Tools for Teaching 2 Year Olds The Alphabet

Since the girls have been successfully counting from 1 to 10 for a while now, I decided to tackle the alphabet next. Just like when learning numbers, what works best for us is making this fun and part of everyday life. Here's a short list of tools / educational toys that have really helped the girls learn their letters.
  1. The Alphaberry: Santa brought this over for Christmas. Basically, with this toy the child pushes a letter and the alphaberry says what the letter is out loud. It also has a button that when pushed sings the alphabet song. This toy gets bonus points for having an adjustable volume control. I take the bonus points back because the battery compartment was screwed on so thigh that I am now unable to change the dead batteries on one of them
  2. Schylling magnetic letters: I bought a magnetic whiteboard (available from Costco and Walmart for less that $10) and mounted it on the wall. On it I have wooden magnetic letter blocks and the girls love this. They pick up a letter and bring to me to tell them what it is or sometimes they tell me what it is. I specifically went for the Schylling letters because their magnets are flat unlike the button shaped ones that can become a choking hazard. This setup has also been useful in teaching shapes. (Unfortunately I can't find a link that shows what we have but any magnetic alphabet kit would do as long as it doesn't have button-shaped magnets)

There are other toys and books for learning the alphabet but these two are the ones that I think have had the most impact on the girls while being fun. So, is it working? Well last week when I took them to buy their ukuleles, we got out of the car, they looked up at the Future Store sign and said four things. Sugar said "T" and "O"; Spice said "U" and "triangle". (There's 2 triangles on the Future Shop logo)

This mama's heart just about burst with pride.

Potty Training Twins - Week 2 and 3

My last potty training update was Tuesday of the first week. What has happened since then?

Ms Spice:
Will sit on the potty but won't do anything. I've concluded that she's physically and mentally able to use the potty but emotionally has decided it's going to be a power struggle between the two of us. I think this will be counterproductive and a lose-lose situation so starting this week, I have her back in diapers. We'll try again in a few months

Ms Sugar:
Had a couple of accidents in that first one week and quickly figured out that going to potty is the solution. Both in school and at home she will say "potty" when she wants to go. She successfully went for the whole of last week without an accident. 

Right now she's capable of going to the bathroom by herself and taking care of business without adult supervision (she'll even bring the potty to where TwinDad and I are so we can "admire" her work). She's not ready to poop in the potty yet and will wait to do it in her undergarments. We'll wait to work on that as she's done a couple of times and may consider pooping in a potty a scary thing

What didn't work:
*  Peer pressure: Seeing Sugar use the potty regularly and get rewarded has not been enough to motivate Spice
*  Asking regularly: Sugar gets irritated if I ask her to go potty at regular intervals. She wants to be asked to go only when there's a deposit to be made
*  Forgetting the rewards: Flushing automatically instead of letting the victorious toddler do it. It's enough to cause a major meltdown

What worked:
*  Home arrangement: Creating a clear path between wherever the girls were and the toilet. The gates stayed open and the lights in the toilet stayed on. This way, when they realise they want to go, they can dash down before an accident occurs. I think this was instrumental in making Sugar very independent with the going to potty business.
*  Peer pressure: Spice actually peed in the potty a couple of times before deciding it wasn't her thing. Sugar wanted the high fives Spice was getting and that was one of her motivating factors
*  Simple rewards: The only rewards I give are high fives and the "honor" of flushing and wearing the monkey underwear
*  Understanding the personalities involved: Sugar thrives on competition so peer pressure worked for her. Spice is very self aware and when she says "No" she means it. I know that until she agrees to pee in the potty, she won't. (Yes she's told me "No peepee in the potty" every time we've actually had that conversation)

Notes on Pull Ups
There's a school of thought that believes that pull-ups slow down the potty training process. I haven't observed that with Sugar as regardless of if she's wearing pullups or cotton underwear, she'll go to the potty. 

Project 52 Photos 2013; Week 2

This is the week where we break the tabs on the first of our size 3T clothes. 

Sugar in pic above checked out all the labels on the clothes and then ripped them all off and threw in the trash. Spice in pic below put on her "Princess Ariel" costume and checked out the fit of the clothes just as she's seen mommy do.

