OBSERVATIONS · play stages · pretend play · slice of life · speech · vocabulary development

Three Kinds of Play

SELF-DIRECTED PLAY: You know how they say you should never turn your back on the ocean? Well, you should never turn your back on a toddler. (Wait, I already knew that!) Well, I “turned my back” on Isabelle this morning while we were at her school. She was being looked after by her teacher and other parents when I left the room for 30 seconds to get her coat from the hallway. When I returned, I didn’t see her.

“Where’s Isabelle?” I asked, slightly worried. I say slightly since there’s only one egress from the classroom and I had been in front of it. She couldn’t have left.

Her teacher scanned the room with her eyes. Once she found her, she pointed to the corner. “She’s over there, mommy.”

I looked. It seems Isabelle made herself busy with a tea party while I was out of the room. So what did I do? I put our departure on-hold and joined her!


MOMMY-DIRECTED PLAY: Yesterday I bought Isabelle an opposites puzzle we’ve turned into a game. It’s a great way to practice fine motor skills, speech, vocabulary, and concepts. While she has a long way to go ’til she masters all of the words and concepts in this puzzle, she selected to play with it this afternoon. I was kind of surprised since it seems a little academic to me. But I guess she likes it. (I’m not complaining.) Here’s a look at her making an opposites match:

ISABELLE-DIRECTED PLAY: My mother-in-law came into town today, which allowed me to stow away in my office and get some work done. I came out of my office to check on the two of them and discovered quite a scene. The two of them were sitting on the floor together, complete with a tray of pretend cookies and cotton inside of a sugar bowl. Isabelle had a serious look on her face when I approached. She looked at me, picked up the tea pot, and poured each of them another cup of tea.

“She didn’t want to invite anyone else,” my mother-in-law said referencing the fact that the usual menagerie of stuffed animals wasn’t joining them.

“That’s okay,” I said.

I snapped a photo and left the room, remembering how Isabelle told me she wanted to have a tea party with Grandma later in the day. I guess she remembered her grand plan.


slice of life · speech

Inventing Her Own Speech Game

Speech/picture cards — all cleaned up!

I overheard Isabelle calling out familiar words from her play room as I cleaned up our breakfast dishes.  I turned off the water to take a better listen. As I got closer, I saw her dropping some of the cards her music therapist and former speech therapist made for her into her favorite beach pail. As she picked up each card, she said the word aloud. Once she said it, she dropped it in the bucket. Once I stopped kvelling about her making up her own speech game, I grabbed my iPhone and took a stealth video of her from the kitchen.  (NOTE: She wasn’t dressed for the day yet. She was wearing her woolies, which go under her clothes!)

Yes! You heard her say “Starbucks Lady” and “duckie.”  She also saw the song cards for “Pat a Cake” and “This Little Piggy.” which she recited aloud.

BUT… you want to know what was even more precious (and equally appreciated by this mom)? She cleaned up all of the cards and put them away in her folder when she was done.  That NEVER happens! Not sure how I got so lucky today!

music · OBSERVATIONS · speech

Slowing Down the “ABC Song”

I have a bone to pick with the person who wrote the “ABC Song.” It goes too fast through the letters l – p. This leaves little kids saying “elehmenoh” or even “ahbahbahbah” if their mouths can’t keep up.

Determined to do something about the way Isabelle was glossing over letters l – p in the “ABC Song” I decided to slow it down for her. Here’s what I did:


I separated foam letters into the phrases they’re sung. I put large spaces between the l and the m, the m and the n, the n and the o, and the o and the p. Then, as Isabelle and I sung the “ABC Song” together, she saw the spaces and heard the pauses in my voice. After awhile she began to slow down the way she sung the ABC song.

Isabelle also likes playing with the foam letters, which we only use together. I use them to practice sounds. For instance, we’re trying to get her to say the long a sound. Therefore, I put the a and the e letters by my mouth to get her to say elongate the word eight in an effort to say it properly. Here she is, though, just free playing with the foam letters after working on them with me.


holidays · Jewish · music · OBSERVATIONS · podcast · speech

A Toddler Song of Thanksgiving

DSC_9513About two and a half weeks ago, Isabelle’s speech and music therapists worked with us to create a Thanksgiving song to the tune of “Hot Cross Buns.”  During that time, I’ve worked with Isabelle to brainstorm a list of things and people she was thankful for this year.  Since thankfulness is a pretty tough concept for a toddler to grasp, we started out by talking about things she loved.  The list ranged from her family to our neighbors’ dogs to her friends to her teacher to Chocolate World.

