What Are the Best (and Worst) Ways to Stimulate Your Baby?

Best (and Worst) Ways to Stimulate YourWe all like to be entertained, and babies are no exception. But there are some “dos” and “don’ts” when it comes to stimulating your baby’s brain.

The best thing you can do for your infant is simply interact with him. You are your child’s first teacher. It’s your job to show him the ropes. Developmental School Psychologist and Early Interventionist Lisa Schiavoni says it’s important to talk to your baby. Sing to him. Read to him. Play with him. Make him part of your everyday activities. Try singing silly rhymes, talking about what your child is seeing while driving, labeling body parts during diaper changes and bath times.

Not long ago, you could plunk your baby down in front of the tube, put on a video and have some much needed mommy time. But the thinking has changed. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends no screen time whatsoever for babies until the age of two. Studies show that engaging with electronics at an early age has an impact on attention span and concentration and may delay cognitive development. And it doesn’t matter if he’s watching “The Good Wife,” “Sesame Street” or Baby Einstein videos. Television is two dimensional. Too much screen time builds a different kind of brain in children, one that is lacking dimension. Think about it this way — if a baby sees a ball on TV, it looks round, but it feels flat. If they hold a ball, however, they understand it is round and it has texture and it rolls away if they don’t hold onto it.

Children learn by touching, feeling and exploring. The best way to learn is always by doing, not watching.

Of course most of us can’t live our lives without our cell phones, tablets and TVs. If your baby happens to glance at it while he is breastfeeding or having tummy time — it’s not the end of the world. Just make sure you try to limit overall exposure. For those of you with older kids, it’s probably best to limit screen time to less than forty-five minutes a day. According to Dr. Robert Pressman from the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, “Across the board, there is a steady decline in emotional strength and educational performance after forty-five minutes of daily screen use.”

The best kind of stimulation toys for your baby are black and white board books, wrist rattles, infant play gyms and anything musical. Lisa Schiavoni recommends Mrs. Mustard’s Baby Faces Stroller Cards because the focus is on faces of babies, which other babies love. She also recommends Lamaze Wrist & Foot Rattles. Avoid toys with electronic components such as lights and sounds since they don’t encourage sensory motor and language. And never underestimate the value of making silly faces. It’s free, fun and effective.

For More educational toy recommendations from Lisa Schiavoni, check out her Mamajamas List.

The Best First Birthday Gift You Can Give

josie1I’ve always been a sentimental person. Gift giving, and writing tear jerky handwritten notes for those I love, are high on my list of favorite things to do. While the time to think and create has dwindled to near nothing since my daughter was born a year ago,  I luckily decided on my first birthday gift to her while she was still in utero.

It’s a simple idea really: I’d write a note to her every month that highlighted what we did together, her milestones, her favorite things, along with one full bleed photo to complete the spread.

With the idea sketched, the discipline to write was there when fatigue took over. And then pulling it all together just before her birthday didn’t feel like such an all-consuming task.

Though I debated using a few different book publishers, I finally decided on Shutterfly for their easy chalkboard backgrounds and upgrade options. The lay flat pages and puffy cover really made such a difference and gave it a special occasions feel. To simplify production even more, this is a great template.

Perhaps my book will inspire you, just like Pinterest did for me. More than anything, I recommend keeping a trusty notebook by your bed. It is amazing how time blurs and you forget things so quickly. But even tired chicken scratch will help your memory as well as form the root of a gift that will keep on giving for years to come.

By Christy Mraz
Christy Mraz is mom to an almost one year old baby girl. She’s also the most recent addition to the Mamajamas team. She is the eyes, ears–and typing fingers–behind our social media. A self-proclaimed foodie, she is addicted to cookbooks and Epicurean magazines. Follow us on facebook, pinterest and twitter and you’ll see (or rather read) a lot of Christy.

5 Ways to Be a Frugal Mama

frgual mamaIt is no secret that having a child is e.x.p.e.n.s.i.v.e. Add to that living in the Boston area (where I live and Mamajamas was born), and the cost of parenthood is off the charts. Massachusetts families actually spend more in daycare per child than any other state. Eeks. Yes, there are the necessities like diapers and daycare. But for many, there is also the intense urge to dress up our little ones in teeny-weeny mini-me stylish clothes (that they outgrow in days) and involve them in various stimulating activities (that engage them but also just get us out of the house!). The cost of new parenthood is exacerbated by the need to clothe our newly shaped body, maintain a somewhat orderly (but increasingly chaotic) house, and feed a frantic, sleep deprived family….oh, and do it all on either half our normal income, or with basically a second mortgage if paying for daycare. Emulating those who look like a million bucks dressed in Target (excuse me: Tar-Shay), sprinkled in with designer hand-me-downs, I’ve managed to BE FRUGAL this first year of parenthood, stretch our fewer dollars, yet make being thrifty actually fun (and a little addicting). Here’s how.

My Top 5 ways to be a Frugal Mama:

1) Buy and sell clothes and gear locally. Facebook groups that facilitate baby clothes and gear swapping are growing explosively in many towns. I keep an envelope of the money I make from selling my daughter’s stuff and use that stash for the designer gems I’ve found at a fraction of the price at these sales. Some of my favorite finds have been from Tea Collection, Jacadi, and Hanna Andersson in like-new or new condition with prices more comparable to what I’d pay on the sale rack at Macy’s! The envelope challenge makes it a game for me, and keeps the addiction in check. If you are in the Boston area, the HIGH-END Baby & Kids Clothes Group is open to all nearby towns. Also in this area, Arlington Closet Sharers has over 1600 members. If a facebook group like this isn’t in your area yet, consider starting one if you have time to be an admin, or take advantage of local consignment shops where you often find brand new [ie: NWT] cute things too. You will want to know the fancy acronyms to shop on these sites!  NWT= New With Tags  EUC= Excellent Used Condition!

