Sunday, 31 October 2010

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What to do if your toddler doesn't like books or nursery rhymes?

I remember that one of my friends told me her problem, that her toddler doesn't like books. Books are so important. As a mother, I feel for her, her worries, and pray for her, whenever I remember her. I am thinking what could be done to motivate toddlers to read.

When J was a baby, he would listen and look at the pictures, when I read him bible stories during bed time. But he changed when he became a toddler. He no longer has the patience for story books, sigh. Now he only likes to see picture book with single, big and real life pictures. He also doesn't like nursery rhymes, when I read it to him.

While I am thankful that J enjoys picture books and flash cards so much, it is also very important for language development that he likes to listen to story-telling, which exposes him to sentence construction, rather than single-word picture books. So this has problem vexed me a lot for quite a while (i.e. a few weeks). I have been thinking about what to do about it. Praise God, He always answers prayers. (Looking back, God has always helped me to think of ideas to solve problems, whether it is at home or at work. It doesn't mean that I don't make mistakes, but it means that God is there to go through the journey with me, giving me the peace and courage to pursue my conviction and my belief - be it work, business or parenting. And many decisions I make do need a lot of courage - be it at work or parenting at home. God is there with me throughout.) Approx. a week ago, I suddenly thought of a solution. I truly think that it is God helping me.

Here are 5 ways:

1. Point and sing the words from the book, instead of reading

2. Create a cozy reading cave

3. Use a teddy bear for role play

4. Sing and recite to him during lights-off at bed-time

5. Add sound effects to the reading

6. Above all else, Pray

Here is an explanation of the above-mentioned three methods:

1. Point and sing the words from the book, instead of reading

Singing to toddlers is not a new concept, but targeted singing is one. The idea and purpose here is to associate singing to reading.

During quietening down time, i.e. bedtime, I began to sing the words to J from the book, and that held his attention. He began to be able to sit still and listen. I would point to the words in the book and sing the words. Thus, I would pick those nursery rythmes and we would "sing" the nursery rhyme book together. Singing somehow does the trick of solving the problem of J not liking to sit and read story books. J could now say "Twinkle Twinkle on his own": http://momlearnings.blogspot.com/2010/10/joshua-19m25d-could-say-sing-and-sign.html

Oh I wish so much that I am a stay-at-home mom, but that would put too much mental stress on my Significant Other to know that the entire family income depends on him. Being a cross-cultural family, we also need more family budget to be able travel to Singapore to visit my family. I do miss my family so much, and J is growing up so fast, that I want to be able to visit Singapore every year, and that is a lot of expenses. If I am a stay-at-home-mom, I would spend the time to compose songs from the kids' bible and sing the bible to him instead. I have rhyme toddler's Bible, but I have not found singing toddler's Bible. If any of you finds it, please let me know. I wish some entrepreneurs out there would develop one, and I will be the first one to buy such a bible. (On a side note, I have many ideas for the baby and toddler business, why, you may ask, don't I be the entrepreneur myself, instead of wishing some entrepreneurs would do it? Because my time is so precious, that not even the excitement and possibility of making a business out of it would entice me away from spending my precious time to nuture J. Nurturing a business is like nuturing a baby, and I would rather nuture a real baby/toddler. It gives much more satisfaction than running a real busines. I used to be very business and career-minded, but I have changed).

If your toddler could not sit still for reading time, maybe you like to try this method. Of course, every child is different. What works for J may not work for the other children.

As a bonus, J began to learn the words very fast through the "singing" of the book. You could use any nursery rhyme book. The nursery rhyme book I use is below. It comes with very sharp and graphic illustration that captures the toddler's attention.








2. Create a cozy reading cave or reading nook



Principle no.1: Make sure that it is a COZY (hyggeligt) cave, not a prison


If you toddler doesn't like books, you may want to try to create a cozy cave. To be successful, it is important that you make the cave a cozy inviting retreat, and not a prison. For us, we created a "little house" using the brillant Danish design Park-A-Kid (Trust the Danes to come up with good quality and excellent design! The only thing is that I wish it would be more affordable!):


Principle no. 2: Start it right and choose only ONE book



It is very important that you implement this correctly though, so that your toddler come to associate the cave for reading. The first time you do it, it is important that you choose the right book and ONLY ONE BOOK, so that your toddler will not develop the habit of jumping from books to books.

I learned from my mistake. I started reading to J beside the book shelf. The good thing is that he gets to choose his books, but the down-side is that he will abandon a book after every 5 minutes. Thus, to set a routine, start it right. Let the toddler associate the cave to reading a special book per sesson. If you find creating a cave too troublesome, you can try to do blanket time in an enclosed area to help your toddler to concentrate.

When it is reading time, pick out a book that you would like to read or sing to your toddler. Sing and read to your toddler inside the "cave". Since there is no other distraction, it would hopefully be successful for you to direct your toddler's attention to the book.


Principle no. 3: Start slow and work it up


Do not be over ambitious. Keep it short and start slow. If you succeed for 5 minutes the first time round, give yourself a pat on the shoulder. Developing a habit takes time, and at least 3 sessions. Increase the time as you go along.


3. Use a teddy bear for role play


I will pretend to read to the teddy bear in front of J. J would want to join us. I will also teach the teddy bear to read. I will also ask J to teach the teddy bear to read. In this way, it makes reading time more fun and varied. J finds it funny that the role is reversed – instead of mommy teaching J to read and telling Jwhat the name of the picture is, he now is the “BIG brother” teaching the teddy bear to read. J will tell the teddy bear, that the picture he is looking at is the bird, for example. In this way, J is even more motivated to learn to read and learn the nouns of things, so that he can teach the teddy bear :-)

4. Sing and recite to him during lights-off at bed-time

I notice that J was amazing attentive to what is being narrated to him in darkness during lights-off at bed-time. Perhaps this is because there is no other distraction around. You might like to try this method, if your toddler has no patience to listen to reading.

5. Add sound effects and gestures to the reading
For example, when there is a wind in the story, act out the wind by blowing on your child's hair. When there is rain, read the word rain, and make the sound of rain. Invent hand signs for words such love, above, all, etc. For example, if there is an animal in the story, make the sound of the animal and also hand sign of the animal.

6. Pray


Most importantly, pray. If your toddler doesn't like books. Don't give up. Try this, and above all PRAY. Praying really changes things. Praying touches the heart of God, and humbles us to acknowledge that many things are beyond our control. It gives you the strength to try and try again, and not to give up. This idea that God gave me worked for J. Perhaps, God will give you another idea that would be more suited for your toddler. For those who still don't know Jesus, I wish sincerely for you to get to know Jesus and know that He is really there to help you through your every day challenges. God wants the best for us in our lives.

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J Summary (19M25D) - Could say, sing and sign "Twinkle Twinkle"

J started to sing (probably 2 or 3 weeks ago), although I couldn't make out what song he was trying to sing. I sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars" to him last week. This evening during dinner, he suddenly started to sing the tune "Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars" very clearly to my sweet surprise. He sang "Twinkle Twinkle" very clearly with the star hand-sign that I taught him, but I couldn't make out the "Little Stars". However, I could make out that he was singing the song.

After singing the song, he lifted up his arms and said "Yeh", which I taught him to do after every song that we sang.

Friday, 29 October 2010

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J Summary (19M24D)

Character development... or the lack of it!

This morning, J (19M24D) committed his first real sin - he told his first lie. Since about 3 weeks ago, J is able to tell us, when he made poo poo in his pants by saying "chou chou" and making the accompany hand-sign for smelly that I taught him. He will request for his diaper to be changed and head by himself up the stairs. Sometimes being busy with housework, I would not have made it upstairs, before he was already half-way up the stairs. This morning, just before leaving the door, we could smell something bad. I said, did you made poo poo in Mandarin, and he answered "nej, nej" in Danish, meaning "no, no". He was too eager to leave for the day care. True to it, he made a big one, and Daddy had to change him, when they arrived at the day care, resulting in getting to work late, and being late for his morning meeting. This brings to mind the fallen man. J is barely past 1.5 year old, and he could tell a lie. As human being develops intellectually, there is also more room for sin. This is clearly seen from the development of a baby. Oops, I forgot to pray with him during his bed-time prayer, that he should seek God's forgiveness. I shall remember to do so tomorrow night.

