Weekend links and Festival of Books

Weekend links and Festival of Books
Imagine joining thousands of other book-lovers convening at a local university, all lining up to meet their favorite authors, listening to readings or purchasing books from small and large sellers alike. That’s what one morning looked like a few weeks ago as we attended The LA Times Festival of Books at USC. We watched a band playing children’s songs (I can’t get away from them!) and also bought a new book called Blue Goose. And while my toddler preferred to play lets-find-every-fountain-there-is-on-this-campus, this sort of event suits him quite well considering that he is one voracious reader.

This is one hobby that I hope my toddler will continue throughout his life, considering all the benefits I’ve already seen that reading has had on him:

  • He learns about things he otherwise hasn’t seen in person yet, whether it’s the seasons of the year (we don’t exactly have a “winter” here in Southern California) or the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly.
  • Books provide entertainment. He can easily sit by the bookcase for over an hour flipping through books.
  • Books expose him to new words. How often have you told someone, “And then I exclaimed…“? We don’t exactly go around saying words like “exclaimed” or “shuddered,” but because we read them in books, he has a storage of words that he probably wouldn’t learn just by listening to conversations.
  • He is starting to learn how to read. This may be a bit premature to say, but I think my toddler is starting to get the idea of reading. He knows that “N-O” spells “no,” so imagine my surprise when he saw the letters “T-O” and he said, “That spells ‘toe’!” Okay, so it’s not exactly “toe,” it’s really “to,” but I like that he put two-and-two together and ventured that “to” sounds like “no,” just with a T. And out of the blue, he said “‘Teeth’ and ‘tail’ start with ‘T’.” So cool!

In the past, I had tossed a few books because they were ratty, torn, and so out of shape. Now I mend them instead because I realize that they’re simply often-used, well-loved books by a little guy who can’t get enough of them.

For more information on how to encourage reading in kids, below are a few links and resources:

What benefits of reading have you seen in your kids? How do you encourage your kids to read?

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4 reasons I don’t push my kid to perform

4 reasons I don't push my kid to perform
My cousins and I were laughing about a photo of us when we were kids: our parents had us act out the nativity scene for Christmas, complete with costumes and a baby doll wrapped in a blanket. And while I’m sure I didn’t mind playing the part of a shepherd, I hesitate to think that we actually enjoyed the show as much as our parents—in that photo, all but one of us looked miserable.

It didn’t stop there; for another Christmas, our parents dressed us up in over-sized, gift-wrapped boxes, and probably made us sing a jingle or two. And well into middle school, many of us were still singing at family parties or—I’m ashamed to admit—choreographing hip-hop routines to dance at weddings.

I told my cousins, “We need to do this to our kids. It’s our turn.”

I was kidding. In fact, I do my best not to push my toddler to perform. But sometimes I still shine the limelight on him, and I’m not talking about dressing him up as a shepherd. A few days ago, I was with a friend when I asked my toddler, “Do you want to sing one of the songs you know?” He didn’t respond, so I started it off for him, “Twinkle twinkle little star…” Still, no interest. In that moment I realized I was showing him off; I wanted my friend to see all the cool tricks and talents he can no do. And while it’s natural to feel proud, I knew I shouldn’t have displayed him like a novelty. Thankfully I caught myself and pressed no further.

We often want our kids to perform for various reasons, whether it’s to highlight their talents, brighten other people’s feelings, or encourage kids to continue their talents. If kids are willing to put on a show or even initiate their own performances, then by all means, raise the curtains and take a seat. And for some temperaments, showmanship comes naturally—one of my nephews is a natural performer and thrives with attention. He’s not one to deny a request to perform.

My toddler usually performs when requested—get him started with his Foot Loose dance and he’ll go on tapping his feet away, laughing all the while. But there are times when he’s just not in the mood. He may even go along with a request to recite a few lines or count to 20, but do so monotonously or irritably. It’s these times that I have to be mindful to respect his feelings for several reasons:

  • He may end up feeling like a novelty; someone called on to perform (try to think of the last time you asked an adult, “Hey, why don’t show so-and-so how you play ‘Under the Bridge’ on the guitar?”).
  • He may become bashful or embarrassed from being in the spotlight. While my toddler is only two, there will be a day he’ll realize that people’s laughter—however innocent the intent—is aimed at him, and he may not like it.
  • He may not feel ready to perform. If he’s just learning how to identify a few words, he may not feel 100% confident about reciting a whole book in front of people just yet. Pestering him to do so may frustrate him, or worse, cause him to stop pursuing it.
  • He may equate learning with praise from other people. Receiving attention might lead him to externalize his rewards rather than pursuing talents for his own personal, internal satisfaction.

