#4-Build Vocabulary with Numbers, Colors, and Shapes

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Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes (Part 4 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Learning how to read depends heavily on a child’s background knowledge. Also called schema, prior knowledge, or just plain experience; basically it’s what happens when children make connections to what they are reading. This greatly increases their reading comprehension. Reading isn’t just sounding out letters on a page, it is finding meaning in written words. By teaching children numbers, colors, and shapes, it will give them the basic vocabulary to start understanding written text. I have chosen to focus my initial vocabulary development on these categories because they are EVERYWHERE in a child’s environment.

Age to Start

The ideal time to start teaching children about numbers, colors, and shapes is between 8-12 months of age. At this time, the neurons in their brains are exploding with growth! If you’re following my program, I recommend starting with the ABCs first, then introduce memorizing words, and when you feel like your child is ready (don’t overwhelm him or her), start adding numbers, colors, and shapes one at a time.

How to Teach

The way something becomes committed to long term memory is consistent repetition over a long period of time. The reason I love starting to teach my children how to read when they are super young is that it really doesn’t take much effort at all. By spending a few minutes here and there throughout the day teaching your child about numbers, colors, and shapes, after about 6-8 months, they should know them really well.

I like keeping several sets of my flashcards around the house and incorporate them into my daily routines. When my little ones start eating solid food, I find that this is a great time to watch videos and do flashcards. I love using  the videos on KidsTV123 and Busy Beavers to teach numbers, colors, and shapes. I also link to several other resources at the end of this article that will make teaching fun and easy.

Ophelia Counting Bears in a Mini Muffin Tin

Ophelia Counting Bears in a Mini Muffin Tin

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

Numbers

Learning that one object represents one thing (one to one principal) is the KEY to understanding all future math. When using these flashcards, practice pointing to each object as you count them.

1. Numbers Flashcards

These numbers flashcards only go to ten, but I HIGHLY recommend continuously adding on to that. Once children reach 10, go to 20, then 100. Have them practice counting by 10s and talking about even and odd as well. This will help them to really excel in math as they get older.

Numbers Flashcards First Page

Numbers Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Numbers Flashcards PDF

2. Numbers Poster

This Numbers Poster combines all of my Numbers Flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Numbers Poster

Numbers Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Numbers Poster

Shapes

Learning about shapes lays the foundation for geometry. First, children should learn the names of the shapes and then they can learn about their attributes. Once children are familiar with the names of the shapes, you can start talking about their attributes by asking questions like: How many sides does this shape have? Are all of the sides equal in length? How many corners (vertices) are there? Are the sides across from each other going the same way (parallel)? Do you see any right angles? The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives is a great resource for young children who are ready to learn more. Just check out their geometry section.

1. Shapes Flashcards

These shapes flashcards cover the basic shapes that children will encounter at a young age. Yes, there are sooooooo many more shapes to learn, and you should talk to your child about those once they master these, but these shapes are a GREAT place to start.

Shapes Flashcards First Page

Shapes Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Shapes Flashcards PDF

2. Shapes Poster

This Shapes Poster combines all of my Shapes Flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Shapes Poster

Shapes Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Shapes Poster

Colors

Colors are a very easy attribute that children can readily recognize. As children are developing their vocabulary, describing the colors of things is a very easy thing for them to do that will build their confidence in language development. When children are familiar with the color words, start asking them what things are that color. “What things are red?” When children are holding an object, ask them what color it is. If they don’t know or say the wrong thing, tell them right away what it is.

1. Colors Flashcards

These color flashcards cover the basic colors that children will encounter in their environment. Once your child has mastered these colors, I definitely recommend teaching more. Using crayon labels is a great way to learn the names of more colors!

Colors Flashcards First Page

Colors Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the poster here: Colors Flashcards PDF

3. Colors Poster

This Colors Poster combines all of my Colors Flashcards onto one page. I like laminating this and putting it on the wall in multiple locations, using it as a placement, bringing it with us in the car, and really anything that will encourage repeated exposure.

Colors Poster

Colors Poster

Get a PDF of the poster here: Colors Poster

Additional Resources

Most of these resources are things I have used and loved with my own children, but I did have to throw in a few other things that are on my wish list.

Numbers Resources

  • Meet the Numbers – This DVD is absolutely AMAZING at helping children to learn numbers. The images are simple, engaging, effective, and will hold your little one’s attention.
  • Ten Little Ladybugs – The raised ladybugs and the holes in the pages make it irresistible for little fingers. The rhyming text makes it very predictable to say the next number
  • First Numbers – Of all the number books we have in the house, this has been a favorite with every single one of our children. I love how it uses interesting images for each number and how it also shows larger numbers like 20, 50, and 100.
  • Magnetic Numbers – These magnetic numbers are a great way to teach numbers using a hands on resource. You’ll want a magnetic white board or some muffin tins with these.
  • 1-100 Numbers Poster – My kids LOVE this poster! It’s a great tool to teach children numbers up to 100. Make sure to hang it at their eye level.
  • Counting Car – This counting car from Lakeshore Learning is a GREAT way to teach children how to count.
  • Number Robots – This is for more for an older child, and is a great resource for reinforcing number with transforming robots.
  • Number Peg Boards – Peg boards are super fun as is, and these peg boards are a great way to learn about numbers and counting.

Shapes Resources

  • Meet the Shapes – This DVD is absolutely AMAZING at helping children to learn colors. The images are simple, engaging, effective, and will hold your little ones attention.
  • Shape by Shape – This book uses die-cut shapes to teach basic shapes like a triangle, crescent, semicircle, oval, and diamond by posing a simple question, “Do you know who I am?” Each page is vibrant with a minimal amount of text that allows the focus to be on the shape.
  • My Very First Book of Shapes (by Eric Carl) – This book uses Eric Carl’s chunky painting style to teach shapes if a very bright and colorful way.
  • Shape Sorting Center – Children can sort real life examples of shapes on to these shape sorting mats.
  • Pattern Blocks – Not only will children love playing with these shapes making beautiful patterns, but they will learn about shapes and their attributes through play.
  • 3-D Geometric Shapes Tub – These colorful solid plastic shapes are a fun hands-on way for children to learn about 3-D shapes.

Colors Resources

  • Meet the Colors – This DVD is absolutely AMAZING at helping children to learn colors. The images are simple, engaging, effective, and will hold your little ones attention.
  • Flaptastic Colors – This is the type of book you’ll want to have multiple copies of around the house! It is great for teaching little ones about colors and the interactive nature and extensive examples make it very engaging.
  • Curious Kittens: A Colors Book – The yarn that runs across each page is a true delight for babies to play with and a great way to learn colors.
  • My First Sorting Bears – Children can sort these cute little bears onto the color mats. I’m sure that children will like playing imagination games with these critters too!
  • Color Discovery Boxes – These color boxes come with a bunch of really cool objects that can be sorted by color.

Usborne books

I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading.

Numbers Resources

  • Learn Numbers with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book where they lift the flaps to learn about numbers 1-10.
  • 123 Counting – Designed for babies, this fold out/stand up book has high-contrast black and white images and patterns that are easily recognizable for babies.
  • Usborne Very First 1 2 3 – This book only goes up to number five, but is a great introduction for little ones to numbers.
  • Count to 100 – I LOVE this book! Teaching children to count to 10 is great, but showing them what 100 means is AMAZING!
  • How Big is a Million? – Showing young children the concept of one million is phenomenal, and this cute book with a penguin does a wonderful job! It also comes with a poster.
  • First Numbers Sticker Book – This would be a resource for a bit of an older child to use independently. Using stickers is a great way to reinforce skills.

Shapes Resources

Colors Resources

  • Learn Colors with Little Red Penguin – Little ones will love this cute board book while they lift the flaps to learn about colors.
  • Lift the Flap Colors – This bright lift the flap book gives children lots of practice naming basic colors in a fun and engaging way.
  • Usborne Very First Colors – This beautifully illustrated book is not only good at teaching colors using basic images, but is great at teaching vocabulary as well.
  • Big Book of Colors – I love how this book introduces children to many different color variations such as turquoise, vermillion, and magenta.
  • First Colors Sticker Book – The sticker books are for a bit of an older child, but I love how this book helps to reinforce color recognition.

In Conclusion

Oral language development is tied into reading more than people would think. As children interact with their environment, they need a guide (you) to help them provide them with the names of everything and to explain the world they are just learning about. Teaching numbers, colors, and shapes will give children some really basic descriptors that will help immensely with oral language development and will build background knowledge to create strong readers.

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing

#5-Teach Your Child Long Vowels, Digraphs, and Other Vowels for Reading Success

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Teaching children letter names and sounds (one sound for each letter) is pretty straight forward, but teaching children all of the quirky rules of the English language (which is phonemic awareness…knowing ALL of the sounds the letters can make) can be a bit more challenging. By introducing children to these rules at a young age through quality literature, they will be able to learn new words easily and reading will come naturally. I promise.

All of my children have learned how to read at a young age, and I believe one of the key factors was my background (a bachelor’s degree in English, a teaching certificate and 7 years teaching 3rd and 4th grade, plus a master’s degree with an emphasis on language acquisition) that allowed me to passively interject what I knew about language while reading quality literature.

Now, as I reflect back on what I taught them, I have created these resources that will teach children (and parents right alongside them) ALL of the sounds the letters make, and it will make learning how to read a breeze.

Phonemic Awareness

The ability to hear, identify, and manipulate all of the sounds the letters make is known as phonemic awareness. Each individual sound is called a phoneme, and we have 44 phonemes in the English language.

Studies show that,

“The two best predictors of early reading success are alphabet recognition and phonemic awareness.”

When first teaching children the ABCs, I highly recommend associating only one sound to each letter, but once children have mastered that, it’s time to introduce them to ALL of the sounds the letters make.

This Isn’t Spelling

Before children learn how to SPELL the letter arrangements that make these sounds, they need to HEAR and IDENTIFY them. Children are exposed to these sounds through oral language, but by having these spelling patterns pointed out at a young age while reading quality literature, it will make learning how to read all of the tricky words in our english language SO much easier.

There is a misconception that children need to wait until they are a certain age before being taught about the complexities of the English language, but the reality is that their brains are yearning for this information at a much younger age like when their brains are peaking at the age of 2-3 years.

The Remaining Sounds

These are the remaining sounds in the English language.

