Month: December 2018
Hopefully you are shifting gears from thinking about holiday purchases to what really matters – enjoying quality time with friends and family.
That said, if you are doing any last minute shopping or want gift ideas in 2019, save this post for reference!
- 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Toys
- 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Children
- 2018 Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Children
Also, you close out the year, please consider supporting the Reach Family Institute and BrainFit Kids!
- Via Facebook – help us reach our #Giving Tuesday Goal!
- Check out our Support BFK Page and Donate!
BrainFit Kids is a part of the Reach Family Institute and provides all of the online resources you have been enjoying free of charge. We are working on new information and resources for 2019 and look forward to continuing to share information with you and build community. If there are any particular topics you’d like us to address in the coming year please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and and peaceful end to 2018.
We can’t leave out you parents! You are the key to making your families work. This is a list of books that we think are great for all parents out there. We broke them down by books we think are great to give to those who are expecting and books that are useful at any point in parenthood.
Wonderful books for expectant parents:
- Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett – Let’s be clear. When you are first starting out there is nothing simple about breastfeeding! It is something that is unfamiliar and there are so many variables involved that for many it is a very challenging journey. A beautiful and important and natural journey, but often challenging. This book truly does help in so many ways though! It is a wonderful resource for any breastfeeding mama and good resources are extremely valuable when starting on your new breastfeeding journey. It is generally stated that the biggest key to success in breastfeeding is knowing others that have been successful. This is very true in that it is extremely valuable to have a tribe to turn to that has been there and been able to push through the challenges. I would add this book to that mantra though. The key to success is having a tribe of other moms AND this book.
- Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping by James J. McKenna – James McKenna is widely recognized as the guru when it comes to matters of mother-infant sleep relationships and the science behind cosleeping. Whether cosleeping is something you intend to do or not, this book is worth a read. It’s a short and easy read full of super practical information on cosleeping and how to do it safely whether it’s something you only do occasionally or whether it is your sleeping arrangement of choice on a nightly basis.
- Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu – Originally published in 1971, Montagu’s “Touching” is the Bible of work related to the critical role that the tactile sense has on human development. In the intervening years, medical science has proven Montagu to be quite prophetic in his assertion of the all encompassing importance of touch.
Books that are wonderful for every parent, especially those of young children:
- The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle – Author Dan Coyle gets it like few others we know. By it we mean the extraordinary implications of the biological phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Our entire approach to child brain development is rooted in this fundamental reality. Coyle is a kindred spirit. You need this book. It will make you a better parent. Check out the full review we did of this book.
- Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, M.D. – Unfortunately many, rightly so, have come to equate psychiatrists with the drugs they prescribe. Dr. Ratey uses medication when he thinks it will help but his first prescription for conditions like depression and anxiety may surprise you. It’s exercise! That’s right, Dr. Ratey proposes and shows that physical activity (mobility) should be at the heart of any attempt to improve human function. This book will get you off the couch and your brain will thank you for it.
- The Read-Aloud Handbook: 7th Edition by Jim Trelease – We are huge proponents of reading to children from the time they are infants. So this book is right up our alley! Trelease gives a splendid explanation of why reading to children throughout childhood is important along with a great list of books for all ages.
Hands-on play is critical because it provides the brain with real sensory experience and provides opportunity for the practical use of motor function. This holiday season we encourage you to focus on providing the young children in your life with gifts that will foster this. We’re talking – books, blocks, puzzles, musical instruments, and the like. Here’s a breakdown by age of some of the items we think are great for children and their development.
Expectant / Newborn – 12 months
Our favorite mat for tummy time: Tumbl Trak Tumbling Mat – You can read all about why we consider this the best mat for tummy time in our previous blog post. Suffice it to say we probably consider this the best investment for a baby in the first 6 months of life in terms of a tool that will assist them in the most important aspect of their development in this time period. The mat is also a lot of fun as they grow older.