In an effort to keep the song manageable and reverent for today’s festivities, I whittled the list down to family members, the neighbors’ dogs, and to Chocolate World.  (Especially because the neighbors’ dogs, Tiny, Rudy, and Lexie, as well as Chocolate World, were in her version of the song every time she practiced singing it.) Also, I created a chart with pictures to help guide her through the song.  Here she is, singing her song (with my assistance), earlier this evening:

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that tonight was also the second night of Chanukah, aka: Thanksgivukkah. We lit the menorah and sang a few Chanukah songs. Other than that, the day belong to Thanksgiving. (Thankfully, there are six more nights of Chanukah left for us to celebrate!)

slice of life · speech

Those three words.

I snapped my daughter into her car seat this morning like I do multiple times a day.

“I wuh Mama,” she said.

“You want mommy?” I asked.  Here I am!

“No,” she replied. “I wuhb Mommy!”

“You love Mommy?” I asked shocked.  That can’t be what she said. We haven’t practiced this with her. Sure, she’s heard us tell her we love her, but we have never prompted this sentence.  She can’t be telling me she loves me as I’m about to tighten her car seat belt.  


I hugged you as tears sprung from my eyes.  ”I love you too.”  And then I got all verklempt!

The journey we’re on is an ultramarathon.  We may face lots of rugged terrain, but there are beautiful views along the way to the finish line.

OBSERVATIONS · slice of life · speech


Isabelle’s speech therapist, Marie, gave us several things to work on for the week of July 8th. Since Isabelle had taken to repeatedly saying the name of a girl named “Addie” she met at the pool, Marie thought we should encourage her to try words like “daddy,” “puppy,” and “teddy.” I made it my business to begin stressing those words that week.

Isabelle imitated me saying “daddy” instead of dada several times that week, but she didn’t spontaneously call Marc “daddy.” We talked about Schlepp, her teddy bear, being a “teddy.” After a few days she said, “teh-dee” without prompting. The way she said it was absolutely adorable!

We were on the phone with my mom right before the weekend and Isabelle finally added the “bee” sound to “Bubbe.” That’s right. She went from saying “Buh-buh,” which is what she called my mom for months, to saying “Buh-bee.” When my mom heard it for the first time over the phone I could almost hear the delight spread across her face.

My parents arrived at our house on Saturday afternoon. We were sitting at Sophia’s in Walden when I heard her say “Zay-dee” for the first time. That’s right. She went from saying “Zzzzz,” which is how she had referred to my dad for awhile now, to saying “Zay-dee.” I witnessed my father’s mouth and even his eyes smiling each time he heard Isabelle say “Zay-dee.”

All of us kept prompting her to say “mommy” instead of “mama” and “daddy” instead of “dada.” But those words seemed tougher to change. While she was willing to imitate the word “daddy,” she seemed less willing to say “mommy,” when referring to me. I heard “mah-mee” a couple of times, but nothing spontaneous. Plus, every time I heard “mah-mee” it was as if she were being coerced into saying something she didn’t want to say. That’s not what “mommy” is supposed to be about so I decided not to push it.

Something BIG happened on Wednesday morning before I left for Philly for a speaking engagement. My mom and I were getting ready to take Isabelle to her swim lesson.

“Are you excited to go to the pool?” my mom asked.

“Yep!” Isabelle replied.

“Who’s going to the pool with you?” I asked her.

She thought for a moment. “Bubbe!” she declared.

“That’s right!” I said. “Bubbe is coming with us to watch you during your swim lesson. Who else is going to the pool with you?”

Another pause and then, “Mommy!”

My eyes got wide and my mouth dropped open. “That’s right sweetheart! Mommy is going to the pool with you!”

“Did you hear that?” I asked my mom. “She said mommy spontaneously!”

“I did,” my mom said with a big smile.

My heart was bursting. I gave Isabelle a hug and a big kiss. “You called me Mommy!” What an incredible gift before I went away overnight.

And then I did what any 21st century mom would do. I went on to Facebook to update my status so I could share my joy with my friends.

OBSERVATIONS · speech · turn-taking · Waldorf Education

The Social Dynamics of the Kiddie Pool

My little one playing with her pails.

If someone were to ask me what one of my Isabelle’s strengths is, I would say sharing. She’s one of those rare two year-olds who knows how to take turns and share.

That wasn’t always the case. A year ago she was quite possessive of her stuff. After a few months in a Waldorf parent/child class, she learned that not everything is hers. This happened as a result of turn-taking being modeled for her and her peers. As adults, our job was to encourage the children to redirect kids to something else that was appealing, rather than sharing the desired object, since the concept of sharing a toy is difficult for children. As a result of the redirection and turn-taking, which was also encouraged, Isabelle magically learned how to share things with other children. As a result, at two years old she shares better than most five year-olds.

