preschool age children

How to Prepare Your Toddler for Preschool

How to Prepare Your Toddler for Preschool | Writing Between Pauses

Forrest turns 4 this year. That’s right: 4 years old. I know a lot of people have read my blog for a very long time might be a little shocked by that—I mean, I’m shocked by it. And I was the one who was pregnant and has raised him for the past 4 years!

The first time your child goes to preschool, it feels like that first step towards “they’re not my little baby anymore.” It can be a big deal. Even for moms who work, going to school for the first time is a big first step. And for moms like me, who have radically altered their work schedules and how they work so that they can spend maximum time with their child, that first day of preschool can be big.

Forrest attended preschool last year, a year earlier (sort of) that he would if I followed a traditional schedule. Since the moment he was born, I’ve debated when to send Forrest to school; with a late September birthday, he falls just outside the typical cut off for birthdays. That means, he will either just a bit under a year older than his classmates, or I could send him to school early (aka get approval for him to start early) and he would be just a little under a year younger. We haven’t officially made a decision about kindergarten (we have some time), but we did try to find a preschool last year that would take him at 2-turning-3, instead of waiting an extra year.

(It goes without saying: he’s doing a second year of 3-year-old preschool this year until we decide what schedule we’ll be following for kindergarten!)

Even though I knew he was ready for school, and he was so excited for school, it was still a big adjustment for all of us. Some kids are definitely readier than others when it comes to starting school.

I know in some parts of the U.S., preschool has already started. But here in Oregon, school doesn’t start until after Labor Day. I thought I’d share a few of my tips I learned last year, and that I’m repeating this year, to help you prepare your child for school.

1. Act as Preschool’s Hype Man

Before your child starts preschool, talk about it constantly. (The same goes for daycare too! If you’re starting children at daycare after the age of 1, talking about how fun daycare is, and talking about it positively frequently, can make a huge difference in how kids react to it.) Talk about how fun preschool will be, all the fun things they will get to do, how many fun kids they’ll get to meet…

Basically, be a hype man… for preschool. Make it sounds like Disneyland. Make it sounds as fun as your kids favorite thing. This will get them in a positive mindset for school from the start.

One thing to definitely avoid is talking about “missing” them at school, or feeling sad that they’ll be at school. It’s totally ok to feel those feelings (no judgement, it can be VERY sad), but try to keep your child from knowing you feel sad or will miss them. If they say, “But I’ll miss you!” respond in a positive way.

2. Remind Them You’ll Come Back

“Grown ups come back!” Thats the song featured in the Daniel Tiger episode about the first day of school—and it’s one I highly recommend for all kids starting school, even if they’ve gone before. Kids can struggle with being unsure, so reminding them, as often as possible, that you’ll leave them at school, but you will come back is a big deal.

As you’re hyping up preschool, it’s important to also keep up with the reminders that school isn’t forever (all day), that it’s just a few hours and you will be back to pick them up. Or, if they’re being picked up by someone else (like a daycare employee, your mom, whoever), that person will be there to get them and they are safe.

3. Pack a Reminder of You

If you’re really worried about your child feeling separation anxiety, pack something to keep close to them of yours. Most preschool teachers would prefer this not be a toy (nothing like a good fight over a toy from home right at the start of the year). However, pictures, a special locket they can wear, or a small trinket from home can help them feel more secure. They can look at it or hold it for a while; otherwise, it can stay in their backpack for most of the day, just a small reminder that you’ll come back to get them or see them later.

4. Make Your Goodbye Quick

This one is easy: when dropping them off that first day, you’ll be tempted to watch them, stay with them, or play with them for a little while. But I encourage you not to. Say hi to their teacher, give them a quick kiss and hug, remind them you’ll be back to get them, and leave. Don’t linger and definitely don’t cry as you leave. (I definitely cried the moment I got in the car after dropping Forrest off the first time!)

A quick goodbye keeps them from being able to drag it out, get upset, or get used to you being there. Make sure they are introduced to the teacher and feel comfortable with them. Then make your getaway, treat yourself to a nice Starbucks (or coffee of your choice), and enjoy a few hours while your kiddo is at school.

That’s it! 4 tips that might make your transition to preschool just a little bit easier this year (or whenever you send your baby to preschool for the first time). Do you have any other tips? Share with me in the comments!