This evening, it was time for bed-time routine and bath time. J said "nej, nej" for the first time. And for the first time, he got off the chair and walked away from his "Time-Out" spot. I had to confine him to the crib as a result. This is a power-struggle I must win. Character development starts from young. It is very challenging parenting a toddler, and it will only get more challenging.

Language development

Last week, J came home from daycare and during dinner, he took up his cup and said "skål" - which means cheers in English. That took us by surprise. We started cheering back with our cups. I started cheering back in Mandarin "ganbei", which he repeated with perfect intonation. Then he started "cheering" with his cup in Mandarin. We had been practising this for 1 week now, and he now cheers in both Danish and Mandarin :-) This incident tells me that toddlers can differentiate and understand that 2 different words can have the same meaning. J uses the 2 words, and he uses them in the correct context. The hypothesis that too many languages would confuse a toddler that many parents are worried about is fast becoming a myth, at least in our family experience.

Although started rather slow, J is developing fast in the language department. My neighbour was the one who noticed that, as I had no experience with it. Thank God for bringing me my neighbour to remind me that. Then I began to be more conscious and take notice - yes, it does seem that there is a new word every few hours, like a parrot, repeating everything we said which are two-syllabus. But somehow, he still have problem saying mother. On Wednesday, it was the first time he said "ma ma" clearly, but he refused to say "mor" in Danish, and have difficulty saying "mommy" in English. So strange that he could say almost any two-syllabus word after us, but have difficulty with this one word. But I am totally delighted that he could say "ma ma" in Mandarin, finally. The strategy now is try to say things containing two-syllabus as much as possible and to accentuate them. I have got to remember that. These couple of months will be very busy for me, as I read that these few months is a sensitive period for language. Two of the mothers in my Chinese mothers group also told me the same thing. They have toddlers older than J, thus, they speak from experience. Unfortunately, it is also the busiest period at work for me. Dear God, please help me to juggle.

Since the begining of this week, J is no longer satisfied with me just reading his picture flash cards. He wants me to play a game with it by placing 4-5 flash cards on the floor and asking him which animal or fruit is on which card. He will then point out the card that matches the animal or fruit that I asked for. I will then clap my hands, if he answers correctly. If not, I will tell him which card is for example, the elephant.

A couple of days ago, J started talking on his own - he starts to say "hua" when he sees flowers, instead of just parroting after us.

Imagination Development

J's imagination is developing. Today, when I picked him up at the daycare, he was playing pretending play, carrying a lady hangbag in his arm. He was so proud and gave me the grin, when he saw me at the door.

The daycare also has toy-props such as high heel shoes, scarfs, etc. for pretend play, mainly for girls.
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How to make homemade paints for toddlers?

Ingredients:
- 2 TBS flour
- a little water
- a few drops of food colouring

Directions:
Mix them all together

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Additional Comments:
Home-made paints is safe as it is made with edible materials, at the same time convenient (I don't have to run to the art shop) and economical. Use it for finger painting for toddlers less than 18 months old, or with fat brushes for toddlers more than 18 months old.

References:
http://www.babycenter.com/
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Educational Toys for Toddlers 18 – 24 months

I am a firm believer in learning through play. Play can be activities, but many activities need props, and that is where well-designed toys come in. However, not all toys are necessary. Some are expensive, but bad. Some are inexpensive, but still not worth having. Others are expensive, but worth investing in, as they are very educational, while some are inexpensive, but very good.

Here is a list of toys for toddlers 18 - 24 months, which I believe are beneficial, although some can be very expensive and some are fortunately inexpensive. Some can be home-made to save cost, while some can be from recycled house-hold items, with some creativity.

When looking for a day care centre, look around that they have all these toys. I cannot afford all the toys, but the good thing is that most of the toys are available at J's day care centre, so that the children can share.

If I am to open a day-care one day, these will be the toys I will stock up in my day care centre.

Essential:

1. Board books

2. Picture flash cards

3. Alphabet magnet phonics (Leap Frog)

I have got to say something about this toy! It is a brillant toy. The latest development in childhood education advocates teaching children the sound of the letters, and not emphasizing the name of the letter. This toy teaches the sound of the letter and the name of the letter in a song. Because it is in a song, and so catchy, even children with short attention span such as Autism and ADHD manage to learn their alphabet. It is with regret, that this toy was not available for my nephew who has ADHD. He is now 10 years old. I discovered this toy, when I visited my friend Wimin. I have now ordered one from Amazon for J. It is rather expensive, but I would rather forgo more hand-bags, make-up and clothes to buy this for J.

I only wish that Leap Frog would develop something like this for the Chinese in Mandarin. Hopefully, some Chinese companies would do it. But Chinese toys are way behind those of US and Europe. For this reason, it is important for J to learn English, because the best tools and techniques are available to learn the English language.

Here is the link to the US Amazon:


Here is a link to the UK Amazon:


4. Training doll - Can be a teddy bear + save some of your child's old newborn clothes, shoes, hats, socks, etc. for the teddy bear

5. Pouring containers

6. Stack-a-ring (IKEA)

7. Shape-sorter (IKEA)

8. Nesting blocks

9. Magnetic sketch board

10. Balls

11. Sand tools

12. Lego Duplo My First Set

13. Train-set

14. Cutting-food set

15. Wooden blocks

16. Wooden beads with holes in the middle to string the beads through

17. Wooden puzzles (where a whole object fits inside a matching slot, not jigsaw puzzle)

18. Play dough (Home-made)

19. Paints (Home-made)

20. Paint brush

21. Crayons

22. Toddler-size table

23. Toddler-size chair

24. Toddler-height closet


Good to have, if you a little extra budget:
1. Foldable tunnel (IKEA)

2. Water pistol

3. Tricycle

4. Musical instruments

5. CD with nursery rythmes

6. Toy mobile phone or an used old mobile phone

7. Aquadoddle – no mess art-&-craft

8. Trucks/Cars

9. Little People

10. Alphabet magnet phonics word-builder (Leap Frog)


Nice to have, but not essential:

1. Sleds

2. Kitchen stove

3. Easel

4. Water-pool

5. Scooter

6. Slide

7. Animal figurines (this this should not substitute the trip to the zoo to see the real thing!)

8. Pretend vacuum cleaners

9. Bicycle without pedal

10. Jack-in-the-box

11. Toddler-size toilet seat
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Carrot & Pumpkin Soup/Gulerod Græskar Suppe/南瓜汤[nán guā tāng]


For babies from 8 months and family

Serve 4.

Ingredients:
- 600g carrots
- 600g potatoes
- 1 Hokkaido pumkin (approx. 1200g)
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
- 2 tablespoon chopped leeks (optional)
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 500g minced beef (optional to give more flavour for adults)

Directions:
1. Peel carrots and potatoes and cut into chunks (and small cubes for baby)

2. Wash, de-seed pumpkin and cut into chunks (and small cubes for baby)

3. Boil in water until soft

4. Meanwhile saute onion, garlic, leeks, ginger and beef in olive oil on medium heat.

5. Puree half of the cooked vegetables, and leave the rest as small cubes for baby to chew.

6. Add them back into the pot together with the leeks.

7. Add lime juice and simmer for 10 mins.

8. Remove a portion for baby.

9. Add salt and pepper to the rest for the family.
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Kale/grønkål/羽衣甘蓝 [yǔ yī gān lán]


From 8 months, though I prefer to be cautious and serve it to J around 10 months.

Directions:
1. Wash, rinse and de-leave 6 stalks by cutting off the stem.

2. Steam for 5-7 mins

3. Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and puree with blender

Storage:
1. Cool down, pour into ice cube tray and freeze.

