My blog is carbon neutral

It’ s no secret I’m passionate about social causes and the environment, so it seems to be only natural to join in this great initiative: “My blog is carbon neutral”.

This initiative first started in Germany by the “Make it green” program with the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Petits gestes écolos is carrying this project out in France.

From their site:

According to a study by Alexander Wissner-Gross, PhD, physicist at Harvard University and environmental activist, an average website causes about 0.02g (0,0008oz.) of carbon dioxide for each visit. Assuming an average blog gets 15,000 visits a month, it has yearly carbon dioxide emissions of 3,6kg. This can mainly be tracked back to the immense energy usage from (mainframe) computers, servers, and their cooling systems.

The trees will be planted in France.

If you want to participate as well, it’s quite simple :

  1. Write a quick post about the initiative + add the badge you prefer
  2. E-mail us your link to blog-zerocarbone@bonial.fr
  3. They plant a tree for you !

Easy-peasy!

Recentering, reconnecting and taking it easy

I’ve had an impromptu hiatus from the blog these past 2 weeks. First The Sprouts got sick (yet again – will it ever end?) and then we had mid-term break, which meant Sprout 1 was home all week along with baby Sprout 2. I tend to switch the screens off more around the kids (setting the example and all that), hence no blogging.

Finger painting hand

We pondered signing him up for this holiday “stage” (kind of like day camp for the non-bruxellois) at Turtlewings, which sounded wonderful and he was actually interested in, but in the end decided to keep him home.

Finger painting

You see, this son of mine is of the sensitive, introspective variety and sometimes just needs to be in a safe, quiet, familiar environment in order to recenter and calm down. He has been moody and angry (which many times means aggressive) ever since we came back from our 3 week Christmas holiday in Portugal. He loves going to Portugal, but it ends up being quite a sensory overload for him, with the different routines (or none to speak of), presents galore, lots of travel, and plenty, plenty of attention from family and friends. Add sugary treats to the mix and we have a time bomb!

fingerpainting

What he was really needing  was quiet, relaxing time at home. He actually realizes this himself, which is great, and asks to stay home in pj’s all day. One thing he sometimes complains about at school or in other settings with lots of children/crowds is the noise. He doesn’t like it when recess is longer than usual because of this. I must admit, as a highly sensitive person myself, I totally get this. (If you click-through the link, you can take the test to see if you are too.)

Finger painting scratch

Something which really helps him reorganize himself and settle down is painting. Any kind really, but no other beats finger painting for the sensory experience.

Brothers playing

I’m happy to report that, although I was a bit overwhelmed going into a whole week with mostly just me and both kids – especially with the mammoth meltdowns we had been getting every. single. day. – it was a truly wonderful week and no sign of meltdowns. We had ample time to reconnect, which I really think is what every child needs, even if in smaller doses. As an added bonus, my two sons had a blast playing together.

Anyone else have highly sensitive children? What is your experience?

If you think you might have a highly sensitive child, I wholeheartedly recommend this book:

The Highly Sensitive Child

Storytelling with children

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I am very lucky to be married to an excellent public speaker. I think what makes him such a good public speaker is that he’s actually a natural storyteller. Our son loves listening to his stories, but so do other children. In fact, the other day we were at a little friend’s birthday party and just towards the end, at that time when the children start going wild, he pulled everyone in for a story and all went silent. Their faces were priceless…

So today I’m handing the blog over to him so he could tell you a bit about how he does it:

The other side of the story

I tell stories to Sprout 1, my 3 ½ year-old son, and he loves it!

I think telling stories is a great way to bond with my son, a special one-on-one time when we can be together just the two of us. It is also a good way to help him settle down and do something calmer (plus, I get to rest too!).

I want to share the way I do it and encourage every dad (editor’s note: or MOM!!) to give it a try. If you have another way to do it I would also like to hear about it in the comments.