5 Ways to Keep Your Preschooler Entertained This Summer

5 Ways to Keep Your Preschooler Entertained This Summer | Writing Between Pauses

I am incredibly lucky that Forrest is a highly independent, easy-going child. Most of the time. He thrives on routine, which is why when school finished up, we needed to sign him up for something; thankfully, his preschool offered a summer program & we jumped at the opportunity for him to have more school.

But I know once August rolls around, he’s going to be tired of staying at home.

To save money, I often try to find fun things to do at home. I’d love to be able to take him to the beach (a 70 mile drive) or to the zoo (a 3 hour drive), but all those things cost money. Outside of his summer school, swim lessons, sports team, and everything else costs money—and with moving into a new house, we are trying to save wherever we can.

My husband is a teacher, which means I’ll be trying to work as much as possible during the summer and he will have a nice break. However, he’s not quite as used to how quick Forrest’s behavior can turn from his normal easy-going self to his “I need to go somewhere” attitude. Forrest is, after all, a total social butterfly and extrovert; he is not like us at all and he is not a homebody. He likes projects and visiting people and always having a plan for something to do.

I’ve already started looking for things to keep Forrest from becoming a total handful this summer—and I thought I’d share a few things we’ve had success with.

1. Workbooks

Some kids are not interested in workbooks whatsoever. They don’t want to do them, they just aren’t interested. I’m a bit fan of physical workbooks as opposed to online programs or TV programs. I just think the less kids have access to the internet, computer & tablet screens, and all that blue light, the better. (That’s not a judgement; you do you, but I love workbooks!) Workbooks will help them learn how to write, hold a pencil or crayon, and to do homework assignments.

Here are a few of our favorites:

  • The Scholastic Preschooler Workbook Bundle: we have several of these workbooks and they are wonderful. Colorful, fun, and interesting, perfect for a few 10-minute sessions throughout the day. We especially love the early reading skills one, as Forrest is very interested in learning what letters are in every word. You can also find these individually at Target.

  • Bear Fairy Education Workbooks: you can find these on Amazon and they are lovely! Simple, affordable, and designed by teachers. Forrest specifically likes the letter & number tracing one, because he can color the pictures on each page, then work on writing his letters and numbers. This has really helped him even out the size of his letters and numbers! He has also started writing his name and tries to write out the words on each letter page (including elephant!)

One note about workbooks: I usually select a few for Forrest to have complete access to at his art table, just like coloring books. These are ones that don’t have a lot of instructions; the Bear Fairy workbooks are perfect for this, as they are just tracing. The Scholastic workbooks, or more complicated ones, often have instructions and we will sit at the table for a few minutes and do those.

2. Kinetic Sand

I am normally not a fan of messy things like this: Playdough, slime, sandboxes, etc., just make messes and I think kids get bored of them quite quickly. But about a year ago, I bought a small container of kinetic sand and a few cookie cutters and Fo loves it. I keep it in a Pyrex container with a lid and store it with the outdoor toys; he knows to keep it in the container and just spends a lot of time cutting out shapes. This is such an easy activity and especially for younger toddlers, provides a lot of sensory information! You can talk about how it feels, teach them to cut out shapes (manual dexterity!), and use words to describe the sand itself. I like these packs here.

3. Sidewalk Chalk Paint

Forrest loves sidewalk chalk and he also loves painting. Combining the two is an instant win. I bought two small containers of sidewalk chalk paint from the Target Dollar Spot section and he loved them—while Googling to see if I could buy more for cheaper, I found that you can make it easily at home! Even better! I whipped up a batch and it was as good as (or perhaps better) than the store bought. This is a more messy activity and would be perfect for those warm summer days where the sprinklers are on, you’re all outside with the wading pool, and you’re all getting baths anyway! You can find that tutorial here.

4. Rotate Your Toys

This is one of those tips I’m embarrassed that I didn’t think of earlier, but has been recommended by nearly every mom I know. As I’ve been packing up Forrest’s toys for our move, it became a lot easier to do: pack up toys into 3 or 4 different bins, then store all but one of the bins away (in a spare room, in your closet, wherever). Switch out the bins every 5-6 days to keep your preschooler on their toys when it comes to their toys. They’ll rediscover things they used to love (Forrest with his tool belt from Christmas this week) and stay interested. Plus, it helps decrease the clutter in your living room, playroom, or child’s bedroom. Perfect!