  • Long Vowels – In addition to teaching children about the long vowel sounds, I also want them to be introduced to common spelling patterns.
  • Long and Short oo – The oo in moon is long, and the oo in  book is short.
  • R Controlled Vowels – When a vowel is followed by an r, it makes a different sound.
  • Diphthongs – These gliding vowels start with the sound of the first letter and glide to the next.
  • Digraphs – Digraphs are two letters that come together to form one single sound.

Age to Start

Wait until your child has mastered the letter names and sounds from my ABC resources and has become familiar with my words and vocabulary resources before introducing these phonemic awareness resources. I would recommend starting these resources when your child is between 18 to 24 months.

How to Teach

It’s really best to start gradually. With my children, once I saw that they had a solid understanding of the short vowels, I started to sneak in some long vowels too. So, for example, when we were reading through my ABC flashcards and we would say that “a is for apple”, I would also add “and a is for apron and ape too”.

I love resources like this Leapfrog Fridge Phonics Letter Magnets and this Preschool Prep Letter Sounds dvd because they teach children all of the sounds that each letter makes at once. While this is too overwhelming for your 6 month old baby who is just starting to become familiar with the alphabet, it’s great for your toddler who is ready to master a deeper level of understanding about ALL of the sounds that letters can make. Preschool Prep also makes a really engaging Meet the Digraphs dvd that is a GREAT way to introduce your child to digraphs.

Teaching the remaining letter sounds can seem overwhelming, but if like the rest of my resources, you start young and do a little bit at a time, your child will master the remaining letter sounds and have a great foundation for learning how to read. I do not have any books or videos with these resources, just flashcards and posters. I recommend introducing one set of flashcards at a time and putting up the posters where your little one can see and touch them, but most importantly, get to know these flashcards YOURSELF so that you can point them out while reading quality literature together.

It’s very important to have regular reading time when your child is at this stage. Reading should be fun, not a “set your timer” sort of chore. I find that by having a reading ready environment with tons of books in baskets easily accessible in every room, it makes reading easy to do. I love cuddling up with my little ones, getting some snacks, covering up with a favorite blanket, and getting really animated while we read our favorite books. This is the perfect time to start pointing out long vowels, the long and short oo, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs.

Reading with Elliot

Reading with Elliot

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

Long Vowels Flashcards

Long vowels are tricky because in our English language there are soooooooo many ways to spell them. Teaching children the common ways to make these long vowels will help them immensely as they start to read. When you start using these flashcards, focus first on the the picture and the word. Once your child is familiar with the picture and word, then you can start talking about the rule that makes the vowel long. If your child is ready for a challenge, start talking about other words that fit that rule. It’s all about layers, and teaching a little bit at a time over a long period of time.

Long Vowels Flashcards First Page

Long Vowels Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Long Vowels Flashcards PDF

Other Vowels Flashcards

These other vowel sounds are tricky because they don’t really fit into the short or long vowel categories. First, there’s the long and short oo, followed by r-controlled vowels, and finally diphthongs. These vowels sounds aren’t something that most adults know how to properly name, so you may be learning alongside your child, and that’s okay!

Other Vowels Flashcards First Page

Other Vowels Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Other Vowels PDF

Digraphs Flashcards

Digraphs are tricky because they are two letters that come together to form one single sound. When children don’t know about digraphs, it can make sounding out words like phone and them very difficult. As with the other vowels, you may not be familiar with all of the digraphs, and so once again, it’s totally fine to learn alongside your child!

Digraphs Flashcards First Page

Digraphs Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Digraphs Flashcards PDF

In Conclusion

By learning about ALL of the sounds in the English language, children will have the code to unlock reading, and they don’t need to wait until they’re school aged and do piles of worksheets to do so. By using these flashcards and posters, both you and your child will learn how to name and identify the common spelling patterns with long vowels, the long and short oo, r-controlled vowels, diphthongs, and digraphs. When children are familiar with these sounds and how they are presented in text, it is best to reinforce this understanding by pointing them out while reading quality literature. So make reading fun, fill your house with quality literature with easily accessible books, and read often. (See blog 7 in this series, Encouraging Children to Read Independently for suggestions on quality literature.)

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing

#6-Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words

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Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words (Part 6 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

Phonics is knowing that letters make sounds and then blending those sounds together to form words. When we think of phonics, often times we think of SPELLING, but really the initial focus should be on sounding out words, not spelling. In the English language, there are sooooooo many variations of spelling and phonics programs will often go over ALL of the ways to spell words.

Kids typically aren’t introduced to phonics until they are in school, but I believe this learning should occur much much sooner. What I have found is that by keeping it simple and teaching my children three letter word families featuring ONLY short vowels using muffin tins and magnet letters in addition to coloring over my written words together, that reading started to take off as if by magic from a very young age.

Building Words with Muffin Tins and Magnet Letters

Building Words with Muffin Tins and Magnet Letters

Age to Start

After children have a solid understanding of letter names and letter sounds and know that words are made up of letters that carry meaning, it’s a good time to start teaching them how to sound out three letter words using word families. I like to start teaching this concept when my children are about 2-3 years old. Making children wait until they are in kindergarten to learn this skill is completely unnecessary.

How to Teach

To teach three letter words, it’s very important for children to see the difference between the NAMES of the letters and the SOUNDS of the letters. As children start to sound out words, it’s important to have the focus be on the SOUNDS that the letters are making. When I was a teacher, there was an amazing reading program called Fundations that would have children tap out each sound using their fingers. So, for example with the word cat, you would tap your thumb to your index finger saying the c sound, then tap your thumb to your middle finger saying the a sound, and finally your thumb to your ring finger saying the t sound. Then you slide your thumb across your three fingers and say the whole word. (See a video demonstration of tapping out sounds here.)

When my daughter Ophelia was 2, I had a little magnet letter station set up and together we discovered that if you flip a 6 cup muffin tin over, it makes a great platform for teaching three letter words. I would set some letters aside, and we would build words together. At first, I built the words ahead of time and then tapped out each sound as I read the word to her. Once she had seen me do it over and over again, she started to say the letter sounds with me, and eventually she said them on her own. After that, we would build words together.

If we were going to build the word dog, I would say something like this, “Let’s spell the word dog. Do you know what letter the word dog starts with? That’s right! It starts with the letter d. Now, what vowel makes the short o sound? That’s right, o! Now, what letter makes the g sound? That’s right, g! We spelled dog!” She loved doing this magnet letter muffin tin activity, and we did it often.

Here is a video of my nephew, Tristan, learning his three letter words at age 2.5 with magnet letters and muffin tins.

After she mastered three letter words, we found an eight cup muffin tin and spelled four letter words. This was a great time to bring up words with digraphs like shop and chip. We also started talking about long vowel words in addition to some of the trickier sounds like the long and short oo, r controlled vowels, and diphthongs from my phonemic awareness resources. We also enjoyed spelling favorite words like her full name, the names of family members, and so on.

Here is a video of my daughter, Ophelia, learning about three letter words using magnet letters.

My son Julian (2.5), on the other hand, hasn’t enjoyed the muffin tins and magnet letters as much as he has coloring over my words, or erasing my words, and this has really helped him to learn about sounding out words while he memorizes them. We also enjoy using Starfall’s word machine.

My Resources

I have hand drawn and digitized each of these resources to specifically fit the needs of my own children. Someday, I would like to create a “Teach Your Child to Read Kit” that will bundle everything together in one package, but for now, I want to get this information and these resources out there. Please feel free to print as many copies as you would like for your own personal use.

Word Families Flashcards

These word family cards will be a guide as you do activities like muffins tins and magnet letters or coloring over words. I recommend starting with one word family at a time and stay with the same vowel sound for at least two sets. Once your child is familiar with the words in one family, you can introduce another. Once your child is familiar with all of the word families, you might want to mix things up by taking the family name covers off and mixing all of the words together.

Word Families Flashcards Set #1

Word Families Flashcards Set #1

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Word Families Flashcards Set 1 PDF

Word Families Flashcards Set #2

Word Families Flashcards Set #2

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: Word Families Flashcards Set 2 PDF

Word Families Flashcards First Page

Word Families Flashcards First Page

Get a PDF of the small flashcards here: Word Families Small Flashcards

 

Additional Resources

Using my word cards and the following resources will make learning how to read three letter words easy and fun! (*Note: Some of these are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

  • Magnet Letters and Muffin Tin – Using these two resources together will make learning three letter words fun and easy. Using my flashcards as a guide, have your child build three letter words on the bottoms of the muffin tins.
  • White Board and Dry Erase Markers – I recommend attaching this white board to the wall and using dry erase markers to write three letter words for your little one to erase. The board I have recommended is magnetic, so you can put the magnet letters on it too. With these resources, you can write three letter words on the white board and have your child erase them while reading them.
  • Sidewalk Chalk – Write three letter words on your sidewalk in a hopscotch pattern, and have your little one hop on them and read them.
  • Change-A-Sound Flip Books – I LOVED using these flip books to teach my children how to sound out words. I like how they have sections where the beginning, middle, and ending sound change in the word. The pictures are also great for building vocabulary.
  • Phonics Flip Books – These 34 flip books focus on patterns such as long and short vowels, digraphs, and blends.
  • Starfall Three Letter WordsStarfall is an AMAZING resource for teaching your little one the ABCs, basic math, and how to read. They have an amazing three letter word interactive game that is so fun for kids. The membership is $35/year and WELL WORTH every penny.
  • Montessori Crosswords – Fun Phonics Game for Kids – This app is great for teaching three letter words using pictures and boxes for the letters. I like how you can choose between upper and lowercase as well as cursive.

Usborne Books

I am an Usborne book consultant because I LOVE their books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading. If you purchase books through these links (which will lead you to my own Usborne website), I will make a commission, so I thank you kindly.