2. Once frozen, knock the cubes out and store them in freezer bags (makes 1 ice cube tray, can store up to 8 weeks)

Nutritional Value:
The leaves of the kale plant provide an earthy flavor and more nutritional value for fewer calories than almost any other food around. It has gained recent widespread attention due to their health-promoting, sulfur-containing phytonutrients.

Kale is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C and manganese. It is also a very good source of dietary fiber, copper, calcium, vitamin B6 and potassium.

Human population as well as animal studies consistently show that diets high in cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, are associated with lower incidence of a variety of cancers, including lung, colon, breast and ovarian cancer.

A study of Chinese women in Singapore, a city in which air pollution levels are often high putting stress on the detoxification capacity of residents' lungs, found that in non-smokers, eating cruciferous vegetables lowered risk of lung cancer by 30%. In smokers, regular cruciferous vegetable consumption reduced lung cancer risk an amazing 69%!

Warning:
1. Kale contains measurable amounts of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating kale.

2. Green leafy vegetables like kale contains nitrates and should not be served to babies under 8 months old. If you prefer to make your own homemade baby vegetables, an alternative is to choose organic produce. Organics do not use commercial nitrate fertilizers and thus the risk of nitrate contamination/concentration is minimized, but not eliminated. Around the age of three months, an increase in the amount of hydrochloric acid in a baby's stomach kills most of the bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite. By the time a baby is six months old, its digestive system is fully developed, and none of the nitrate-converting bacteria remain. In older children and adults, nitrate is absorbed and excreted, and methemoglobinemia is no longer a concern. Adults are not affected by nitrates or nitrites because their stomachs produce acids that fight the bacteria that help convert nitrates into nitrites.

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Additional Information:
I am tired of serving broccoli to J and am looking for another super green… and then I found this super vegetable, kale, from the book Super Baby Food. For the benefit of Wimin, I bought the kale from Irma Supermarket. It is in season in Denmark right now, so it is very cheap - 15kr. 1 whole packet.

Although it can be found in markets throughout the year, it is in season from the middle of winter through the beginning of spring when it has a sweeter taste and is more widely available.

To get the most benefit from your cruciferous vegetables like kale, be sure to choose organically grown varieties (their phytonutrient levels are higher than conventionally grown), and steam lightly (this method of cooking has been shown to not only retain the most phytonutrients but to maximize their availability).

Tips for Adults:
For stir-fry recipe, see this link http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=3089617&l=47f37dd88d&id=705043347

References:
Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=38

http://articles.smashits.com/articles/home-and-garden/83926/baby-food-carrots-contain-what-nitrates-and-homemade-baby-food.html

http://chihe.sohu.com/20070630/n250841548.shtml

You can buy from Netto Supermarket, pre-cut and pre-rinsed for 18 DKK per pack of 250g. Very easy and convenient :-) If you buy this packet, you don't have to use any salad spinner to spin dry. You just need to pat dry with kitchen towel.

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Cooked Sweet Potato as Finger Food


For babies from 8 months old.

Directions:
1. Wash, peel and chop sweet potatoes into bite size pieces

2. Steam for 15 minutes or until tender and serve

OR

3. Bake whole sweet potatoes in oven at 200°C (400°F) for 45 minutes, then cut into bite size cubes.

Storage:
1. Cool down, pour into portion size small container and freeze (can store up to 8 weeks).

2. Thaw overnight in the fridge and serve cold or warm.

Nutritional Value:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=107425&id=705043347&saved#/photo.php?
pid=2580250&id=705043347

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Additional Information:
Making home-made finger food is actually very easy and fast, but I must admit that it takes practice and lot of planning to fit it into a busy everyday life. In preparation for going back to work, I am now practicing it and trying to make a mock-working day schedule. I prefer to give home-cooked food to J than ready-made commercial finger food such as Cheerios which is processed.

My plan is to thaw a portion overnight in the fridge and include it in the lunch pack for J. It will be ready for him to eat at the child care during lunch time.
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Baby Oatmeal & Banana Bars


For babies coping well with finger foods i.e. 8 or 9 months.

Ingredients:
- 1 ripe banana
- handful of oats

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F (180 deg C).

2. Mash the banana with a fork.

3. Grind the oats in a food processor.

4. Mix banana with the enough ground oats to form a sticky dough.

5. Divide the mixture into small pieces and press it into the shapes of your choice e.g. simple bars.

6. Bake for around 10-15 minutes until golden brown in colour (they become harder the longer they are cooked, so keep the baking time as brief as possible if you wish to retain a chewy texture).

Tips:
Baking longer makes it harder and and thus turned it into banana oatmeal cookies. Adults love it too. Not just for babies, but good, quick, easy and healthy snack to serve to adult guests who are health conscious.

Tip for adults:
If you are serving to adults, you can add honey or maple syrup in the dough before baking to make it sweeter, but in my opinion, the bananas alone are sweet enough.

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Additional Comments:
I coincidentally chanced upon this recipe from a mother from the internet. It tastes like the Malaysian/Singaporean "goreng pisan" (means fried bananas), but healthier, as it is not fried but baked, and more nutritious with the addition of oatmeal.
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Organic Skimmed Fresh Cow’s Milk/Økologisk Skummet Mælk/脱脂鲜奶有机[yǒu jī zuō zhī xiān nǎi]


Danish authorities say from 9 months, British sources say from 1 year old. I prefer err on the careful side and give it to J when he turns 1 year old.

Nutritional Value:
Skimmed fresh cow’s milk has the same amount of nutrients found in full cream fresh cow’s milk, but with much less fats. Cow’s milk is a great source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, and magnesium. Milk will build your toddler's bones and teeth and help his body regulate his blood coagulation and muscle control.

Consuming calcium-rich food from young is said to lower risk of high blood pressure, stroke, colon cancer, and hip fractures in adulthood.

Skimmed milk, however, is of course low in fat and lacks fat soluble vitamin A and D. But J gets his daily vitamin D drops as recommended by the health nurse to all babies from newborn in Denmark, and vitamin A from his carrot puree.

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Additional Comments:
The Danish authorities and my health nurse recommend a small amount of full-cream fresh cow’s milk to babies from 9 months, because of the importance of fats to babies’ development. However, after analyzing it, I think I will not be following it. I intend instead to introduce skimmed fresh cow’s milk when J reaches 1 year old.

Why? Firstly, vegetable fats are superior to animal oils as animal oils are of the saturated type that would clog the arteries over long term. In the short term, babies are not afraid of clogged arteries. However, taste buds are cultivated from young and may be fixed for life. Baby will one day be an adult and he may be stuck with the liking for full cream cow’s milk to make a successful switch over to skimmed milk. I am a good example. I love full cream fresh milk until today, and have to try very hard to make myself drink skimmed milk. If J has some of the “Ng” genes, he will most likely be like me, and I don’t want him to have to struggle with the switch towards skimmed milk.

Secondly, the nutritional benefits of skimmed milk are as good as full cream milk. If there are any gaps such as the fat content and vitamin A and D, J is now successfully weaned to like olive oil, avocado (fats), carrots (vit A), beans and grains, and these food can step in as the first in line to fill in the gap. There are also other nutritious food such as chicken, cod fish (vit D) and eggs that can stand in as the second in line to fill in any other gaps.

Another workaround solution is simply to add 1 teaspoon of olive oil, or flaxseed oil, or any other vegetable oil such as corn oil, into 200ml of skimmed milk (this portion of mixing oil with food is according to Danish authorities baby food recipes). Or serve skimmed milk with avocado, which is very rich with good fats :-)

Thirdly, a baby's digestive system can't digest cow's milk proteins. Cow's milk also has too much sodium, potassium, and chloride, which can tax baby's kidneys. Cow’s milk also does not contain enough iron. This is why I tend to go towards the recommendation that babies should be given breast or formula milk for the whole of the first year.

