Archive for the ‘Structuring the day’ Category

Here is how I vary the toys and the play locations throughout the day. I hope this well help give you some ideas.

In the playroom, I have toys in plastic containers with lids. The containers with toys are all kept on shelves I bought from Walmart for $15 each. We have 4 shelves (with 3 shelves each).  I only let them get out two containers at a time. I also have a play kitchen in the playroom and a small table and chair set in the playroom.
Toys we have in each container are:
– Wooden Train Set
– Playfood, Cups, Bowls, and other kitchen items
– Plastic Animals
– Building Legos
– Medium Sized Cars
– Puzzles
– Toddler Toys in 2 different boxes (various toddler toys)
– Little People Items

In my son’s room, he has a few toys. The toys are arranged in plastic containers with lids too. He is allowed to choose 2-3 different type of toys to have out during roomtime. The rest stay on his shelves in their containers and are not played with. The kids also do sibling playtime in Coopers room a few times a week- and the same rules apply, only 2-3 types of toys out at a time.
– McQueen Cars (from the Movie Cars)
– Chuck Car items
– Marble Run
– Books
– Other Match Box Cars
– Felt Roads & Play Rug with Roads
– Tag Junior
– Vet Clinic Toy
– Stuffed Animals

In the Girls’ Room, they have a few toys. I store all their toys in their closet. They still have IPT in their cribs. I usually allow them 2 types of toys and some books during IPT. They toys stored in their closets are:
– Little People Sets
– Little People Builder Blocks and Sets
– Light & Sounds Toys (electronics)
– Playfood
– Babydoll items
– Books
– Stacking toys & Shape sorters

In the Gameroom, I store all their educational materials, art supplies, and other table activities. I have it stored in an entertainment system with doors. I have things in plastic containers with lids marked with what time of things are inside. We don’t really have any other toys in the gameroom because we don’t play too much up their yet because I cannot keep an eye on them in there if I am down stairs working (game is upstairs).

In the living room, I have a basket of random toys- some cars, some stuffed animals, some little people stuff, some other toys (doctor kit, etc). They can take anything out of the basket when we are in the living room, but it all has to be put back when we leave the room.

In my bathroom, I have a small tub of toys for when I am getting ready in the morning or during bathtime. I usually bathe all the kids at the same time, but they don’t all get in the tub at the same time so I need toys to keep the occupied during bath time. I have books, cars, and a few small toddler-ish toys in there.

In the kitchen, I have a few leap frog toys on the fridge and I also have some file folder games, busy bag activity, quiet books, and play dough items all stored in my pantry. That way if I need a quick table time activity for a time of transition or while I am cooking dinner, I can quickly pull them out.

What I have found, is even though I don’t rotate all the toys, I think allowing them only a few toys at a time helps. Having them play in the playroom, bedroom, and living room at different times of day helps too. I think that free play, Independent Play Time, and table time/ blanket time help to keep it interesting. I also do outside play every day and try to include a walk. So variety of activities, organized toys, and not allowing them to play with too many things really helps to keep the kids happy and having fun throughout the day. The toys don’t get as boring this way.

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When I first wrote my post about structuring your toddler’s day, I wrote it for when my son was taking one nap a day. But most toddler’s don’t drop the morning nap and move to one nap a day until they are closer to 15-18 months old. My son Cooper dropped the morning nap at 12 months, which is early. My twin daughters are 12 months old and are still taking 2 naps a day. While there are days they only take one nap (due to activities we have planned outside the home), 5-6 out of 7 days they are still taking two naps a day. I thought it would be helpful to write out their schedule at 12 months for parents who are looking to structure their toddler’s day while still on two naps.

Click on each activity to learn more about them. Check back frequently as I add more links to the various activities as I blog about them.

