Jessica's Picks

Sat, 03/05/2011 - 1:14pm

A few weeks ago at the library I picked up a CD for the Divas called "Red's In the Hood" by children's artists Judy and David. The cd is an updated, musical version of Little Red Ridding Hood.

The synopsis from the website describes the story as follows: Little Red is sent with a basket of cookies for Granny, a motorcycle-riding go-go-dancing hip-hopping senior, when she veers off the path and is chased by B.B.Wolf, a cookie-loving rap star. The wolf's vanity is his ultimate undoing when he unwittingly finds himself in the middle of a cool dance party, clad only in Granny's pink pajamas! 

My girls love this CD, especially Bria who has always enjoyed audio books. Luckily I discovered there are 3 other albums in the "Once Upon a Tune" series including PigMania (3 Little Pigs), GoldiRocks (Goldilocks and the 3 Bears), and BeanStock (Jack and the Beanstock), all of which are available for download on iTunes.  Red's in the Hood includes 13 songs ranging from kid friendly pop, hip hop, rap, ballads, and disco. There are short intervals of dialogue throughout but the majority of the story is done through song and music.  For 50 minutes my girls will sing along with their favorite lyrics ("Go go Granny, Go go Granny, Go Go!" or "A-oo, I like to howl (a-ooo!)A-oo, I like to bark at the moon (ruf-ruf-ruf)"), move and groove to the dance tunes, or just lay on a blanket and listen. I think any parent of two young children can appreciate 50 minutes of relative peace. 

As an educator I believe that the best way to develop early literacy skills is by giving children many different ways to experience literacy. Audio books provide a great option for children to listen and re-listen to their favorite stories many times over, even when a teacher or caregiver is unavailable. They are especially useful for learners who prefer an aural/oral learning mode and support reading comprehension skills. Audio books are also useful for children who are learning English as a second language, giving them another opportunity to hear the language and develop verbal skills. 

As a musical theatre buff I love that Judy and David have created a starting point to expose my girls to this wonderful genre! I can still remember as a child singing along and acting out all the parts of Cats, Les Miserables, and Joseph and the Techni-Colored Dreamcoat. I'd let my imagination take me away to another place, another time, as other people. I'd make costumes and sets, and sometimes look for family members or friends to be parts in the show or the audience. Those experiences not only fostered my creative spirit and love of performance but gave me an appreciation for the art of storytelling. While many of my friends sat in front of movie or TV screens passively watching I was actively engaged in the process of bringing the story to life. I'm thrilled my girls are enjoying this same process and choosing to turn off Saturday morning cartoons to listen to audio books or musicals.  Without the guidance of images from an illustrator or director, audio books give children the chance to use their imaginations, creating the story, characters, and settings in their mind's eye. This process not only develops children's creativity but engages more of the brain, promoting more complex thinking and learning.  

As I typed this entry over my morning, the girls have listened to Red's in the Hood almost three times (as I remember the mantra: repetition, repetition, repetition is good!). They built a fort (Granny's house), created a path in the forest, made "cookies", and had their stuffed animals be their audience. For 2.5 hours they let their imaginations run free, played together, and just enjoyed a simple morning at home. And this mama got to catch up on her blogging and enjoy a chai latte without hearing once "I'm bored". Thanks Judy and David!

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Mon, 02/28/2011 - 11:24am

My pick this week is inspired by the birth of my niece, Claire. Here are some pictures of her perfection:

My sister, Tannis, is a veteran mommy with 3 older children, making Claire Bear her forth child. While Tannis makes 4 look easy, even with Claire only being 4 days old when we visited yesterday, I know having so many little ones requires a lot of juggling, literally. With a newborn, 2 year old, 4 year old, and 6 year old it could become very difficult to have enough free hands to give everyone what they need. Thank goodness we are a family who loves wearing our babies. Yesterday many family members (including my 8 year old nephew), took their turn at wearing Claire in a wrap style carrier.

Babywearing is an art that has been practiced globally for centuries, but has just recently had a resurgence in popularity in North American parenting circles. I first discovered babywearing when Bria was a few weeks old. I was struggling with postpartum depression and a colicky, premie baby who wanted to be held 24/7. My other sister Tara, who is a duola, recommended I try wearing Bria is a wrap carrier. It took a few days to get the technique right but once we'd mastered it I was amazed at the difference in made in my day to day parenting!

Skin to skin contact is a critical part of any baby's development. Babies are comforted by a mother's (or father's) touch, responding to her breathing, and recognizing the rhythm of her heart beat. Continued skin to skin touch throughout the early years is vital to healthy social and emotional development. For premie babies this skin to skin contact is even more important as it helps to regulate breathing and body temperature. 