5. Have a Party

Most young kids love routine—but they also love when parents disrupt the routine for something fun. I already have plans to throw an “at home luau” for Forrest (complete with pineapple string lights I found at the dollar store and making paper leis), but there are a million ways to do this and have fun together.

  • Tea parties: whether you have a boy or girl, kids love tea parties. They can help set the table, make the sandwiches & cookies, pour the “tea” (water, or you could make herbal tea), invite the guests (Teddy Bear Tea Party, anyone?), and more. Plus, this is a subtle way to teach manners.

  • Dance parties: I got this idea from Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess, but fill a jar with your favorite musical artists and have your child pick one slip at a time. Play one song on Spotify and dance it out. Pick a new artist and repeat until your child is exhausted.

  • Invite some friends: Invite a few friends over who have kids and just hang out at home. Seriously! I know this is basic, but I often don’t think to reach out to my friends; we’re all busy and I just assume, “you know what? They’re probably busy today!” But they might not be! Fill the wading pool, make some sun tea, and start the grill for some hot dogs for the kids. Boom, everyone is entertained for a few hours!

What are your tips for keeping kids (preschool age or not) entertained during the summer?

Product Review: LittleHippo Mella Toddler Alarm Clock

Product Review: LittleHippo Mella Toddler Alarm Clock | Writing Between Pauses

Sleep is, as most parents know, a precious commodity.

When Forrest was first born, I didn’t sleep for days. I don’t say this to scare new moms, or to brag, or to participate in the strange “well, I sleep LESS!” Olympics that sometimes occurs between parents. It’s just a fact, but I don’t think I’m alone in it. I was induced into labor on a Tuesday, slept exactly 3 hours then went into labor for 7 hours, then Forrest was born. And from the moment he was born until about 72 hours later, I didn’t close my eyes once. Nurses were in and out of our room; there were hearing tests and blood sugar tests and medications for me and uterus massages for me. Then there were jaundice tests and heavy whispers between nurses. I took my first shower and went 20 hours without peeing because of the preeclampsia medication, which was another worry. I swelled again.

All-in-all, I didn’t even sleep much the first time I told Danny I absolutely needed to close my eyes and not get up for a few hours. I slept about 45 minutes, then woke up to pump and feed Forrest again, carefully removing him from the jaundice space bed he was inhabiting at that moment.

Sleep didn’t get much easier. For the first 9 months of Forrest’s life, we fed on demand not out of choice (although many parents do make this choice and that’s absolutely fine for them), but because Forrest’s late preterm status, low birthrate, and early struggle with jaundice and feeding had set him back, weight wise. I wanted him to catch up, his pediatrician wanted him to catch up, and that meant waking up every time he woke up and feeding him.

Friends, he woke up every 2 hours every single night for 9 solid months. And for 6 of those months, I was also still pumping every time he ate. So that meant waking up, feeding him for 20 minutes, putting him back to sleep next to Danny, getting up, getting my pumping equipment, pumping and massaging for 30 minutes, cleaning up, storing milk, mixing up formula and milk for the next feeding, sanitizing my pumping equipment, and then going to bed myself… then being woken up maybe 40 minutes later to do it again.

Again, I’m not writing this to scare anyone. This is just the way it was for us. It’s just something we had to do. But it wasn’t fun. I was absolutely miserable, barely sleeping, gaining weight at a rate that is still somewhat alarming, and irritable as all get out.

When we decided to sleep train at 9 months, it was for two reasons: firstly, I was having such bad anxiety that I had developed burning mouth syndrome, a syndrome where your mouth feels constantly dry even though you are producing saliva; and secondly, Forrest had finally reached a growth percentile that our pediatrician was happy with.

Cut to 6 months later and we were all happier. Forrest was finally meeting developmental milestones at the right time instead of towards the lower end of normal. We were all doing a lot better. And truly, we slept great for a long time.