The first thing is to decide what story to tell. I never tell a story that has been written by someone else like “the three little pigs” or “Cinderella”. For those, I prefer to read the book to him. The stories I tell I always make up. They are always different and new. Even when he asks me to tell the story again I always change it, simply because I would not be able to tell it the same way even if I wanted to. Sometimes I record the story on my wife’s phone and if he wants to hear the same story again, we can just play it back for him. And he does. A lot!

Sometimes I do not have to decide what story to tell because Sprout 1 does it for me or I simply ask him what kind of story he wants to hear.

When I have to decide I simply think of a topic like “pirates” or “super-heroes” or “walk in the park” and I build it from there.

I do not build a plot in advance. I make up the stories as I go along. I have realised that the interesting thing about the stories, for my son, is not the plot or the logical sequence of actions. Of course, it is important to have some logical sequence between what happens before and what happens next but not for the story as a whole. For example, I may say “there was a car that had wings and began to fly. It flew to the moon and back and when it got back, it had no place to park”. It is not logical but there is a logical link between the different parts. This way I can just say (almost) whatever comes to my mind.

My intention is not to write a children’s book but simply to entertain my son for 5-10 minutes per story. And, (believe me!), I’ve already spent an hour and a half telling these short stories and if I don’t say “this is the last one” he keeps asking for more.

The main elements that I believe make these stories interesting for my son are:

–          I make them personal. There are always things that relate to him and his own personal experiences. E.g. the characters are either his toys or a cartoon he knows or even himself. “This is the story of how Sprout 1 helped Santa Klaus”;

–          I make them short and simple (unlike this post) and I tell them in a simple way. Short, direct sentences with clear ideas;

–          I make them realistic; almost real: I use characters that exist (even if only in books or cartoons) and put them in real situations even if with fantastic twists;

–          I enact them. I modulate my voice, whispering when there is a moment of suspense or roaring like a big dinosaur, or simply acting silly.

On the contrary, there are things I try not to do:

–          I do not convey moral messages or try to preach a lesson. My stories are pure entertainment. They may contain ethical messages but that is not the purpose of me telling them;

–          I do not make them too realistic. I always try to make fantastic things happen in my stories but in a simple way like “the cat jumped over the house”.

This is MY recipe, my son loves it and that’s good enough for me. It is far from perfect! The other day Sprout 1 did not want to give me a goodnight kiss because he didn’t like the way the bedtime story ended. I let the pirates get away with the treasure and he wanted them to be caught by the police. Smart boy. What did I do? I retold the ending. He was pleased and I got my kiss.

Do you do storytelling with your children? We would love to hear what works for you!

And the winner is…

Tristan-book-read-again for mum-n-more

Thanks to everyone who participated in our very first giveaway! Rafflecopter has picked a winner *cue drum-roll* – Katia! Congratulations Katia! You will be contacted directly by Diana in the next couple of days with the details.

For those of you who didn’t win or missed the giveaway, there’s still time to sign up for the online course by following this link: http://ourmamasrock.com/bxlsprout-registration/ If you haven’t done so yet, please do have a look at the interview with Diana, where she explains a bit more about signing with your hearing child.

Hope to “see” you in class!

Snow Painting

If you haven’t done so yet, today is the last day to enter our giveaway!

We’ve had some beautiful snow here in Brussels this past week, and by the looks of it, it’s here to stay! We have been out enjoying it with our sled and some sand toys – yes, they’re great for playing in the snow too! Sprout 1 (3,5) particularly loves his hand drill. But it gets to a point where my feet are freezing and/or baby Sprout tires of being outside, so why not enjoy the snow indoors?

Snow Painting - BxlSprout

One way we’ve been enjoying our snow indoors is by painting it. Now, before you think this is too messy, hear me out! It really is simple to set up – you probably have all you need around the house already – and if you put a drop cloth underneath, it’s a cinch to clean up too!

