Welcome to Educated, Common Sense Parenting! This is my parenting education/commentary blog. Start here and read About This Blog.

I believe too many parents today have let their children rule their households. Their children dictate their daily lives, demand every ounce of their attention and do not show any respect for their parents. This needs to change. The only way to do this is if parents start letting good old common sense start dictating their parenting practices and stop letting their children run the show. You're the parent. Act like one.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Sleep Deprivation Cure

When you're having a conversation with someone who has recently had a baby, the topic somehow always comes around to one thing: sleep. "Is she a good sleeper?", "Is he sleeping through the night yet?", "How much sleep are you getting?" It's inevitable. Babies and sleep go hand in hand.

Adjusting to a new baby is no easy task--yes, you'll be tired. However, after the first couple of months, moms and dads shouldn't have to be completely sleep deprived. According to Babywise, of babies on a parent-directed flexible routine, about 75% of them were sleeping through the night at 7-9 weeks. 96% of them were sleeping through the night at 12 weeks. This goes for breast and formula fed babies. To non-Babywise readers, this is a sheer and utter **miracle**. To Babywise people like myself, I was stressing when Will wasn't sleeping through at 9 weeks! (He slept through at 10 weeks from 10pm-6am).

What's the secret? A parent-led flexible routine. I don't really like to call it a "schedule" because you really can't fit a baby into an exact schedule. But it is a routine/semi-schedule that you direct based on your baby's cues. Most people who are not informed about this type of system, think it's some Nazi-style schedule where you only feed baby at a certain time each day and the baby spends hours in his crib "Crying It Out." After all, demand-feeding baby is currently the "in" thing. I can post Babywise Misunderstandings in another post. This post is how to get some sleep!!

Whether you go by the Babywise book or the Baby Whisperer, they are both the same concept. I like The Baby Whisperer because it has a cute acronym: E.A.S.Y.

Y=You time!

The vast majority of new parents switch the A and S and end up feeding (the E) the baby right before they sleep. Remember my post on Accidental Parenting? Start as you mean to go on--you don't want baby to associate eating with sleeping...otherwise you'll be nursing to sleep when they're a year old! I love you, but no thanks.

I pulled one of Will's sample schedules (yes, REAL LIFE!) from when he was about 12 weeks:

E: 6:00am: Wake up, eat, diaper change

A: Playmat or bouncy seat

S: 7:00am: Nap

Y: This is when I would shower, have coffee, get ready

E: 9:00am: Wake up, eat

A: Playmat, bouncy seat, whatever else a 3 month old does!

S: 10:00am: Nap

Y: Me time! (actually, Brooke-time)

I would repeat this routine until about 6:30pm and that was technically "bedtime." Scott and I would wake him at 10pm (The Baby Whisperer calls this the "Dream Feed." I call it "topping them off!") and do a diaper change and feeding before we went to bed and he slept solidly until about 6am the next morning. Some things to note:

- He was never awake for more than about an hour to an hour and a half at this age

- During the day, I never fed him right before he went to sleep (the exception is the bottle right before bed and the Dream Feed)

- At three months, he was taking (3) 1.5 hour naps--his last afternoon nap was a catnap (45'ish min). Sometimes he would take this catnap, sometimes not.

- "Bedtime" should be roughly 12 hours from their wakeup time. Will was an early riser (still is!), so his bedtime was also early (still is!). If baby wakes at 8am, then shoot for their bedtime being 8pm. Don't forget to top them off! :-)

- Pick a waketime time in the morning and stick with it. If baby naturally wakes at 6am, you can make that their wakeup time for the day or feed them and put them right back to bed and wake them later. Remember, when ever you decide their wakeup time is, that is when you start E.A.S.Y.

- Around 6 months or so, they'll end up dropping the last 1-2 "naps" of the day and just going to two longer naps.