And therein lies the problem. Most of the children she interacts with on a daily basis in the summertime do not attend her school. As a result, Isabelle is constantly put in situations with kids who are used to getting what they want when they want it. Because her speech is limited, I often notice she doesn’t know what to do. For instance, she can’t use her words to ask another kid to take turns with her on a slide. (I have to step in and facilitate that.) In addition, she’s not aggressive. I’ve only seen her grab something back from another kid a handful of times. Instead of taking back what was rightfully hers, she often just watches the kid who took what she was playing with. This worries me since I don’t want her to become a push-over. Conversely, I don’t want her to be an aggressor, so I’m not that upset that she doesn’t fight back.

Earlier this afternoon we took Isabelle to the pool. She enjoyed floating around the big pool in our arms, in her floaties, and holding on to noodles. But then she wanted to go into the kiddie pool. We brought two pails with us, which she likes to fill with water and dump over herself. She started out playing with the pails until she noticed a couple of the other kids in the kiddie pool had a ball. She wanted to play with it. She made her wishes known by saying “ball” a few times. Eventually one of them handed her the ball. She took turns passing the ball back and forth with him until his sister wanted the ball. She just grabbed it out of Isabelle’s hand. Isabelle looked perplexed and I said, “The ball is not yours. Your have to take turns and share it.” That appeased her.

A few minutes passed and she must’ve decided she wanted the ball so she walked across the kiddie pool to get it. She picked it up. Things were fine until the little girl came to grab it away from her. “Can you give her a turn with the ball? It is her’s,” I said to Isabelle.

Isabelle dutifully handed the ball back to the girl. “Thank you, honey,” I said. Isabelle clapped for herself. The other girl turned her back on Isabelle.

This little scene continued several more times. All the while the little girl’s father was sitting alongside the kiddie pool saying nothing. He was involved in a conversation with another adult and didn’t involve himself in the toy sharing situation.

I walked away from the pool to eat lunch leaving Isabelle there with my husband who was supervising her play. I kept my eyes on the pool while I had lunch and noticed a power struggle over other toys. The other kids had plastic action figures that Isabelle wanted. She picked them up, since they were laying untouched on the pool’s edge. Within a matter of seconds, the other girl came over to take the object out of my daughter’s hand. I watched my husband intervene a few times, but most of the time he tried to stay back and let Isabelle negotiate the situation. From afar I was glad he didn’t meddle too much since it allowed me to watch my child be resilient in the face of having something she was playing with get taken away from her. She didn’t yell at the little girl. She didn’t shout “no.” Isabelle looked at the other girl kind of funny each time she demanded something back. And then Isabelle went back and played with something else, unfazed by the other child’s antics.

Another child entered the kiddie pool while I was eating lunch. She had plastic fish and didn’t mind sharing them with Isabelle except for her clown fish figurine, which was hers. She didn’t want anyone touching it. However, her sharing behaviors were much better since I noticed her playing alongside of Isabelle for about a minute.

By the time I returned to the kiddie pool, I noticed Isabelle was playing happily with another kid’s toys. Where were her pails? I looked up. The little girl who was frustrated by Isabelle trying to play with her toys had absconded them and was using them. Hmph!

I looked at the clock and then the sky. It was creeping quickly towards nap time and the sky was gray. “I think we should go soon,” I said to my husband. He agreed and began to prepare Isabelle to leave by singing the good-bye song (to the pool) with her. Once Isabelle was plucked out of the pool, I said, “Why don’t you dry her off and I’ll get her pails back.”

He agreed and whisked Isabelle over to our table. I walked to the other side of the kiddie pool, bent down and said to the little girl who was still playing with Isabelle’s pails, “We’re leaving now so I need my daughter’s pails back.” She looked up at me and didn’t move. I bent down further and she let go of them. I dumped the water out of them, stacked one inside the other and decided to say something to her (in an effort to be positive). “Thank you for sharing some of your toys today.”

Her father, who was beside her, chuckled. “Thank YOU for sharing with us today.” I looked at him, smiled, and walked away. His emphasis on the YOU was probably directed at Isabelle. I took his comment to mean that he knew Isabelle truly shared with his daughter while his daughter wasn’t a great sharer. So why didn’t he encourage his daughter to share and take turns while our kids were in the pool together? Hmph!

