Tuesday, September 29, 2015

7 Simple Fine Motor Busy Bags

I always tell everyone that having a child with Down syndrome enhanced our lives.

It's absolutely true!  In addition to the many blessings Liam bestowed upon our family, he also expanded my thinking. I now find myself thinking in terms of fine motor skills, gross motor skills, expressive language, and receptive language.  I research early childhood development topics and therapy ideas.  So much more knowledge has come from his diagnosis!

I love to do activities with my kids and encourage learning in our home, but I've definitely been doing more since Liam was born. Whenever I decide to do an activity, I try to think of all the ways it will benefit him. Surprisingly, almost anything can become a therapy tool!

As many of you know, Liam receives Early Intervention services in our home.  Every week, he gets an hour of occupational therapy, an hour of speech therapy, and an hour of physical therapy.  He's truly doing fantastic, and is right on track with milestones and development!

Although I'll save it for another post, Liam just had his yearly Early Intervention evaluation and almost didn't qualify for OT anymore.  The only thing that gave him a qualifying score was the fact that he didn't complete three tasks that he knows how to do during testing.  Liam's amazing OT, whom we adore, said he reached all his goals, so now we're just going to refine his skills by making his tasks more difficult.

It was time to get creative!

After discussing ways to make Liam's therapy activities more difficult, I got to work creating fine motor Busy Bags using common, inexpensive household items.  These Busy Bags are perfect for Liam's developing skills, but also perfect for keeping Lily occupied!


7 Simple Fine Motor Busy Bags

Almost every Busy Bag featured has multiple activities for different skill levels. They work so well for our family.  Lily can keep busy doing the more advanced activities, while Liam develops his skills! Even Dylan and Lexie, my BIG kids, had fun with a few of these!


{ONE}

Crazy Loop Straw Threading Busy Bag

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  • Crazy Loop Straws
  • Foam Beads 

Have your child thread the foam beads onto the crazy loop straw.  Bonus activities: Sort the beads into colors, sort the beads into shapes, and/or make a tower with them.

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{TWO}

Pool Noodle Stringing and Stacking Busy Bag

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  • Pool noodle (Slice into 1 inch-2 inch pieces. Trust me, it's easy!)
  • Piece of rope (Tie a large knot in one end.)

Have your child string the pool noodle pieces onto the rope or stack the pool noodles as high as he/she possibly can! This probably goes without saying, but always supervise your child while they're using the rope.

Stringing Pool Noodles

{THREE}

Straw Drop Busy Bag

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  • Small container with a lid (Punch a hole in the lid with a large screwdriver.)
  • Plastic Straws cut into 2 inch segments

Have your child put the straws into the cup through the hole in the lid.  For older children, make it more challenging by timing them!

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{FOUR}

Sponge Blocks Busy Bag

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  • Sponges cut into squares, rectangles, and triangles

Have fun building with sponge blocks! My kids LOVE this one!  Have your child create a tower with the sponge blocks.  Afterward, they can sort the blocks by color, then by shape.

Sponge Stacking Busy Bag

{FIVE}

Playdoh Busy Bag

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  • Small container of Playdoh
  • Straws cut into 3 inch segments

Kneading Playdoh is great for strengthening the muscles in the hands!  After a few minutes of kneading, place the straws in the Playdoh.  Advanced activities: Create animals with the straws, create patterns using the straws, or write letters in the Playdoh by poking it with a straw.  *We used dry pasta in the past for this, but I was afraid it would get crushed while being stored.

Playdoh and Straws Busy Bag

{SIX} 

Wiffle Ball/Golf Ball Threading Busy Bag

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  • Wiffle Balls or plastic golf balls
  • Pipe Cleaners

Have your child thread the pipe cleaners through the wiffle ball/golf ball.  Advanced Activity: Make shapes by connecting the balls together using the pipe cleaners.