Finding toys that keep baby interested during tummy time are always a good buy. Soft and colorful balls like the rolling rosa are great during the early months of tummy time. As they start to move around on their tummy in later months, anything that give them an an incentive to chase are ideal. Babies at this age also love tags and crinkly things so toys like this will easily last for the first 12-18 months.
We are also big fans of the Tobbles Neo Stacking Toy for similar reasons. During the early months it provides good motivation during tummy time since the stacking balls move around a bit when on their own. As they start to move you’ll find them harmlessly gumming on them. As they get a bit older, it is a great first stacking toy due to the forgiving nature of how it stacks.
Melissa & Doug makes some great puzzles for young children. The ones with bigger knobs are good for children around age 1.
Whenever you give your baby something to hold, make sure it is not a choking hazard. It’s not a bad idea to have a small object choking tester on hand so that you know exactly which items to keep away as you are baby-proofing.
Introducing children to music and musical instruments early on is so valuable. In the early months these items will simply be something that you use to engage your child, but as they approach 6-12 months they will begin to take charge of the instruments themselves. These are some of the musical toys we have loved for our kids.
- Maracas, tambourines, triangles – Small maracas like these are nice for little hands to grasp.
- Drumscan be a bit noisy, but are certainly a kid favorite.
1 – 2 year olds
This is the box set that we have and it has a good variety as a starter music set (we kept the triangle with it’s metal stick away until the kids were older) but there are a number of great Melissa & Doug box sets and instrument options available.
- Geometric stackers like this are wonderful for working on hand eye coordination and keep young toddlers busy for long periods of time. Children at this age love stacking.
- In addition to stacking, young toddlers experiment a lot with spinning objects (and themselves!) so this SpinAgain Stacking Toy from Fat Brain Toys is a great one.
- We love this bead sequencing set. While it is geared towards older kids (4+), the truth is that children beginning between 1 and 2 years old can benefit from playing with these as well. We simply recommend putting away the smallest beads in the set and letting your child explore this set under supervision. The beads are fun for them to feel and you can talk to them about the differences in the shapes, the colors, sort colors/shapes, and let them practice putting the beads on the rods.
- Melissa & Doug offer classic colorful wooden blocks as well as this architectural set. Both of these provide great hands on play and will grow with your child over time.
- Playmags are very fun and allow for children to build in different ways than they do with classic building blocks. While these are geared more for the 3+ age group children can begin experimenting with the magnetic tiles in the 1-2 age range. Eventually one can use these to work on combining shapes to make other shapes, hone concentration (and patience!), and add on the clickins to work on letters, spelling, numbers, and math.
- Melissa & Doug have great puzzles for young children. The ones with bigger knobs are good for children around age 1 and their wooden peg and chunky puzzles are great for young toddlers.
Balance Bike (yes seriously, you can start ~18 months):
Once your child is comfortably walking you can begin to introduce a balance bike to them. This one by Woom is our favorite! Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.
2 – 3 year olds
Cooking with kids provides so many opportunities for hands-on lessons. You can introduce math concepts, feel different textures, talk about different cultures, etc. It is one of the best places for children to learn through all of their senses! We love having a learning tower in the kitchen so that your child can help you out and get up to your level and you aren’t worried about turning your back and having them fall. There are lots of learning tower options out there but we have the Guidecraft Kitchen Helper as we like the feature that allows it to be folded up and tucked away.
Remo drums are awesome for kids and they have a nice deep sound that isn’t annoying. This is the specific drum we have but they make them in numerous shapes and sizes. In addition to just playing the drums, kids also love putting smaller objects (like Duplos, etc.) on these drums and making them bounce around!
Many of the items we listed for 1-2 year olds continue to be fun at this age; however, the kids begin to use them in a different evolution based on their age.
