Saturday, October 9, 2010

Humpty Who?

For years I've been including a nursery rhyme board book as part of my shower gifts to new parents, because as a new mom (21 years ago), I was lucky if I could remember the first line of basic children's classics like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

Recently I stumbled upon this terrific book that will now be my go-to gift for new parents:

The book and companion CD contains 35 nursery rhymes that are a blend of the well-known (Baa Baa Black Sheep); some great action songs (Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes); and few that might be new to you (The Clean Up Song), one Spanish (Pio, Pio, Pio) and several French rhymes (Alouette) with English translation provided.

I've listened to many such CD's over my years working with children; and even the best of them can grate on adult nerves, but babies seem to really respond to them positively. They love the rhyming text! This CD is pleasant enough to play for babies with songs sung mostly by female voices with an occasional chorus of children.
For gift giving, the perfect combination of written words and audio CD will help new parents and grandparents alike brush up on their nursery rhymes!

Nanny's Note:

I was able to request a copy through my state's inter-library loan system to preview it before purchasing. This is a great option if you are interested in it for yourself, as you can burn the CD at home.
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Free Petting Zoo - Alderbrook Farm, Dartmouth, MA

Dwarf Nigerian Goat at Alderbrook Farm

Little M and Nanny Rating:   * * * * (out of 4)

Thanks to new friends we met at the Westport Community Playground, Little M and I learned about a free petting zoo just one town over at Alderbrook Farm in Dartmouth, MA.

This family-owned farm has a menagerie of happy and well-cared for animals (the guard goose is an exception, but we'll get to him later).  Some are in fenced-off areas, such as pygmy goats, dwarf Nigerian goats, a peacock couple, a very large rooster, a pot bellied pig, hens in a hen house, and larger pigs in a pen; but many of them will greet you at the fence so you can pet them or at least view them up close.  Painted wooden signs state the animal's name, breed, and date they were born or "hatched."

Note:  A farm employee told us that each day around 4:00 PM - 4:30 PM, the animals are brought into the barn for the night.  This gives visitors an opportunity to pet the animals that were behind fences. 

Male Peacock at Alderbrook Farm

Other animals in the open pasture areas are tethered to the ground so they can't go extremely far, such as donkeys, a sheep, and two very large steers.  My camera battery died half-way through tour, so I wasn't able to capture any of the larger animals. We weren't brave enough to do more than admire the steers from afar, but both M and I were able to pet the donkey and the sheep.  M also learned that everyone does indeed "poop" as some of the animals cared very little that we were standing there petting them as they did their business.

The tethered animals are moved around to new grassy areas each day, but the guard goose always seems to be near a donkey or two.  As soon as someone approaches anywhere near his fenced in area, he runs over honking very loudly and sticks his long neck through the fence in an aggressive way.  Both M and I had our pants nibbled at when we got too close.  M was very upset, and cried that the "goose bit me," which fortunately he did not. We learned that this goose is very protective of the animals and watches over them, so be warned if you hear him honking nearby!

Beware the Guard Goose at Alderbrook Farm
Seeing animals, flowers, and vegetable gardens in a wide open space on a breezy, sunny day was plenty enough to make us happy, but another bonus was found up a small hill off the dirt road (across from the hen house and pig pen) -- a small play area with swings (one baby swing also), a slide, and some climbing ladders.  There is also a riding horse on springs and a little wooden structure with toy trucks (M's favorite things).  We sat in a tiny dirt patch at the bottom of the slide to dig for awhile with the vehicles before heading back down the dirt road to the farm store.

M was a little distracted when he came upon a toy farm, toy tractor and farm animals (similar animals were on sale on shelves above) to play with in the store, but it gave me just enough time to look over the delicious-looking miniature pies and artisan breads from a local bakery in addition to the farm's fresh vegetables and plants.  In the end, I chose two chocolate-chip cookies and a loaf of crusty, sourdough bread while M picked out a pumpkin to bring home.

Another bonus near the parking lot were two rabbit cages containing one very fat rabbit named Bun-Bun and another spikey-haired Lionhead rabbit named Bean. We can't wait to go back!

Alderbrook Farm

1213 Russells Mills Road
Dartmouth, MA 02747

(508) 636-4562

Hours: 5:00 AM - 5:30 PM year-round
Free Petting Zoo - Alderbrook Farm, Dartmouth, MASocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Truth About Daycare Ratios for Infants and Toddlers

Any good checklist for seeking a quality daycare center will mention inquiring about daycare ratios.  How many children to how many adults in the room?  Each state has its own minimum requirement.

In Massachusetts (one of the better regulated states) where I was a lead teacher in an infant room, the ratio was three infants to one adult or a maximum of seven infants to two adults.  Of course most daycare centers will opt for the maximum because they are, after all, a business.

Did you ever watch Jon and Kate cope with their eight infants?  Between feeding, diapering, and holding, they needed a team of volunteers to keep their household running.  Maybe seven infants to two adults is easier?  Think again.

The truth is that there is often just one adult per six children for a majority of the time.