Here’s how we did it:

Snow Painting

Snow painting - BxlSprout

You will need:

  • Drop cloth – we just used an old oilcloth; an old shower curtain would do just fine
  • Shallow container for painting the snow
  • Container and scoop/spoon/sand shovel for clean snow
  • Food colouring or liquid watercolours
  • Droppers – you can buy them at Casa just like the ones we have, or you could save old medicine droppers
  • A container for the colors – we use an ice-cube tray. Lots of compartments for mixing and only small amounts required
  • Rag for cleaning up spills
  • Salt
  • Magnifying glass

snow painting - BxlSprout

Sorry, I don’t have pictures of the entire process because I was an active participant ;), but it’s quite straightforward. the important part is your child has fun!

Have everything set up so once the snow gets inside the kids could just have a go at it.

  • Set the drop cloth on the floor. We have an old kids sized table we scored for free on Freecycle that we plopped on top, but directly on the floor isn’t a problem either, or if you’re worried about the table, a plastic tablecloth or old newspapers should do the trick.
  • Prepare your paints/food coloring by pouring some into a container – I love ice-cube trays for this! We always only use the 3 primary colours and Sprout1 mixes up any others he wants out of those. Great hands on way to teach color mixing!
  • I also have a little container with some coarse salt in it for sprinkling on the snow so Sprout1 can see how it melts. Also seems to liven the colours.
  • Now go scoop up some snow from outside into your container (we just opened our window and used a combination of ice cream scoop, plastic cup and sand shovel) and get out of their way!

sanow painting - BxlSprout

It’s great fun for the kids to use droppers (and great for fine motor skills needed for writing, etc.), but even if you don’t have them, you could always try dripping colour with a small spoon. The colours spread out beautifully in the snow!

snow painting - BxlSprout.com

We had a magnifying glass handy so Sprout1 could have a closer look at the snow. Remember, just let them explore the items; there is no right or wrong way here! It’s all about the process and having fun.

Sprout1 then wanted to see if water would melt the snow faster… can you guess the answer?

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Once they (or you!!) have had enough, just throw everything in the sink. Easy-peasy! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, food colouring is washable (we haven’t had any staining) and so is our brand of liquid watercolours, though you can’t find the same brand in Belgium. I imagine it holds true for all liquid watercolours, but can’t promise!

Have you been enjoying any indoor snow activities lately?

Weekend links from around the web

I keep finding interesting information from around the web, so I thought it would be nice to do a weekly post with weekend links. Here goes the first; feel free to add any interesting links you’ve come across in the comments!

Oh, and don’t forget –only 2 more days on the baby signing giveaway! If you haven’t done so yet, enter now!

Snow Art

We’ve been enjoying playing with snow. Here’s some of Sprout1’s Snow Art.

Belgium- “Researchers at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) have found that the concentration of hormone-disrupting substances is 20 times higher in pre-schools with plastic furniture and toys than in classrooms with only natural materials, such as wood. Researchers examined the air quality in classrooms at 12 Flemish pre-schools. The substances don’t pose an immediate toxic danger but do increase the risk of diabetes, infertility and prostate and breast cancer in the long term. The quality of the plastic is also an important factor.” (source: http://www.flanderstoday.eu – unfortunately couldn’t find link to the actual research paper)

If you have boys, you MUST listen to the Raising Playful Tots Podcast this week – Calmer Easier Happier Parenting of Boys, with Noël Janis-Norton, author,teacher, trainer speaker learning and behavioural specialist.

Snow day activities- With the wonderful snow we’ve been getting here in Brussels, it’s time to get outside and enjoy it!

Juliet from I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here has a few ideas for outdoor activities in her post Snow Fun

Amanda of Not Just Cute has a Thematic Unit on Wintertime for indoor and outdoor learning activities for winter

Nicole from Life of Bear and Dragon has been out watching people sledding at Parc Woluwe and has some beautiful pictures to show for it!

sledding in Brussels

We’ve been out sledding at the less spectacular but less crowded slopes nearby 😉

Indoor winter activities with kids- If going out in negative temperatures isn’t your cup of tea, have a look at The Artful Parent‘s latest e-book with wintry crafts – The Artful Winter

For more wintry inspiration, why not have a look at my Winter Play and Art Pinterest board?

Enjoy the winter wonderland!