So that is the E.A.S.Y./parent-directed routine in a nutshell. It goes against the popular belief that you should never wake a sleeping baby. In Will's case, the kid was ALWAYS sleeping during the day. He would hardly wake up during the day, even to eat! Therefore, he liked to "play" at night. Waking him for feedings during the day helped him distinguish his days and nights (days are for eating, nights are not!). It also ensured he was getting enough to eat during the day, so he wasn't waking at night to eat (or play!). For most of us, that type of routine works much better with our adult schedules :-)

Monday, June 28, 2010

4th of July Activity: Red, White and Blue Chain

I never used to be so "in" to holidays. I know people have heard me say "I hate Christmas." This was all before I was a teacher and a mom. Now that I am both of those, it has really forced me to step up my holiday celebrating! Now I'm looking for every little holiday and celebrate and do activities around. Kids just eat this stuff up...and they usually learn a little something, too.

4th of July is right around the corner! Here is an activity Brooke and I did last week--a Red, White and Blue 4th of July "words" chain. Here's what we did:

1. We read a couple of 4th of July books that talked about what the holiday was all about. The two books we read were: Hooray for the 4th of July and 4th of July Mice.

2. I drew lines on red, white and blue construction paper about 1.5 inches apart and had Brooke cut them out (cutting a straight line is a great preschool/pre-K skill!).

3. We brainstormed words that had to do with the 4th of July that we had read about or talked about. For example: fireworks, birthday, USA, flag. We took turns writing these words on each of the strips of paper. If your child is younger, you can write them. Brooke thought of the words herself, but if your child is younger, I would have them start by trying to name some of the objects on the pages of the books (flag, fireworks, food).

4. We put the strips into a chain using a glue stick. Ta-Da! Your 4th of July chain!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Things I Never Knew About Naps: The First Year

I was looking back at Brooke's old "schedules" last week and frankly, I was appalled. At 3 months she was taking three 45 minute naps a day. That was it!!! This is before I knew anything about BabyWise or sleep training or anything--and it showed. Brooke wasn't a good sleeper until she was about six months old.

The more I talk to moms and read non-Babywise message boards and things like that, the more I realize that 45 minute naps in the first year are commonplace. Very few moms know any better! But we as Educated, Common Sense Parents need to be informed and spread the word!

Once I discovered the books Babywise, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and The Baby Whisperer and put their principles into action with Will, I was kicking myself for not knowing about all of this sooner! It was so simple!! So today I'll post my top Things I Never Knew About Naps...so hopefully others won't fall until my trap of foolishness.

Tops Things I Never Knew About Naps

1. Nap Length:
A "good" nap in the first year is between 1.5 and 2.5 hours, give or take. Some babies have more or less sleep needs but naps should be more than 45 minutes (unless a growth spurt is happening, more about that later).

2. The Sleep Cycle: We all go through a sleep cycles every 45 minutes. Every 45 minutes our bodies "wake up" and readjust. For most of us, we don't even notice this transition. For babies, they will often cry, groan, roll over, move about and possibly even sit up and seem like they are waking up. If a newborn of young baby doesn't know how to put themselves back to sleep, they'll cry until Mom or Dad comes and rescues them--nap ruined! The exception to this is when young babies are going through a growth spurt and need to eat more often. In this case, babies will wake up at the 45 minute transition and realize they're hungry!

3. Overtiredness: Babies under 2 months need a lot of sleep. 15-20 hours or more! For most babies, this comes naturally. However, some babies appear to be more "alert" and awake than others...but don't let this fool you. These babies still need their rest! According to Babywise during the first 2 months, babies should be awake no more than about 45 minutes at a time. This includes feeding and a diaper change. As baby gets older (up to about six months), waketime can increase to about 1.5 hours. This isn't a lot of waketime and you'd be shocked at how many people keep a 6 month old up 3, 4 or 5 hours at a time! These are moms who usually complain their baby doesn't nap well. Yes, this was me.