  • Phonics Readers (20 Book Collection) – These phonics books blow anything I have ever seen out of this world! In some phonics readers, they focus so heavily on one certain sound that it overpowers the text. Not so with these! If you flip to the end of the book, there’s a section for parents that explains what the focus is and how to use the books which is great! Every book in this series is so well done. I mean, this is quality literature for sure that your little readers will learn how to decode with repeated reading. The rhyming text makes figuring out the last word very predictable. I like pausing to give my little ones a chance to say the last word as they are learning how to read. The series includesBug in a Rug, Goat in a Boat, Llamas in Pajamas, Raccoon on the Moon, Cow Takes a Bow, Snail Brings the Mail, Bee Makes Tea, Underpants for Ants, Crock Gets a Shock, Crow in the Snow, Fox on a Box, Ted in a Red Bed, Ted’s Shed, Hen’s Pens, Fat Cat on a Mat, Goose on the Loose, Frog on a Log, Toad Makes a Road, Mouse Moves House, and Big Pig on a Dig
  • My First Reading Library (50 Book Collection) – This is the best set of books you could ever buy! I have totally used all of these books to teach my children how to read from a young age. I love how each book has two levels of text. One page has minimal text for the child to read, often in the form of a word bubble, and the other page has more text for the parent to read. When your child is ready, he or she can read both pages!
Scott Reading Julian His Favorite Usborne Phonics Book

Scott Reading Julian His Favorite Usborne Phonics Book

In Conclusion

Teaching children to sound out three letter words is the beginning of their independent reading journey. With each of my children, once they get to this part after building a strong foundation with letter names and letter sounds, understanding that words have meaning, building vocabulary, and building phonemic awareness, reading seems to take off as if by MAGIC. It’s like they have broken the code and are in the same fervor as Helen Keller’s water scene where she finally understands that the letters Anne Sullivan is putting together in her hand are words that represent things in her world. Teaching phonics doesn’t need to wait until children are in school, it doesn’t need to happen with piles of worksheets, and it doesn’t have to be more complicated than sounding out three letter words. So teach your child young and teach him or her often, and you will be amazed at what your child can do!

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing

#7-Creating Independent Readers

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The best way to teach a child how to read, is to make reading enjoyable! When you love reading with your child, your child will know it, and he or she will develop a love of reading alongside you. By creating an environment that encourages reading, filling this environment with quality books, and making reading special, it will make reading happen naturally, easily, and without force.

Creating a Reading Environment

These are the ways that I have created a reading environment in my home.

  • Baskets of Books – I love having baskets of books in every room in the house, and several baskets in our living room areas. I love these cloth lined wicker baskets.

    Organizing My Books

    Organizing My Books

  • Build a Home Library of Books – To get your library started, go to thrift stores and garage sales to build the bulk of your collection. Once you start reading with your child, you’ll learn what he or she is into and get more books to satisfy his or her interests. Once you have a base collection, you can start adding new books that are really high quality, like these books from Usborne.
  • Trips to the Library – The librarians always look at me funny when I ask what the maximum number of books I can check out is (it’s 35). I love letting our kids pick out as many books as they want until we reach our limit. It’s always fun to have a new collection of books to read.

    Ruby Reading at the Library

    Ruby Reading at the Library

  • Little Chairs and/or Couches – Making little reading stations with small chairs, bean bags, or little couches makes reading so much fun and encourages children to read independently.

    Ophelia in Her Reading Chair

    Ophelia in Her Reading Chair

  • Comfy Reading Spots to Read Together – I love pulling my little ones onto my lap while sitting in a comfy rocking chair or snuggling up next to them on the couch. Near these spots, I make sure to keep baskets of books, blankets to snuggle up in, and maybe some water too!

    My Reading Chair

    My Reading Chair

  • Make Reading Special – If you begrudgingly set a timer and say, you have to read for 15 minutes right now, it takes all of the fun out of reading. Do whatever you have to do to make this a special time. Maybe have milk and cookies while you’re reading or purchase some new books…whatever you have to do to get excited about it!

    Reading with Ophelia

    Reading with Ophelia

  • Books in Bed – Bedtime reading is a favorite part of our day. Each of our children have baskets of books next to their beds that are their personal favorites. We always read books at bedtime, and it is a special way to end the day. Also, since these books get read over and over and over, they are usually the first ones our little ones read since they have memorized all of the words. (Yes! Memorizing words is part of reading!!!)

    Bedtime Reading Routine

    Bedtime Reading Routine

How to Teach

When children are familiar and comfortable with reading, they will show more and more signs that they want to get involved. I believe that the gradual release of responsibility model of teaching is phenomenal because it slowly builds a child’s confidence until they are ready to do it on their own. First, they start out watching you as you read, then you start to get them involved in little ways, and finally they will be reading completely on their own! Here are some of the ways you can slowly get your child involved in reading.

  • Turn the Page – I like to lift up the next page just a bit until my little ones grab on and turn the page. It’s amazing how much they enjoy this!
  • Interactive Books – I love reading books that have flaps, sounds, and more so that my little ones can see that books are meant to be engaging.
  • Pointing to Words – I don’t do this every time I read because it would get tedious and boring, but on occasion, I like to point to each word as I’m reading. This shows children how reading works and helps them to memorize new words in the context of a book.
  • Leaving Out Words – I love reading the same books over and over and over again with my children until they are practically memorized. Then, I start pausing at the last word on the page for them to say. I find that if I pause in sort of a questiony way, they will say it on their own. When they do, I point to the word as they are saying it. Once they’ve mastered reading the last word, I also like to incorporate leaving out other words in the book.
  • Picture Reading – I like to show my little ones how to “read” a book without any words by just talking about whatever I see in the pictures, and then I like to encourage them to do the same.
  • Repeated Reading – Whenever a child shows special interest in a book, I like to read it over and over as much as possible. This repeated reading will help children to memorize words that will become part of their word bank that they use for speedy reading.
Elliot Reading in Bed

Elliot Reading in Bed

Usborne Books

I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading.

Build Your Library with These Books

In the previous blogs in this series, I have linked to my favorite books and resources that matched each category, these books that I’m suggesting now are examples of QUALITY LITERATURE that you can use to reinforce all of the skills they have learned so far. I have geared my recommendations here for young children ages 4-6 who are ready to take off with reading!

  • *My First Reading Library – This is the best set of books you could ever buy! I have totally used all of these books to teach my children how to read from a young age. I love how each book has two layers of text. One page has minimal text for the child to read, often in the form of a word bubble, and the other page has more text for the parent to read.
  • Phonics Readers (20 Book Collection) – These phonics books blow anything I have ever seen out of this world! In some phonics readers, they focus so heavily on one certain sound that it overpowers the text. Not so with these! If you flip to the end of the book, there’s a section for parents that explains what the focus is and how to use the books which is great! Every book in this series is so well done. I mean, this is quality literature for sure that your little readers will learn how to decode with repeated reading. The rhyming text makes figuring out the last word very predictable. I like pausing to give my little ones a chance to say the last word as they are learning how to read.
  • Peek Inside Books – This boxed set includes six beautifully illustrated lift the flap books that children can interact with to discover what goes on at the zoo, in animal homes, on the farm, in the garden, at night, and inside the world of dinosaurs. You can get the box set here.
  • Pop Up Books – What better way to bring a book to life than with colorful pop up pages that move with these garden, dinosaurs, and jungle pop up books!
  • Look Inside Board Books – Children are so curious and love to learn how things work. In this series about castles, airports, food, computers, our world, space, the jungle, your body, and more, children will be engaged as they learn about their world while learning how to read.
  • Lift the Flap Questions and Answers – Inquisitive children will love the simple answers to their complex questions hidden behind interactive flaps. This is a great way for children to learn!
  • Picture Books – These picture books take classic old stories and retell them simply and from a childlike perspective. They would make a great addition to any developing library. You can get the box set here.
  • Books by Age – Browse Usborne for some AMAZING and HIGH QUALITY books!

Additional Resources

Building your library with quality books will ensure that not only will your child learn how to read, but he or she will ENJOY reading! These are the books that our children have loved through and through that helped them become readers. (*Note: These are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

  • Elephant and Piggie Books – We love ALL of these books! Elliot was a bit of a “late reader” (reading at age 5, everyone else was reading by 3, but that’s another story…) in our family and he LOVED books like: We are in a Book, The Thank You Book, There’s a Bird on Your Head, and I Broke My Trunk! These books are the new and improved Dick and Jane books from the past revamped with engaging text that is simple, easy, and fun for new readers.
  • Book Box Sets – There’s something super fun about getting a set of books that fit into a cute little carrying case. If children have favorite characters and then can read multiple books about those same characters, they are bringing a lot of background knowledge to the table. These phonics boxed sets are a great place for children to start reading.
  • Ready to Read Books – I love the large print and simple text using characters and settings that children are familiar with for children who are beginning to read independently. Here are some sets of Ready to Read books.
  • Books About TV Shows – We LOVE connecting reading with our kids’ favorite TV programs because it gives them a HUGE wealth of background knowledge to read the books on their own. Often times, books about TV shows will have way too much text for a new reader, but our children have enjoyed picture reading or reading them repeatedly with us until they’re ready to read them on their own. We’ve enjoyed Dora, Backyardigans, Maisy, Daniel Tiger, and more.
  • Shel Silverstein – We love reading Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic as read alouds and our kids (once they’re about 3-4 years old) LOVE them. They are so funny!
  • Captain Underpants – These books are not what is typically considered “quality” because of the potty humor, but kids LOVE them, and I think that is most important. Our son Elliot was a bit reluctant to start reading, and these books gave him the final push and motivation to start really reading when he was 5. He LOVED reading the little cartoons and pictures, doing the flip-o-rama pages, and all of the potty humor.
  • Share Your Interests – I’m mostly a nonfiction reader, and I really enjoy learning about biology and how the body works, so I LOVE reading these Basher Books about chemistry, biology, the periodic table and more. My husband really likes reading illustrated classics like Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, and Swiss Family Robinson as well as anything by Neil Gaiman.
  • Follow Their Interests – Each of our children have expressed different interests at different ages, and we make it a point to purchase books for them that match their interest. Right now for example, our son Julian (2) is really into cars and trucks, our daughter Ophelia (4) loves Daniel Tiger, Elliot (6) is really into Pokemon, and Ruby (7) devours chapter books at an amazing rate and right now is learning about Manga.

In Conclusion

What is the point of teaching children how to read? I’ll tell you what it’s NOT…it’s not so that children can perform well on tests, it’s not so that children can read a certain amount of words in a minute, and it’s not to get 100% on worksheets. The point of teaching children how to read is so that they can learn about their world on their own terms. At first, we are the ones filling their brains with lessons about the world, but once they know how to read, they can access everything and anything in the world that they seek. By creating a fun reading atmosphere, making a reading a special priority, and filling your house with quality books, not only will children learn how to read easily, but they will be able to navigate the world through their own lens, on their own terms, and follow their individual passions along the way.

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing

#8 Reinforcing Reading with Writing

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Reinforcing Reading With Writing (Part 8 in a Teach Your Child to Read Series)

It is common practice to teach reading alongside writing, but the reality is that children are capable of learning to how read FAR before learning how to write. That being said, teaching writing AFTER children learn how to read is a great way to reinforce reading.

