STEM Baby

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math; our future, our present, our world! These concepts are not just relevant in terms of the job market or the future of education, but it is what’s important and relevant right now and it is trickling down to babies. Babies need to have STEM skills? They most certainly do and you will probably be surprised to know, they are already “wired” to cultivate these skills. Let’s break down each concept and look at how it applies to babies and toddlers.

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Science is really just a way of thinking, observing, experimenting, and asking questions. Before babies are mobile, they are nothing if not little scientists, observing and taking in their world all day long. Babies are constantly watching and learning from what they see. Toddler are intuitively questioning everything they see, attempting to make sense of the world.

Technology is a way of being inventive, identifying problems, coming up with solutions and making things work. If you have ever watched a toddler at play, they are using technology the whole time, making shapes fit into a hole, cars drive on a track, blocks stack high.

 

Take that a step further and they are little engineers, designing and creating and building things that work. Building forts and bug houses and leprechaun traps. Using ingenuity and creativity and a boundless imagination.

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Math is integral component of so many early skills. Anything that involves counting, sequencing, patterning, or exploring shapes, size, or volume is an early math skill. Without even knowing it, babies and toddlers use these skills constantly during play and exploration.

Part of what makes babies and young children such great scientists is their natural curiosity and willingness to repeat actions that interest them. They have a truly innate need to explore the world and attempt to make sense of it all.

You can foster these important STEM skills on your little scientists by allowing them lots of opportunity to explore their world. Set up situations that require them to think and solve problems.

While you are cooking dinner, pull out some plastic containers and encourage your baby to see what fits inside of what, stack them, put them in order from smallest to largest while you say these words to teach the concepts.

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For older children, add measuring cups, spoons and ladles and something to transfer and measure such as dry beans or pasta.

Make it a sensory activity by using cooked pasta, jello, or pudding. It’s ok to get dirty, more brain cells are stimulated!

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Ask lots of questions to make your child think…”what color do you think this avocado will be on the inside when I cut it?”…“how many pieces of apple will this apple slicer make?”…”Let’s count them together”.

Integrate these concepts into activities all day long. Think about how you can ask questions and set up thought-provoking situations during bath time, meal time, outdoor play and while cleaning up toys. Maybe set timers and count down to the last second, guess how many toys will fit in the bin, then count them as you clean up. There are opportunities everywhere to add STEM skills to your child’s day. Take advantage of all of these great opportunities and help prepare your child for school and the complex world that lies ahead.

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psssst…..dads, I got you.

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Hey dads, looking for ideas to make mom feel appreciated this Mother’s Day? I got you covered! First of all, Mother’s Day is May 14th, so it will be here before you know it. No matter if this is mom’s first Mother’s Day or her 40th, I can tell you, all we want is a little time off. By “off” I mean, we don’t want to think or make decisions…about anything…just for a little while. We are exhausted from decision-making all day every day. Deciding what to make for dinner, what groceries we need to pick up, what laundry needs to be clean by Tuesday, how long should the kids spend on screen time, what should everyone wear today, what should we spend money on, deciding when we should re-apply sunblock on everyone, deciding how to manage our time between work, our home and our children, and the list goes on and on and on.

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Simply making decisions is very taxing on the brain. Researchers call it “decision fatigue” and it’s a real thing. “…decision fatigue … is a real psychological concept where a person’s productivity suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.” as described in an Elite Daily article. As a mom, even when the decisions are completely trivial they can be overwhelming simply because of the sheer volume of them, and moms are making decisions all day long for not only ourselves, but for our children.

“Mom, can I have a cookie?”
“Mom, can I watch TV?”
“Mom, what are we doing this afternoon?”
“Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Scientific American cites research that shows that the simple act of making a choice depletes executive resources in the brain. Some of the smartest people have caught onto this concept and protected their brain power by streamlining the decisions they had to make in a day. Albert Einstein reportedly wore the same grey suit every day, Mark Zuckerburg wears the same grey t-shirt and hoodie and Barack Obama, the same black suit, all of them avoiding the strenuous task of deciding what to wear every day to preserve brain power. Take note, none of them are moms. We decide wardrobes for two, three, four, five people on the daily!

All of these mini decisions for all of these mini people in our lives are exhausting! So what we really want for Mother’s Day when we say “how about breakfast in bed”…”how about you make dinner”…”how about you dress the kids”…”how about you read the bedtimes stories tonight” is a break from all the decision making. If you can decide what’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner, what the kids are wearing and what bedtimes stories to read, that is a huge break!

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Of course we want a present too, but a break from making decisions for a day will go a long way!