Wiffle Ball Lacing Busy Bag

{SEVEN}

Paperclip Numbers Busy Bag

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  • Flashcards (punch a hole through the bottom corner of each card)
  • Paperclips

There are so many activities to do with this busy bag for all skill levels! 
  1. Pick a flashcard and place that number of paperclips on top of the card.
  2. Count out the number shown on a flashcard using the paperclips and clip them to the card.
  3. Sort the paperclips by color.
  4. Make a bracelet by linking the paperclips together!
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All of the busy bags can be easily stored in plastic storage bags and placed in a storage crate.  We keep all of our Busy Bag Binders and crates on a shelf in the hallway, within easy reach. Saying "I'm bored!" is not allowed!

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Lily and Liam are having so much fun with the fine motor busy bags that they don't even realize they're developing skills!

What are your favorite fine motor activities?

For more busy bags check out:

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Monday, September 28, 2015

The Places We Go: Carnegie Science Center

One of the best things about living near Pittsburgh is the fact that there is so much to do.  It really is a great place to raise a family!

Our family is always on the go. We try to give our kids as many experiences as we possibly can to learn, have fun, and make memories. 

We definitely have a list of favorite places to visit, and we aim to visit those places at least once a year!  One of those places is the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. 

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I vividly remember going to the Carnegie Science Center with my parents and my nephew (who is going to be a dad in a few weeks!) when I was kid.  My dad was the director of a local museum at the time, so we went to the preview night just before the grand opening.  I remember how much fun I had, and I'm so glad my children get a chance to experience it, too!


At the end of summer, the girls, Liam, my niece, Aubrey, and I went to the Carnegie Science Center with my friend, Amber. Dylan wasn't feeling well, so he chose to spend the day with his grandparents.  We missed him, but it didn't stop us from having fun!

We decided to visit Highmark SportsWorks first, because it wasn't crowded at the time.  Liam immediately got to work performing some surgery on the Sports Injuries Operation Game while the girls rode the BodyCam over and over again!

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Lily was the only brave one in the group, and loved Bounce!

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They all loved Go for a Spin!

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We don't usually have time to visit the USS Requin Submarine Exhibit, but it was such a beautiful day and I had an extra set of hands, so we decided to go for it!

My dad was stationed on a submarine when he was in the service, so it was neat showing the kids how their Papa lived for months!

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Carnegie Science Center Submarine
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When we finally made it INTO the Carnegie Science Center, Lexie requested her favorite exhibit: the Earthquake Cafe!  This exhibit was at the museum when I was young, and I loved it.  We don't get to experience earthquakes in Pittsburgh (which is a good thing!), so they really think it's neat to feel what it's like!

Carnegie Science Center Earthquake Cafe

All the kids loved the BLUE! exhibit!  There's just something so exciting about all those giant foam blocks, although Liam preferred to stop, drop, and #downwarddude!

Carnegie Science Center Blocks and Balls Exhibits

Exploration Station Jr. is ALWAYS a hit! They just love the water table!!!

Carnegie Science Center Water Exhibit 3

Liam was very cautious at first...

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...but decided to just get messy!

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Liam had more fun with that water table than any of my kids ever did! Let's just say a COMPLETE outfit change was needed, and I had to drag him away from the water table so we could move on!

Carnegie Science Center Water Exhibit 1
Carnegie Science Center Water Exhibit 4
Carnegie Science Center Water Exhibit 2
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Ping Pong balls were later added to our own water table!!!

We moved on to the Miniature Railroad & Village.  I truly could explore this for hours.  All the details are amazing and it's beautiful!

Carnegie Science Center Train Exhibit

My time was limited, and the kids wanted to see roboworld.  This is another favorite! Lily wasted no time finding all the Star Wars robots, including C-3PO!

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Our last stop of the day was the H2Oh! exhibit.  The girls thought the "smiling" catfish was the best part, but Liam wasted no time making himself comfortable!

Carnegie Science Center Nature Exhibit

The girls had to do a quick WTAE Weather forecast before we left! I'm fairly certain Lily's the angriest meteorologist EVER.

Carnegie Science Center Weather Exhibit

After a quick stop in the gift shop, we were on our way to our next adventure!