Until February of this year. You see, it was in February that Forrest climbed out of his crib for the first time. He had been (and truly, continues to be) a rather stellar sleeper. Sleep training changed our lives and Forrest thrives on the routine that sleep training gave him. He goes to bed at 6:30 and while his wake ups have always been a bit early, we got 10-12 solid hours out of him most of the time so we couldn’t really complain. But once we switched him to a toddler bed, we struggled with him climbing out of bed, waking up far too early, or just doing random things in the middle of the night (like collecting toys and books into his bed).

We made it work for a long time: letting him play at 3:30 in the morning, hoping he would crawl back into bed eventually and sleep; letting him get up and run around in his room even though we knew he was beyond exhausted. However, when he did these things, my husband slept fine—but I would be awake, watching him on our monitor at 2 or 3 in the morning. I just couldn’t sleep knowing he was awake.

Finally, during the summer, I purchased the LittleHippo Mella Toddler Alarm Clock. We set it up and started using it around July or August. At first, we didn’t see much of an improvement. Sometimes, Fo still woke up at 4am and decided it was time to party. He was still young enough that he didn’t really understand the “rules” of the clock. It’s only been in the past month or so that we’ve seen a huge improvement.

The LittleHippo Mella Toddler Sleep Training Alarm Clock

It’s been in the last 2-3 months that Forrest has been staying in bed through the night really well, but waking up really early. Part of this has been reducing the amount he naps and adjusting his bedtime. These are things that can be really challenging; I get 2-3 hours every evening to work out, prep for lunches the next day, blog, and answer emails, as well as do any cleaning around the house that I can’t get done with Forrest around. So giving up another little chunk of that time has been hugely challenging.

However, the Mella has been a huge help for us. Here’s how Mella works:

MELLA uses colors and facial expressions to teach your kids when it’s time for bed and time to wake up. Half an hour before it’s time to wake up, MELLA will glow yellow, signaling it’s almost time to start the day. When MELLA turns green, it’s time to wake up!

Basically, you set a sleep time in the Sleep/Wake setting. Sleep time for us, it’s 6pm so that Mella is “asleep” when we bring Fo to his bedroom. Then, you set a wake up time; for us, that’s 5:50am, which is later than Forrest ever sleeps. However, Mella glows yellow 30 minutes before the “wake up” time to indicate play time. So if you’re ok with your toddler waking up 30 minutes early and playing, that will most likely wake them up. However, the yellow and green colors are very similar to each other, so Forrest has a slightly difficult time telling the difference. We set this wake up time later so that he can simply get up when Mella glows yellow.

I love how cute Mella is; the little face on the front is especially helpful for Forrest because, even though he struggles with the yellow versus green light, he knows when Mella is awake versus when she’s sleeping. And now that he’s old enough, he understands that when Mella is asleep, he needs to be in bed.

LittleHippo Mella Sleep Setting
LittleHippo Mella Awake Setting

Mella also has a nightlight option; the front face will glow a variety of colors (you choose your preferred color) for 30 minutes until your child falls asleep. This is a nice idea, but the light is actually quite bright! Forrest has a star night light that he prefers. As well, Mella works as a sound machine too, with a set of 3 sleep sounds. We have a separate sound machine (so many machines in our son’s room at this point); however, the sound machine we have is notorious for burning out, so it’s nice to know we have an easy replacement for when it goes.

The Mella clock has really helped us start to sleep more in the mornings. Forrest finds it easy to understand now. I would say, if you’re looking into this clock, your child should be at least 3 before they are able to understand it effectively. That might vary child-to-child, but 6 months ago, he didn’t always “remember” the rules about Mella, even if he could talk about what Mella looked like.

Mella also has a battery back up, so if the lights go out, it is still running. Forrest always sleeps through the power going out, but we worried about maintaining his routine even through that. We like that we can also move Mella around without worrying about resetting everything!

If you’re the parent to a toddler or preschooler that has been waking up earlier and earlier each day, the LittleHippo Mella alarm clock is an investment—at $50, it’s not the cheapest alarm clock out there. But it has been a huge help to us recently. So much so, that I worry about it breaking! It has helped us to get more sleep, especially in the last few weeks.

