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Archive for the ‘Activities’ Category

I do a lot of classes with my twin toddlers.  As a stay-at-home mom, I find the very last thing I want to do is actually stay at home.  Especially in the winter, when we can’t spend an hour out in the yard (though sometimes I try), we need quality indoor activities.

I’ve found there are particular things that make a class work, in particular when you have more than one child.  Obviously, a kind, organized, enthusiastic group leader or teacher is key, as is a child-safe space.  But even more than that, I find we do the best in classes that really allow toddlers to be toddlers.  And by that, I mean that sometimes one of my kids will be into circle time, and sometimes one of them will want to wander off and do their own thing.  At nearly 18 months old, this is not a question of poor behavior or budding ADHD.  It’s just toddlers.  And when you have two of them, your ability to keep both in your lap at a particular time is limited.  So I appreciate the classes where the space is safe and confined, and the teacher doesn’t mind if some children decide to do something different, as long as it isn’t disruptive or unsafe.  That’s why I’m in love with Music Together and the Little Gym.  There are fun, structured activities, but no one minds if one day they want to dance, and one day they want to sit quietly.

Which brings me to this morning.  My local moms of twins club organized a playgroup at a nearby Gymboree.  The club was going to cover part of the cost, so it was an hour of indoor activity for $5.  Sounds great!  Sign us up.  There were close to 20 kids, mostly sets of twins (some singleton siblings, too).  So you had roughly one adult for every two kids. And all of the moms (and nannies) in the room were used to that.  You can’t always have a hand on both kids at all times, but we help each other out and keep an eye on our kids.

Start off with the fact that the teacher/leader was late, the door was locked, and we stood out in the cold.  My Rebecca, who had already had a rough morning, was getting pretty upset.  We finally got in, and I’m trying to calm her down while preventing Daniel from running on the mats before I can get his shoes off.  It’s a little nutty, and Rebecca’s having a bit of a meltdown, but I’m trying to get everything under control.  What does the teacher say to me?  “You know, if she’s going to keep crying, you can feel free to leave.”  Um. What?  I thought she was kidding. But no, she continued, “I don’t want them to be crying in my class.”

OK. Step off.  I’ve been inside for approximately 60 seconds.  My kid was cold. My kid is a toddler, for crying out loud. And you’re going to suggest that I might want to leave.  Hoo boy, you can bet I almost did.  But I had friends there, so I decided to stay. (Steam coming out of my ears.)

It didn’t get much better from there.  The teacher was unclear and not well-organized. She got really annoyed when the kids didn’t want to (or didn’t understand how to) do exactly the activity she had in her mind. She made no effort to teach us any of the songs, but seemed put out that we didn’t sing along.  She put out the parachute, but didn’t want the kids to shake it, or really, in any way interact with it until she was ready.  And when my daughter was climbing on one of the play structures and it tipped over (she was fine, just startled), I got lectured about how “that’s why we always tell the parents to stay within ‘hugs reach’.”  I was a few feet from my daughter when it happened, not off in another room eating bon-bons. And she was using the structure in its intended manner, not climbing somewhere she shouldn’t have been. I nearly decked the teacher, but instead scooped up my kids and left.

I know it’s not easy having a room full of toddlers.  I understand she must have been overwhelmed to not have the usual 1:1 adult-to-child ratio. I don’t expect playgroup teachers to be super-human.  But I do expect them to have some fundamental understanding of the nature of the age they’re teaching, which includes flexibility, clarity, and good humor.

And I’m sure there are Gymboree teachers out there who have that gift.  But, I can assure you, my kids and I (and our money) will not be returning.  It was bad from any objective standpoint.  But especially when you have two kids to watch and take care of, I really need a class that is accepting of the nature of toddlers, not one that fights it.

/rant

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When I was pregnant – and afterwards, now that I think of it – people would say to me “Oh, wow, twins! Great! One try and your done!” Or I hear “Oh how nice that they’re at the same age developmentally, that’ll make things easier.”

Not that I have anything to compare it to? But NOT SO MUCH, methinks.

I have yet to realize any economies of scale. Clothing-wise, they are boy and girl and though I try to purchase more neutral stuff than naught, they simply aren’t wearing the same size anyway. In fact, the sizes are so far apart that by the time my daughter could wear my son’s ‘neutral’ clothing, they’ll be out of season.