2) Babysitting co-ops. With no money transferred, you sit for other families, and they do the same for you. These often start with a group of friends whose kids do playdates anyway, so babysitting doesn’t even feel like work. As they grow, other friends often get added in. Find the right group, and it can be an amazing way to keep mom and dad happy with date-nights, without the costs. I’ve also found it a wonderful way to meet other families locally. For everyone to feel comfortable, you may want to avoid total strangers. I found mine through a new friend I met after having my daughter. Mommy and me classes could also be a good way to find families you can trust.

3) Pinterest and Mamajamas! Find step-by-step DIY directions on ANYTHING and EVERYTHING on Pinterest. Whether decorating your nursery, finding games to play with your kids or looking for birthday party ideas, you can save oodles easily with Pinterest as your guide. Check out the Mamajamas Pinterest Page if you haven’t already for tons of parenting resources and ideas. Speaking of Mamajamas, you can save a bundle using the site to get advice from your veteran parent friends on the products they recommend (and don’t!). With Mamajamas lists as your guide, you can buy the right product the first time around (I’m looking at you diaper pail) or the right quantities (I wish I had been told I didn’t need to buy ANY 0-3 onesies for myself). And yes, since this is the Mamajamas blog, you had to expect there would be a shameless plug for the site in here somewhere.

4) Library. Books for mama and baby are obviously a no-brainer to check out of the library. But many libraries also have FREE sing-alongs and reading classes for kids of all ages. Some also carry free museum passes or coupons for other events. I go to the library so much, I feel the librarians are like friends!  

5) Use your Freezer! When I fall behind on my meal planning, I end up more disorganized at the grocery store. This often leads me to buy five times more food than I should and resort to more prepared meals-–which are not as healthy–and, no surprise, cost more. So now when I am feeling organized, I try to cook even bigger batches of food (and baby food) and stick them in the freezer. I also freeze leftovers. This makes my future meal planning infinitely easier knowing dinner is already made–plus, my cost per meal for the week goes WAY down.

Parenthood is expensive and often exhausting! I’ve found that the more connected I become in my community, and with other families, the more ideas I get on how to prudently shop and save and ultimately offer the most I can to my family (time included!).

By Christy Mraz
Christy Mraz is mom to an almost one year old baby girl. She’s also the most recent addition to the Mamajamas team. SHE IS THE EYES, EARS–AND TYPING FINGERS–BEHIND OUR SOCIAL MEDIA. A SELF-PROCLAIMED FOODIE, ADDICTED TO COOKBOOKS AND Epicurean MAGAZINES, SHE’s very excited about CONTRIBUTING RECIPE IDEAS FOR BABY AND BUSY FAMILIES…. IN the MEANTIME, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER AND PINTEREST and you’ll see (or rather REad) a lot of Christy.

The Children’s Book Everyone Should Have

No offense to all the friends and family who gifted us a mountain of cool baby gear, but it was shocking how few books we received. I always thought of books as a classic present – with all the trappings of a great gift: timeless, personal, re-giftable, the gift that keeps on giving, etc. etc. And mostly unique! When the books did start to roll in over the various holidays, I began to worry about the health of the children’s book landscape. We received five gifts of ‘Goodnight Moon’ and re-gifted the lastcroc three copies of ‘Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site‘. ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?‘ I see you in the home of everybody.

Not that I have ever worried about diversity of book options – there are endless fabulous books for kids out there! But I worry about the monoculture of ‘bestsellers’ saturating the few remaining outlets we have for book buying. Leaving the literate starving for variety. I have often witnessed parents scramble to write down the name of a book recommended by another parent with a focus and speed typically not displayed by the sleep deprived. And recently I found myself in the same position where the sight of a few books I have never seen before sent a rush of adrenaline through my spine to quickly devour them. It was as if I’d been fed only hamburgers for weeks and was just seeing my first grilled chicken salad. I needed to own them, and read them to my children tonight!

Of coursethose who frequent their local library may not feel the pinch that the rest of us feel (though if people stop buying books, publishers will stop printing books, and libraries will go the way of bookstores). But for the rest of us, with the bookstore desert that is sweeping our landscape, where do we turn but to each other?

I am launching a call to parents – go to your bookshelves. Find the most tattered, chewed upon, food sticky, well-loved book that your child demands be read over and over again. And post just the title and author on whatever social media outlet you prefer: Facebook, Twitter, spam your email contacts list, text your favorites, call a few friends on your landline, or have a face to face interaction with another human being.  Let’s spread the good word.

The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water‘ by Gemma Merino

By Kathryn Grantham
lead_granthamKathryn has a passion for health and an activist’s fervor for the environment, and a track record of social entrepreneurship. In 1999, at the age of 22, Kathryn founded Bluestockings, an independent social justice-themed bookstore in New York City. In parallel, she was discovering the world of natural health and its connection with the health of our planet, at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She sold the bookstore in 2003, attended Harvard Business School (MBA ’05), and launched Roots Remedies, a locally-sourced herbal products company in 2008. She lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband and two young sons. 
For more Unique Children’s Book REcommendations from KAthryn, Check out her Mamajamas List Here.