An Apple A Day, Growth Vs Nutrition.

20131114-103413.jpgWas the first year of your baby’s life blighted by that WHO growth chart. Each weigh in, exciting, but tinged with just a little fear…failure to thrive, dropping off the curve, supplementing suggestions, early weaning…

Then the solids start, and the mission to bulk up continues.

Food becomes such a focus, but is it for the right reasons?

There are many reasons why a healthy, varied and fun diet is so important in those first months and years…but only at the bottom of my list of reasons will you find the growth chart.

Here are a few of the reasons why I try to focus on variety and enjoyment of food, rather than pure old weight gain.

Variety is the spice of life…

It is believed that the taste for flavour begins in the womb, literally, by flavouring the amniotic fluid! What you eat in pregnancy supposedly going on to affect you baby’s tastes as the grow up. The idea continues with breast milk, not only a constantly evolving source of nutrition but of changing flavour too. It is another way of potentially influencing tiny taste buds and preparing them for a variety of foods.

So the idea continues from birth to 12 months. This is a time when baby is most receptive to new tastes and textures, the theory being that exposing them to as many flavours and foods as possible in these early months means that they will continue with all of these recognisable foods and hopefully be as adventurous going forward in life.

Iron deficiency

Quite a major reason for a varied diet, particularly in a breast fed child, is the lack of iron in breast milk. Around six months when the digestive system is fully formed (please read my article on the virgin gut) and baby’s reserves of iron are all but gone, it is important to introduce some good sources of iron like beans, peas, lentils, broccoli, green leafy vegetables and dried fruit. Knowing you need to incorporate such specific foods can make you quite creative, my guy loved this spinach and lentil dahl for an iron boost and a more exotic alternative to broccoli!!

Strong skeleton, strong mind…

The adult skeleton normally contains 206 bones.  Babies on the other hand have a different mix of over 300 different bones and cartilage parts. One you probably know about, the cranium, start off as three separate plates which shift and move to allow for passage of the baby’s head through the birth canal.  As the baby grows, these plates fuse into one cranium, that soft fontanelle disappears.

All bones start off as cartilage, but many are still cartilage at the time of birth. Cartilage turns into bone over time through a process called ossification.

Calcium is obviously the big factor in bone development.  A diet rich in calcium is vital for your child.  But bones are a made up of more than just calcium…collagen water, phosphorus, magnesium, and other minerals are all found in bone…so they are all as important as calcium in making bone!

Vitamin C from citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, and other fruits and vegetables is essential for making collagen, the connective tissue that minerals cling to when bone is formed.

Vitamin K is thought to stimulate bone formation. It is found mainly in dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, but is also available in beans, soy, and some fruits and vegetables.

Potassium decreases the loss of calcium from the body and increases the rate of bone building. Oranges, bananas, potatoes, and many other fruits, vegetables, and beans are all rich sources of potassium.

Magnesium, like calcium, is an important bone mineral. Studies have shown higher magnesium intakes to be associated with stronger bones. “Beans and greens”—legumes and green leafy vegetables—are excellent sources of magnesium.

Fruits and vegetables are also important for what they don’t do. Some foods—especially cheeses, meats, fish, and some grains—make the blood more acidic when digested and metabolized. These foods add to the body’s “acid load.” When this happens, bone minerals, especially calcium, are often pulled from the bones to neutralize these acids.  Diets high in fruits and vegetables actually tip the acid-base scales in the opposite direction and make it easier for bones to hold onto their calcium. (Source: PCRM)

So variety really is more important than quantity?

When you understand the importance of developing good lifelong eating habits and growing bones and growing every other element of a child’s body, it becomes clear that pure weight gain is just a by-product of all of this.

Were you a slave to the growth chart, were you terrified of dropping down a percentile??  Do you think less importance should be placed on that growth chart, or do you think it is an important indication of a healthy child.  Please comment to let me know your thoughts.

Sources

http://pcrm.org/health/health-topics/parents-guide-to-building-better-bones

http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_info/Bone/Bone_Health/Juvenile/default.asp

My Own Kitchen Helper

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Pinterest is such an inspiring platform, from toddler activities to hair-do ideas, home crafting, cake baking and room decorating, one pin leads you on a journey of discovery to as many ideas as your brain can handle. I am a little hooked!

While I was searching for montessori style practical life ideas, I spotted something in the background of one kitchen. It was a wooden step stool on a grand scale, like a personal kiddie castle, enclosed on all sides and perfect for raising any little guy to task alongside you in safety in the kitchen.

After a little Googling, I found the exact stepping stool in question.

The The Learning Tower by Little Partners.

At £100 ($200) it seemed a little expensive, maybe there was a more reasonably priced alternative.

…A little more Googling and I realised it was a fairly unique product.  A few other products, like the FunPod by Little Helper, the Guidecraft Kitchen Helper,  were almost as expensive as the Learning Tower, but in my opinion, not terribly attractive.

But I wanted one now, should I buy it?

Of course not…

Not when there is MDF in the world!

