18 Random Pieces of Toddler Magic

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, mostly because the whirl of mom-life is like a vortex that sucks me in. Every day is so full of Zaza that everything else takes a backseat–and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Life as a parent is packed–not only with to-do lists and errands, but with golden memories that happen in a minute, but will last a lifetime.

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With that in mind, here are 18 random moments of toddler magic that bring a smile to my face on a rainy day–literally or figuratively.

  1. Stroking her soft rosebud skin and silky ringlets as we snuggle and nurse.
  2. Waking up next to her every morning and asking her what she dreamed about.
  3. Indulging her curious mind by answering her many questions. (Her current favorite, “What is this?”)
  4. Her pure, sweet laughter as I push her higher and higher on the swing or spin her around in circles when we dance.
  5. The surprisingly tight grip of her little arms as she squeezes me in a loving hug.
  6. The feeling of her tiny hand in mine as we navigate life’s adventures together.
  7. Inhaling the earthy, mammal-y musk of her hair after a long day of playing outside.
  8. The way she closes her eyes and says, “That’s delightful,” when eating her favorite foods.
  9. Letting the sand exfoliate my feet the natural way as I chase her through the sandbox and climbing frames at the playground.
  10. Seeing her eyes glow with delight when she interacts with animals, whether at the zoo or with random dogs at the park.
  11. Joining her in a state of toddler zen when she basks in the sun and plays in the sand at the beach.
  12. Wondering what she’s dreaming about when she smiles or giggles in her sleep.
  13. The high, sweet tones of her voice as she hums and sings around the house.
  14. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to help with ordinary household chores like cooking, vacuuming, and dusting.
  15. The way that she makes even mundane things like going to the car wash into super fun and exciting events.
  16. The funny and random things she says sometimes, i.e. “I’m going to Central Africa,” and “Milk is my superfood,” and “I like to wake up next to you.”
  17. Getting lost in a good book with her—and listening to her “read” her books from memory when she doesn’t know I’m watching.
  18. And finally, my favorite: The soft touch of her little fingers as she strokes my face and says, “I love everything about you, Mum-mum.”

Parents out there, I hope these made you smile. What are some of your favorite magic moments with your little one? I’d love to hear them!

5 Awesome and Entertaining Baby Rhymes!

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Xaviana and I adore Baby Rhyme Time at the Dove Library. For 20 minutes each week, the small group of moms and babies stretches out on a comfy blanket as the friendly librarian and her cuddly teddy bear read, sing, and introduce new rhymes. Each session has a theme, such as letter knowledge, vocabulary, or phonological awareness, and repetition is emphasized, especially during the songs.

Here are 5 of our favorite rhymes–with engaging hand movements! They’re perfect for the changing table, car trips, or any time you want to hear your baby giggle.

Looks like someone was pretty absorbed in the stories and rhymes!

Looks like someone was pretty absorbed in the stories and rhymes!

Dancing Fingers

Fingers are up. (Wiggle fingers, pointing upward.)

Fingers are down. (Wiggle fingers, pointing downward.)

Fingers are dancing (Make fingers appear to dance.

All over town. (Scamper fingers across baby’s tummy.)

What is Your Name?

What is your name? (Point to child.)

I just want to know. (Point to yourself.)

Your name is _____. (Say the child’s name.)

Hello, hello, hello! (Wave to the child.)

Mr. Snail

Sliding, sliding up the branch.

Moving towards the sun.

As Mr. Snail goes by a flower,

He stops to kiss each one. (Kiss baby from head to toe.)

Slowly, Slowly

(Walk hand slowly up baby’s tummy.)

Slowly, slowly, very slowly

Creeps the garden snail.

Slowly, slowly, very slowly

Up the wooden rail.

(Tickle baby throughout the second verse.)

Quickly, quickly, very quickly

Runs the little mouse.

Quickly, quickly, very quickly

All around the house.

Blow, Wind, Blow

See the trees move (Move your arm back and forth.)

To and fro.

See the trees move.

Blow, wind, blow. (Gently blow on child’s tummy or face.)

