Parenting

My Top Three Shows for Kids

I have been a parent for less than two years, and so far, I consider my parenting style to be more on the free range end of the spectrum. I never worry too much when Wolf gets sick, I always let him make a mess while he learns to eat by himself, and I let him sleep long even if it means a later breakfast.

If there is one thing I do try to control, it is Wolf’s screen time. I believe that parents need to place strict limits on young children’s media use. Babies and young toddlers are at a developmental stage wherein passive media consumption offers no learning value. In line with the guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, I waited until Wolf was 18 months before letting him watch shows, and even then, I did not make it a daily activity. Normally, per day, he gets as little as no screen time at all to a maximum of 25 minutes (the length of one episode of shows for small children is usually less than this). The exception is when he is sick and needs to nebulize three times a day, and screen time is the only way he will sit still long enough to nebulize. On such days, he exceeds 25 minutes, but I do my best to keep total screen time under an hour.

I am also very particular about the shows that I let Wolf watch. I look for shows that are interactive, have good storylines, have characters worth emulating, and are paced appropriately for Wolf’s age. This last criterion is something that I see other parents overlook but I think is really critical. I’ve come across many shows that are deemed appropriate for young viewers but are actually way too fast-paced and overstimulating. These shows have too many flashy images and superfluous sound effects that actually cause distress to young brains. When I preview a new show, I also watch Wolf’s face carefully. If he seems overwhelmed, the show does not get my vote. If he becomes engrossed to the point that when I ask him something, he cannot respond, I also deem it inappropriate. I find it of utmost importance that even during screen time, Wolf and I can engage in conversations about what he is watching. That way, his consumption is not passive. He can verbally identify the objects in the shows. He does not just sit and watch. He reacts to what he is viewing, and that is how I know that his brain is somewhat able to process the show.

Even considering that I expose him only to high quality shows, I realize the stark difference in his development between when he watches shows and when we read together. It is night and day. 100% of the words he has learned is from reading and actual conversations with adults. He has not learned any new words from watching, although he is able to recognize and identify objects that he has learned when they appear in the shows. And so as much as possible, I limit his screen time—both the amount and the type of shows he watches.

I know that not all parents, especially those who are working, have the time to scrutinize which shows are good choices for their young kids. And so I have come up with three shows that I recommend for toddlers to assist parents who are on the lookout for high quality shows. These are all available on Netflix. I will discuss the factors that make these shows high quality. Being a musician, I will also talk about the superior musical qualities of each show. Haha.

The Furchester Hotel

The Furchester Hotel

The Furchester Hotel is the latest series of Sesame Street, which is the show that holds the distinction of being named specifically by the American Academy of Pediatrics as high quality and recommended for young viewers. The story follows a family of monster puppets and their misadventures in managing their half-star hotel business. Every episode features a conflict (dubbed a “Furchester catastrophe”), several attempts to solve the problem, a “monster idea,” and then a solution. The show strongly imparts key values of perseverance, resourcefulness, and cooperation. There is also a lot of singing, and the musical style does not take after the usual sing-song nursery rhyme tradition of many kids’ shows. The songs are fun, jazzy, and cleverly written.

Kazoops!

Kazoops!

A Netflix original, this show revolves around the Kazoops family. The main character is Monty Kazoops, a boy with a pet pig and a huge imagination, which he uses to think outside the box and challenge preconceived notions about the world. The rest of his family are all unique and interesting characters. From his hyper grandmother who loves to surf and paint to his sister who is a budding rockstar, the Kazoops family demonstrates to kids how the world is our oyster, and there are so many wonders to explore if we “just imagine.” Every time Monty goes on an adventure in his mind, there is a song unique to the episode’s theme. The songs are usually accompanied by an acoustic guitar and feature laidback, folksy voices, reminiscent of campfires and roadtrips.