We had a great afternoon of exploring at the Carnegie Science Center and we can't wait to go back! 

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Have you gone to the Carnegie Science Center or somewhere similar?  What's your favorite exhibit?

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

It Feels Like Home at Chick-fil-A

I was recently given the incredible opportunity to be a part of the Chick-fil-A of Pittsburgh Mom Ambassador panel!

So much thought went into the #CFAPITTMoms welcome package that arrived in the mail. From shirts for our entire family to stuffed cows for the kids, Joslynn, the Chick-fil-A Area Marketing Director, thought of everything. There was even a Chick-fil-A name tag for me, which made my oldest son exclaim, "Mom!  You got a job at Chick-fil-A?"

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I was already a fan of Chick-fil-A before I received the invitation.  There are just so many things that make Chick-fil-A stand out from the fast food crowd, which makes it a great choice for my family!

The atmosphere at Chick-fil-A is very warm and welcoming, and the service is truly exceptional. Every time I walk into the restaurant, I am happily greeted by at least two employees before I even make it up to the counter.  My baby is immediately handed a container of cheerios, and the employees at the registers always make it a point to ask how my day is going and greet each of my children before they take my order.

I speak from experience when I say that Chick-fil-A is the ONLY fast food restaurant that does that.

I'm often on my own with my kids when we go to Chick-fil-A.  Any parent who has multiple children knows that it's often a challenge to order food and get settled in at a table.  Chick-fil-A does everything they possibly can to make it a positive experience for me.  Not only do they carry our drinks to the table, but they also bring over a highchair and place the disposable stick-on placemats (that they provide!) on the table for me.  That's such a big help for a mom who has her hands full!

The service doesn't end there! Every 5-10 minutes, an employee stops by the table to see if I need a refill, napkins, utensils, or sauces.  If I need anything, they immediately get it for me.  Their customer service is unbeatable!

Chick-fil-A is the only fast food restaurant that has healthier fast food.  We don't eat at other fast food restaurants often.  We only eat at the other restaurants for playdates or when they're chosen for a birthday dinner.  I'm NOT a fan.  I always leave with an upset stomach and always regret eating there. Chick-fil-A is different.

The food at Chick-fil-A tastes better and seems so much healthier. The chicken and fries aren't coated in that disgusting, stomach-turning oil that other fast food restaurants use, and there are so many healthy side options.  When I'm at Chick-fil-A, I don't feel the least bit guilty about eating the food or feeding it to my children!

I choose Chick-fil-A for the happy, clean, safe environment and the above and beyond service, but I also choose it because my kids like going there.  They love the delicious food and they love to play in the enclosed indoor playground! 

I also choose Chick-fil-A based on an experience I had there. 

My sweet Liam.

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For those of you who are just getting to know our family, Liam has Down syndrome.  When Liam was about 6 months old, I went into our local Chick-fil-A.  Liam was an extremely tiny 6 month old, who still resembled a newborn.

At the time, I still felt awkward telling people that he had Down syndrome. When an employee asked how old he was, I took a deep breath and told her that he was 6 months old but was still very tiny because he had Down syndrome.  I held my breath, anticipating her response.  Instead of the awkward eye aversion or the dreaded I'm-so-sorry reply, she simply smiled, touched his cheek, and told me he was perfect. It was nearly impossible to hold back my tears.

At that moment, I felt as if my family was welcome and accepted.  THAT is why I choose Chick-fil-A.  That is why it's one of our favorite places to go. And that is why I was thrilled to be a part of the Chick-fil-A of Pittsburgh Mom Ambassador panel!

Last Wednesday I attended the Blogger Ambassador Kick Off at the Manchester Bidwell Culinary Amphitheater in Pittsburgh. I felt welcome the moment I walked in!

Chick-fil-A Kick Off
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To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.  I expected a room full of bloggers, but instead the panel of bloggers was very small and the room was filled with the local Chick-fil-A franchise operators.  Everyone was so nice and the room was set up so beautifully. I couldn't wait for it to begin!

