Thursday, September 22, 2011

Vaccination Summary

Because I still frequently receive emails or Facebook messages regarding vaccinations, I thought I'd post a summary (full of links) on how I go about sifting through all the vaccine information and mis-information out there:

First off, I am SO, so glad you're thinking through all of this-- so many folks don't even, well, THINK of that! :):)  Considering how much time most of us put into researching the homes we buy, the cars we drive, and the places we vacation, it makes sense that we should research something that could affect our children for their entire lives!

I've done a series of blog posts that might be a good starting point for you:
1. Overview-
2. 10 Questions to Ask-
3. Resources both Pro & Con-

Here is our own family's schedule (which I am often re-thinking & editing): 

There are more of my own posts about vaccines if you want to read them:

We are super selective & slow about vaccines, aiming to build a good foundation with breast-feeding, lots of whole foods (including plenty of fermented/cultured foods/drinks & healthy fats like fish oil and organic butter), and an exposure to plenty of environmental factors like animals, dirt & grass. We employ regular hand-washing & use natural hand-sanitizer when out & about to minimize coughs & colds, but I'm not a germophobe by any definition.  I'm also prepared to use as many natural resources to fight disease naturally if my children do contract potentially serious diseases (but usually temporary and straightforward in healthy kids) like chicken pox, polio, or measles-- like supplementing with vitamins, employing essential oils, boosting their immune system with herbs, and using drug-free pain management techniques like warm compresses, etc. I know it won't be fun if & when my daughter gets the mumps, but I know it's a part of parenting the Lord will give me the strength to persevere through!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Once Upon a Potty (and Last Cloth Diaper Review)

Trying out our new potty! (During our marathon at 18 mos)
We've been holding Eowyn over the toilet, naming "poop" and "pee," and making "ssss" and grunting sounds for their respective actions for months now-- since she was very small.  For quite a while she would do either in the potty when prompted-- probably from around 8 months or so on until 13 or so months.  At that point she burped/spit up while trying to poop and this scared her, and she regressed a lot.  We've done cloth diapers since she was about 6 weeks old, meaning she's felt it when she wet or pooped, and she's never liked to be dirty-- it always wakes her up from her nap.

Talking with the wealth of other moms I know it seemed like those who started potty training earlier (15-18 months) might have had to work a little longer with their children, but didn't face the battle of wills or fears & tears that my friends who waited until their children were 2 & up had to contend with.  My overall impression is that if you don't train before age 2, you end up almost having to wait until age 3, when it's something the child wants.  Why? Well, for one, they call it the "terrible twos" for a reason-- kids are asserting their wills all over the place!  But also, because kids are absolutely wired to learn at this stage, and are aware of just about everything (which is why they can get us into trouble repeating what we said one time when we thought they weren't listening); so if this self-aware little one gets in the habit of feeling the need to poop/pee, doing it in their diaper, and then being changed later, they learn that that is what you are supposed to do, and most find it a great system all around!  In their minds-- why change it?

So, around 15 months I started trying to fully ditch the diapers.  We got a few little training panties from a friend, picked up a child-sized toilet seat for our toilet, ordered pull-on nylon diaper covers (Dappi 2 pack for $5 or Bummis single for $5-- both work great, and I use them as covers over fitted diapers too), and gave taking her every 15 minutes a go.  She wasn't very interested, and I didn't really give it long enough, looking back.  I backed after a day or so of trying, though I did keep putting her on the potty and rewarding any successes.