Baby Signing – an Interview and a Giveaway!!!

20130109-232132.jpgToday I have a very special treat to kick off the New Year! Diana Siepmann of Our Mamas Rock has kindly agreed to an interview about signing with your hearing child and is offering one of our lucky readers a free spot on her upcoming e-course Understand Your Baby’s Thoughts – 5 Simple Signs that open the Door to Your Baby’s Mind, starting 28 January.</strong> We signed with Sprout 1 and it really is mind blowing how you can communicate with these little people so early! I will be doing so with Sprout 2 (now 7mo) and will be joining Diana’s class. Maybe I’ll “meet” you there? Read through to find out more about signing and you can find the details for the giveaway at the end.

 

Hello Diana, welcome to our corner of the Internet! I’m very excited about your e-course and this giveaway.

OMR logoDiana Siepmann

The first question has to be the inevitable WHY sign with a hearing baby?
Signing is the shortest way to clearly understanding your baby’s wants needs and interests and therefore to more confident, relaxed and fun parenting. It’s easy, doesn’t take much time and it’s lots of fun too. So let me return the question: Why would you NOT sign with your baby :)?

When did you start using sign language with your own children?
I started using sign language with my son when he was 8 months old. I would have started a little earlier, had I known about its magic before. I exposed my daughter to a few signs from when she was 4 months old but only really started when she was 6 months.

Many parents/grandparents are worried signing with a hearing baby may delay spoken language development, is there any truth to this?
30 years of research into signing with hearing children show that the opposite is true. Signing supports speech development and also enhances children’s literacy skills.

Just like crawling can be viewed as practice for walking, signing can be seen as practicing for speaking. I am an advocate of using sign language to support and complement spoken language and therefore teach to always say the words as you sign them.

My own experience with my son confirms the research results: Tristan had 32 signs and 6 spoken words at the age of 12 months. I stopped counting before he turned 18 months as his sign vocabulary had exceeded 100 and his spoken vocabulary followed suit with about 70 words (a mix of German and Dutch). The average vocabulary of a two year old is 50 words. From the age of two years, Tristan spoke his two primary languages in full sentences, and he soon developed quite an impressive English vocabulary as well (he sang the alphabet song in English when he was 2.5 years old).

In my free eBook Precious Gift – 12 Good Reasons to Sign with My Baby (available on www.ourmamasrock.com) you will find more detailed information on how exposure to sign language from an early age offers many advantages in terms of wealth of vocabulary and literacy skills.

Tristan-book-read-again for mum-n-more

Was there an aha moment when you discovered this really works?
Yes there was, it was the morning that my son started signing for his milk without crying at the age of 9 months. After waking up he would play in our bed for a while and then start crying for his milk. I consistently used this as an opportunity to use the sign for milk. One morning, that seemed no different from any other morning, he started crying and then stopped. He looked at his hands and I could almost see him think “hang on a minute, there was this thing that mummy keeps doing when she says ‘milk’, let’s see “’ and he vehemently started signing milk with both his hands (I use a one handed sign for ‘milk’). I melted away when I saw that and so did his daddy who had been very skeptical up until that very moment. The proud smile on my son’s face when I came back with his milk made this experience even more profound. Not only had he asked for his milk using a sign, he seemed to have realized that there is a way to effectively communicate what he wants.

I understand you’re signing with your new baby daughter as well. Do you notice her starting to sign earlier? Does her bigger brother sign with her as well?
I started signing with my daughter when she was about 4 months old and she started to sign actively at 8,5 months which is a little earlier than her brother. Her first sign came as a complete surprise to me. She chose the sign for “dog” which she had not seen much at all and certainly not very regularly. She is crazy about my parents’ dog and that was her motivation.

She is now 10 months and has a sign vocabulary of 15 words which is absolutely wonderful (watch her telling me about rain, light and bed time ); her 2 favourite signs are “dog” and “drink”. I can see her studying my hands very closely now when I use signs. Tristan will occasionally sign with her and he joins in when I sing and sign with Briana. Tristan and I also still sign ‘I love you’ when I drop him off at school, it’s our secret language there.