How to Plan Summer Lessons for Your Preschooler

How to Plan Summer Lessons for Your Preschooler | Writing Between Pauses

A few months ago, I realized that on the days I was home all day with Forrest, he and I both got extremely bored. Like, mind-numbingly, anxiety-inducing bored. I tried to find things for us to do: trips to the park when the weather was nice, playing outside, and more, but it's hard to fill all the time in the day. 

Plus, I had things I needed to get done at home. Shoving our schedule full of classes, trips, and more kept me from doing things like cleaning and finishing up the laundry. 

One of my friends suggested I start doing lessons for Forrest while I was home. This friend happens to be a teacher, so planning lessons was second nature to her. Not so much for me! But I sat down with PInterest and my husband (also a teacher) to pick out some simple lessons to start doing with Forrest. 

I ended up settling into a pretty good routine that helped both Forrest and I get over our boredom on rainy days and spend more time having fun together. Plus, he's learned a lot! 

Since summer is rapidly approaching and I know some parents will be at home with their preschool-age children, I thought it would be handy to share my tips regarding planning simple lessons--especially if you've never planned a lesson in your life! In these tips, I'll also talk about the schedule I follow, how to decide on topics, and what supplies you need. 

1. Focus on Their Strengths & Weaknesses

Every preschooler has their strengths and their weaknesses. Forrest is very verbal; he can count to around 12, knows most of the alphabet, and draws people. However, he's not great at following directions, something I wanted to work on in lessons, or trying things on his own initially. Whether your child is a whiz at numbers or prefers spending time outside learning about nature, you should tailor your lessons to revolve around not just their interests, but they things they are best at. 

Here are a few sample lessons that I've done with Forrest: 

  • Gluing shapes to a piece of paper to create flowers
  • Identifying letters along with a word that starts with that letter
  • Counting the number of stickers on a sheet and using them to create a scene 

Typically, I like to pick a theme for lessons to revolve around during the week. It might be Spring, or Animals, or something Forrest has recently shown interest in, like flowers or plants. I think try to think of something simple he can do that combines that theme with something like identifying letters, drawing, or counting, as those are things he enjoys doing. As time goes on, I'm going to start incorporating more challenging elements, like tracing letters and numbers. 

2. Keep It Age Appropriate

Forrest will be 3 in September, so his lessons are definitely more simplistic than they would be for a 3-1/2-year-old or a 4-year-old. He's not going to be able to write letters at this point, for example; but he can count and tell me what he says, identify letters, and help glue things to paper. This was hard for me initially as I had grabbed some worksheets from online that were simply too challenging for him; he wasn't able to follow the instructions I told him and it was frustrating for both of us. 

3. Collect Special Supplies

We have a special bin of paper, stickers, and other art supplies that we use only for lessons. In this bin is also our tub of kinetic sand, which is often his treat for finishing a lesson. Having special supplies that are only for "school" has helped him separate these lessons from "playing"--while still being fun. I buy most everything we use in the Target dollar section; they always have tons of stickers, stamps, and more. Right now, they have a dinosaur book with magnetic dinosaurs that I'm going to start using soon! 

4. Keep It Less than 15 Minutes

This is the schedule that I follow with Forrest: at the start of every hour, we do a 15-minute lesson. That's about as long as I can hold his attention. Then, I get the rest of the hour to do one of my tasks (like cleaning the bathroom or folding laundry, fun!) or work. I try to keep lessons to 3 a day, spread throughout the day. Any more and I find Forrest gets frustrated by the end--and also it's a lot for me to plan!

Older children can definitely spend more time focused on a task on their own. But for Forrest's age, 15 minutes is best. 

5. Avoid Tablets

Tablets are definitely not bad. But in terms of lessons, I find that they don't do a lot to help preschoolers learn manual dexteriority, especially when it comes to things like writing, drawing, and more. Tablets have their place, but not in lessons. This helps you also keep the exercise one-on-one; working with your child personally will help you connect with them and they'll learn more this way. 

6. Stick to a Schedule

I find that the more I keep up my lesson schedule with Forrest, the more he looks forward to it. We've started talking to him about going to school and how it will be like the lessons he does with me; getting him excited to start school is very important to us (and hopefully, to you with your children as well!). Since I'm only home 2 days a week with him (plus 2 days on the weekend), we aren't doing 5-days-a-week... yet. But this summer, we will probably add 1 more day of lessons to help him get used to having more of a schedule.