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Advice to New Mothers

Recently my cousin Imogene Tilson e-mailed from Huntsville, Alabama, asking for tips for mothers-to-be. Two nieces were about to make her older sister a grandmother, and she wanted to create personalized “guidebooks” for “the girls.” What better way to get everyone in their far flung extended family involved in getting ready for the babies? Here’s my reply:

About that request for tips for the mothers, did you want only one? Too bad. I’m an opinionated mother.

Read and re-read as your child progresses from one developmental stage to another: Between Parent & Child by Dr. Haim G.Ginott and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Hands down, these books stand out as the most useful and thought-provoking of any I read.

Remember flight attendant instructions and put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. That’s sound advice. If you do not take care of yourself–emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually–you cannot be your best and do your best for others.

Abandon all hope of being the “perfect” mother. Be the best mother you can, knowing some days work out better than others.

Less is more: having too many toys overwhelms children, making them unable to focus on any one. Invest in quality toys and rotate them as the child loses interest, reintroducing them later when what’s old will be new again. Quality toys promote quality play and grow as the child grows.

Beware of branding. Companies often use characters from movies and television to promote their products, from food to clothing and toys. These licensed products become “must have” because they are familiar and popular with peers. Licensing agreements support branding efforts, benefitting corporations, not children and their families, and can lead to unwise buying, unhealthy eating, and that “I want” nagging that drives all parents nuts.

Balance is the key to sanity and successful parenting. Easier to say than to achieve, but well worth the effort.

Nurture your sense of humor. You’ll need it. Laugh everyday.

Blow bubbles. Even infants find watching bubbles float around mesmerizing. And who can be tense while blowing bubbles?  Need a recipe for bubble solution? Contact me.


Having sent off my “words of wisdom,” I called my mother and asked her what she had sent. In declining health, she had lacked the energy to answer the letter, then forgotten about it until I asked. With prodding, she agreed to me e-mailing what she thought most important. In another post, I’ll share her advice.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Puzzles for Toddlers

Let’s look at classic toddler toys and explore how they enhance development in children from age 12 to 36 months. This post is devoted to puzzles.

Benefits of Puzzles

Putting together puzzles develops eye-hand coordination, cognitive, fine motor, and spatial skills. Figuring out how the pieces fit into a frame involves problem solving, persistence, and patience. And builds self esteem. Working cooperatively develops social skills.

Whole Object Puzzles

Begin with single whole-object wooden puzzles. Ideally made of wood, the pieces also need to be thick enough for a toddler to easily pick up. Sadly finding a whole object puzzle is akin to finding “a needle in a haystack.”

One alternative is 3D Feel & Find, with 20 matching wooden shapes and textured tiles. Offer the child one shape and its corresponding tile to explore and fit together. Next add another pair to determine how readily the toddler is able to distinguish between shapes and to match a shape to its tile. Gradually add more choices as the child becomes proficient at matching shapes and tiles.

Multiple Piece Whole Object Puzzles

Next offer puzzles with three or four individual pieces. Chunky pieces facilitate placement. Shapes should fit only in their proper places. That’s how you insure a truly self-correcting learning experience.

Different children cope with challenges differently. Some become frustrated easily. Consequently adults need to watch for signs of annoyance and intervene before an exasperated child sends a puzzle flying. A partially put together puzzle can easily be set aside. When the child is fresh, ready, and willing to “have another go” at fitting all the pieces, he can pick up where he left off. No blame, no shame.

Interlocking Pieces Puzzles

Simple puzzles with multiple pieces are the next step. Wooden Block Puzzles offer easy-to-grasp chunky pieces that fit together in a wooden tray. Look for  three, four, and five-piece puzzles with bright colors and simple graphics.

Don’t Rush to More Pieces

Puzzles with interlocking pieces are challenging. Children need time to absorb the lessons they learn before “forging ahead” to more complicated puzzles.

Puzzles are but one classic toddler toy, next we’ll explore shape sorters.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Upcoming Service and Learning Opportunities in Ghana

Catherine Rolfe reports on her upcoming service and learning opportunities in Ghana.

Each of us students found out just before leaving for Ghana which project we’ll be working on. Eight students will be working with  health organizations that aim to educate Ghanaians about the importance of sanitation and health awareness, including talking about  STD and HIV/AIDS testing. In Ghana, it’s socially unacceptable for a woman to ask her male partner if he is HIV/AIDS positive because the man will take it as an accusation of infidelity. These projects will work to promote a greater understanding within the general public of the health issues confronting Ghana.

Four students will  be at the Aboom School for Special Needs Children working with children with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is where rhythm band instruments from PlayopolisToys will really come in handy. We are so excited to present them to the kids and let them play. The Aboom School is a  great addition to the Cape Coast community because often times in Ghanaian culture children with special needs are shunned or viewed as a source of shame for their families. Teachers and volunteers at the school work to make the students feel accepted and included and provide them with whatever help they need in their continuing development.