Bottles? The never could use the same bottle system. OF COURSE. My son uses standard nipples and my daughter prefers the Born Free stuff. She can drink from a cup and straw. He needs a sippy cup. For now. He leaks at night without Overnights and a Diaper Doubler, she’s fine in the regular diapers.

Sure we got the 10% off for multiples discount from various stores, but that only applied to the big gear.

Now, I’m finding myself a little anxious about future activities. We recently attended a music play class that offered two FREE demonstration classes. We went, and they enjoyed it. So did I! But to enroll them, it’s $250. PER CHILD. So right there, with two kids, I’m priced out.

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Do I enroll one and alternate attendance? Do I enroll both and make them sit around in dirty diapers longer to make up for the expenditure? Or do I enroll neither because $500 for 30 minutes once a week for 19 weeks is TOO MUCH MONEY?

And I’m just using the music play class as an example. I never intended to enroll them in the class because I figured I could watch the instructor and at least sort of do what she does at home with the kids. This isn’t just about music play classes. What about soccer or piano lessons or karate or dance class on down the road? My nephew plays in a football league, two baseball leagues, and a basketball league and EACH season EACH sport is about $170 for registration and uniforms. It makes me admire my parents even more because I played and did seemingly EVERYTHING – and I know they didn’t have a lot of funds.

When did organized group PLAY get so expensive?

So how do you do it? How do you keep your kids socialized and involved without breaking the bank?

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Well, hello there!  Everyone waking up from the extended upheaval that is the month of December? Ah, the Monday after the holidays.  Back to work, back to routines… and April seems oh-so far away.

swings in the snowOn the plus side, my kids seem quite undeterred by cold and snow.  They would be quite pleased to just keep on playing on the swingset in the backyard, even if it’s coated in 3-4 inches of snow.  And sometimes, we do.  We pack on the puffy jackets, snowpants, and boots, and out we go.  But sometimes I just can’t handle all of the cold-and-snow prep, and it’s too cold and nasty.  So I’ve had to find some new indoor activities for my all-over-the-place 17-month-olds.

If it were summer, it seems they’d be at the prime age to start playing with sand and water tables.  We used an indoor version during one of the classes we took in the fall, and it was a big hit.  But I don’t have the table or the space or the patience for water all over my floors.

rice boxInstead, I share with you the biggest hit of the last few days with my kids: the rice box.  It’s not a new concept, not by a long shot, but I figured I’d put it out there for anyone in need of an idea.  Some people use rice, some use dried beans.  But it’s a fun way to play with texture and scooping and all of that.  And much easier to clean up than sand.  All you need is a wide, shallow rubbermaid container.  Throw in some inexpensive dry rice or pasta or beans, and add some good scoopers.  Measuring cups, sippy cups whose tops have long since disappeared, or anything else.  If possible, put a sheet or tarp underneath it for easier cleanup.

Will the kids keep every grain of rice inside the box?  No.  Will you have to supervise closely to minimize destruction and prevent the kids from eating it? Yes.  Will you have to unclench and accept the fact that the rice will still escape the area and require immediate vacuuming upon completion of the activity?  Yes.

rice box mess

But hey, it keeps them entertained for 5-10 minutes, so I’ll take it.

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Hidden beneath my “mommy” exterior, is a temper. A temper which does not show itself frequently, but nonetheless is consistently triggered at one specific place…the play area at the mall.

I live in Pittsburgh. Wet, cold, overcast, rainy, snowy, icy, miserable-during-the-winter Pittsburgh. Where all the outdoor play areas are abandoned for 5 months a year.  Where house-bound mom’s desperately try to create fun outlets for the boundless energy of their toddlers.  Once a week or so, many of us find ourselves at the ONLY indoor kid area for miles.

Here is where my temper and I need help. I know that pre-kids I had all of these noble and unrealistic expectations for myself as a mother: ie. “MY children will NEVER have snotty noses and wear food-crusted jackets in public,” “MY children won’t ever act like brats in restaurants,” “I will always be kind and soft-spoken to my darling little ones.”) Yeah, you could say that reality has been a sharp slap in the face! 🙂

So when I am carefully assisting Faith and Jonathan on and off of the play apparatus, and some giant six (or seven or ten year old) comes ripping through the slides and knocks over one of my kids, steam can be seen from miles away rising from my heated face.  I get SO angry when these young kids are allowed to rush through the play area while their parents sit in the corner and sip coffee. I have complained about this so much to my other mom friends that I feel like a broken record. Yet it never fails that I have to speak up and remind some older kid that all the other kids are little and they need to be careful.

