Monday, January 30, 2012

Treasure "Baskets"

    As I found out with my research for this post on a baby's memory, it's necessary to continue to introduce novel items to my little explorer Q-ball (10 months old yesterday!)  Well, despite my best efforts, I started running out of new materials to present in her treasure baskets, and I did not want to go out and buy new items.  So, I decided to present the old, familiar items in a novel way.  Instead of the baskets that I had been using to present her materials, I placed the items in different containers.  It was a huge success!  Not only was Q-ball instantly drawn to the novel containers, the new containers presented all sorts of new sensory exploration, especially for sound and touch.  She was able to discover new ways to manipulate materials she had previously mastered!
The stone and cookie cutter make fun noises on the metal container.

Q-ball enjoyed the ridges on this wooden bowl.

Q-ball liked trying to pick up the pot (it's heavy!) to shake the walnuts.


    I also worked to find ways to make our traditional baskets more novel. As Q-ball is standing up and cruising along the furniture, I placed one of her treasures baskets on top of a table.  She loves to reach up and pull it down!
Montessori Monday

Friday, January 27, 2012

Baby Hair Growth

        Thanks to my wonderful friend and (almost) Doctor K., I was able to get hold of the article that discusses infant hair growth.  I was interested in this topic because nearly everyone I see comes and tells me what a "beautiful baby boy" I have. Even when she is dressed in pink. Well, everyone, Q-ball is a girl. Apparently, her short hair leads people to assume she is a boy. Yet, when I correct these very friendly well-wishers, they are quick to tell me that their daughter also had short hair "until she was almost two!"  (Leading me to wonder why they are quick to assume that a short-haired baby is a boy..) So, I wondered, what is normal for infant hair growth?
    Here's what I learned...
Development of hair in the human fetus.
  • Hair actually starts forming very early in the life of a fetus- at 8 weeks the hair bud is developing and by 10 weeks hair follicles are formed in a very, very precise pattern.  All of your hair follicles are perfectly, evenly spaced!
  • No new hair follicles are formed after birth.  
  • The number of hair follicles a person has largely depends on race.  African-Americans have 100,000-150,000 hair follicles; Asian-Americans have 90,000-120,000; and Caucasians have 100,000-150,000.
  • At 15 weeks, the hairs start to protrude through the skin, always at a slight angle. 
  • Throughout the rest of gestation, the fetus hair goes through two cycles of shedding all hair and then regrowing.  These cycles are typically slower in infants with darker complexions, resulting in more hair at birth.
  • Eight to twelve weeks after birth, hair goes through its final phase, often resulting in nearly complete hair loss.
  • At birth and up to about 8 weeks after, isolated areas of baldness are normal.  
  • Hair typically grows from the forehead to the nape of the neck.
  • At birth, infants have vellus hair which is very thin and silky and very lightly colored.  Between 3 to 7 months, intermediate hair develops.  Finally, by 2 years, terminal hair develops which is like grown-up hair.
  • Hair color is the result of melanin, the same pigments that cause the color of skin.  These pigments travel down to the hair bulb and become part of the hair shaft, helping form the hair color.  
  • Only two pigments are responsible for all hair color: Eumelanin forms brown to black hair, and pheomelanin forms yellow-blond to red hair.
  • Infant hair growth varies a lot between infants.  But, for each infant, the hair length for the entire head should be pretty consistent .
  • Most babies develop hair whorls- a clockwise spiral of hair growth.  56% of hair whorls are located left of the middle of the head, likely because the left side of the brain is slightly larger.
  • I liked this quote from a medical journal, "In the newborn periods, unruly hair that sticks out straight despite attempts at grooming is normal."
     So, based on this information, I assume that Q-ball will develop her beautiful, girly locks around age 2- which is exactly what Q-ball's well-wishers state!  Experienced parents could have written this article, no doubt! 

Did your newborn lose all of his hair? When did you baby's hair finally start growing?

Source:
Furdon, S. & Clark, D. (2003) Scalp hair characteristics in the newborn infant.  Advances in neonatal care. 3(6), 286-296.

    Thursday, January 26, 2012

    Watch Her Grow...