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Have you ever thought about what your baby would tweet about you if your baby could tweet?

What would your baby tweet about you? #wordgapbabytweets

What would your baby tweet about you? #wordgapbabytweets

 

I am always encouraging parents to consider what your baby might be thinking. What is your baby seeing from his vantage point? What sounds and voices is he hearing throughout the day. What does he smell, taste, and feel? What textures are against his skin?

Stop for a second and think about everything your baby experienced today. What thoughts would she tweet about you? Positive or negative…

Maybe “mommy gave me extra cuddles this morning. #itfeltnice” or “mommy is wearing too much perfume today. #eyeswatering” or “daddy talked on his phone the whole time we were in the car. #boring” or “daddy read me a great book last night. #cozytime”.

They are taking notice of everything you do! #wordgapbabytweets

They are taking notice of everything you do! #wordgapbabytweets

Thinking about what your baby would tweet about you could serve as a reminder to talk to your baby all day long to introduce as many words as possible to help build that important vocabulary and avoid the word gap.

Believe me, it will not be long until they actually are tweeting about you! As a mom of two teenage daughters I can tell you, this can be very insightful!

So, what would your baby tweet about you? I decided to have a little fun with this and make it a contest on social media. Post a picture of your baby with a sign or just a caption of your baby’s tweet. Use the hashtag #wordgapbabytweets and the person who gets the most likes will win a $50 Target Gift Card! Share your post and encourage friends to like your photo for a chance to win! The prize will be awarded on Friday, May 5th!

What would your baby tweet about you? #wordgapbabytweets Enter for a chance to win a $50 gift card to Target!

What would your baby tweet about you? #wordgapbabytweets Enter for a chance to win a $50 gift card to Target!

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We are 100 years old!!

April is national occupational therapy month and we are celebrating big this year because it is our 100th anniversary! If anyone knows how to celebrate, it is occupational therapists! We celebrate every holiday, every special event, every birthday, every anniversary, every milestone… just ask my family! Celebrating things give us more reasons to do more purposeful activities!

In the school setting, OTs go crazy for St. Patrick’s Day! We can make cute shamrock crafts, using fine motor skills, Leprechaun traps, using problem solving skills, not to mention chasing rainbows for gross motor skills!

In nursing homes, OTs can spend two weeks celebrating Martin Luther King Day! It’s a great holiday for reminiscence groups, memory activities, baking, working on kitchen skills,  and social awareness brain boosting exercises! We love to celebrate.

I guess that’s why at our national conference a few weeks ago in Philadelphia occupational therapists were dancing in the aisles and starting a congo line! We were especially excited to have Al Roker there, via satellite, congratulating us on our hundred year anniversary and singing the praises of the occupational therapist who has worked with his son for several years. Thanks Al!

Al Roker gave us a shout out! Always good to have Al around!

Al Roker gave us a shout out! Always good to have Al around!

The American occupational therapy Association also put together an amazing video about the history of occupational therapy. You can find information about our centennial celebration and the video of the history of occupational therapy here: http://www.otcentennial.org

I highly recommended checking out the video. I have taken classes on the history of occupational therapy and I still learned a great deal from this video.

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This picture is taken from the OT Centennial website.

So if you are in occupational therapist, happy OT month and congratulations on the hundred years of our profession! Now go celebrate! If you know an occupational therapist, please congratulate them.

We don’t do a whole lot of celebrating in the neonatal intensive care unit but I was able to recognize national occupational therapy month by going to speak to my congressman yesterday. He was home on Easter break and some of my friends and I were able to get a meeting with him by going through all the proper channels. I am happy to say that we had a very productive meeting. I brought to light many of the concerns I have about our nation taking care of our youngest Americans. I talked about how repealing the affordable care act what a fat maternity services and babies. I talked about the importance of compensation for maternity leave and paternity leave so that parents have time to bond with their babies. I made sure that my congressman was aware that 85% of the babies’ brain develops by the time they are three years old and the first few years are critical for the foundation of the rest of that child’s life. I felt like he heard and agreed with what I said and I sincerely hope he remembers the pictures of the babies I showed him when he is helping to create legislation for our country.

Happy Occupational Therapy Month!

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Times, they are a changin’

This Friday a new administration will take office.  Let’s talk about how this will affect our youngest and most vulnerable Americans.  Four million babies will be born in the United States during Donald Trump’s first year as president. By the time Trump finishes his first term in office, these four million babies will each have made as many as 100 billion neural connections in their brains, forming over 85% of their total brain development. This early brain development, which is entirely dependent on their experiences, interactions, nutrition, and well-being will lay the foundation for new learning, growth and development for the rest of their lives. The support these babies are provided by their parents, families, care-givers, and communities will determine the strength of their critical foundation in life.

