Guest Post: The Crunchy Lion

I am so excited to introduce you to today's guest blogger! Adria is a beautiful inspiring stay at home mommy. I love reading her blog and becoming inspired by her teaching techniques. It is so nice to have other SAHM blogs to read to help me structure my own parenting styles. She helps me find new ways of looking at teaching little ones about the world around them.

Hello there, I'm Adria from The Crunchy Lion! Thank you so much to my sweet friend Kelly for asking if I would do a guest post! I started my blog when my daughter, Iris, was about five months old. It's been a way of recording her milestones, discussing my thoughts about parenting, and educating my family and friends about my somewhat alternative ways of child rearing.

I am very passionate about getting back to basics when it comes to childbirth and parenting. I support breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering, and gentle, conscious parenting. I am also a proud military wife to my wonderful husband Marius, who is currently deployed to Iraq. I've been blogging a lot lately about the things my daughter is learning so that her Papa can stay involved in her daily life. This leads me to thinking about how I go about teaching Iris. I haven't researched the way children learn or anything like that - so these are my observations and reflections on how I raise my baby. Kelly suggested that I might write about this subject, so here we go!

Iris just turned one year old and already uses about nine words, can point to seven different body parts and understands basic concepts like "cold/hot" or "dirty". The keys to teaching her all of this? Communication, connection and repetition (and I mean a lot of repetition.) I'm a stay-at-home mama, so I have plenty of time on my hands to be one-on-one with Iris, especially with Marius being deployed.

It's suggested that you read out loud to your infants, but I definitely felt a little awkward doing that when she was a newborn. Instead, I decided to become the narrator of her world - I talked about the who/what/where/when/why of everything. Even when she was still only babbling I would ask her questions, use exclamations when she did something to be proud of, and was rather dramatic with my expressions and tone of voice. Children begin to understand tone of voice and body language very early on. Supposedly, over 90% of all human communication is through body language and expression! So, everything that your child takes in about the world is based upon watching you. "Monkey see, monkey do" takes on a whole new, important meaning.

When learning with your baby, it's important to get down to their level first. Engage with eye contact, connect with them and make sure they are present and in the moment with you. Be open to them and they will open up to you as well. As a child grows, brain cells are created and synapses connect them as the child learns. I follow the same concept of "connecting the dots," so to speak. Here's an exercise to try. Start by holding out a cup (I use stacking cups) and say "this is a cup." Let the child process, and slowly repeat, "a cup, this is a cup, a cup." Hand it to them and let them explore "cup". Talk about the cup and what you do with a cup, just keep repeating the word. Stick with that one object until you think they understand that the word "cup" is associated with it (could be days or even weeks depending on the complexity of the word or object). Then you could hold out the cup and say, "this is a red cup. a red cup. the cup is red." And repeat!

Be very matter of fact about it and remember that they understand what your body and tone of voice are saying. If you sound mocking, forceful or frustrated, they will pick up on that. If you sound enthusiastic, curious and playful, they will be much more open to learning with you! This is where the web of associations can stem from. If your baby knows the words "cup" and "red", you can repeat the same activity with "a red ball" or "a cup of water".

I also always demonstrate concepts as best I can. For example, I taught Iris "cold" during bath time. After I take her out and dry her, I put lotion on her. She recently started shivering a little bit when I did this so I became very dramatic by rubbing my arms, chattering my teeth and saying "brrrr it's cold!" After a week or so of doing this every night, she will now chatter her teeth and say "ruh-ruh-ruh," when we talk about the cold. I also made a big deal about putting shoes on to go for a walk outside. Now, if I ask if she wants to go for a walk outside, she goes to get her shoes for me as though to say "yes, please!"

I set the stage for Iris' learning with simple toys, mostly made of wood or fabric. I like toys with a purpose; things that are colorful but not flashy or overstimulating. Basic toys are great for learning things like colors, shapes, and numbers. They also encourage pretend play. Our home is completely baby proof and Iris has access to her toys, books, clothes, diapers and just about everything other than the cat litter box and electronics! She also sleeps in a low-bed which she can get in and out of all by herself. Our little girl really values her independence and individuality as her own little person who is a part of our family.

Iris teaches me too; sometimes she really surprises me with a connection she's made on her own! It's also important not to overlook a the other ways in which babies communicate, like crying and body language. It's really exciting for me to learn new things with Iris! Engaging with her, being with her in the moment and sharing my enthusiasm with her creates a flow of magical energy which moves through us and from which we both benefit! It is in those moments where I can plant the seeds and her learning blossoms. Every baby learns and develops at their own pace, just as adults do. What's really important is showing how exciting and wonderful the world truly is!

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