Thursday, February 7, 2008

The 5 Best Toddler Toys for Under Ten Bucks

This list contains the toys that have given us the biggest bang for the buck. They have been consistently played with and provided many hours of entertainment for my kids.

1. Happy Meal Toys – We are partial to McDonald’s but any fast food restaurant will do. I am not promoting Happy Meals as a nutritious meal, but on occasion, we do treat our kids to lunch or dinner at “HotDonald’s.” My kids are always thrilled with their new toys. They are just the right size for toddler hands and they are always different. We have Shrek, Teenage Mutant Turtles, Pirates of the Caribbean, Strawberry Shortcake, robots, cars, puppies, to name a few. These toys are always a big hit and you get a meal too!

2. Matchbox or Hot Wheel Cars – They go anywhere and kids just seem to love anything that has wheels. They are not just for boys either; my daughter loves to play cars as much as my son. Our couch, the windowsills, their play center rug and even my arms and legs have been transformed into roads or racetracks for the cars to drive on. There is an endless variety to choose from and they never “tire” of them.

3. Flashlights – I bought my kids Disney flashlights this past Christmas. They use them on many of their imaginative adventures. Whether they are pretending to camp in the family room or searching for clues to solve a mystery, they have hours of fun. Plus, they love to make shapes on the wall. The only thing that wears out is the batteries, not the kids.

4. Cookie Cutters – I purchased the Roshco 100 piece Cookie Cutter set from Pfaltzgraff so that we could make and cut out sugar cookies. They are made of plastic so they do not have any sharp edges. They range in size from 2 to 4 inch pieces and include holiday shapes, animal shapes, letters and numbers, and more. When we emptied the box to see what all we got, it was like Christmas. There were so many colors and shapes to choose from and we discovered that they weren’t just for cookies! Besides playing with the airplane and train pieces, we have used them to reinforce letters, numbers, shapes and colors. A really great, multi-functional bargain for both mom and kids.

5. Squeezy Soft Animals – This last item I am including on my list because my kids still play with the farm animals and dinosaurs almost every day and they have had them for over a year. The ones I purchased came from Toys to Grow on but when I checked out their website recently I couldn’t find them. I don’t know if they are discontinued but I am sure there are plenty of other similar toys. For under $10, they each got an assortment of 8 “squeezy soft” and very durable animals that came with their own storage boxes. The boxes themselves are great not only for storing but also for carrying. And they make great hats for toddler heads!

I don’t really understand why we spend a fortune on toys when most kids can find amusement and entertainment with just about anything. All it takes is a little imagination, a little freedom and some supervision and even the most ordinary objects can turn into toys. Like the expression says, sometimes the box is just as much fun as what’s inside.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Learning to Swim

My son has been taking swim lessons since he was a baby. He had one excellent class and several not-so-great classes. The best class he ever took was in Florida, a program called Swimming for Life. The instructor and class are associated with the US Swim School Association. Anyone who has young children and a pool should definitely try to find a program in their area. We no longer live in Florida so unfortunately my daughter missed out on that class. She has always gone to the YMCA for parent-child lessons. But at Swimming for Life, I watched as my son worked one-on-one with the instructor to learn how to save his own life if he ever fell in a pool. At 15 months, my son was able to float on his back without any assistance. It was a little scary watching him learn this, but the results were amazing. Without any floats, he could jump in the pool and pop back up on his back.

Since then, he also has attended swim classes at the YMCA. Unfortunately, there was a gap between the classes so that by the time he got back in the pool, he had nearly forgotten how to float. Until he turned 3, both he and my daughter were in the same class which was basically just introduction to the water. They played games, learned the basic concept of reach and pull, and practiced kicking. All of this with the assistance of the parent. The main goal is for the kids to become familiar with the water, not to learn how to swim or float. My daughter is quite familiar with the water and loves to “swim,” but she will have to repeat this course several more times since she will not turn 3 until September.