Today, more than one fifth of all babies in the U.S. live below the poverty line and almost half of all babies born this year will live in “low-income” families.* This means that way too many babies are not being given the best start possible. Because of lack or resources, these children are falling behind before they reach their first birthday, often times, even ending up with significant developmental delays.

The science behind early development is clear and well-researched.  Early brain cells, or neurons develop at lightning speed, presenting both a prime opportunity for enrichment as well as a serious window of vulnerability for falling behind.  Babies brains create 700 new neural connections every second if the baby is nurtured and adequately stimulated. As children get older,  higher-level learning is built upon these early connections. If the foundation is not there, future development is severely impeded.

What do we as a country need to do to set babies up for success? We need to provide all babies with the opportunity to thrive.  Parents need support in the form of a national paid family leave program. Both mom and dad need to have the opportunity to spend time with their baby and nurture their early skills, not work two full-time jobs to put food on the table. This new administration needs to hear this loud and clear.  We cannot move backwards. We as nation need to continue to move forward.

We need to make sure all families have access to quality affordable childcare and healthcare. Ensuring quality care for our nation’s future leaders by well-trained and well-compensated providers is paramount to the success of not only our babies, but our country as a whole.  Too many parents work two jobs and still live below the poverty line, causing toxic stress in the household that carries over to the children.  The minimum wage needs to be raised to a living wage that allows families to work less and spend more time together. Overnight daycares need to become less in number, not greater in number.  Babies and young children need to sleep in their own beds.

Early Head Start is an amazing organization, but it needs to be extended.  We need to extend Early Head Start so the needs of all eligible infants can be met. Early Head Start has an incredible vision that provides comprehensive services to both parents and babies in a two-generation approach, but it is severely limited, reaching only 5 percent of eligible parents and babies. We need a major commitment of funds to Early Head Start so that more families can be reached.

Up to 14% of children under the age of 5 experience social and emotional limitations.* We need to prioritize funding for infant mental health programs, education, treatment, and initiatives to help families with education, awareness, and comprehensive treatment.

We need to arm parents with information about child development so they can foster important skills in their children and know immediately if a developmental delay is present so early intervention can be sought.

Economists estimate that when we invest in quality early development for our babies, the rate of return is up to 10% per year.* These numbers speak for themselves. Investment in the future of our country must start with our 4 million potential leaders, thinkers, athletes, scientists, and innovators. An investment in them is an investment in our country’s future. After all, they will be the ones to take on America’s future challenges. Let’s work together to give them the best start possible.  It’s the least we can do.

*statistics are from Zero to Three. For more information, please visit www.zerotothree.org or www.thewordgapapp.com or www.aimeesbabies.com to learn how to give babies the best start possible.

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Blogging from the Big Easy!


So I am in New Orleans at the Zero to Three conference officially launching my word gap app this week!

So far it has been having a great response and has been very exciting! New Orleans really knows how to hold a conference as they kicked it off with a jazz band walking up and down the aisles of the exhibition hall!

I have been meeting some amazing people! People who are truly in the front lines of improving the lives of babies and families in our country. I am so excited to share Aimee’s Babies apps with them.

By far the best part of this experience is having my oldest daughter, Marley here with me. She is at my side, explaining my apps and videos and the benefits of them to all of these people and I could not be prouder. She and Kayla are the reason that I do what I do❤️

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Easy Thanksgiving Turkey craft

When I was a kid I always made these apple turkeys every single year at Thanksgiving at my grandmothers house. It was the centerpiece of our table.


Now is a mom and a therapist I see the value in this fun craft for more than just a Thanksgiving centerpiece. 

I pull out the toothpicks every year and make this craft with my kids, nieces and nephews and younger patients. It is always a huge hit!

All you need is an apple, toothpicks, an olive for the head and decorative food items for feathers. I like to use cereal, colored small marshmallows, raisins, dried cranberries, popcorn and gummy candies to name a few. But you can be creative.

This activity is not only great for fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and using two hands together but you can also incorporate some patterning, counting, color identification, and lots of language skills!

You can name your turkeys and make them have conversations with each other. 😊 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Remember to ask your child what they are thankful for tomorrow.

I am thankful for you, my readers.

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Sensory Saturday 

So I’ve started a new social media tag called Sensory Saturdays. There are so many great ways to engage your child in sensory play and what better time than a Saturday afternoon? 

Saturday afternoons may be a busy time but you don’t have to drop everything. You can include some sensory activities into your daily chores. 

