How dad can bond with baby: Building blocks

Although we often promote reading as a way for dads to bond with their babies, there is another low-cost and fun activity dads can do with their little ones: building blocks! Building blocks are both fun for the kids and a great stress reliever for adults. Furthermore, building blocks present a variety of learning opportunities, even at the youngest age.

We recommend that you introduce building blocks once your baby is able to sit up on his or her own, usually anywhere between 6-9 months. We recommend starting with simple plain wooden blocks. While a baby may be unable to stack blocks on their own, they will love watching dad build, studying his every move. While dad builds his tall tower, the baby can work on their visual perception and hand-eye coordination skills by picking up blocks and banging them together to make new and interesting noises. This also adds an auditory component to the activity that helps develop baby’s brain! Last of all, once (or before!) the tall tower is completed, babies can delight in knocking it down (and learn about cause and effect)!

As your baby grows into a toddler, they will be able help dad stack blocks, and even create their very own tall towers. They will enjoy knocking them down and then rebuilding them. This is the perfect age to sneak in those learning opportunities. If you have colorful blocks, work on learning the different colors by sorting each color into their own pile. You can sort by shape and size as well, which is a great way to teach organizational skills. Introduce counting simply by building a tower. Be sure to have the toddler help with the clean-up.

As your child grows, you can transition into the smaller blocks giving them more options for sorting shapes, sizes, and colors. Let them be creative with their building. While building, let them create a story to go along with what is being built. It is also a great chance for Dad to be creative and tell stories too!

Older children may be ready for interlocking block sets, such as those from Lego. These sets teach children the importance of following directions and asking for help. By being there and working alongside them, you will be able to help them with whatever they may need. They might need your help finding the correct piece. Maybe they put the wrong piece on and need their big strong dad to pull the piece off. Doing a set with specific instructions takes a lot of patience, especially for a young child, but we can’t think of a more fun way to learn patience than building with blocks.

Recommended blocks for babies:

Simple, plain wooden blocks (Etsy)

Recommended blocks for toddlers:

Habatown Blocks (by Haba, sold on The Rad Dad Box)

Lego Duplo blocks

Simple, at-home activities for babies and toddlers that don’t cost a fortune

Simple, at-home activities for babies and toddlers that don’t cost a fortune

Once you emerge from the “survival” phase of parenting (sometime around 3 months), you may be wondering what to do now with this little creature who wants to do more than eat and sleep. Since our specialty is in finding and suggesting activities for the under 3 set, we thought we would take a stab at some at-home activity ideas for your babies and toddlers. These activities don’t require much in terms of set-up or materials and if they do require materials, most of them can be found from what you already have in your home. We hope you find these suggestions helpful!