Why?  In daycare centers, infants/toddlers are required to have a diaper change every two hours. Diapering in a daycare center is much more complicated than at home:

  • Diapering area is often separated from main play/floor area by a gate or door
  • Caregiver notes time of diaper change and puts on rubber gloves 
  • Each child has their own personal supply of diapering items to be retrieved from cabinets or drawers
  • Daycare children usually have on footwear, which needs to be removed and reassembled if the child is wearing jeans or fitted clothing, especially if there is a BM involved
  •  After child has been diapered and brought back to the others, the caregiver must return to area to dispose of diaper/gloves and changing sheet paper, wash area with disinfectant, and lay down a new paper before retrieving the next child to be diapered. 

This process takes at least 8 minutes per child in even the most efficient operations, unless clothing is wet or soiled and the child must be changed into a new outfit.

Let's do the math:  8 minutes x 7 children = 56 minutes that one caregiver is alone with the other 6 children.

One hour later, the whole process begins again with the first child that was diapered!  In between diaper changes, there are bottles, highchair feedings, naps, and playtime.  This is an amazing feat considering state regulations require caregivers to individually hold babies when they drink from bottles and many infants need to be rocked or held before napping.  Trust me when I tell you that two sets of hands are not enough for seven infants in a childcare room following these state regulations and ratios.

You might have thought it was okay that your child was receiving 1/3 of an adult's daily attention, but what if they are actually getting by with only 1/6 of an adult's daily attention a majority of the time?

How to Find out the True Teacher to Child Ratio of a Prospective Daycare?

--Rather than being content with knowing the center's ratio, you might want to ask about the diapering process:

How often are children diapered?

Who does the diapering?

(If it is one person or the team rotates, how many adults are left with the other six children?)

--Make More than One Visit to Observe the Infant Room Before Deciding:

Most centers arrange times to talk to teachers during children's nap times, so the teacher will have time to devote to your questions.  However, this is often misleading, because this is the most calm part of the day.  With lullabies playing softly on the stereo, it might appear to be the perfect environment.

If you like the center after talking with the staff, ask if you can stop in another time or two to observe only.  Ask to come between 11:00 AM and 12:00 PM when lunch time is in full force or 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM when children are up and about, just to get an idea of what it is truly like at different times.  Only arrange these observations with the understanding that teachers will NOT have time to talk to you during these peak care hours.       

Nanny's Note:  I have worked and interned in a variety of daycare centers.  I believe this ratio issue is one contributing factor to daycare staff burn out and turnover.  I found many center environments unsafe and chaotic due to ratio issues. 

I'd be very interested to hear from other caregivers with similar or very different experiences.  Parents - what do you think?
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mid-Week Mom Tip - Homemade Carrot Chips

Carrot Chips is only one of many tasty and nutritious recipes you'll find at Weelicious, a blog featuring fresh and wholesome baby, toddler, and family meals.  I can't believe the Food Network has not snapped up this talented Mom and given her a show yet! 

Found Weelicious thanks to a post by fellow New England blogger Angelika at her Playground Hunting blog.  Angelika reviews and maps out tons of playgrounds in the Boston, MA area in addition to blogging about fun activities and family life.  Here's her adorable son, Alex, helping to make carrot chips in the kitchen:

Hope you run over and check out both of these great blogs!
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Easy Bead/Pasta Stringing with Toddlers

Bead stringing is a classic activity for young children that helps strengthen their fine motor skills and allows them to perfect their hand-eye coordination.  Three year olds are just about the right age for bead stringing and card lacing activities without frustration.

For beginners and younger children (two and up), bead stringing can be introduced by using large, wooden beads and pipe cleaners.  The firm but flexible pipe cleaners allow small hands to point the tip accurately through the bead's opening.  Once the pipe cleaner is through the bead, help young children learn how to grasp the top of the pipe cleaner to slide the bead down.

Caution:  This is a good time to introduce words like sharp or "pokey" as M and I call the cut ends of the pipe cleaner. Also, just bend the bottom of pipe cleaner to make a little loop so the beads don't slide off the end.
Bead Stringing with Pipe Cleaners

Where to Find Beads?

I was very excited to find these large wooden beads at the Dollar Tree. Although painted, they meet safety standards and do not contain lead paint.  Usually these types of beads can be found at a much higher price in school supply catalogs or online educational sites. Another frugal option is the large plain wooden beads or blocks found at craft stores.

Substitute: Dried pasta shapes like rigatoni for beginners and penne for more of a challenge.

I bought two sets (6 beads each).  For $2, I can get a lot of play mileage out of these toys:

More Bead Activities:

These chunky beads are a good stand-in for a first set of blocks for little hands.  M likes to stack them up to make towers (to knock down again and again).

M also likes to fill and dump objects with these beads (ie. containers with twist tops, empty wipe containers, his dump trucks, etc.)

Sorting and Classifying:  Beads can be grouped by color and shape.  This is a beginning math skill. 

Patterning:  Whether stringing them or stacking them, you can introduce beginning patterns by alternating colors and pointing out the pattern to your child, "look, this one has red, yellow, red, yellow, red.  Let's make another one that matches."  This is another important math skill.