    This Week's Foci: Movement
     Interactions with Materials
    • As yesterday's pictures show, Q-ball loved sorting through her materials this week. I first noticed this trend when she was playing with what turned out to be her favorite found objects this week- panty liners (don't judge me- I have to shower too!)  She loved emptying the box, then then carefully placing each one on the ground like she was dealing cards.
    • So, I tried to introduce materials other than panty liners- an actual deck of cards (Bible 8's, anyone?) and a basket of wooden shapes.  She loved moving these objects around as well.
    • Lots of use of the walking wagon again this week- she loved loading it up and circling it around and around. Also using it to push other baskets around the room.
    • My question for Montessori folks or any experts in early development: Do you think that this behavior is a display for a need for order? Or, do you think that she was working to master releasing objects (i.e. learning to let go of stuff)? I'm leaning towards that later.
    • Favorite materials: walking wagon, empty baskets, panty liners, blocks
    Interactions with Others
    • She continued to practice waving.  Watching a baby learn to wave might be one of the cutest things ever.
    • Still hesitant to move out of Mama-zone around others- especially if it is in the direction of her swim coach (we've been swimming for 3 weeks now.)  His approach makes her whimper and use a death grip on Mama!
    Interactions with Space
      • Getting closer to mastering independent standing.
      • She is trying to take some tentative first steps- even attempting to step up  a step while supporting herself with the wall.
      Interactions with Life
        • We made an effort this week to ensure she had more interaction with nature- feeling grass, leaves, and dirt in her toes and hands. Even rain on her face and a crawling rolly-polly. Watching the wonder on a baby's face makes me appreciate the beauty in many of life's "normal" things.
        To see the rational and purpose for the Watch Her Grow series, please check out this post!

        Wednesday, January 25, 2012

        Wordless Wednesday: Beginning to Sort


         She got the idea to use her walking wagon as a cart, loaded up all her treasures, and took off!






        Moving materials from one basket to the next.
        She liked emptying all of the baskets this week!

        Tuesday, January 24, 2012

        Apologizing for Your Child?

        Disclaimer: Right now, I only have a little (but growing) almost-10-month old. I do not have to juggle the different needs, different wants, different schedules, and different temperaments of multiple children. Thus, I know that this post may seem idealistic to some.  However, a marathon runner didn't successfully run his first marathon on day one. He likely started with an idea and a slower, shorter jog down the block. With work and a on-going focus on his original idea, he completed his marathon.  Likewise, if I do ultimately juggle the challenges of multiple children (or at least one older child), I will, hopefully, return to this post to keep me focused on my original ideals.  
        Who me??

           A few days ago Q-ball and I attended a natural parenting group meeting. I like to attend these meetings to meet with other parents, and I like to give Q-ball the opprotunity to meet with other people- both big and little. During our time in public, I work to maintain the same parenting practices I use at home- namely, Q-ball is basically free to explore. It should be noted that when we go on many errands, grocery shopping for instance, Q-ball is secure in her Ergo, but if she reaches for an item or looks with interest, I take the time to stop and let her look or feel. So, she's not having a free-for-all on the grocery store.  However, in settings where we are going to be in one place for a while, I let go, and, largely leave her be.  
            So it is at the natural parenting meetings and other group events. As long as her explorations will not cause her harm or damage property, I just watch.  Within seconds of being put down at this particular meeting, she was pulling up on other grown-ups legs, pin-balling around the room, and finally settling and spinning circles in the middle of the chairs circled for the meeting.  A little while into the meeting, Q-ball crawls full-speed ahead to another younger baby, eager to play. After a few minutes of smiling at one another, Q-ball reaches to take the other baby's toy, and after a few seconds of tug-a-war, the inevitable happens.  The playmate falls. Hard. The sound of her little head hitting the tile echoed around the room.  And then, she was screaming. And screaming. Loudly.  Q-ball was happily playing with her new toy. In fact, she turned to me and smiled at her triumph. I imagine that most of the other attendees were also watching me at this point. So, I decided I should probably remove her from the situation, so the other Mommy could comfort her little one.  But, alas, the question: Should I apologize for Q-ball???
           Given that Q-ball is pre-verbal, she obviously cannot issue her own apology (although, given her reaction, I don't think she was looking for the words...). My husband and I have avoided apologizing for her, and, when she is verbal, we want to avoid forcing meaningless apologies.  Why?
        1. If the behavior is age-appropriate, we do not believe that there is a reason to apologize. If we are riding on a 5-hour long airplane, it is likely that a baby will be fussy at some point. A toddler will likely kick the back of chairs and run up the aisles. It might not be culturally accepted, but this is normal, age-appropriate behavior. Afterall, I'm not sorry that I have Q-ball. While it can be trying to be a parent (especially on a 5-hour plane ride), I'm a very blessed Mama.
        2. If the behavior is a reflection of her personality, we do not believe that there is a reason to apologize.  If someone new is desperately trying to say hello to Q-ball, but Q-ball just turns her head into my chest, I try not to respond, "I'm sorry- she's shy!"  Very soon, Q-ball will be able to understand my words, and I do not want them to (1) encourage to her self-fulfill whatever role I've assigned her and (2) misinterpret the label as a negative judgement. 
        3. If the child sees the apology as false, we are not encouraging actual empathy and remorse. Instead, we are simply seen as liars.  This is more important once Q-ball becomes verbal.  We ultimately do not want to force her to issue false or canned apologies.  We only want to her apologize if she means it, with the hope that she will develop a true ability to empathize and see the effects of her actions.  
            So, what did I do? I was literally in the middle of a circle of watching parents. First, I wanted to make sure that the hurt child was okay. Her mother was soothing her, so nothing was required of me.  To avoid further disruption of the meeting at this point, I took Q-ball out of the circle to play on her own (leaving the prized toy behind). No words to the mother at this point.  But, the baby was still screaming, and soon the mother carried her out.
            It's really tough to stand by your beliefs when they are not necessarily culturally accepted, not to mention embarrassing. And, frankly, I did feel bad. I realized that I was sorry that the baby was hurt.  So, after the meeting, I approached the other mother and said, "I'm so sorry that your daughter bumped her head. How is she doing now?" I was expressing how I actually felt and certainly not violating any of the behaviors I listed above.  I was comfortable with my ultimate reaction, and I hope that it will model actual empathy and sincere apologies for Q-ball in the future.  
            And, if you ever are my seatmate on a 5-hour plane ride, know that I'm sorry that you might not be able to get any rest, but I'm not sorry for Q-ball being Q-ball. 