Ages and Stages

I have noticed that my children have been interested and capable of writing in very different ways and at very different ages. Learning how to hold a writing utensil requires special fine motor skills that take lots of time to develop. I think it’s good to introduce children to writing at a young age if they are interested, but I wouldn’t force it.

  • Toddlers – Use fat crayons and markers and encourage any kind of markings on a page. I love writing words and pictures, and my 2.5 year old son Julian LOVES coloring over them. My daughter Ophelia (now just 4), never really cared for crayons or markers, but she has always loved painting.
  • Preschool – Start introducing a pencil and model the correct way to hold it, but don’t push it. Start practicing lines, shapes, and letter formation. Let your child watch you as you draw and color. Provide lots of opportunities for coloring, and make it fun!
  • Kindergarten – Practice making letters and start writing words.
Julian Loves Coloring!

Julian Loves Coloring!

My Resources

These hand drawn resources are basically my ABC resources without the color. I created this font by hand then imported it into Gimp where I cleaned it up and digitized it. I wanted to make my own font because I wanted to teach children how to read letters the way we typically write letters. I also wanted to be able to color in my letters. Feel free to use these resources liberally for your own personal use.

If you are going to be making these, I highly recommend getting the following supplies:

  • Printer – A good basic printer like this will do the job, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing, I would recommend something like this.
  • Card Stock – I like to make sure I always have plenty of this around for all of my flashcards, posters, and other needs.
  • Three Hole Punch – This hole punch is really sturdy and can handle a whole stack of paper.
  • 1/4 Inch Rings – When making flashcards, I have found it’s best to use two rings on top to keep everything organized and easy to flip through, and this size is best.

To Make the Flashcards

  1. Print – Print on card stock.
  2. Cut – Use a paper cutter to cut the words apart.
  3. Hole Punch – Put the cards in order and then put two holes in the top. I like to angle each corner into the three hole punch and can do several cards at once with my heavy duty hole puncher.
  4. Rings – I like using the 1/4″ rings to attach the cards together.

To Make the Coloring Page

  1. Print – Print on card stock. *You can also bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size. 
  2. *Enlarge – You can bring a digital version into a print store like Kinkos and they can enlarge it to a poster size.

ABC Coloring Page

After children have learned their letter names and letter sounds, coloring them in will reinforce this skill. You can print out this coloring page, and have your child color over it or color it in using crayons, pencils, markers, or paint. When coloring with your child, it can be fun to color your own page while sitting next to him or her. This way, your child will be able to see how you do things like hold a writing utensil, stay in the lines, and choose what to color. Make sure you “think aloud” to tell your child what you’re thinking while you’re doing it.

ABC Coloring Page

ABC Coloring Page

Get a PDF of the poster here: ABC Black and White Coloring Page

ABC Coloring Flashcards

These one sided flashcards are a great way to reinforce letter names, letter sounds, and to introduce children to writing. You can print out one set and let your child scribble in it however he or she chooses, and then you can print out another set to color in yourself or color together. Your child will enjoy watching you color, and it’s fun to have a personalized set of flashcards. You could even laminate them when you’re done!

ABC Coloring Flashcards

ABC Coloring Flashcards

Inside View of ABC Coloring Flashcards

Inside View of ABC Coloring Flashcards

Get a PDF of the flashcards here: ABC Black and White Flashcards

Additional Resources

Being a teacher-mom, I have been exposed to a TON of resources. The ones I link to below are simply the best of the best and have been a HUGE help as I’ve been teaching my little ones about writing. (*Note: These are affiliate links, which means that I will make a commission if you purchase them from these links. Your price, however, will stay the same.)

Usborne Books

I LOVE Usborne books! The pages are super durable, the stories are interesting, the vocabulary development is phenomenal, and the people and Usborne GET reading. They know that children should start young…I’m talking babies…and provide PLENTY of resources to get your little ones interested in reading.

  • Wipe-Clean Resources – Usborne has a TON of wipe clean activity books that you can look through. Wipe clean books are a great way for child to reinforce skills in a repetitive and fun way.
  • Beginning Pen Control – Before children can learn to write they need lots of practice with pen control, and this book provides plenty of opportunities. They can complete the various activities again and again, using the special wipe-clean pen provided. Includes mazes, dot-to-dots, things to draw and more.
  • Wipe-Clean Alphabet – This fun book is perfect way for young children to reinforce what they’ve learned about letters while learning how to write.
  • Wipe Clean Alphabet Cards – These alphabet cards are another great way to reinforce letter names and sounds.
  • Wipe-Clean 123 – Learning to write numbers is right up there with learning to write letters, and this book provides great practice.
  • Get Ready for School Wipe-Clean Activity Pack – This pack covers writing letters, numbers, common words, and comes in a neat carrying case with a handle.
  • Wipe-Clean Dinosaur Activities – If your child is interested in dinosaurs, this would be a great resource to practice writing. There are lots of other interest-based resources as well.
  • Wipe-Clean Dot to Dot – Dot to dots are a great way to learn about drawing and writing because the lines are short and controlled.

In Conclusion

The idea that children should be learning how to read the ABCs while learning how to write the ABCs is just absurd. Children are capable of learning how to read at a very young age, but the fine motor skills required to master handwriting take quite some time to develop. If children learn about letter names and sounds, how to memorize words, vocabulary, how to sound out words, and more complex phonemic awareness before learning about writing, it makes learning about writing the singular focus which is far less overwhelming for children.

Check out all of the blogs in my reading series:

  1. How to Introduce Your Baby to Reading
  2. Learning the Alphabet Lays the Foundation for Reading
  3. Memorizing Words is What Good Readers Do
  4. Building Vocabulary with Colors, Numbers, and Shapes
  5. Phonemic Awareness Leads to Reading Success
  6. Teaching Phonics with Three Letter Words
  7. Encouraging Children to Read Independently
  8. Reinforcing Reading with Writing

15 Ways to Make Your Backyard a Perfect Park for Kids

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15 Ways to Make Your Backyard a Perfect Park for Kids

These are the ways that we have transformed our backyard into a super fun and engaging backyard haven for our five young children. We have about an acre of fenced in land behind our house, and with everything we have created, built, and purchased, we are very content to just stay home and enjoy ourselves. This works out especially well right now seeing as how we have a newborn this summer!

I believe that children should be free and have autonomy to choose their own activities and be independently entertained. I also believe in giving kids as many natural settings and experiences as I can to help them develop their creative and imaginative minds. By incorporating these things into our yard over the past three years, I think we have done just that.

Here’s a video of our yard as we gear up for summer.

1. Sandbox

When we moved into our house three years ago, building a sandbox was the first thing we did, and our children LOVE it! They play in it every single time we are outside.

Our Sandbox

Our Sandbox

2. Stock Tank Swimming Pool

We wanted a durable swimming pool that all of us could fit in that wouldn’t break the bank, and this stock tank swimming pool has been perfect! Learn how we made stock tank pool here.

Stock Tank Swimming Pool

Stock Tank Swimming Pool

3. Garden

Our kids love every aspect of gardening from preparing the soil, to planting the seeds, to harvesting the garden. It’s a lot of work to put it in, but I love maintaining it and reaping the benefits. Read about the benefits of gardening with kids as well as to see the gardening tips and tricks I have here.

Ruby Picking Beans in Our Garden

Ruby Picking Beans in Our Garden

4. Obstacle Course

Our kids love challenging themselves with this simple obstacle course put together with nothing more than some old tires, boards, and a few screws.

Our Backyard Obstacle Course

Our Backyard Obstacle Course

5. Teepee

I got the idea for this teepee from the one my mom made in their field and from the one at Blanford Nature Center in their natural play area. Every year we add more sticks, stalks, old vines, etc. to it, and the kids love using it for imaginative play.

Our Backyard Teepee

Our Backyard Teepee

6. Stepping Stumps

This was another idea I got from Blanford Nature Center. Whenever we see someone chopping down a tree, my husband races over with his pick up truck to collect the stumps. The kids love walking back and forth on them and jumping into the sand that is piled below.

How to Make Stepping Stumps

How to Make Stepping Stumps

7. Hills

The first hill we made was unplanned. As we were digging up the sod for our sandbox, we decided to pile it up making a little hill. We were surprised at how much our little ones loved running up and down it, so we got some dirt and added a few more. This slide has also been a really fun touch.

Our Big Hill

Our Big Hill

8. Tent

I love setting up an outdoor tent in the spring, summer, and fall as both a holding tank for blankets, toys, and books, as well as a retreat for anyone wanting to duck away from the wind, cold, sun, or people.

Our Backyard Tent

Our Backyard Tent

9. Sports Equipment

I love having a basket with a variety of sports equipment that the kids can use freely. We have soccer balls, jump ropes, hula hoops, frisbees, baseball bats and balls, rubber kick balls, and more.

Sports Equipment

Sports Equipment

10. Swing Set

We initially got a swing set like this at our local shopping market, but we always wanted a big wooden structure like this. As luck would have it, we knew someone getting rid of one for free! It took three guys seven hours to take apart and put back together, but it has been perfect for our older children.

Swing Set

Swing Set


Wooden Play Structure

Wooden Play Structure

11. Electric Cars

For a brief time in my childhood I remember having electric cars, and my brother and I LOVED them! We now have an electric dune buggy, jeep, and mini four wheeler for our kids, and they get used every time we go outside. This is the 3rd summer we’ve had them, and with the exception of some new rechargeable batteries, they have held up very well.

Julian and Ophelia in an Electric Car

Julian and Ophelia in an Electric Car

12. Water Pouring Station

In the winter, I have been brave enough to bring this inside, but in the summer, it is so nice to have the mess outside! My little ones play with this water table every day. I like having some kind of table (like this tool bench) nearby to hold the cups, teapots, buckets, and other pouring supplies. I also love having it near the sandbox so they can incorporate sand into their water play.

Water Pouring Station

Water Pouring Station

13. Playhouse

Having a playhouse encourages all kinds of imaginative play. The kids love this one especially because of the little seats, windows that open and shut, and small door. We usually pick a spot for the house to stay for the season because it kills the grass underneath, but you could always move it around.

Playhouse

Playhouse

14. Mini Kitchen

With the mini kitchen, we also have a kids sized picnic table, mini grill, and baskets of play food and plastic dishes. The kids love preparing pretend meals and feeding us hungry adults.

