Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Strife of the "Part-time" Mom

Let me preface this blog post with the proclamation that YES, the grass is indeed always greener on the other side, and that NO, being a part-time mom isn't better or worse than being a full-time mom or full-time employee. I'm just writing from the standpoint of my life, in which I have my paint brush in a million buckets of paint and am starting to realize that I will never finish my masterpiece. Ok, maybe that is a bit excessive, but any mom who has gone to bed at night feeling like an utter failure at LIFE gets my dramatization.

Let's go back to the beginning. The beginning of my life as a mom, a sleep-deprived blur of trying to do it all but failing miserably, probably because I spent all of my "free time" perusing Pinterest for the best crockpot recipe and posting a trillion pictures of my newborn child on Facebook. I think that is maybe where it all started, this desire, no self expectation, to do it all. With the internet, full of ideas and words and thoughts about what it means to be a mother. But after a month or so of staying at home with my little precious cherub, the pull of my job responsibilities became stronger, and I decided to go back to my job of being a speech-language pathologist "part-time."

"Part-time." I have begun to loathe this word. Because there is really no such thing. Not when it comes to work, not when it comes to family, not when it comes to anything really. But, for the sake of the story, I did return to work part-time, which at the time I thought would give me the best of both worlds. I would get to wear my speech therapist hat half the time and then come home and wear my mommy and wife hat loud and proud. Rinse and repeat every single day. Sounds heavenly.

When you are a part-time employee and a part-time mom, guess what? The job doesn't understand what part-time is, and your family certainly doesn't understand either. This is not a slam to your workplace. It's just that there is always something to be done. It might not matter that "oh, I only work til noon," or "I don't work on Fridays." Because of the nature of my job, I bring a lot of work home with me in the form of report writing, billing, etc. So there is a lot of overlap. This is not a slam to the families either. You can't really tell your 18-month old that mommy has to write this report or take this phone call, so to please sit quietly and entertain yourself.

So enters the struggle. The strife. This mirage of getting to "do it all" really turns into doing a half-ass job at everything, or at least that is how you feel. Your job as a speech therapist is never done, and your job as a mom is certainly never done either, nor will it ever be!

Why am I writing this? Partly, to whine. I had a sick child for the first half of this week who has run me a little ragged, plus I'm 17 weeks pregnant and full of emotion. But also because I feel like the "part-timers" are an under-represented bunch of parents! Stay-at-home-moms (SAHM) have their feelings expressed out there (and rightfully so, you have a tough job), as do I feel moms who work out of the home (WOH) do (also deserved, you have a tough job too). Where are my part-timers at ??

Sometimes I feel like I'm carrying the responsibilities of being both though (a SAHM and a mom who WOH).   

This is not a battle of who has it better (or worse). I hope to not get hate mail from any momma who thinks this post is negatively about them. It. Is. Not. I think all parents have a tremendous load of work on their plate, and we should be celebrating each other instead of tearing each other down. I'm just hoping this resonates with some people out there who feel like I do, regardless of what title you hold in your household.

When you are a "part-time" mom, you still miss out. You might be working during music class on Wednesday or when your kiddo has a Valentine's Day party at school.

When you are a "part-time" mom, you probably don't make the income to justify a housekeeper, so YAY, you get to do that too.

When you are a "part-time" mom, often times work responsibilities disrupt family activities, and vice versa. Let's not forget how quickly that part-time work builds up when you have a sick kid.

When you are a "part-time" mom, it is expected that you have "more time" to do things, when really you have less.

I feel like I'm teetering on the line of being a big, fat, annoying whiner, when really I'm just (unsuccessfully probably) trying to articulate a feeling.

Here's my realization: It's all hard. Every version of parenthood comes with it's unique set of struggles. In my constant search to find the perfect cleaning schedule, an easy "make 30 freezer crockpot meals" plan, and a magical way to keep up with my office work, I've only found that none of that really exists.

