Monday, November 30, 2015

More Sensory Play for Christmas

I wrote my list of 25 sensory items for a baby/toddler Activity Advent Calendar last week, and today I stumbled on this lovely list of Christmas-themed sensory play from Childhood 101.  Their suggestions are a lot more intensive as far as parent set-up.  However, if you're aching to do more than just hand your kid a jar of cinnamon sticks and let him make a mess, their ideas are awfully cute.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015


L just turned two, and at night I still lie with him until he's asleep.  If one of the other kids needs me, though, I'll leave L alone in the bed while I go attend to the sibling.  Usually, L cries while I'm gone, and when I get back he tells me, "Crying.  Me crying."  

I reflect back to him: "You were sad I was gone.  You're telling me you were crying."

Some nights, however, he's too tired to bother with the actual crying part.  On those nights, he'll lie quietly while I'm gone, and when I get back, he'll still announce, "Crying.  Me crying."

I still say my part, too: "You were sad I was gone.  You're telling me you were crying."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fostering Successful Eating- G's journey

As I said in my previous post, many if not most of the kids who come into foster care have issues with food.  My lovely G is no exception.

When she first came to our home, every meal took a minimum of 90 minutes between her sitting down at the table and her standing up again.  Each meal followed a pattern: she would look at the options on the table and ask for a serving of the option that looked the least threatening.  If she didn't want the first item, she would choose the next least threatening, then the next, and so on until she arrived at an item she determined she could eat.  Once she decided she could eat something, G would eat all of that item until it was gone and then meltdown, crying that there was no more; or if that food didn't run out, she would eat all of that item that she could possibly cram into her body.  We're talking about a 3 year old eating a loaf and a half of bread, 2 pounds of frozen peas, 5 pounds of oranges, or 2 pounds of roast beef.  She would only, however, eat one food at each meal.  If I served bread, peas, and beef, she would only eat the beef, and if the beef ran out before she was nauseatingly full, she would cry, rather than eating some bread.

If there were no un-threatening foods on the table, G would ask for a huge serving of everything and then sit for hours, staring at her full plate and pushing foods around with her fork without tasting any of it.  If you pressured her to taste something or asked her to get down from the table without eating, she melted down and screamed for what seemed like an eternity.

On top of that, the list of foods she found un-threatening was minuscule.  It took me 6 weeks to find a dozen foods she would consistently eat.  Pizza, peanut butter on bread, and cheese on bread were the only mixed foods she would tolerate.  Peas and pasta in the same bowl were rejected.  Any sauce was unacceptable.  Even putting pepper onto a food rendered it too threatening for G to taste.  She lived on plain starches, salt-and-nothing-else seasoned meats, cheese, frozen peas or corn (still frozen), and oranges for months.

The first sign that there might be light at the end of the tunnel came 3 months into the placement when G started getting down from the table to go play with the other kids.  Finally, meals and snacks could last an hour or possibly even less.  Slowly, she started eating more than one food at a meal.  Slowly, she started tasting foods.  Slowly, she accepted that her most preferred food on the table could run out, and it wouldn't be an emergency.

Don't get me wrong, there are still major issues.  G still eats until she is Thanksgiving-dinner-stuffed-full almost every time she sits down at the table, and we sit down to eat 4 times a day.

G still obsesses about food: if I make enough hamburgers for everyone to have one, she'll gobble hers up and then ask to eat other people's for the rest of the meal.  She still asks repeatedly for me to pick preferred foods out of a mixed dish so she can, for example, eat only the chicken in the chicken noodle soup or only the olives in the chicken with olives.

G still asks for foods she doesn't want.  She requests a huge serving of chili, and then eats only bread.  Or she eats 5 servings of pasta and requests a 6th before leaving the table without taking a single bite.

She hasn't gotten any more consistent, either.  She'll eat pears twice in a row and then reject them for 10 days straight, so it's difficult for me to guess what she's going to eat at any given meal.