Math Vocabulary to Introduce:  different, same, matches, pattern, more, less
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blog Trotting - Tour of Rhode Island

Blogtrotting is a virtual travel blog hosted by Cara that offers bloggers around the world the chance to share a tour of their state or country with others.  What a fun way to learn about other places and people!  Although I was born and raised in nearby Massachusetts, I'm happy to bring you on a tour of my current state, Rhode Island:

RI is known for being the smallest state in the U.S.  In fact, on a non-traffic day, you could travel by car from one end of the state to the other in about 2 hours! 

We have many beautiful beaches and coastal areas in RI and our state is known for everything from the weird and tacky to the traditional and sophisticated:

The Big Blue Bug aka Nibbles Woodaway (Mascot of New England Pest Control ) perches high on a building overlooking Interstate 95 going through our capitol of Providence. He is often decorated for various holidays and has "starred" in movies shot here, such as Dumb and Dumber.

Del's Frozen Lemonade -- a cross between an Italian ice and a Slushie -- just lemon, sugar, and bits of lemon peel make it something to look forward to during the warmer months.  Flavors and state locations have expanded over the years.

Coffee Syrup -- Autocrat makes this popular syrup along with the Eclipse brand.   Here in RI/Southeastern MA locals enjoy their coffee milk and coffee cabinets (like a milkshake).  I have to ship my mother huge bottles of this treat since she has retired to Florida. 

Distinct Accent -- like our neighbors in Boston, MA; depending on where in RI you are from there can be a distinct accent -- sounds like we live in "Vo Dylan."

Foster/Glocester --two rural, woodsy towns who share a school district and are infamous to locals for always being the first to cancel schools when it snows.  They often get the most white stuff and their tricky rural roads aren't easy to plow and get buses through.

Seafood -- we take it for granted here, but those who move away, like my Mom to Florida, really miss the local seafood -- fish and chips, scallops, lobster, and clam boils. Though nowadays we might not eat as much  fried foods as we once did here, summer isn't complete without New England clam cakes and chowder. There are popular little "clam shacks" throughout the state only open during the summer season, such as Evelyn's in Tiverton (featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) and Flo's in Newport.

New England Clam Chowder and Clam Cakes

Some Notable Locations and Residents:

Providence -- the capitol city where many commute from nearby suburbs, including MA to work.  Large concerts and sporting events like those involving the Providence College Friars (basketball) are held at the original Providence Civic Center, now called the "Dunk" because it was renamed the Dunkin Donuts Center in 2001. Not all Rhode Islanders were pleased about this change.  Although there are over 150 Dunkin Donuts locations in our small state, this sponsorship seems to be a bit much.

Brown University is one of our shining stars on the historic east side of Providence, where there are many beautiful tudor and victorian homes.  The lovely Swan Point Cemetery is where RI born writer H.P. Lovecraft  is buried along with other RI notables.

Brown University

H.P. Lovecraft

Trinity Repertory Company in Providence is the main venue for plays and local theatre -- every year they produce a different version of A Christmas Carol there.

The Providence Performing Arts Center, affectionately known as PPAC, is the place to see traveling broadway shows -- just a few months ago I finally saw Wicked on its second journey to Providence.

Providence Performing Arts Center
 The city of Pawtucket, RI is home to HASBRO toy company's corporate headquarters, where I once worked years ago as a secretary. Hasbro is well-known for Mr. Potato Head (there he is standing outside of Corporate headquarters), My Little Pony, G.I. Joe, Playskool Brands, and the Milton-Bradley family of games.

Mr. Potato Head - Mascot of Hasbro Headquarters


Besides the Providence College Friars basketball team, Providence is also home to the Providence Bruins -- minor league team to the Boston Bruins.

Providence Bruins Hockey
 The city of Pawtucket is home to McCoy Stadium, where the Pawtucket Red Sox play, the minor league team to the Boston Red Sox.

Pawtucket Red Sox play at McCoy Stadium

I have saved my very favorite area in Rhode Island for last --- Newport, RI, famous for its dozen or so Newport Mansions built along the Atlantic Ocean around the turn of the 20th century. Wealthy socialites and ship traders from New York (the Vanderbuilts for instance) built these outrageously extravagant mansions to serve as their "summer cottages" and were only used 2-3 months during the summer social season.  It's a beautiful place to visit, especially decorated during the holiday season or in the summer when you can walk along the property and "pretend" you are looking back at your own home.  At least that's what I like to do! 

A Newport Mansion

Boating and sailing are also a popular past time in Rhode Island, and Newport has hosted the America's Cup race several times.

As with all locations, there is always so much more!  Check out:  Visit Rhode Island

Thanks for joining me!
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Four Tips for Finding the Perfect Nanny

Whether it be in the newspaper or an online service, most parents begin their nanny search by posting an advertisement.   As an experienced Sittercity nanny and recipient of their daily job postings for over three years, I'd like to offer four important tips on advertising for your perfect caregiver to help increase your response rates:
1.  Be as Detailed as Possible

Include ages and number of children; days and hours needed; and specify a range of pay you are willing to pay for the right person.  More and more I have seen ads that are easy to skip over because they contain no actual information.  Fight the urge to think aloud as you write, "we might need this or we might need that, or it could change in the future."