        Do you apologize for your child? How would you have handled this situation?

        Friday, January 20, 2012

        What Can Your Baby Remember?

            First of all, a rant and confession- I missed last Science Friday, but it was not for lack of trying. I wanted to write a post about infant hair growth as I constantly get comments about Q-ball being a boy, despite the pink, heart-covered onesies, but after hours of research, the most I could conclude was, "babies' hair will grow in time..."  Pathetic. There appears to be one article that contains the information I was seeking, but none of the databases to which I have access had a copy. So, if you have access to databases of medical journals, let me know, and maybe we can work together!
           And, now to this Science Friday- For about a week, Q-ball's favorite toy was her pink monkey; another week it was her wooden spoon, and another week it was a cloth book.  Few items have remained favorites.  So, what changes?  As we could have imagined, a lot is going on inside Q-ball's growing brain that is affecting her memory and, likely, explains why those toys just aren't so great anymore.
           To explore this topic I'll have to give a VERY brief and basic overview of the development of the brain in regards to memory.  As has been mentioned in nearly all of my Science Friday posts, babies have an underdeveloped central nervous system.  This explains their lack of motor skills, inability to maintain visual focus, rhythmical motions like head-banging, and their poor memory.  Neurons are nerve cells which transmit (via an electrical impulse of known as a synapse) and store all of the information in our brains. Our experiences shape neural activity- the concept of learning to roll a ball, for example, literally re-shapes and strengthens synapses within our brains. When babies don't use certain synapses, they will actually disappear! But, do not worry, humans overproduce neurons and are meant to lose many throughout childhood. In fact, synapses in the visual and auditory regions of the brain of babies 4 to 12 months are 150% of that of an adults! This proves how much information babies are able to absorb throughout the day. I know that Q-ball's everyday explorations and observations are quite literally directly influencing her brain development.
             Many, many parts of our brain are involved in memory. Each of these sections of the brain develops at different times, and, subsequently, a human baby's ability to use each section for memory develops over time.  The first memories humans have are composed of habits and conditioned responses and are stored in the spinal cord and brain stem. In fact, fetuses in their third trimester have been able to demonstrate basic memory through reflex movements. When a loud sound is played close to Mama's belly, the fetus will likely jump at first.  But, eventually, he habituates (a term psychologists use for just getting use to something, and thus, no longer responding) to this noise and responds less and less.  After birth, conditioning simple reflexes continues to be the primary method of memory for young babies. When she was between 2 to 3 months, Q-ball loved laying under her mobile. When I placed her under it, it was clear that she remembered that if she moved in certain ways, she'd be able to get those little animals above her to move!  Research has shown that a 2-month old can remember how to move a mobile for just a day or so, but by 6-months, babies can remember how to move the same mobile, even if they have not seen it for up to 2 weeks!
                Next, the cerebral cortex further matures, which includes the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is responsible for many of our actions on a daily basis, but in regards to our discussion on memory, it helps us identify new information.  By 6 to 9 months, babies seem to have an especially acute sense of what is new. This explains why Q-ball is no longer impressed with the spatula that was yesterday's coolest-thing-ever. She has habituated it, and she is craving more novel objects.  In one experiment, two groups of 6-month old infants were shown pictures of monkeys' faces.  Parents of babies in one group continued to regularly show them pictures of these monkeys until the two groups were again shown pictures of monkeys at 9-months. At this time, babies in the group who were regularly shown pictures were actually able to identify monkeys they had never seen before just by seeing their faces in pictures. Even people that work with the monkeys regularly cannot necessarily do that.
             So, how am I supposed to keep Q-ball engaged at home? First of all, I am careful to not play all my cards at once. So, many of the Christmas gifts are still in the closet to be slowly introduced, allowing me to regularly introduce new items. Not only does this keep her out of my hair focused for a short period, but it also helps build new synapses or at least ensure she's not losing them all. Secondly, it's important to not garnish the idea of "novel" to an infant. It does not need to involve expensive, electronic, noisy, "toy of the year" toys. When Q-ball found one of Daddy's paintbrushes, it was the best, most awesome paintbrush she had ever seen!  Mainly because it was the only paintbrush she had ever seen!  We've realized that basic household items- kitchen tools, crafting items, and containers- also make amazing baby (and cat) toys.  Finally, some evidence exists that babies are very particular about where they have seen certain items or had specific experiences.  As such, sometimes just moving some objects to a different room or a different shelf might make them seem novel.  
              Constantly rotating and introducing new objects is not easy. Especially when you only have a few extra minutes during naps or after baby falls asleep.  But, realizing that you are helping give your little one new experiences and shaping her brain makes it worth the effort.  