When baby isn't napping well, the first thing to try is cutting back their awake time. With Will, that always did the trick. That is the opposite of what most people would think. Most people would say they are not sleeping well because they're not tired enough. Not so with babies! Some babies don't show signs of sleepiness. I can't tell you how many times I would put Will down for his "scheduled" nap and my parents would say, "He doesn't seem tired at all!" Five minutes later he was fast asleep. Figuring out the ideal waketime can be tricky and takes some trial and error, but it's definitely worth knowing.

4. Overstimulation: Watching TV, playing with loud toys, crowds and loud noises right before a nap can be overstimulating to a young baby. It's important to choose a short and sweet nap/settle-down routine when your baby is young and stick to it. I used Tracy Hogg's (The Baby Whisperer) 4-S routine with Will. I will post on the 4-S routine soon. Baby will know what to expect every time he goes down and this routine will be his signal to settle down and sleep.

Part of being a parent is recognizing your mistakes and fixing them. I was a MUCH more happy, well-rested mom with Will!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Outdoor Activity: Washing Toys!

This was a great outdoor activity I got from the Preschoolers Busy Book. Both Brooke and Will had a blast with it and I FINALLY found a use for Buddy's old baby bathtub!

All I did was fill an old baby bathtub with soapy water. Then I dumped all their plastic bath toys in the tub, gave them a few washcloths and told them to start washing! What's not fun about splashing around in soapy water on a summer's day?? Plus, all their bath toys are clean now!

Materials Needed
- Plastic baby bathtub or large plastic bin
- Various toys (baby dishes, play dishes and Tupperware also work well)
- Soap/Water
- Washcloths

Age Range Recommendation
- Ages 1-6

Monday, June 21, 2010

Keeping Them Busy: 365 Activities

Being at home with the kids, it's easy to run out of activities to keep busy little ones occupied. I have found that the busier they are, the happier they are. This doesn't have to mean running all over town to ballet, gymnastics, soccer, playdates, etc. It can just mean some fun, well-planned activities at home.

I just purchased two awesome books, The Arts & Crafts Busy Book and The Preschoolers Busy Book. Each book has 365 activities to keep toddlers and preschoolers busy! I plan to try at least one everyday. I will blog about ones that the kids really like. Most of the activities are SUPER simple and cost nothing--which is a concept I love because I hate running to Michael's every day just to get glue dots or lace for some specialty craft.

We already tried one, Playdoh letters. Since I'm really working hard with Brooke on writing and forming letters, this was another great way for her to practice. Kids at this age are all about DOING, MAKING, CREATING. Just grab some plain old cheap Play-Doh. Start making letters! I always throw in saying the letter sound after she creates the letter. Then we brainstorm things that start with that letter. This is also great for learning how to spell their name and other short words. So easy. Even Buddy liked squishing the Playdoh!

Age range recommendations

The Preschoolers Busy Book: Ages 3-6

Arts & Crafts Busy Book: Ages 1-6

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blanket Time

There is a teeny tiny section in On Becoming Toddlerwise about blanket time. It's so tiny, I missed it the first time I read the book and it's not even in the index! But I think it's a pretty cool activity and I just started it with Will. The purpose of blanket time is to begin teaching young children (toddlers) limits and boundaries. (I can't think of a toddler who doesn't need those!!!) I think it also helps with their focusing skills. Toddlerwise recommends starting between 14-18 months.

Here's how it works: Begin by putting a blanket (approx. 4 feet by 4 feet) on the floor with a few toys on it. Tell your toddler that he can play with his toys, but he needs to stay on the blanket until you say it's OK to get up. Set a timer. Ideally, it would be nice for your toddler to be able to sit and entertain himself for 20 minutes at a time, but be realistic when you first start. ONE minute might be a challenge! I started Will at 3 minutes. When/If your toddler tries to get off the blanket, simply tell him to stay on the blanket and gently move him back on. When he's on the blanket, you should be nearby, but should not be playing directly WITH him. When the timer goes off, praise them and move on.

