Dont’ Miss Blueberry Season! Create A “Blueberry Party” This Summer That the Whole Family Will Enjoy With This Easy Blueberry Guide. Plus Free Music!

Blueberry season fun and free music for kids

Weather you are trying to teach your baby good eating habits from the start, thinking mindfully about your summer, or just want to have some summer sensory fun with your family, blueberries are the way to go. They are jammed with nutrients and anti-oxidants and are easy to work with in the kitchen. Plus, a trip out to the farm for U-pick blueberries is a great way to show our kids exactly where our food comes from everyday!blueberries muffins

Ideas for Family Activities that Center Around Blueberries

This past fall we went as a family to pick apples on a nearby farm, and having had such a great time with the experience, we decided mid-July blueberry picking was worth a try. Two trips to the farm, 13 pounds of blueberries and two cans of sweet cream later, we find that we are quite a natural picking bunch!

Our first trip was in 90 degree heat, and we literally all almost melted. My husband with the spray bottle, my daughter with her sun hat, and myself with the bottled water in the middle of the blueberry fields to pick the plumpest of blueberries. But all of our “cooling provisions” could not sustain us in the heat, and we left with a mere 5 lbs of berries. Actually, we ate so many directly off the bushes, it was probably more like 5 1/2 lbs.

Several days passed, and my husband’s idea of berries and cream had hit full stride.  We were soon to run out of berries and I knew we would be back in the fields soon.

Friday came with wild storms, and a cooler weather forecast for the weekend. When I suggested that we go pick berries, there were smiles all around. This time, the weather was breezy and sunny. We spent a good hour in the fields and left with 8 pounds of blueberries. On the way home we stopped for another container of ice cream ! Yum!

One other great benefit of picking our own blueberries, is that it gave our family time to slow down and do something quiet and mindful. Slowing down and going into a field of trees with a real clear purpose of collecting food, facilitates mindfulness and calm. Focus is just easy. Stress seems to drip away, and clarity of mind come quick. Blueberry picking for us was a pure delight. It might be for you and your family too.

So here’s a few ideas to make blueberries an “event” in your home too. I start with berries and cream, progress through berry muffins, and end with a song we sang while in the fields. I posted the song so you can learn and sing as a family too!

Berries and Cream

This is super simple. Here’s all you need to dig in!

Fresh blueberries
Vanilla Ice Cream or whipped cream ( I like coconut cream!)
Cute dessert bowls for fun eating!

blueberry muffins for kids, toddler recipes, blueberry toddler recipes, baby food

Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins

(or try a regular recipe if you are not gluten intolerant)

1/2 cup organic canola or safflower oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
11/4 cups soymilk (or rice milk)
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup Sucanat, date sugar, maple sugar, or org. unrefined sugar
4 cups brown rice flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole fresh-picked (or frozen) blueberries

Preheat the over to 350 degrees F. Oil a 12-cup muffin pan or line it with paper liners and set aside. In a small bowl, mix 2 teaspoons maple syrup or sugar and 1 teaspoon brown rice flour as a topping to drizzle over the muffins just before putting the muffins in the oven.

Mix the oil, syrup, soymilk, vinegar, and vanilla in another small bowl. In a separate, larger bowl place the sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Sift the flour to ensure there won’t be clumps. If you are good with the mixing, and feel it is consistent throughout, you really don’t need to sift. It’s up to you!

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Do not overwork the batter. If the batter is stiff, add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time. Fold in 2 cups of blueberries and do not overwork the batter or it will turn blue. (This actually could look interesting if you dare try it!)

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and sprinkle with the topping mixture prepared ahead of time. You may place a few berries on top of each muffin to make them extra juicy on top.

Bake for 20 minutes and rotate the pan a half turn to ensure even baking. Bake 5-6 minutes more or until a knife inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes, remove from the pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack.

(This muffin mixture was adapted from “Simple Treats: Wheat-Free and Dairy Free Guide to Scrumptious Baked Goods by Ellen Abraham)

A Blueberry Song That Makes for A Recipe Of Fun!

Once we were out in the fields, we had a blast with this song! With each verse I would pick a blueberry and put it on baby’s  belly button. We would cover it up with her shirt and after each round of the song, we would look to her bellybutton to see if she was the blue belly button girl! She loved it and asked for more over and over again!)

The next day, and for weeks to follow, we were singing this song and having fun with these berries in baby’s highchair. I cut them so they were not a chocking hazard, and baby got a great snack with tons of great nutrients and anti-oxidants.