Not all jobs are set in stone, but in order to apply for one, prospective babysitters need to at least have days and times in mind that they can count on.  Many ads state the need for the nanny to be "flexible" as days and hours can change.   If on-call is what you need, then it would be okay to specify this as you will attract the type of person who wants that arrangement.  It is rare that any serious caregiver or nanny would be available at any time of day or night.  Without any specific details, most will overlook or skip over your ad.
2.  Be Careful Not to Come Across Overly Demanding

Must like animals, must be flexible, must be willing to do housework -- this ad is a giant red flag and is a turn-off to prospective caregivers.  If parents are willing to be so demanding in an ad, how will they treat the caregiver once they are hired?   First impressions are lasting impressions.

3.  Be Clear About What You are Seeking

Before writing your ad, think about your goal.  Do you want childcare or a housekeeper?

While it is usually expected that a nanny or babysitter will clean up after the children; make their meals; do their laundry; and other agreed upon chores, I see ads that really blur the lines.  Many sound like they are looking for a domestic servant who will also be asked to care for the children.  Professionally trained and educated caregivers are attracted to the field because they enjoy teaching and taking care of young children -- they are in it for the kids. They do not want to clean your toilets.

4.  Do Not Omit the Pay Rate

State a pay rate that you are willing to pay for the right person, whether you have a single figure in mind or it varies a few dollars.  If you are ambivalent about how much you will pay for childcare, it will be broadcast loud and clear by omitting this important detail.  This omission tells prospective nannies or sitters that you are not willing to pay for quality childcare. Most sitters are willing to negotiate, but will skip over any ad that does not at least state a range.

It might be helpful to think of a caregiver ad in the same way you would advertise for a potential mate. You are trying to attract the right candidate for your family.  Tell them about yourself and your needs, what qualities you are seeking, and you will find the perfect caregiver!

For more information about Sittercity and my experience using their service, check out my other post:

Sittercity Nanny?  That's Me!

Use promo code TAKE15 to receive 15% off a monthly or annual membership to until October 31, 2010.

Four Tips for Finding the Perfect NannySocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sittercity Nanny? That's Me!


People are often surprised to find out that I am a Sittercity nanny and that I joined the service back in the company's early days, long before I started blogging. 

Four years ago, when I was a home visitor/parent educator for a Parents as Teachers program, a mom told about a new service that one of her friends started in Boston, MA -- Sittercity!  Mostly out of curiosity, but also because I had enjoyed my previous stint as a nanny, I set up a caregiver profile and signed up for their daily job postings.

I received Sittercity daily e-mails for a full year before before finding my perfect position -- three 10-hour days taking care of a 2-month-old boy.  I was able maintain my income level while working three long days instead of five, allowing me to take full-time classes to finish my B.A. in early childhood education.

That single nanny job was the only one I applied for and Little M and I  have been together for a little over two years! 

Sittercity Details:

Search for a Sitter or Post an Ad?

Parents can search through  profiles of available sitters in a zip code range or post a specific ad.  I always suggest posting a specific ad because many potential sitters can opt to keep their profile invisible (like I did) and only apply to ads that match their own criteria.

For example, in my small zip code, there are 75 visible profiles.  Parents can contact visible sitters directly.  However, when parents place an add, they are able to view the full profile of all responding sitters (even invisible), their pictures, reviews, and background check results (if the sitter has paid for one*). 


Sittercity offers reviews of sitters by parents who have used them and also reviews of parents by sitters.  So far I have seen only positive reviews, as it seems no one wants to leave bad feedback.  The reviews are most commonly placed on profiles of occasional babysitters rather than long-term caregivers.  I suppose no one want to advertise how great their nanny is, lest someone else wants to lure her away!  

No Freebies:

One weird glitch I've noticed is parents trying to post an ad without paying for the service or trying to take advantage during a free trial.  Parents will try to include their personal information, such as an e-mail or phone number, but Sittercity thwarts their plans -- the email or phone number appears incomplete in the job posting, so no one is able to contact them.

All paid Sittercity users and registered Sittercity babysitters and nannies correspond through a "user@sittercity" address that includes their registration sign-in name.

Terms and Payment:

As of this writing, Sittercity has two paid options:

Option One:  one year worth of service for a $119.98 one-time billing charge

Option Two:  monthly billing of $9.99 after paying an initial billing charge of $49.98

I think the one-year option is the best value, as the monthly option costs $60 for only two months of use.  However, if you are looking for a long-term nanny and have only a couple of months before she starts, the monthly option would probably work well for you.

For help with posting your nanny ad, check out my other post:  4 Tips for Finding the Perfect Nanny

Use promo code TAKE15 to receive 15% off a monthly or annual membership to until October 31, 2010.