And isn't everything that I just wrote, from the perspective of a "part-time" mom, the way that most parents feel anyway? Regardless of how much you are working in the home or out of the home? I think we are all just trying to do our best and giving ourselves a hell of time about it all. Good luck mommas, and dads too, the struggle will get easier. One day... maybe when the kids are graduated from college. :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

10 Toddler Toys To Promote Speech Development (Mostly Under $20)

The holidays are right around the corner! If you are anything like me, you have all intents and purposes of getting all the Christmas presents bought and wrapped by the Friday after Thanksgiving, but end up doing it all online the week before Christmas. I feel ya girl. 

This year, I have two goals, well really THREE goals in mind in regards to Christmas:
1) Budget appropriately to allow for Christmas NOT breaking the bank.
2) Getting Christmas put up and presents wrapped the weekend after Thanksgiving while avoiding and not supporting Black Friday (which I find to be one of the most annoying celebrated holidays in American culture).
3) Not buy my kids and niece annoying, pointless toys that serve no real purpose after the initial excitement than to collect dust in the closet.

While it is true that every parent's dream is a zoo membership or 10 visits to Gymboree as a gift for their children, kids like to open presents. I don't need to tell you that, for one can only assume you were a little cherub at one point, counting Christmas presents under the tree and shaking them to guess what they were.

Additionally, every year around the holidays, I get questions from my parents, who I do speech therapy with their kids, asking about what gifts they can get to continue with their children's speech and overall development.

I decided to put together an online list of my top favorite toys for toddlers that also support speech and play development. As a part of my step-by-step mini-series of how to play with these toys to maximize speech concepts, you will see that some of the suggestions listed below will also go with a corresponding blog post. This blog post does contain some affiliate links that if clicked on and a purchase is made, I will receive a small commission for advertising. Be confident that I would not be suggesting these toys unless they were absolutely awesome and worth every penny! 