Honestly, my anger is not directed toward the bigger kids. I feel compassion for them. I wish there was an area dedicated to them so they could run around and have a great time burning off their energy. Nope, I get steamed at the parents.  I am a mother bear when it comes to my kids, and I can not understand why these older kids are allowed to run around like they do.  However, I only have 2 kids, only 19 months of experience, and I do not know what it is like to have older kids. I am sure many of the parents figure it is a safe way to let their 2 or more differently aged kids play indoors.

So what do the rest of you do in these situations? Do you address the parents? The mall officials to suggest changes? The kids? Surely I am not the only mama getting hot under the collar about this issue…at least, I hope I am not! So please, educate me! I would love to hear from those of you with older kids, as you are infinitely more wise than I! And what about the rest of you toddler moms? What are your lists of “My kids will NEVER…”

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A question today from Lyna, which I felt totally compelled to answer (I know, you’re all shocked!):

my twins are 18 mo, and i’m ashamed to admit that i have been relying a lot on my maid in handling them. i even take her along on our outings. yesterday i did something ambitious, i went out with the twins and my elder daughter WITHOUT the maid. it was a stressful experience – i ended up losing my temper on my 4-yo for the littlest reason. i feel so bad and incompetent as a mother.

so how DO you do it? how do you handle outings with 2 toddlers and a rebellious 4-yo without getting all stressed out?

Getting out of the house is more and less challenging at all different ages.  But, more than anything, I think it’s hardest when you simply lack practice.  Don’t beat yourself up, it’s tricky.  Here are some tips:

Choose wisely

When you’re new to solo outings, pick them carefully.  Don’t drag three kids to the grocery store at 5pm.  Pick a time (maybe right after a nap?) when they’re all typically in a good mood.  Pick a destination that isn’t too far away, whether a short walk to the park or a short drive to a friend’s house.  Pick an outing that is manageable and kid-friendly.  If there’s some kind of contained drop-in play space, or a small fenced-in playground (though that can be tricky with the young toddlers), that might be a nice bet. Pick some place that is child-friendly and interesting so that you don’t have to expect them to sit still and be quiet for very long, but also someplace that is small or enclosed enough that you’ll be more able to keep a watchful eye on all of them at once.  Also, consider a class they can all enjoy on their own level, such as a music class (I’ve heard lots of good recommendations for Music Together for multi-aged siblings).  It’s structured, it’s kid-friendly, it’s entertaining, and it’s only an hour.  Make sure you have enough time to get home for the next meal or naptime.

Pack Carefully

Especially at those ages, you don’t need to bring the kitchen sink with you.  But the last thing you want is to be caught without a few diapers and wipes in case of a containment failure.  And snacks.  Don’t ever forget the snacks.  I’m not above using Goldfish crackers as the occasional bribery for good behavior or to avert a meltdown.  Bring snacks and maybe sippy cups with water.  It won’t go bad if you accidentally leave it in the car, but it’s there if you need it.  A hungry child is more likely to be cranky, so make sure everyone’s happy and fed!  Other than that, maybe bring a comfort item if your kids are wary of new situations, but make sure it’s a second-string stuffed animal.  You don’t want to accidentally leave the One True Blanket at the mall.  If you have messy kids, you might leave a change of clothes in the trunk of your car, but no need to drag it all over creation.

Adjust Expectations

Along with choosing your time and location carefully, you need to make adjustments to your own expectations in order to lower your stress level and make you less likely to have a meltdown (and we’ve all done it).  Don’t have a list of things you want to accomplish while you’re out, don’t make your first outings all about errands.  Take it small, and keep it focused on the kids. Make it an outing focused on something fun for them, not to-do list for you.  And then realize that they may not enjoy it as much as you had hoped, and that’s OK.  Realize that sometimes they’re just going to have a bad day and you’ll have to make a quick departure.  And that’s OK.  And, remember, kids are a lot like dogs and horses: they can totally smell fear and tension.  If you’re tense and ready to snap, they’ll pick up on it in a second.  Relax, and put on your “calm and loving mom” face.  You can let out the frustration when you’re home and they’re all down for a nap if you need to.  But as far as they’re concerned, stay cool.