This week, though, G surprised me twice.  On Wednesday, I served beef and cabbage stir-fry with white rice on the side.  She ate both, asked for seconds of both, and notably didn't ask me to serve her only beef.  On Thursday, I made a pot of navy beans and a pan of kale, onions, and bacon.  My plan was to eat both mixed together, but to keep the navy beans plain as the safe choice for G.  She tasted both, preferred the veggies, and happily ate multiple servings.

An outside observer dropped into our home at mealtime would see disordered eating.  I, however, can't help but be encouraged with the progress this little girl has made in only 9 months.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fostering Successful Eating- The book you need to read

Let me start with this: lots of kids from chaotic homes have a history of inconsistent eating.  Parents who are failing to properly care for their children are typically not feeding them properly.  As a result, many if not most of the kids who come into foster care have issues with food.  

I love food.  I love to cook it.  I love to eat it.  I love to share it.  I love to talk about it.  Food is important in my life, and so food is important in my home.

Early in our foster parenting journey, someone shared with me the book Love Me, Feed Me.  It was one of only two books I read during the first 6 months of our first foster placement (the other being a brainless chick-lit novel I despised but read while sitting on the floor of the foster kids' room every night so they wouldn't cry themselves to sleep).  I cannot recommend Love Me, Feed Me enough.

The premise is based on Ellyn Satter's work, and it's pretty simple: the adults' job is to teach kids to be competent eaters. Competent eaters feel good about eating, eat consistently, and enjoy food.  Competent eaters trust themselves to eat well.  This means they can eat a wide variety of foods, try new foods, choose foods that support their physical health, eat enough to satisfy their hunger, and stop eating when they are full.

Teaching competent eating is done through structure and modeling, not through coercion or pressure.  It's not the adults' job to make kids do anything or to get kids to do anything.  It's simply the adults' job to set up the structure that will, over time, teach kids what competent eating looks like and how to eat competently.

That simple premise, then, gets implemented through the division of responsibility (DOR): Adults choose what foods are offered, when they are offered, and where they are offered.  Kids choose if, what, and how much they will eat from the offered foods.  The DOR means you can parent all of your kids the same way, because the rules are the same for the adopted and biological kids, the "too fat" and "too thin" kids, or the typically- and differently-abled kids.  The DOR also means meals can be relaxed and pleasant opportunities to connect, because the adult has finished all of his/her part of the responsibilities BEFORE sitting down at the table.

The book delves into the details of how to implement the DOR, potential roadblocks, typical eating problems with foster/adoptive kids, and a host of other topics.  There's a ton of valuable information.  Suffice to say, though, that it revolutionized how I thought about feeding my children, particularly the non-biological kids.  With that revolution in thinking came a tremendous sense of relief and an immediate increase in the joy of preparing and eating meals in my house. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Activities for Advent with a Toddler

I had a conversation with a friend whose big kids is the same age as my babies.  She talked about wanting to start Advent traditions with her daughter and expressed interest in my activity Advent calendar.  Upon further discussion, however, it became abundantly clear that my plans are for ages 3 and up.  So what to do with your toddler?

If you've got older kids, I'd suggest scaling down or scaffolding their activities so the littlest can participate.  Clearly parties and outings can involve everyone, even babies can listen to Christmas music, and books can be leveled for your audience.  Crafts can be simplified and oriented more towards process than product (I've cut paper wreaths, you can put on stickers however you like or use bingo dabbers to paint "ornaments" on them.  Here are pine cones, glue, and glitter: perhaps you'd like to combine them?)  Games can be about playing with the components, instead of actually playing the game.  Honestly, my littlest littles like to be involved, even if they have no idea what's going on.  Case in point; L says "knock knock, wha-hoo!" and then laughs hysterically.

