Say it in broken English

Whoa, it’s been nearly a month since my last post! Time passes way too quickly, especially when the weather is warm and there’s so much to do outside (and away from the computer)… So, where do I begin? Shall I tell you about my planting odyssey or about Mr. Toddler’s speech explosion? Or maybe show you some nice pictures? Or would you like to see my current (absolutely, mindbogglingly gorgeous) knitting WIP? Or hear about my recent… er… “moderately productive” attempts at writing a new pattern?

Oh the hard choice! But wait, there’s one thing that beats them all! Last night my little rascal looked at me with sweet eyes and said: “I wove you!” like he really meant it. Now, if there’s anything that can melt a woman’s heart…

dandelion

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Kids vs tablets

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Like it or not, modern babies are born directly into the world of technology. I was 20 when I had my first PC. My son, aged two, operates the touch screen of a tablet like he’s been doing it all his life (which is actually the case). I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, computer literacy is as important a skill as being able to read. If the humanity doesn’t want to be taken over by the machines (it isn’t science fiction any more, it’s what serious guys like Stephen Hawking predict), we should teach kids to tame the beast and, as it’s often the case, learning begins by playing.

There exist tons of apps designed especially for preschoolers and most of them are quite decent, so the rule when you choose is “try and see”. Besides this, I have set the following criteria: free apps that have no pop-up ads and don’t require access to my personal information. Of course, I also pay attention to the graphics and the content: nobody wants their kids to see scary, ugly or inappropriate stuff. With these restrictions, there’s still plenty of choice. Here are a few of our favourites of the moment:

  1. Scott Adelmann puzzles. There’s a great variety of themes, ranging from pirates to Easter bunnies. The puzzles are easy and well drawn and, once completed, they become interactive: you can move objects, make sound effects and pop confetti. The free version includes four puzzles for each theme. The only drawback is that every theme has its own app that should be installed separately but then, you can only choose the ones you like, which is not so bad if you think in terms of memory saving.
  2. Samo Coloring For Kids. As its name suggests, it’s a colouring app. The palette is impressive, the outlines clear and the whole app is very neatly made. Warning: adults can be tempted to steal the game from their kids!
  3. Pizza Maker Kids. And Ice-cream maker. And cake maker. And pretty much everything else maker. The pizza design is very realistic, with lots of free ingredient options (there are paid options too). The feature I like most is that you can play with your pizza once it’s ready and cooked!
  4. ABC Handwriting. One of the best letter tracing apps I’ve tried so far. It includes capital and small letters and numbers from 0 to 9 and offers a choice between guided and free writing. It’s also equipped with a sound on/off button, which might help preserve your sanity for awhile, until your kid discovers what it serves for.
  5. Toddler Aquarium. The free version only offers 5 letters but the app is very well made and probably the one worth paying for. Features include letter and animal puzzles, matching shapes and learning words, all with sound support, as well as a team of cute crabs cheering at every successful move.
  6. Simply Colors Lite. This app includes six colour related games based on matching, sorting and following simple instructions. I like this game for its simplicity and clear pictures: no distractions is sometimes a good thing!
  7. Kids Math. While it might be a little complicated for a two year old, this app features very cool graphics and a series of math games. Definitely a keeper.
  8. Simply Sea Life Toddlers Lite. The free version includes three games: playing hide and seek with sea animals, completing a puzzle and following instructions. Personally, I adore the splash sounds in the puzzle.
  9. Winter Snow Clean Up. My kid is currently very keen on cleaning (virtual, that is), so he loves this app. The game includes two spaces to clean: a room and a yard, and a dirty puppy to brush, soap and shower. Unfortunately, the game bugs from time to time but we still keep it.
  10. Kids Socks. This is one of our first apps and still a favourite. It’s a cute sock matching game with lots of cheering in the background.
  11. Pixelesque. This one is actually a program for geeks who want to create pixelated game characters. I occasionally use it to make colourwork patterns for knitting (remember the Vaders hat?) and my son loves to play around with it, changing colours, filling and erasing the “pixels”.
  12. Laugh And Learn series.  Created by a toy manufacturer, these apps don’t require buying the toys (which is often the case with this kind of apps). Cute, friendly characters, nice songs, three languages to choose from – what’s not to like? Maybe just one thing: the sheep in the apps says “meeeh” instead of “baaa” – but who has no faults? Make sure to check corresponding cartoons on YouTube, you (ahem! I mean, your child) will love it!