Check out the audio of the song Blue Belly Button Boy here.

Chorus:
There once was a blue belly button Boy (girl)
Boy oh boy was his belly button blue
If you could see blue belly button Boy (girl)
You would say it’s the bluest too!

Mindful Summer Activities for Blueberry Season

This song is great for preschoolers and elementary kids as well. They sing it each and every year once they learn it. It’s like a good Christmas song that is learned and then used over and over, year after year. You’ll be sure to get this song stuck in your head, and sing it every summer or whenever you eat blueberries!

feeding baby, baby food, baby puree, developmental milestones for feeding

Feeding Milestones: What You Need to Know to Feed Your Baby and Toddler Blueberries?

Feeding a baby who is just starting solids should try blueberries in a very liquid type puree. Some recommend steaming fruits and veggies before making puree, but I never did. Baby didn’t have any difficulty so I never bothered, but if your baby seems to have digestive difficulty with them, I would suggest giving them a little steam.

Once baby turned toddler, I could cut the berries into tiny bites and put them on her tray. I would usually cut them in half and then cut them again to be extra sure they were not a choking hazard. Remember to do whatever you need to insure your baby or toddler is working with a safe texture or size during feeding. If you aren’t sure what is safe, ask you pediatrician.

I also use puree blueberries and small blueberry bites to practice with the spoon too. Babies and toddlers love the challenge of getting the berries into their mouth and they love to taste the reward too!

So have fun this summer, with baby and the whole family. Make blueberries an annual “Event” in your home for some real down home fun and for a family of happy eaters!

 

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Baby Sensory Play: Don’t Make the #1 Mistake (I did!)

how to do sensory play with kids without mistakes

As a developmental therapist, Montesssori homeschool teacher, and mindful mama, I frequently think of how to set things up so they go smoothly. This time however, it went all wrong. Hopefully, this learning moment for me will help you avoid the same mistake with your little one!

So the scene is set.  My little cutie is ready to play and I have all my materials and a whole bunch of space in the family room. Perfect! Let’s do sensory play!

Montessori-based Sensory Set Up

I set up my special textured rug first. It was soft to the touch, with fringes throughout, and vertical lines and love bugs all over it. After that, I put our a soft red blanket, a winter bear, and Montessori inspired toys including wooden balls, wooden snowflake cutouts, wooden bowls, spoons and little non-edible puff balls. Lastly, I went with the soft and warm theme and had a basket of hats, gloves and scarves.

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Before we even got onto the rug, baby was ready for sensory play. She wanted the puff balls and pushing them into her sock made her giggle. She enjoyed the added sensory feeling on her toes and liked the challenge of using her thumb and pointer finger to get them out!

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The room was quiet, the sun was shining and baby was headed for the center of the carpet. First the bowls were interesting and the snowflake cutouts attracted her attention. Unfortunately, her attention didn’t remain on these items long, and I was a little curious as she usually spent 5-10 minutes with these items when seated at the table. She moved on to the bear and then the hats and gloves, then onto the puff balls again, and then back to the bear!

After several minutes of baby switching toys every other second, I realized I had made a sensory play mistake, one commonly made, but still, not one I thought I would make as a developmental therapist. I should know better!

#1 Mistake in Sensory Play: Set up too many items, or items that are over-stimulating. Baby loses attention and instead of exploring, they just go wild!

Result of Mistake: After sensory play, baby is all charged up, and hasn’t seen or processed any of the toys designed for exploration and learning.

Rule of Thumb to Avoid This Common Mistake: Make play balanced so that the sensory items are not over-the-top stimulating. If you have all the senses involved or too much of one sense at one time, baby can lose focus. We call this “shutdown” where the growing nervous system shuts down and focus can’t happen. Baby goes wild, or at the very least gets quite hyperactive.

In this case, I overdid the visual and touch senses. Too much color, too many toys, too many things to touch and explore.

 

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After a few more minutes of play, as I tried to figure out how to correct my mistake, baby just about lost her marbles. Well, at least her puff balls. She went back and forth between snow cutouts, wooden balls and puff balls till she just couldn’t stand it any longer.

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She handled it well for the most part, crawling off the rug and sitting her bottom in the basket for a giggle. I wish I could be so calm and jovial in times of stress!

 

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Sensory overload! Too much visual stimulation with too many “feeling” toys on top of it all!

So I regroup and try again after a few minutes pass and baby calms down. I let her just crawl it off in her natural play space. Good thing she is a pretty good self-regulator.