        Sources:
        Eliot, L. (1999). What's going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the first five years of life. Bantam Books: NY.
        Gredler, M. E. (2009). Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson: New Jersey.
        Mayell, H. (2005, May 22). Babies recognize faces better than adults, study says. National geographic news. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/03/0321_050321_babies.html
             

        Thursday, January 19, 2012

        Watch Her Grow...

        This Week's Foci: Touch and Movement
         Interactions with Materials
        • She enjoyed touching different textures this week- touch and feel books (especially the bumpy frog), the walls (she usually used her nails- producing a not-so-pleasant sound), and my yoga mat.
        • Based upon this growing interest, I worked on placing some different textures on her shelves- Velcro was a favorite.
        • Favorite materials: Any object that served as a "walking wagon," an USB cable that was lying around, and rattles (these have never fallen from the favorites list)
        Interactions with Others
        • She understands the concept of waving and is trying it out on people we meet and the animals we saw in the zoo. She even emits a word that is very close to "hi" when waving.
        • She has proven herself to be quite generous.  After reading that babies are more likely to eat their food when they see others around them enjoying the same meal, I excitedly modeled eating to her. She, then, excitedly started handing me all of her food to eat and, in delight, knocking it to the floor. So, the cats and I had quite a bit of extra oatmeal and wheat germ this week- and we weren't even the ones who were constipated. 
        Interactions with Space
        • She started practicing clapping her hands this week.  She occasionally gets it spot on, but she also spends quite a bit of time wringing her hands together.
        • She has started to circle around this week. While sitting down, typically while exploring an object, she will get very excited and use her feet to spin herself in a circle.  
        • She also continued to practice her unassisted standing- it's amazing to watch, and she's getting quite good!
        First time on a slide!
        Interactions with Life
        •  It's amazing to see that how quickly she is catching on to new, little additions to our schedule.  In the past three weeks, I have introduced tooth-brushing in the evenings and a vitamin D drop in the mornings.  Now when she sees the toothbrush, she excitedly (but still slightly cautiously and curiously) sticks out her tongue, and then promptly grabs the toothbrush from me after a single swipe at her teeth. Finally something I'm asking her to put in her mouth!  As for the vitamin D, she tilts her head back and opens wide and then quickly winches when it hits her tongue.  
        • She did successfully eat bits of chicken last night, the first time we have had real success with meat. (Much to Daddy's delight.)
          To see the rational and purpose for the Watch Her Grow series, please check out this post!

          Wednesday, January 18, 2012

          Wordless Wednesday: First Trip to the Zoo!

          Q-ball now knows what everyone is talking about when they call her a "monkey," and she might even understand why after getting to watch some of the monkey crawl all over their cages and throw all of their toys and food to the other side.  Or, at least this mama does.  But, throughout the trip, she seemed truly engaged- she loved listening to the sounds, smelling the many smells, touching trees and fences, and, of course, seeing the animals! 

          She had this very concentrated look on her face most of the time.