Briana signing drink

What drove you to start your own business around signing with hearing babies?
I am a marketing communications specialist by education and had worked in several marketing communications positions in various companies for over 10 years when my son was born in 2008. In my new role as a mum I felt the strong desire to find a more meaningful path professionally. Something that would allow me to make a difference while still having the time and flexibility to be the mum I wanted to be.

At the same time, I was so enchanted with how signing impacted communication and emotional bonding with my son, not to mention the fact that it helped reduce frustration for both of us in so many instances, that I decided to share this magical experience with other families. I started teaching live baby signing courses in Brussels (www.bizzybee.eu) in 2009. Requests from mums who were not able to make it to live classes and the birth of my daughter have triggered the idea for Our Mamas Rock online courses.

Has there been a most memorable moment since you started this teaching journey?
The morning that my son started to sign for his milk remains one of the most precious moments not only because it was the first time he was able to clearly communicated what he wanted but also because it confirmed that signing really does work.

Many lovely signing stories followed; some of the most memorable ones together with other mums’ stories can be found in my free eBook ‘Precious Gift – 12 Good Reasons to Sign with My Baby’ (available on www.ourmamasrock.com)

One of the most recent heart warming moments was how Tristan (aged 3,5 at the time) welcomed his baby sister into the world.

I had prepared Tristan, as well as I could for her arrival and he seemed very excited about her ‘coming out’ soon. Of course you never know how an older sibling will react until the moment of that first encounter arrives. We were quite sure that he would give her a warm welcome and I was curious to see what he would say or do.

When Tristan walked into the room, seeing his little sister in his dad’s arms, he decided to greet her with signing ‘brother’; sending shivers of joy down my spine. I asked him if he remembered the sign for sister which he didn’t but he wanted me to show him. Then he also signed ‘sister’ to Briana. What a sensitive little boy I thought.

I had explained to him that it will take a while until Briana will be able to speak. He had not used his signs much since he turned two because he mastered his two spoken languages well enough by then. Realising that his sister will not be able to speak, he’s been practicing his signs again in preparation for the big day.

You have taken your courses from the in-person format to an on-line format. How do the courses work?
My online formula allows mamas to follow the courses from the comfort of their home at a time that suits them while still making it very easy to connect with like-minded mums in Our Mamas Rock – Café (a private Facebook forum). I also encourage mums to find signing buddies in the Café and to connect with them via Skype to make it even more of a group experience.

The course material is delivered via my website; one module per week. Every module contains audio and/or video material as well as a list of activities and assignments. My first course is an introduction to signing and allows participants to get to know me as a teacher. In this course I focus on the key success factors of signing with your baby and therefore it is very much directed at the mums. Most of the material can be followed without baby present. I also include some fun sing and sign along activities which are of course for mum and baby. The course also includes a course workbook with a summary of the course content and a poster which helps with remembering to sign.

The courses are offered as group courses with a starting and an end date as I strongly believe that being part of a group is part of the success. Having said that, for mums who have not been able to complete the course work with the end of the course or who would simply like to keep access to the course videos, I offer Our Mamas Rock – Membership. As a member you keep access to the course material.

Can anybody sign up, anywhere in the world?
Yes, there are no geographical constraints. I do teach in English but signs can be used in combination with any spoken language.

When is a good age to start signing with a baby?
A good age to start is about 6 or 7 months. This is not only the time when babies learn to sit unsupported which helps tremendously with signing it is also the time when children will generally start using gestures naturally such as waving hello and good bye, clapping or raising their arms for wanting to be picked up. If a child is older when you start signing that’s absolutely fine too, even toddlers will still benefit hugely from signing and they will learn it much faster. Remember that the average active vocabulary of a two year old is 50 words; the passive vocabulary is multiple times that. So starting to sign can still make sense when your child already speaks a little as it will help turn the passive vocabulary into active vocabulary.

