision to hang snowflakes from our ceiling made my hubs have a heart attack BUT we did it anyway! After all I bought a ton of snowflakes in different sizes from Target and we couldn't let them go to waste! The most expensive snowflakes were 3 dollars and they were the big metallic ones. I can use these again so it was worth the price. We strung them with fishing line and taped them to the ceiling with packing tape.

I waited till after Christmas to find some window decals on sale. I found these on Amazon and they were beautiful. Very well designed and stuck to the window nicely.

The key was to try and use what I already had if at all possible, so the shelves that hang over our sofa I used in the decor process, as well.
All the things on the shelves were from Target or things I already had.

I adapted the snowman bottle idea from Bakerella so I could use them again in the future. They are super cute and easy to make.
The body of the snowman is a Frappachino bottle. Many frappachinos were consumed quickly since I decided to do this at the last minute!
I stuffed the snowman "body" with fake snow, glued on some buttons and made the scarf from felt.
The snowman head was an ornament I found at Target and used on Baby D's tree at Christmas. I just cut off the string and BAM a snowman!

The search for things with Baby D's name on it is never ending. I wanted something with his name on it on the cake table so I went straight to Etsy for the cutest baby blocks on the planet! The super talented Amy from Tiny Giraffe Shop came up with the design for these blocks. I LOVE THEM and will use them every Christmas. They are perfect! So well made and so pretty in person. The picture doesn't do them justice at all.

No party is complete without a gift bag for the kids and babies! There were a lot of the here that day, too!
I bought the felt snowman pails from the dollar bin at Target, as were the gifts inside.
The boys got a book and a toy truck or train and the girls also got a book and some barrettes.
Each kid also got a snowball water bottle that my cousin found in Texas at Wal-Mart for 25 cents! Steal!

The fun and love that was shown this day could never be put into words. Baby D had so many family members and friends in our home to help celebrate this wonderful occasion. We are truly blessed to have amazing people in our lives that love Baby D so much and were here to show that love and help celebrate this momentous day!
This will forever be one of my favorite parties I planned and worked on and it will always be one I will never forget.

The birthday boy!

And if I never see snowflakes, packing tape, and fake snow till next year I will be ok with that!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Winter ONEderland First Birthday Party - Food Edition

We celebrated Baby D's first birthday this past Saturday and had a wonderful day with friends and family! We had family and friends from Texas join all our friends here for the big day. We had about 45 people in my 1000 square foot apartment! It was bananas, but Baby D enjoyed every second of the attention!

The idea for a Winter ONEderland party was the last on the list of ideas but I kept coming back to it! In the end I am so glad we went with this theme. It was so fun! I don't know if I will ever have another winter baby so I knew I needed to do this.

I am dividing this birthday post into two parts due to an epic amount of pictures. Also so I don't bore people with details!

First off the most important part of any party...THE FOOD!

Lots of food and drinks were on the menu.
Veggies, dip, fruit, various cheeses and crackers, as well as "warm" and "cold" foods like Mac-N-Cheese, Pigs in a Blanket, and Cold cuts were on the table.
I found the snowman trays at Target and the red and white snowflake bowls I bought at Crate and Barrel on clearance after Christmas.

Homemade Mac N Cheese and Pigs in a Blanket were the "warm" foods.

"Keep Your Piggies Warm"........

"Cold" Cuts.......
I bought deli meat and smeared Laughing Cow Cheeses in different flavors on them.

The drink table had wine, sparkling soda, regular soda, and juice for the kids.
The wine scarves were from Crate and Barrel and were actually gift tags but I used them for the bottles!

Winter would not be complete without hot chocolate.
The idea for a Hot Chocolate Bar came to me one night when I couldn't sleep (per usual) but I contemplated the idea because LA weather can be a bit persnickety. Well I was right! It was 80 freakin' degrees that day, but we had all the fixings for a super fab Hot Chocolate Bar AND people actually drank it!

Ghiradelli Hot Cocoa mix was used, as well as a bunch of different toppings.
I had Peppermint Stirrers that melted in the cocoa and lots of different sprinkles, peppermint syrup, mini chocolate chips, crushed animal crackers, and peanut butter cups.
For the grown ups, Peppermint Schnapps and Baileys!

The super amazing sugar cookies are from The Cookie Jar. They were so good! I am not a huge fan of frosted cookies but I saw these on their site and they went with the theme so I went for it. I was sweating out the arrival of these cookies! They were being delivered from Long Island during the big snow storm and sat on a truck for a day or two. They arrived on Friday night at 8 pm!

A candy/dessert buffet was part of the take home treat for people.
I had cellophane bags to stuff with candy. The kids loved this!
I bought some candy via a wholesale online store and some at Target. I stuck with the colors of the party. Lots of reds, whites and blues.
The containers for some of the candy were from the LA Flower Market and are actually vases.
Others were my dinner bowls and appetizer plates.
The table cloths are from Target, as well.

Although I am sure I could have made a cake for the party, I didn't want to be in charge of this on the day!
I knew I wanted an igloo with some little penguins and went to a few cake shops around LA asking if they could make something like that. 225 dollar quotes were being thrown out at me like I was Tori Spelling and could afford that non-sense!
In the end my friend who is a chef made the cake and cupcakes. I was so happy with the way it all turned out! The cake was amazing and everyone loved it!

The cupcake toppers were part of a package I bought on Etsy.
I used a dye cut to cut out the toppers and glued them to toothpicks. The lollypop sticks I had intended to use were to big.

The cake was a banana bread type cake with a buttercream frosting. The cucpakes were vanilla, chocolate and red velvet with the same frosting.

The take home gift for the family was a Mason Jar of Moose Tracks I made on Friday.
I used pinking sheers to cut the material for the top and the "Thank You" tag was part of the package from Etsy that was tied with white cording.

Up next....
The decor! Stay tuned!
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