          Here are those crazy monkeys!



          She's learned how to wave this week and practiced by waving to all of the animals!

          Sunday, January 15, 2012

          Hurdles to Our Prepared Environment

          As Q-ball has become more mobile, she has helped us uncover areas of the house that did not pass the prepared environment test.  Over the past few weeks we have work to destroy these hiccups, so Q-ball can get back to exploring with minimum distractions from Mama and Daddy.  As Dr. Montessori stated in regards to creating a children's environment from constraints, "And this freedom is not only an external sign of liberty, but a means of education." None of these ideas are revolutionary; in fact, they are quite obvious. It's interesting that there are some pieces of pre-baby life that are harder to change than others.  Here were are top trouble spots and how we made them baby-friendly.

          1.  The blinds on the doors.  Q-ball loved pulling up on these things, and we kinda knew they are likely to break, but we may have waited until it was too late to do something (the story you'll hear will depend upon your relationship with our property manager...) So, in a stroke of genius, we decided to simply raise the blinds! Also, Daddy had to get a screwdriver to remove the fixtures at the bottom of the door to remove the final hazard.
          2.  The end table. I had some pictures frames on this end table and a basket of magazines underneath. All of these things were just too appealing to Q-ball.  Again, too easy of an issue to fix- just remove everything!  We also placed this treasure basket where the magazine basket used to be, so it is still an fun area for Q-ball.
          3.  Outlets.  Some of the outlets that we use cannot be hidden by furniture.  This was a tough fix because most products just cover outlets that are not being used.  But, we purchased LectraLock to fix this issue.  I should say that while these outlets covers are good for some outlets, we found that we weren't able to use them everywhere. (NOTE: it's probably obvious that a little blog like mine isn't a PR-hub, so this is my honest opinion.) But, I'm still very happy to have them as Q-ball moves very quickly nowadays.  
          Foiled by LectraLock!
          4. Books, books, books.  Daddy and I have lots and lots of books.  We had them very tightly packed in some lower shelves.  But, Q-ball is just too tricky and strong, and figured out how to get lots of them out.  We removed the books and filled them with surprises for Q-ball to find.  There are still a few books at her level to feel and occasionally pull out, but not so many that Mama doesn't loose control of the exploration.  

          5. Hanging Pictures. This past week, Q-ball was frustrated that she wasn't able to see the pictures that we have hanging around the house.  I spent lots of time lifting her to see them, but finally decided that she needed some of her own pictures.  So, I ripped apart our 2011 calendar and hung the pictures at her level. She really loves it! And, at no cost to me! The calendars work perfectly because they are a material that she cannot easy tear (and then eat), and the images are clear and simple. I'm planning to pick up some more as the 2012 calenders go on sale so that I will be able to rotate the images. Assuming that Sports Illustrated are the not only ones remaining.



          Have you found areas in your house that were harder to change post-baby than others?  Or, do you still have places that you haven't quite got around to changing??

          Source:
          Montessori, M. (1912). The Montessori method: Scientific pedagogy as applied to child education in "The children's houses." Fredrick Stokes Company: NY.

          Thursday, January 12, 2012

          Watch Her Grow...

          This Week's Foci: Sound and Movement
           Interactions with Materials
          • She found the coasters in the kitchen cabinet and loved tasting, touching, and dropping them all over the floor.
          • She's really enjoying items that are small enough to fit in her hand comfortably, but large enough to easily manipulate, like the shapes that accompany a shape sorter (although I have not put out the sorter, as it's above her current level).  She likes to see and feel all sides and, of course, bang the shape on the ground.
            Unrelated picture, but too cute to have missed publication elsewhere.
            Interactions with Others
            • Still in the separation anxiety phase. She'll crawl over to someone new and sit at their feet, smile, laugh, and sometimes even reach up.  
            • She has expanded her speech this week.  She's started chanting "mamamamamama," seemingly when she wants me or wants to nurse.  Although it is hard to determine this as this are rather common wants currently.  But, she also started saying "babababa," and she only seems to say it when Daddy is in the room, so maybe she is starting to distinguish some words.
            • Another speech made a return this week after a few months of repression. We call it the pterodactyl as it resembles the noise I've always imagined one of these beasts would make.  The noise typically presents itself during dinnertime or in lines at stores.
              Interactions with Space
              • As seen here, she moved from cruising to walking around with her wagon and anything else that she could push.
              • Today she successfully stood up (defined by me as both feet solidly on the ground, fully supporting her weight) without the help of me or any other solid object.
              Interactions with Life
              • I once read an article about mothers' favorite memories of their babies, and one mother mentioned the face her children made when they first tasted ice cream. So, given my love of ice cream, I've always thought that would be something to look forward too. Well, this week that was knocked to the side when Q-ball was introduced to medium-spiced, organic salsa. There was a moment of delay, followed by bulging and confused eyes, complete reddening of the face, and repeatedly opening and closing her mouth.  I promise I don't like to see my baby in pain!  But, it was funny, and after the initial shock, she was asking for more!
              To see the rational and purpose for the Watch Her Grow series, please check out this post!