DIY isn’t my strong point, I like to think it is, but it is a bit like baking, I try really hard and the results never reflect my efforts. But I am determined to make this work, the wood is cut, it is laid out ready for assembly, I am now just looking at it…and thinking about it…and thinking about it…and looking at it!

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Getting my wood cut!

Tonight I will print the plans out and take them to bed, this is what I will be dreaming about!

A Taxing Task For Mum, Advanced Vegetables!

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This would have been a fantastically simple exercise…had I not decided to make my own flashcards! The printer and I battled it out for nearly two and a half hours of nap time. Dinner and housework were totally abandoned in my quest to produce these printed vegetable cards.

As you probably know by now I love to make things myself. Ok, I didn’t turn those super cute wooden vegetables by hand on a lathe, but what I wanted, right at that moment, was a handful of flashcards to try out a really simple matching activity.

I made seven different cards, (the radish, card number eight, sadly met a sticky end at the sharp point of my scissors) and left them on his little table to see if he showed any interest…

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It wasn’t until the following morning that the little guy had a peek at the vegetables sitting in the basket on the table, as he climbed onto his chair I lay just one card in front of him, and picked out the matching vegetable. I then lay down a second card to see if he would reach for anything.

…He grabbed at everything!!!

…It was like a test to see if mummy could retrieve the matching cards fast enough!

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I think it will be one activity that we will see a progression with. It may be the most complex task that has been presented to him so far, and I hope we enjoy learning and growing this activity.

Sorting objects or toys, be it according to size, colour or category, helps children develop their intellect. Matching and sorting goes one step further to help with problem solving and categorising.

What I find interesting is that the ability to see patterns of any form, is helpful when learning the patterns of language in speaking and writing. Sorting, matching and sequencing are a way for a child to recognise differences and similarities visually, and while my little guy is not ready for words and numbers, these basic vegetable skills may be setting him up to tackle those advanced numeracy and literacy skills later on.

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There are hundreds of free downloadable templates online, I simply copied and pasted into keynote, four to a page, to match the vegetables we had in our selection. I printed them onto glossy paper and then cut them into individual cards.

Sounds simple! I found it more than a little taxing! You could buy a set of cards, or cut the pictures from magazines of catalogues, or even from an old children’s book from a thrift store. but I liked the fact that I could just use the objects we had already, and print out some matching pictures without having to spend out on anything expensive.

I have totally fallen for these beautiful Michael Olaf fruit and vegetable cards cards though (spotted on howwemontessori) which I may invest in as I see the little guy progress with his matching if he enjoys it.

Nursing At Sixteen Months, Feeling The Pressure!

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Where are my boobs??

Entering into the world of extended breastfeeding wasn’t as terrifying as you might imagine.

The little guy gradually started nursing less often, it became more about comfort and less about quantity. Nursing seemed confined to home, perhaps it was boredom feeding, more often than not it was me using my milk to get him to settle for sleep. We were rarely feeding on the run or while out and about because the world is so much more exciting to look at than the same old boobs!

At sixteen months old, breastfeeding a fully fledged toddler with twelve teeth and a few words in his vocabulary seems perfectly normal to both of us. To close friends and family, it isn’t that strange either, maybe just a little bit, but not strange enough for them to question me about my choice.

And then totally out of the blue, in the middle of a busy playgroup, he came running over to me and began tugging at my shirt. Of course without thinking, we started feeding perched on a windowsill. I looked out across the room to watch the other kids splattering shaving creme and glitter up the walls and all of a sudden…there they were

Two women, crossed arms, staring at me feeding my toddler!

Probably for the first time in my breastfeeding experience, I felt slightly awkward!

It occurred to me that they may find the whole scene slightly awkward…embarrassing…odd?!?

Anyway, not one to be deterred, I gave myself a quick reality check, flashed them a big smile and a giggle and carried on.

A recently published report came to mind, one stating that the confidence of a mother may affect breastfeeding success. The Journal of Advanced Nursing published a report that found that mothers who are more extroverted and less anxious are more likely to breastfeed and to continue to breastfeed than mothers who are introverted or anxious. (Source: Wiley)

So do you feel that a mums personality may go some way towards her breastfeeding success and longevity?

I certainly felt a fleeting pang of embarrassment, but another mum may have been totally mortified and quit breastfeeding then and there.

Generally, I feel inclined to disagree with the findings of the report, that less confident personality traits mean breastfeeding failure is imminent. Myself, the shyest, most private kind of mother, I became totally liberated by the experience of breastfeeding, and make a point of publicly feeding with the hope of inspiring another shy mum to do the same for her child.

I do agree that emotional stability is a more likely contributing factor, health professionals need to tune into all of these underlying personality traits in order to offer the best support and advice.

Let me know about your experience, are you shy, did it affect your confidence to breastfeed, did you lose all inhibitions to do what you felt had to be done?  I also did some research into the benefits of breast milk past one year which you can read here.

Stacking And Scooping, Bringing Montessori Into The Home.