The girls and I spent Saturday morning checking out which 3Tclothes would fit and which ones were still too big; plus weeding out the too short 2T clothes. It was a lot of fun for me and made me realize that the girls had too many size 2T clothes. I'm currently stocking their 4T clothes box and will definitely be focusing more on quality than quantity now that the clothes are supposed to last a year. 

These photos are for week 2 of my Project 52 for 2013. My goal is to take at least one picture every week and write a note to the girls on it. Some weeks will have pictures of the girls together and some weeks will be individual pictures of each girl.

*   Samantha of Cherry Pie Twins is also doing a weekly photo project to document life with her precious 2 year old twins. It's worth checking out.

*   Melissa at MaMe Musings is also sharing weekly photos of her twins that make her smile like peas and cheese

If you're doing a similar project this year, do let me know and I'll put your link in my weekly posts. 

Most Under-Appreciated Baby Item

A boppy pillow was one of those items a lot of moms raved about and I had on my wishlist while pregnant with the twins. Since I already had a brand new twin breastfeeding pillow, I decided to buy a used boppy pillow from one of my colleagues. H was selling it for $10 and for an additional $5 he offered to throw in a digital baby scale. For 5 bucks, I got my most under-appreciated baby item - the Redmon Weight to Grow digital baby scale.
The updated version of our Weight to Grow baby scale

Apart from when we were in transition and our things were in storage, I've used this scale every month to monitor the girls' growth. I've found the scale to be very accurate and it gives their weigh to the nearest half ounce i.e it gives weight readings like 24lbs 9.5oz.

Does every baby need to be measured monthly? No.
Do twins need to be measured monthly? Probably not.
Do twins born to a mother with a vivid imagination need to be measured monthly? Absolutely

How does having a digital weight scale help me?
It makes it easier to track the effect of dietary changes on their growth. After their second birthday, I switched the girls away from their 3.25% fat milk with a scoop of toddler formula. Instead they now get 2% lactaid milk which is a lot less calories than they used to get. Sugar is on the 10th percentile line and does not need to be dropping calories. I assume that eating more solids would make up for the reduced calorie intake and growth will not be impacted. . If their growth is impacted, my digital scale will be the first signal that something is wrong.

I was going to give this scale away until I discovered it goes up to 44lbs. Now I plan on keeping it. There are many babyscales around but the Redmon Weight to grow is the only one I've used and I can recommend it to any parent who has reason to want to keep an eye on their kids' weight. In 2+ years I haven't had to chance a battery. Brand new, it's fairly pricey - around $75 in various online stores so if a colleague ever comes to the office and offers to sell you one, take him up on the offer.

Potty Training Twins - Days 2 to 4

Day 2 Sunday:
*  We went to church. I had the girls in pull-ups

*  It was my birthday and I had a surprise lunch/dinner date without the girls

*  My only contribution to potty training was to go buy the Walmart branded training pants (cause you know I can't resist doing a comparison with the popular brand names plus it costs half as much!)

Day 3 Monday:
*  Once the girls woke up, I put them on the potty for a few minutes but nothing was deposited. I think I need to catch them earlier but I don't want to interrupt those first few minutes of cuddling every morning

*  The girls wore pull-ups to daycare AND Spice made a peepee in the toilet one time. I celebrate all progress. 

*  Once we got home in the evening and had dinner, I tried the "hallway confinement" style again. This time Spice was the one to dash to the potty and deposit a small peepee. As reward, she got to flush. (I did wonder why the volume was really small. I got my answer the next morning). Sugar held it in till bedtime

Day 4 Tuesday:  
*  Spice woke up DRY! I'm trying not to hyperventilate in excitement here. I'll still have her sleep in diapers a few more nights but maybe by this weekend, we'll try napping in big girl undies. 