For a sample schedule of a toddler on one nap a day, please see my post entitled Structuring Your Toddler’s Day (one nap a day)

7:00 Nurse, Potty, Dressed for the Day
7:30 Structured Learning/ Free Play
8:00 Breakfast
8:30 Free Play in Playroom & Circle Time
9:00 Outside Play
9:45/10:00-11:00 Nap
11:00 Nurse, Potty, Diaper Changes
11:20 Independent Play Time
12:15 Lunch
12:45 High Chair Activity (AKA Table Time/ Transition Time)
1:00 Play With Mommy inside or Outside Play
1:30 Story Time & Quiet Play with Mommy
2:00-4:00 Nap
4:00 Nurse & Snack, Potty, Diaper Change
4:30 Blanket Time
5:00 Sibling Play
5:30 DVD in Playroom (while Mommy gets dinner ready) or Play with Daddy if he is home from work already
6:00 Dinner
6:30 Family Play
7:00 Bath
7:15/7:30 Nurse/Bottles, Followed By Bed

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I thought it might be helpful to share what I have been putting on the girls’ blanket for blanket time. The girls are able to stay on the blanket for 30 minutes. I typically do blanket time in the afternoon after they wake up nurse and have a snack. They are nice and rested and ready to play on their blankets without too much fussing. These toys seem to really hold their attention. What I have found to be good blanket time toys are toys that are easy to stack, open and shut, and small objects they can put inside various containers. I also have a few electronic toys that I throw into the rotation.

On a typical blanket I usually put: 1 nesting cup toy, 1 electronic toy, books, and some other toy. There are days when all I put on their blanket is the sensory tub and give them some cups and containers to place things from the sensory tub inside. These toys always work very good for independent playtime.

List of Toys I use for Blanket Time Rotation
Play food

Nesting Cups (Iplay Nesting Cups, Munckin Caterpiller Nesting Cups, and Green Sprout Stacking Cups)
Stacking Rings (Fisher-Price Star Stacker, Melissa & Doug Wooden Stacker, Rattling Stacker)
Shape sorter (Fisher Price Shape Sorter, Melissa & Doug Wooden Shape Sorter)
Small plastic animals (Farm Animals, Zoo Animals, Dinasour Animals)
Laugh & Learn Tea Cup Set
Leap Frog Birthday Cake
Alligator Piano
Old Plastic Containers (large yogurt containers, butter containers)
Large Pom-poms & Shoe box with wholes cut out in the lid to place pom-poms in and out
Clothes pins & Formula container with a whole in the top to place clothes pins through
Sensory Tub
V-Tech Helicopter
V-Tech Laptop
Leap Frog Picnic Basket
Shoe Box with Laminated Photos of Family Members
Touch & Feel Books (DK Touch & Feel, That’s Not My…. Books)
Touch & Feel Flash Cards
Shoe Box with Textured Cards (Glued different fabrics to thick laminated card stock)
Yogurt Container with milk tops to push through a slot in the lid
6 plastic bowls from the dollar tree (They use these to stack and put things inside)
Board Books

For more information about Blanket Time, please see my post entitled “Blanket Time

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I have to say, I feel like I have a pretty good schedule running for my kids every day. I like the balance of activities and it keeps them from getting bored and having too many discipline issues. See my post Structuring a Toddler’s Day for some ideas on how to create a balanced schedule for your older infant and toddler.

Where the day falls apart or does not run as smoothly is at times of transition or when we move from one activity to the next. For instance, the time in between breakfast and Independent Playtime or Structured Learning was not going very well. I was just letting the kids play in the kitchen or playroom while I cleaned up breakfast, but I found that was allowing them too much free play and often that “unstructured” time led to fights or discipline issues. I also did not want them pulling out a lot of toys and creating a mess while I was trying to clean up the kitchen and get them ready to move to the next activity. I just did not want to create more mess to clean up. I am sure you can appreciate that as a mom.

I asked my Baby Center Babywise Group how to handle these times of transition, and one mom gave me such a good idea. She told me to give them an activity to keep then occupied at the table while I clean up from the meal we just ate or while they wait to go outside and play, etc. What a simple solution, right? Well, sort of. I needed to come up with some activities that would hold my one-year old twins and my 2.5 year-old’s attention for 5-10 minutes while they stayed in their highchairs or seated at the table.