- Geometric Stackers, SpinAgain Stacking Toy, bead sequencing set, Melissa and Doug colorful wooden blocks, Playmags + clickins,
A favorite addition at this age are Tents
- Tents are wonderful for imaginative play. There are endless options out there so go with something that fits your space and your child’s interests. This is the one we have and it works well because it folds down into a small bag that we can put away when not being played with. This was key for us when living in a small city condo – https://brainfitkids.com/rocketplaytent
If you are just starting your little one out on a balance bike at this age then we recommend you start with the Woom 1 or the Woom 1 Plus. If your child is taller and big enough to fit the Woom 2 then you could start with that. Simply remove the pedals at first so that it is used as a balance bike until your child is ready to add on the pedals. Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.
3+ year olds
This glockenspiel is a wonderful instrument for introducing children to proper pitch and tone. It is also easy for them to play and experiment with.
Once you believe your child is ready we recommend getting them a nylon knife set that is designed to get them involved in cooking and cutting. These sets work really well and are designed to be easy for small hands to grip.
Toys that are still fun:
- Geometric Stackers, SpinAgain Stacking Toy, bead sequencing set, Melissa and Doug colorful wooden blocks, Playmags + clickins,
- Our kids love using combining many of the toys at this age blocks + duplos, etc
- For kids who have shown that they like building and creating with blocks we absolutely love KAPLA Construction wooden blocks as they offer a bit more of a challenge and more room for creative construction. It is incredible what can be built with these simple neutral blocks!
- This Pattern Play set is really beautiful and is great for working on more complex patterns with older toddlers. The listed age for this is 8 but we have used it can certainly be introduced as early as 3.
There are a couple games that we love to introduce around the age of three.
- UNO is a great game to reinforce colors and numbers. It’s a fairly straightforward game that young kids can pick up on quickly and it really works well to practice colors and numbers. Plus it’s one the whole family can enjoy! When first introducing the game we recommend playing without the “extra” cards (wild, draw two, etc) to make the game more simple and move faster. Once your child really gets the hang of how the game works then you can add those in. This is a favorite of ours to pass the time at restaurants or while traveling. It also makes an excellent stocking stuffer!
- Connect 4 is another one that has simple rules and can be introduced at this age. It will take a bit for your child to pick up the strategy but give them time and work together with them and you’ll soon find that they are legitimately planning ahead and strategizing and beating you!
Balance and Pedal Bike: If you are just starting your little one out on a balance bike at this age then we recommend you start with the Woom 1 or the Woom 1 Plus. If your child is taller and big enough to fit the Woom 2 (or if they are ready to move to a pedal bike – without training wheels!) then you could start with that and simply remove the pedals at first so that it is used as a balance bike until your child is ready to add on the pedals. Check out our blog about why a balance bike is the absolute best way to teach your child to ride a bike, our post on why we recommend these bikes in particular, and our step-by-step guide to teaching your child to ride.
The age recommendations below are meant as a guide to when you should introduce the books. All of the books will continue to be enjoyed by your child and continue to be a good tool for the development of understanding for a long time.
Our criteria for choosing these books:
- It has to meet the neurological/developmental needs for each child’s stage.
- It has to be FUN.
- It has to be educational and the information has to be accurate.
Newborn to 6 months
High Contrast Books Ideal for Newborns:
- Baby’s Very First Black and White Library – A great price value. There are 4 books. There is only 1 picture per page and the pictures are simple, clear, and contrasting. These books have all the elements for good visual stimulation for young babies. These books are smaller so great to throw in a diaper bag or take along with you on a trip.
- Look, Look! – Another book that we like for it’s high contrast images and red writing. We have a full book review on this one if you want to learn more about why we like it.
- On the Farm – This book is listed as 9 months + but we recommend it for newborns because the pictures are simple and contrasting. Black and white contrast is important to develop the immature vision of the newborn. It is made of thick cardboard and opens like an accordian which is perfect for tummy time. And later to learn the animals.