The last four of us will be working with Ghana’s Foundation for Economic Development and Educational Promotion. This organization runs a technical school in Cape Coast where locals learn valuable job skills such as working with computers. We’re essentially going to be teaching assistants, helping out with quizzes and teaching various classes. While the parents are in class, a few of us will also be taking care of their children in the school’s nursery. Here, we’ll also be working on early childhood education strategies, where our awesome instruments can also be extremely helpful.

Anyway, that’s the plan for now. I am incredibly excited, and I’m sure the rest of our group is too.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Choosing Books for Toddlers (12-36 months)

Having explored play recommendations for infants, let’s look now at toddlers, starting with books and in subsequent posts looking at toys for the 12-36 month olds in our lives. Young children thrive on repetition and insist upon hearing their favorite books read over and over again.  After multiple hearings, most become so familiar with their most beloved ones that they become alert to skipped pages or missed words.

Choose Topics of  Interest 

Good books for younger toddlers include ones focusing on topics that interest them, such as animals, food, and faces with different expressions. You can include books with multiple images on a page, but those images should be visually simple. Ask your child to name objects on a page. If you are reading about animals, ask her to make animal sounds,

For older toddlers, good books are those with repetitive text that allows the child to “read” a story herself and ones that tell stories about familiar experiences such as going to the park or cooking. Other helpful books encourage skill building such as dressing, toileting, and sharing. This is an age when “do it myself” is a common refrain, and books showing children successfully doing everyday tasks re-enforce emerging skills.

Engage Your Child

Make story time a part of every day. Engage your child with the story by asking questions about happens next or how the characters are feeling. These questions develop sequential memory and invite exploration of feelings and how facial expressions reflect feelings. . Encourage your child to say familiar words and phrases that appear in the book.

Make Books

You can also make a book with photographs of your child to encourage language and social/emotional development. You can make a book about a daily activity such as going to day care and coming back home. Include photos of your child engaged in favorite activities at both places. Photos of favorite people at day care invite your child to share information and feelings about those with whom she spends her days, enhancing her language development and giving you a child’s perspective.

Document Experiences 

Documenting trips to visit grandparents with photos of these special people in their homes engaged in mutually delightful activities with your child also encourages language. Let the child describe the who, what, when, and where of the story the photo captures and write that down. This helps your child learn who’s who in her family, develop sequential memory, and capture those memories. Writing down what your child says and reading that back to her demonstrates the connection between spoken and written language.

Walk Down Memory Lane

Who doesn’t enjoy “walks down memory lane” that remind us of times spent with beloved extended family members? We have a snapshot of our son as a “beaming” preschooler decked out in a sailor suit, which he called a “tailor tuit.” He’s showing off a cake he and my mother baked and decorated with a picture of his “hero of the minute,” Popeye. At the time, that photo prompted him to tell a story. Three decades later, it invites us to pause, remember, and relive that special moment.

What books do you recommend for toddlers (and preschoolers for that matter)? Please let us know your absolute favorites. We’d like to compile a list to share with all our readers.

Adapted from TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, with permission from the Child Life Council.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Play Can Be Solitary or Social

Play can be solitary or social. Whether alone or in the company of others, play enhances development, encourages creativity and imagination, and provides opportunities for children to assess situations and solve problems.

Children need to learn to entertain themselves as well as play well with others. Both are valuable skills that take time and practice to perfect. Toys that work well for a child either playing alone or with an adult or other children are the most versatile. Balls fit this category, and one brand that works particularly well is Oballs.


These multiple award winning balls are lightweight, easy to grab, crush, catch and throw. Oball invites finger exploration and experimentation as children who never before could grasp a ball find themselves easily holding and exploring these 4″ diameter balls. PVC and latex free, Oballs  are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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More than Popular Toys

All children want to fit in, to be accepted members of their peer group. This can be challenging for children with disabilities.  Having a popular toy can help a child with disabilities feel she’s one of the group, but that’s not enough.

Play is a universal childhood activity with the power to bring together children with diverse abilities. Adults have a responsibility to see that it does. We have an obligation to plan activities that enable children with a range of abilities to participate successfully. The rewards outweigh the challenges.

Jacob’s Rib-it-Ball encourages inclusive active play and social engagement among differently able children and adolescents and easily accommodates wheelchair users. With its unique, patented ribs, Jacob’s Rib-It-Ball makes grabbing easy even for the smallest hands. Lightweight, the ball is fun and easy to throw even for children with limited muscle strength. Made from crisp material that naturally crinkles when touched for auditory stimulation. High contrast colors appeal to children with low vision and autism. Develops eye-hand coordination, fine and gross motor skills, forearm rotation, trunk extension and flexion, grasp and release timing, whole body strength, and visual and auditory processing. 

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play