I came up with some activities that have worked so I thought I would share them with you. All the activities must be activities that your child can complete without any assistance otherwise, you will spend more time helping your child than getting ready to move to the next activity. So here are some ideas:

  • File Folder Games: Just google free preschool file folder games. You will find a ton you can print. From matching colors to counting from 1-10. Just make sure your child is able to complete these games on his or her own. You may have to play the file folder game a few times prior to using this as a transition activity so your child is familiar with how to play the game and able to complete or his own.
  • Puzzles: These are great transition activities. They are little mess, fun, and are easy to complete at the table.
  • Books: Give your child a small box of 4-5 books to look at the table during transition time.
  • Photo Album: Put pictures of your family and extended family in a photo album for your child to look at while you are moving from one activity to the next.
  • Sorting Activity: Give your child a few objects to sort into different bowls. You can use pompoms, fruitloops, different colored blocks, etc.
  • Book on Tape/CD: This is a great activity for transitions. You can rent books on tape at your local library or you can record your own voice reading a book for your child to listen to. You will need to teach your child how to turn the pages along with the read-aloud prior to using this as a transition activity.
  • Flash Cards: I bought some flash cards at the dollar store and at target’s dollar bin and punch a whole in the corner and put them on a key ring. They kids love to flip through and look at the various pictures on the flash cards. I also own some touch and feel flash cards that my kids LOVE so much!
  • Texture Box: This works well for younger toddlers. Take various different materials and textures and glue them on some index cards and store them in a shoe box. You toddler will enjoy taking them out and feeling the different textures.
  • Quiet Book: Google quiet book for different ideas on how to put together your own quiet book for your child. I have not actually made my own quiet book yet, but I have a binder with some quick activities that my 2.5 year old can do on his own, which is similar to a quiet book.
  • Matching: Give your child some cards you can do some matching activities with. There are tons of free matching games out there that you can print off the internet- just google free preschool matching games.

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What is Free Play?

Free Play “refers to planned and impromptu times when baby, pretoddler, and toddler plays with his or toys at a place center.” A play center is a “small, safe area containing a basket or bin of age-appropriate toys that he can go to and choose what he wants to play with (pre-toddlerwise p.155) You can have play centers in different areas of your house- the kitchen, living room, play room, and even your bathroom. That way if you ever need to be in a room, your child can easily have free play in that room with you. Free Play is called free play because the child choose the toys that he/she wants to play with rather than the parent choosing (like during structured play time).  You need to supervise their play time, you just don’t want to interfere with their play choices. This is also a time to allow them to play on their own. During this time they learn to play and use problem-solving techniques, but only if you don’t interfere in their play. If you notice your child having trouble with a particular toy, let them try to figure it out on their own for a while before you jump in to help.

How Many toys should I allow my child to have during Free Play?

According to the -wise series, you should have designated play centers that contain toys for your child to choose from. I would only allow 4-5 toys in this learning center at a time. For instance, for a 15 month old boy, I might include- a few books, a few cars, an interactive lights/ sounds toy, and some toy blocks. A 10 month old might have, a teething toy, some books, light/ sounds toy, and some stuffed animals. An older toddler girl might have, a purse with some items inside, books, one light/sounds toy, and some play food. I have found that if you have too many toys, it overwhelms the child and they have more difficult sustaining their attention during play time. I don’t have a play center in my play room. When my son has free play in his play room, I just take down a few toys for him to play with at a time. I certainly do not take out all of his toys. I use to have all his toys on the ground at his disposable, but this was a terrible decision. His attention span for each toy was very short and he would easily grow bored and need assistance during play. Once I limited the amount of toys he could play with during free play, he played with each toy longer and he would play happily by himself for longer stretches without needing my assistance.

How long should free play last?

Good question. I think this depends on the child. You want to keep free play from being too long. If it is too long, you will notice your child starting to become more clingy to you, start developing some behavioral issues, or plays with his toys improperly. The key is keeping the length just long enough before they get to that point. I have found that between 15-30 minutes is a good amount of time for free play for older babies (5-12 months), 30 minutes of free play to be a good time amount for pre-toddlers (12-18 months), and for older toddlers (<18 months), 30 minutes- 1 hours is a good time amount. Just watch your child for signs that free play should end.

When should I do free play? How often should I do free play?