Do you and your baby enjoy rhymes? If so, what are your favorites? I’d love to hear some new and original ones!

15 Fun and Educational Board Books for Your Baby

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We all know how important reading is for our little ones’ language development and cognitive skills. But there are so many board books out there… How to choose?

In the past 13 months, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of baby board books–not surprising, considering how much Xaviana and I both love to read! I’ve noticed that her favorites contain several common key elements, which are educational as well as fun:

  • Animal sounds (either written into the book or added by me)
  • Pleasant rhymes
  • Repetition
  • Pop-ups and opening flaps
  • Textures
  • Bright colors
My little reader :)

It’s never too early to foster a lifelong love of reading! 🙂

Here are our favorites:

  1. The Can You Say it Too? books by Sebastien Braun – Babies love flipping open the flaps to reveal various animals and their sounds–perfect for expanding little ones’ animal sound repertoire. We have Moo, Moo, which is all about barnyard animals, Growl, Growl, which introduces babies to bears and other wild beasts, and Woof, Woof, which features common everyday pets.
  2. Ten Tiny Toes by Caroline Jane Church – Although we love all of Church’s books, what sets this one apart is the creative and interactive way that it teaches children about various parts of the body and what each one does.
  3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – This classic introduces children to counting, days of the week, foods, and the basic life cycle of a caterpillar. It also includes the onomatopoeia “pop,” which makes my little one giggle every time. She’s even started to say it. I make the story come to life with Xaviana’s Very Hungry Caterpillar teething rattle.
  4. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle – Another fabulous contribution from Carle, this book is a great way to teach kids about animals and colors, and the catchy, rhyming text rolls off the tongue. I add animal sounds to make the book even more educational.
  5. I Can Dance by Betsy Snyder – The finger cutouts make this book such a treat; parents stick their fingers through the characters’ little leg holes to make them dance everything from ballet to disco.
  6. Little Fish finger puppet book – Its tiny size makes it ideal for trips, and the happy fish finger puppet, colorful pictures, and rhyming text keep kids enthralled time after time. There’s a whole series of these books, including Little Shark and Little Penguin
  7. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – This book has been delighting children for generations, and I can see why; the illustrations are jam-packed with interesting, old-fashioned objects and the gentle, rhyming text keeps babies absorbed–and mellow before bed. 🙂
  8. If Animals Kissed Good Night by Ann Whitford Paul – Another bedtime fave, this rhyming book is so much fun to read because of the creative ways in which the exotic animals kiss their young.
  9. Time for Bed by Mem Fox – This bedtime must-have features gorgeous illustrations of baby animals as they get ready for bed with their parents. I enhance the cute, rhyming text by adding animal sounds for each critter.
  10. Sniff by Matthew van Vleet – Pull out the side tabs to make the elephant’s nose smell flowers, the mouse’s nose twitch, and the papa bear’s nose snore! Babies love touching the textured illustrations of various animal noses.
  11. The Where is Baby’s… series by Karen KatzWe have Where is Baby’s Birthday Cake, Where is Baby’s Christmas Present, and Where is Baby’s Pumpkin, and my little pumpkin loves them all. Lift up the flaps as Baby searches for seasonal items…and always finds them just in time to celebrate!
  12. Good Morning, Good Night Illustrated by Melanie Mitchell – Watch various animals during their active, fun-filled days, and then unfold the pages to pet their textured fur at nighttime. There’s even a little girl to tuck in under a fleecy blanket! I usually read this book to Xaviana in the morning and at bedtime; it’s the only book I know that gears kids up for their day and then relaxes them for bed.
  13. Bright Baby Colors, Numbers, ABCs – This huge board book has colorful illustrations of baby’s first words, the alphabet, colors, numbers, shapes, opposites, times of the day, and various places. It’s an awesome vocabulary-builder!
  14. Sophie’s Pop-up Peekaboo – Sophie the Giraffe is hiding from her feline friend Lazare, and he looks all over the house to find her. The pop-ups delight little ones, and it’s a great way to teach kids to identify animals (Sophie’s friends) and rooms in the house.
  15. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae – Gerald the Giraffe has no hope of entertaining the other animals at the jungle dance…until a cricket teaches him a confidence-building lesson. This book has the “heaviest” plot of any of Xaviana’s books, so it will grow with her. The illustrations and rhyming text keep her interested, and it probably doesn’t hurt that I act out the page where Gerald swings his legs everywhere, and then does a backward somersault and leaps up in the air. A great book to read when we both need to energize a bit. 😉