I realize most toddlers don’t share and take turns well.  Sharing and turn-taking are skills that have to be explicitly taught and modeled.  More often than not, I find myself mediating these toddler situations by using phrases like, “First _____ will take a turn, then you will take a turn” and “Why don’t you play with this?”  I often wonder if I’m getting in the way of her working these situations out on her own.  That being said, I know my daughter needs me to be her voice since she doesn’t have the words to negotiate some of these situations on her own (and I don’t want her to get steamrolled by other kids).  There’s a fine line I have to walk between being a helicopter parent and advocating for my child. I wonder if I’m walking on the line properly.

OBSERVATIONS · picture books · slice of life · speech

Filling in the Blanks with Spoken Words

I’ve been reading Sweet Dreams Lullaby by Betsy Snyder to Isabelle every night since late December.  That’s about 100 nights’ worth of the same bedtime book!  Recently, I’ve noticed she has started to anticipate certain pages.  She approximates the word “splash” once she hears it at the end of one of the pages.  She kisses the air when she hears “a bedtime kiss from butterflies.”  She approximates “moon” just as I’m about to read it.  And together we blow gently after I read the word “breeze.”  While I have the book memorized and don’t even need to look at the pages, I still do since I don’t want to miss a word in case she wants to add to her repertoire on a given night.

my-name-is-not-isabella-300x232One of Isabelle’s favorite daytime books is My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry and Mike Litwin.  It’s a delightful picture book about a little girl who pretends to be several different women who changed the world (e.g., Sally Ride, Annie Oakley, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, and Elizabeth Blackwell).  Near the end of the book Isabella decides to be her mommy, who is the woman who fosters her imagination and nurtures her soul throughout the book.  By the end of the book she goes to bed content to be herself, “the sweetest, kindest, smartest, bravest, fastest, toughest, greatest girl that ever was.”  If ever there was a book that epitomizes the way I want my daughter to view herself and the role models I want her to have, THIS IS THE ONE.  (And it doesn’t hurt that the main character’s name is one letter off from Isabelle’s!)

So, getting back to saying the words she knows in this book.  This week, we’re working with My Name is Not Isabella.  When we reach a word Isabelle knows (or rather can approximate), I pause and let her say it.  Sometimes I have to prompt her by pointing to the picture.  For instance, she now says “beh” for “bed,” “buh” for “bus,” “mama” for “mother” and “mommy,” “kuh-kuh” for “cookies,” the latter of which all appear multiple times in the book.  Also, every time we reach the point in the story where the little girl says “‘My name is not _____!’ said the little girl,” I shake my pointer finger back and forth and Isabelle says “NO!” (and that “no” gets progressively louder as the book goes on).  I know it’s my own child, but I have to say, it’s pretty cute to listen to.

I’m hoping that having Isabelle fill in the blanks with words she knows will encourage her to become more interactive with books as I’m reading them aloud.  There’s no pressure involved with this since My Name is Not Isabella is a book she loves.  It’s simply a way to get her saying words she already can say so she can feel like a successful partner when we read books aloud together.

slice of life · speech

My heart is walking outside of my body.

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” –Elizabeth Stone

Wheat grass: a spring planting project from my daughter's school.
Wheat grass: a spring planting project from my daughter’s school.

The sobs were getting closer.  They had climbed the steps.  I could hear them in the next room.  Should I go in or butt out?  My shoes were in my hands.  I could’ve easily slipped out down the stairs since Isabelle’s babysitter was holding her, looking out the bedroom window.  Go in.  You’re her mother.  She needs you.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Isabelle turned her head as soon as she heard my voice.  “Mama, mama, mama!” She reached for me.  Liz handed her to me and I embraced her.

“What’s wrong honey?” I asked again.

Wetness covered her face.  The whites surrounding her blueberry eyes were tinged with pink.  Her bangs, which were coiffed with anti-frizz cream just 90 minutes earlier, were sticking out to the side. I sat down in the glider and rocked her.  The crying dwindled, but her body continued to shudder as Liz explained what happened.

“She ate most of her breakfast.  Then we were playing.  She played with one toy and then the next. But then, every time she picked a new toy from the board, she started to cry when I put the last one away. I asked her what she wanted and she said ‘up,’ so I brought her up here. I asked her if she wanted to read books, but she doesn’t.”

My heart sank.  It was one of those situations where Isabelle knew what she wanted, but couldn’t express it.

“Do you want something that’s up here, honey?” I asked calmly.

“(Ye)sss,” she replied.

“Can you take my hand, or Liz’s hand, and lead us to what you want?”

“(Ye)sss,” she said.  But she didn’t move.  The tears started to flow again.

“You know, when there’s something you want, you have to take our hand and bring us to what you want.  Then you can point to it.”

She ran her hand through her bangs to get them out of her face as she nodded.

“Are you hungry?” I asked.


“Would you like to get something to eat downstairs?”