Elliot and Julian Playing with Our Mini Kitchen

Elliot and Julian Playing with Our Mini Kitchen

15. Basketball Hoop

Our daughter Ophelia has particularly enjoyed this basketball hoop. She stands on a little stepping stool and the balls are collected in this little wagon. And of course we have an adult sized hoop as well. We debated laying some concrete, but have enjoyed simply having the ability to shoot baskets.

Basketball Hoops

Basketball Hoops

In Conclusion

Occasionally, we do like to go places, but mostly we just enjoy staying home. Between the 26 learning stations we have inside and the fun we’ve created outside, our kids are never bored and neither are we.

Here’s a video of us getting our yard ready for summer last year. You can really see how much things have changed!

12 Ways to Start a Good Breastfeeding Relationship with Your New Baby

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While it is true that breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t mean that it will come naturally to every mother. After having five children, I feel like I have experienced just about every breastfeeding obstacle imaginable, and yet somehow, each time I was able to overcome these difficulties and successfully breastfeed all of my children thanks to a wealth of support and resources.

Now, as I begin another breastfeeding relationship with our fifth baby, I feel confident knowing that I have a plethora of resources at my fingertips to help with any challenges I may have along the way.

I am hoping that I can share what I have learned and what has worked for me over the years so that other mothers can also feel like they have a bag of tricks to reach into and to know that whatever they are going through, there are resources available, and they are not alone.

1. Knowledge is Power

By educating yourself about breastfeeding before your little one is born, you will be better equipped to deal with any troubles if and when they arise.

  • It Will Hurt at First – Especially if this is your first, breastfeeding is going to hurt a bit for the first couple of weeks, and then like some sort of magic, the pain will fade, and you’ll become a seasoned pro! The pain after latching shouldn’t hurt for more than about 5-10 seconds though. If it does, you may be dealing with a bad latch, thrush, or some other issue. (More on this later.)
  • Benefits of Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding has so many amazing benefits such as the transfer of antibodies from mother to baby (so less illness), the decreased likelihood of allergies and dental caries, and the appropriate jaw, teeth, speech, and overall facial development to name a few. Mothers will benefit from reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer in addition to saving time by always having a perfect food source warm and ready to go. (Read about more benefits at the La Leche League website.)
  • It’s Not as Common as You Would Think – I think there’s an overall misconception that breastfeeding will come naturally, easily, without complications, and that everyone is doing it. The reality is that 21% of women in the U.S. will not breastfeed at birth and that only 49% of women are still breastfeeding after 6 months (according to 2014 CDC data).

2. Nursing a Newborn

The first 24 hours after your baby is born are crazy! Here you are reveling in the miracle of the birth process…sweaty, bloody, possibly still having yet to deliver the placenta, and here is this tiny creature placed upon your chest, covered with vernix, blood, and breathing oxygen for the first time.

  • Skin to Skin – The first hour of life is a very precious time, and if a baby is put on its mother’s chest right away there are numerous observable benefits including better respiratory, temperature, and glucose stability, decreased stress and less crying, and most importantly, the ability for the baby to find the breast and self attach. With midwifery care, this is standard practice, but if you’re having a hospital birth, you may want to put this into your birth plan.
  • Rooting and Sucking Reflexes – Babies are born with the natural ability to root, which means they will open their mouths if you touch their chin or cheek as they look for the nipple. The sucking reflex is also primitive and allows babies to express milk out of whatever touches the roof of their mouths.
  • Breast Crawl – Babies are born with an instinctual reflex called the breast crawl, where if you put a newborn on his stomach, he will scoot himself up to the breast and latch on by himself. I heard about the breast crawl before my fourth birth, and I kind of tried it, but I just wanted to cuddle him close rather than make him work to find me. Needless to say, it’s pretty cool how babies are perfectly designed so that their needs met.
  • Pumping and a Dropper – Even though we were able to get Ruby to latch on at the birth center, I couldn’t get her to latch on once we got home for what seemed like an eternity. So in a moment of desperation (and brilliance), I pumped my colostrom into a bottle and fed it to her with a dropper until she was able to latch. (This is a good way to avoid the introduction of formula if you’re having a bit of a rough start.)
  • Stomach Size – Newborn babies have VERY tiny stomachs (the size of a marble for the first few days), and do not need an abundance of food. By day three or so when your milk comes in, their stomachs will be about the size of a walnut and ready for increasingly more milk.

3. Best Position to Nurse

By the time my babies are about 3 months old, I feel like an old nursing pro. I can get them to latch on without looking, even while lying down and half asleep. But when we are just beginning our breastfeeding relationship, I need to keep these things in mind.

  • Get in Position – By sitting on the edge of my bed or in a rocking chair with a nursing stool, I will lean forward slightly to get in the best position to feed my baby.
  • Cradle Hold – This is the easiest hold to master. In order to do it correctly, make sure that your baby’s chest is lined up with yours and that his or her feet are stacked up on top of each other. His or her head should be nestled in the crook of your arm, and his or her lower arm should be tucked behind your back. I LOVE using My Breast Friend to support this position. A bobby can work too.
    • Other Holds – You might also find success with the crossover hold (same as cradle but with arms reversing jobs and the hand cradling the head), the football hold (where you tuck the baby under your arm like a football with its legs sticking out towards your back), or the reclining position (where you nurse lying down).
  • Room to Breath – Make sure that your baby’s nasal passages are free from boogers (I love using a rolled up tissue to pull boogers out or a saline mist and the Nosefrida for congestion) and that your breast isn’t covering up your baby’s nostrils as you begin feeding.
  • A Comfortable Head Rest – I have found that if I just put the baby’s head in the crook of my arm it gets all sweaty and uncomfortable, but if I tuck a soft blanket under the head, they are much more comfortable. I also like to use the blanket as a way to cover myself if I’m nursing in public and to shade my little one’s eyes if they are falling asleep.

4. How to Get a Good Latch

Once you’re in a good position, the next thing to think about is establishing a good latch. A good latch will be both comfortable and effective. Sometimes when a baby first latches on there is a bit of discomfort, but the pain shouldn’t linger and it shouldn’t be excruciating. If it is, you may have a bad latch.

  • Open Wide: Make sure the baby’s mouth is wide open. You can stimulate this reflex by rubbing your nipple on his or her upper lip.
  • Nipple Flip: Flip the nipple into the baby’s mouth for a deep latch.
  • Roll the Nipple: If the nipple is flat, roll it until it becomes hard.
  • Pinkie Trick: If the baby is having difficulty latching on, put your pinkie into his or her mouth (nail side down) until he or she establishes a good sucking motion. Then, do the old bait and switch by pulling out your pinkie and quickly inserting your nipple.
  • Break the Latch: There might be a bit of pain initially as you get used to the feeling of breastfeeding, but if the pain persists, break the latch by inserting your finger in between your nipple and the baby’s mouth and start over.
  • Keep Trying: If the two of you are not getting a good latch right away, don’t stress out about it. Just keep switching sides, taking breaks, and trying again. You’ll get it eventually. If it’s really taking awhile, you can pump some colostrum and feed it to your baby with a dropper. Their stomachs are the size of marbles at this point, so they don’t need much.
  • Avoid Nipple Confusion: I would avoid using nipple shields. They might work in the short term, but it will be even hard to get your baby to latch on to your nipple after successfully latching on to the nipple shield. I would also avoid all pacifiers and bottles for the first few weeks (or until nursing is established) to avoid nipple confusion.
5 Month Old Julian Has a Good Latch

5 Month Old Julian Has a Good Latch

5. Feeding on Demand

Even though newborns need to eat every 1.5-3 hours (with never more than 4 hours in between feedings), I have never felt like I was on a feeding schedule or had to wake my babies up to feed them. Sometimes my babies cluster feed (typically in the evenings), and other times they go long periods just sleeping without eating at all.

I typically nurse on my left side first because it doesn’t produce as much milk and then switch to my right side that produces a LOT more milk. If my right side isn’t fully drained, I’ll start there at the next feeding. (Draining the breast helps to ensure that the baby gets the fatty “hind milk” and prevents you from getting plugged ducts and mastitis.)

When I feed my babies on demand, they always get really chubby. I love the rolls upon rolls and the squishy little cheeks! Some people worry that fat babies will lead to obesity down the road, but studies actually show that the fatter the baby, the skinnier the adult. So feed those babies!

Signs Your Baby is Hungry:

  • Getting a little fussy
  • Opening and closing mouth
  • Rooting around your chest
  • Sucking on objects
  • It’s been a couple of hours since the last feeding

6. Setting Up Nursing Stations

You will want to have at least one primary nursing station set up in your home stocked with everything you’ll need while nursing. As our family and our home has grown, I now actually have three separate nursing stations set up.

My main nursing station is in our mini living room and not only does it have everything I’ll need while nursing, but around it are things to keep my little ones entertained while I’m sitting down to nurse. My 2 year old, Julian, LOVES playing with cars, so I have boxes of cars and ramps for him to play with and my 3 year old, Ophelia, loves doing puzzles and reading books so I have a rack of puzzles and baskets of books for her.

The View From My Nursing Chair

The View From My Nursing Chair

Everything You Need for a Nursing Station

  • Rocking Chair – Each type of rocking chair serves a different purpose.
    • Gliding Rocker – This is the most comfortable day time chair for me. I use this type of chair in our mini living room where I spend most of my time during the day. I love the way it glides back and forth and the arm rests are great for nursing.
    • Old Fashioned Wicker Rocker – I found mine at a garage sale, otherwise these are kind of hard to come by. I LOVE the sweeping up and down motion of this rocker. It is really good for calming a fussy baby.
    • Rocking and Reclining Arm Chair – This chair is soooooooo comfortable, and I am so sad that I waited until baby #5 to get one. I love snuggling up in it at the end of the day to cluster feed before bed time.
  • Nursing Stool – This will help you to get into the best position possible for nursing in any rocking chair.
  • My Breast Friend – I have tried the Boppy, but this is way more comfortable. It’s a little tricky to put on if you’re holding your little one, so try to get it clicked before you pick him or her up.
  • Manual Breast Pump – Having a double duty battery operated breast pump like this is really great, but having a noiseless hand pump has helped me on numerous occasions as well. It’s also nice to have a dropper in case you’re having a hard time nursing at first.
  • Water Bottle – I always like to drink lots of water whenever I nurse. I usually just fill up mason jars and use lids like these.
  • Nose Frida with Saline Spray– I like to use this snot sucker with saline spray to get the boogers out.
My Living Room Nursing Station

My Living Room Nursing Station

8. Take Care of Your Nipples

The first two weeks of breastfeeding are the toughest. As a first time mom, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed as long as I could, but I was a bit discouraged during my first two weeks because of how much it hurt. After two weeks, however, my nipples weren’t as sensitive, we were figuring out the whole latch thing, and it suddenly became much much easier. After a month, I felt like an old pro, and after 3 months, I was nursing in my sleep. Here are some tips for dealing with sensitive nipples.