*It currently appears that families can now opt to pay for a background check on a caregiver they are interested in.
Sittercity Nanny? That's Me!SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Playground Review - Westport, Massachusetts

Little M and Nanny Rating:   * * * * (out of 4)

Each playground is special in its own way, but the Westport Community Center Playground is one of our favorites because of its many features (see photos below):

  • 2 large sandbox areas complete with large trucks of every type plus pails and shovels
  • A cool sand pulley contraption that really seems to capture the interests of older children as they work together to lift, hoist, and pour sand
  • 4 slides - one small, two larger, and one covered tube slide
  •  Swings - including two bucket seats for babies/toddlers
  • Climbing steps, platforms, ropes, twists, and wobbly bridge to cross
  •  Riding toys -- large dinosaur, small stationary elephant, a bouncing two-seater (like a teeter totter/seesaw, but stationary)
  • Little Tykes equipment:  for younger children, there are several of these scattered around allowing them to climb and slide at their own pace.


  • Completely fenced in with a chain link fence and latched gate.  Children can run around and have fun, but they can't run away faster than you can catch them.

  • Porta-potty -- we haven't used this feature, however, I often see parents and children (including potty trainers) going in there, so it must be pretty well maintained. 

  • Picnic tables and benches

M could stay at this playground for hours due to his love of cement trucks, excavators, and bulldozers!  Our first hour or so is usually spent in one or both of the two sand areas.  Once he notices the actual playground, there's so much more to do - slides, swings, climbing, and running from one end to the other.

All ages will enjoy this playground as there is something for toddlers to grade schoolers.

Location/Map:  nearby 856 Main Road, Westport, MA

Diagonally across the street from Partners Village Store

entrance side of playground -- slides, swings, riding toys, stairs, ramps & bridge
opposite side with climbing options and tube slide
one of several smaller play structures for toddlers
sandbox with trucks and sand toys

another sand area with a platformed pulley station
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mid-Week Mom Tip - Beach Memories

Not only is this an inventive idea for a vacation keepsake, but these little sandy handprints would be the perfect addition to the beachy cottage style decor found in coastal New England.  It takes a little planning and prep time, but I think it is worth it:

Beach Craft:  Make a Sandy Hand Print Keepsake

Thanks to Crafting a Green World for this and other fun projects.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Toddler-Sized Beach and Playground - Grinnell's in Tiverton, RI

We're running out of places to escape the higher than normal temperatures here in Southeastern MA/RI! Little M (26 months)  loves to run and climb, but our usual playground stomping grounds are nothing but burning hot slides this time of year.

Grinnell's, a tiny beach with attached playground in Tiverton, RI was the perfect spot on a recent 88 degree day!  As soon as M and I stepped out of the car, we were greeted with the most amazing breeze that cooled us right down.  The parking lot is only a few yards from the playground/beach so there was none of the usual hassle accompanied with "going to the beach."

The simple playground contained a single climbing structure with slide, a set of swings; a purple riding dinosaur; and some gymnastic-type parallel bars and other bars to hang from -- all with that wonderful breeze and beautiful water view.  Afternoon naps dictate our time table, so this playground was perfect for the two hours we were there.  M didn't want to leave -- he never does -- but it was easy enough to persuade him by agreeing to carry him the few yards to our car.

Some Pros:

Toddler-sized; easy in and out; playground; beach; public restrooms; picnic tables; parking lot close by; lifeguard on duty; not crowded; no traffic; easily accessible off a main road; and a lovely view when facing the water.

Some Cons:

Not the most picturesque or pristine beach you'll find as it's right off the road with a gas station and Cumberland Farms across the street on one side.  There was some litter and occasional cigarette butt edging the playground near the beach grass.   One of the pros for a quick and easy trip also make it a con for some -- parking lot right near beach and visible.

Overall, this beach with attached playground is just the right size for a spontaneous trip.  It has a very laid-back, small town vibe.  It didn't require any planning, packing, or major trek to get there.  We will definitely go back to Grinnell's and plan to enjoy the beach and water next time.

Location/MapMain Road, Tiverton, RI

Parking Fee:  $5 weekdays and $10 weekends (for non-Tiverton residents)

Nearby Food and Fun:

Eveylyn's Drive-In - about one mile from Grinnell's.  Evelyn's has been featured on the Food Network's show, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Great place for clam cakes, chowder, and other assorted seafood.  Better to take out or eat outside on patio/picnic tables.

Gray's Ice Cream - about four miles from Grinnell's. Gray's has yummy homemade ice-cream and delicious hot-fudge sundaes and is located in the historic Tiverton Four Corners district (home to little shops and art galleries).  The smallest one-scoop dish or cone is $3.50, which can be a negative when visiting with small children.  It would be wonderful if Gray's offered a kiddie-size, as this destination is popular place due to strategically placed park benches facing the adjacent cow pasture:

 Above:  one of the very large and very loud cows at Gray's Ice Cream in Tiverton, RI
Toddler-Sized Beach and Playground - Grinnell's in Tiverton, RISocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mid-Week Mom Tip - Sun-upcycled Crayons

I love crafts with children and love them even more if they are easy and frugal.  This post by MaryAnne at Mama Smiles fits every requirement:
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Monday, July 26, 2010

Making Friends Monday

Are you looking for new friends around the blogosphere? Check out Making Friends Monday!

