Monday, April 25, 2016

Raising Toddlers Who Love to Read

I love to read.  Always have, always will.  I was the kid who read in the dark well past my bedtime, loved to receive books or gift cards to Barnes & Noble as presents (still do!), and had to be prodded to get off the couch with my book to "do something...why don't you go outside?!?".  (Though I do remember getting around that more than once by bringing my book and a snack outside to our deck, where I could curl up on the outdoor glider in peace. #slowdownyourebel.)  I have always been an incredibly fast reader, which leads me to read anything and everything I can get my hands on.  My dad's collection of books were fair game to me from a young age, and it seemed that more often than not I would be re-reading one book or another, having zipped through yet another stack of  new books and lacking more funds to the book store or a ride to the library.  (One reason that I am now a big fan of the e-reader...quick access to books at any hour, and even for free through the library!)

E-readers: also way easier to balance than a regular book while holding a sleeping baby...

Caden and Brooklyn also love books.  I haven't attempted to count, but their collection of books must number in the hundreds.  It helps that they have a grandma who is a librarian, and families who generally enjoy reading.  The stack of books they received for their birthday was epic (always multiplied by two, of course), and surely beat out the amount of clothes or toys they received.  Children's books of all types have taken over space in our living room (I count 37 from where I sit right now), their bedroom (including in their beds), the van, and the playroom.  They love to read both with us and by themselves, flipping through pages and pointing to favorite pictures, naming familiar animals and objects.  They often flip through a book before they go to sleep, and first thing when they wake.

I've been thinking about this lately, as it's come up in mom's groups more than once that others aren't really reading to their kids.  Or don't have that many books.  Or don't have time to read.  Or just don't think about reading with their kids.  (!!!)  I have been so surprised by these comments.  Reading to Caden and Brooklyn (and even Nolan) comes as easy as breathing to Tyson and me.  It absolutely boggles my mind to not use reading as an activity with a toddler, and is apparently an issue that more families struggle with than I ever would have realized.  I've been pondering why it comes so easily to our family, and here's what I've come up with:

We have a variety of  books.  Most are your standard board or paper picture books, but we also have a good variety of "seek and find" books (these they LOVE...they often do these by themselves, and I can tell they have several of the pages memorized), a few that make noise when you push a button, a couple that are magnetic, some "touch and feel" books, and some with flaps or moving parts.  Sometimes they even pull some of my books off of the shelf, and despite the lack of pictures will page through and babble along as they "read" to me.

We ignore the intended age level.  For example, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" says on the inside flap that it is for "ages 4-8".  I'm not exactly sure where these ages come from, but it's one of their favorite books!  It's not like we're giving a two-year old a chapter book here.  That said, some books are still too long for their attention span.  "The Little Engine That Could" is a big favorite, but Tyson and I learned early on that they have a hard time focusing on the entire story.  Now we never actually read the words, just flip through the pages and ad-lib our own version.  They don't know the difference, and love it just as much.  ("Choo-choo!")

All of us read every day.  Tyson likes to read articles, I read anything I can get my hands on, and at the very least, Caden and Brooklyn have five books read to them each day: two before nap, and three before bed at night.  (They both get to pick out one book each time, plus a Bible story in the evening, which is how we arrived at these numbers.)  Yet I don't think a day goes by that we don't find them reading at other times of the day, as well.  They often bring books to us to read throughout the day, or I find them paging through them on their own.  Even at this young age, I think it helps to recharge them.  I'll often see them rush to grab a book and take a break with it on the floor after an extended period of running around the house like maniacs.  I think they are naturally reacting to their bodies need to recharge with periods of rest between those of activity.

Our books are stored all over the house.  As I mentioned above, we have books absolutely everywhere.  The living room, the play room, the twins' room, Nolan's room, and in the car.  All of these books are within their reach and readily accessible to them at pretty much any point throughout the day.

We don't worry much about their attention span (or lack thereof).  We attend toddler story time at the library almost every week, and our favorite children's librarian stresses how normal it is for them to move around at this age.  He even leaves quiet toys out for them to play with while he reads.  And it's so true!  Frequently Caden will be wandering around or seemingly engrossed in a toy, but will suddenly react to something in the story when I had no idea he was paying attention; saying "roar!" if the book mentions a lion for example, or hopping like a frog if there is a frog in the picture.  Their little minds are able to hold onto much more at once than we give them credit for.  And if I find myself expecting them to just sit still and listen while I'm reading a story, I'm more often than not just setting us all up for failure.

Caden and Brooklyn have recently become incredibly interested in letters and numbers, wanting us to spell their names and other words repeatedly, and pointing to letters and "naming" them.  (They can always pick out "O" and "P", for example, and know that P is for "Papa!".  They can usually pick out "B" and "C" for their names, as well, and just yesterday Caden pointed to an "A" on my shirt and said "apple!".)  I fully credit this to their love of books and how often we read.  I love how much they they are interested in the alphabet and enjoy reading...even before they can actually read themselves!

A couple of resources:

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.  We receive a new book - for free! - each month through this program, though note that it is not available in all areas.