Wikipedia also has a fabulous entry on Benefits of Babywearing. Check out the entire article but here are some of the most commonly noted benefits:

Benefits of babywearing include:

  • Mothers' oxytocin is increased through physical contact with the infant, leading to a more intimate maternal bond, easier breastfeeding and better care, thus lowering the incidence ofpostpartum depression and psychosomatic illness in the mother.[2]
  • Infants who are carried are calmer because all of their primal/survival needs are met. The caregiver can be seen, heard, smelled, touched, tasted, provide feeding and the motion necessary for continuing neural developmentgastrointestinal and respiratory health and to establish balance (inner ear development) and muscle tone is constant.[3]
  • Infants are more organized. Parental rhythms (walking, heartbeat, etc.) have balancing and soothing effects on infants.
  • Infants are "humanized" earlier by developing socially. Babies are closer to people and can study facial expressions, learn languages faster and be familiar with body language.[4]
  • Independence is established earlier.[3]
  • Attachment between child and caregiver is more secure.[5]
  • Decreases risk of positional plagiocephaly ("flat head syndrome") caused by extended time spent in a car seat and by sleeping on the back. Sleeping on the back is recommended to decrease the risk of SIDS. Cranial distortion resulting from non-vehicular time in car seats has shown to be more severe than in children who develop plagiocephaly from back-lying on a mattress.[6] Concern over plagiocephaly has also led the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that infants “should spend minimal time in car seats (when not a passenger in a vehicle) or other seating that maintains supine positioning." [7] None of the babywearing positions require infants to lie supine while being carried. Infants can even be worn while they sleep, also decreasing sleeping time spent in a supine position.

One of the most commonly advertised benefits of babywearing is the practicality it provides parents. Strollers are big and bulky and can be difficult to maneuver through stores or while traveling. And my experience with both my girls as babies was that they had no interest to be in the stroller, so it because a double challenge to hold them while trying to steer the stroller with one hand. Carriers allow for baby to travel safely with you even in the most crowded situations, leaving you hands free to carry groceries, hold the hands of older siblings, or just cuddle. During cold and flu season it also keeps baby much closer to you and away from well meaning strangers' germs.  

When Malia was born Chris and I discovered that babywearing was a lifesaver while trying to meet Bria's 2 year old needs, while including Malia into our family's routine. When we ate, Mimi ate with us (often nursing in the wrap), when we played and read with Bria, Mimi watched and learned, when we went to dance class, Mimi bounced along with us (often falling asleep), when we cooked, cleaned, shopped, she was always there engaging with her family, a part of everything! It strengthened not only our individual relationships but our family. We moved together, as one. Chris wore Malia as often as I did and even had his own "man wrap". The bond between him and Mimi is so strong and I feel so much of that is due to the daily skin-to-skin time. 

My dear friend Kirsty wrote this beautiful blog post about how babywearing is so much more then just a way to be "hands free", it is a parenting tool, an art form, and a way of life. I do recommend that you approach babywearing as a learned skill. It can definitely take some practice to master wraps and mai teis, and even soft structured carriers like ERGOs require time to find the proper adjustment for your body and your baby. Think of your baby carrier the same way you think of your car seat, as your baby grows bigger and heavier your carrier needs will change as well. Finding resources and/or groups that support babywearing practices can be very helpful as a beginner. 

Some of my favorite babywearing sites for supports and carriers include:

Cosy Baby Happy Mommy: These are my favorite stretchy wraps made with 100% organic cotton and beautiful seasonal prints. Check out there blog for more information on babywearing while pregnant, breastfeeding, during the winter and many other topics. They also have a great youtube channel with step by step instructional videos to help you master the art of babywearing. 

Natural Urban Mama: A great selection of organic, fair trade, earth conscious baby carriers. The owner, Natasha, is also a certified babywearing educator providing workshops in the greater Edmonton area. 

Birth Source: This fabulous boutique and online store is owned by a certified duola., offering a great selection of babycarriers and babywearing essentials. If you are in the Edmonton area check out their fabulous store and community room which offers many different workshops and classes for parents. 

For me babywearing is an essential part of my parenting practice. It was the inspiration behind starting my business and giving me the option of dancing with my girls from the first few weeks of life onwards. It helped ease the pain of postpartum depression and allowed me to bond and just be present with my girls. It is one of my favorite memories of those first few years. 

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Mon, 02/21/2011 - 7:38pm

My week was full of art, dance, eager young children, creativity and expression! So if you know me well you understand that this was a perfect week for me. I was filled with so much satisfaction and joy, my short comings as a writer will likely not be able to capture the fullness of my heart. But I put those limiting thoughts aside and try my best to share the journey of each adventure.

