Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

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Learning Through Play With Sensory Bins


Welcome to our special guest-blogger: Allison Schultz! Allison and her children attend 4C Play & Learn groups. Thank you to Allison for sharing this story with us!

I’ve used sensory bins sporadically over the years—a tub of rocks for construction trucks, colorful shape buttons with dried beans for shape recognition—but it’s never been part of our daily rhythm. That’s my goal with these large sensory bins. I want to integrate them into our everyday activities. Sensory bins are a great tool for emotional regulation. If a child is overstimulated, moving their hands through something that is smooth, heavy, and cool to the touch can be a very calming and soothing experience. Adding in a simple activity can contribute to the grounding effect and also help children focus. My hope is to have sensory bin time throughout the day if my kids are getting overly wound up, whiny or grumpy, before nap time to wind down, and even as an alternative to time-out. I plan to switch out the theme and contents regularly to keep them engaged and also mix in other benefits, such as practice with scooping and pouring or learning about a particular topic.


Our current setup has my four-year-old and seven-month-old sitting across from each other with their boxes in between them. There’s a large, outdoor table cloth under both boys and their boxes to contain the mess. I chose short and wide tubs to create a large play area that is also low enough for my baby to reach. Each box is based on a book.

My four-year-old’s is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault for some extra letter practice. We made a coconut tree out of cans from our recycling bin and green fabric from a giant bag we no longer needed. I painted the cans brown, hot glued them together, cut the leaves out of the fabric, and hot glued those to the top. I added in our set of magnetic letters and a handful of acorns to serve as coconuts and voila! One of my favorite things about sensory boxes is repurposing items that would otherwise be trash or clutter. The giant bag was a gift wrap bag from Amazon; it covered a trampoline from my dad last Christmas and it was on its way to the trash after being stored for a year. The cans were obviously about to be recycled.  And the acorns had been sitting around in a jar after being picked up at the park by my son this fall. No, we’re not saving the earth one sensory box at a time, but I’d like to believe it also teaches the value of reducing waste and using what you already have!


My seven-month-old’s box is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I made more leaves from the same bag for the filler. It’s hard to find a filler that’s safe enough for babies, but fabric is usually a good option. We happened to have a pull along toy caterpillar that I put in, but closely supervise as it has a string attached. We also had a caterpillar magnifying glass I added; I guess we’re big Eric Carle fans! We have this great pretend food set from Learning Resources, so I chose a couple items in each color, some that matched the book, some that were just good for a baby to grab. I put in one of the baskets, as he’s at a good age for putting things in and out of containers. And lastly I put our small board book in.

Both boxes have been a huge hit! We’ve hidden letters in the rice and looked for them by name or by a word that begins with it. He has come up with games on his own, making them hide from a storm in the rice or telling each other to run up the tree. The caterpillar box is easy to transport as it’s not messy, so I’ve plopped it down in other rooms when I’ve needed to get a chore done. My oldest has requested sensory time often and they both enjoying sitting with each other, doing it as a shared activity.

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Help Them Help Themselves

put-on-shoesThe classic parenting struggle: we need to get out the door and on with our day, but your child is this. close. to putting their jacket on by themselves for the first time. Of course, you can insert a variety of skills—putting shoes on, pulling pants up, zipping their coat, etc. These last moments before success seem to be stretching beyond the limits of time. Your child continues to try and try again. What do you do as a parent? I’ll tell you what I do too often: do it for them and get on with our day.

More recently, our two-and-a-half-year-old has been excited about his developing skills. He sees himself as capable and wants to try to dress himself. He lets us know this by saying, “I DO IT!” with a look on his face that tells us he means business. This newfound attitude has made me stop and think about how I’m supporting him in learning these skills, while also considering the realities of our day.

Morning time during the work week isn’t the best in our house for learning new skills. We have “places to go and people to see” as my parents would say. Knowing how important it is for children to develop these self-help skills and build confidence in trying new things, I took a conscious look at what we could do at home to accommodate this. For us, evenings work out much better. When we arrive home, we can practice with jackets and shoes. As it turns out, this is much more fun for our youngest when his big brother helps to show him. When it is time to put on pajamas for bed, we can practice dressing and undressing skills. The boys have fun seeing who can finish first, even though they are both always declared the winner—our oldest says, “I know I won for real but he can win too because he’s little,” which melts my heart. We make sure to start early before everyone is too tired and provide encouragement along the way.

As these skills are practiced and further developed, they’ll make their debut into our morning routine. I’m anxiously awaiting the day both boys can get themselves ready for the day without my help. Until then, we’ll keep practicing!

