A Free Kids’ Activity: Little to No Effort for Me and Loads of Fun for Them

We had a family brunch at an Italian restaurant this weekend, and two people in our group ordered Linguine al Pescatore, a rustic seafood stew with calamari, shrimp, prawns, clams, mussels, and of course, linguine.  A random sound grabbed the attention of my daughters – the clanking of the mussel and clam shells against the bowl as they were quickly being consumed and discarded.

A barrage of questions ensued . . . what are those? are they alive? can I take them home? – Take them home?  Having just had a parent – teacher conference the day before, I immediately thought, “what would their teachers do?”  They [the amazingly patient and attentive preschool teachers] would somehow turn this into a lesson.  Now, I wasn’t ready to plan and execute a lesson on molluscs and crustaceans, but I agreed to get a doggy bag for the empty shells and toted them home.

That afternoon, I filled a bucket with water and dish soap, gave them some sponges, towels, and old toothbrushes, and let the girls have at it.  They had the time of their lives washing these shells!  I kid you not, they were scrubbing away at those shells for almost an hour, chatting and laughing the whole time.

Isn’t it amazing how simple children can be?  They find happiness and joy in the most mundane things.  As parents, some days feel eternal and no toy in the house captures the kids’ interest for more than 5 minutes.  Take a moment to look around you, because you may be able to make magic happen with the most random things.

Here are two simple ideas inspired by this shell-washing activity:

1.  Put some rocks in a bowl or on a cookie sheet, let the kids paint the rocks, and give them spray bottles to wash and repeat.

2.  Prewash some berries, give your child a small bowl of water and a colander to wash, strain, and enjoy!

If you have any more ideas, please share!

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Fun Friday Giveaway

In celebration of the launch of this blog, we are giving away 1 Lollacup and 1 Straw Replacement Pack.  This is the perfect opportunity for you to give Lollacup a try, add to your collection, or gift it to someone special.  To enter, simply “Leave a Reply” at the end of this post with your favorite color.  The winner will be chosen (at random) and announced on Monday, March 26, 2012.

Infant/Toddler Straw Sippy Cup Made in USA BPA Free

Preschool Tours in a Nutshell

For the past few months, my husband and I have been visiting various preschools, trying to decide on the “right” school for our daughters.  To preface this discussion, our girls have been attending a childcare facility since they were 18-months-old, because we both work full-time.  We had a nanny for the first 18 months, but once the girls began to walk and needed more socialization, we decided to put them in daycare/school/early childhood education center/preschool – what have you.  Whether you’re on the hunt for a pre-kindergarten like we are now, or just beginning to think about preschool, here is my synopsis of the varying philosophies of early childhood education, as I saw them on the tours I went on.

Academic – The classrooms in academic preschools were orderly, spotless, and displayed all the things you would expect (A is for apple posters, calendars displaying the date & weather, and nametags neatly taped to desks).  This type of preschool would fit into the most traditional philosophy of teaching and learning.  The classrooms & days were structured, “teacher-directed,” and focused on formally preparing for kindergarten (learning letter names & sounds, how to count, etc.).  Play happened during recess times and classroom etiquette was en pointe: raising hands, following instructions, and sitting at desks.  The academic preschools reminded me of my own experiences with schooling.

Montessori – Montessori classrooms were also very orderly and clean, but the artwork on the walls had more variation than the ones in the more Academic classrooms.  Children were quietly working at desks, some on math, others on reading.  A few things that stood out as different/unique were the mixed age groups coexisting in one classroom, children choosing what they wanted to work on, and the concentration level of the children.

We toured a few Montessori schools and the most confusing part was that anyone can use the name “Montessori.”  Therefore, XYZ Montessori, does not necessarily mean that they teach using the Montessori method.  There is, however, a website (http://www.montessori.edu/) dedicated to providing detailed information on how to recognize real “Montessori.”

Play-based – In the play-based preschools, children were playing indoors and outdoors, with, what appeared to be, very little structure.   The artwork displayed on the walls was varied and unique, and I did not see any traditional posters (alphabet, numbers, and calendars).   Maybe two children were sitting at a desk at any given time, and teachers really took a back-seat, for lack of a better description.  Play-based schools believe that children learn best through play, so children choose their own activities based on what interests them at the time.  Teachers serve as facilitators whose role is to challenge children to expand upon their particular interests.

Waldorf – Children were working in small groups around the classroom and outdoors, and seemed to playing or engaged in other hands-on activities.  Like the play-based school, the Waldorf school had unique artwork on the walls.  Waldorf programs emphasize a “child-centered” philosophy, based on the idea of educating the whole child—body, mind, and spirit.  They do not focus on academics, in the traditional sense, but instead offer a heavy dose of hands-on activities, imaginary play, and teamwork in a warm, nurturing environment that feels more like a home than a school.  You can learn more about Waldorf preschools at www.whywaldorfworks.org.

I hope you found this superficial description of a few early childhood education philosophies helpful.  If anything, it will give you a few new terms you can use in your Google searches.

The best advice I got on choosing a preschool was to go with your gut and do what makes sense for you (your child may be on the active side or more reserved, you may need longer hours, your child may not be potty trained, etc.).  As time-consuming and confusing as this journey was and still is, it has been the perfect opportunity for my husband and me to openly talk about what we want for our children in schooling and in life.

I will end with a piece of unsolicited advice.  Although parenthood is taxing, and we often feel like we cannot add one more thing to our days, start thinking about schooling early. Unlike elementary schools, preschools are not free and often have ridiculously long waiting lists.  You will have many more options if you start the process early.

Insight into the Straw vs. Sippy Cup Debate

Many parents ask us why Lollacup was designed as a straw cup rather than a traditional sippy cup.  Well, when it was time for my daughter to start drinking from something other than a baby bottle, I had no idea I would be faced with such a myriad of choices. Being a confused, first-time parent, I turned to my pediatrician who recommended I try straws, if at all possible.

If you conduct a basic internet search about transitioning your child from the breast/bottle to a sippy cup or a straw, you’ll find a slew of articles written by bloggers and the like about the advantages of straw use in infants and toddlers.  I delved a little deeper and talked with a few speech pathologists, pediatricians, dentists, and parents about the real reasons some people recommend straws over sippy cups.

Here is my take on the issue and the reasons I prefer straws over sippy cups:

– Speech advantages:  “At the therapeutic level, straws have the promise of addressing a multiple array of disorders and muscle groups far beyond traditional practice.”  taken from “Advance,” a publication for speech-language pathologists and audiologists.  If straws are frequently used in speech therapy, they must contribute to the development of important muscles that enhance or at least support speech.  You can find more interesting articles (from WebMD, Livestrong.com, etc.) on the straw vs. sippy cup debate on the FAQ page of the Lollacup website.

– Convenience: Weaning a child from anything (breastfeeding, bottles, pacifiers, thumbs, etc.) can be a nightmare, and I just didn’t see the need to wean my daughter from a bottle to a sippy cup and then later to a straw/regular cup.  I found that getting my daughters accustomed to drinking from straws or regular cups at meals and snack times meant one less thing (bottle/sippy cup) to pack when going out, since most restaurants provide small plastic cups with a lid and a straw.

As parents, we are always trying to do what’s best for our children, and everything we do on their behalf involves careful thought and consideration.  I believe that decisions like using a straw vs. a sippy cup are largely a matter of preference and may not have any long-term affects on children.

However, my husband and I weighed the options, chose to use straws with my daughters, and just couldn’t find the right cups for them, so we created the Lollacup.