My son is taking his first independent class at the YMCA; parents get to sit back and watch. I had hoped he would get more out of this class but the instructors seem to have a hard time “letting go.” The kids have float devices on and can all keep their heads above water. There are two instructors for six students, plus a lifeguard on duty and numerous spectators. No one is going to drown so I just wish they would let them try to perform on their own. Instead of holding on to them, just let them swim!

At the last class, the instructor had them float on their backs for 15 seconds. As I previously mentioned, my son could do this without a float. Now he has a float on so he should have no trouble at all. But the instructor kept his hands under my son’s back the entire time. I just wanted to scream out, “Please just let him try. He can do it by himself!” But I am not the type of person to interfere so I just sat gritting my teeth and watching, thinking my son is learning nothing about swimming.

And then there’s my daughter. She could just as easily be in the class with her brother. She is mature enough at 29 months to do what he is doing. It is really not that much different from her own class except instead of having me support her, she would use a float. Her only problem would be the downtime. My son seems to sit on the edge of the pool for half of his 30 minute class. I don’t think my daughter has the patience to sit still and watch the other kids have a turn swimming. She would just jump right in!

I wish I could find a swim class nearby that offered the kind of instruction my son had at Swimming for Life. I want them to learn how to swim. And I think that with the right kind of instruction, they could both be good swimmers. They don’t need to be 4 or 5 before they are really taught how to swim. Besides, I want them to be able to swim at grandma and papa’s pool this summer!

Manic Monday

You can definitely tell when it is Monday at my house. If the kids aren't fussing or fighting about something, then they are just finding ways to cause trouble. So far today they have dumped out a jar of paper clips, emptied out a box of pencils TWICE, found a stash of erasers which my daughter wants to chew on, and pretended the staplers were trains. And the office in which these items are located is OFF LIMITS unless I am in there to supervise. All I have to do is run downstairs to throw in a load of laundry, which only takes about 2 to 3 minutes, and they are right back in there making a mess. So I find myself cleaning up the same thing over and over and over again. That is probably one of the reasons I feel like I never get anything done. I mean, it is already noon and I haven't even showered or gotten dressed yet (one of the few perks of being a stay-at-home mom)!
Then there are the tantrums, which seem to occur more frequently on Mondays. My kids have had a few minor skirmishes this morning when one won't share with the other. My daughter and I have bumped heads about getting dressed and changing her diapers. Even though it is winter, she wanted to run around naked. She took off her jamas and refused to put them back on. She thought it was funny when I had to chase her around the family room to put her clothes on. She has managed to keep them on but we could have done without the screaming and kicking. Then for no apparent reason she came running after me, screaming and crying when I was about to answer the phone. I dont know what that was about but it was quickly followed by another tantrum. This time, she apparently wanted the slice of bologna intended for her brother's sandwich (or so she thought). She was mad and let me know it. She deliberately knocked my cup of coffee off the counter and proceeded to bang her head on the kitchen floor. Can someone say naptime?
I don't know why Mondays are so rotten. Maybe it is because my husband has been here all weekend to keep them in line and lay down the law. So when they wake up on Monday and he isn't here, they think they can just run wild. Or maybe it is because we usually don't have anything planned. We still follow our breakfast, lunch, snack, naptime schedule but that is about it. The rest of the day is pretty much wide open. My son doesn't have school and my daughter doesn't have gymnastics. I don't usually run errands; I save them for when my son is at school. And they just spent all weekend playing with evey toy they own and do not seem paticularly interested in any of them on Mondays. Maybe they are just bored and boredom spells trouble at my house.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Career Change