I could go on and on (we have lots of apps that I rotate regularly) but I suggest you rather go and see for yourself. Your tablet-wielding kids will thank you! Well, they probably won’t but you’ll be able to keep your offsprings busy and gain some knitting time into the bargain!

One last thought… Toddler locks are useful but most aren’t free of charge, and for the moment, we survive without. Here’s what you can do to minimize the potential damage:

  1. Reserve an entire screen for your kid’s apps and insist that he cannot touch anything else. Like really insist. Every time you hand him the tablet. Hopefully, one day it’ll end up by sinking in.
  2. Hide your apps from the main screen: you’re the adult, you know where to look for them!
  3. And the most efficient: activate the flight mode. If your kid does find his way to your account (he will), at least he won’t purchase anything or publish his game score on your Facebook wall, or open something unsightly in the browser. He’ll still be able to erase your contact list, so keep an eye on him all the same!

Raising a reader

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When I was a kid, reading was pretty much the only way of spending free time. Of course, one could go outside or watch TV, or play with the dolls, which I duly did, but peering into a book was my top of the list. The library was just a couple of blocks away and I went there religiously, at least once a week: no wonder all the librarians knew me by the name and I was allowed to take home whichever books I wanted, including those you cannot take home. From adventure stories to the encyclopaedia of entomology, my reading range was quite impressive, it was like I could never have enough…

In my University years, I became a pickier reader: I had my favourites. Literature studies provided material for “broadening the horizons”, while my old friends were always close at hand for a cosy, relaxing time: rereading and rediscovering has become a new guilty pleasure of mine, and I have never pushed it as far as during my son’s first months when I could often be found sitting up in my bed in the middle of the night, breastfeeding, one arm wrapped around the baby and the free hand holding a smart phone…

I’m not sure if these breast-reading sessions are to blame, but one thing is clear: this boy is a real little bookworm. He has started early: at the age of 18 months he already had a library card of his own and at two, he’s a happy owner of 50-something books (and I didn’t count the magazines). His books are stored on the bottom shelf of the bookcase where he can pick them whenever he wants and I’m glad to see that he does reach for them, every day! His “passion for literature” often manifests itself in the evening and, although it has spoilt many of our TV nights, I keep encouraging him (and reading to him in whispers while we’re watching yet another film) because in my charts, the magic of the “blue screen” will never rank as high as the magic of a good book. I don’t know if his interest in books persists but he can count on me to keep them coming: it takes a library to raise a reader!

Today I’m getting the job done

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Image source: Web

Warning: Dear parents of multiple children, please, abstain from reading (or, if you do read, please, don’t call me silly: I understand how ridiculous it all sounds to you. All I can say in my defence is I’m a first time mum of a single child, so, while I’m talking nonsense, why don’t you go and check one of the knitting posts?)

Today I have learned a lesson: with the kid(s) around, it is NEVER the right moment, so, if you have to do the job (any job whatsoever), just clench your teeth, step out of your comfort zone and get the darn thing done. Or forget it.

It’s a nice sunny day somewhere near the end of November. You look at your dusty windows and they look scornfully back at you. You decide it’s the perfect time for the end-of-season cleaning: in fact, it’s probably THE ONLY time (before next April) when you can open the windows without the risk of catching a double-sided pneumonia. You look at your toddler, then at your watch: in less than half an hour he will be asleep and then you’ll get the job done. Quickly, efficiently and ALONE.

Right?

Wrong!