Fisher Price Learning Letters Puppy.  Caden especially loves this app, particularly because it sings the ABCs.  It includes games for letters, numbers, shapes, and colors.

Dr. Seuss's ABC.  Free app of the book.  It can read the book to them, or older kids can read it themselves.  The text and illustrations are also interactive.

A few favorite books:

Go, Dog. Go!.  Warning: this book will take you approximately F.O.R.E.V.E.R. to read.  Of course, it's their favorite book.  Start reading three hours before bedtime at least.

First Look and Find (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the Go).  We have several of these Look and Finds, and they love them all.  Bonus: they are virtually indestructible.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.  Tractors.  Need I say more.

Alphaprints ABC.  Super cute. The illustrations (THE most important part of a kid's book, in my opinion...) on each page are big and bright, and feature raised fingerprints.

Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb.  If it's possible for a book to get stuck in your head, this is it.  Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Post (Spring! It's Finally Spring!) Weekend

What did we do this weekend?

What every good, self-respecting Minnesotan (and Midwesterner) did this weekend.

THIS.  A variation of the above (aka being outside, OUTSIIIIIIIIIIDE!) is all we did the whole. dang.  weekend.  Outside after breakfast.  Outside for snacks.  Outside for lunch.  Outside after nap.   Outside after dinner.  Outside all the live-long day.  Outside, except for breaks to come in for naps and baths.  Hell, if I could have figured out a reasonable way for them to do those outside, we probably would have slept and bathed outside, too.

Caden and Brooklyn were the most dirty, grime-y, sticky, sweaty, most toddler-funk smelling two-year olds you ever did see (erm...smell).  

(New game: playing "airplanes" on the swings.  It goes like this: Swing on your belly.  Spin the chain around to spin in circles, if you're feeling daring.  Stare at the ground and probably get dizzier than you've ever felt in your entire two years on this earth.  Do this, and nothing but this, for upwards of 20 minutes.)

(Followed by gleeful headstands/somersaults off the swings and into the grass.)

(Nolan is filled with grins outside (okay, inside, too).  He's going to be right out there in the next year or so, covered in dirt and chalk and sweat and grime with the best of 'em.).

(Proof that Nolan is actually along on most of these adventures.  Apparently most of the pictures of his first year are going to be of the selfie/baby-carrier variety.  Sorry, third kid.)

They were clearly LOVING IT.  Let's do this all summer.  In the words of a couple of twin toddlers: "Mo', peese."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cloth Diapering: Baby Three

The newest chapter in our cloth diapering saga:

This guy.

(FYI we're still using the same cloth diapering system for the twins.  However, they have been showing signs and interest in potty training.  Cue sounds of excitement, terror, and a general sense of oh em gee.)

(And in case you really want to geek out over cloth diapering, you can read more about how we do here, here, and here.)

As far as Nolan goes, we started cloth diapering almost exclusively WAY earlier than with Caden and Brooklyn.  It was easier this time around, since:  A) we were basically zombies with the twins, so dealing with cloth was nowhere near a priority at the time B) Nolan's umbilical cord fell off in less than two weeks, making it easier to use all types of cloth diapers, whereas the twins' umbilical cords took over a month to fall off C) we more or less knew what we were doing this time and D) the twins are cloth diapered anyway, so what's one more to add to the rotation?

For young/small babies, I still love me some prefolds with wool covers.  Unfortunately, Nolan wets through them EXTREMELY quickly, and since he STRONGLY DISLIKES having a wet/messy diaper, there are times that I've had to change him every half hour.  This means I've gone back to our fitted newborn diapers, which I COULD NOT STAND with the twins, and now find (much to my surprise) indispensable.  They fit him SO much better, since he is closer to a "normal-sized" baby (aka we're dealing with legs that aren't quite so scrawny and chicken-like).  Of course, this now makes me regret selling about half of our fitted diapers as part of my "PURGE OR BURN IT ALL WE'RE FREAKING MOVING" frenzy before we left Madison.  However, I can summarize how the remaining stash of fitted newborn diapers fits thusly:

What doesn't work: literally the only fitted cloth diaper that did work for Caden and Brooklyn.
What does work: virtually every other fitted cloth diaper that we own that absolutely, positively, did NOT work no way never for Caden and Brooklyn.

GO FREAKING FIGURE.  Just one more way that Nolan is (surprise!) his own person.  While the twins have always been very similar in build, he's got a whole other thing going on.  I can't believe how I'm actually in love with our newborn stash of fitted cloth diapers this time, when with Caden and Brooklyn it was more like...meh.

I will say that prefolds are still a favorite (despite the quick wet-throughs) because you automatically wrap them snugly around those baby thighs each and every time.  It's just the nature of a prefold.  In contrast, the fitteds (at least the snap ones) need to be adjusted in the positioning of the snap closure fairly frequently, in dealing with the reality of a rapidly-growing infant.  I never have to second-guess myself when I fasten on a prefold, or on a fitted diaper with a velcro closure, and I still feel like I always question myself with the snaps. And then it leaks.  (BUT the velcro closure wears out way sooner.  It's a cloth diaper catch-22.)