Again this all depends on your child. I think a general rule of thumb is to allow them to have free play when they are well rested and well feed, which will prevent behavioral problems during free play. For my son I find the best time to do free play is right after he wakes up in the morning, after his afternoon nap, and after he has been outside for a walk or outside to play. You can do free play as often as your schedule needs. I have two free play times schedule into my son’s current schedule. I like to have a morning free play and an afternoon free play. Here is his schedule at 15 months old:

7:00-8:00 Wake Up & Play in Crib
8:00- 8:30 Free Play

8:30-9:00 DVD/ TV
9:00-9:30 Breakfast
9:30-9:45 Potty
9:45- 10:45 Independent Play (Roomtime)
10:45-11:30 Bath & Get Dressed for Day
11:30-12:15 Unstructured Time (run errands/ play outside/ or additional free play if bad weather)
12:15-12:45 Lunch
12:45-1:00 Potty & Quite Time before Nap
1:00-3:45 Nap
3:45-4:15 Structured Play & Snack
4:15- 4:45 Blanket Time
4:45-5:15 Walk Outside
5:15-5:45 Free Play
5:45-6/6:30 Independent Play (Roomtime)
6/6:30 Dinner
6:30/7 Family Play Time
7:45 Bedtime Routine
8:00 Bedtime

What if my child is clingy and will not play on his own during Free Play?

Just redirect your child when he/she comes up to you and demands your attention. I would take him back to his play center or area he is suppose to be playing and say, ” (name), no, it is play time, stay here.” or “(name), no, mommy is busy, play with your (name a specific toy).” You might even show him how to start playing with a specific toy and then leave the room. I would just keep redirecting him and redirecting him back to his play area and toys. When free play is over, even if you have redirected him like 20 times, make sure to praise him for playing on his own in his playroom. Remember that children go through stages of separation anxiety, and if they are having trouble playing on their own, it may only be a short lived phase. Try not be a helicopter parents, allow your child to figure things out for their own- this will assist his independence and ability to play on his own.

Benefits of Free Play for the Parent

Free play is a great time where I can get things done around the house. My son’s play room is right next to the kitchen so I am usually preparing a meal or cleaning up the kitchen. I also use my kitchen to do my sewing and check email and blog on my computer. I can keep an eye on my son and he is also not too far away that he feels isolated. My son often walks between the kitchen and the playroom. That is okay with. If he tends to linger to long, I will redirect him back to his play room and toys like I mentioned above. If I have to be in another room of the house, I usually take a small tub of toys with me that contain a few toys. I use this portable tub when I am putting clothes away in my room, cleaning another room, or just getting ready in that bathroom. Cooper will happily play with his tub of toys and I can get things done without a toddler clinging to my leg. Just make sure the tub of toys are interesting to your child and rotate them often to keep them from getting boring.

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If you are a stay-at-home mom and you have a toddler, you might feel like you are running out of things to keep your toddler happy, stimulated, and active. I know that I started to feel this way. My son is now 13 months old. Around 12 months he dropped his second nap and we are down to only one nap a day. This leaves a huge chuck of time in the morning and afternoon to fill and keep my son active and stimulated.

I had not been so good at following the advise outlined in the books Baby Wise II and Pre-Toddlerwise. I started to implement the books’ recommendations to fill the day and things have been running a lot smoother ever since then. His behavior has also improve a ton since I have more structure to his day now. If you click on each of the items listed below form the daily schedule, it will give your a description of what that activity is, how to implement it, and the benefits of including this activity into your day. (I will slowly add links to each activity as I wrote posts about them.) Here is a run down of our daily schedule:

6:30-7:00 am wake-up and play in crib

8:00am get out of bed, diaper change, and clothed for the day

8:10 breakfast

8:30 potty (my son usually will use the potty after he eats)

8:45-9:30 Independent play time (in his play yard)

9:30-10:00 Free Play

10:00-10:15 Snack

10:15- 10:45 Stroller Walk

10:45-11:00 Structured Play/ Learning Activity

11:00- 12:00 Unstructured Time (I use this to get errands done if I need to)