Babies love water play, and it’s pretty low cost!
  1. Music (newborn and up). Music has many benefits for babies, some of which include early language development, pattern recognition, fine and gross motor development, and listening skills (source: Kindermusik). Plus, it’s fun and can be accomplished with the things you have in your home. If you have instruments at home, you can give you child the gift of live music! Play tunes on your guitar, piano, violin, saxophone, or whatever instrument you have. If you don’t have any adult-sized instruments at home (and don’t worry, we fall into this category as well), you might have a xylophone or tambourine or maracas/rattles. Play a song on the xylophone, bang the tambourine, shake the maracas (if your baby is old enough, they’ll likely want to do this, too!), bang on pots with wooden spoons. Rattles also make excellent maracas, so don’t underestimate their use and importance!
  2. Singing (newborn and up). Singing to your baby/toddler has many of the same benefits as music. Yes, singing is also music (and can be combined with instrumental music), but we decided to include it in a separate category since singing involves actual language. Some popular songs in English include: “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, “The Wheels on the Bus”, and “Old McDonald Had a Farm.”
  3. Reading (newborn and up). We strongly encourage parents to read to their children starting from birth. Newborns will gravitate to books with black and white or other high-contrast images, whereas babies 3 months and older will be attracted to books with color images. Babies also love books with photos of other babies. If you’re at home during the day (whether due to heat or cold), reading is a great way to keep your baby or toddler entertained for a period of time. Please see our previous dad-themed book round-ups here for ideas!
  4. Sensory basket (6 months and up; can be applicable for a younger baby if he/she is already sitting up). Gather up 5-10 (baby-safe) items in your home, preferable of the same texture, put them in a basket, and let baby explore!
  5. Water sensory tray (3 months and up; or whenever baby is stable on his/her tummy). You don’t need an expensive water table for this. All you need is a glass pyrex container (or even just a bowl or whatever you have on hand). Fill it up with water and put different baby-safe and waterproof objects in it! Fun items to try: bath toys; seashells; sponges.
  6. Blowing bubbles (newborn and up; recommended 3 months and up). We recommend this activity for babies 3 months and older since at that age they are able to follow the bubbles. This activity builds baby’s eye-tracking skills, gross motor skills, and teaches them cause-and-effect (what happens when you touch the bubble? It pops!). More than that, it’s fun and low-cost!
  7. Block games (6 months and up). Chances are, you probably already have a set of blocks lying around from the baby shower and hopefully don’t need to buy these. Show your child how to stack blocks. At 6-9 months, they may not have the coordination to do this, but they are watching you and learning. On top of that, at this age, they *can* knock the blocks down, and they will do this and they will enjoy it!
  8. Play dough (12 months and up; recommended 15-18 months and up). As we get into the toddler age, your child’s skills are increasing and you will be able to do more activities with them. One highly recommended activity for this age is play dough. Depending on where your child is developmentally (and whether or not they have an older sibling who is already playing with it), your child could be ready for play dough anytime between 12 and 18 months. At 12 months, we recommend showing them how it works – have them watch you roll it, flatten it, make it into shapes. Invite them to touch the play dough and push down on it with their finger. Another activity at this age (12 months) could be to roll the play dough into small balls and have your child put them back in the play dough jar. This will help develop their fine motor skills and pincer grip.
  9. Drawing/Painting (12 months and up; recommended 18 months and up). Again, depending on your child’s interests and development, they could be ready for drawing or painting anytime between 12 and 18 months. All that’s required are markers, crayons, paint, paintbrushes, and paper. We prefer to use Crayola, which can be easily found at most stores.
  10. Practical life activities (12 months and up; recommended 18 months and up). If your child is at a Montessori school, you’ve probably heard this method tooted as a way to raise independent children. We agree. Plus, speaking from personal experience, very young children love to help out, so definitely let them help before they get older and don’t want to help anymore! You could start with letting them wipe off surfaces that you’ve sprayed (and letting them spray when they’re a bit older, around 2 years old), asking them to bring you clean, freshly washed utensils from the dishwasher (but not before removing all the sharp items, of course), watering plants, helping you pull dry clothes out of the dryer, and sweeping the floor.

We hope we’ve given you some ideas to start with! And of course, the outdoors is a great place for children as well. But if you’re stuck inside because of the extreme heat or cold, these activities may come in handy!

Did we miss anything? Please feel free to chime in with your activity suggestions, too!

The Fifth Trimester and beyond: How Dads can bond with older babies

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By the time a baby hits the three-month milestone, most families have settled into a comfortable routine.  Most babies by this point are sleeping for longer during the night (5-6 hours), which gives both parents a much-needed break. If you’re lucky, your baby may even be sleeping through the night! (If you are one of these people, we envy you!)

As some things become easier, though, others become harder.  From six months on, babies start to develop their own opinions, and they aren’t afraid to express them – usually in the form of a temper tantrum! And unlike newborns, who tend to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, it may take more cajoling to get an older baby to nap. Calming techniques which worked on baby from 0-3 months may no longer work. And as babies become more mobile, they require a more watchful eye.

Some dads may step up naturally and start interacting with their babies more at this stage, but other dads may be uncertain or too shell-shocked from the 0-3 month phase to know how to proceed. To explore the post-newborn phase, we teamed up with Anthony Kim, author of A Man’s Guide to Newborn Babies and blogger at A Dad’s Guide (ADadsGuide.org), to provide a guide on how Dads can bond with their babies after the newborn (0-3 month) phase is over.

As with any stage, the challenges that come up as babies grow older are counterbalanced with benefits, one of them being more and deeper opportunities to develop the parent-child bond. “The best thing about getting past the newborn stage is richer interaction between parents and their baby,” Anthony says. “As babies get older, communication ceases to be one-way and their communication abilities grow by leaps and bounds.”

Here are 9 tips on how Dads can form excellent bonds with their little ones once they get past the newborn stage.