Are you still offering in-person classes?
Yes, I am still offering in-person classes too; these keep running under the umbrella brand Bizzy Bee. I am currently not teaching personally but have a Bizzy Bee Signing teacher who offers courses in Waterloo, Belgium. I will also start teaching again when my daughter is a little older and she can join me, just like my son used to do.

Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I am a happy member of a blended family: I am German, married to a Vlaming, we have a 4 year old son and a 10 month old daughter who adore their 25 year old brother and a 22 year old sister.

As I mentioned earlier, I have decided to quit corporate life to be able to look after my children myself while at the same time serving other families around the world. I love what I do and the heartwarming feedback I’m getting from mums who participate in my courses keep fueling my passion.

During my quest for a more meaningful professional path, I also trained as a Montessori teacher for children from birth to three years and qualified as a children’s yoga teacher.

I am a curious optimist, always hungry to learn and open to guidance from the universe.

Diana is offering a free spot on her upcoming e-course ‘Understand Your Baby’s Thoughts – 5 Simple Signs that open the Door to Your Baby’s Mind’, starting 28 January. In order to win, simply follow the rafflecopter link below. Giveaway is open worldwide until 22 January. Your child must be over 6 months on 28 January in order to enter. Winners will be announced 23 January.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

If you just can’t wait until the end of this giveaway to secure a spot on this course, Diana will be offering a special price to BxlSprout readers who sign up before 16 January. All you have to do is enter code Bxlsprout here (case sensitive) to get access to the ecourse for the discounted price of €29 instead of the regular price of €37.

Disclaimer: I have been offered a free spot on the course after inviting Diana for an interview. Regardless, I would be signing with my baby just as I had with my first and promoting her e-course all the same.

A Fair Holiday Season

The holidays are right around the corner and, for better or worse, that usually means shopping for presents. Have you bought all your presents yet? I haven’t… despite good intentions of having everything sorted by the end of November, the procrastinator in me got the best (well, that and my 2 young’uns) and I still have a way to go.

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Anyone who knows me most likely knows how passionate I am about Fair Trade and Organic products. In fact, before becoming a stay at home mom, I was working for a Fair Trade non-profit organisation. Now, I’m not going to go into all the details about Fair Trade here, and I will not lecture you, but how cool would it be if you made a difference through your purchases this holiday season? How wonderful would it be if you not only bought excellent quality products, but also helped ensure those producing them were doing so under fair labour conditions and without resorting to modern slavery (see here, here, here, here and here) to produce them ?

You may be familiar with the Fairtrade label on food products in supermarkets (think coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas – these are the main food products), but did you know you could also buy these at Fair Trade shops, known as World Shops? Did you know there are also Fair Trade handicrafts? And may I add that they are beautiful? Really, they are perfect for gift-giving!

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Lots for the kids! My sons love the real traditional music instruments we’ve bought here. Much better price than big brand children’s toy instruments too.

Some of you may think, well, I already buy Fair Trade products at the supermarket, I’m doing my part. But let me just tell you why it’s also important to buy from these shops: the people doing the work, getting the message out, many (if not most) times donating their time and ability to promote Fair Trade. A supermarket is anonymous, a Fair Trade shop is not. These are mostly small, relying heavily on volunteers.

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All about the people…

I went out to my local Fair Trade shop – an Oxfam World Shop in Schaerbeek – to do some shopping and buy some presents – handicrafts and chocolates mostly – and took some pictures to show you.

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Shop front – they also have a second-hand shop attached

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Yummy! Fairtrade Noussines and Pralines

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Chocolates for the little ones. This is where I bought our chocolate St. Nicholas for Sprout and some friends. A real bargain, and so much better too.

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Beautiful handicrafts

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Colourful scarves

This is just a sample, really. There are many more in and around Brussels, not only Oxfam, but many others. Some even have a small resto/coffee shop where you could try their products (like here).

You can find quite a list of retailers at the Trade For Development website. And this is just Belgium. You can find Fair Trade products in just about any said developed (and many developing) country.

In a time of gift-giving, will your gifts be Fair?