Eowyn at 17 mos
Three months later, I read up on potty training in a marathon three-day event (read about it here and here-- I love how they emphasize the treating it as a normal event, just something we all do), and committed to going through with it.  I stocked up on raisins (our potty-training treat), as well as juice which is a treat in our house.  We stayed upstairs as much as possible where the floors are hardwood and it stays warmer so she could run around pretty much naked (except for a shirt).  I set a timer to take her every 15 minutes, and if she was clean & dry when it went off, she got a raisin.  When she sat on the potty, she got a raisin.  When she peed, a raisin.  Poop earned her 2 raisins.  She kind of seemed to get it, but was resisting going when I put her on the potty, often waiting until after she got off to go... all over the floor.  I'd say "oh, no! a mess!  this is not where pee-pee goes!" have her help me clean it up, and we'd talk about where put pee, and on we'd go.  I tried very hard not to get visibly frustrated with her or angry, and give lots of hugs and kisses-- but I know I did get frustrated more than once, especially if we had just spent 10 minutes on the potty with no show.  (I don't know if I buy the whole "making sure you tell them it's ok to have accidents" at this stage.  It's NOT ok for them to have accidents, isn't that the point?  I understand with an older child or one who is in the habit of using the potty-- ask the parents of the kids in my preK classes, I have never, ever embarrassed a child --and of course I don't want to make potty-training traumatic, but I do want my child to understand that peeing all over the floor is not acceptable.  I know, I'm very politically incorrect here, and feel free to pitch in your 2 cents.... =D)  However, by the end of the day she was still having mostly accidents, and I was so discouraged.  Ryan came over and was like "come on, woman!  It's been ONE day, and she's not even two!!! Don't you think you can cut yourselves a little slack?"  True, very true, my man.

I had an idea of getting a little potty that Eowyn could get onto & off of herself, so I found one on Craigslist for $4.  We drove to get it the next morning, found a use for it in the parking lot before we even left, and Eowyn was so excited that she didn't want to get off!  This little froggy potty marked the turning point for us.  I backed off taking her by the timer, and instead let her get on and off whenever she wanted to, rewarding her each time.  Clad only in a t-shirt, this little monkey seemed to relish getting onto her very own potty, sitting a while, and getting up... over and over and over.  I started to wonder if she'd EVER get off the thing!  :)  By day 3 she was very nearly a pro, enough that we went over to a friend's for a play date.  While there I did set a timer to take her, and she kept on not going...after half an hour I was sure she was about to burst, when my friend pulled out a little potty seat.  We put that on the potty, and Eowyn unloaded.  This actually really encouraged me, because it proved that she absolutely could hold it when she wanted to. 

Early on, we practiced using the big potty without a child seat, so that she could use them anywhere (incidentally, I've found it's best to kind of put them on side-ways).  Call me European or hippy, but we also are quite adept at making use of bushes and trees for emergencies.  When they are this young, you often don't get much time between "Pee-pee, Mama" and "it's running down the stroller."  More than once I've pulled over at the nearest grassy spot!  This has actually helped a lot, and we have had several folks ask us how we trained her to do this, because their children absolutely can not go anywhere except a flush toilet, even if they are camping.  Just throwing that out there. :)

She's serious about this.
Now, Eowyn's second birthday is just around the corner, and accidents are very, very rare.  Rewards were first dropped for sitting on the potty, then staying clean & dry, but we kept rewarding for poop/pee for several months to avoid regression/deal with setbacks.  She tells me when she needs to go and I take her.  If I'm feeling particularly lazy, I'll strip her from the waist down again and set her little potty out so she can take herself, calling me to come wipe as needed.  For church or babysitting I use the thicker training pants along with a pull-on cover "just in case."  I like this because it still feels like underwear and not like a diaper.  Over naps & night-time she is in diapers, though she often wakes up dry, and/or wakes herself up in the night asking to be taken to the potty.  I'm trying to decide how & when to transition or incorporate the following:  a big-girl bed, waking her up when I go to bed to go potty, nap-time undies, and night-time undies.  I will say I'm in no particular hurry for any of these.  We have a wet or soiled diaper about once every 2 days, so it's not adding much to my laundry, that's for sure!

Quick note on which diapers we still use the most:  our Ecobaby Organic Fitted diapers are workhorses, because they have elastic in the back enabling them to be pulled on & off like a training pant, with the thickness of a diaper.  I usually put this on without the snap-in doubler, covered with a Dappi nylon pant or a wool bum sweater overnight.  I am SO glad I scored a half-dozen of those off Craigslist for $6.50 a piece!!  I also still ocasionally use infant size prefolds (yes, back to infant sized now that she doesn't need as much absorbancy) trifolded into a snap-closed one-size cover like Kawaii baby or Rumparooz, or our Kawaii snap-closed one-size pocket diapers.