1. Playskool Mr. Potato Head Super Spud - this one has almost 50 pieces to increase vocabulary and different sizes of potatoes as well. Great for teaching body parts, colors, articles of clothing, as well as working on those fine motor skills to get the items in the designated holes. A classic favorite.
2. Melissa and Doug Deluxe Latches Board - this is probably one of my favorite go-to therapy materials. Such a plethora of things to do with this "door puzzle" as I refer to it, including learning how to ask for help, colors, counting, animal names, animal sounds, and fine motor skills. This is also a toy that encourages individual play if you need to fold laundry, start on dinner, or bust open a bottle of wine, I mean....
3. Ikea Duktig Children's 9 Piece Fruit Basket Set and 14 Piece Vegetable Set - I learned about the wonderment of felt food from my sister, Lauren. Reasons why felt food is awesome: less of a choking hazard, easy to throw into the washing machine, and kids can "eat it" more realistically. Pretend play is an amazing way to build imagination and vocabulary. Even when not paired with a play kitchen, play food can serve as an awesome opportunity to take turns, build vocabulary, learn some action words, share, etc. Felt food makes the world go 'round. I love this set by Ikea. My daughter has it, worth every penny.
4. ALEX Toys - Early Learning, String & Beep, 1486B - Are you about to lose it over puzzles? Me too. Sometimes you just want to switch it up a little bit, ya know? I love wooden string toys. You can also get a fun farm animal one, but I love this String & Beep by ALEX toys. You can work on vehicle names, vehicle sounds, colors, "ready, set, go!", stop/go, and fine motor with the act of stringing items on. From experience, kids love to string and then drag them all over the floor. Boys and girls equally love this toy.
5. Fisher-Price Little People Zoo Talkers Animal Sounds Zoo - This one is a little bit more pricey, but I love this toy. And, full disclosure, I got mine for $10 used, missing 1/2 the animals for it, and without batteries, at a garage sale and all of my therapy kids STILL love it. They get super excited when they see me lugging this bad boy into their house. What's great about it: the slide. Oh my gosh, the slide. Everything goes down the slide over and over again. From a speech concept point-of-view, you can work on prepositions/location words, animal vocabulary, animal sounds, where? questions (this is a big one for 3-4 year olds), and following directions.
6. Circo Baby with Crib - I love the Circo brand babies from Target because there are a lot of little add ons you can get for them. The one that I have that I love is the Circo Baby with Crib that comes with a crib, pillow and a change of pajamas. I also went to the dollar store and got pretend bottles and a brush. I use a little towel as a "blanket." Again with the pretend play, what an awesome way for children to learn! The play babies are a great way to teach function of objects ("what do we use to brush our hair?"), names of clothing, actions (put the baby to sleep, baby wants to drink, etc.) and labeling body parts. You can also describe emotional states: "Uh oh! Baby is tired! Put the baby to bed! Night night!" or "Uh oh! Baby is HUNGRY. Can you give baby something to eat? Yum yum yum."
7. Fisher-Price Snap Lock Bead Shapes - Chances are, you might have these left over from when your toddler was a bit younger. If so, bust those bad boys back out, because this is the gift that keeps on giving. With an older child past infancy, you can work on a ton of stuff, including but not limited to: making things (necklace, hat, trains, steering wheel), making a big circle for them to sit in (this is the only way I get one kid to sit down for therapy ever, at least for right now), working on colors, and patterns (this is for the older kid). I love these little beads! I always scoff at the age recommendations that say "6 months and up" - what 6 month old do you know that has the fine motor to pop these things together? None!
8. KidKraft Cook Together Kitchen - WARNING: Big spender alert! Give this suggestion to a grandparent or something (I kid, not really). This one is close to $200, but there are a ton of different brands and models for every budget. So don't let the price tag scare you. I also regularly see these go up for sale on online garage sales, etc. as well. I am giving my review for this particular kitchen because it is the one that my sister got for my daughter for her first birthday. I am pretty sure I am currently more excited about this kitchen than she is, but Y'ALL, it is so fun. It has a little refrigerator, a dish washer, a place to do laundry.... there is a microwave and a stove top! This is great for pretend play of course, and I truly do think that this is a toy that grows with the child. My daughter totally plays with hers right now (at 15 months even though she doesn't know what she is doing), and I have seen children 5-6 years of age continuing to "play house" with them. Also not just for the little ladies, those little dudes can get in the kitchen and get to work too!
9. Step2 Naturally Playful Sand & Water Center - This water/sand table is the perfect sensory table. You can, as the name suggests, fill it up with water or sand (or beans, or rice, or whatever) to provide hours of sensory fun for your little tyke. Ours spent the summer in the backyard filled up with water, plastic cups and Little People. When I am fairly certain the beans won't end up in her mouth, I plan on using this as an indoor toy over the winter to provide sensory hide n seek with plastic figurines (zoo animals, cars, whatever). I also like this particular one because you can stick an umbrella through the middle to keep their little cherub bodies from getting sunburnt during their summer play.
10. LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set - This is one of the only toys I will recommend that will not only maybe cause you to lose your sanity, but also pretty "electronic." However, I love this fridge phonic alphabet set. If your little guy or gal follows you everywhere, you can give him/her another option besides going through all of the cabinets while you try to get dinner put together or put dishes away. It does go over the alphabet song (a million times) and it also goes over what "sound" each letter makes. The song can get a little obnoxious, but so can your kid pilfering through the poisonous cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink, so choose your battles. I also like that this can be taken off the fridge and played with "hand-held" style.

So there you have my top 10 toddler toys to help promote speech and overall development. There is much more where this came from, but seeing that it isn't even Halloween yet, I have plenty of time to get more suggestions to you! Be on the lookout for step-by-step how to on incorporating speech concepts into play with these items, like I did here  with my all-time favorite children's book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Slide and Find (World of Eric Carle (Priddy Books)).

Thanks for reading, guys! What is your favorite toddler toy?? Comment and share below!

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Step-by-Step Guide: 13 Speech Concepts to Teach Your Child Using "Brown Bear, Brown Bear"

Preface: I'm doing a little bit of internal research, and I am finding that what is of most interest to a lot of my blog readers has to do with a) children and b) their speech development. Well, good thing I'm a speech therapist, am I right???

So, I decided that I'm going to start a mini-series showing parents specific developmentally-appropriate toys and how to play with them. By day, I work with children ages 0-3 and their families doing precisely that: teaching families/caregivers strategies of how to facilitate speech and communication development through play. So you're in good hands, people.