More often than not, I don’t need to push my toddler to perform. When left to his own devices, he’ll eventually warm up to the crowd and start making his own jokes, or willingly sing Twinkle Twinkle and 20,000 children’s songs when asked. But if he isn’t in the mood—he isn’t smiling, doesn’t look like he’s enjoying the attention, or is ignoring me—then I take a step back. I want to respect his space and allow him to interact with others in what seems most natural to him, not because his parents said it’s show time.

Do you find yourself pushing your kids to perform? Do your kids like putting on a show on their own?

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Weekend links and dancing to James Brown

Weekend links and dancing to James Brown
My toddler isn’t really one to dance. He has friends who, just by hearing some music, will move their hips and shoulders while clapping their hands. My toddler—not so much. He’ll sometimes do his Flashdance “What a Feeling” foot shuffle and wave his arms when he sees people dancing to the Wii, but in general, he doesn’t really move to the beat.

All that changed a few weekends ago when my husband, toddler and I attended an art show… with a DJ. We were sitting on one of the couches when the DJ played a James Brown song. Well, apparently my toddler digs himself some funk because he sprung from that couch and started grooving on the floor, completely on his own. And it wasn’t just his Flashdance foot shuffle; he was moving arms, legs and hips!

A few days later, we were at home when I turned on some of his children’s songs and tried to initiate some dancing. And while he loves singing to them, he wasn’t in the least bit interested in dancing to Hokey Pokey. So I said, “Do you want me to play some James Brown?” And he replied, “James Brown!” And sure enough, once the music got down and funky, my toddler joined me on our dance floor. Suffice it to say I had James Brown on loop the rest of the day.

And while my toddler and I dance to some James Brown, below are a few reads I found this week:

  • First, The Wall Street Journal features a blog post discussing Women’s Success: At Work And At Home. The author takes a look at working women who choose to work and notice that most of them shoot for the top. Apparently they feel that if they don’t advance in their careers and that there’s no payoff to the hours they put in, that  they don’t see a point and will choose to be a stay-at-home mom instead.
  • Next up is a TED Talk video with babble.com publishers called Let’s talk parenting taboos which deliberates “…4 facts that parents never, ever admit — and why they should. Funny and honest, for parents and nonparents alike.” The highlight four taboos—not falling in love with your newborn at birth, feeling lonely after having a baby, talking about your miscarriage, and that your average happiness has declined since having a child. I actually have read somewhere that child-less couples tend to be happier than those with kids, but that the happiness of parents skyrockets as the children get older, particularly once they leave the house. Of course now I can’t remember where I heard that. Has anyone else heard of this?
  • And finally, The New York Times reveals A surprising risk for toddlers on playground slides. Apparently, kids sliding down sitting on a parent’s lap (instead of alone) increase their chances of injuring their legs. My kid doesn’t even like slides but I do remember taking him down on my lap once in a while. Who knew?

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My love/hate relationship with Susie Tallman and children’s songs

My love/hate relationship with Susie Tallman and children's songs-ipod
Several months ago, my toddler and I stopped by the library and sat in the children’s area. Another mom was already there, playing with her little girl when suddenly I heard the mom sing under her breath, “Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was heeee…” Old King Cole is a popular children’s song, but this woman sang it in the same eerily slow and scary tune as the one that had been playing in my head. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and say, “Susie Tallman is in your head, too!”

According to my iTunes, we have 7.7 hours of children’s songs we’ve somehow amassed. And we hear them—all the time, so much so that I now know the lyrics to almost every single one of those songs. I’ve learned that some words are real (“What the heck is a ‘kookaburra’?” I asked my husband), while others—’tisket’ nor ‘tasket’—are technically not. I can sing the longest name (“John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”) and sing a tongue twister in four different speeds (“Skidamarink kadink kadink skidamarink kidoo”). And some of the songs just make me blush, like the one where a grandma sings “The Owl and Pussycat” and mentions… oh, about five hundred times how beautiful the *ahem* is.

I am mired in a web of children’s songs, all on constant loop, shuffling through our home and our cars. Hundreds of these songs have made their way into my subconscious as I sing or hum about ants marching ten by ten, how easy it is to count by tens, or why ten little monkeys were jumping on the bed.

Still, my toddler seems to enjoy these songs. He went through a phase where the song hasn’t even started yet and he was already asking, “What’s this song?” Or he would be able to identify the songs on just two seconds into it. The best part is hearing him sing the lyrics to songs I never even knew he paid attention to (unfortunately when he’s supposed to be napping). He has even convinced me to make a fool of myself and dance to “Six Little Ducks,” flapping my arms on each “quack” while he laughs hysterically at his crazy mom.