*  Once again, I tried to put them on the potty in the morning before heading out. Sugar said "No potty". Spice refused to sit but was doing the potty dance and asked for a diaper. Ah ha! Turns out she was scared of using the potty. Luckily this was one of the things I was anticipating from reading the blogs of other twin moms. I cajoled and coaxed her and just waited it out. When the first trickles started I put her on the potty and she did her thing. I discussed this with the daycare teacher and she thinks Spice may be better off in underwear. She's always hated being wet or dirty so maybe her dislike of that will help her overcome her dislike of the potty. We'll see

* Tuesday evening was a repeat of the morning. I patiently confined all 3 of us to the bathroom and after the better part of an hour, Spice peed in the potty. Sugar was determined to hold it until bedtime when she got a diaper.

What didn't work:
*  Changes to routine: I think Sugar was grumpy about sitting on the potty Tuesday morning because I hadn't given her the first cup of milk for the day. Normally it's wake up-cuddle-milk. When I switched it up to wake up-cuddle-no milk-potty, she was super-irritated and unwilling to humour me
*  Flushing sounds and running the tap

What worked:
*  A very attentive mommy. Catching those first trickles and helping them make the connection between the "gotta-go" feeling and sitting on the potty is the objective for now. This means when I sit in the hallway patiently waiting for the pee to come, no phone distractions.  
*  Sounds of the shower
*  Understanding that this process can be very scary and emotional for the twins and being ready to address that. The way Mandy handled her daughter's emotions during the potty training process has always stuck with me since I read her post over a year ago. I confess that if I hadn't read that post, I may not have been so patient in handling Spice's fear of sitting on the potty. I've also had to deal with Sugar being extra clingy especially when she's trying to hold her pee in.

Notes on Potty Training and Parenting Style
I read and reviewed the Motherstyles book a while back and strongly recommend it for everyone. One thing about parenting in an over-informed era is that there are so many schools for everything. 

I chose this slow, sequential style of potty training because that's what goes most with my personal style of doing things. With reading the Motherstyles book, I also learnt that I would need to work hard to "get" some of the emotional stages that kids will go through. That knowledge is what makes me follow moms like Mandy who have very obvious strengths when it come to understanding kiddie emotions. And believe me, potty training is a VERY emotional time for both the trainers and the trainee

I'll like to take this moment to say thank you to all the fabulous Mom bloggers who keep it real on their blog and provide a learning resource for the rest of us.

To be continued next week? next month? Sometime!

Day 1 Potty Training Twins

So I've survived my first weekend of potty training twins (Mr Jack Daniels was not so lucky) and here's the report card on what I'm hopeful will be a very short and successful process. 

Supplies on hand for the weekend of potty training at home:  
Two pottys (1 Baby Bjorn and 1 Arm & Hammer) in the girl's bathroom. 
12 big girl panties
Toddler wipes (Kandoo brand)
Teeshirts, capris and leggings

Day 1 Summary:
*  We had several clothing changes and underwear changes due to around 7 accidents
*  The girls napped in their diapers. I'm not ready to cross that bridge yet
*  I stayed home all day and did the laundry at the end of the day

Obstacles to success:
Watching TV. The girls get so absorbed that they ignore their body cues. It's better to have them involved in play that's less engrossing

What didn't work:
*  Taking them to the potty every 30 minutes. With kids that are able to communicate and fairly aware of their bodies, they just found my behaviour aggravating
*  Treating them like adults; when they said no potty, I believed them. I shouldn't have
*  Not trusting my instincts that they'll want to go after a meal or snack so keep to it until they put something in the potty
*  Making them sit until they pee. Because there's two of them they just play and play and are too distracted to put anything in the potty

What worked:
Eliminating ALL distractions. I finally got to this point after dinner. I knew they would want to pee, so I confined all three of us to the bathroom and adjourning hallway. All other doors were closed and toys put away. Their only option was to run in and out of the bathroom. I didn't insist they sit on the potty, I just sat on the floor and waited. The girls were wearing only teeshirts - naked from waist down. 

Soon, I saw Sugar dashing to her potty just as the first trickles started. She made her first peepee in the potty *insert clapping, hooping and hollering*. I was quite proud and she felt quite good with herself as well. Her reward was that she got to wear her "monkey" underwear and a hat and go into the parlour to watch TV. Spice asked for the same perks but I told her I needed some pee in the pot first. 