              Wednesday, January 11, 2012

              Wordless Wednesday: Walking Wagon

              Because I had observed Q-ball start to cruise around on the furniture last week, I decided it was time to introduce her new wagon.  Q-ball has loved walking around on her wagon.  Because ours is quite busy with a different game literally on every side, it's not exactly Montessori, although I as I've said before, we are not totally Montessori.  Here, my chief concerns are her safety and enjoyment.  And, we haven't had a hint of an accident, and she SUPER loves this thing.  Still, the wagon does meet all of the basic descriptors of a Montessori that are listed in The Joyful Child by Micheal Olaf:

              A walker wagon (wooden, not plastic) will provide a opportunity for the child to pull up and practice walking at will, but it will usually require the adult to turn the wagon around when the child reaches the end of the path, and push and pull toys are great fun for the new walker.
               


              She's now using everything as a wagon!
               Sources:
              Olaf, M. (2010). The Joyful Child. Retrieved from http://www.michaelolaf.net/1JC1stCPS.html

              Tuesday, January 10, 2012

              Discovering a New City and Organic Foods

              Welcome to the January 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Experiments in Natural Family Living
              This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have reported on weeklong trials to make their lives a little greener and gentler. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
              ***

                   One of the reasons that I opted to use baby-led solids was that it made more sense to me and sounded easier than traditional baby-food.  Just give Q-ball what we were eating. Selfish, I know. But, as the days go on, I often find myself fixing meals for Daddy and me and thinking, "I can't give this to Q-ball!" The most common reasons are: the the food is too salt-laden because it is a canned vegetable or because of pesticides in fresh, conventional produce.  So, I asked myself, if Q-ball shouldn't eat it, should my husband and I be eating it?  Thus, I opted to revamp our eating for at least a week (my standard meal planning and shopping schedule) to be as natural and local as possible.   Here's what we did.
              THE SHOPPING-
              At one of the markets
                 First stop- the farmers' markets to pick up produce.  The timing actually worked out perfectly.  My husband and I have always loved visiting farmers' markets, but since moving to our new city, we haven't found the time.  I was excited to learn there are farmers' markets four days of the week here- all across the city!  So, it was a great way to visit different parts of our new town.  We found lots of yummy fresh produce as well as salsas and jellies and bread.
                 Second stop- a "local" meat market.  I'd noticed a small, family-owned meat market in the center of town.  Since Daddy likes meat, I thought I'd check it out.  I'd assumed they would sell some local meats and other ingredients and possibly organic/natural meat.  Well, I could not have been more wrong.  The owner's son couldn't even tell me where any of their food came from.  And, to top it all off, most of their meats were frozen (for who knows how long!)   
                 Third stop- local natural, grocery stores.  In the past, I have purchased very few packaged organic products, with the exception of my frozen veggie meals and the occasional splurges. Cost has been the primary prohibiting factor in shopping for organic products, but our main grocery store also sells very few organic products.  We live within a five minute walk of a small store that specializes in natural foods.  Q-ball and I have been going a few times a week to get produce for her meals, but this week we expanded our search.  We bought milk, eggs, OJ, pasta, pasta sauce, cereals, bread, coffee- everything we needed for the week.
              THE EATING-
              Chicken and Eggplant Parm
                 We kept our standard cereal with berries and milk breakfasts and fruit, yoghurt, and sandwiches for lunches, but just ate organic versions.  Some of our dinners included butternut squash and spinach lasagne, a cookout with beef (for Daddy) and veggie (for me) burgers and veggie skewers, crab meat and spinach quiche, and chicken (for Daddy) and eggplant (for me) Parmesan over pasta.
                  The food didn't necessarily taste any different than conventional food, but we did eat more fresh (vs. frozen) vegetables than normal.   And, we did get to try some products we never would have otherwise, such as sprouted wheatgrass ziti.  It was delicious!  I'm also now a big fan of sprouted sandwich bread.  The organic spaghetti we purchased was the one item in which I could tell a big taste difference in our normal pasta- the texture and taste were much, much better. 