I’ve since stopped playing children’s songs exclusively, for the sake of my sanity and so that my toddler can hear other styles too. For instance, he likes songs from the Beatles, Chuck Berry, James Brown and Eddie Cochran (we figured he’d like a few songs about yellow submarines and jellybeans). We also play classical music since it sounds beautiful—and has no tongue twisters.

That said, I don’t think we’ll be giving up “The Suze,” as my husband and I affectionately call Susie Tallman and all our hundreds of other children’s songs. My toddler still enjoys listening to them, and sadly, I think I secretly like them too. That may be the reason why I will gladly dance a hip hop number to Susie Tallman’s “Buffalo Gals,” to the embarrassment of my husband and toddler.

Do you listen to children’s songs in your house?

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Speech delay and the last time I worried

Flashback Friday: Speech delay and the last time I worried-bunch of bananas
When my little guy was a baby, we kept hearing from people, “Oh, he’s going to be an early talker, just listen to him babble!” And I proudly assumed the same until his 15-month appointment when his pediatrician asked the question that changed my mind: “How many words does he say?”

“Umm…” I stammered. “Maybe three?” I replied. Even after I said it I knew I wasn’t being completely accurate. His three words weren’t words so much as babbles. He would say “mamama…” but without any direct correlation to me (or anything else, really), but because it sounded close to “mama” I counted it as a word. The other two were just as incoherent. The pediatrician mentioned that most 18-month-olds say an average of 10 words, and that two-year-olds say an average of 50. When I couldn’t even coax three distinct words out of my toddler, I launched into full-on worry mode.

“What could be causing his delay?” my husband and I asked ourselves. First we considered the fact that our toddler was exposed to multiple languages. We mentioned this to his pediatrician, who reassured us that bilingualism only delays language skills by a month. Still, we were silly enough to go through his children’s songs and delete those that weren’t in English (I now wish I had a back up of “Frere Jacques” and “De Colores”!).

We also wondered whether baby sign language could be contributing to his delay. Long touted as a means to actually help children speak earlier, we now targeted baby sign language as a potential culprit for why our toddler wasn’t saying any words. “Maybe he got so used to signing ‘eat’ that he doesn’t need to say the word,” we wondered. But because we had heard so many positive associations with signing (and because it really did help our toddler communicate with us), we continued with baby signing.

I began to Google possible causes for speech delay (never Google anything while you are worried) and I came up with a slew of issues that I began to worry about. “Is he social enough?” “How come he prefers books nowadays instead of cuddling with us?” “Why doesn’t he smile as often as his little cousin?” And the questions went on and on.

The biggest detriment to worrying wasn’t even the needless headache I imposed on myself, nor the long hours of researching symptoms that my toddler hadn’t even been diagnosed with yet; it was my growing impatience and lack of faith in my toddler. The day we arrived home from the doctor’s appointment, I embarked on a mission to get my toddler talk. I held up a ball and made sure he was looking at me and said, “This is a BALL. Ball. Can you say ‘ball’? Say ‘ball’.” In more normal circumstances, these prompts are actually helpful; I am supposed to enunciate and tie the word to an item. But he sensed the worry in my voice, saw the impatience written all over my face, and reacted the way anyone would: he got frustrated.

That’s when I learned I needed to take a step back. I had to be his biggest advocate, not someone pressuring him to perform beyond his abilities. I needed to guide him through these exercises while respecting his learning curve. I’m thankful that I was able to see that early on because I would have hated to nag him and endure weeks and months of frustrating episodes all because of a worry.

We continued to work with him, and some of that Google research actually turned up pretty useful. We also spoke with early intervention therapists who, while we never actually ended up needing their services by the time his application was approved, still provided us with many tips on how to encourage speech. I pushed the worry aside and focused instead on encouraging my toddler in a positive way.

And one day, he did it. While eating bananas, he said, “Nana.” Leave it to my food-loving toddler to assign the beloved first word to a favorite fruit. The flow of new words suddenly erased all those months of worry. I wrote down his new words until the list grew too long and I stopped keeping count.

I remember that time and realize how needlessly I subjected myself to worry. This isn’t to say that I shouldn’t have been concerned, but pure concern simply means you do ABC to achieve XYZ. There are no cluttered thoughts poisoning the mind with what ifs that haven’t even happened. I learned to worry less—a lot less. Every subsequent issue that might have ensued similar worries have been dealt with more calmly and rationally since then.

After all, worry has never done me any good especially when all my toddler needed was some time and a little bit of help. So yes, I should have asked, “Can you say ‘ball’?” but with a smile, a pair of gentle eyes and a much more patient, encouraging and worry-free attitude.

How do you handle worries, especially with developmental milestones? Have your kids struggled with any kinds of delay?

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