Thus, for long term's sake, I will start J young as a baby to cultivate his liking for skimmed milk. Full cream cow’s milk or skimmed cow’s milk – the choice is yours.

References:
http://www.babycenter.com/0_cows-milk-when-and-how-to-introduce-it_1334703.bc
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Buttermilk/Kærnemælk/白脱乳牛奶[bái tuō rǔ niú nǎi] – from 10 months


It is wise to feed babies a little buttermilk or yoghurt from time to time to familiarize them with the sour taste. I am a bit "kiasu", and I am buying the organic buttermilk.

I figure that if all the daycare in Denmark is serving oganic milk, there must be a reason for it. There must be a reason that despite the squeeze in money to run the welfare state, the Danish government is serving organic milk that cost almost twice more than normal milk to daycare and kindergarten.

Nutritional Value:
Buttermilk is lower in fat than regular milk, because the fat has been removed to make butter. It is also high in potassium, vitamin B12, calcium, and riboflavin as well as a good source of phosphorus.

Those with digestive problems are often advised to drink buttermilk rather than milk, as it is more quickly digested. Buttermilk has more lactic acid than skim milk.

Tips:
For those watching their caloric and/or fat intake, try putting a couple of tablespoons of buttermilk on your baked potato or in mashed potatoes as a substitution for sour cream or butter. You will get both the buttery flavor and the slight tang of sour cream with a fraction of the calories. You can also make mock sour cream using buttermilk powder.

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Additional Information:
I didn’t know the existence of such a milk called buttermilk, until I started baking bread and the recipe calls for buttermilk. Denmark has so many different kinds of milk that I don’t know exist in this world (ha ha… yes I am ignorant, but I am a Chinese, and we only drink one kind of milk, if we drink any!)

Buttermilk has a little sour taste and it is a little like natural yogurt, but more fluid. I don’t like the taste so much, but my Significant Other loves it. Within one day, he drank the remaining of the 1 litre that I bought. My Significant Other said that he used to drink it when he was a kid. Oh that explains why he loves it and I don't. His tastebuds have been shaped from young.

I am now trying to introduce it myself and to J, but I am a little too late, as he is now 14 months old. He doesn't like it :-( I should have introduced it when he was 10 months old or younger.

References:
http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhealthinformation/a/buttermilkhelth.htm

https://www.westonaprice.org/Feeding-Babies.html
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Time-Saving Finger Food/Tidsbesparende finger mad/省时手抓食物 [shěng shí shǒu zhuā shí wù]


Preparation and cooking time: 5 minutes

Directions:
1. Re-pack into small containers and store in the freezer.

2. Take a container out, microwave for 5 minutes and serve.

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Additional Information:
Many parents told me that they have to keep their kids happy with some biscuits just when they come home from day care very hungry and cannot wait to eat. They also told me that this sometimes spoil the child's appetite for dinner, but the child is so hungry that they need to give him/her something fast.

This is going to be my problem when I start working full time and J is in daycare. I have been pondering for more than a month now how to solve this problem...

Then I got this idea! I am going to use frozen vegetables - they save time and eliminate the hassle of having to wash and cut vegetables. Then I will find a weekend and make batches of finger food from frozen vegetables. I will store them in small containers and freeze them. When J comes home, I will just take one container out of the freezer, dump it into the microwave and heat it up for 5 minutes. Then J can eat the finger food, while it buys me time to get the dinner and other meat dish ready.

I think this will solve the problem by allowing me to give J something fast without compromising on his nutrition.

This requires however that the child is trained from young to like vegetables and plain food. I have trained J since he was a 6 months old baby to like vegetables like broccoli without any salt or sugar as seasoning. For the child who does not like plain food or super vegetables like broccoli or green beans, maybe you can serve them with tomato sauce or some other sauce that your child likes.
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Organic Raw vegetables/Økologisk Rå Grøntsager/有机生菜 [yǒu jī shēng cài]


Raw vegetables are the best and healthiest fast food for kids. But it requires that the kids have acquired a taste for it. Thus, it is very important to start young, already when they are babies. Working mothers will appreciate babies with this skill, since they don't have so much time to devote to cooking, especially during the "peak" hours after work and before dinner time!

How to get babies to eat raw food without giving them diarrhoea?
1. Babies have to be at least 8 months old, when their digestive tracts are more matured. I am a bit more cautious, but I also think I started a bit too late when J was 10.5 months old. Actually it was his teacher that suggested it, as I otherwise have forgotten about it.

2. Once solids are well-established, start by giving babies COOKED finger food. When solids are well-established, you know that your baby's digestive tract is able to handle the solids that you are feeding them.

3. Once cooked finger food is well-established, you also know that they are now able to chew well, you can now move on to giving babies RAW finger food. Start by giving them finely grated raw vegetables as shown on the first picture. If you are not so comfortable with finger food, you can blend the raw carrots into a puree and give it to baby. Test for 3 days and see how their body react to it. Do they experience any diareahea? If not, move on to the next step.

4. Once they have graduated from beginner's class, move on to the intermediate stage by grating the raw vegetables a little more coarsely. J is currently at this stage. If your baby is taking this well, then move on to the last step.

5. Once this is accepted, give them baby carrots. All the while, supervising them. Never leave them unattended when they are eating, whether the food is raw or cooked. Congratulations! Your baby has now graduated from the raw food class :-)

My policy is that all food and snacks are to be consumed on a baby high chair. This reduces choking risk, as the baby is sitting up-right and not moving around.

Since raw vegetables are consumed raw, try to buy organic if you can.

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Additional Information:
The Danes are very daring when it comes to feeding finger food and raw food to babies. In general, the Nordic Europeans are very good in this area compared to other Europeans, Americans or cautious Asian moms like me.

Traditionally, the Chinese eat their vegetables cooked, thus, there isn't a culture of preparing raw vegetables for babies. This is something I am learning from the Danes, and I am now starting to train J to eat raw vegetables.

Why do I do so?

1. It makes life easy for me when he is older, if he has a tastebud for raw food, especially vegetables. Raw vegetables are very easy snacks to serve.

2. In general, raw vegetables are very nutritious, as the nutrients are not lost through cooking. If J can learn to like them, I don't have to resort to biscuits, cakes, Oreos cookies and other unhealthy processed stuff as snacks for him during in-between meal time. This goes for organic biscuits - they are at best treated as treats, not regular snacks, and I have not given them to J yet.

Be patient with yourself and your baby. J is a slow developer in this department compared to the Danish kids. He is already 11 months old now, and he has just reached stage 4. But it is alright, as J and I are enjoying the journey... and soon he will reach stage 5 :-)

References:

http://www.wholesomebabyfood.com/veggiefruit.htm#nogo?
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Organic Raw Pepper bells/Økologisk Rå Peber Frugt/有机生番椒 [yǒu jī shēng fān jiāo]


This is yet another healthy fast food to serve to babies at least 8 or 10 months old.

Directions:
Wash, rinse and chop into size as shown in picture and serve to baby

Nutritional Value:
Red peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B6. They are a very good source of fiber, folate, and vitamin K as well as the minerals molybdenum and manganese. They also contain the beneficial phytonutrients lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
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Avocado Wheat Germ Finger Food/Avocado Hvedekim Finger Mad/牛油果小麦胚芽[niú yóu guǒ xiǎo mài pēi yá] (from 8 months)


This is another easy and fast snack to make for baby.

Directions:
Chop half of a ripe avocado, coat or sprinkle it with wheat germ and serve.

Nutritional Value:
Avocado is well known for its high vitamin K and Vitamin A content. It also contains small amounts of Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Biotin, and Folate. It is rich in minerals such as copper, magnesium, manganese, and contains some amounts of iron, calcium, iodine, selenium, zinc and phosphorus. It contains dietary fibers. In addition, avocado contains complete protein with all the essential amino acids. Avocados contain notable levels of vitamin B-6, but less than bananas. Avocados contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that may help to lower cholesterol.