I received a lot of praise this week for the ideas and activities I shared with the preschoolers that visited my studio. I even had one parent tell me she wished she was able to bring this creativity into her home but she was not "artistic". This made me sad. While many of the ideas you will find on my blog or in my classes are concepts I have created, there are also many activities, ideas, and projects I have learned and adopted from other teachers, artists, and parents. For me the arts have always been about learning and sharing. This is how we create culture, passing along ideas from one teacher to another. 

So in honor of sharing, my pick of the week honours a fabulous blog I discovered last summer, The Artful Parent. The brainchild of Jean Van't Hul, mother of two daughters and a toddler art instructor, The Artful Parent has enough ideas and projects related to art and creativity to keep you busy for a year! Jean has so many projects that are perfect for the 1-5 age group, using simple materials and techniques.  I love that most of her projects are focused on the process and that she truly encourages her children and students to explore and take the projects in completely different directions then she may have originally intended. I have tried many of her projects with my girls and we always enjoy them greatly! Jean has lots of ideas for variations for popular art activities keeping them fresh. I am always excited to see what she will do next!

But more so I appreciate Jean's dedication to raising her daughters in an environment that encourages imagination, creativity, inquiry, and expression. She truly understands the creative process and through her blog posts and pictures she does an excellent job of demonstrating the joyfulness that parenting from this approach brings. When we focus on the process rather then the product we are allowing our children to expand their minds, look at the world from new perspectives, and open the door to endless possibility! Jean is definitely one blogger I would love to meet in the "real world", I believe we share many of the same beliefs and goals in parenting and I think she could teach me a lot! Check out her blog! I promise you wont be disappointed and you'll likely be inspired to try many of her projects yourself!

So just as I have not let my own struggles with writing stop me from taking the plunge and doing a blog, don't let your own thoughts about your artistic ability stop you from jumping in and just doing it! You will likely surprise yourself with how creative you are!

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Sun, 02/13/2011 - 10:20pm

My pick of the week is a book I just can't get enough of: Amazing Babies Moving: Essential Movement to Enhance Your Baby’s Development in the First Year by Beverly Stokes. 

"With this best-selling parenting book as your Baby Guide you can enhance your baby’s natural movement development in this amazing first year.  Join the many expectant, new and experienced parents around the world to discover the benefits of this innovative approach for a body-confident, expressive, motivated baby!  Discover more about your baby’s expressive body language and boost your baby’s cognitive abilities by encouraging self-motivated play."

I first discovered Beverly Stokes work while attending the Brain Compatible Dance Education teachers' intensive training at the Seattle Creative Dance Centre the summer of 2008. After a session on nurturing infants through movement and music, the presenter suggested the Amazing Babies Moving book as a must-have for anyone working with babies and caregivers. Since this is one the groups I cater to at my studio and I was six months pregnant with Malia I decided to pick up the book and accompanying two DVDs (Amazing Babies Moving and Amazing Toddlers Moving). 

I have read and re-read and watched the DVDs many times (such a useful visual to the information presented in the book). I love how each chapter of the book progresses month by month of development in your baby's first year. Stokes writing is highly researched but gentle in approach, perfect for a busy caregiver or parent. In each chapter she presents the natural physical, cognitive, and social developments your baby will experience and explore during that month of life and provides suggestions for Parent-Baby interactions that will nurture your baby's development and the caregiver-baby bond. None of these activities require special equipment or equipment, but rather focus on allowing your baby to explore and develop in their natural environment with you as their playmate and companion. She provides parents with new perspectives in the ways we observe and move with our babies. 

Each chapter also presents Adult Movement Explorations based on the same movement patterns your baby is exploring. Not only does this deepen your own understanding of your baby's experience but also supports the mind-body connection in all adult movement. The more I learn about natural baby movement development and alternatively mind-body exercise practices such as yoga and Pilates, the more I see the correlation between these early movement patterns and lifelong functional movement and strength. After reading Amazing Babies Moving I was more convinced that if mothers copied their baby's movements in the first year they would be safely and effectively restoring their core strength. I followed Stokes' parent-baby and adult movement explorations with Malia from her first month through to her twelfth, and felt as though we were both stronger in our movements and bond because of it.

What has inspired me most from Stokes' work is her recognition of babies as unique little people. Like children and adults, Stokes recognizes that babies need us to teach and engage them through developmental milestones. Just as we would not give a 4 year old a book and expect them to learn to read on their own, we cannot simply put our babies on their tummies to experience and enjoy tummy time on their own. Babies are social creatures who learn from interactions and explorations with others. They need us to get down on the floor with them, talk to them, encourage their progress and praise their successes.  

I am so grateful for Beverly Stokes work for inspiring much of what I do in my Intellidance Babies classes and would recommend this book to all parents! Check out her website for more information on baby development, upcoming workshops, and to purchase her books or DVDs. 