So there you have it… 15 fun and educational board books. What are your kids’ favorites? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

How to Throw a One-derful 1st Birthday Party

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This past weekend was Xaviana’s 1st birthday party, and it was a lot of fun for the kids, parents, and non-parents alike! We decided to throw a slightly unconventional 1st birthday party with no set end time, to allow for the kids’ celebration early (starting around 4) and an adult party that lasted past midnight! If you’re a mom or dad who likes to party, I would definitely recommend this, since you can keep hanging out with your friends after you put your baby to bed for the night. 🙂

We chose a Halloween theme, and everyone dressed in costume. We had about 30 guests throughout the night, so it was a fairly large gathering. Our colors were purple, black, and orange, but of course we had to add a little hot pink, since it’s my favorite color (and Xaviana’s too).

We kept our decorations simple: purple and orange balloons scattered around, Halloween lights outside and on the staircase, a black-and-silver sparkly Happy Birthday banner, and, of course, a First Birthday sign for the table.

We served fun and relatively healthy Halloween appetizers, including the Spooky 7-Layer Mexican Dip (garnished with a ghost from the $1 bin at Target) and the Haunted Pumpkin Patch. The “pumpkins” are made of peeled clementines with a tiny slice of celery in the middle, and the “ghosts” are strawberries dipped in a thin layer of white chocolate, with 65% cacao dark chocolate forming the eyes and mouth.

Haunted Pumpkin Patch of clementines and chocolate-dipped strawberries

Haunted Pumpkin Patch of clementines and chocolate-dipped strawberries

Spooky 7-Layer Mexican Dip ;)

Spooky 7-Layer Mexican Dip 😉

The 7-Layer Mexican Dip is my go-to party appetizer, and has evolved into waaay more than 7 layers over the years. It’s great with regular taco chips or pita chips, but our favorite way to eat it is with Fritos Scoops. Here’s how I make it:

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of cream cheese
  • 1 packet of taco seasoning
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 container salsa
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Mexican cheese
  • 1 small can sliced black olives
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • Cilantro to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime

Procedure:

  1. Soften cream cheese and mix with 1 tbsp taco seasoning.
  2. Spread mixture at the bottom of 13 x 9 inch serving dish
  3. Add the layers in this order, spreading evenly throughout the dish: beans, salsa, shredded lettuce, black olives, green onions, and avocado
  4. Sprinkle with cilantro, and drizzle the lime juice throughout.
  5. Sprinkle with Mexican cheese, and enjoy!

We saved ourselves time and effort, and opted for a catered Lebanese dinner from one of our favorite restaurants, Ara Lebanese Grill. The adults raved about the food, and the kids liked it, too. We had cheese rolls, chicken with toom (garlic dip), kafta, fattoush, tabbouli, rice, pita bread and hummus, and French fries.

We went all-out with an elaborate Halloween cake from Taste and Sea Cakery in Encinitas. It was chocolate and buttercream inside, and it was incredibly delicious, not to mention a work of art!

The gorgeous haunted Halloween cake for our birthday girl!

The gorgeous haunted Halloween cake for our birthday girl!

That took care of the food, but how to keep the kids entertained? This turned out to be pretty easy. We brought down Xaviana’s tummy time mat and spread out her favorite toys there. The kids were excited to discover new toys, and Xaviana enjoyed playing with her friends. We also put light-up balls, slinkies, hacky-sack balls, and bubbles in the kids’ favor bags, which provided plenty of entertainment. (The parents blew the bubbles for the little ones.)