The rules are simple!
1. Follow the Making Friends Monday hosts (Listed as # 1-5) as well as the Spotlight Blog of the Week (listed as #6)--they WILL follow you back!
2. Link up the Making Friends Monday post on your blog.
3. Grab the Making Friends Monday button, and include it somewhere on your blog-this can include a simple post.
4. Visit as many blogs as you would like, and follow them. Be sure to tell them you are a new follower from Making Friends Monday!
5. Follow back as many bloggers as you would like from Making Friends Monday. Following your new friends back is appreciated!
Help spread the word and get more followers:
-Put the same linky list code on your blog, and you'll have the exact same list!
- Your blog visitors can add their blog to your list, and it will show up on all lists!

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My Baby Can Read?

When Little M's parents told me they had ordered the "My Baby Can Read" program (of late-night infomercial fame) for him at 15 months old, my first thought was, "how about my baby can talk first?" Although he had mastered the word "more" at 10 months old, his speech was so slow in progressing that five months later, all he had added to his repertoire was "nan-nan," which he called me.

When the box of videos, books, and flashcards arrived I agreed to work with M each day using the program only because they are the parents and I am the nanny. It's my job to carry out their wishes, but I had little faith in seeing results. I've completed enough child development and early literacy courses to have it drilled into my head that flash cards in early education are a big no-no and have been for over 20 years!

Somewhat Sketchy:

The instruction booklet for the program suggests moving on to each new DVD and accompanying book once your child has mastered the first set of words. Buried in small print midway through the instruction book is the fact that this mastery will "usually occur between the ages of 4 and 5." Hmmm...this is around the average age that children normally start to recognize letters and environmental print (ie. street signs and logos). Sounds like the title of the program should really be, "My Preschooler Can Read," which I guess is not as impressive as babies learning to read.

I don't know how much M's parents paid for this program, but I don't think it was cheap. Dr. Tinzer, who supposedly developed this program for his own children, comes across a little bit like a used car salesman.Dr. Tinzer insists that your child watch his videos three times a day while minimizing all other television viewing.


A month later, Little M was indeed saying some of the words on the flash cards. Some of the words were easy, like hi and car, but recognizing words like wave, smile, bucket, and tiger was a little more impressive. Hmmm, maybe there was something to this program after all.


5 DVD's that progress from Starter to Review stages, each introducing new words

5 matching books that correspond with the words on the DVD's. The books are large flapbooks, which are interesting to children. Words appear first and the photo appears under the flap.

Word cards - large flashcards with words on each side - no photos

Sliding word cards - A word appears on each side of these heavy cardboard cards which pull apart to reveal a corresponding photo. M has fun pulling these apart, but doesn't have the dexterity to slide them back together, which makes the thinner middle card bend, crease, and almost tear.

Big Board book with sliding panels - M enjoys this book the most.  Little sliding word windows can be pushed back and forth to reveal a picture underneath.

What makes the difference in this reading program?

Dr. Tinzer believes that his program is different because children are not just passively watching television, but are interacting with the words and actions on the screen. He suggests that parents mimic the actions on the screen and repeat the words.  For example, if the video shows a baby clapping and says the word clapping, parents are supposed to clap and repeat the word. Although this might sound effective in theory, have you ever tried to join in and get someone's attention while they are watching television? Their annoyance with you aside, wouldn't the viewer miss the important information that is supposedly being transmitted? 

The only difference:

The only way that this program differs from other videos or books is that the written word is a prominent part of the program. It is a fact that children learn to talk by hearing adults talk, having conversations, and listening to story books.  It does makes sense that if children observe a large word in conjunction with hearing the  spoken word, that he may learn to recognize the word when he sees it.

This is one component that is not discussed in early childhood education. Most experts would say that this is not developmentally appropriate and considered pushing the child to learn a skill before he is truly ready. I agree with much of this belief, however, I have noticed that this is the ONLY visible difference in this program from any of the usual ways parents and educators have approached language skills.

Can Little M Read?

Little M has shown that he can "read" or recognize about 50 percent of the words written on the word cards in this kit. Within three months his parents showed him all five tapes and all the books and cards, which rushed the process a bit.

I have not pointed to words in our favorite books to see if M can "read" them, however, if he was actually learning to read, maybe he would point them out to me if he saw a familiar one.

Flashcards can be a chore:

In fact, this is the one reason why many early childhood educators are against using them. Flashcards are like quizzing a child, and soon they tire of the game and don't want to play anymore. As M's parents became more excited about his emerging word recognition, they began to flash the word cards whenever they were together, and soon M didn't want anything to do with any of the program components, including the videos.

Did this program teach M to read?

I believe that this program introduced words to M in a way (mostly visually) that his parents and I would never have tried if not being introduced to this program.

What were M's abilities before beginning this program?

Some background on M is important because they may have influenced his abilities to learn through this program.

M rarely watched television or electronic media before watching these DVD's. Since his birth, his parents have insisted that he not watch television during our days together.  I saw M develop an amazing attention span for getting involved in his own activities from a very young age. He does not need to be entertained.