If your only kids are under three, maybe a sensory themed activity every day is your best bet.  Introduce the material, let your little explore, and enjoy watching or playing along.  To that end, here are a few ideas:

Twenty-Five Sensory Suggestions for Advent

Lit candles (again, please supervise closely!  A two year old might be able to blow candles out.)
Christmas lights hung in the neighborhood (I would probably just take a walk before or after dinner some night)

Recorded Christmas music
Jingle bells
Caregiver singing
Salvation Army bell ringer

Cinnamon play-dough (or a chunk of cookie dough)
Cinnamon sticks
Pumpkin puree (with spices already mixed in or on the side)
Seasonal drink (eggnog, hot chocolate, apple cider, or cinnamon tea)
Candy cane
Pine branches

Tinsel or Garland
Unbreakable ornaments
A pile of pine needles or a pine branch and pine cones
Miniature tree with unbreakable ornaments to decorate and undecorate
Wooden or plastic nativity scene
Straw + box + doll = manger
String of Christmas lights plugged in (with close supervision, of course)
Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows
Snow (or fake snow)
Toy reindeer or a horse and sleigh or a toy Santa Clause
Unlit candles (scented ones would be fun)
White fur, faux fur, or a Santa hat and beard
Advent wreath with fake candles (here's an example, but you could certainly DIY something different)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Activity Advent Calendar

You're possibly already familiar with the chocolate Advent calendar: a piece of cardboard with little doors numbered 1 through 25, behind each of which rests a piece of chocolate.  The idea is that you open one door each day of December leading up to Christmas.  When I was a child, we also had an Advent calendar with a little bear whom you moved each day to a new "room" of his fabric banner house.

For the past 4 years, we've done an activity Advent calendar, where each day of December has a special activity planned.  There are a million pinterest-worthy ways to set one of these up, but ours is just index cards in pockets.  I've worked hard to make the activities not about sweet treats and either 1) something we would be doing anyway or 2) something that can be done at home without disrupting the schedule.  We also acknowledge Hanukkah in our celebration every year.  Mostly because we like playing Dreidel, and the story of Hanukkah is a great story.  We're not Jewish, though, so we don't light a menorah.

One thing to make the activities work for me: I plan the month in advance, but I write each card the night before.  This has two advantages.  First, it lets me rearrange things as necessary.  Second, it reminds me of anything I need to get organized for the next day's activity treat.

December 2015 Activity Advent Calendar

1- Start Christmas crafts for family gifts
2- Set up Nativity scene
3- Make paper snowflakes
4- Christmas Lights bubble bath (light candles on the counter and put glow sticks in the tub)
5- Joyful Traditions (our town tree lighting ceremony)
6- Buy Christmas tree
7- Play Dreidel
8- Read Hanukkah Stories (I check these out from the library in advance)
9- Decorate our tree
10- Sesame Street Christmas videos on YouTube
11- Tell holiday jokes
12- See the lights at a local park
13- Church Christmas party
14- Christmas song sing-along
15- Christmas for animals (we smear pine cones with peanut butter and roll in birdseed, then hang them with ribbon from our trees outside)
16- Read Christmas Stories by the Christmas tree
17- The Gibbon's holiday concert
18- Support group Christmas party
19- Watch a Christmas movie
20- Children's Christmas program at church
21- Make snowman pancakes
22- Pajama Dance Party
23- Board Game night
24- Midnight service at church
25- Merry Christmas!

In case you don't have as many parties as we do this year, our backup activities are:

  • drink tea from the fancy china cups
  • wrap presents together
  • decorate bedrooms for Christmas
  • carol for our neighbors
  • dress up and take glamorous photos,
  • a winter scavenger hunt in the back yard.  

Of course, if you had fewer parties, you could spare a few extra sweet treats, and then you might want to bake cookies, decorate a gingerbread house, or drink hot cocoa.

Any other great ideas?  I'd love your suggestions.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Joyful Noisy Reboot

Hi friends!  Long time no see.

I gave up on myself for a while there.  I've realized that I just do better meal planning in a notebook.  I like having the flexibility of rearranging meals with an arrow.  I like being able to leave a day or two open to plan later instead of having to plan on grocery shopping day.  And I don't like writing things down twice, because I'm lazy.

However, I still have things to say.  Things longer than will fit in a Facebook post.  And saying things here will (hopefully) prevent me from telling the same story to the same friend 18 times, because I just have to get it out there.  To that end, I'm rebooting the old blog.  Let's see where this goes.