  • Use a Nipple Cream: If your nipples get sore or cracked, this stuff is great. Just keep in mind that whatever cream you start using, your baby will get used to and won’t like it if you switch!
  • Use Breast Milk: If your nipples are just a little dry or sensitive, give them a little milk bath. It’s very healing.
  • Let Them Air Out: Walk around the house with your shirt off or just cover up loosely with a robe. Your husband will love it and so will your nipples.
  • Cover Them Tightly: I have always been a sleep in a t-shirt kind of girl, but when I’m nursing, I hate the feeling of fabric rubbing against my nipples. I like to bind them up with a bellaband or nighttime nursing bra. The pressure feels great, and it prevents them from leaking all over the place.

9. Avoid Coffee

Even though only a small amount of caffeine is passed to the baby, the half life (meaning the time it takes for the caffeine to be at half of its potency) of coffee in newborns is 97.5 hours (versus 4.9 hours in an adult, 14 hours in a 3-6 month old, and 2.6 hours in a 6+ month old baby). With Ruby, our firstborn, I would drink coffee after nursing each morning, and then like clockwork, she would experience a “witching hour” for four hours every night where she was inconsolable. By the time we started experiencing this with our third child, Ophelia, our midwife told us about the half life of coffee and how it affects babies. I stopped drinking coffee and noticed that Ophelia no longer had any inconsolable fussy times anymore.

Read more about caffeine and breastfeeding here.

Alternatives to Coffee

  • Teeccino  – If you add cream to this it tastes very much like coffee.
  • Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – Although it is most beneficial during pregnancy, red raspberry leaf tea can help to decrease post natal bleeding and increase milk supply. (Source)
  • Mother’s Milk Tea – This contains many herbs (like fenugreek) that help to stimulate milk production.
  • Kombucha – Kombucha is a great alternative to soda and beer and is full of healthy probiotics. If you don’t want to buy it, you can make your own.
  • Glass Water Bottle – Drinking lots and lots of water is very important so that you have enough fluids to make all of that milk.

10. Best Diet for Nursing Mothers

I feel like I am at my hungriest when I’m nursing, especially when they start to get closer to that 6 month mark. The time right before they are introduced to solid foods, but still somehow gain tremendous amounts of weight…all from my milk! I love it!

When babies are in the womb, they have our bodies and the placenta to help them filter through whatever food we’re eating, but when they are nursing, they have to go through digestion alone. This is why it is even more important to eat a healthy diet and stay well hydrated. A healthy diet for pregnant and nursing moms should include plenty of raw milk, pastured eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt, grass fed beef, wild caught fish (like salmon), bone broth soup, organic soaked grains, and organic fruits and vegetables.

The important thing is to have healthy meals prepared ahead of time so that you’re not reaching for a bag of chips or tempted by fast food. I like making a making a big pot roast, rotisserie chicken, or healthy soup so that there is always something nourishing that I can grab from the fridge. Things like hard boiled eggs, chunks of cheese, cut up veggies, sourdough muffins, and fresh fruit make good snacks to keep around.

11. Things That Can Make Breastfeeding Challenging

For some women, breastfeeding is easy, for others it is more of a challenge. I highly recommend contacting your local La Leche League (an incredibly helpful breastfeeding organization) before you give birth so that you will a nursing support resource ready to go. Also, if you are a first time mom, I highly recommend taking any classes that are offered and talk to your doctor or midwife about what breastfeeding support they offer.

  • Epidural – The effects of anesthesia or an epidural make both the mother and the baby tired and sluggish which can make breastfeeding difficult at first.
  • Traumatic Birth Experience – If you had a traumatic birth experience, it can have a negative effect on both you and your baby in terms of breastfeeding. Read more about healing from a traumatic birth here.
  • Lip Tie/Tongue Tie – You can see if your baby has a lip tie by trying to flip his or her upper lip to see if it’s tethered by a flap of skin. Babies with lip ties will have difficulty forming a good latch and you may notice a lip blister from the top lip not flaying out while nursing. You can see if your baby has a tongue tie by looking under the tongue to see if it’s tethered to the bottom of the mouth by a flap of skin. Babies who are tongue tied have difficulty forming a good latch. Read more about identifying and dealing with tongue and lip tie here.
  • Thrush – If you had a yeast infection when you had a vaginal birth, the candida can transfer to the baby and cause thrush. Thrush will present itself in a baby as white patches in the mouth that will bleed if you try to scrape them away. It also makes nursing extremely painful for the mother if she gets the thrush in her nipples. Read more about thrush here.
  • Nursing Strike – Maybe you introduced a pacifier or bottle too soon and now your baby isn’t interested in your breast, or maybe there is some other external factor that is making your baby not want to nurse. In order to overcome a nursing strike, you just have to keep trying different ways to establish closeness with your baby. I have had success taking a warm bath with my little one to reestablish nursing after a nursing strike.
  • Plugged Ducts and/or Mastitis – If you don’t fully drain each breast after nursing, the ducts can become plugged and eventually lead to mastitis (which is VERY painful). When you’re nursing, make sure you are draining each breast fully and switch sides in a regular pattern so that both breasts are getting the chance to be drained. It may also be helpful to massage your breast as you are nursing to help express all of the milk.

12. What to Do if You Can’t Nurse

  • Warm Bath – When nothing else seems to work, taking a warm bath with my little one has always helped to improve things. This is a very womb like experience for your baby that is quite relaxing.
  • Get Support – Contact your local La Leche League for support, let your midwife or doctor know what is going on, talk to a friend, talk to your spouse, and get as much support as you can to continue your breastfeeding relationship. It is very helpful to have someone to talk to when things aren’t going very well.
  • CranioSacral Therapy – CranioSacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, noninvasive form of bodywork that addresses the bones of the head, spinal column, and sacrum with the goal of releasing compression in those areas to alleviate pain. It is especially helpful for babies who seem unwilling or unable to nurse properly.
  • Chiropractor – Going through the birth canal or being delivered by cesarean can misalign a baby’s delicate structure that can lead to problems nursing. A chiropractor can gently work on an infant as soon as they are born to get everything back into place.
  • Supplement – If for whatever reason, nursing is just not working out for you or you are in need of supplementation, you don’t have to go straight to formula. On the Weston Price website, Sally Fallon explains how to make raw milk baby formula. Using clean whole raw milk from cows certified free of disease and fed on green pastures with ingredients like gelatin and expeller-expressed oils (making it more digestible for the infant) added is the next best thing to breast milk. For sources of good quality milk, see www.realmilk.com or contact a local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

In Conclusion

I will always treasure the special time I’ve had with each of my children as I’ve nursed them. In the first few months when everything is new and my little one is attached to my breast 24/7, I cherish these times more than anything in the world. It is an honor to bring life into this world, and it is an honor to be able to sustain the life that I delivered with nourishment from my own body. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Coloring Over Words Pre-Reading Activity

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A Word Coloring Pre-Reading Activity

I love getting out large pieces of paper, writing words and pictures on them, and have my toddlers and preschoolers color over them. This is a great pre-reading activity that helps children to memorize words (which is a much bigger part of learning to read than most people think). Best of all, it’s so easy to set up and do!

I have done different versions of this activity with every one of my children, and it has been a HUGE part of what has helped them to all start reading at very young ages.

Materials Needed

  • Paper – You can use rolls of paper, large sheets, smaller sheets, or even just plain computer paper. You can also do this activity using a spiral notebook or composition notebook so that you can save all of your drawings to read later.
  • Markers – I love buying markers like these in bulk when it’s back to school season. You can also use crayons or colored pencils, but markers require less effort for little hands and produce a very satisfying line.
  • Stickers – I love getting the big Melissa and Doug sticker set like this and this. You get a lot of stickers for $5/book, and the kids love them.
  • *Write-On Wipe Off Books – I have tried many different write-on wipe-off books, and the ones by Priddy Books are by far the best. (Don’t forget some Expo markers.) Little ones don’t need to be ready to write their letters to enjoy coloring in these books. My toddlers and preschoolers love coloring over the letters, pictures, and words and this is another great way to get children familiar with their ABCs andto learn more vocabulary.

Directions

    1. Write a smattering of short and familiar words on the paper. I like to use words that reflect their interests, but start each child with many of the same basic words like: hi, clap, wave, cat, dog, sun, bus, car, etc. (You can always type “teaching three letter words” into Google to get more ideas for words to use and resources like this as well.)
    2. Draw little pictures next to some of the words. When a word is new, I like to draw a little picture next to it. Many times I’ll even choose words based on how easy the picture would be to draw! But then after they are familiar with the word, I don’t draw the picture every time so that they can memorize the word without the visual aid.
    3. Keep writing while they color. My little ones love coloring side by side with me. I don’t typically prepare these ahead of time (unless I’m holding a baby and trying to video record at the same time), but rather we do it together. Sometimes we’ll work on the same sheet and other times they’ll color one while I prepare another.
    4. Write down names of family members. Even though names are typically longer and have more complicated spelling patterns, these are among some of the first words my little ones are able to read. In addition to the names of family members, you could also include their ages, relation (brother, sister, cousin, etc.), favorite color, girl/boy, etc.
    5. Write down letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. Children who have a strong understanding of these basic concepts will have a very strong foundation in the basics needed to succeed in preschool and kindergarten. Some of my children like seeing the whole alphabet written out, others just like a smattering of letters and the same goes with the other categories as well.
    6. Use stickers for a treat. Every so often, I like to mix things up with stickers. After putting the sticker on the paper, I will label it.
    7. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I am a big believer in following a child’s lead, and so I like to do this activity whenever my child shows an interest. This might mean we’ll do it every day or only a couple of times a month. Right now, Julian(2) LOVES coloring and so we do this activity often. I use the same words over and over again until he has mastered them or loses interest, and then I’ll cycle in new words.

Here’s a video of Julian coloring some words that I have prepared.