Day 1 started out looking like a fail but ended up much better than I expected. I started this journey planning to only potty train Spice because I thought Sugar wasn't emotionally or mentally ready. I'm glad to be wrong. 

Day 2 report to come tomorrow.

Notes on this Potty Training Twins Series
I'm writing this series to document my successes and missteps in attempting to potty train my almost 26 month old twin girls. I hope that this will come in useful for another parent of twins but I have to include a caveat that to be successful, potty training has to be personalised. What works for our family may not necessarily work for anyone else. Here's a summary of our specific situation and what informed our choices:

  • I work outside the home 5 days a week and the twins attend daycare so I've decided that my active potty training will be evenings when we get home and on weekends. On weekdays the girls get pullups and scheduled potty time in the daycare
  • My twins are young toddlers so most of the steps will be tailored to their age 

Preparing to Potty Train Twins

It's finally time to bite the bullet and start actively potty training the twins. The process has been a while in the making and now I think we're ready to take the plunge as all the preparation steps have been taken. What steps?

    Baby Bjorn Extra Comfort Chair - I love the high back
  1. Buy 2 potty seats. We own 1 Baby Bjorn, 1 Arm & Hammer and 2 Bambino Mio pottys - 2 pottys for each level of the house. My favorite is the Baby Bjorn and I would recommend that for younger toddlers like mine. It's important to have at least 1 potty per child. If I had to do it again, I wouldn't go with the rule of having potty stations on each level of the house because we spend most of our active waking hours on one level.
  2. Get babies used to sitting on the pottys: The girls have been sitting on their pottys right before bedtime since they were 16 months old. I've only had Spice pee in the potty a couple of times but the objective here was to get them used to sitting on the potty for at least 5 minutes at a time
  3. Get them to understand what to do on a potty: Strategies for this include watching videos, reading books and having them watch you go potty. Having them watch me take care o'my business is what worked for the best for us. I did buy a potty book and a DVD but the book is still in my laptop bag and the DVD makes absolutely no sense to me. I may still revisit those two but for now, I consider them to be un-needed
  4. Talk to your partners in the potty training journey. This list include spouses, sitters etc. As my girls are in daycare on weekdays, I had a discussion with their room teacher to ensure that she's on board and we have a good game plan. The end result of our discussion is that the girls will be put on the potty at regular time intervals in the daycare and we'll switch from diapers to pullups. Note: There's a school of thought that considers pull-ups to be detrimental to potty training but it's more important to me that the I provide tools that the daycare teachers are comfortable and happy to work with
  5. Get educated on the nuts and bolts of potty training. There are so many resources and books available that give advice on potty training. It's good to read and adopt a style that fits your parenting style as well as your kids' personalities and age. One popular technique that I will NOT be using is the 3 day potty training technique. Here's a list of resources I found particularly useful on the subject of potty training in general and potty training twins in particular
*  The BabyCenter page on Potty Training Basics
*  MandyE's potty training process for her twins which was paced over a few months. I'm definitely adopting a slower-paced style of potty training that eases the girls and I into the "new regime"
*  Julia's use of the 3 day method with her twin girls. I love her tips of tackling day and night potty training at the same time. May try it.
*  Diaper-Free Before 3 - The first and only book I've read on potty training. I agree with the author's style of not making a big deal out of what is basically another bodily function and it's helped shape my approach.

Notes on this Potty Training Twins Series
I'm writing this series to document my successes and missteps in attempting to potty train my almost 26 month old twin girls. I hope that this will come in useful for another parent of twins but I have to include a caveat that to be successful, potty training has to be personalised. What works for our family may not necessarily work for anyone else. Here's a summary of our specific situation and what informed my choices:

  • I work outside the home 5 days a week and the twins attend daycare so I've decided that my active potty training will be evenings when we get home and on weekends. On weekdays the girls get pullups and scheduled potty time in the daycare
  • My twins are young toddlers so most of the steps will be tailored to their age which is establishing a habit through repition. I've noticed that with older toddlers, parents are able to have conversations about the process but with my girls, that's not always possible