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When the time came to start thinking about nursery and pre-school for my little guy, it didn’t take much research to find that the Montessori approach really resonated me.  When the guy was tiny, we often remarked on his concentration on the smallest of things, like nothing else existed around him just that one object…

Then I found this quote:

“A child’s different inner sensibilities enable him to choose from his complex environment what is suitable and necessary for his growth. They make the child sensitive to some things, but leave him indifferent to others. When a particular sensitiveness is aroused in a child, it is like a light that shines on some objects but not others, making of them his whole world.
The Secret of Childhood p. 42, Chap 7

Montessori concentrates on these sensitive periods, using them as a guide to focus on a particular area of learning that each individual child is receptive too.

I LoVe that idea, so for pre-scool at least, Montessori is my first choice.

It will be a little while before he starts attending official sessions at nursery, but in anticipation of that time, I am trying to start to bring some Montessori play into our home.  I am slowly filtering in some new activities and clearing some shelves to have these activities within easy reach.

Starting in the playroom seems obvious, but hopefully we will roll out activities into different areas of the house like the kitchen and bathroom.

The activities are so simple, but teach so much.  I never thought this simple spooning activity would occupy him for so long, but, he was riveted for a good five minutes, the concentration was incredible!!

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It teaches coordination and concentration, spooning into a bowl without spilling the grain.  I chose some dried black beans so they would contrast with the cream carpet and he could see them clearly to pick up when he missed the bowl.

Of course it was always going to end like this!!

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Every little person probably has some stacking toys at home, so instead of throwing each hoop onto the hard floor to make a noise, I made the effort to show him how to stack them properly.  In a nice clear and clean space, he actually started stacking, not throwing!

It seems too simple, but it is a great way to develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and a sense of order, something which Montessori understands to be a trait of all children to be developed.

20131027-144040.jpg 20131027-144053.jpgI will add to the collection of activities as I gather materials and ideas, so come back and have a look soon.  Meanwhile, why not try out some homemade paint!

Have fun, and feel free to comment and share more ideas with me.

Homemade Non-Toxic Paint For Crafty Toddlers!

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Now I don’t suppose there is anything wrong with a bottle of paint from the craft store, kids the world over have been painting anything and everything with it, tasting it and treading it into cream carpets in many a home.  But there is something so satisfying in making your own paint, a smug arty glow before the kids have even begun to create their own masterpieces!

I have always ben a bit of a scientist at heart, so I guess that cooking up some cornstarch paint is my bit of messy play before the little guy gets stuck in.

It is so simple to make, it washes off little hands so easily, and it is totally non toxic and edible (not tasty) so kids of all ages can join in…even the ones who just want to taste the brushes and sample the bright colours!  Along with the basic cornstarch and water mix, I used some natural food colourings from the supermarket, these contain paprika, tumeric and spirulina to get their vibrancy so I felt comfortable that everything was mouth friendly.

How to make the paint…

1/2 cup cornstarch/cornflower
2-4 cups water
Colouring of your choice

Add the cornstarch to a pan and slowly add 2 cups of water to make a smooth mixture.

Begin to heat the mixture, gently stirring.

As the mixture starts to turn lumpy, remove from the heat but continue to stir until a smooth, thick, gloopy mixture is made.

Slowly mix in 1-2 extra cups of cold water to thin the mixture to the desired consistency.  You can use it as a very thick paste to paint and squish with your fingers, but we like it a little thinner for brushes and sponges.

Divide into separate containers and stir in desired colours.

We covered the table with some plastic sheeting and set out brushes, paper, cardboad etc…

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Then you just need to add a kid!!  Or two!!

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The quantities left plenty to be stored for a rainy day…but use it within a week.

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Making My Grand Return, Toddler In Tow.

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It has been two months since my last post. A lot has happened. Such a short space of time in which so much has changed, and life marches on leaving you struggling in the ripples it leaves behind.

Just a couple of months ago, life was a different entity all together. A trauma involving a good friend became my priority, she needed me, so I had to be there with my full focus. Then the more trivial bits…some major home improvements, a case of foot and mouth, a very poorly little guy, and all of a sudden I realised just how much time had passed.

So after my disappearance, I am easing back into the all consuming world of blogging with a nice simple post. If I don’t do this one, I have a feeling that three months, then six months then a year may pass with my blog gathering dust.

My sixteen month old little guy is a fully fledged toddler, he has dropped a nap, he sleeps slightly better at night (one feed instead of four!) and he gets VeRy bored indoors, no longer content to play with a few toys on the lounge floor!

Day to day at the moment involves constantly entertaining, stimulating and interacting with a very inquisitive and hands on little guy with the attention span of a goldfish. Playgroups, messy play, animals, art exhibitions, swimming, anything to keep him occupied.

…but it has been really rewarding.

Seeing him understand how to handle a paintbrush and splodge paint around, hold a stick of chalk and make shapes on the chalk board, sit at his little table and tap on his keyboard making phone calls on a remote control, playing with the contents of his mini kitchen.

My favourite time is letting him play while exploring textures, that’s why I love painting, play dough, salt dough, sand and water. Over the next few posts I will post up a few really simple recipes for totally edible and homemade art ideas.

I hope you have fun getting mucky…

P.S. We are still breastfeeding!!