M loves books. We have been reading to him daily since he was 2 months old. His favorite early books were ABC's and a Counting Book. He loves rhyming books and musical nursery rhymes. He has a package of foam letters and numbers that his mother received at her baby shower. He liked to chew on them as an infant, but over time his Daddy taught him the names of the letters and numbers.

Before starting the Baby Can Read program, M already knew 10 foam letters by sight and all 9 numbers. He played with them by himself, and I would often hear him say aloud to himself --  A, E, O, as well as the numbers. His number recognition transferred to him being able to read the numbers on a stack of cardboard blocks, which I found pretty impressive by 15 months.

In my opinion, M was ripe for the Baby Can Read program. He already enjoyed and recognized some letters and numbers. Visual learning may be one of his personal strengths.  Since he never watched TV, the 20-minute videos of simple actions paired with a word appearing on the screen were fascinating to him. Would he have enjoyed them if he was already watching Sesame Street, Dora, or Bob the Builder? I can't say for sure.

Should you get the Baby Can Read program?

If you could borrow it from a library or found it inexpensively somewhere else, the books would probably be enjoyable to most children because of their flaps and sliding panels.

However, since the only thing I find unique about this program is the visual depiction of words, you could accomplish this at home by yourself.

A simple sheet of construction paper folded in half with a single, large word on the front and a magazine picture cut-out on the inside might have the same appeal.

Your opinion?

I would love to hear from anyone who has had experiences with this program and hear your thoughts! Did it work for your child? What do you think was the effective component?
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Friday, July 23, 2010

Fun with Magnets

I felt honored to be asked to contribute a guest post to Melitsa's blog, Play Activities.

This terrific site has tons of learning activities and ideas for children -- check it out:     Fun with Magnets at Play Activities
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mid-week Mom Tip - Removing Permanent Marker

Try This Tuesday - Removing Permanent Marker is a post from The Little Book Nook, a blog I just hopped over to this week!

Perfect tip for anyone with young artists running around!  Thanks to the Little Book Nook!
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Saturday, July 17, 2010

The 1-2-3 Warning

The 1-2-3 warning is a handy strategy for parents in the early childhood years.  Toddlers are on their own time, and sometimes we adults can't always wait until they are ready. There are times when we have to do something "now."  This is especially true of those times you need to get children into the car for daycare,  preschool, or a family event.

Toddlers hate to stop what they are doing and want to be in control of themselves. By plucking a child away from something interesting without warning, a major outburst might erupt. Transitions are more difficult for some children then others, so a warning of sorts is helpful.

I started using the 1-2-3 warning with Little M when he was about 18 months old because he was never in a rush to have his poopy diapers changed. Whenever I suggested it was time for a change, M would stare at me blankly or inch further away. Not wanting to force my will on him, I announced that I would count to three, and it would be time to change his diaper.  I told him that he could walk with me or I would help him by picking him up and carrying him.  The 1-2-3 warning served a few purposes: 

1.  It got his attention
2.  It let him know that a transition would soon occur
3.  It offered him a choice of two actions

So, this is how it went:

"It's time to change your diaper M."

Blank stare

"Okay, Nan's going to count to three and then it will be time to change your diaper.  One, two, three.  It's time!  Would you like to walk with me (reaching out my hand) or do you need me to pick you up and help you?"

Blank stare

"Okay, I'll help you." (as I picked him up and carried him off)

The first few times M was NOT HAPPY to leave his toys, but soon the 1-2-3 warning worked its magic. It signals a predictable routine, which children really thrive on.  It also preserved his dignity and helped control his emotions by offering him a choice of two actions. I wasn't just picking him up out of the blue without warning.

The 1-2-3 warning has been extended to our playground outings, which can be prime tantrum time. Toddlers hate to leave all the fun, even if they are almost dropping from exhaustion.  After my usual warning that it will soon be time to get in the car and head home for a rest, I begin the 1-2-3 warning and countdown.  Usually M just stands there while I pick him up with no fuss. Sometimes he surprises me by reaching for my hand to walk with me.

Even though I started the 1-2-3 warning before M could fully grasp the concept, it was the beginning of a new routine that will carry him and his parents through many years. I was still using the 1-2-3 warning when my own daughter was 11 years old!  The consequence/choice changes (obviously no more picking the child up), but it works just as well as a motivator for older children to start their homework or clean up their bedrooms as it does for small children.

Anyone else have success with this or other warning strategies?

Photo Credit:  istock photos 
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Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Follow: Building Friendships One Blog at a Time – July 16th


Welcome to the 8th Friday Follow hosted by our awesome hostesses, Heather & Jessica from Saving Money and Living Life, Tami from Hearts Make Families, Harriet from Harriet and Friends, and Ian from The Daily Dose of Reality. Thank you everyone for being willing to host! Please stop by and see these awesome host/hostesses.