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  1. Reading time with Dad. We previously advised dads to start reading to their babies from day one: it’s not only helpful for brain and language development, but it also is a great bonding experience for dad and baby. As your baby gets older, continue reading to him/her. “Reading to your baby teaches language cadences and stimulates the imagination,” Anthony says. “As your baby gets older, they will pick up the connections between pictures and words, steadily building their vocabulary.” Around three months, babies will start responding to the illustrations by widening their eyes, shaking their arms and legs, and expressing interest/excitement. Around one year of age, babies will start pointing to pictures in the books and asking you to recite what each illustration is!DSCN2059
  2. Dads and their children benefit from spending at least one day a week having adventures together. Both Anthony and Mitya Gimon, our Rad Dad-in-Residence, were in agreement on this. When Dads go out as a family, any attention they receive usually goes to the baby. However, when dads go out alone with their babies, they are perceived as fathers. Being recognized as a father is important for dads, Gimon says. And it doesn’t have to be a huge outing – Anthony suggests that simply going to the park, the local pet store, or a walk down Main Street are great options. After all, your little one’s world is pretty small to begin with, so just stepping out the door is an adventure! Furthermore, Anthony adds, going for a mini-adventure with your baby is a great bonding experience for both dad and baby!15723413_10154321385547736_2364216528179017239_o
  3. Introduce the baby to your interests. The period between 3-12 months – that is, the period before the baby starts to develop strong opinions and expressing them – is an ideal time to introduce the baby to your interests. Take them to the museum to look at art, to the forest for hiking, to the beach to play in the sand and see the ocean, to restaurants to show them different foods and smells – any experience that you enjoy and want to share with your child. Even if baby can’t do much at this age aside from observe, each new experience helps develop your baby’s brain. Plus, it’s good for everyone in the family to get out of the house!  DSCN0652
  4. Around baby’s first birthday, dads can introduce baby to things that he/she may like. By one year of age, your baby will start developing preferences and won’t be afraid to express them – usually in the form of a temper tantrum! Most babies start walking between 10 and 16 months, which is a perfect time to take baby to the playground, for example. It’s also around this time when they start appreciating events geared towards children: sing-a-longs, fairs, parades, apple/strawberry/blueberry picking, and interactive children’s museums, to name a few.    DSCN0673
  5. As baby is weaned from breast milk, dads can prepare baby’s food and/or feed the baby. In the beginning, many dads whose partners are breastfeeding may feel useless as baby is receiving all of his/her nutrition from breast milk. (New dads, please know that this is not true! There are many ways you can be involved with breastfeeding and with your newborn baby in general.) The process of weaning (which usually starts between 4-6 months) is a perfect opportunity for Dads to become more involved in providing sustenance to baby. If you’re a dad who likes to cook, this is the time to experiment with purees! If you need a little guidance, we recommend the book 201 Organic Baby Purees by Tamika L. GardnerSosi Safe is also a great online resource for baby and toddler recipes. Dads who don’t enjoy cooking can still participate by spoonfeeding cereal and purees (either handmade or store-bought) to baby. It will help you and your baby feel closer to each other, and you may also feel a sense of pride in bringing nourishment to your child!IMG_6723 edited
  6. Play games. This is the age when you can really start having fun with your baby! It’s also a great way for Dads to continue to strengthen their bond with their children. Games and toys that we recommend for the 6 month (and older stage) include:
    1. Peekaboo! Babies love peekaboo, and all this game requires are your hands (or a blanket) and your time! Change it up a little by “peeking” out from a different side. And watch for the moment when Baby will start to play with you (usually between 8 and 9 months) – this is an amazing development and opens the doors for even richer interaction!
    2. Clapping games. At 6 months, your baby is probably a while away from clapping herself, but babies love noise and music. Try a round of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” and see how he responds!
    3. Building blocks. Again, at 6 months, Baby most likely won’t be stacking blocks, but she will love knocking them down! This is another great way for Dad and baby to spend some time together and have fun at the same time.
    4. Musical instruments, such as a xylophone or mini-piano. Although the instructions on the toy xylophone say that it is for babies 18 months and older, that doesn’t mean that Mom and Dad (who are definitely older than 18 months!) can’t start using it earlier! A 6 month old baby may not have the coordination to use the xylophone, but it doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy listening to their parents bang away on it! The same goes for mini-pianos. And by the time Baby reaches 18 months, we guarantee that they will enjoy playing on both!
    5. Bubbles. Grab a bottle of bubble liquid (or make it yourself) and blow bubbles in your baby’s direction. They will love it!
    6. Bath toys. Once baby can sit up, she will enjoy playing with her toys during bathtime. Play with her! The rubber ducky is a reliable favorite, but squirt toys from Munchkin and water pipes from Boon Toys are also a hit in our house!DSCN0089
  7. Use anything and everything to entertain them. One of the most wonderful things about babies 3 months and older is how easily they are entertained. Sit with them for a minute or two in front of the dryer as it’s drying clothes (if you have a front-load dryer with a transparent door) – they’ll be fascinated! Wiggle your toes in front of baby – they won’t be able to stop laughing! Stick out your tongue and make funny faces, and you’ll be rewarded with a huge grin! Use your imagination and it’s likely your baby will love it!
  8. Continue doing everything we suggested in our newborn post that is still applicable. Even after your partner has recovered from giving birth, continue giving regular baths to baby. Bottle-feed baby as long as he hasn’t rejected the bottle. Keep reading to baby, as we mentioned earlier. Continued involvement past the newborn stage will strengthen your bond with the baby and will be much appreciated by your partner.
  9. Meet the challenge of keeping the marriage strong as baby gets older. Although not directly related to father-child bonding, Anthony also recommends striving for a peaceful, loving marriage by dividing childcare and household responsibilities, and having regular date nights as baby gets older. All of these contribute to a happier and healthier family, and a better overall environment for the baby to grow up in.