Think about all the information your child is taking in from the world. Think about what they see, hear, taste, smell, and feel. Think about the effects of gravity on their body. Whether it’s a newborn trying to hold his head up against gravity for the first time, and early walker, or three-year-old bouncing on a trampoline. 

Brain processes all of the sensations differently. Exposure to these things help build new brain cells. Did you know that your child forms 85% of their brain by the time they are three years old? That’s a lot of new connections in that tiny brain. Let’s do whatever we can to help those connections form by giving them lots of new experiences.

I’m going to focus on some tactile activities today. Think about what your child feels. If you have an infant allow them tons of tummy time so they can feel a large part of their body and their hands against the surface. Rub different textures on their skin as you say their body parts out loud. Think cotton balls, washcloths, different fabrics and textures. 

I love toddlers and preschoolers plenty of activities with their hands in different mediums. Dirt, water, sand, clay, finger paint, just to name a few. Here are some ideas of tactile bins and trays you can set up for your child. 

Sand, flour, salt, or sugar

Cooked spaghetti or noodles, even more fun if you color it with food coloring.

Plain old dirt is always a good option.

Use corn and tiny farm animals four hours of fun. 

Tiny pom-poms are great for fine motor skills and tactile sensation.

colored rice and measuring cups is great for sensory skills and early math skills. 

A bin full of small balls is a great way to encourage gross motor and fine motor skills. Hide some items underneath to work on visual skills as well. 


Try to take a few minutes to include some sensory play into your Saturday!

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The Word Gap App

 

 

Aimee's Babies Word Gap App- coming soon!!!

Aimee’s Babies Word Gap App- coming soon!!!

I have been very negligent on my blog for the past few months, but I promise I have a good excuse!

If you know anything about me, you know that I have a true passion for making videos and apps that provide education for new parents, so when I saw the tweet from the U.S. Department of Health back in January about the Word Gap Challenge, it had my name written all over it! I work every day to educate parents about the word gap and try to instill the importance of talking to babies starting before they are even born, so when I saw this challenge, I jumped right in.

The Word Gap App

The Word Gap App

You can read about the challenge here: http://www.wordgapchallenge.hrsa.gov

If you are not familiar with the word gap, allow me to give you a little background.

Studies show that during the first three years of life, a child of lower economic status hears roughly 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers. Because 85% of a child’s brain is developed by age three, not hearing words spoken to them by their parents during this critical developmental period puts these children at a huge disadvantage. This has been termed as the “word gap”. During the 2014 White House Summit on Working Families, President Obama issued a call to action for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use technology and innovation to bridge the word gap. In response, the Department of Health instituted the Word Gap Challenge, inviting anyone to submit proposals to use technology to bridge the word gap! What an amazing opportunity.

The word gap app provides over 200 video clips of positive interactions between parent and child

The word gap app provides over 200 video clips of positive interactions between parent and child

I had always wanted to create an app that demonstrated positive interactions between parent and child and I saw this as a perfect opportunity. I submitted a proposal to create an app and in March of this year my proposal was selected as one of ten out of 85 proposals to move on to phase 2 of the challenge. I was awarded $10,000 and a mentor from the Department of Health to create and perform pilot testing on the app. That is where it gets interesting. Suddenly I had to create an app with all of the components I promised in my proposal in less then six months and I was working on my doctorate and I had just started covering the NICU in addition to all my pediatric outpatients. An app with 200 video clips demonstrating positive interactions, text to explain each video clip, 100 nursery rhymes, 8 original songs, a database of over 20 national resources for managing stress for low-income families, a point system to incentivize use, and all of this in English and Spanish… For the next several months my video camera was like an appendage as I filmed as many families as I could and edited video instead of sleeping. Somehow, with the help of an amazingly talented computer programmer, we completed the app enough to Beta test it and I presented it to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on September 22nd and low and behold, I progressed to the next round. Now there are five of us competing for the grand prize of $100,000. I present again in March after I roll the app out on a large scale and complete additional testing.

So, my app, The Word Gap App is not completely finished yet, as we are still working on the Spanish part of it, but I hope to have it in itunes and Google Play in the next few weeks for download on all devices.

This is Michael Lu from the Department of Health and Human Services HRSA presenting me with my certificate

This is Michael Lu, M.D.  from the Department of Health and Human Services HRSA presenting me with my certificate.

In the mean time, please check out my website www.thewordgapapp.com.

 

If you have a child under the age of three and would be interested in testing my app and you have an iphone or ipad, I can send you an invite to download it early on test flight ( a free app from itunes) Just e-mail me your e-mail address at aimeek@ptd.net and I will send you an invite.