Wheat germ provides an impressive bundle of nutrients including protein, vitamin A, vit B1, B3, B5 (helps baby’s body assimilate energy from food), B6, folate, and the minerals zinc, potassium, phosphorus (promotes healthy bones and teeth), calcium, magnesium, and manganese. It is high in naturally occurring polyunsaturated fat. Wheat germ also contains a high amount of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant which strengthens baby’s immune system and also helps protect the oil in the wheat germ from quickly becoming rancid.

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Additional Information:
I have been wanting to make this for J, but have been very busy with trying out other food. Finally I made this for him for the first time for breakfast this morning (21.2.2010), and it was an instant hit! On hingsight, I should have make this earlier, since J enjoys it so much, but better late than never. J usually doesn't like to eat avocado alone, as the taste is plain, but he just simply loves this.
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Wild Rice/Vilde Ris/菰米[gūmǐ]


For babies from 8 months old.

Directions:
1. 1 cup of wild rice to 3 cups of water in a automatic rice cooker (takes about 20 mins)

2. When cooked, stir in 200 ml of formula milk and 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil

3. Puree with blender until desired consistency is achieved

OR for younger babies and to reduce cooking time:

1. Place a cup of water on the stove to boil.

2. While water is heating, grind ¼ cup of wild rice into powder for 2 minutes or less.

3. Sprinkle the wild rice powder into the boiling water and let it sit over low heat for 10 minutes. (Whisk frequently to prevent burning and lumps).

4. Add 3 teaspoons of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of formula milk powder (optional).

Storage:
1. Cool down, pour into ice cube tray and freeze.

2. Once frozen, knock the cubes out and store them in freezer bags (makes 2 ice cube trays, can store up to 8 weeks)

Nutritional Value:
Even though brown rice is super good for you, wild rice is said to be even better. Wild rice has less calories per serving than brown rice, fifty calories almost twenty-five percent less. In addition it has only a third of calories from fat that brown rice does and half of the sodium. You get more protein from a serving of wild rice as well as four times as much vitamin E and six times as much as folate. Brown rice does have one more gram of fiber than wild rice but the amount of sugars, iron and vitamin K are going to be about the same in both brown and wild rice. Carbohydrates are one thing that brown rice offers more of, you get ten more grams of carbohydrates with brown rice than with wild rice. In addition brown rice offers more thiamin, twice as much actually, more niacin, B6 and twice as much as pantothenic acid than wild rice. it is also loaded iron, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium.

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Additional information:
There is no doubt that both wild rice and brown rice are healthy. Wild rice is much more expensive than brown rice (about twice the cost), thus, following the examples of others, I alternate both of them to save money.

References:
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/688951/nutrition_comparison_brown_rice_vs.html?cat=51

http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t--1011/grain-nutritional-facts.asp

Thursday, 28 October 2010

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The Paramount Pumpkin/Græskar/南瓜[nán guā]



For babies from 6 months.

Ingredients:
- 1 Hokaido pumpkin
- 6 tsp olive oil
- 6 tsp milk powder (optional)

Directions:
1. peel and de-seed pumpkin then cut into cubes.

2. Steam for 15 minutes or until tender

3. Add 6 teaspoons of powder milk and 6 teaspoons of olive oil (optional but recommended)

4. Puree with fork (for babies from 7 months to teach them how to eat lumpy food) or with blender (for babies 6 months and younger)

Storage:1. Cool down, pour into ice cube tray and freeze.

2. Once frozen, knock the cubes out and store them in freezer bags (makes 2-3 ice cube trays, can store up to 8 weeks)

Nutritional Value:
The orange colour of pumpkin tells us that it is rich in beta-carotene, an important anti-oxidant that the body converts to vitamin A. It also contains vitamin C, potassium and calcium.

Pumpkins contain some of the best nutritional compounds ever. They are highly loaded with Vitamin A and beta carotene. Beta Carotene is one of the plant carotenoids that when eaten and digested, turns into Vitamin A in the human body. Beta Carotene may reduce the risk of cancer as well as heart disease. It also may be responsible for combating or putting off the degenerative effects of ageing.

Pumpkins are also good sources of potassium, protein, and iron. Pumpkin seeds also contain a good amount of protein and iron so eating the seeds does provide some nutritive value. We don't recommend that you offer your baby or toddler pumpkin seeds however. Pumpkins are wonderfully low in fat, low in calories but high in fiber.

Tips:
Don't let the seeds go to waste - roasted pumpkin seeds make an excellent high energy snack for the adults! Simply wash the seeds to remove the strings and blot dry. Then toss with a little vegetable oil and spread in a single layer on a shallow baking sheet. Bake at 250 deg F for 10-15 mins, stirring two or three times. If you wish, you can add salt, then cool before storing.

References:
http://www.wholesomebabyfood.com/

Sunday, 24 October 2010

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A call to go back to church... (Part 2)

This is a prayer of thanks for God's faithfulness in helping me to follow through with my promise to go to church.

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Organic Almond Nut Butter/Økologisk Mandelsmør/有机杏仁酪[yǒu jī xìng rén lào]

For babies from 12 months.

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Japanese-inspired French Beans with Sesame Dressing/Japansk-inspirerede Bønner med Sesamfrø/日式四季豆[rì shì sì jì dòu]

Serves 4

Preparation and cooking time: 30 - 45 minutes

Ingredients:
- 500g French beans chopped into pieces 1 inch in length

Garlic oil:
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 2 TBS cooking oil

Dressing:
- 1/3 cup toasted white sesame seeds
- 1-2 TBS soya sauce
- ½ tsp sugar (I prefer to use cane sugar or brown sugar, but any sugar will do)
- Pinch of salt and pepper

Directions:
1. Toast the sesame seeds on a pan until golden. I first heat the pan on high heat (no. 9 on my stove). Once the pan is hot, I reduce to medium heat to no. 7 and stir for around 2 minutes, then turn the fire down to low heat (no. 5.5) on my stove and stir occasionally until the sesame seeds turn golden. Then grind half of it in my mini-blender.

2. Mix the toasted white sesame seeds (grind and un-grind together), soya sauce, sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl.

3. Bring to boil a pot of water with salt to blanch the French beans.

4. When the water is boiling, throw in the French beans and let it cook for 2 minutes or until they turn green and cooked, but still crispy.

5. Drain the French beans and plunge it immediately into a big bowl of cold water. This is called the shocking method to bring out the flavour in the French beans.

6. Heat 2 TBS of oil on a separate pan and fry the garlic until golden. Then pour the hot garlic oil on the French beans and mix well.

7. Turn off the fire, and while the pan is still hot, pour the rest of the dressing on the pan, stir and take it out. Then pour the dressing into the french beans and mix well.

8. Serve :-)

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Additional Comments:
This is a Japanese-inspired dish, cooked partly the Chinese way – frying the garlic oil for the dressing. This is such a great hit with J and my Significant Other. J has been boycotting all the vegetables that I give him, but this evening, he ate all his French beans for dinner and asked for second and third helping - all in all, he ate a full rice bowl of French beans. Suddenly, I felt so energized, that I’ve got to record it down in my blog. Nothing gives me more fulfillments than when the food I cook is appreciated. Similarly, I would feel so tired after making dinner, on days when J does not eat his food.

This is a super-healthy dish – the goodness of sesame seeds and French beans. And the way the French beans is cooked – not overcooked, almost just raw, but not raw, retains lots of the vitamins. And it tastes so good, without adding any meat. Somehow soya sauce with sesame seeds heat on the pan gives it a new twist to the flavour of soya sauce alone or sesame seed alone.

It is possible to make toddler like vegetables after all!!! I am so excited that I am going to try serving this dish again and again, until J and my Significant Other gets bored with it.

I know it is difficult with toddlers and their “rebelliousness”, but I am determined not to compromise on J’s nutrition and his good eating habits, that I worked so hard to achieve since he was a baby. It takes time and energy, but also lots of fun.