In Conclusion

This activity seems so simple and so easy it’s like, why even write a blog about it? But I’m telling you, it is PROFOUND in helping children learning how to read.

Not only that, but it is a fun and special bonding time between you and your child where you’re working together, sitting side by side, having little conversations, learning about his or her specific interests, practicing the fine motor skills necessary to hold a writing utensil, and having fun!

We get so busy as parents, that doing an activity like this allows for a moment in a hectic day where you can teach, bond, and build memories together, and what could be better than that?

Coloring Station

Coloring Station

Coloring Stickers

Coloring Stickers

Coloring Write-On Wipe-Off Books

Coloring Write-On Wipe-Off Books

Setting Up an Outdoor Play Tent Sanctuary 

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Setting up a tent outdoors isn’t just for camping! Every spring, we set up a tent in our backyard to use as a sanctuary and a holding tank, and it has been a very beloved location, especially when we have little babies.

In Michigan, we get REALLY excited when spring arrives! The problem is that even though the snow thaws, it’s still pretty chilly (and windy) until June. Having this permanent tent set up ensures that we always have a warm place to play that will allow us to enjoy the fresh outdoor air while staying protected from the elements.

Materials Needed

  • Tent – We usually just go to the nearest box store and pick up whatever is cheapest. (We learned the hard way this year, however, that it’s very important to make sure the tent has a window so you can get a cross breeze.) We’ve been setting up outdoor tents for the past 4 years and have never had a tent that lasts more than one year. By the time snow falls, the walls of the tent are so worn, they just rip apart. Because of this, we usually go with a cheap tent like this. This tent would be a a bit more luxurious and if you’re looking for a really permanent tent, you can go with one of these canvas tents.
  • Padding – Some foam padding like this 1-inch king size mattress topper (or this 4-inch mattress topper) will turn your tent into one big comfy bed!
  • Waterproof Cover – There is always a bit of water getting into the tent for one reason or another, so it’s a good idea to cover your foam padding with something like this.
  • Sheet – I like to put a fitted king size sheet over the waterproof cover.
  • Blankets – I don’t think we can ever have enough blankets in this household, so I am always on the lookout for good blankets like this at garage sales and thrift stores. I put one blanket down under the pillows and baskets of books and another blanket loosely on top. This second blanket can easily be taken out and shaken if it gets covered in sand and debris. This is also the blanket I’ll use if I want to have a blanket on the grass.
  • Pillows – Having about 3-4 pillows makes it really nice to stretch out for a little snooze.
  • BasketsWicker baskets like these are really nice for holding books and a shallow basket like this is really nice for holding toys.
  • Books – I love having a wide assortment of books, but I don’t keep my best out here in case of water or other damage.
  • Coloring Supplies – This is the first time I’ve included coloring supplies like coloring books, workbooks, blank notebooks, pencil boxes with pencils and crayons, and the bigger kids really enjoy it!
  • Toys – Because I have kids ranging from newborn to elementary school age, I have a variety of different toys that everyone can enjoy.
  • Little Chair – The kids especially love this little chair when I put it out on a blanket in the grass. Reading is always more fun when you’re in a little chair!
  • Diapers and Wipes – Because our tent is a little ways from the house, it’s nice to be able to change a diaper without having to go inside.
Outdoor Tent in Use

Outdoor Tent in Use

Directions

  1. Find a good location. It’s nice to have something that can be in shade or partial shade so it doesn’t get too hot in the summer. It’s also nice to have the opening of the tent facing an area of high activity so that you can see what’s going on when you’re in the tent and vice versa.
  2. Set up the tent. We keep our tent in the same spot every year, so after the grass died and it was all dirt, we leveled it with a rake to make it flat.
  3. Put some sheets of wood in front of the tent. You could also use a big rug or Astro turf, but basically you want something to keep grass and dirt out of the tent.
  4. Fill it with fun stuff. Based on the ages of your children, location of the tent, and the purpose of the tent, you will want to fill the tent with things to suit your needs. I like filling my tent with books, coloring supplies, toys, and pillows and blankets.
  5. Play inside the tent. I like to keep the tent closed if it’s going to rain, but as soon as we head out to play I like to open it up and let the kids come and go as they please.
  6. Use the tent as a holding tank. If we want to hang out outside with babies, I like taking a blanket out of the tent and putting toys, books, and the little chair on it.
  7. Keep it clean. When our tent gets full of sand, dirt, grass, and leaves, I am so happy that I keep my extra blanket nestled lightly on top so that I can easily shake it out. If it gets really dirty, I’ll take everything out and either sweep or use the leaf blower.

In Conclusion

We enjoy setting up our tent as soon as the snow is gone and leave it up until snow threatens to fall again. We have enjoyed having a tent every year for the past four years and will probably continue to enjoy one for many years to come.

*Update: We had a big windstorm that ripped our tent to shreds, so we opted for a bigger more expensive tent, and boy am I glad we did! My husband recently spent the night out here with our two older children, and they all loved it!

Our New and Improved Tent

Our New and Improved Tent

26 Ways to Calm a Fussy Newborn

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Trying to calm a fussy, or inconsolable, or screaming newborn can be a very stressful time for parents. Throughout the pregnancy, the focus is most likely on the growth of the baby, preparations for birth, and setting up the nursery. Being up in the night with a fussy and inconsolable baby is probably not something a new parent thinks to plan for…but it should be.

With our first born, Ruby, we were blindsided by her fussiness and felt like we didn’t have enough tricks up our sleeves to calm her down.

I remember one night, after she had been screaming and inconsolable for hours and hours, we called 9-1-1 (after trying the pediatrician first). When the firefighters came stomping up our three flights of stairs and barged into our little condo, Ruby was instantly mesmerized and of course stopped crying. I saw the firefighter chuckle to themselves and heard them make some comments to each other about new parents. It’s funny now, but I was sleep deprived and terrified then that something might be dreadfully wrong.

After Ruby, we learned many more ways to calm fussy babies besides going for long walks or drives, but it wasn’t until after baby number five that I’ve finally feel like I have a full arsenal of ways to calm fussy babies at my fingertips.

One of the most important pieces of advice I have is to be proactive. Many of the tips and tricks I’ll share have to do with preventing fussiness and the rest will give you a bag of tricks to pull from if and when your baby is fussy.

1. Avoid Coffee

I’ve never completely eliminated coffee while breastfeeding until Jack, and let me tell you it has made a WORLD of difference. When I learned that the half life of caffeine elimination in a newborn was 97.5 hours, I was finally convinced to give up the java. With every other baby, I just expected that being up in the night was a normal part of caring for a new baby. Jack is almost two months old now, and I haven’t been up in the night even once with him. If you’re looking for a good coffee substitute, I recommend teeccino.

2. Chiropractic Care

The other reason why I think Jack is so calm is because we took him to a chiropractor shortly after he was born. I was having trouble nursing him on the left side, and apparently it was due to a misalignment in his neck. (During birth he was posterior, turned into the correct position right as I was about to push, and was born very quickly – all of which probably contributed to the misalignment.)

For the procedure, the chiropractor laid him on his back for the adjustment (which was basically like a massage), and he was very calm and happy during the whole thing. Afterwards, he nursed like a champ on both sides. When looking for a chiropractor, I advise looking for a holistic one who specializes in working with infants.

Check out this amazing video of an infant getting immediate relief after chiropractic care.

3. CranioSacral Therapy

CranioSacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, noninvasive form of bodywork that addresses the bones of the head, spinal column, and sacrum with the goal of releasing compression in those areas to alleviate pain. It is especially helpful for babies who seem unwilling or unable to nurse properly. When Julian was a newborn, we took him to a CranioSacral practitioner to help him with his tongue tie. It didn’t really help with the tongue tie, but we noticed a huge difference in how calm he was afterwards.

Going through the birth canal or being delivered by cesarean can misalign a baby’s delicate structure and cranial sacral therapy helps to realign everything.

4. Honor the 4th Trimester

After spending nine months in the womb, the outside world must be a real shock for a new baby. By making the outside environment as “womb-like” as possible, it will help to prevent fussiness and create a smooth transition.

  • Skin to Skin: I love doing skin to skin as much as possible after birth until my babies are adjusted. It helps with nursing, bonding, and maintains the same comforts as the womb.
  • Feeding on Demand: There is no need to worry about a feeding schedule, just nurse whenever your baby is hungry. Newborns generally need to nurse about every two hours, but may cluster feed at certain times and sleep longer and not eat for longer times.
  • Baby Wearing: Using a baby sling or carrier is a great way to keep your baby close so he or she can be close to your skin, beating heart, the sound of your voice, and the gentle swaying of your motions. My favorite carriers are the Moby Wrap, a ring sling, and an Ergo Carrier with an infant insert.
  • Co-Sleeping: Feeding on demand is made much easier by co-sleeping. In most parts of the world (except the United States), co-sleeping is the norm. New research shows how it’s actually safer than putting a baby in a separate room and bed.

I find it fascinating that in other more primitive cultures, fussy and crying babies are a rarity. This is because babies in these cultures are treated like an attachment to the mother and aren’t “trained” in any way. (Source)

5. Check Basic Needs

Whenever my babies get fussy, the first thing I do is cycle through the basics. Does he need a diaper change? Does he need to burp? What about nursing? Maybe he’s tired? As a mom, my sixth sense sometimes just knows what my babies need, but this amazing woman, Priscilla Dunstan, figured out how to decipher the meaning of a baby’s cries.

The five sounds in the Dunstan Baby Language are:

• “Neh” – meaning, “I’m hungry”
• “Owh” – meaning, “I’m tired”
• “Heh” – meaning, “I’m uncomfortable”
• “Eairh” – meaning, “I have lower gas”
• “Eh” – meaning, “I need to burp”

6. Warm Bath

Being naked in a warm bath with you is as close to a womb experience as you can create. Within the first few hours after birth, I always like taking a nice healing herbal bath with my newborns. This is a great time for us to relax and bond after birth, and my little ones always enjoy nursing in the water. When I was having trouble getting Ophelia to latch when she was three days old (I tried a pacifier with her too early, and it created nipple confusion.), we took a bath together it she latched on right away. My babies love it when I hold their heads so they can move their arms and legs freely in the water.

7. Don’t Keep a Baby Awake

When our firstborn, Ruby, was an infant, I had this crazy idea that if I kept her awake more during the day, she would sleep better at night. But then she would get overtired, and getting an overtired baby to go to sleep is not an easy task.