We brought out the cake around 8, which, retrospectively, was probably a bit late for the kids, since meltdown time was already in full-swing. If I had it to do over again, I would’ve brought out the cake around 7. However, everyone really enjoyed the cake and ice cream, and the kids’ crowd cleared out shortly thereafter. Xaviana responded calmly to the boisterous group of people singing to her; I think this is because we sang “Happy Birthday” to her all week, and conditioned her with small birthday treats with lit candles before the big day. She was weirded out and even cried a bit when we were conditioning her, but by the time the real cake and party happened, she was used to it!

Xaviana passed out into a blissful sleep after dessert, allowing the adults time to drink some beer and wine and just enjoy the night! I was glad to unwind, because 1st birthday parties are a lot of work!

Parents out there, did you throw a large birthday party for your baby, or did you keep the celebration quieter? What are your favorite party reflections? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

10 Things I’ve Learned From My Baby’s 1st Year

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It’s so hard to believe, but my sweet baby girl turned 1 this past weekend! As we celebrated her big day, I found myself alternating between intense excitement and bittersweet nostalgia. Older and wiser parents really aren’t joking when they say time flies by with little ones.

I’ve also been reflecting about what I’ve learned during Xaviana’s first year of life, and–wow–I learned a lot! Pre-pregnancy, I knew nothing about babies (and, in fact, found them so intimidating and “breakable” that I was afraid to pick up other people’s kids). Now, however, I feel like an expert on all things baby, and I’m perfectly at home in a roomful of Xaviana’s busy little friends.

Xaviana is all smiles at age 1 :)

Xaviana thinks age 1 is fun 🙂

Having a baby has shown me the miracle of life firsthand. I think any mom will agree–raising a baby is the greatest gift we’ll ever receive, and being an awesome mom is the greatest gift we’ll ever give.

With that in mind, here are 10 things I’ve learned during Xaviana’s first year of life.