Puffin Rock

Puffin Rock

Another wonderful creation by Netflix, Puffin Rock follows Oona the puffin and her little brother, Baba, as they grow up and explore their home, an island on the coast of Ireland. There is a narrator and beautiful 2D animation, making this series the closest to an actual book among my three recommendations. Through their adventures, Oona and Baba learn about other animals on the island and the value of friendship and family. This show is like a mini Discovery Channel or Animal Planet because of the many interesting facts about animals that it presents. Even adults are able to learn new things about various animals such as puffins and seagulls. The animation is a treat for the eyes. It is like watching a painting in motion. The theme song is a dreamy number that succinctly encompasses the beauty of the animation and gentle temperament of Oona and Baba. The theme song is so good that I look forward to hearing it again and again! Haha.

And that rounds up my top three shows for kids. I hope you guys enjoy watching these with your kids as much as I do! I’d love to hear your recommendations too, so hit me up with any of your personal favorite shows for kids.

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Parenting, Travel

How Travel Benefits My Baby

From the get-go, I did not hesitate to bring Wolf around with me wherever I went. I first took him to a restaurant when he was just two weeks old. I took him to a classical concert on his third week. At three months, he would tag along to my wedding gigs. He had his first road trip and pool experience at six months. He has been to Japan twice—once at ten months, and again at one year, five months.

Baby eating in high chair

Some parents prefer to shelter infants and refrain from bringing them outside often. I am inclined to do the opposite; I believe that the more of the outside world my baby experiences, the better. It was my instinct to allow Wolf to explore new places and meet new faces early on. Now that Wolf’s an older baby, his personality and constitution are becoming more evident. I can really appreciate now the benefits that Wolf has gained from his explorations. Travelling often has aided in Wolf’s development of the following traits:

  1. Wolf is sociable. He never went through the “nangingilala” stage of babies (stranger anxiety), wherein babies become fussy or inconsolable around strangers. He eases up to new faces quickly, and he often finds pleasure in entertaining others with his antics.
  2. Wolf is well-behaved. He can endure long trips in his car seat, and he doesn’t complain as long as he is full and rested. He is also used to eating out with us at restaurants, where he is comfortable sitting in a high chair and eating alongside us. I do not allow him any screen time while eating, and he knows how to be content enjoying the meal with us and interacting with the other diners.
  3. Wolf is healthy. He is always quick to recover from a cough or cold, and being sick does not dampen his pleasant disposition. He has never needed to be hospitalized for any illness. I believe that his regular exposure outside, combined with my willingness to breastfeed anywhere, have both played a part in toughening up his immune system.
  4. Wolf is talkative. At one year and seven months, he knows more than 60 words. Many of these are words that he was able to say when travelling. I noticed that although I introduced several of these words early on through reading to him, it was often when he would see the actual objects outside that he would learn to say the words. He learned to say “tree” when he saw trees in Tagaytay. He learned to say “meow” and “butterfly” when he saw cats and butterflies in Baguio. He learned to say “train” after riding numerous trains in Japan.
  5. Wolf is confident. Much of the time, I bring Wolf outside so that he can be where I am. At such a young age, Wolf is happiest and most reassured when he is with me and his dad. When we go out and I let Wolf lead the way, he is always excited to walk ahead, but he also looks back to make sure I’m still there. Then he smiles and toddles on boldly. He is empowered to explore, because he knows his parents are at his side, happily watching him find his stride in the world.Baby in butterfly sanctuary

I realize now that my baby’s name, Wolfgang, is so apt. His name means “travelling wolf.” Indeed, he has gone on many excursions with us, and he will definitely go on many more. Here’s to our wolf pack’s next adventure!

Family in Japan

Parenting

Wolf at 18 Months

Wolf turns 1 and 1/2 years old today, and he has become so interesting to observe! He toddles around really fast, he can identify more than ten parts of his body, he can catch a ball, and he voraciously eats almost any food we offer!

Baby in high chair

One of the things I am most happy about is his growing vocabulary. He now knows how to say more than 20 words. I have always been frustrated that my parents have no idea what my first words were (chalk it up to my being the second child?), and so I have made it a point to list down Wolf’s first words. I even made a video compilation. Haha.