Chick-fil-A Blogger Kick Off

At the beginning of the event, we all had the chance to stand up and introduce ourselves.  One thing was evident: the majority of us had big families!  Prior to introductions, I met the franchise operator of my local Chick-fil-A and we chatted a bit.  During introductions, we discovered we had a connection.  We both have sons with Down syndrome!

As I mentioned earlier, I was already a Chick-fil-A fan, but what I heard during the presentation made me respect the company so much more.

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Chick-fil-A really is the better (for you) fast food!  They only use natural, sustainable ingredients that are fresh and healthy when preparing their food.  Their chicken is hand-breaded or grilled.  The food is also craveable.  They tend to offer classics with current flavor trends to please the customers.

As a mom, I love the options for their Kid's Meals. The choices are chicken strips, chicken nuggets, or grilled chicken nuggets.  For the side, you can choose waffle fries (which aren't greasy at all!), a delicious fruit cup, or a Buddy Fruits Pouch.  All four of my kids are able to build a Kid's Meal that they love!

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So much work goes into introducing new foods into the restaurants.  A dedicated team, which includes a Dietitian, a Chef, and a Culinary Scientist, works hard during the 5 step process (Understand, Imagine, Prototype, Validate, and Launch) to perfect the product.  Some products were in testing for 5-10 years before launching!

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Chick-fil-A is continuously working to pursue "cleaner" ingredient statements, offer Diet Specialty Items (such as a Gluten Free Bun option), and offer more organic ingredients. Although Chick-fil-A already has so many delicious items on their menu, there's still more to come!

All of these items are subject to change, but hopefully you'll be seeing the Frosted Coffee, Spicy Southwest Chicken Salad, Cranberry Lime Lemonade, Frosted Cranberry Lime Lemonade, and the Egg White Grilled Breakfast Sandwich within the next year!

After all that discussion of food, I was hungry!  Thankfully, Chick-fil-A spoiled us with a delicious dinner!

Chick-fil-A Blogger Kick Off Meal
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The company was great, too.  I had the chance to meet some wonderful local bloggers, including an Instagram favorite, and chat with some other crazy parents (AKA those of us crazy enough to have 4+ kids)! We shared some parenting stories and enjoyed the delicious food, including a new item that was flown in for the event. I can't wait until it's on the Chick-fil-A menu!

Blogger Ambassador Kick Off

Everything was really good, but surprisingly, the Greek Yogurt Parfait was my favorite. I really disliked Greek Yogurt until I tried this. It was SO good and I highly recommend it!  (I ordered one today at a Chick-fil-A playdate with our friends!)

After we ate, the presentation came to an end, and we got to tour the Manchester Bidwell Training Center.  Manchester Bidwell was just awarded the True Inspiration Award from Chick-fil-A.  It's an award that's given to an organization that is doing something remarkable.  The Manchester Bidwell Training Center definitely seems like a remarkable place that is changing lives!

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It was an incredible evening! I learned so much and met so many wonderful people. I felt welcome from the moment I walked in the door until the moment I left with a bag full of goodies. It was an evening that started with handshakes and ended with hugs.

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"We are more than a restaurant. We're a home." I was given the amazing opportunity to be part of the  @chickfila Pittsburgh Mom Ambassador panel. The Blogger Ambassador Kick Off event last night was an incredible experience. I already loved Chick-fil-A pr

Chick-fil-A excels at giving families the chance to have fun in a positive, safe environment. They aim to be remarkable, and they truly are! It's why my family goes back again and again.

Liam at CFA


"We are more than a restaurant.  We're a home."

Thank you for being our home away from home.  I am honored to be one of the #CHICKFILAMoms!

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Thank you, Chick-fil-A and The Motherhood,  for this AMAZING opportunity!

I want to know: What's your favorite item on the menu at Chick-fil-A?

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*I was compensated for writing this post, but all opinions are my own. Thank you, Chick-fil-A, for sponsoring this post.