- 1 2 3 Counting – Like the On the Farm book, it is perfect for Tummy Time and as baby grows the counting becomes the fun.
Books with Ideal Images and Information for 3 months – 6 months
- Animal Noises – A great price value. Your 3 month old baby will enjoy hearing the animal noises and the simplicity of the pictures. And later on will join you in making the animal sounds himself.
- Baby’s Very First Little Library – A great price value. The simple, big, and contrasting primary color pictures make this book series (4 books) perfect for the vision of a 3 month old. The subjects covered (Animals, Mealtimes, Colors and Bedtime) make it perfect for the 6 month old and up.
- Baby’s Very First Noisy Book Series – A good auditory stimulation for your little baby with fun, farm sounds, trains, nursery rhymes, jungle and zoo to choose from. As your baby grows the push buttons are good for manual development.
- Baby’s Very First Touchy-Feely Animals Book – A great book to help develop awareness of third dimension by touch and appreciation of pleasant touch. I chose this one because of the simplicity of the picture which is attractive to this age range. But I do recommend any of the Touchy-Feely Books of the Series.
- Flip a Face – Colors – The large simple faces in this book have great appeal to young babies.
- That is not my… Series – All of these books are great for tactile exploration and a fun read for this age range. There are many in the series to choose from!
6 – 12 months
- Animal Hide and Seek – Provides lots of fun feeling and learning about animals. Each page has multiple touchy feely textures and flaps!
- Baby’s Very First Slide and See Series – All of the books in this series have beautiful vivid colors and are very inviting of child participation. At first you will need to move the flaps but your child will soon take over.
- Big and Little Box Set – There are 4 books in the box set. The large pictures are attractive for a 6 month old and the rhymes keep baby engaged. These board books are sturdy for little hands and the information is good for the growing baby.
- Haiku Baby – The poetry and sweet illustrations of this book are sure to capture the attention and peak the interest of your little one.
- Tip Tip, Dig Dig – This is a great one for little construction enthusiasts. It’s bright colors and large text give a simple introduction to different parts of of the construction site. It’s one your child will quickly come to memorize and recite.
1 – 2 years old
- All Better! – This book comes with reusable bandage stickers to put on the animals. The book helps children understand and accept treatment when they hurt themselves and they LOVE putting the bandages on each of the animals! They will soon be rushing to help take care of anyone they see that gets hurt.
- B is for BEDTIME – This sweet bedtime story also provides a good introduction to letters with wonderful cute pictures and short sentences. It is ideal to increase child’s everyday vocabulary while walking your child through a lovely a-z bedtime routine.
- Duck and Goose Series – All of the books in this series are sweet and your young toddlers are sure to become fast friends with Duck, Goose, Thistle and Bluebird. The bright, simple illustrations are great for young children and the books cover a wide array of relevant topics for children at this age.
- Very First Words Box Set – This set includes 10 books (10-14 pages each) that introduce a wide array of words into your child’s vocabulary. A B C, 1 2 3, Colors, Animals, On Vacation, At Home, Bedtime, My Body, Things That Go, and Nursery Rhymes.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever – This book is wonderful for introducing young children to a huge array of vocabulary in a fun way. You can read our complete book review to learn more about why this is one of our household favorites.
- 1, 2, 3… By the Sea – This counting book has nice rhyming flow to it and provides a game of searching for the items talked about on each page. This book can be introduced early on to learn numbers but can also really grow with a child as they interact more with the pictures and eventually use it as an early reader book. It also comes with the Storytime App for more interactive fun with the book.
2 – 3 years old
- Cars and Trucks and Things That Go – Another favorite Richard Scarry book of ours. Kids will love searching for Goldbug and following the pig family through their adventures. In truth we love all of the books in the Richard Scarry Series!
- Bears Don’t Read – We recommend this book because it teaches love for reading, kindness and perseverance.
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site – This is one of our bedtime favorites. It’s done in a very clever way and provides a nice wind down for bedtime, especially for construction lovers.