Toddlerwise recommends blanket time should be done 2-3 times per day. Increase the amount of time as your toddler can handle it. For instance if he's doing great with 3 minutes, increase it to 5, then 10, etc until you work up to your desired time. I'm working toward 15-20 minutes. I think that is realistic for a 15 month old.

I have to tell you, when I first read about this "blanket time" thing I thought it was a total crock. Making MY SON--the little guy who's always ON THE GO--sit still and play by himself on the blanket??!! Yeah right! But I have been amazed so far. We just started 4 days ago (with 3 minutes) and he's worked up to about 12 minutes...which I think is really good...for him!

Here's a summary of what we did:

Day 1 (goal: 3 minutes)
- Put him on the blanket, told him the "rules" and set the timer for 3 minutes. After 10 seconds he was off! Put him back on, stayed for about 30 seconds and was off again! I put him back on, he moaned and groaned and stayed until the timer went off. He was not happy.

Day 2 (goal: 3 minutes)
- Put him on the blanket, told him the "rules," set the timer. He stayed for 3 minutes playing happily.

Day 3 (goal: 5 minutes)
- I think he "gets it now." I said "blanket time" and put down the blanket and he went right over and started playing. My goal was 5 minutes but he stayed on for 7. Woo hoo!

Day 4 (goal: 7 minutes)
- The goal was 7, but he actually stayed on the blanket for 12 minutes playing with blocks, a coffee can and his mini piano. I had to redirect him because he wanted to get off the first 3-4 minutes. The cool thing was that he would get up, point to the edge of the blanket and say "Aye?" as if to ask, "Can I leave now?" It was so cute!! He did this 4 times and each time, he "asked" if he could leave. I just said "No, not yet, honey" and redirected him to a toy. He was fine with this. This shows me that he's really starting to understand his boundaries. All 4 days, I have been sitting near him and talking to him a little but not playing DIRECTLY with him. I might start moving farther away next time.

Depending on your child, blanket time may be fairly easy or very challenging. The more challenging it is, I think, shows how blanket time can be that much more beneficial to you both. Things blanket time promotes: 1) Limits/Boundaries 2) Self Control 3) Obeying parents 4) Independent play.

We'll see how things go when I move up to 15 minutes! Should be interesting!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kindergarten...Ready or Not!

It was a six month process deciding whether or not to send my oldest, Brooke to Kindergarten. She was not blessed with a "normal" birthday that happen in the months of January-June. If you child's birthday falls within those months, consider yourself lucky. No decisions need to be made. The August after your child turns 5, he/she is off to Kindergarten! In most states the official cut-off date is October 1st. As your child's birthday gets closer to that date, you are faced with more of a "decision" situation. To send your child when he or she is a young 5, or wait until they are an older, 6.

If we lived in "most states," we would not have been faced with any decision whatsoever. Brooke's birthday is November 28th--she would not be going to Kindergarten this year. But in California, we like to do things differently. Our cutoff date (for now, at least) is December 2. For many parents, this would be an easy decision. Since the current "trend" is that all kids need to get a head start and have the upper hand in life (yes, beginning in Kindergarten!!!), the vast majority of parents would wait to send their child with a November 28th birthday.

As cliche as this sounds--and I speak from experience--it really IS a very individual, very personal decision. How many times have we heard "every child is different??" Well, it's true. Every parent is different, too. Some parents can't wait to get their kids the he*& out of the house and off to school, where other parents just try to hold on to their baby as long as they can. And then there are some of us who are in between. I want to do what is best for my child. Not what's necessarily what's best for me.

There are several factors that will determine if your child is ready for kindergarten. There is no real "litmus" test of Kindergarten readiness, but there are certain skills and considerations that should come into play when making your decision. I will outline those below.