12:00-12:30 Lunch

12:30 Potty (my son usually will use the potty after he eats)

12:35-12:45 Quite time before nap- usually rock in rocking chair, reading books, and sing

12:45-3:30 Nap, usually asleep by 1:00pm

3:30-3:45 Snack

3:45- 4:00 Blanket Time

4:00-4:15 Story Time

4:15-4:45  Independent Play Time (in play yard)

4:45-5:00 Table Time (in highchair)

5:00-6:00 Free Play (Daddy usually comes home during this time and plays with my son)

6:00-6:30/6:45 Dinner

6:30/6:45-7:00 Family Play Time

7:00-7:30 Bath

7:30-7:45 Quiet Time & Getting Ready for Bed

7:45 Last milk for the day

8:00 Bedtime

*** On Mondays and Fridays we are usually gone in the mornings from about 9:30-11:30/12. One those days I move the structured learning activity to the afternoon during Free Play.***

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What is Blanket Time?

Blanket time is an allotted amount of time in the day when you instruct your child to remain on a small blanket (3×3 or 4×4) and play with a select few toys that you have chosen for him/ her to play with. Blanket time can be started as early as you want with your infant and continued into toddlerhood.

What is the purpose of Blanket Time?

“Blanket time provides an opportunity to teach a child to play in a limited area without a physical parameter.” (pre-toddlerwise p.142) It also teaches “sitting skills or what we call parameter skills (the ability to stay put within a boundary).” (Toddlerwise p. 45) This skill comes in handy when you need your child to obey you and stay put. For instance if you are in the kitchen and you need to open the oven, you would want you child to stay away from the oven. You could tell you child to sit and remain still until you allow him or her to get up. Or perhaps you are out in public and you need your child to stay in one spot for a short period of time, that is when this skill really comes in handy. Ultimately, blanket time teaches your child at a young age to obey you. Blanket time also helps with mental focus by only allowing them a few toys that they must play with while on the blanket.

How long should blanket time last?

Start with 3-5 minutes once a day. Once your child demonstrates he can stay on the blanket and play without fussing or crawling or walking off, you can slowly increase the time up to 30 minutes a day. Use a timer to set a designated time. The loud noise of the time going off will signal to your child that blanket time is over.

What if he crawls or walks off the blanket?

The first couple of times he does blanket time, you will want to remain close to him. When he does move off the blanket, quickly return him to the blanket and give clear instructions to stay put and play with his toys. I typically say to Cooper, “Cooper, it is blanket time, we stay on the blanket.” I then direct him toward a toy on the blanket.

How many toys should I place on the blanket?

Just a few toys is enough. Remember your blanket is not that large. I have been placing 2-3 small board books, one lights/sounds toys, 2 toy cars, and one other small manipulative toy.  Keep these toys special and do not allow your child to play with them frequently during the day. The novelty of the toys will help them to remain on the blanket. You might want to have 3-4 small bins of toys that you rotate especially for blanket time so that your child does not tier of the toys.

Make them help you clean up!

When the timer goes off and blanket time is over, make sure to praise their efforts for staying on the blanket. Then ask them to help you clean up. I usually say, “It is clean up time.” Young children will obviously not clean everything up on their own, but you can assist them and teach them how to clean up. My son is 13 months old and I expect him to help put away just a few toys into the bin when we are done. For instance, he has some toy food. He will usually help put away 3-4 pieces of the toys food. As they get older, you might have high expectations for how they clean up. Make sure you give your child clean directions as to what you want cleaned up. For instance, if there are cars on the blanket, you could tell you child, “Mark, put your cars in the bin.”

Where should blanket time be done?

Vary the locations of blanket time in your home. One day do it in the kitchen. Another day try your bedroom. The idea is for you child to be able to transfer this sitting still skill to many different situations and locations. If it is a nice day, try doing it outside. You could even try taking your child to the library with the blanket and a few toys and doing blanket time there.

Travel with a blanket and special toys!

You never know when you might need your child to sit in one area for a short duration of time. You might go to a soccer game for one of your older children, and want your younger child to not wonder. Try keeping a bag with a blanket and some special toys. Then in case you should ever need to do an impromptu blanket time, you would have all the materials!