Baby riding carBaby wearing Batman shirt

To further ensure that I have his first words on file, I will list them down here as well. Haha. Presenting… in order of appearance… Wolf’s First Words! 🙂

  1. Mama
  2. Papa
  3. Banana
  4. Bath
  5. Button
  6. Batman
  7. Puffs
  8. Ball
  9. Ice cream
  10. Star
  11. Car
  12. Backpack
  13. Chair
  14. Shoes
  15. Tita
  16. Train
  17. Ball
  18. One
  19. Two
  20. Three
  21. Ninang
  22. Hi
  23. Bye
Musings, Parenting

Mommy Brains are Not Dull Brains

Recently, a relative asked me when I plan on returning to work. I said that Casey and I haven’t really discussed a timeline, especially since we have not had a helper stay long enough for me to consider working full-time again. He then said that I haven’t worked for so long, and I might go stale. A few days later, a friend asked me if I experienced mommy brain. I asked her to clarify what that meant, and she said it’s when new moms become so overwhelmed with taking care of their babies that they lose touch with the world, and their brain deteriorates somewhat. I just looked at her and said, no, I’ve never experienced that, but deep inside I felt offended. Both instances revealed to me a condescension toward stay-at-home parents.

Child care has been undervalued for centuries, and sadly, it remains so to this day. I know a lot of people would still say that taking care of a child is not as mentally stimulating as being part of the work force. This notion is deeply ingrained yet sadly misinformed. It continues to be perpetuated by people who may not have had enough experience on both sides of the fence. Speaking as someone who has experienced both, I have several rebuttals to the idea that child-rearing is a mental walk in the park compared with corporate life.

  1. Many full-time jobs entail long hours of being idle. In the eight hours of work at the office, a good chunk is not actually spent being productive. I know that this is true for many in the corporate world. Now you may be thinking that staying at home with a child involves a lot of idle time as well. It could be so, but that would depend on the stay-at-home parent. At home, you don’t have a boss hovering over your shoulder to check that you’re doing office-related things, and so free time can be truly productive. When my baby is asleep, I often use the time to read, write, or trade stocks. Or sometimes I nap beside my baby, which is very productive as well.
  2. Many full-time jobs are unavoidably routinary. Daily tasks remain essentially the same, to the point that people merely go through the motions at work, and most actions become almost automatic. When you’re so used to doing certain tasks, your brain does not get that effective a workout. The same can be said for housework, but like I mentioned earlier, the amount of mental stimulation one can get varies depending on how much one actively seeks it. This actually holds true whether you have full-time office work or stay at home. The difference is that arguably, you have more leeway to plan your day at home, and so if you wish, staying at home can open up more opportunities to sharpen your mind.
  3. Raising a child involves a lot of brain activity. Meal planning, creative storytelling, singing and dancing, exploring—these sound fun and easy, but they require resourcefulness, innovation, patience, and discipline, which are high-level mental and emotional exercises. “Mommy brains” are not dull brains. They are brains that are challenged every day by their boss babies. Can’t take my word for it? Science is on my side.

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

To be clear, I’m not saying that being a stay-at-home parent is more mentally challenging than having a full-time office job. I’m just saying that both roles can be mentally challenging, and that assuming that staying at home with the kids equals rotting brain cells is wrong. For those who think being a mommy doesn’t exercise the brain, well, just imagine taking care of a human other than yourself, and on top of that, realize that the human cannot even make his needs known directly.

Feeding a toddler

Take meal time, for example. You’re not a mom. You’re hungry, and so you eat a Subway sandwich, which is what you felt like eating. The end. Meal time is simple and requires minimal mental effort. Compare this to if you are a mom. You’re hungry. Your baby is hungry. You make him a sandwich. He eats a bit then starts spitting it out. You ask him if he wants a banana. He says “nana” and so you peel a banana. He takes a bite, spits it out, spreads mush on the table and smiles at his work of art. He then bounces up and down, grunting, and you realize he needs to poop. So you wait for him to poop, clean him up, then offer chicken and rice, which is what he wanted after all, but how would you know? Chicken is hard to say! Finally, an hour later, you get to eat his leftovers, which are not what you wanted but are all you have time and energy left to eat. On the bright side, at least you got to eat. Haha.