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Well Put Together

FequitaGuestBlogWelcome to our special guest-blogger: Fequita Simmons! Fequita and her daughter attend 4C Play & Learn groups. Thank you to Fequita for sharing this story with us!

Today I took my three-year-old to play group. While watching her play ‘grocery store’ with her bestie I engaged in casual conversation with another parent whose son was immersed in fire trucks. I asked her if she had any more children. She lightheartedly responded, “I have just the one, and I can barely keep up with him.” When she asked me, “So do you have just the one?” I responded almost in automation to this question I’ve answered a million times, “I have four: ages 18, 10, 6 and 3.” Her eyes immediately widened to full capacity as she said, “You look so well put together!” In the moment I awkwardly laughed it off saying, “Thank you, I guess.”

Why did she see me as well put together? And as I am a mother of four—what have I figured out that has made a difference? There are certainly complications and hardships that come with raising several children. You have more personalities to manage and more schedules to keep up with, but it’s definitely manageable. Each parent has to come up with a system that works for the needs of their particular family. Here are a few general tips that work for my family.

1. Preparation and Consistency: Make a plan and stick to it. Make a schedule for all the things that must happen on a daily basis. It may seem a bit tedious to schedule what days to wash clothes, clean the bathroom, when to take baths and plan a dinner menu. However, with the hustle and bustle of a large family, it’s easy to overlook something and once you do it will be overwhelming to catch back up.

2. Get Everyone Involved: Encourage everyone to participate in the functioning of your household. My 3-year-old has chores just like the older ones do. My older children read the younger children bedtime stories. Children actually love to help out and it builds a great bond between siblings.

3. Roll with the punches: This is the most important rule. In a large family, there are too many variables to expect everything to run smoothly all the time. So learn to be okay with change. Every day there will be something that will not go as expected. And with each unexpected situation just improvise, adapt and overcome.

So if there is a mother out there, whether you have several children or just one, and you are feeling overwhelmed, give these tips a try. I hope they work for your family.


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Toilet Learning


“Potty Training”

This phrase conjures many thoughts for me:

“Hooray! No more diapers!”

“’Training’? Is he a puppy? There has to be a better way to put this.”

“He’s ready, right?”

“Should we use training pants? Or go straight to underwear?”

“Do we have carpet cleaner on hand? I’d better stock up.”

I happen to find this milestone one of my least favorite. While it is very exciting to have my child developing and growing, it is not always fun to continuously have another human being’s elimination habits at the forefront of our daily life. Having done this once previously, we are changing things up a bit to hopefully make this more successful.

We are working to not confuse this child’s cognitive and language skills with his body’s readiness to recognize when he needs to use the toilet.

Our first child had great communication and cognitive skills that made him seem much older than he was, and so we fell into the habit of expecting too much from his still young self. This ended up making toilet learning much more stressful for everyone. This time, our two-year-old is showing interest in using the toilet, is open to using it when we’ve made it part of the daily routine, and no one is trying to push or rush him into things. We’re trying to use a much more laid back and open-ended approach.

We are not taking the first little sign that he might be ready as a no-holds-barred full leap into abandoning current routines and starting the whole toilet thing at once.

Previously, we took a small sign that our child liked to flush the toilet as a sign to fully snowball into complete toilet learning. We’re really easing into the process this time around. It started many months ago with us helping him identify what had happened in his diaper during changes, just to introduce language. Then came the option to use the toilet before bath time to gradually incorporate the toilet into this routine. Next, we tried to “catch” him during play routines when he showed physical signs that something was happening. We partnered with our child care provider who began to help him use the toilet at each diaper change.

And here we are now. Ready to make the next step of leaving diapers behind and making sure we have many changes of clothes ready for accidents. I discussed with our child care provider that we are at this next step in the process, and she shared that having him wear rubber shoes (like Crocs) will make cleanup much easier, and special potty shoes can be a fun motivator for children. What a fun idea! Overall, we’re trying to remind ourselves that toilet learning is a process and we’ll arrive at the finish line when our child is ready—not necessarily when we’re ready.

Do you have any tried-and-true tips to make toilet learning easier?

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Terrible or Terrific… It’s All Perspective

terrible-or-terrific-journeyOnce my son turned two many people commented on the “terrible two” age. They shared how their child was when they were two. Many stories of the many things like coloring walls and tantrums in the mall. Many people have suggestions as well as ideas for discipline. I’ve been reminded about teaching no and wait time as extremely important tools for this age. As I think about all of the stories that people share I examine how most seem negative. After hearing about the turmoil of toddlerhood I begin to wonder what I am going to do with my children. So I did some deeper digging.