  1. Every moment spent with baby is precious – Each day is full of elusive, fleeting moments that last for mere seconds, but create memories that last a lifetime. Capture them in your mind and your heart. Appreciate the privilege of spending time with your baby, even on those inevitable rough days when you’re feeling exhausted or irate… which brings me to the next lesson I learned…
  2. Everything, good and bad, is just a phase and will pass – Teething, fitful sleeps, picky eating, and 5 PM meltdowns are unpleasant for mom and baby alike. We can try our hardest to keep baby happy all the time, but 24/7 Baby-topia is just not possible. Our (rare) rough patches with Xaviana have felt like being trapped in a dark tunnel with no end in sight, but just when I’m about to go crazy, they always seem to end. Growing baby or nature’s way of keeping mama sane? You make the call. 🙂
  3. Getting out of the house is key – Sometimes it feels next to impossible to get moving, especially with very young babies. However, it’s crucial to go out and about. Interacting with people not only stimulates babies, it makes mamas happier. Outings that last 2 hours or less are the most pleasant for Xaviana and me. Stroller rides, short trips to the beach, park, or pool, mommy and me exercise classes, and baby rhyme time at the library are some of our favorite activities. Going out allows baby to explore fun new environments and make new friends, and I’ve also found that Xaviana appreciates her toys and books more when we return home from our adventures. My husband and I have been bringing Xaviana to parties, on dates to restaurants, and to various special events since she was a newborn, and she’s an amazing little companion because she’s used to being out and about.
  4. Flexibility is super important – It’s an inevitable fact: as soon as you think you’ve established an eating/nap time/bedtime/fill in the blank routine, baby will throw you a curveball and totally change his or her habits! Flexibility is so important in parenting. Xaviana is growing and evolving every day, and my routine changes with her. Naturally, this comes with some sacrifices–most notably that her new one-nap-per-day schedule means I’m taking a short hiatus from writing ebooks–but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  5. Meeting other moms and babies is crucial – It can be pretty difficult to meet other moms who have: a.) common interests and b.) babies around the same age as yours. Meetup.com has been the best way for me to expand my mom and baby network. I discovered a Fit Mama group, where I met several awesome moms and babies who love to exercise as much as I do! I’ve also met other moms and babies at Xaviana’s swim class, the park, and the library. The kids love to play together (or, more often than not, trade toys and play alongside each other), and I enjoy chatting with the moms. Win-win.
  6. Raising a child is individualized – There’s no right or wrong way to raise your baby; the most important thing is what works for you and your family. I listen to everyone’s advice about bedtime, feeding, etc, but in the end, my hubby and I make the final decisions based on when we think is best for Xaviana, not necessarily on what is easiest for us or most commonly accepted.
  7. It gets easier – When Xaviana was a newborn, life was delightful…but difficult. There was just so much to learn, from changing diapers to using the car seat and stroller to breastfeeding. Factor in the sleepless nights, and I was one mind-boggled mama. However, taking care of her became much easier with time, and now I can honestly say that it’s second-nature!
  8. Comparisons are odious – It’s tempting to compare your baby with others or against the developmental norm, but I resist the urge and let Xaviana grow at her own rate. Of course I make sure that she’s on track for the major milestones of her age, but I don’t worry if she accomplishes them a little earlier or later than her friends. I just let her be herself, and take things one day at a time.
  9. Books are the best toys – They’re cheap, they take up very little space, and they’re the perfect way to interact with baby while teaching him/her! I love reading, and so does Xaviana. Whether it’s nature or nurture, I’m not sure, but she has learned so much from her books–more than she’s learned from any of her other toys. I read her the same books every day, adding new ones periodically. This repetition has proven to be key in her language development. She’s making new sounds and saying new words as I reinforce the material in the books.
  10. Breastfeeding is amazing – While I was pregnant, I had a pretty laid-back attitude toward breastfeeding. I’d decided to try it out, but if Xaviana or I didn’t like it, I planned to switch to bottles and formula. Although I didn’t have strong opinions on breastfeeding then, I’m a total advocate now. Not only does breastfeeding nourish our little mammals with the nutrients they need, it soothes anything from tummy aches to teething pain. Check out this interesting article about why African babies (who are generally breastfed on demand and held close) don’t cry. And the health benefits to mom and baby are countless. IMHO, the coolest one is the immunity that baby gets from mama. Check out this article with some little-known facts about the subject, and prepare to be mind-blown.

There you have it… 10 things I learned during baby’s first year. Moms out there, what have you learned? Which of my lessons is your favorite? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

How I Started Unintentional Baby Led Weaning

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The introduction of solid foods is one of the most important–and potentially fun–milestones in baby’s development. I say “potentially fun” because it’s amazing to watch baby discover new flavors and textures in food…except when it’s not.

Let me explain. When we first started Xaviana on solids, she ate everything we offered, and seemed to love every bite. I used the Baby Bullet to concoct a variety of fresh and delicious purees, and she happily ate them right off the spoon. It was an immensely pleasant experience for all involved, and people often marveled at Xaviana’s adventurous eating.

Then, around month 10, she began to refuse spoon-feeding. If I let her hold the spoon and feed herself, she was fine (although covered in food). But if I tried to help her eat, she usually cried and grabbed for the utensil.

At first I thought she just needed something to occupy her busy hands during feedings. After all, she enjoys rubbing and pinching my skin while nursing. (It feels awesome, almost like a myofascial release massage, but that’s a subject for another blog post.) So I tried giving her toys or a spoon while using another spoon to feed her. This worked for a while, but unfortunately, my little monkey is too smart to accept that trickery for long. I decided that I would simply let her feed herself, and we thus began our unintentional journey into the world of baby led weaning.

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Baby led weaning (BLW), sometimes called baby led feeding, is the technique of introducing solids into baby’s diet as soft finger foods, without using a spoon or making any purees. Non-finger foods may be offered with a spoon so that baby can learn to use one. I was skeptical of this approach when I initially introduced solids, mostly because Xaviana was eating so well from the spoon, but since her mini-rebellion, BLW has been a lifesaver.