 

The word gap is such an important topic! Children all over out country are not given a fair chance, starting kindergarten already behind their peers simply because their parents didn’t know the importance of interacting with them, or the stress in their life prevented them from adequately interacting with their babies. As a parent, I feel strongly that when we know better, we do better and I want to educate parents so they know better and they can give all their babies the best start possible. We are our children’s first teachers and it is a critically important job. Recent studies show that children who fall victim to the word gap have a lower rate of literacy, graduating high school, and getting a job, and sadly, higher rates of crime and incarceration. It is a public health crisis, yet so easy to fix. Simple education can fix this problem. Please help me spread the word. The word about the word gap and the importance of interacting with babies from the moment they are born. Please share my blog. Please download my app in a few weeks and please, please talk, read, sing to your babies all day long!

 

 

 

 

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Rumple Buddies -A great sensory toy!

Beary Rumple

Beary Rumple


When I was at the American Academy of Pediatrics Convention this year I was walking through the expo looking at table after table of hospital representatives and tons of new toys and gadgets for babies. I was putting some Johnson and Johnson lotion samples in my bag when something caught my eye. A new product designed to catch the eye of babies! Rumple Buddies!

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Rumple Buddies are adorable red, white, and black stuffed animals made of a soft, fluffy fabric and a “crinkly” inside so they make a sound when touched. As a pediatric occupational therapist with a special interest in sensory processing and early childhood development, this drew me right over!  I love how many different sensory components are included in one toy. As I have blogged before, babies under six months can best see highly-contrasted colors such as black and white and red. The rods and cones in their eyes are not yet fully developed, so they cannot see all the colors in the spectrum that we can see.

Young baby’s vision is better stimulated by these colors, so I always recommend using objects and toys with these colors when working on visual skills or just playing and interacting with babies this age. The highly-contrasting colors of Rumple Buddies are perfect for these young developing eyes!  Rumple Buddies come in five varieties, Beary Rumple, Bunny Rumple, Kitty Rumple, Monkey Rumple, and Ryder Rumple. I love how each one, even the car, has a face. Faces make toys more interactive and interesting for babies to look at.

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I also love the feel of Rumple Buddies. The soft, furry fabric offers great tactile stimulation and parts of the fabric is slightly different, with a “bumpy” texture to add more tactile variety. The “crinkle” is inside every part of the toy, even in the little ears on the bear.  The “crinkle” component adds stimulation to baby’s sense of hearing.  This helps your baby learn cause and effect. As he squeezes the bear, he is able to make noise. I love it!

And it gets better! Each Rumple Buddy comes with a book about that particular animal or car. The book offers an engaging story and a great way to bond with your baby.  The words are simple and repetitive and encourage interaction with the toy while reading and crinkling the bear. I loved when Beary Rumple found a friend!

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I had the opportunity to speak to Maria Zipf and Thelma Nathanson, the clever creators of Rumple Buddies and she was kind enough to send me a few Rumple Buddies to try them out.  I tried them with a four-week old, a five-month-old and a twelve-month-old.  Each child was equally engaged and enthralled with their Rumple Buddy and the stories in the book.  For the very young babies, I liked to use Rumple Buddy as a visual exercise, holding it 10-12 inches from their face and moving it in horizontal and vertical planes to exercise the tiny muscles around their eyes in a scanning activity. This helps keep the muscles developing strong and symmetrically. For older babies, I like to read them the book and make Rumple Buddies talk to them and in silly voices and have Rumple Buddies give them “kisses” on different parts of their body while I said “head”, “hand”, “foot” to work on tactile sensation as well as body awareness.

I am big fan of Rumple Buddies. They remind me of all the red, white, and black toys, blankets, boppies, and positioning devices I made for my babies!

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My daughter Marley with her red and white homemade boppy.

FullSizeRender copy 2I am currently working on creating an app to help bridge the word gap and encourage parents to interact with their babies in a productive, positive way and I found Rumple Buddies to be a nice addition to my app. We used Rumple Buddy books and stuffed animals for parents to interact with their babies in the app.  These products easily lend themselves to communication and interaction between parent and baby. Look for my Aimee’s Babies Word Gap App to be released soon and you can see Rumple Buddies in action!

I also love how Rumple Buddies are machine washable, can easily be folded to fit in a purse or bag, and are small and pliable and easy for babies to carry and manage.

Check out Rumple Buddies here: https://www.rumplebuddies.com

I can't resist adding just one more picture of Marley in her little red and white "Chair" and blanket and my best friend, Amy!

I can’t resist adding just one more picture of Marley in her little red and white “Chair” and blanket and my best friend, Amy!

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