With the older sibling, take a page from LauraC and do some advance preparation.  Talk about what you’ll be doing.  Talk up how much fun music class will be together.  Repeatedly discuss what you’re going to do in detail (“We’ll all get in the car and drive to X.  Then we’ll have music class, and there will be instruments to play and songs to sing, and you can dance if you want to.  When class is over, we’ll come back home and have lunch.”).  Also discuss behavior expectations.  I don’t think there’s a need to focus too much on potential consequences for bad behavior.  Instead, focus on all of the nice things you’re expecting her to do since she’s such a wonderful big girl. Let her know when she’ll have choices (“You don’t have to sing along if you don’t want to.” “You can choose whether we have pretzels or string cheese for snack.”)  And, again, be reasonable.  Don’t expect them to sit quietly somewhere for 45 minutes so you can have a latte and read a magazine.  But do expect the older child to do things like hold hands while walking, use an inside voice, etc.

Practice Makes Perfect

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  Honestly, this is one of those things that only seems more daunting the longer you wait.  And I know a lot of people who get caught in the (somewhat enviable) trap of almost having too much help.  The down side to having a lot of help is that you do become really reliant on it, and you start to believe that you couldn’t possibly get by without it.  But you can, and lots of people do.  So plan ahead, give yourself a pep-talk if you need to (I think I can, I think I can!), and then just go for it.  Even the most “experienced” among us have days when things seem to crash and burn.  But you learn from the experience (shouldn’t have gone to X when they skipped a nap!), and do it better the next time.  Just keep trying, and soon you’ll be an old pro.

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… with a couple of little kids on a rainy day, boy oh boy do I have the place for you.

This morning, my mom and I took the kids to the Skokie Park District’s Exploritorium.  To call it an “indoor playground” does not begin to do it justice.  There was an arts and crafts area, a big plastic climbing structure with two slides, a bunch of push-toys, several computers, a train table, a stage with lots of dress-up clothes, books, puzzles, a water area, and a two-story tube and tunnel climbing course.  Heck, there was even an exersaucer and a couple of little play tables for the less-mobile ones.  It was, in a word, awesome.  And cheap!  $4 for adults, $6 for kids, and toddlers and babies two and under were free.  A bargain at twice the price, I swear.

The only down side is that, bold as I usually am, it’s not really do-able with two toddlers and only one adult.  It was tricky enough with one-and-a-half adults (I’m still hobbling along on my post-op foot), definitely not something I’d do on my own with my two 16-month-olds.  But if you’re in the area and have a 1:1 child-to-adult ratio, it’s well worth the outing. There’s no stated age range, but I think anywhere from toddlers to young elementary school kids would have parts they would enjoy. My kids had a blast. I suspect we’ll be going back before this trip is over…

rebecca water table with ducks

daniel water feature

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I wish I had known about this tradition when my children were younger.  In a nutshell, your children write a letter to Santa asking him if he can spare an elf for the holiday season.  Around Thanksgiving you leave the letter, along with some saltine crackers (which crunch like snow) and water (melted snow).

The elf appears, and if you have ordered it from Elf Magic, he comes with a bag, some magic snow to sprinkle on him at night, and a letter of introduction telling you his name.  All very cute.

The fun begins when you put the elf to bed for the night.  They love to get up and play around the house at night and the kids awaken to find them in the morning someplace unexpected.

The tradition does not require that you buy an elf from the company, just find one to use and use your imagination.  The company website has lots of ideas and funny pictures.  I think my favorite was the elf who was found in the morning behind the wheel of the badly parked car with fast food wrappers all over the place.  Apparently he had late night munchies.  Our elf, pictured here, brought along his Webkinz reindeer friend one night and the two of them have gotten into all sorts of mischief.

I’m happy to say I just found a giveaway at Crafty Mama of 4.  Sign up for a chance to win an elf for your house.

To see the daily adventures of our elf, visit me at Lit and Laundry.

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