Technically, we’re doing a variation of BLW, since I still serve Xaviana some of her favorite purees, like sweet potatoes and avocado, but I let her go to town with them instead of spoon-feeding her. She eats these, as well as her Greek yogurt and oatmeal, with a combination of her fingers and a spoon. I also began serving her small portions of the family meals, such as salmon, chili, and chicken, either cut into small, manageable chunks or shredded in the Baby Bullet. Finally, I introduced her to veggie spears, baby carrots, fruit chunks, toast strips, pita bread, and other easy-to-munch finger foods.

Our mealtime flexibility paid off–Xaviana seems to love self-feeding, and she’s getting better at it every day. Sure, some food gets dropped, but I’ve noticed that more and more has been making it to her mouth lately. Yesterday, she fed herself a heaping spoonful of sweet potatoes–yay for hand-eye coordination! Mealtimes are more pleasant, and best of all, Xaviana is eating well at the table and at the breast!

Moms out there, what are your experiences with introducing solids? Are you a fan of BLW, traditional spoon-feeding, or a fusion of the two? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Awesome Educational Activities for Your 10- to 11-Month-Old

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I adore all of Xaviana’s phases, but her 10th month has been a particularly momentous one for us. It seems as though every day brings not one but several new developments. She’s preparing to walk, vocalizing in innovative ways, and learning new concepts like opposites, animal sounds, shapes, pointing, and clapping her hands. I can only wonder what marvels her impending 11th month will bring!

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite educational activities to stimulate young brainiacs.

  • Music Time – Every day, I sing Xaviana her favorite songs, which range from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to “We Will Rock You.” To keep her interested, I accompany my voice with the maracas, tone blocks, and clapper from her Melissa & Doug Band in a Box set. She loves to play along, often grabbing the instruments and adding her own spin to each song. She also enjoys tunes like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “If You’re Happy,” which incorporate hand movements. Finally, I play piano for her and let her experiment with various sounds and tempo settings on our MIDI.
  •  Animal Sound Activities – Xaviana and I go through her soft Fisher Price farm book every day. I sing her “Old Macdonald Had a Farm” while turning the pages, pointing to each animal as I make the animal sounds. Now she’s pointing, and also making some of the sounds! I also make animal sounds while reading some of her favorite books, like “Thank You Bear,” “If Animals Kissed Good Night,” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”
  • Shape Matching – I’m a huge fan of the Bright Baby Big Board Book, and we go through it every day. It contains vibrant pictures of first words, colors, numbers, and ABCs. One of Xaviana’s favorite activities from the book is the shape page. I dump all the shapes out of her Playskool Form Fitter and place each shape on top of its image in the book, naming each one. Somehow, seeing each shape come to life in 3-D makes Xaviana more excited, and it has helped her to master placing the shapes in the correct holes of the form fitter.

    The Playskool Form Fitter helps the shapes in the Bright Baby Big Board Book come to life!

    The Playskool Form Fitter helps the shapes in the Bright Baby Big Board Book come to life!

  • Fun With Opposites – Another of our favorite activities in the Bright Baby board book is the opposites page. I point out the pictures, and I also demonstrate the concepts with her own toys or with hand movements. As a result, she can now differentiate between her “big” and “small” O-balls, and she can show me “up” and “down” with her arms.
  • Baby Rhyme Time – We recently started attending Baby Rhyme Time sessions at the public library. During the 20-minute session, the librarian sings various kids’ songs and reads stories. The activities are similar to the ones that Xaviana and I do at home, but the environment is fun for her, with new friends and fresh stories.
  • Exercise Classes – As I’ve mentioned before, I take Xaviana to Mommy and Me barre classes every week, and she loves them for the music, energy, and opportunity to play with her buddies. However, she’s actually picking up on some of the movements. Just the other day, she grabbed onto the railing upstairs, hoisted herself into standing position, and went up on her toes, extending one arm gracefully in an exact copy of one of the moves we do in barre! I think she absorbed this from seeing the repetition week after week. I’m expecting plies in second position next. 😉

Mamas out there, what educational activities do you perform with your little smartypants? Which of the ones I listed is your favorite? I’d love to hear your thoughts!