I have been wrestling with the idea of a new career lately. I have been a stay-at-home mom for four years now, and while my children are only 2 and 3, I know that eventually I will have to go back to work. And I don’t know what I want to do. Before I had children, I was a technical writer. I have a Master’s degree in Professional Writing, which I pursued because at the time I was an English teacher. I spent four years prior to working as a writer teaching high school English. While teaching has its rewards, I could not imagine juggling that professional responsibility with a family. My children are my first priority which is making it difficult to choose a new career path. I like being home and I will need a job with a lot of flexibility. I need to be here when they leave for school in the morning and when they return in the afternoon. I need to be available to pick them up if they are sick, chaperone field trips, and take them to gymnastics or baseball. I don’t want a job where I have to bring work home from the office or do any travelling. I am the type of person who needs very little supervision and actually prefers it that way. I don’t want to be a secretary or a receptionist, a salesperson, an accountant, a computer programmer, a telemarketer, or an advertising rep, to name a few. I know what I don’t want to do. The trouble is, I don’t what I do want to do.
I would love to stay at home, work when I want and how I want. I have searched for work at home opportunities but I can’t tell the scams from the real deal. I wanted to start my own t-shirt business and had a good idea, but couldn’t make it work. I thought about eBay and while I am sure I have things to sell, I would rather donate them or give them away to friends. I considered becoming a bridal consultant, which would let me be creative and work my own hours. But it would also require me to work weekends and I don’t want to miss a moment of my kids growing up. Direct selling is not for me; I just don’t have the right personality. My ideal job would be making and selling crafts, everything from candles to picture frames to refurbished furniture. I could do it via the internet with plans to one day open a storefront. But that requires money and we don’t have it to throw it away on a dream. So, in reality, I know that I need to start planning for a new career.
Right now I am researching the paralegal profession. I have the right skills – writing, communicating, researching. I have a BA in Government & Politics and took a few legal courses way back. I would need to go back to school which I don’t mind at all. In fact, if I could get paid to be a student that would probably be the perfect job for me! But I need to start planning now so that I can be ready to embark on my new career in a few years when my kids are in school full time. I am confident that I could do the job but it lacks the creative edge that I enjoy and I am not sure how flexible the hours would be. Of course, if I could work on a contract or case by case basis that would be perfect. But I think I would need some experience before going out as a freelance paralegal. Freelance writing is another possibility but it isn’t a steady paycheck. And how do you compete for jobs with so many other writers when you have been a stay-at-home mom for so long?
I don’t have to make my choice tomorrow but it would be nice to have some direction. And it would also be nice to have a second income. My family and I could certainly use it. But unless I can get paid to work from home, I will just have to continue my job as MOM for the meantime.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Lies vs. Truth

My husband and I have very different philosophies about raising our children. This most recently became apparent when discussing the topic of lying. My son will lie to us about going potty in his diaper. Now my husband believes that is a straight up lie. I tend to think that it is the wishful thinking of a 3 year old. He wishes that he hadn’t pooped in his diaper because he knows that we will be disappointed in him. We want him to be a big boy and big boys use the potty. So he distorts the truth so we don’t think he is still a baby.
Maybe I am just reaching for an explanation. I certainly do not know what goes on in the mind of a 3 year old. But Joan Tolchin, MD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, does. In a article on entitled “Why Kids Lie,” she says that toddlers are still trying to figure out the difference between reality and fantasy. So when a 3 year old lies, they don’t do it knowingly or willingly and they certainly do not have any malicious intent. It may simply be thei r expression of what the wish were true.
That being said, my husband disagrees. He thinks that when my son lies, he knows he is telling a lie. So when he tells us he didn’t potty in his diaper, he gets in trouble, not for having an accident, but for lying about it. I believe this is the wrong approach but mine is not much better. While my husband disciplines, I rationalize. I explain to my son that he shouldn’t lie and that lying is bad. Neither of these approaches is successful according to Dr. Saarni, a professor of counseling at Sonoma State University. She says that “a long lecture about the virtues of being honest would be way over your toddler’s head.” But it is also pointless to punish him for lying and may even cause him more harm in the long run.
So what are we as parents to do? We want our children to be honest and tell the truth. We want them to value honesty and we believe that we need to instill these values at an early age. But until they truly comprehend what truth is, they cannot learn the value of it. For now, I want my son to know that I trust him and encourage him to tell the truth. But I won’t expect him to understand the importance of honesty or demand it from him until he can separate fact from fiction.