There is no specific age group that I will be focusing on for this, but I can tell you that a majority of my therapeutic experience in the pediatric realm falls between 18 months to 4 years of age, give or take. However, the beautiful thing about these posts is that I will share activities scaffolding both down and up to cover a variety of concepts and skills. Some of the links provided in this post may be affiliate links, providing a small amount of compensation for advertising a specific product. <--- these are only used if I truly think that they are awesome anyway and worth your money! 

Not all of the activities are going to be books, but the idea is still the same: when we read books to our children, when we play with our children, when we talk to our children, when we cook/clean/live in front of our children, THEY ARE LEARNING. Especially when they are young, they are like little sponges just sucking it all in. So maximize this time, parents. If all you have is 15 minutes between getting home from work and starting dinner, then make those 15 minutes count and maximize what you are doing during that time.

So, without further adieu, I bring you the first set of activities. This set of activities is centered around one of my favorite, FAVORITE children's book: "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" by Eric Carle. Turns out this guy really did know what he was doing when he wrote all of these books. Here's why: there is a goldmine worth of concepts introduced to your little cherubs in 11 flips-of-a-page.

Now, there are several versions of this classic available, and this blog post is regarding this particular version: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Slide and Find (World of Eric Carle (Priddy Books)) If you have another version at home already, you can still do a lot of what I'm going to talk about, so save your money! But if you haven't purchased the book yet, this version is my favorite because it is more interactive.

OK. I'm going to break this down speech-wise from easier concepts to more complex concepts. You can choose what level your little kiddo is at.

- Imitation of animal sounds - If your kiddo is just starting to use words and/or still in the babbling phase, concentrate on sounds!!! Anything in the world that can make a sound, emphasize that sound. The pressure is off to perform if you are the kiddo, and it is fun! In this book's instance, it will be animal sounds. It looks a little bit like this: "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? (Gasp!) Look Freddie!!! It's a BEAR!!! RAWRRRRRRRR. (Gasp!!) RAWRRRR!" If any attempt to imitate the bear sound is attempted, mirror the "rawr" and praise him/her like he/she just did the most amazing thing in the world. If your kid does not imitate yet, keep doing it throughout the book and in life! They are soaking it all in!

- Holding book and turning pages - Let your kiddo hold the book and start to turn the pages. This isn't straight up speech-related, but it is a developmental skill. Some kids get a little psycho about wanting to turn the pages, etc. Let them have their moment and encourage one page at a time. This is where board books come in handy. The pages are thick and easy for their little cherub fingers to manipulate. If it becomes a power struggle with turning the pages or flipping to the end of the book, pry the book out of their power-hungry little hands, wait for them to finish melting down, and then try again. Being a toddler is so hard sometimes!

- Pointing to animals in the book - A lot of times children are understanding language before they can produce the language on their own. Encourage pointing to the different animals while you are reading by pointing to the animals and telling your child what it is that you are pointing at. You can also do a little hand-over-hand action with them by grabbing their hand and pointing to the different animals with their fingers. Once your kiddo has this down, you can ask him "Charlie, where is the BEAR?" and if you are using the slide-and-find book that I am referencing each page layout has two animals (one featured on the pages and one behind the little door). He isn't going to be inundated with choices and has a 50 percent chance of pointing to the correct animal. Building confidence is key.

- Knock, knock: Open/Close - These little interactive doors are like crack for kids. Anything they can slide and mess with is like the best thing since sliced bread to children! The feature of the sliding doors is actually one of the main reasons why I love this book. Those little doors create a whole subset of dialogue to use with your child. So, it looks like this: "Yellow Duck, yellow duck, what do you see? Look, Sally! It's a door! KNOCK KNOCK? Who is it? Do you want me to OPEN?" Depending on your child's level of current communication, you are wanting some level of interaction, be it imitation of motor movement (knocking on the door), imitation of an environmental sound ("knock knock" or "na na!") or using 1-2 words ("Open!" or "Open Door!"). There is a blessed little door on every page, so 9 opportunities to run this thing into the ground.