My advice to parents wanting to potty train?  Start young, stick it out for a full 3 days, go nearly-naked (your child, not you =D) and buy a little potty.  Also, JUST SAY NO to pull-ups!!  They are a marketing ploy!!  If your child has to stay in diapers over night, invest in cloth "pull-ups" or pocket diapers, or just keep buying the disposables they were wearing before. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Quick-quicks, slows & stops... i.e. An Intro to Rhythm

Beat & Rhythm are NOT the same.  This video helps show the difference using spoken poetry:  the beat is the jumps, the words are the rhythm.  (You could try this same activity at home, though for little kids, just have fun keeping the beat & varying the volume.  For older kids, try to figure out some (or all) of the rhythms-- they aren't straight-forward!)

So far I've listed several games for reinforcing the idea of steady beat, but haven't touched rhythm yet.  Beat & pitch are the two main objectives you should always be reinforcing with your little ones, right down to gently patting the steady beat of hymns in church or stomping to the beat of a radio tune (then ask whether it was 'fast'-allegro or 'slow'-adagio or medium- andante. See a full list of musical terms for speed- tempo- here).  However even young kids can enjoy exploring basic rhythms.  Use this process to teach quarter notes, eighth notes & quarter rests.  Go at the pace of your children-- introduce the idea, enjoy it, and leave it.  You could spend a week or a day or 10 minutes or a month on each step:

1. introduce the idea of stops (hands held out, palms up, in an "I don't know" kind of position), slows (a clap- keep your hands clapped together for a few seconds) and quick-quicks (claps twice as fast as 'slows')
2. have your children echo 3-beat patterns, such as "stop, slow, stop" or "slow, quick-quick, quick-quick"
3. label your 3-beat pattern a "rhythm."  Use the terms rhythm & pattern together often in describing what you are doing.
4. allow your children to take turns clapping a 3-beat rhythm with you echoing them.  You can have them speak a rhythm without clapping first, then show them how to clap it and have them clap it with you if they have trouble speaking & clapping simultaneously.
5. explain to children that slows, stops & quick-quicks can be written down, either with
- green rectangles, yellow squares & red squares
- joined eighth notes, quarter notes & quarter rests
- combo of two
6. Set out a 3-beat pattern (literally lay out the rectangles/quarter notes), perform & have them echo.  Let them compose, perform & echo. 
7. Introduce the idea of a measure by making a measure sheet that has 3 (or 4) empty boxes into which the quick-quick, slows & stops can fit, with a modified time signature (top number- # of empty boxes, bottom either a drawn quarter note or a yellow box) and measure bar.
8. Repeat process with 4 beat patterns.
9. Down the road, create sheets with 2 measures (each containing either 3 or 4 boxes & modified time signature as above) introducing the idea of an end bar.

**Can experiment with adding in words or pitches (could add in 'sol' 'la' and 'mi') for older children.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Keep a Steady Beat

video of 'That's a Mighty Pretty Motion'

Instrument bag "Orchestra Game"- keep a beat to music

Matching the Conductor's Beat-- tapping legs along with the teacher, as she speeds up & slows down (saying the tempo name for older kids & slow/fast for younger ones)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Beauty of Solfege

How do keys and solfege relate?  Do is whichever note is the tonic of that key; in C major, C=do, D= re, E= mi, G= so, etc.  In A major, A=do, B=re, C#=mi, etc.  So if you have access to a piano or xylophone or any instrument, pick a key and get your do from that.  I often use C major just because it's easy (no sharps or flats), but try to move it around so your kids are learning the distance between pitches themselves, not just learning them in one key (if you want to do that, may as well learn the note names "A" "B" "C#" etc.).