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Sun, 02/06/2011 - 1:32pm

My pick for the week is scarves.  No this post isn't about fashion trends for spring, although I do love how a scarf can add a dash of fun color to any outfit. Scarves are one of my must have toys! I love toys that:

  • have a wide variety of uses,
  • can be used for many ages,
  • are inexpensive,
  • gender neutral,
  • encourage creative play.

I have yet to find a child who does not love to play with a scarf. They provide a great multi-scensory exerience! The colors, the way they catch the eye as they float through the air or sweep across the ground, the way they feel on hands, toes, faces, etc. I have yet to discover a child in my classes who is not thrilled when I bring out the scarves. Even they shyest child can be encouraged to move and explore with a scarf in hand.

Here are some tips on purchaing scarves:

  • Look for scaves that are made out of silk or chiffon. They will float very nicely and are light weight enough for the smallest dancer.
  • Try to buy a variety of colors and opacities.
  • See if they are machine washable. Be sure to wash in a delicates bag and hang to dry. Or use a natural disinfectant like Benefect in between uses to avoid the transfer of germs.
  • For younger children (0-3) look for scarves that are smaller (about 1ft x1ft) so they are easy to handle and don't become a tripping hazard. For older children try a variety of shapes and sizes to explore with.
  • Scarves can be bought from dance supply and education supply stores. You can also find them in department stores. Or try raiding Grandma's house!

Scarves provide hours of fun for imaginative play. Super hero caps, butterfly or bird wings, snakes, baby blankets, blind folds, wash cloths (a mother can dream can't she), there doesn't seem to be anything my girls can't turn their scarves into. Here are some fun activities I love to use in studio and at home to illustrate how scarves can also be used in structured play from ages 0-5:

Babies 0-12 months:

Eye tracking: Scarves are a fabulous way to practice eye tracking with your baby. With baby laying on their back or stomach or sitting try moving your scarf side to side and up and down in front of your baby. For babies 3 months and under make your movement slow so they have time to track the movement. With older babies movements can be faster and directions more varied.

Peek-a-boo: Use your scarf to play this all time favorite game. Peek-a-boo is a great game for helping to develop object permanence. And really nothing is cuter then the smiles and squeals from a surprised baby. Try putting the scarf over your face, wait a moment, take it off quickly and say peek-a-boo! After a few times try putting the scarf over your baby's face, take it off and say peek-a-boo. With babies around 12 months try giving them a scarf and see if they will copy you.

Dance with your Baby: Pick up your baby and your scarf and whirl and twirl around the room to the music. Your baby will love the combination of watching the scarf and feeling the movement you provide.

Gentle Tug of War/Row row row your Boat: While your baby is in side lying position engage her with a light soft toy or scarf. Watch as your baby reaches for the scarf, extending her top arm and leg while the other side grounds her to the floor. Once she seems to have found her balance bring the prop close enough for her to grasp. Then gently tug on the prop providing a slight shift in balance. How does your baby react?

Once she seems very comfortable sing Row, row, row your Boat while gently pulling and releasing the prop providing a dynamic balance experience.

Row, row, row, your boat

Gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream!

Toddlers 1-2.5 years:

* Toddlers will still enjoy many of the games above varied for their greater ability level. You will notice they will be more active participants in the games. Also try adding the following activities.

Hide and Seek: Place a few items under a scarf (e.g. a small book, teddy, and a sock). Ask your tot to give you the teddy, then lift up the scarf, and see if your tot will identify the correct object. This game can be used to help develop color, shape, animal, and letter identification.

Siesta/ Fiesta: Put on slow music and tuck your tot in under the scarf for a short siesta (nap in spanish). Then switch to upbeat music and encourage your tot to get up and fiesta (party) and dance with their scarf. Continue to switch back and forth. Toddlers enjoy this simple music and movement identification game. 

Preschoolers 2.5-5 years

Throwing and catching: Scarves are an excellent way to introduce throwing and catching skills. Little hands have a much easier time handling and manipulating soft scarves then balls. Because they float slowly as they return to the ground preschoolers are able to easily combine hand-eye coordination. Another bonus is they do not have the same risk of damaging the house while playing indoors. 

What's Missing?: Show your preschooler a series of objects (e.g. a small book, teddy, and a sock). Cover the objects with the scarf and without your preschooler seeing take one object away. Lift the scarf and ask your preschooler what is missing? This game is great for short term memory development and retention skills. 

Dance and Balance: Turn on some music and dance with your scarves. Pause the music at intervals and call out a body part for your preschooler to balance their scarf on. Discuss which body parts were easy to balance the scarf on and which were trickier. 

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