- Telling the Time – I have listed this book in this age range because the story has concrete activities that happen at specific times and most importantly in an order. This allows the young child to begin understanding the concept of time. As they grow the clock becomes more useful.
- In My Heart: A Book of Feelings – This is one we recommend at an earlier age than the publisher. It’s a beautiful book that introduces children to all of the human emotions. You can read our full book review on it to learn more about why we love this one!
- Lift the Flap Very First Questions and Answers Series – Why Do Animals Talk, What is Sleep, What are Stars, What is Poop, etc. These books increase a child’s curiosity and start to address questions they may be beginning to ponder at this age. It’s series that helps you and your child talk about the many questions they are asking and the books are beautifully presented.
- My Very First Books Series – Our World Book, Space, Dinosaurs, and Animals to choose from. The books in this series have lots of information and are great for increasing a child’s vocabulary as well as knowledge about the various topics.
3 years old +
- Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo – This quirky book is on the longer side but it’s full of adventures and silliness. It’s one our kids have loved and a great one when they’re in the mood to snuggle in with you and really sit down for a story. They also love the song at the end!
- Jessica’s Box – This story details a young shy girl trying to make friends at school. It’s a sweet story that opens opportunities for a wealth of valuable conversations with young toddlers. A charming book that speaks to the desire of all children to be liked for who they are (School Library Journal).
- Look Inside Series (Your Body, An Airport, Space, Our World, Jungle, etc.) – Kids love the lift a flap books and this series starts to delve a little deeper than the Peek Inside series and the Questions and Answers series for those whose curiosity and attention span is allowing them to dig a bit further into these topics.
- Shine-A-Light Series – This is a great interactive series because when the child shines the light behind the page it reveals a hidden image and brings the story to life. You have 19 books to choose from depending on the child’s interest. Because the information appears like magic, it is a great series to broaden your child’s interests and knowledge.
- Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep – This is a bedtime favorite in our house. Kids are sure to giggle at the misadventures of poor big bear as he stumbles around mis-understanding the words of old man winter.
- 5-minute Stories Series – There are MANY different 5-minute stories available. You can find pretty much all of the Disney and Pixar stories along with classic characters like the Berenstain Bears, Curious George, etc. If there’s a character your child is in love with there’s probably a 5-minute story book available. Some super eager little book-lovers may enjoy these stories between 2-3 years old but most will probably get the most out of it starting around 3. We will often choose to just bring one of these along with us for a trip as it then provides about 10 or so stories while traveling.
- 100 Paper Planes to Fold and Fly– This book provides 4 different models to perfect. It is a great parent/child do it together activity book for the little ones and it encourages “practice makes better”! There is also a 200 Paper Planes to Fold and Fly for your Kindergarten/First Grader or up. In addition there are versions that include Birds to Fold and Fly, Bugs to Fold and Fly, Dragons to Fold and Fly, etc.
The race to get ready for the holidays has begun! This is such a very busy time of the year! There are so many holidays and celebrations. Americans celebrate Thanksgiving in late November. Muslims all over the world celebrated the Prophet’s Birthday (Mawlid al-Nabi al-Sharif) on November 20th/21st. Jewish people all over the world are celebrating Hanukkah from December 3rd to the 10th. Christians all over the world will celebrate Christmas on December 24th and 25th. Those are just a few celebrations. Then, of course, there are also those non-religious folks who join in on the “Santa Claus” spirit of celebrating with gift giving.
It’s a wonderful time of year but it comes with a lot of extra stress and, for children, often a lot of disruption in their daily routine. There is a feast to be made, a house to decorate, family to visit and/or receive, parties to attend and gifts to be purchased. It is during times like this that we often see children’s behavior head south! Children are sponges and they are a reflection of their parents. When you are stressed, so are they!