Here are several children's songs that can be sung using the following pitches:

- so, mi- "Tell me Your Name," "Tick Tock/Cuckoo"
- so, mi, la- first part of "Rain Rain Go Away," "One Two, Tie My Sho"
- so, mi, la, do- first part of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore"
- so, mi, la, do, re- "Keep Inchin Along (score here:, "Baa Baa Black Sheep," "Let Us Chase the Squirrel" (game, more ideas), "Who's That Knocking At My Window?"
- so, mi, la, do, re, low so- "That's a Mighty Pretty Motion" (Dee Di Dee)
- so, mi, la, do, re, low so, fa- "Twinkle Twinkle,"  "Michael Row The Boat Ashore," "Allouette"
- so, mi, la, do, re, low so, fa, high do-  "Row Row Row your Boat"
- so, mi, la, do, re, low so, fa, high do, ti-  "Old MacDonald"

So, why would we ever want to start with solfege? Because you are well on the way to an extremely usable musicality once you have an internal memory of how "far away" two pitches are from one another, and how they relate within a scale.  Once you start practicing pitches in harmony (your sister sings do while you sing mi, or you sing so while Mom plays a do on the piano) you begin to internalize that do-mi-so make up a beautiful triad, that do-fa makes you think of an 'Amen,' and that hearing ti makes you very badly want to go up to do, especially when you hear ti & re together.  Add to that an ability to see the pitches and their "distances" from one another on paper, and you'll be a huge help to any choir or instrumental group you ever join!!  You'll also be able to sing a tune on sight once you know its solfege syllables, and transposing (as is often done in guitar) will be a snap.  I love the way the choral director of the Shenandoah Valley Children's Choir put it here.
A scale is like a musical ladder with uneven rungs, not even ones! Scales are made up of whole steps and half steps. (e.g. the intervals, mi to fa and ti to do are half steps. The other steps in the scale are whole steps.) The Curwen/Kodály handsigns are designed to emphasize where the whole and half steps fall. When singers learn solfege and handsigns, their ears learn where the whole steps and half steps are in the music, and it helps them to sing much better in tune!
In several settings I was required to first learn all songs in solfege; this makes learning the pitches & rhythms easier (the "notes") without the added burden of learning the correct words (especially when the words were in another language!).  My directors would at times make us bring out all sorts of emotion with nothing but solfege syllables, just to teach us how to convey emotion through our tones and facial expressions, not relying on the words.  I would strongly encourage you parents to take some of your children's favorite songs and learn them in solfege (you can use this website here-a cool resource that puts many familiar songs into solfege).  In teaching new songs, you may want to learn/teach the solfege first, then the words.  Start this young enough with your kids, and they just absorb the pitches and assume that's just how everyone learns new songs.  I love that Eowyn already tries to do the pitches & hand signs (she isn't 2 yet).

Here's a song that reinforces all the solfege hand signs-- you might need it for yourself more than for your children, since they will likely internalize them as they learn them!

The hand signs are great used in an echo game with little ones (you sing 3 or 4 pitches with accompanying gestures, and the children echo them-- you can specify whether you want them to use the gestures or just sing).  In every musical situation (choir, class, playing with your toddler), beginning with the "so-so-so, so-la-so, so-mi-mi, mi-re-do" sequence centers & anchors pitch memory, "wakes up" the voice, and warming up with songs purely of solfege syllables is often really good for establishing internal pitch.  Here's the familiar one from The Sound of Music:

(the solfege part starts around 2:15)

More videos: a really interesting solfege piece in the minor 'aolian' mode at the beginning of this video, an example of what a 5th grade choir can do, one music teacher's composition here (called 'New Year Carol'), and my favorite, the Tallis Cannon.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Why So Many Echoes?

As you've no doubt gathered from my vlogs & suggestions, I view "The Echo game" as a great way to introduce many musical concepts.  This game is very simple:  seat the children around you, and instruct them to watch & listen first (very important!), then do what you did.  So many concepts can be introduced this way:  3-pitch patterns, phrases of songs (solfege syllables or words), clapped/tapped rhythms, beats of varying tempo (slow, quick, etc.)...

You could incorporate music into your morning circle time or afternoon post-nap activity.   Start with familiar games & songs (like "Such a Makin' a Circle" or "Tell Me Your Name"), do some pitch echoing with familiar pitches, then add in a new one.  Practice 3-pitch patterns with the new pitch(es).  Reinforce it with a new song.  Then you can move to echoing rhythmic patterns, or to another musical activity.  Close with singing the new song or clapping a new phrase together, you with the children, proving to them that they can remember and use the new skills relying on their own memory.