I am using a combination of methods – from being firm with J when he wants yet another piece of apple chips – no means no, although inside me, my heart is melting… to researching for ways to make tasty and healthy food, meaning cutting down on the dairy, sugar and meat. Deep-frying is a NO NO, but stir fry is alright with me in my kitchen. Thus, I am really pleased with this dish, as it qualifies as a super healthy, yet tasty dish according to my definition.

Not all Japanese food is healthy, as they use a lot of sugar (oops, sorry, here I may be offending the Japanese). The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons (TBS) of sugar, but I only used ½ teaspoon (tsp) here. It is sweet enough for our family. In fact, I think 2 TBS of sugar would make the food taste like candy, and I don’t like my vegetables tasting like candy.

I only ground half of the sesame seeds to give it more different texture, so that I can still taste the whole sesame seeds.

My Significant Other's verdict: It tasted very Japanese and very delicious. My Significant Other is very picky about Asian food, and loves Japanese food. Thus, if I can win his verdict, I am really all smiles. I didn't add the mirin wine that the original recipe calls for, as I am serving to toddler. But it is really so delicious, that one can easily do without it. It also saves cost, as Japanese condiments are very expensive in Denmark.

Try it with your family and your toddler, it tastes really good with just ½ tsp of sugar. I think the "shocking" method of cooking the French beans has a lot of credit to take, as well as the sesame seeds as an ingredient. And the combination of the Japanese and Chinese cooking philosophy gathers the best from both world, making this dish a winner.

References:
http://food-4tots.com/2010/10/14/fine-french-beans-with-sesame-dressing/
http://www.culinate.com/books/collections/all_books/everyday_harumi/green_beans_with_a_sesame_dressing

Saturday, 23 October 2010

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Which toy train set to choose for your baby/toddler?

J (19M17D) has started to be interested in vehicles. So I have decided to invest in a train toy set. But boy, what a confusing world out there to figure out which train set to buy!!! Because it is not cheap, and can be build upon, I wanted to make the right decision, but still I have made some mistakes. Here is a post on my mistakes and learnings, and what I would do, if I could re-do it all over again.

What should a basic train set consist?

For the purpose of a toddler's fine motor skill development, if you are under budget constraints, a basic train set should consist the following in the order of listing:

1. One locomotive train engine - this is the main character in a train set

2. One tunnel – toddler learns to put the train through the tunnel

3. One round track - toddler learns to manipulate train to run on the track

4. One bridge – toddler learns to manipulate the train over the bridge

5. Two carriages - toddler learns about the function of magnets that join the locomotive and the carriages

It is worthwhile to invest in the above 5 components, and usually you can get it cheaper by buying it as a set, rather than separately. For example, The Brio My First Railway 33700 set comes with a locomotive engine, tunnel, sufficient tracks to make a circle and 3 carriages. The IKEA's Lillabo figure-of-8 track set comes with a locomotive engine (non-battery powered), tunnel, bridge and 3 carriages for only 99 DKK or 23 SGD.

All the other components/accessories such as petrol station, train station, ferry, etc. are not essential, but are more for vanity-sake, unless you can buy it cheaply from the flea markets.

And don’t let baby or toddler play with everything at once. If he is not developmentally ready, he will be frustrated, like J did. J LOVES his train toy set, but he is not developmentally ready, and got frustrated. He wanted me to play with him all the time, and to help him all the time.

Should I consider buying a train set for a girl too?

My neighbour has a girl who is a toddler 8 months older than J, and she is CRAZY about train set. The motor skills a train set trains is very good, and I would still invest in a train set, even if I have a girl, and not a boy. (Similarly, I would also invest in a food cutting set with toy fruit, fish, meat, knife, plate, pots, etc. for J, as I think it is important that he learns early how to "make" food and clean up. As it will be too messy or too dangerous for him to help cut a fruit or cook, the toys will come in handy for make belief play. In fact, J is crazy about all these toys, whenever we visit our neighbour).

Should it be made of plastic or wood?

For plastic train set, the major brand in Denmark is Lego. It is very expensive. It cost 499 DKK for a set with manual locomotive and 999 DKK for a set with battery-powered locomotive. If you wish to expand the tracks, Lego set of 6 pieces of track (curved or straight) costs 80 DKK, also more expensive than IKEA set of 10 pieces cost 69 DKK.

I have chosen the wooden type and didn’t regret it. It is more pleasing to the eye, and seems to be higher in quality as well as provide more combinations to build upon than the plastic ones. However, I use lego bricks to build the accessories such as tunnels. This also exposes J to different textures, instead of just plastic. This is a personal choice.

If it is wooden train set, should it be Thomas-the-Train, Brio, Kids-Wood or IKEA?


For wooden train set, the major brands available in Denmark are Thomas The Train, Brio, Kids-Wood and IKEA's Lillabo, in the order of price. Thomas-the-Train is the most expensive brand - everything from the train engine (manual or battery-powered), carriages, tracks, tunnels and bridges are more expensive than the others. Unless your toddler is crazy about Thomas-the-Train or you are interested in the re-sale value of Thomas-the-Train (if there is an active re-sale market out there!), I wouldn't buy all components from Thomas-the-Train. I would mix-and-match. It is worthwhile to buy the battery-powered train locomotive engine from Thomas-the-train though, as I find that it is more powerful than Brio. It could pull up to 5 wagons/carriages up the bridge (as seen from the picture below), unlike Brio, which has difficulty even with pulling 3 wagons/carriages up the bridge.


Are all the components from Thomas-the-Train, Brio, Kids-Wood and IKEA compatible?

All the components of Thomas-the-train, Brio and Kids-wood are compatible and the wooden tracks from these brands interlock very well. In fact, it seems that Brio holds the license for Thomas-the-Train in some countries, and it is suspected that they may be manufacturered in the same factory by Brio.

The train locomotives and carriages from the different brands also run well on the wooden tracks from IKEA. However, IKEA's tracks do not interlock so well with the tracks from other major brands, although IKEA claims on its website that its Lillabo series is compatible with other major brands. It is not impossible to interlock the tracks from IKEA with the other tracks, but it is more tedious, and you need to use more force, which may cause frustration for your child, if he is doing it on his own.

IKEA's bridge is also not totally compatible with the other 3 brands. The height of IKEA's bridge is too low for train locomotives from Thomas-the-train, Brio and Kids-wood to pass through as seen from the picture below:


However, you can solve this creatively by raising the height of the bridge using the wooden blocks, if you want to use IKEA's bridge as seen in the picture below:



I speak also from personal experience. I have bought Thomas-the-train battery-powered engine, Brio train set and Kids-wood train set, and they all work well together - tracks and trains. I also own IKEA's train set.

Should the locomotive train engine be manual or battery-powered?

I think it is important to start with the manual manual version in order for the toddler to practise the fine motor skills with hand and eye coordination. This gives a sense of empowerment when 'self body power' causes a train to move with a line of wagons behind and the 'little engine driver' has complete constant control with starting, stopping, speed and direction (when splitter is added). However, when J reaches 3 years old, I would add the battery-powered engine, as it would be more fun by then.

I thought I could buy the battery-powered version, and just wait with putting the battery. However, the battery-powered locomotive is constructed in such a way that the wheels are locked and could not roll manually, unless the on/off button is switched on.

What are the price differences among the different brands?

Here is a price comparison of wooden train set, based on the figure-of-8 track set as of 23 October 2010:

1. Thomas-the Train Tog 8-tals bane costs 469 DKK or 115 SGD

2. Brio Togbane Ottetal Safari set costs 280 DKK or 68 SGD (60% of the price of Thomas-the-Train) from amazon including delivery (but 325 DKK from other Danish on-line retailers excluding delivery).

3. Kids-Wood City Bumle-ekspressen 8-tals bane set costs 200 DKK or 48 SGD (43% of the price of Thomas-the-Train)

4. IKEA's LILLABO Basissæt tog 20 dele, togbane i 8 tal set costs 99 DKK or 24 SGD (20% of the price compared to Thomas-the-Train), but the height of the bridge is not compatible with size of the train locomotives from Thomas-the-train, Brio and Kids-wood.