Of all days, your little sweet pea decides that he doesn’t actually need a nap.

BINGO! Now you have to deal with the cleaning AND the kiddo or say goodbye to any hope of keeping your place in a relatively decent condition… So? To clean or not to clean?

I used to back off in this kind of situations: after all, nobody is going to die because of dusty windows… And tomorrow is another day and the circumstances might be more favourable…

Right?

Wrong!

You forget one thing: children are unpredictable. They are still learning to be part of the big picture and you cannot always expect them to fit in seamlessly and perform “adult” tricks like self-control, self-discipline and sticking to schedules. (Even adults sometimes fail to do it, and more often than you’d expect.)

For your sanity’s sake, when you make a plan, always include the surprise factor. And remember: IT IS NEVER THE RIGHT TIME! Which means, the right time is WHEN YOU DECIDE IT IS. It took me some effort to figure it out, this is why I’m sharing this newly acquired wisdom with you, my friends. When you have to do the job, just do it. Because… well… this is the only way to get it done.

Beware the ‘Vaders!

As you probably know, toddlers have a tendency to outgrow new clothes quicker than you can say “get dressed!”, which, combined with the aversion to all things new, can turn your life into a battlefield of epic proportions. I don’t know if all toddlers (or all boys, or any kid other than mine) ever do it, but Mr. Toddler has to put on a show every time he’s presented with a new item of clothing: he would say “No!” and run away and, when forced to put things on, he’d cry and wriggle like a colicky newborn… He does it so well that we actually bought him a second pair of shoes before realizing it was just a comedy.

So… we bought him a new winter jacket (I skip the details to preserve your nervous system) and, of course, the last year’s hat didn’t match. So I “had to” knit him a new one. To design a new one, to be exact. I began by searching the web for a simple pixelated character and this is how I met Space Invaders (aren’t they super cute? I’m not a gamer but definitely a fan!). Unfortunately, these little aliens are under copyright and, to be frank, I find them somewhat too scary for a two year old, so I have created my own version: they are slightly taller and friendlier-looking (but still willing to conquer the Earth, so beware all the same!). Thanks to the sprint knitting method, I have finished the hat in a week. I had to use a different yarn to finish the lining (shh! I never told you!) and my stranded knitting could have been better but on the whole, I’m very happy with the result: the hat is extra warm (one stranded layer plus the lining, all 100% wool), it looks funny and my Mr. No wears it like a good boy. I have even invented a trick or two while working on it (what I adore about knitting is that it allows you to grow with every project!) but I won’t tell you unless I decide to publish the pattern ;)

But you want to see the hat, don’t you? Here you go!

Threee…

Twooo…

Ooone…

Ta-daaam! Meet the ‘Vaders!

Beware the 'Vaders!

Beware the ‘Vaders!

P.S. In case you’re wondering about my son’s reaction to his new hat, it was “Oh, no! Oh, no!” once again… I would have been surprised to hear anything else…

Everyman’s guide to buying presents for toddlers

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Mr. Toddler’s birthday is approaching, which makes me think of presents. Most people (mistakenly) presume that they don’t need any guidance with these, but believe me, they do, especially if they don’t have toddlers at home or have forgotten what it’s like to have them. Read on and you’ll have to admit that I’m right.

Mum knows best

If you want to make a present that will be appreciated, ask the parents: after all, it’s the child you want to surprise and not his mum. Nobody knows that kid better than his own mother, so go on and ask her and she’ll be happy to tell you all about Junior’s favourites of the moment. If she says silly things like “it’s not the present that matters”, insist: she’s only trying to be polite. If she cannot give you an exact answer (like “that-and-that doll house” or “such-and-such LEGO set”), ask her about her kid’s favourite toys, cartoon characters, colours and clothes size. Tell her what toy you’re thinking about to check if the kid already has one. Ask her if she’d rather prefer a book, a set of clothes or sports equipment. If you are close friends, you can also ask her if there’s anything she’d buy if it weren’t too expensive and offer to share the bill.