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Simple Montessori-based Sensory Play Set Up

My new sensory play set up, was much simpler. I scrapped the overly visual rug and went with the soft blanket. Still red and alerting, but just one tone. I also focused on the winter wear, thinking her positive experience with them in play would help when she needed to actually wear them, when we were headed out the door into the cold winter weather.

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After spending 10 minutes with the winter gear, she approached the wooden cut outs behind her. She attempted to get them herself, and explored them for 10 minutes as well. Now I feel like I am doing something right. She is able to focus and learn within this new sensory set up.DSC_0019

After a few more minutes, she went back to the winter gear and showed me her skill at combining. Combining is a developmental milestone where babies take one toy they know about and put it with another toy they know about. You know, to see how they might work together, or not!

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So after a total bomb at the beginning, this time, winter sensory play went well.

After working with thousands of kids, developing sensory plans and playing with them directly, I can only hope you realize as a mindful parent that there is a bit of trial and error that has to happen when it comes to your specific kids sensory play needs. My baby needed it toned down, but your baby might have been just fine with the original set up.

Mindful Parents Sensory Tip to Avoid Mistakes:

Simply look to see if your baby is able to focus on the items presented in the sensory activity. If they can’t, the set up is too much for them. If they can, you probably nailed it.

Our little ones learning through sensory play is the idea that we as mindful parents are trying to create. The very idea that you read this article till the end says you are well on your way to preparing a great sensory and Montessori play time for you child.  Most importantly, have fun! Remember, you are loving you baby when you spend time playing with them! Hopefully this little tutorial will help!

 

Feeding Your Baby: Teach Your Baby Strong Emotional Skills Naturally!

Have fun trying first foods with your baby!

The most important idea to remember when feeding your baby new foods: Emotional foundations are laid when baby is eating.

There are, of course, hundreds of baby- and toddler-oriented cookbooks to help you with meal ideas, and so many great organic baby-food pouches you can buy. Great! But how do you get the food in? And how do you help your baby feel like they are good little eaters? Easy….

Tons of Exploring to warm up! The feeding chair is a place of great curiosity.

Tons of Exploring to warm up! The feeding chair is a place of great curiosity and safety.

Parent Referencing: When your baby is unsure about something, they look to see your facial expression for a hint. This is so important to emotional and social neuron formation! They look at you and if you are smiling, they know it is OK to explore the food. If you are angry, scowling, frustrated, or distracted, and your eyes, face and body position show it, they will tense up or won’t be sure if the food is OK. Who likes to eat when they’re all stressed out, right? Teaching kids to trust that you are there for them during feeding builds the foundation for kids with good social skills and self-regulation later.

Look at the focus on baby! Asking

Look at the focus on baby! Asking “This looks great, but I’m not sure. Mom, is this OK?”

This food is Wicked Good....or maybe just Wicked! I don't know but I'm willing to try.

This food is Wicked Good….or maybe just Wicked! I don’t know but I’m willing to try.

Don’t give up too soon! New foods and new textures seem to get the same response. It’s a response that says”What in the world is this?” Usually, baby will spit out some food while making silly (and sometimes horrid) faces! Add texture slowly and combine it with a pureed food that baby likes. An example would be fruit with a small amount of baked chicken breast pureed in the food processor. For more recipes go here.* This is OK around 8 months and I love to do this with bananas or avocado.  It takes 10 to 15 tries for a new food to be accepted. Don’t give up! And take it slow!

Look at me! I can handle this! What is this anyway?”

This is your chance to eat well!  Moms model that the food is safe. Babies reach for mom’s and dad’s mouth to learn what is safe to eat, so let your baby explore. This means you can’t eat junk food and processed food if you want your baby to eat and be healthy. Remember, food is always better than cold and flu medications, so it pays off to put in the effort. I usually cook healthy items for our family dinner that I can puree in the food processor. I have the food processor ready and clean most of the time!

By the end of meal time, baby is more confident! “Mom, I so got this! Don’t Mess with my mess! Bring it on mama!”

The last idea is basic (Sometimes I still forget). Make sure baby is hungry. Not too hungry, or you’ll need to get her started with a bottle or breast to calm her down. With solid foods, regular feeding times work best for me because I can get a feel for times of day when she is most hungry and then plan my food prep around that.

puree banan and peaches with chicken new

Breastfeeding Secrets

 

Breastfeeding Joys are as many as grains of sand.

Breastfeeding Joys are as many as grains of sand.