One of the first places I usually look to get development information is the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website. According to NAEYC, “toddlers (16 to 36 months) are working on their identity; they want to know who they are and who’s in charge.” After reading this my suspicions started to become reality. It’s all a matter of perspective. My two-year-old is working on establishing his identity and is experimenting with the boundaries of who is in charge.

The next thing I began to think about is what I can do to help him develop his “self” and practice decision making. Here are some things that we have found and have tried. It’s a journey; it takes time, so be patient.

  • When planning to do anything, try to allow for plenty of transition time to move onto the next thing. This can be hard when you are busy trying to get things done quickly but allow for your journey with your child to go on the road less traveled.
  • Work on your redirection skills, this can help set them up for success. These mini successes build self-esteem.
  • Allow for emotions to run their course. Help them talk through and handle what they are feeling. It’s hard from a child’s perspective when things don’t happen the way that they want. It’s hard for adults as well, but if we can help them learn how to recognize and regulate then we are giving them a huge tool for the future.
  • Finally, let them be in charge. Let them choose things especially things that they can easily handle and control. These are the beginning steps of being independent. When working around the house let them be part of what you are doing. Let them sweep or hold the dust pan. Give them a choice of which they want to do. Let them choose what they will wear for the day.

At the end of the day its all a matter of perspective and when I get down on his level and see things through his eyes, it’s better for both of us.

Oh, the Holidays! Be Merry Be Bright!


I think every family has one, a few, or several holiday traditions! I know I have many. My childhood was full of holiday traditions. I remember going to my grandparent’s house on Christmas Eve and playing with all my cousins, (all 15 of us). We would eat, open gifts, then play with our new gifts. We laugh now as adults that it was not Christmas until someone threw up their dinner. No joke—every year! My family has grown so much over the years we no longer have Christmas at my grandparent’s house. We are way too big and grandmother can no longer cook for 50 people. So we all chip in now.

My traditions have changed over the years. I still have fond memories of my parents’ annual Christmas party with our friends, putting up the tree and singing Christmas songs when it was done, driving around looking at Christmas lights, making cookies, drinking eggnog, and of course our trip to the outlet malls for our Christmas gifts.

The biggest, funniest and craziest tradition that I have a love/hate relationship with was how my parents wrapped mine and my sister’s gifts from them to us. They would wrap our gifts and put them under the tree with our friend’s names on them. Yes! Our friend’s names! So we had “gifts” for Jaime, Mandy, Anne, Heather, Keisha, Abbie, Kathy, Andrea, Holly and so on. My sister and I hated it, but looking back on it now, I think its hilarious!

This holiday season, I hope that you are able to take time to appreciate how precious it is to see how fascinated kids are with all the events of the season. The lights, the fun things to do, seeing all the people that they love, and creating memories and traditions that stick with them through adulthood. I recently watched a new show on TV that I have fallen in love with called “This is Us,” that is about the ups and downs of a family. I laugh and cry every week. One of their holiday traditions is to watch Police Academy 4.

Even though my adult traditions have changed through the years, I still think back on the great traditions that my family has left me with. To this day I have great relationships with my now adult cousins and my extended family. We value our traditions and the family memories that we have created. I hope you and your family create memories that last a lifetime.

Happy Holidays!

Cutting Through the Noise


The holiday catalog from a popular retailer arrived in the mail recently, and our two sons had a great time looking through the pages and finding countless items they wanted to play with. With every page turn came exclamations of “That’s my favorite!” and “That is just like, so awesome!” They tore, cut, and glued their “most favorite” photos to paper as we talked about what they’d like to do with these new toys. When the excitement died down, my mom brain took over.

“These prices are crazy! Where is all of this stuff supposed to go? Don’t we already have something like this?”

This time of year can be overwhelming! One of my roles as a parent is to make the most of the fun by managing expectations and what is realistically possible. While it would be exciting in the moment to buy everything their hearts desire and watch the joy on their faces as they open everything, it is not at all realistic. And really, where is all of this stuff supposed to go?

Our children are inundated with so much information on a daily basis, through TV commercials, catalogs, and/or peers. Honestly, we as adults are flooded too! It can be challenging to cut through all of the noise. As parents, my husband and I look for strategies for our family to focus on each other instead of focusing on things.

A few years ago, I came across the Something you want, Something you need, Something you wear, and Something you read strategy for gift giving. We’ve done this for the past two holiday seasons, and it has really helped to focus us on being thoughtful and specific with gift giving. We’re also able to talk about wants versus needs, and the boys aren’t nearly as overwhelmed by stuff and can fully enjoy discovering their gifts. This allows us to all enjoy each other a bit more, and is much easier to organize! How will you and your family cut through the noise?