Before I do, my personal opinion about whether to send your child to Kindergarten is this: if they have the skills listed below and you have considered the items listed below in making your decision, then I say SEND THEM. Research has shown that kids who enter Kindergarten older, do in fact, outperform their peers....until 3rd/4th grade and everything evens out again. So if you're dead-set on having a Kindergarten or 1st grade honor student, by all means, wait. Just don't think that Harvard will be knocking on their door because of this decision. :-)

The following are skills your child should have before going to Kindergarten. I compiled this list from various state's education department "Kindergarten Readiness" lists as well as Brooke's Kindergarten entrance assessment. Note that MANY, MANY students do not come to school with all of these skills. But chances are, if you are reading this blog, you want your kid to come to Kindergarten and hit the ground running! Just don't worry if they haven't mastered every single one of these skills by Day 1. I would say 90% mastery is fine:

1. Write first name, legibly
2. Recognizes letters of the alphabet (upper or lowercase)
3. Knows some letter sounds
4. Can name items that start with a certain letter
5. Interested in books
6. Can sit and listen to a story for at least 15 minutes
7. Recognizes name by sight

1. Counts to at least 10
2. Counts objects to 5
3. Knows bigger/smaller, shorter/taller
4. Knows colors
5. Sorts by color
6. Knows basic shapes
7. Can put together a 10-30 piece puzzle

Language & Communication
1. Speaks clearly and in complete sentences.
2. Uses pronouns correctly: I, you, they, them
3. States name, names of parents, age, birthday and other basic questions when asked
4. Asks questions
5. Can sing simple songs and poems
6. Can effectively express emotions

Motor Skills
1. Cuts (semi) straight lines
2. Can roughly cut a large object (i.e. circle, square)
3. Draws simple lines, shapes, stick figures
4. Copies/traces letters, shapes
5. Can hop on one foot
6. Kicks and throws a ball
7. Holds pencils/crayons with correct grip

Social Skills
1. Plays cooperatively with others
2. Understands how to share and take turns
3. Tries new things
4. Can separate from parents with a huge scene
5. Can sit and listen attentively for up to 20-30 minutes
6. Can focus on a single task for 10 minutes (i.e. coloring a picture, doing a project)
7. Follows directions
8. Can work on or do activities independently
9. Can use the bathroom independently

Important questions to ask yourself
- Is our decision child-centered or parent-centered? Can't stand your kid and dying to send them to school?! That would be a parent-centered reason to send them to Kindergarten. Chances are, if you can't stand your kid, they're not ready for Kindergarten anyway.

- In general, can my child get along with different kinds of children? For instance, they just don't get along with their best friend--they share and cooperate with most other children, too.

- How much time are you willing to spend devoted to your child's schoolwork? Being a teacher, I know I'll be right on top of Brooke's schoolwork. If there is a skill I feel she is lacking, I will definitely put in the time to work with her on this. I feel confident I'll be able to work with her on any skills she might be lacking since she's starting school "early." Some parents don't feel confident with that role. In that case, it might be better to wait.

- What does my child's preschool teacher say about his/her kindergarten readiness? This could be one of the most important things you can do to assess your child's readiness. I was 100% ready to send Brooke to another year of preschool until I spoke with her teacher about her readiness for Kindergarten. You will find most preschool teachers are quite candid when talking about this. They don't want to see kids set up to fail. If they think you child is not ready, chances are, they will tell you. Additionally, often kids behave differently in the classroom than they do at home. They might not sit and listen to you read a story for 20 minutes, but when they're in a big group, they will listen to the teacher. Be sure to get the preschool teacher's input on how they behave in the classroom.

- Am I over-thinking things? Many of us do that. We fast-forward 10 years and start thinking things like, "She'll be the LAST to drive in her class!" or "He'll be the oldest and most mature in his class and date younger girls!" Please. We're talking the difference of roughly a year--not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I can name "the old-ests" and "young-ests" in high school and they all turned out fine. No permanant damage done.

At the end of the day, know that if you have taken the all of the above into consideration, I really don't see how you (or your child) can lose.