All in all, as babies grow older, there are more and richer opportunities for Dads to be involved and strengthen their relationship with their children. Our suggestions are simply the tip of the iceberg, merely to get you started. Have any suggestions? Let us know in the comments!

How to make your baby’s Halloween memorable and candy-free

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It’s October, which means that Halloween is coming up! If there’s any holiday associated with candy and all those sugary treats that your baby isn’t allowed to eat yet, it’s Halloween.

But even if your baby isn’t old enough to stand (much less go around the neighborhood trick-or-treating), there are still things you can do to celebrate the holiday and enjoy yourselves! Starting with…

  1. Dress Baby in a costume. Probably the most obvious, and the one parents are most eager to do, is to dress Baby in a cute costume! Luckily, costumes of all kinds can be found at stores, or you can make one of your own. We dressed our son as a Totoro last year – I took the lazy approach and sewed ears on a white hat, then dressed him in a white hoodie and white sweat pants.
  2. Visit a pumpkin patch. If your baby or toddler is already walking, they will be fascinated by the pumpkins and their vibrant orange colors! Ours ran around pointing at the pumpkins and making fascinated sounds of approval. Even if Baby isn’t walking, it’s a great excuse to get them out into the fresh air! They will be fascinated by the pumpkins, and it will be a great experience for them. Every new experience helps develop Baby’s brain, after all! (Rad Dad tip: dress Baby in orange for color-coordinated photos!)
  3. Create a Halloween keepsake. There’s more to Halloween than just candy, as we’ve already established! So make your little one’s first, second, or third Halloween memorable by creating a keepsake. We’ve included a pumpkin keepsake kit for our subscribers in our October Rad Dad Box (and will include a photo tutorial soon), but check out this article from Parents Magazine for more Halloween craft ideas for toddlers. It’s also a great way for dad, mom, and Baby to have fun together!
  4. Decorate a pumpkin. You may not want to wield a carving knife in front of your baby or toddler, but there are lots of ways to decorate a pumpkin without sharp objects. Buy some baby-safe paints and paint a face on the pumpkin. Make a teal pumpkin. You get the idea!
  5. Tell ghost stories with a flashlight. If you haven’t done it yet, flip off all the lights in your house at night. Then light up the flashlight. Your baby will love it! There’s just something about babies and lights… Tell ghost stories, Great Pumpkin stories, or other Halloween-themed stories and, if your baby is old enough, give them the flashlight to play with. They’ll enjoy it!
  6. Bake sugar-free Halloween cookies. If you’re a baking dad (or mom), you can find recipes here and here.
  7. If they are old enough, enlist their help in handing treats to trick-or-treaters. Most babies love interacting with older children, even if they don’t quite grasp the concept of play yet. It’s also a good social exercise for the baby. Answer the door with your cute costumed baby in your arms, and have baby hand out candy (or other treats) to the kids at the door!
  8. Take them trick-or-treating, but don’t let them eat the candy. This will be fun for both babies and toddlers! If your baby is younger than one, you can probably get away with this without inciting any tantrums. If Baby is older than one (that is, if Baby is a toddler), they may realize that candy is food and want some for themselves. Try to encourage them to play with the candy, but not eat it. Put the candy in a bowl, for example, then take it out. Use the candy to help them learn how to count. Then hide it away and give it away at your office (or eat it yourself :D). Yes, I know we’re sounding like those adults who gave out apples to trick-or-treaters when we were kids (and whom we all probably hated), but it’s for baby’s own good!

What are your plans for a sugar- and candy-free Halloween? Please share in the comments!