Formula Feeding Twins FAQ

I had planned to write this post as the third part of the breastfeeding twins guest posts from Megan and Beth. With procrastination and all that other stuff, I'm just getting to it now. This is by no means substitute for medical advice; it's a compilation of all the facts I've gathered about formula feeding twins over the last couple of years so here goes:

How much formula does a baby need daily? Rule of thumb says 2-3 ounces per pound of body weight and my twins stuck to that until they maxed out at around 30 ounces of formula daily at 5 months old. Some babies max out closer to 40 ounces; this number varies with each individual baby

When is it time to increase the amount per bottle? When the baby is consistently draining the bottle; they should always be full and turn away from the bottle when there's still a few drops left. Draining the bottle means increase the amount. If they're going through a growth spurt, they'll cut back their intake when they're ready. Rule of thumb says most babies know when to stop eating. Trust them

When do you start feeding solids in addition to formula? When babies are still hungry but their bellies can't seem to take any more milk. That's what I noticed with my twins and we reached this point when they were around 5 months old, weighing 15 lbs and getting 30 ounces a day.

How often do formula-fed babies need to eat? Every 2.5-3 hours for the first couple of weeks. This slowly stretches to every 4 hours and that's where they stay. Even toddlers need to be fed a meal or a snack every 3.5 - 4 hours

Is sterilization important? Definitely in the first few months especially for twins who are born early. I stopped being particular about sterilizing things when the girls started crawling and stuffing unspeakable non-food things into their own mouths (around 9 months). 

Which formula is sterile? Ready-to-feed formula is the only one guaranteed to be sterile by the manufacturer. This is what I fed the girls (along with breastmilk) for the first 6 weeks. After that I switched to powdered formula mixed with distilled water (Pediatrician recommended distilled water over normal bottled water. $1 for a gallon jug from almost all grocery outlets).

How much does it cost to formula feed twins? At the peak and with deals and coupons, it was $200-250 a month to formula feed both babies. A bit of relief came from the 2 free cartons that the Enfamil maker sent which lasted us almost a month. It's good to always look out for the $5 manufacturers' coupons and combine with store sales. The best price deals I got were from CVS, Walmart, Kroger and Amazon. Amazon has a coupon page where e-coupons can be clipped and combined with the 5% subscribe and save discount

How are the brands different? All formula sold in the US meets the minimum requirements set out by the FDA. The differences come in the products that were used to meet that minimum nutritional requirement.  

Recommended brands? All parents have their go-to brands. For me, I used Similac ready to feed for the first 6 weeks because it came in plastic containers and enfamil came in cans and I'm not a fan of canned foods. When it was time to switch to powder, I noticed that similac produced a lot more gas than enfamil powder - yes I prepared 2 bottles of each formula, shook hard and timed how long it took for the gas bubbles to disappear from the top!  

Is formula as good as breastmilk? Ah that million dollar, passion-inducing question. My simple answer; feed the kid. The end!

2013 Family Goals

This year, I plan to 

  • Support well-run independent retailers. While I was shopping for toys last Christmas, I noticed the dearth of independent toy stores and the large number that had closed shop. It made me sad because most of those stores had unique inventory that couldn't be found in Toys R Us (I'm not a fan of BRU or TRU). This year, I'll be putting my money where my mouth is and supporting independent small businesses 
  • Make "greener" lifestyle choices. Calgary has a wealth of organic food options and I intend to explore them fully. Last time I was in the grocery store arguing with my self over the cost of organic foods, the sarcastic little voice inside me whispered "it's cheaper than chemo!"
  • Calgarise my family. Get local, shop local, eat local, appreciate the ins and outs of my new home town Calgary
  • Connect. Strengthen old connections and make new ones. This will require stepping out of my introverted little box
  • Sign kids up for physical activity and musical classes. (I think Spice would love the music and Sugar would love the tumbling). That's hard because most classes are run on weekdays during work hours and expect a one child to adult ratio
These are more life action plan than resolutions. They are also things that I look forward to doing. I'd love for you to share your plans for the year. I'm looking for one or two blogging year-plans to participate in. 

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