What should I buy?

If I have a chance to re-do it all over again, here is what I will do:

1. Brio called My First Railway (33700 non-battery-powered set)

I would buy the first set of railway from Brio called My First Railway (33700 non-battery-powered set), because its tunnel is made of soft materials, and good for pre-toddlers and it comes with a manual locomotive train engine. (The reason why the manual one is preferred over the battery-operated is because the Brio battery-operated train locomotive is not powerful enough to pull the wagons/carriages up the bridge).


Here is the link to the Amazon US site:



It is cheaper to buy from amazon.co.uk and it costs 260 DKK including freight. It costs 325 DKK in the Danish websites excluding freight. I could not find this Brio set in the Danish stores in Copenhagen.

Also do not make the mistake like I did, to buy the Brio My First Railway motorized engine set (33701), thinking that I could wait with putting the battery in, and let my child use it manually first. The wheels are locked and can't function manually. The wheels only move, when the battery is put in and the power button is depressed.

2. Thomas-the-train battery-powered locomotive

Although Thomas-the-Train is the most expensive, I would buy the battery-powered locomotive from Thomas-the-train (200 DKK), because it is more powerful than Brio. It can pull even up to 5 wagons/carriages, while Brio has trouble pulling even 3 wagons/carriages up the bridge as seen below:




For those who live in Denmark, alternatively, you may want to buy Kids-wood motorizedlocomotive engine which costs 99.95 DKK or 23 SGD, which is cheaper than Thomas-the-Train, and the engine is stronger than Brio and as good as Thomas-the-Train.

Here is the link to the BR toy-shop in Denmark:
http://www.br.dk/Brands/KIDS-WOOD/KIDS-WOOD%20CITY%20lokomotiv.aspx?id=623504

Here is how the Kids-wood motorized locomotive engine looks like:


3. Kids-wood City figure-of-8 Set

As my toddler grows, I would buy the figure-of-8 with bridge from Kids-wood, as it is the cheapest (200 DKK or 48 SGD), that is compatible with the major brands. IKEA's figure-of-8 set although is the cheapest (99 DKK or 23 SGD), but is not compatible with the rest.

Here is the link to Kids-wood figure-of-8 track set with bridge and tunnel from the BR toy-shop in Denmark:
http://www.br.dk/Brands/KIDS-WOOD%20CITY/KIDS-WOOD%20CITY%20tunnel.aspx?id=609905

4. IKEA's LILLABO tracks

If I would like to expand the formation of the railway set, I would add more tracks from IKEA although it is more tedious to interlock them with the tracks from the other brands, because it is the cheapest - 10 pieces of tracks from IKEA cost 69 DKK or 17 SGD compared with 8 pieces of tracks (4 straight and 4 curved) from Thomas-the-Train cost 178 DKK. 8 pieces of tracks (4 straight and 4 curved) cost 99 DKK each from both Brio and Kids-Wood.

5. Lego City Train Station (7937)

When J is around 5 years old, should I be "vain" to buy accessories such as a train station, I would buy Lego City Train Station (349 DKK) although it is more expensive than Kids-Wood (200 DKK) and Brio (250DKK), while still cheaper than Thomas-the-Train (375 DKK). This is because it allows imagination and creativity. The child has to build it himself, unlike those from the other brands, which comes ready assembled.



I was surprised to find that most of the toy shops in Denmark do not carry all the major brands, and have very limited selection of the same brand. Thus, either one has to run around from store-to-store in the whole of Copenhagen, or to buy them over the internet.

When should baby/toddler play with train set?


1. Baby 9-12 months old: Manual locomotive train engine only

When baby is 9 months old, take only the train engine out of the Brio set. Let baby plays with it. Tell him about the colours, and that it has wheel, and that it can moves.

When baby is 12 months old, he should be able to move the train engine manually on the wheel on the floor. Still, don’t use the battery yet, otherwise, baby doesn't see the need to use his hand muscles to move the train, and it defeats the motor skills this toy can train.


2. Pre-toddler 15 months old: Manual locomotive train engine + tunnel only

When baby is approx. 15 months or when you see that baby is ready, take out the tunnel and let baby/pre-toddler learn to manipulate the train engine through the tunnel. The tunnel can be from the above-recommended Brio set or made with lego bricks as seen from the picture below:


3. Toddler 18 months old: Manual locomotive train engine + tunnel + circular track

When baby reaches approx. 18 months or when you see that baby/toddler is ready, take out the track from the Brio My First Railway set and build a circular track first. Let toddler runs the train-engine manually on the tracks.


4. Toddler 21 months old: Manual locomotive train engine + tunnel + figure-of-8-tracks + bridge

When toddler reaches 21 months old or when you see toddler is developmentally ready, you can introduce the bridge and a more complicated figure-of-8-tracks as seen below.

5. Toddler 24 months old – Manual locomotive train engine + tunnel + tracks + bridge + carriages

When toddler reaches 24 months old or when you see toddler is developmentally ready, you can let him have all the carriages and explain that the train engine and the carriage are joined magnetically.


I made the mistake of introducing the carriages to J too early, as he wasn't developmentally ready, and got very frustrated, as every time he pushed the carriages and the train engine, and they came off. He could not control the strength of push he should give to move the carriage, which is joined magnetically to the engine, and got frustrated.

6. Toddler 2.5 years old – Battery-powered locomotive train engine + tunnel + tracks + bridge + carriages

Now is the time to bring bring the battery-powered Thomas-the-train engine. From age 2-3, that is when imagination takes over (1-2 is when curiosity takes over). Your toddler/pre-schooler would be amazed that the train can run on its own, and that it can pull along the other carriages as well to go under a tunnel and over a bridge, etc. all by itself.


It is not necessary to buy all these pre-made accessories from Thomas-the-Train or Brio, as you can use lego bricks to let your toddler/pre-schooler use his/her creativity to build its own build police station, train station, etc. for the train. You can add more tracks and it is the cheapest to get from IKEA.

Some ideas on train models combining lego bricks from the internet:



7. Pre-schooler 3 years old: All the above + Story-telling

You can narrate a story as the train travels along the tracks and also encourage your pre-schooler to create a story himself as the train runs along. See below references for awesome story inspiration from youtube. You can inspire your pre-schooler to make his own story by letting him watch the video from youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WfUTy6L4ik&feature=related

How do you know when baby/toddler is developmentally ready for all the various stages with a train set?

Every toddler is different. This can only be discovered by trial-and-error, like what I am going through now. J is 19M18D today, and he is still not developmentally ready to manipulate the engine and the carriages together. So today, I have decided to keep the carriages in the cabinet, until he is ready. So, I have learned from my "error".

P.S.: Why do I want to take time writing all these down in a post?

I know months and years from now, I would have forgotten all about this, and all the learning from my mistakes would be gone. So I better capture it, while “the iron is still hot” – as the Chinese saying goes, which is also an English saying.

Also, buying the first train set for J is so special. I wanted to capture this special memory by writing it down.

References:

Here are some inspiring train model videos from youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiQtPevwR04

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lByhGR1xDpQ&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgC8dHXs0ic&feature=fvw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WfUTy6L4ik&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S79vq-P1Jyk&feature=related

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wooden_toy_train

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_and_Friends_merchandise

http://www.squidoo.com/toy-train-sets

http://hubpages.com/hub/best-first-train-sets-for-young-children

http://toytrainset.org/

http://hubpages.com/hub/Brio-Train-Sets

6.8.2011 (2Y5M2D) - Train track built by J

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

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J Summary (19M15D) - J's First Trip to Danmark's Aquarium


J (19M15D) was very thrilled to see the fishes... he ran around pointing at them and making funny sounds...