We invite you to join us every Friday to get more blog followers and to find many interesting blogs that you like. This is all about sharing and having fun.
We expect you to be on your honor and to have fun. These are only guidelines to make it more enjoyable for you. Here’s how YOU can join the Friday Follow celebration:
  • Link up your blog below.. One Link per blog
  • Grab our Friday Follow button include this post.. grab the linky information if you want it
  • Follow the Friday-Follow blog and the hostesses in slots 1, 2, & 3 that have volunteered today to host
  • Follow the blogs you want, leave comment saying you are from Friday Follow – use common courtesy
If you need more guidelines about following see
This list is new each week and closes on Saturday at 11:59pm EST. The links do not carry over. Please link up each week for new participants to find your blogs. It will be visible all week to visit the blogs listed.

Congratulations to our Three Friday Follow Winners!!!

#8 – My Three Bubs
#9 – Toddler Awesome

Each week we will randomly draw from three (3) blogs from the links for the next week’s Friday Follow, and each blog chosen will be placed in the highly coveted number #7, #8, and #9 position on the blog hop. The first blog chosen will also be given the option of doing an interview which will post on on Thursday the next week. We love your participation and want to give back to you! You could be next!

Today’s Friday-Follow is sponsored by The Twinners Reviews & Giveaways.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mid-Week DAD Tip - Walnut Boats

Creative Dad Blog Alert!  I'll never lose my affection for frugal kid crafts and love finding new sources of inspiration -- hopefully you do too!   Made by Joel approaches arts and crafts from a Dad's (and artist's) perspective. 

Walnut boats is only one of the fun projects found at Made by Joel.  Although there are many more, another post that quickly caught my eye was Cereal Box Marble Run

Thanks again to Money Saving Mom who posted a link to download Joel's Free Paper City -- another great activity that led me straight to Joel's blog.  Check it out -- hope you like it as much as I do!
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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Children's Reading Circle at Partners Village Store in Westport, MA

Little M and Nanny Rating:   * * * (out of 4)

Today Little M and I went to the first summer reading circle at Partners Village Store in Westport, MA; pictured above.  Partner's combines the quintessential coastal New England gift store filled with quality nautical and seashore home accents; books; toys; candy and gifts with an attached "kitchen" offering fresh sandwiches; beverages; and baked goods to eat in or to go.  Their online store does not do justice to all the wonderful items tucked into every nook and cranny of this location.

The free story program is held almost year round with a short break in June.  During the cooler months, the reading circle is held indoors.  Miss Joan; a kind, grandmotherly woman, shares stories; a craft; and snack of fresh-baked cookies and apple juice. 

Today, we sat outside on the spacious side porch in the warm breeze while Miss Joan read stories about the beach.  The sugar cookies were frosted to resemble beach balls, and the craft consisted of gluing colored sand to pretty ocean blue shades of paper.  Five sea creature stickers were passed out to each child, along with crayons to complete their masterpieces.

Little M (at 26 months) is a little young for the types of crafts offered, but he does enjoy the stories and snack!  At our previous visit indoors in June, there were many children around M's age as there are no age limits given, but I think children at least three years and up would enjoy it best.

The indoor version especially requires the self-control of older preschoolers, as the group gathers in the toy section of the gift store and spills out into other areas -- all which contain shelves of too many small, interesting (and sometimes breakable) items.  Luckily M was very cautious the first time we visited and did not start to explore until the end.  I'm glad they have moved outside for the summer -- no temptations!

What:  Children's Reading Circle

When:  Every Thursday from 10:30 - 11:30 AM  (3-week break late June/early July)


865 Main Road
Westport, MA

Ages:  All welcome; although best suited for children at least three years old and up.
Children's Reading Circle at Partners Village Store in Westport, MASocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mid-Week Mom Tip - Popsicle Stick Puzzles

I stumbled upon Chelsea's blog, Fantastic Find, while blog hopping and found her fun and simple kid craft for

Popsicle Stick Puzzles 

Chelsea's blog is full of frugal, fun ideas for children, so you're sure to find something new to try.  Another favorite post highlights link from about More Fun with Big Boxes -- always a hit with small children! 


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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mid-Week Mom Tip - Ways to Save Money on Summer Entertainment & Activities

Another one of my favorite frugal blogs is The Thrifty Mama (Natural and Thrifty). Here's Crystal's great compilation post of ideas/links to thrifty family fun this summer:

Ways to Save this Summer Part I - Activities and Entertainment
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Free Family Fun on Fridays in New England

The Highland Street Foundation (Framingham, MA) is providing FREE admission each Friday throughout the summer to popular Massachusetts' attractions. The usual admission prices for these locations are pretty hefty, so this is a wonderful program for families!

Coming up this Friday, July 2nd is Plimoth Plantation, a 17th century Colonial Village experience recreating the daily lives of the English settlers and Wampanoag tribe. If you have never been, this is your chance to mingle with "pilgrims" in their own homes, watch Wampanoag tribe members carve canoes out of a tree, and go aboard the Mayflower II.

To view the entire list of FREE FRIDAY museums; zoos; and attractions; along with their specific FREE admission dates, check out the Highland Street Foundation's website:

Free Fun Fridays - The Highland Street Foundation
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