So, for our end of the year blogs we will focus on tips, ideas, and suggestions to help you manage your stress so you can focus on what is important to you, your children, and your family! We will also offer you our BFK recommendations for best gifts for the children and for parents.
I will begin today by talking about the most important gift you can give to your children, your family, and your friends. The gift of TIME and memory building! There is no better gift you can give than sharing yourself and your time with someone. Truth is, children appreciate this more than anything else you can purchase. The best thing is that it does not have to cost you anything!
You and your children do not need added stress in your life. Think about it! Toys come and go, material things come and go, but memories and feelings are there forever! I love the saying “People may not remember what you said but they will always remember how you made them feel!” That is even more important and true with children. And even more important today when our lifestyle is so connected to electronics. Often, we are physically with our children but we are not emotionally connecting with them.
So, I highly recommend that you consider making it a priority this holiday to give the gift of time and memory building. This gift will not only be enjoyed and appreciated by the person who receives it but also will be enjoyed and appreciated by you. It’s a win-win situation! It will warm your heart and relax your nerves! 😉
Here are some suggestions of what this gift can look like, ranging from free things you can do with your children to more expensive ones.
Pretend Indoors Camping:
Make a card by hand on which you write: Dear (child’s name), I love you and I want to give you a gift of playing pretend camping together this Friday (or whatever date you choose) from (this time to this time). Enclosed are some of the things we will need to build our tent. The rest will come from our imaginations! Love, Mom or Dad. In a box, add what you will use to build the tent. It can be bed linens or blankets that you will drape over chairs, sofas, or beds. The most fun toys are the pretend ones, the ones we build using things we have around the house. Make a stove from real bricks or from pieces of wood. Make a bed for the dolls using pillows. The fun comes from just being with your child without the smartphone or any other interruptions. Include all of your children in the game. So, the card might be addressed to all of the children unless you want this to be a special time with just one child.
Dress Up Date:
You can include this as part of the camping date or at another time. It could be Tea Time and as part of that you get dressed up in some fun clothes!
At Home Movie Night:
Choose a special movie to watch together. The movie is not really the important part here. The important part is the ritual you design and go through before the movie comes on and during the movie. Decide what treats you will have during the movie. Choose something that you and your child can make together. Popcorn for example. After all it is movie night! Have your child help you make the popcorn with whatever steps are safe and age-appropriate. It might be as simple as putting the popcorn in pretty individual bowls. In our family, Juliana and I always liked hot tamales in our popcorn. She continues that tradition with her children. So, decide how many hot tamales can be added to each bowl of popcorn and, with your guidance, let your children put that together. Whatever treats you choose, make the presentation pretty as this teaches your child that this time together is really special to you. By making it nice you are telling your children how much you value your time together with them. The attention you place on the little details demonstrates how much you value being with them.
Other more costly but valuable gifts that build memories for both you and your kids are:
Scheduled visits to children’s museums, plays, ballets, sporting events. Places that you would like to attend with your children make great holiday gifts. You can even make some a yearly event. And those memories will multiply. If you remember our blog on the importance of frequency, intensity and duration and its relationship to brain development, you will appreciate the importance of having traditions.
In our family, when Juliana was growing up, we began our Christmas celebration by attending the matinee showing (11:00 am) of the Nutcracker Ballet on Christmas Eve. We got dressed up in our nicest clothing and went to the ballet. Afterwards, we went out to lunch before then returning home to begin preparing our traditional Portuguese Christmas Eve meal.
That is how we build valued memories! The best memories, the ones which your children and you will remember and value, are created during those special times you spend doing things together. It isn’t the movie that matters, it is the time you spent snuggling together while watching the movie! The gift of undivided quality time talking, sharing, and playing with your children, your spouse or partner, your friends is the best gift you can give them and yourself!
I hope you take my suggestion to heart. Give yourself and your kids a break and focus on what is important in life! Give your kids the gift of your time! It is truly a priceless gift.