In conclusion: cloth diapering is kind of a crapshoot.  What you buy/try/think you might like may not work for your baby, or the next baby, or the baby after that.  I cringed a little when I put a fitted diaper on Nolan for the first time based on my previous hatred, and now I love them so much I'm considering buying more.  I'm still so glad we hopped on this cloth diaper train.  One of the biggest reasons we did (besides saving the environment, blah, blah, hippie-pants) was to save money, and it blows my mind to think of just how much we've saved on diapers over the past couple of years.

And THIS is how you become a crazy, crunchy, cloth-diapering lady, with a cloth diaper stash large enough to cover the bottoms of half the children in the neighborhood.  At least I haven't started making my own.  Yet.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

One After Two

I always suspected, by having twins first, that I missed out on something.  While I love both Caden and Brooklyn, can't imagine life without them, enjoy the adventure of having twins, etc., etc., etc., I was always secretly envious of everyone else with their one baby.  It seemed so easy!  Shopping carts weren't an issue, schedule sync-up wasn't even on their radar, walking in and out of anywhere with a single carseat or toddler in hand - leaving the other hand free, gloriously free! - seemed like such a luxury to me.  Then there was the bonding. My attention has always been so divided with the twins.  Even (or maybe especially) as infants, it seemed like I was constantly passing them off to another set of hands or putting them down in the nearest available swing/bouncy seat/playmat/surface not contaminated by spit-up so I could tend to feeding or rocking the other one.  Having one child to focus on - completely - has always been something that I've been a little jealous of.  (Which (ahem, quick vent here) is why it always rubs me the wrong way when people compare having twins to having two kids close in age.  You got to experience having a single child for 15, 16, 18 whatever-ish months before the other came along!  And were pregnant with a single baby at a time.  Still difficult, NOT THE SAME.  Okay, rant over.)

Turns out...I think I was right.  I already wrote about how the entire birth experience with a singleton was completely and entirely different than with twins.  Now, six weeks in, the contrast has continued.  I keep catching glimpses into what life would have been like with one baby.  When I take Nolan out of the house, just him and me, it really is so simple to take his carseat strollers or mental how-the-heck-do-I-get-into-the-store pre-planning required.  Nursing one baby is still quite the time commitment, but absolutely nothing like nursing two (and continues to make me forever grateful that the twins came along first...without having to deal with having another child around).  I've had time to just hold him while he's sleeping...I never did that with the twins.  If and when Caden and Brooklyn were both sleeping, especially at this young age, the countdown was on for me to shower/eat something/go to the bathroom/do some laundry before one or both woke up to nurse again.

Nolan even has a SCHEDULE.  He's already established regular patterns for himself during the day. Caden and Brooklyn (and a lot of twins I know, when us moms compare notes) didn't have any sort of schedule - individually, together, AT ALL PERIOD - for the first 6-7 MONTHS.  I remember reading parenting forums at the time, how others would post about their baby's "1 am feed", or what time their baby went down for the night, while I sat there and thought, "...the hell?".  There were no patterns or regularity to the twins schedule, not by a long shot.  What is this "down" for the "night" that you speak of?  Well guess what? Now MY kid is the one who wakes for a "1 am feeding".  I KNOW this.  He DOES this regularly all by himself.  It's AMAZING.  (Almost like he's his own little person, completely separate from his brother and sister.  Whoda thunk?)

Of course there is a flip side to all of this.  While having one newborn is so much more peaceful than two, those "two" are now TODDLERS and so it's actually not all that peaceful. I mean, we haven't exactly gotten rid of them or anything.  They are still VERY MUCH around each and every day, and VERY INTERESTED in this little baby brother.  But Caden, Brooklyn, and I...we had a routine down before Nolan came along.  It was actually relatively easy to take them out and about and do all sorts of things each and every day.  Having two kids the same age is difficult in its own way (though it's not all bad).  Balancing kiddos of multiple ages is an entirely different ballgame.  The quiet time of nursing a newborn is quickly interrupted by toddlers who demand snacks of their own.  But also the relative ease of feeding toddlers is rendered impossible by a newborn who decides he needs to eat at the exact second they are settled in their high chairs.  This could spiral into an entirely different post, so I better quit while I'm ahead...

Maybe I did miss out on something, by having twins first.  I won't ever really know, but I also wouldn't give up the experience of having twins.  (Most days.  Hours.  Minutes. Depends on when you check in with me on that.)  They might be different ages, heading towards their own individual milestones and achievements, (Nolan: holding my head up independently. Brooklyn: putting my doll's clothes on without assistance.  Caden: climbing the most dangerous ladder on the playground up to the tallest slide BY MY OWN DANG SELF.), but it is so fun to watch them all together, these two + one.

That guilty look when you're caught using your infant brother as a road for your elephant-on-wheels.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Nolan Newborn Photos

Some favorites of mine from our recent newborn/family photo session.  Somehow we managed to get a ton of great photos despite the logistics of getting a newborn, two toddlers, and two adults coordinated and cooperative (aka we bribed the toddlers with food).  

Many, many thanks to Prall Photography for all of the wonderful photos!