              LESSONS LEARNED-
              1. Plan Ahead.  The selection at some of the markets was more spares than usual because of the holidays, which made finding variety more difficult (luckily we like butternut squash...)
              2. But, not too much. I usually make a pretty detailed weekly meal plan before shopping, but as I did not know all of the ingredients that would be available, so meals were planned at the store.  
              3. Do not assume "local" means local. Out meat shop expereince taught me to always ask about your food.
              4. We love outdoor markets!  I love the fresh fruits and vegetables and other specialty items, and Q-ball loves checking out all of the sites and the attention from the vendors!
              5. Taste.  I was surprised that some of the food did taste better.  I love sprouted bread!
              6. Cost.  It's true that buying organics can be much more expensive than conventional fare, and, as a frugal person, this is what I still struggle with.  However, Charise from I Thought I Knew Mama shared the following a while back that struck a chord with my American and capitalist values,  "every time you go to the grocery store, you are voting." With this idea in mind, I have been more likely be buy organic, despite the price.  
              THE FUTURE-
                 One of my goals in the next few weeks is to continue to integrate more organic food into our routine by replacing conventional items that I currently have on hand and by trying some new recipes.  I know that I won't buy us organic products 100% of the time, mainly because of price and/or availability.  But, I am now be a much more educated consumer in that I know what products are available and where to get them.  Additionally, I know that if I make some swaps to items that we currently buy (like replacing my cold cereal habit with organic oats), our grocery bill will actually not increase too dramatically, if at all.

                 Does your family only eat organics? Why have you made the switch, or why haven't you made the switch? Do you have shopping tips to keep my budget in check or other ways to integrate organics into our routine?




              ***
              Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
              Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

              Friday, January 6, 2012

              Head-Banging and Rocking in Babies

                 At almost exactly 9-months, Q-ball started head-bopping, bouncing, and plain just rocking out by herself.  She was clearly creating some pretty awesome tunes in her head.  Sometimes she'd start when she was supporting herself on a chair; sometimes while she was sitting, using her wooden spoon as a drumstick; and sometimes mid-crawl she'd just start rocking back and forth, like a Olympic sprinter in his box before a race.  She always started to display some head rocking activity before nap or bedtime- while we were rocking in our chair, she would gently exaggerate the movement.  So, what's going on?
              Credit: Schlinger, H
                 First of all, these "rhythmical stereotypies" as famed infant development researcher Esther Thelen (I've discussed her work previously here) termed them, are totally normal for infants under 1 year.  While researching the topic, it seemed that many nervous parents look into what they fear are abnormal behaviors.  But, have no fear!  These movements are actually are of your baby's neuromuscular maturation (i.e. your brain being able to control muscle movement vs. movement by reflex.)  In fact, as I will explain, some studies have show that the more rhythmical stereotypies (especially head banging and head rolling) a baby displays, the better. 
                 Thelen actually identified 47 different movement patterns as rhythmical stereotypies, grouping them into four different categories- leg and feet movements, torso movements, arms, hands, and finger movements, and head and face movements.  The most common movements are kicking, rubbing feet against the floor, waving arms, and banging hands against the floor.  Head banging and head rolling (which seem to be most worrisome to parents) are also forms of rhythmical stereotypies.  Hand gazing is yet another example- one that Q-ball commonly also practices.  These movements typically start at about 3 months (the time when reflexes start to decline) and peak at around nine months (which is now for Q-ball!) 
                   Because nearly all healthy babies exhibit these movements, most researchers agree they occur innately in humans.  But, the environment also appears to play a role.  When I read this, I realized that this was true in Q-ball's case.  I first noticed her hand gazing practice while I was breastfeeding her when she was about 4 months old.  Even now, she is most likely to make this movement when she is breastfeeding or when she is in her highchair.  Similarly, the gentle head rocking I mentioned in the beginning of this post appears to be related to sleepy times. 
                     It is true that rhythmical movements like the ones babies display can also be a symptom of mental retardation or other mental illness.  However, research has found no links in rhythmical movements in the first year and later mental illness.  In fact, one research found that higher levels of rhythmical movements in the first year is related to higher levels of later cognitive performance in boys (sorry, girls, not true for you, although this may simply be because boys are more active than girls, even as infants.)  Additionally, these researchers found that rhythmical movements at 13 months for both boys and girls in social settings can be a way to communicate (like when babies rock towards a toy or banging a stick on the ground) and may again indicate higher cognitive skills. 
                   So, enjoy watching your infants head bang, bang spoons, and dance!  It certainly means that they are learning to control all of their different muscles and may mean they will be smarter later!