Breastfeeding is hard work, but joyful in so many ways. Its an experience in which so many women should be supported and encouraged, as well as celebrated for doing.  So here are  2 great breastfeeding secrets to make life easier! I found both by accident really, living in Pittsburgh, one when I had my first daughter, and the 2nd when my dear friend Jacki had her second child. I would assume you could find these great secrets in other cities too.

I say these are secrets, because I was not told about them, but rather stumbled upon them. Because my doctors did not discussing these helpful breastfeeding aids, I assume yours might not eaither. So…I will.

Both of these items made a HUGE difference in my breastfeeding success. Without these 2 items, as well as my husband’s patience and support for the first 3 months on, I don’t think I would have been able to nurse. Breastfeeding is hard work, and these two items definitely make it easier.

Breastfeeding Secret #1: Newman’ Nipple Cream

I used this cream to sooth my sore nipple during the first few weeks. This cream gave me relief when I needed it. My nipples were so sore when I started nursing, i could only wear my husband shirts. I had no idea how I was going to leave the house in my strange outfits let alone keep nursing. After using this cream, I breathed a sign of relief. It was good enough to keep me going, and I am now gratefully at 6 months nursing.

It is a light cream that has an analgesic, anit-fungal and anti-bacterial property to it, and it can only be purchased at a compounding pharmacy. It was $35.

SO…where can you get it? I originally got a prescription from the doctors at the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh  and got it compounded at the Murray Avenue Apothicary. With my second daughter, my physician, Dr. Galligher prescribed it after I told him how much discomfort I was in the first time around.

Breastfeeding Secret #2: Breast Friend Breastfeeding Pillow

Can a pillow really be your best friend? In times of trouble….YES! The Breast Friend pillow was recommended after my friend had trouble nursing and was given the “Breast Friend” pillow to try. She said she couldn’t have done it without her “breast friend” and nursed for over a year with it. I use it whenever I need a positioning shift or baby needs to focus on eating.

The pillow is designed for perfect ergonomic comfort for both baby and mom, and has even stopped some nursing behaviors we were experiencing this time around due to it’s awesome support and comfort for baby.  It works in so many different chairs too, even some that are not very supportive or ideal for breast feeding. I LOVE THIS PILLOW. It is my best friend.

So for all Pittsburgh breastfeeding mom’s, let me first say that “You are awesome for doing the hard work required to breastfeed.” For all Pittsburgh pregnant mom’s hoping to nurse, I wish you the best and offer these two items that I would never be caught without again. For mom’s everywhere, I hope you can get these products in your hometown too and I wish you all the joys possible from breastfeeding your baby!

Ol’ New Years Eve: Festive Favors for Kids that Teach Cultural Diversity

Out families New Years Eve Favors!

Out families New Years Eve Favors!

It’s time to celebrate the New Year to come AND to recycle the cardboard rolls from paper towels and toilet paper, AND clean up that extra wrapping paper laying around the house AND put use to all the little its and bits of small toys the kids have collected over the past holiday month! And one New Years Eve Favor can do it all!

Additionally, this favor is culturally diverse, at least for all of us outside of the United Kingdom. While visiting London for a New Year’s Eve celebration, I learned of these little party favors and was delighted. My favor had a silly pair of glasses and a bit of chocolate, with the other people in my party having equally fun items inside. The rest of the night involved dancing, chatting, and playing with a fun favor surprises.

Several of my friends who are originally from England, or who had family there, told me that these favors are very much a tradition, one that they still follow around Christmas and New Years. I had seen the favors in markets around the holidays before, but now knowing how much fun they bring to holiday parties, I decided to make my own.

English Holiday Favors: Culturally Diverse and Fun

This is a super easy craft that is fun for kids and toddlers alike, although I find the toddlers actually like tearing into them on New Years Eve the best! All you needs is:

paper rolls

wrapping paper

tape

string

small toys, or stickers (whatever is size safe for you home and kids; ie NOT choking hazards)

safe, age appropriate snacks, like popcorn or crackers

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Simply fill the tubes to your delight, tape on scrap wrapping papers around the roll, twist the ends and tie with string. They look delightful and make a great centerpiece for the New Years table! We are having a dipping buffet this year, and think our metallic tray with these favors adds the perfect accent to create a festive feel in our home.

This is a great activity for fine motor skills too, all while having fun and being successful.  Tearing tape, cutting paper, manipulation of safe small objects, and practice tying knots all work great for early skill development. So this year you can feel like a Swami Mommi, while ringing in the New Year with a festive favor to boot!

All we need is fancy string to tie off each end!

All we need is fancy string to tie off each end!

Happy New Year with blessings of health, prosperity, and Joy all Year! Happy 2015!