Also, take note that my experience is just the tip of the iceberg. I can only imagine how my brain will be tested once Wolf learns how to answer back!

I hope this post can help others better appreciate the value and challenge of parenthood. I don’t know if I will ever return to a regular office job, but even if I don’t, please realize that my mommy brain will remain in tip-top shape, thank you very much!

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

Parenting

Beating the Heat with a Vornado Air Circulator!

Many people love to be around babies, but if you’re taking care of one night and day, it can get boring, especially in the early months. At first, they really aren’t capable of doing much. Sleep, eat, poo, pee, drool, burp, repeat. But as they get older, they begin to pick up more skills, and observing their development is fascinating.

Since Wolf turned a year old, he has been hitting new and more exciting milestones. One of my favorites is how he has learned to recognize songs by just their tune. Previously, I would always sing “I’m a Little Teapot” and he would do the actions, but one day, as I was merely humming the tune, he recognized it and did the actions. I then tested him by humming other songs, and he recognized them as well, doing the corresponding actions for every song. I found this particularly amazing, because I never actively sought to make him recognize and differentiate tunes. He is absorbing so much more than I realize!

At this stage, Wolf is also beginning to show snippets of his personality. So far, he has been quite a sociable baby, deriving pleasure from entertaining both familiar people and strangers. However, he is particularly averse to boisterous behavior, and has often cried when people near him laugh too loudly. He is always quick to recover from crying, and he is generally very mild-mannered. He loves to explore and test limits by purposefully going where he knows he’s not allowed. That naughty streak is all part and parcel of toddler life, and so I would usually take it in stride. However, recently, he took interest in constantly attempting to stick his fingers in between the grills of our stand fan! We could not be lax about this. We covered the fan with a net, but that was not the end of our fan woes. The other day, he managed to tip the whole fan over, and thank God no one but the fan was harmed! I was just a meter away from him when it happened. I never took my eyes off him, but he did it so fast that I had no time to react. And he was only going to get faster at doing it. So we took the stand fan out and brainstormed possible solutions.

We came up with three options: a bladeless fan, a ceiling/wall fan, or a desk fan. The bladeless fan I decided was too expensive (around P20,000 for the entry level ones at True Value). I didn’t want to get the cheap ones being sold online as they probably are not powerful enough and won’t last long. On the other hand, a fan to be mounted on the wall or ceiling would pose a hazard in case of an earthquake. That left us with the option of getting a desk fan. Casey’s concern with a desk fan was that they are usually not that powerful. Is there such a thing as a desk fan powerful enough to keep my sweaty baby comfortable in this summer heat? Apparently, there is!

We decided to get the Vornado 633 Air Circulator. At around P4,000 for the mid-size model, it’s not cheap, but it’s definitely cheaper than a dreaded trip to the emergency room! So what makes the Vornado fans so special? Unlike regular fans with airflow limited to the direction they’re facing, Vornado circulators create powerful and constant airflow in all areas of the room. The Vornado 633 was the ideal fan for us, because:

  1. It could fit on our desk in the corner, away from our curious toddler’s path of destruction.
  2. The grill design is safer than that of regular fans, because there are less areas for little fingers to fall through.
  3. Whole room circulation meant that Wolf could walk around the room as he pleased, and air would still reach him.

Vornado 633 Air Circulator Vornado 633 Air Circulator

I find that our Vornado works best circulating cooled air. I turn on the air conditioner together with the Vornado, and then after half an hour, I switch off the air conditioner, and the Vornado does a good job keeping the room cool for several hours after. As I type this, it’s nearing lunch time. It has been three hours since I switched off the air conditioner. Wolf is on one side while I am on the opposite side of the room, and we are both feeling a constant breeze from the Vornado. It’s May 2, right smack in the middle of summer in this tropical country, we have just a fan on, and yet neither of us are sweating. Now, how cool is that? 😎

Vornado 633 Air Circulator Vornado 633 Air Circulator Vornado 633 Air Circulator Vornado 633 Air Circulator