              Sources:
              Kroeker, R., Unis, A., & Scakett, G.P. (2002). Characteristics of early rhythmic behaviors in
              children at risk for developmental disorders. Journal of American academy of child and adolescent psychiatry, 41(1), 67-74.
              Schlinger, H. (1995). A behavior analytic view of child development. Plenum Press: NY.
              Thelen E. (1979). Rhythmical stereotypies in normal human infants. Animal behavior, 27(3), 699-715.

              Thursday, January 5, 2012

              Watch Her Grow

                 This is my first official weekly installment of my observations about Q-ball.  To help me organize my thoughts and, hopefully, to help you better follow along, I have decide to organize my observations by (1) determining one or two broad foci (it's true- I love this word and just look for ways to use it...) from the week based upon what seem to most drive Q-ball's activities and (2) listing my observations by her interactions with materials (i.e. toys, objects, etc.), space (i.e. how she is moving about.), others (i.e. people), and life (i.e. sleeping, feeding, pottying, etc.)  We'll see how it goes and make adjustments as necessary.  As always, feedback is welcome!

              Today Q-ball is 9 Months and 1 week old!  At today's 9 month check-up, she weighed 19 lbs 3 oz (5 lbs 9 oz at birth!) and was 27.5 inches long (18 inches at birth!) 

              This Week's Foci: Sound and Movement
               Interactions with Materials
              • She loves experimenting with the sounds that objects make, especially a wooden spoon, a metal spoon, and plastic shapes Great Grandma N. gifted her for Christmas- typically by banging them on the ground.  
              • She also continues to love playing with a large popcorn tin (which Great Grandma and Grandpa G. sent to us in Iraq!  These posts always remind me of how blessed we are to have a wonderfully supportive family!)  She loves standing up and trying to walk with it.  And, of course, she loves banging on the top like a drum.
              • Before Mama and Daddy realized it, she discovered a stuff toy squeaked, and has been getting a kick out of making the noise ever sense!
              • I decided that one toy we had out was a little above her current level- just would start crying when she couldn't figure out how to open it, so it has been temporarily removed from our current Q-ball exploration spaces.
              • For the second week, she has again loved exploring books on her own.  I think she's starting to develop a concept of books- how to turn the pages, exploring pictures, how to throw them off the shelves.
              Interactions with Others
              • Daddy went back to work this week after his holiday break, and Q-ball was always very excited to welcome him home.
              • She is repeating some sounds and starting to make them so that we will repeat them back to her ("ahhh....", "mmmbaa...") 
              • When she's with a group of people (ok, so typically it's just Daddy and Mama) who are laughing, she loves to join in and often have the last laugh. 
              Interactions with Space
                • Cruising around the room on the furniture was definitely mastered this week.  She practiced moving along bookshelves, window ledges, walls, and couches and even around corners and between table legs.
                • Her favorite place to practice squats continues to be on the legs of her highchair.
                • She loves to crawl full speed in a random direction when changes activities. Imagine a pinball.
                • She also mastered moving up and down small steps- one to a separate (and slightly off-limits due to cat litter and Daddy's hobby paints) part of the house and one at the bottom of a built in bookcase.
                Interactions with Life
                • The breastfeeding Olympics continues she finds new ways to navigate monkey-bars-Mama.
                To see the rational and purpose for the Watch Her Grow series, please check out this post!

                  Wednesday, January 4, 2012

                  Wordless Wednesday: Open and Shut

                  This week Q-ball started worked on figuring out how to open and shut one of the kitchen cabinets.  And, oh what treasures she found!  Check in tomorrow to learn more about what Q-ball was practicing this week in my new, weekly observation post!



                  Tuesday, January 3, 2012

                  Thanks, Santa and Family!

                  Thanks to Santa and family, Q-ball has been busy exploring this week! 
                  First of all, we have a new mini-treasure basket!  I've placed this basket in one of the last corners of our house that was not very friendly to Q-ball- we were constantly having to redirect her to other venues.  So, a little clean-up (which I will discuss next week) and this treasure basket have eliminated the need for redirection. 

                  Here's the basket:


                  Yarn, colorful rattle, natural teether, homemade sensory cloth (with colored tags and two different materials) a stone, cookie cutter, cork, and a ribbon.  So far, her favorites are the cork (great for teething!) and the rattle. 


                  Also, Grandma made us activity squares!  Using felt, she made different squares that allow Q-ball to explore different tasks and senses.  We have a zipper, buttons, velco, a pocket, mirror, and book with colors.  Currently, I have only given Q-ball the mirror, book, and pocket.  She loves them!  


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