If for some reason you cannot ask the kid’s parents, you can use these simple tips:

1. Go for the basics: they are entertaining and having doubles is an advantage, rather than a problem. Building blocks, LEGOs, lightweight balls (keep that signature soccer ball for when the kid grows up and learns not to throw it in the direction of the new TV-set), bathtub buddies, colouring pencils or crayons (PENCILS AND CRAYONS, people, NOT paint or markers, even if it’s written “washable” on them!), soft toys, picture books…

2. Buy age-appropriate toys. Would YOU like to receive a toy that you won’t be able to play with at once? I guess not…

3. Don’t buy cheap, “use-and-throw” stuff. The world is cluttered enough, and imagine the disappointment of the child whose toy breaks two days (or two minutes!) after he receives it. A good toy is the one that lasts until the kid outgrows it, and it doesn’t necessarily cost a fortune.

4. Don’t buy really expensive stuff. The toddler won’t know the difference but the parents will, and might feel embarrassed.

5. Don’t buy toys that make noise. Even the most pleasant melody can become annoying if played a hundred times in a row. And that’s exactly what kids do: play it again and again (and again), until their parents’ brains explode. So, for Heaven’s sake, don’t!

6. I don’t really have to say it, but just in case: don’t buy toys that can hurt the child (or the parents, or anyone else). Your nephew might be dreaming about a toy sword but let his parents decide if he’s going to have one. Because if he pokes out somebody’s eye, you don’t want to be the one feeling guilty, do you?

7. Don’t give money, gift cheques or other non-material presents unless previously agreed with the kid’s parents. First, because they won’t make the kid happy: a toddler needs a present that he can hold immediately, not a promise of a present. Second, because it means making the kid’s parents do the job: drive to the store, choose the present…

8. Don’t expect the kid to like your present at once. Children are unpredictable and there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes it’s love at first sight, and sometimes they need time and encouragement to get attached to the new toy. Sometimes they simply don’t know how to play with it or they can even be scared by its appearance or the sounds it makes…

In a perfect world people should get prepared for birthdays well in advance but in real life you sometimes have to deal with the present issue half an hour before the birthday party starts… How to avoid the infamous last-minute throw-it-all-in-and-let’s-hope-it’ll-do presents? Instead of grabbing whatever toy they have at your closest 24/7, get creative:

– buy a dozen bottles of soap bubbles: they will keep everyone busy (so will sidewalk chalks but you should check the weather first: some retrograde parents don’t like graffiti inside the house);

– buy lots of stickers: yes, stickers are super trash but kids happen to adore them. Add something to stick them on (e.g. postcards, a notebook), or else the stickers will end up EVERYWHERE and you will never be invited to that house again…

– buy a pack of paper and stage a paper plane contest (you can decorate them with the stickers from the previous tip)…

– sacrifice your “adult” time and offer to entertain the kids (if you can keep the kids occupied for as long as a quarter of an hour, the grateful parents will erect a statue in your effigy). Read them a story, host a jumping contest or a kid yoga class – whatever you can do to keep the kids busy within the legal boundaries, will be welcome with a unanimous “hurray!” and you will become the favourite aunt or uncle – forever!

Finding the right present for a toddler is an art of its own and you might need a little exercise before you become an expert, but don’t give up: you’re already on the road to perfection!

Our cat speaks English!

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That is, he doesn’t really, but now he does, for educational purposes.

Living in a mixed family, our son is constantly exposed to three languages and, miraculously, it seems to work for him. He has the habit of asking the names of things the way mama says them, the way papa says them and the way his half-sister says them. And since recently, he has also been showing interest in our cat’s “language”. First I told him that the cat only said “meow” but then, as he kept asking, I had a “light bulb moment”… and now our feline is an authentic English speaker!

Raising a multilingual child is much fun and easier than one might think! Just talk to him and his brain will do the rest. And as a bonus, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to laugh your head off as he struggles to combine all the languages he knows in one sentence!