- Social graces: Hi/Bye - Again with the door (and with page-turning) is the opportunity to greet/dismiss the animals. You can verbally say "hi/bye" while also waving with your hand. You can model this as the adult or do hand-over-hand with your child. It looks like this: (Turn the page) (Waving) HI DOG!!!! White Dog, White dog, what do you see??? (Gasp!) Knock, Knock!! OPEN the door! (open the door) HI SHEEP!!!! Look Sally, it's a SHEEP. BAAAA BAAAA. Bye bye, sheep! (Close the door).

- Labeling animals by name - If your child is building his/her vocabulary, then your basic animals are all in this book. Don't be alarmed if everything is a dog or everything is a cat. "Generalizing" (i.e. everything animal is called a dog/cow/cat/etc, every drink is juice, every color is blue) is a normal part of speech development. Praise the attempt to label and correct. "Well it looks like a cow, but it's a DOG!!!! RUFF RUFF"

- Body parts - I like going over body parts the best on the page that has the teacher's face. We talk about the different body parts, point to each one, etc. You can also ask your child to point to the _____, or ask your child where is YOUR nose? Where is MY nose? to encourage expanding that understanding outside of the book.

- Asking/answering simple questions - As the title of this book would suggest, this a great book for introducing simple questions/answers! "What do you see?" "Knock, knock, Who's there?" "Where's the cat?" "What does the cat say?" are just some ideas of types of different simple questions you can ask. If your kiddo is not yet answering questions, you can ask the question and then model the answer. It looks like this: "Knock, knock? WHO'S THERE? It's the FROG!!! HI FROG!"

- Big/small - Size concepts come a little later, but this is a great book to introduce the concept. Each page with a door has a big animal and a little animal. You also see a little version of the animal that will be big on the next page in each door. If you want to talk about this concept, it looks like this: "Black sheep, black sheep, what do you see? Knock, knock!!! Open the door! Who's there?!?! Wow! It's a LITTLE GOLDFISH!!!! BYE LITTLE GOLDFISH! (Turn the page) WOW! Look! THERE IS A BIG GOLDFISH!" Imagine that the capital letters are you being super trooper enthusiastic. :)

- Descriptors: 2-word phrases - If your little one is mastering single words, start modeling 2-word phrases using descriptors. Descriptors can be any adjective but specific to this book I like to use the colors or the size. It looks like this: "Charlie! What is that? It's a BLACK SHEEP!" or "Look Charlie! It's a BIG FROG!!!!"

- Gender: boy/girl; pronouns: he/she - The slide-and-find version of "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" also has a nice page showing all of the school children. Understanding and acknowledging gender is imperative to use the appropriate pronouns he/she. On this page, I point to and label each child "boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, boy, girl, boy, girl!" or I ask the child to point to the boys/point to the girls, OR I ask the child "Henry, is this a boy or a girl?" and then I say "YES, SHE is a GIRL," or "YES, HE is a BOY" to introduce those pronouns. You can also ask your child "Lucy, are you a BOY or a GIRL?" Beware, that half the time if a kid doesn't know what the heck you are talking about, they will repeat the last option you gave them, sometimes resulting in a false correct answer. Therefore, you can switch the order of how you ask the question and see if they are still responding correctly. Ask them about the gender of you (just don't get upset when they call you a dude by accident!) and also of siblings and other familiar people.

- Colors - This is a pre-academic skill. This book has a ton of colors. Talk about the colors. Point to them. If you have an easily accessible item of the same color (Tommy is also wearing a red shirt), point that out too. "Look! It's a RED BIRD! TWEET TWEET! Look! Your SHIRT is RED, too!!"

- Pointing to words as you read - This is a pre-literacy skill. As you are reading the book slowly, point to each word as you read it. Each point correlates with a word. This shows the older child that those scribbles up there are words that you are reading.

So, that does it for the first step-by-step guide of teaching speech concepts through play! Please be a peach, and leave a comment letting me know if I made any sense and suggestions to make these posts better and easier for you to understand. I am planning on also adding videos and/or photos to make this more cohesive, but for now, this is what I got.