Monday, 18 October 2010

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J Summary (19M12D) - First time at the Church Nursery without Mommy

Sunday 17.10.2010

I left J at the nursery and went down to the church service. J did very well, and was brave to play alone with the car and tracks. VK said that J tried to fight off tears, when the car got stucked on the track, but stopped crying when got help. This went on several times. When the service was over, all the parents went to pick their kids. I came late to pick him, and J burst into tears, when he saw all the other kids being picked up. He stopped immediately, when he saw me and I carried him. That was the first experience with J's first day alone at the church nusery.
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J Summary (19M6D) - First time J been to a Children's Theatre/Børneteater

The daycare brought J and some other children to the children's theatre (Børneteater) on 11.10.2010. It was the first time for J, and J was 19 months and 6 days old. The teacher said that J thoroughly enjoyed it and found it very funny.

Friday, 15 October 2010

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A call to go back to church...

Ever since J dropped his naps down from 2 times a day to 1 time a day when he was around 15 months old, it has been real tough for me to plan to make it to church on Sundays. Thus, I have not been to church for the last 4 months.

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Part 2: How do you incorporate the activities into your baby/toddler's routine?

By making a schedule including the main activities such as meal time, nap time, etc. and then fitting the rest of the holes with other activities.

This is Part 2 to my earlier post

I learned a lot from other mothers who shared their sample schedule in their blogs. Here is a sample schedule of J's routine on Sundays (at 19 months). We have not achieved it yet, but this is my goal. With this post, I am commiting it to God to be accountable:

6 or 6.30am: Mommy wakes up, get change and prepare J’s breakfast

7 – 7.15am: Breakfast – Super porridge with vegetables

7.15 – 7.30am: Helping mommy clean up – load dishes into the dish-washer/counter-top/sink

7.30 - 8am: Potty (training) time, wash and dress

8 – 8.20am: Learning time - reading with mom, reading on my lap

8.20 – 8.40am: Blanket time + egg timer near the stair case with a toy, board books, teaching how to stack blocks, shapes, colours, letters, etc.

8.40 – 9am: Breakfast with the family

9 – 9.15am: Skype time with grandparents

9.15 – 10.30am: Chores time – sorting socks, bringing clean clothes to his room

10.30 – 11am: Lunch - Yogurt

11 – 1pm: Nap (2 hrs) (while mommy walks to church)

1 - 3pm: Church

4 – 4.45pm: Creative time – play dough, drawing, painting

4.45 - 5.30pm: Dinner with family, load dirty dishes into the dish-washer/counter-top/sink

5.30 - 6pm: Family time – cuddling, tickling, somersault, wrestling, bungee jump, etc. in bed

6 – 6.30pm: Put dirty clothes into the laundry basket, Bath time with Dad

6.30 - 7pm: Bed time reading with Mom

7-7.15pm: In bed, prayer and lullaby

7.15-7.30pm: Settle to sleep

7.30pm: Sleep (10.5 hrs)

7.30pm. Couch time for Florian and I

References:
- BabyWise

- www.babywisemom.com
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Part 1: What can you incorporate into your baby/toddler’s routine?

When J was just a newborn, I had been scratching my head over what to incorporate during wake times when J would begin to drop his naps one-by-one as he develops into a toddler.

Here is a summary of a list of “Time” to incorporate into a child’s routine from the books I read over the past 2 years, plus my own experience after lots of trial and errors:

1. Water Time - Baby-swimming, bath, etc. very good for stimulation, and thus, brain development. Unfortunately, since starting work, this is scaled-down to almost non-existent :-(

2. Music & Dance Time - very important for language development for babies and toddlers. Unfortunately, we are not good at this, thus I send J for music play school, or find whatever free music activities I can find by running around the churches and libraries all over Copenhagen!

3. Creative Time - Painting, drawing, etc. for toddlers

4. Learning Time on Blanket - Such as reading with mom on my lap, flash cards which J loves. The idea is that when you unfold the blanket, the child automatically gets into the learning mode. I do this every weekend morning with J.

5. Play Group Time - This is important for social development. Examples for us are the Chinese playgroup and my terrific Mother's Group, when J was a baby

6. Library Time - This is to inculcate in a child a life-long love for reading

7. Church Time – To us, this is very important to introduce J to God, but I haven't been very successful at it yet, as it clashes with J's nap time. Have to improve on it.

8. Skype Time - To get J to be familiar with technology, and at the same time, getting to know his grandparents over at the other side of the globe, thereby killing 2 birds with 1 stone.

9. Grandparents Time - A time to get to know the grandparents (haven't been too consistent. We have to work on this)

10. Outdoor Time - Cycling with baby, or toddler on tricyle, fruit-picking, zoo, etc.

11. Time with Dad - To do all the rough games like turning over, etc. This is something I sometimes have to remind Daddy.

12. Time with Mom - This is too easy to achieve, and sometimes way too much, at least for our family!

13. Family Time – Cuddling, tickling, somersault, wrestling, bungee jump, etc. in bed

14. Date Time - When the child is older, a special one-to-one day with Dad or Mom

15. Playpen Time - This is a form of independent playtime for babies.

16. Blanket Time - This is a form of independent playtime for pre-toddlers.

17. Room Time - This is a form of independent playtime for toddlers.

18. Potty (training) Time - J is not potty-trained yet, but he loves to sit on the potty enjoying his board-books

Looking at all the above, it doesn't leave much room for boredom or wasted time in a child’s life. There is SO MUCH to do. And this does not take into account the time it takes for Nursing Time, Meal Time and Nap Time. In fact, life with a baby/toddler is so busy, that it makes me dream of wanting to be a professional stay-at-home-mom, which is still a distant dream... I do live in a real world.

P.S. Please do share if you have more ideas to add. We can learn from one another.

References:
- BabyWise

- www.babywisemom.com
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J Summary (19M10D) - The chores J could do

I wasted no time in building into our routine the chores for J, after I made a summary of a List of Chores Toddlers Can Do. I was also very curious what he could do.

Yesterday morning, during potty-time, I consciously asked him to put his soiled diaper into the bin, which he did (with a little assistance in pushing the diaper deep down into the bin). I directed him to the bathroom cabinet to reach for his tooth-brush. He took it, but dropped the plastic-holder. I told him consciously to shut the bathroom door after using it, which he did.

While dressing up to get ready to go to the daycare, J could open the drawer to reach his socks and stocking, which he did, after opening a few wrong drawers. I also directed him to the hung items and assisted him to take down the hangers and remove the clothes and pants.

Yesterday evening during the bath time routine, I directed J put his dirty clothes into the 3 different laundry baskets that we have - for white colour, light colours and dark colours, by pointing to the specific basket that he should put the clothes. J did as told, to my delight. The only thing was that the clothes he wore could be re-cycled, as it wasn't so dirty. So after putting him to bed, I had to go to the laundry basket to retrieve it.

This morning before breakfast, I told him to fetch his bib, which he did. I gave him some paper-towels, which he used to wipe his high-chair tray (though not really clean, of course). I have allocated the lower drawer of the kitchen cabinet for J with some plastic containers for his play. I have now included his plastic bowl, plate, cup and cutleries.

This evening before dinner, I opened his drawer and asked him to fetch me those items one-by-one, which he did. After dinner, I told him to load his dirty dishes into the dishwasher, which he did - the spoon, the plate and the cup. But when he wasn't looking, I had to re-do the cup, as he did not turn the cup down.

I have to make a little adjustment to the work-station... I will use a drawer in his cabinet to put clothes for re-use, which I shall do so tomorrow. I have to find a lower shelf for his tooth-brush, so that I don't have to carry him to help him reach it. The next thing I have to do, is to train Daddy, so that our practices will be consistent (hope that he will read this post).

J - 19M10D today. All instructions given to him was in Mandarin. In summary, J could:

• Get his bowl from the cabinet for his meals
• Wipe the high-chair's tray with a cloth after a meal
• Put his dishes into the dishwasher
• Put his own dirty laundry into the laundry basket
• Put his soiled nappies in the bin
• Throw away thrash into the waste-paper basket
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