“(Ye)sss,” she said wiggling herself down from my lap.  Why didn’t she sign that she was hungry?  Was that really it?  She always tells us when she’s hungry by signing “eat.”

She grabbed my hand and led me to the stairs.

“Wait just a minute.  I have to put my socks and shoes on because I have to leave in a few minutes.”

I sat down on the floor at the top of the stairs to put on my socks and shoes, which I had set down when I noticed Isabelle crying.  She plopped herself into my lap.  Liz and I chuckled.

“Are you going to help me put these on?”

“Mmmm-hmmm,” she said.  But of course, she didn’t.  She’s two.  She doesn’t have that kind of dexterity yet.  Instead, she sat calmly in my lap and waited.

“Stand up,” I said once I tied my second shoe.

She did.  She took my hand.  I opened the gate and we walked down the stairs together.  I picked her up and carried her into the kitchen as Liz trailed behind.

“Would you like raisins?” I asked once we arrived in the kitchen.

“(Ye)sss,” she said with a big smile on her face.

“Then I have to put you down.” I thought she’d cry again, but she didn’t.  Instead, a big smile crossed her face once I opened the pantry to retrieve the raisins.

“Up, up!” she said.

I put her up on the island.  She looked happy.  She saw the wheat grass we planted at school .  “You can touch it,” I said.

She did.  She smiled when she felt it prickle her skin.

“Would you hold on to her while I get a bowl?” I asked Liz.

Liz moved over and put her hands on Isabelle.  The two of them explored the wheat grass together while I put the raisins in the bowl.  I checked the clock.  I was fine on time.  I had five more minutes ‘til I really had to leave.

Once the raisins were in the bowl Isabelle was content.  She vacillated between eatingraisins and touching wheat grass.  In fact, she was all smiles a minute later so I said, “Mama’s gonna leave now.  I will be back in a few hours, okay?”

“(Ye)sss,”  she said.

“Let me give you a kiss,” I said.  I leaned into her and she kissed my chin as I kissed her forehead.

“Buh-bye,” Isabelle said as I walked towards the door.

I glanced back towards her as she was munching on her raisins with Liz.  She was fine.  Giggling.  Happy.  No hint of the frustration that had abounded ten minutes earlier.

The sweetness from the handful of raisins I ate couldn’t mask the taste in my mouth.  Yet again, my daughter knew what she wanted to say, but couldn’t articulate it. I cannot imagine how hard it is to walk through life everyday knowing what you want to say but not being able to get your point across.  We use signing, pointing, and pictures to help Isabelle when she’s unable to say a word.  However, none of those things worked this morning.  And for that, my heart just ached.

OBSERVATIONS · slice of life · speech

Trying to Say “Eat” Is Hard.

Izzy has been signing the word eat for months.  Sometimes she signs it and means eat.  Other times she signs it and wants a drink.  Therefore, we are working with her to say “cup” and “eat” with her voice.

I have an app on my iPhone that has short videos of words. This morning. (If your jaw just stopped open because you’ve read my previous post on NOT giving her my iPhone, please know she only uses speech apps on there. Oh, and she watches the occasional Maccabeats video.)  I was working with Izzy to help her practice the word eat.  I pressed play on the video of the woman whose mouth says eat slowly and then at a regular pace.

“No,” Isabelle said instead of trying the word.

“Say eat,” I replied as I replayed the seven second video.  Why isn’t she trying it.  She always tries it.

“No,” she said again when the second video ended.

“Isabelle, say ‘eat’,” exaggerating the way I moved my lips to make each sound in the word.

“No,” she said with a frown on her face.  She turned away from me.

“Sweetie, come here,” I said.  I took her tiny toddler hands in mine and waited ’til she looked at me.  “How come you won’t say the word eat?”

She looked away.

“Please look at me, Izzy.”  Her eyes looked up immediately so I tried a  new tactic since I knew she wasn’t going to answer my question.

“Is saying the word eat hard for you?” I asked.

“(Ye)sss,” she responded with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen.

I slid my hands up to her shoulders and pulled her towards me.  I gave her the tightest hug I could muster to help me from crying.  “I know it’s hard for you, Izzy.  But sometimes we have to try things even when they’re hard for us.  That’s the only way things become easier.”  Stop talking, Stacey.  You’re saying too much.  Too many words for her to take in.  “Let’s practice it again, okay?”

She shook her head yes.

“Would you like to sit on my lap?” I asked.


She plopped down into my lap.  Together we touched the play button on my iPhone.  The woman’s mouth appeared and said eat again.  This time, at the end of the video, Isabelle said “eh.”

“I heard you say ‘eh.’ What a good try, Isabelle.”