The best rule of thumb to remember with babies and sleep is that the more they sleep, the better they’ll sleep. Trying to get a newborn on any type of schedule or predictable routine is just not going to work. The best thing to do is to just go with the flow and let our little ones sleep whenever they’d like and for as long as they’d like.

8. Red Light at Night

As for lighting, red lights are the best because they keep the pupils from dilating which allows your baby to remain in a sleepy state while allowing you to see during late night nursing sessions. Something like this salt lamp or this tree lamp (we unscrew the other bulbs so only the reddish lights are on) would be perfect. The soft glow of a fireplace in the winter is great too!

9. Not Too Hot or Cold

Newborns don’t have a lot of body fat to keep them warm and struggle to maintain their body temperature if the environment is too cold. That is why it’s best to dress babies in one more layer than we do to keep warm. So if you’re hanging out in a t-shirt, your baby will probably want to put your baby in a footed sleeper with long sleeves. I typically like to keep my babies a little under-dressed, however, so that I can wrap them up in one of my homemade silky blankets! But beware of overdoing it as well. A little bit of sweat is normal, but if your baby is in pools of sweat, he or she is too hot! Babies dressed in too many layers are at a greater risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

10. Swaddle

Swaddling helps to recreate the tight environment of the womb. Some of our babies have totally loved this and others didn’t much care for it. These aden + anais cloths are great for swaddling and so are these summer swaddlers, but really any receiving blanket will do. Just make sure that you are following the guidelines for the new swaddle that keep the legs more free so that your baby doesn’t get hip dysplasia. Watch this video to see the proper way to swaddle.

11. Sucking

Sucking releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) in both the mother and the baby, which is nature’s way of rewarding them both for breastfeeding. 🙂 In between feedings, newborns might also enjoy sucking on your pinkie (nail side down).

I would avoid using a pacifier for the first few weeks because it can create nipple confusion and make breastfeeding more difficult, but once breastfeeding is established, pacifiers are just fine. There is no evidence that pacifiers affect baby teeth and they have actually been proven to reduce SIDS. Just look for some that are BPA free.

12. Get the Boogers Out

Babies can get really fussy if they can’t breathe because boogers are blocking their nasal passages. When they are first born, babies have this white sticky boogers that you’ll need to pull out. I like to take a kleenex and twist a piece of it into a little swirl. Then I spin it into the nostril and spin it out. This usually catches the booger and drags it out.

If there’s any congestion or lots of boogers, I like using saline and a Nose Frida. My babies always HATE this, so I have to hold them snugly, give a quick squirt up each nostril, and gently use the Nose Frida to suck out the boogers. I also keep a kleenex close by to wipe the nose and then I use it to catch the boogers as I blow them out from the Nose Frida.

13. Nose Rub

Every single one of my babies (and even toddlers) love the nose rub. When they are tired, but not wanting to go sleep, I gently run my fingers down the bridge of their nose in a way that also lets my fingers shadow their eyes. Every time my fingers go over their eyes, they close for a bit, then close for a bit longer, and then finally shut. If I stop and they open their eyes, I keep going. Sometimes I’ll also rub their head and cheeks.

I love this video that shows a little baby falling asleep as a light cloth is repeatedly swiped over its face.

14. Shushing

A harsh shushing sound mimics the sound of the mother’s blood flow that babies hear in the womb. This is why using a box fan for white noise is so great, but if you need to take things to the next level, this shushing technique is really effective. Basically, you get really close to the baby’s ear and make a shushing sound as loud as you can and for as long as you can.

In his book and videoThe Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, Harvey Karp explains how the best way to calm your newborn and get him or her to sleep is by re-creating the noises, movement, and snug environment of the womb.

15. Calm Music

Calming music can also provide a very soothing type of white noise. With every baby, I’ve enjoyed listening to something new. Sometimes I’ll get into Enya on Pandora, other times I like Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions with the itunes visualizer turned on, and right now, I’m really liking this lullaby mix on YouTube that has some great visuals which are mesmerizing for me as well as Jack.

16. Mother’s Voice

Starting at 23 weeks gestation, babies can hear sounds in the outside world – including the sounds of voices. During the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, research has proven that babies can actually distinguish the sound of their mother’s voice. At birth, babies recognize and prefer the sound of their mother’s voice.

I love talking to my babies, singing to them, and whispering in their ears telling them how much I love them. Jack is 7 weeks old now and we’re enjoying the best conversations with each other while I hold him close and gaze into his eyes. He is completely transfixed. If someone else is holding him and he hears my voice, he’ll quickly turn his head to see me. If he gets a little fussy, I’ll sing him a little song and all of the troubles in the world melt away.

17. Bounce and Pat

For this maneuver, place the baby in an upright position with its head resting on your shoulder and bounce while gently patting the baby on his or her back or bottom. This position is particularly good if the baby is gassy. While holding the baby, you can bounce on an exercise ball, walk around, dance, or sway back and forth.

18. Rocking

I highly recommend investing in at least one good rocking chair. I currently have three set up and Jack loves the rocking motion while I nurse. First of all, I have an old fashioned wicker rocker (that I got at a garage sale) in our bedroom that Scott and I take turns using while holding Jack (primarily during our bedtime routine with the older kids). This type of rocking chair has a great sweeping up and down rock that is very calming for a fussy baby.

In our mini living room, I have a gliding rocker (I call this one my throne because I spend the most time here). The gliding motion is mostly back and forth, not up and down, so it’s not as soothing, but it’s very comfortable. Then in our main living room (where Scott and I hang out after the kids go to bed), we have the most luxurious rocking and reclining arm chair (we just found one at a thrift store, but I linked to one that looks really special). This is the kind of chair that I love to criss cross my legs and snuggle into at the end of the day.

With all three I like using this nursing stool and My Breast Friend.

19. Swinging

There are times when I’m just too tired to rock and bounce and dance, and a nice swing has been a life saver. I really like this small portable swing the best. I can easily carry it from room to room, it’s not a battery hog, the swinging is silent, and the motion is subtle and gentle. I also really like this Fisher-Price Cradle ‘n Swing. It takes up a bit of room and has a bit more noise, but it offers many different swinging options and the mobile is very distracting as well. And while not technically a swing, I LOVE putting my little babies to sleep in this vibrating bassinet.

20. Tummy to Chest

Little babies love sleeping on their tummies with their heads nestled near your neck and little legs tucked up on your chest. This is a great way to do skin to skin as well. In this position, the baby is near your heart beat and voice, and you can gently pat his or her back to help get out any gas. I think the pressure of being on their tummies feels good if they have a little gas.

If you’re looking for a way to recreate this with a machine, check out this video of a fussy baby being settled with the Babo Cush. You can buy both the rocker and the cushion at the Babo Cush website here.

21. Tummy Rub

I can tell when Jack has to poop or pass gas because he’ll start grunting and squirming. When I put my hand on his stomach for a gentle massage, it really calms him down. I will rub my hands in a downward motion, rub in a circular pattern, or just leave my hand there to gently apply pressure to his tummy.

I can only imagine what it must be like to have to learn how to poop, and even though babies have an uncontrolled stooling reflex, sometimes the muscles of the anus don’t relax at the proper time so your baby will push hard with the diaphragm and belly muscles while holding the anus tightly closed.

When this happens, you can rub their tummy, pump their legs in a bicycle motions, hold them upright on your shoulder, or lay them down to let nature take it’s course.

22. Colic Calm

Colic is technically defined as a baby who cries for more than 3 hours a day and for more than 3 days a week. Although the cause is unknown, it is believed to be due to some sort of intestinal cramping. Dr. Harvey Karp believes colic is a myth and that newborns really need a 4th trimester to develop with conditions similar to those in the womb. In any case, when my babies have been really fussy and I suspect intestinal troubles, I love using Colic Calm. It is a natural homeopathic oral remedy designed to help with colic, stomach pains, reflux, and gas. It is made with charcoal, so don’t be surprised by the black color (or your baby’s black poop).

23. Water Dropper

I learned this little trick from my midwife, Laurie Zoyiopoulos, who learned it from some of her Amish clients. When the Amish are dealing with a fussy newborn, they simply give him or her a little bit of water, and it calms the baby down right away. Maybe it’s because the colostrum just isn’t satisfying enough, or maybe it helps to soothe an upset tummy, but for whatever reason, this trick really really works! When Julian would get really fussy and nothing else would soothe him, I would give him a little dropper of water, and he would calm right down. My husband really appreciated knowing this trick as well!

24. Hair Tourniquet

In rare occasions, an adult hair can become wrapped around a finger or toe and cut off circulation. (Read more here.) I always like to give my babies a physical once over to see if I can spot something that is causing them pain. Maybe a cookie crumb is lodged in the crook of their neck, maybe a fold of skin has some gunk in it that’s turning into a rash, or perhaps a hair has become wrapped around one of their extremities and is causing pain. It can be quite a guessing game!

25. Tongue or Lip Tie

If a baby is tongue tied or lip tied, it means that there is an extra flap of skin that makes it hard to nurse properly. Julian had a pretty severe tongue tie and as a result he had a hard time latching correctly which made him take in a lot of air. This caused him to be gassy, very fussy, and up in the night every 45 minutes to eat. A lip tie can have the same effect. If you suspect a lip tie or tongue tie, check out my blog here for more information.

26. Thrush

For the mother, thrush can mean sore nipples and painful nursing, for a baby thrush can mean white patches of painful sores in the mouth. If your baby has thrush, it means that you probably had a yeast infection during a vaginal birth. Milk spots in the mouth will go away on their own, but white spots from thrush will remain. If you want to learn more about remedies for thrush, check out my blog here. (And if you’re still pregnant and reading this, check out my blog about curing a yeast infection while you’re pregnant so you can avoid thrush.)

In Conclusion

You are not a bad parent if your newborn cries. Yes, they cry as a way to communicate and it’s our job to figure out what they’re trying to say, but it’s a big adjustment moving to the outside world from the womb and there are going to be a few tears shed. The best things you can do are to: 1) be proactive by taking measures to prevent fussiness in the first place, 2) be prepared with a variety of tricks up your sleeve to use when your baby does get fussy, 3) stay calm, and 4) be patient. If you keep rotating through a variety of strategies, you will eventually find something that works. Then, when you know what has been troubling your little guy or girl, you can make a plan so that things will get better in the future.

Time goes by fast, so enjoy these precious moments with your newborn and know that by the time they are 3 months old, they will finally be settled into their new world and things will be a lot easier. You’ve got this!