Why, though?  If you think back to how children learn naturally, you'll understand why; they are natural sponges, learning by copying-- by echoing, by imitating.  Far too often we make the mistake of starting off musical education with labels and symbols-- but who learned to talk by reading?  No, kids learn best by hearing & watching, then copying, practicing, and later on, down the road, being told what they are doing (being given a label), then being shown the symbol, and finally using the symbol themselves.  Think of learning to speak:  for months a baby watches & listens as his parents make all sorts of noises.  He soon tries to copy the sounds, without knowing their meanings. Next he learns what words go with what (labeling).  A few years later, he learns that words can be written down using letters.  Yet another year or so later, he learns to make the symbols himself and is on his way to writing.  Watching/hearing, imitating, labeling, symbolizing, replicating.  Imitating this process with musical learning is the most natural, meaning the least frustrating for everyone involved!!  "The Echo Game" allows children to focus on imitation first, then they are given a label & a context, all in a safe setting.

A Crash Course on Teaching Pitch

This little movie aims to be a crash course on the background of the "syllabic relative pitch system (solfege)" developed by Zoltán Kodály & the hand signs (developed by John Curwen) used to represent them, as well as a game used to build pitch-matching skills. While the game would probably only interest younger children, the hand signs are extremely helpful for every age, both for their visual/kinetic aspects and their usability in choral settings. A follow-up video will outline the introduction of all 7 pitches.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Such a Makin' a Circle

At the request of a newly-homeschooling mom, I'm uploading (finally!) some videos of musical games & tips.  These would be appropriate for preschool-1st grade (some even 2nd).  I have been so pleased (and a bit surprised!) to see Eowyn (not yet 2) already mimicking and trying many of these on her own!  I taught a small class for some friends over the summer, and Eowyn was in my lap or on my hip for most of them, and she definitely absorbed a lot of it!

Sorry for the Dr. Jekell-Mr. Hyde look on this one, with half my face in shadow.  It's the end of a long day.

More to come... I wouldn't want to leave out solfege, "stop-slow-quick-quick" or "That's a Mighty Pretty Motion," now would I?

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Wool Dryer Balls?

Tell me if these do not look cool! 

Anyone have any experience with them?  I'd love to buy 2-3, but would love some input first.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Montessori Toddler Treasure Bag

A few months ago, a blog I like to read (Frugal Granola) linked up to a site detailing how to put together a "Treasure Basket" for your baby/toddler.  Around the same time, I retrieved a box full of childhood memorabilia from my parents' attic.  What in the world was I going to do with little momentoes from around the world-- stuff I'd bought on family trips or received from a voyaging family member?  Much of it was way too cool to throw away:  the leather dragon I'd bought at a European castle, bright cloth bags from Guatemala, a leather coin purse from Canada, a metal horse from my horse collection, little Easter eggs on strings, a geode, a wooden kaleidescope...  After reading the article on a Toddler Treasure Basket, the two came together.  I think Montessori as an education philosophy has serious flaws, but I do love their emphasis on discovery and "sensorial exploration."  So I culled through my knickknacks and selected those made of natural materials (wood, leather, stone, metal, cloth, ceramic, yarn) and/or with interesting textures and/or designs.  I tried to include lots of container-type toys-- boxes, bags-- so she could practice putting things in and out.  You can see many of the objects above.  I put them in a giant zip-up bag from 31, and voila!  Cheapest toy I've ever made. 

I put this together some time in March, and it is now September that's 7 months of play it's given (and still is giving) us.  I add to the bag from time to time, and don't leave it out as a constantly-available toy, which I'm sure has extended its appeal.  So far the bag has proved invaluable on car trips, in restaurants, and anytime we have to wait in one place for an extended period of time.  At first I usually gave her only one object at a time (especially in a restaurant), but now that she is older I often give her the whole bag and she loves taking objects out and making them interact together.  She often comments on whether the toys are cold or hot, soft or rough, etc., and she LOVES making the horses "gallop."  Definitely my daughter.

So go on-- those random things you didn't know what to do with?  They just might be a great part of your child's Treasure Bag. :)