My personal experience with my son

My son is 13 months old. I have only been doing blanket time with him for a week (we started late). But in a weeks time, he is able to stay on his blanket without fussing for about 10 minutes. I have not had to correct him for crawling off the blanket in a few days too. I see how is mental focus is increasing as he is able to play with one specific toy for a longer period of time. He is also learning to mind and obey me rather well. This past weekend, I was out to lunch in a crowded restaurant. I went up front to pay and sat my son on the ground and told him to stay put, he did not move for 5 minutes. He looked around at all the people, but never once moved. I really think that blanket time has helped him to remain still and obey my commands!

Toy Recommendations for Blanket Time
10-12 Months Old

Resource: Pre-toddlerwise p. 141- 143

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What is Independent Play Time (IPT)?

Independent play time is a time when your child plays alone, without you or other siblings around. You choose the time of the day this type of  play will occur and also the toys that your child will play with. Independent play time should happen at the same time every day. Typically Independent play time takes place in a pack ‘n play or play yard for younger babies/ toddler, and older toddlers will have room time in their rooms, which is called roomtime. My son is currently 13 months old and he has his independent play time in a play yard, which is larger than a pack ‘n play. The one I own is North State Superyard XT Portable Playard & Gate.

How long should IPT Last?

If you are just starting out, I would suggest starting with 10 minutes. See how your child does. Once your child is able to play alone for 10 minutes without fussing, add an additional 5 minutes. Keep adding 5 minute increments until you reach your desired length. Use a timer that will send off a loud sound at the end of the IPT. This helps your child understand that IPT is over. In the book Babywise II, they recommend the following Independent Play Time Lengths:

  • Baby that cannot sit up unassisted: 10-20 minutes twice a day
  • Baby that can sit unassisted: 35-30 minutes twice a day
  • Baby that can crawl: 30-45 minutes at least once a day
  • 15-20 month olds: Up to 60 minutes at least once a day

How many toys should I allow my child to play with?

Currently, I usually put in a variety of toys. Today I allowed my son to have 4 cars, 3 books, 2 light/ music toys, nesting cups, and old yogurt container with colorful balls inside. Don’t put too many toys in their pack ‘n play or in their room. You want them to learn how to focus on one toy at a time. Too many toys is overwhelming and there is also not enough space for them all.

Other things to include during IPT:

I usually play music in the background. My son usually cries the first 1-5 minutes of IPT. I have found that playing music in the background cut down his crying and helps him to play better. I also allow my son to have his nuby straw cup of milk with him in the morning and a cup of water in the afternoon. I do not allow food during this time, but the drink helps him to enjoy himself more. I also give him his security object- his blankie. If you child has a security object, I would allow him/ her to have it during this time.

Important thing to keep in mind:

  • Don’t interact with your child during this time. You want your child to play on his own.
  • Check on them every so often to make sure they are okay. If you can, try to do this discretely so your child does not see you. When my son sees me he usually gets upset because he thinks I am coming to get him out. My son is much happier if he plays alone without seeing me.
  • Vary the locations of IPT. I have done IPT so far in our game room, playroom, and office.
  • Don’t over use IPT. Keep it limited to the time allotted. Your child will get frustrated if he has to be in their too long.

Benefits to IPT (quoted from Babywise II p. 73):

  • Mental focusing skills: Playpen time helps a child develop the ability to concentrate on an object or activity at hand and not be distracted constantly.
  • Sustained attention span: You will observe how your child picks up a toy, manipulates it with his or her hand, examines it carefully, shakes it, and then revisits the process again.
  • Creativity: Creativity is the product of boundaries, not freedom. With absolute freedom, this is not need for creative thinking or problem-solving.
  • Self-Play adeptness: This is one of the positive signs that your baby is moving from dependence to independence.
  • Orderliness: The first step to developing orderliness is to help your child with cleanup times. Start by placing a few books in one corner, a bucket or small toys in another, or stacking other items in a neat pile. Simple statements such as “Let’s put the toys in the basket,” or “Help Mommy clean up,” aid in this process. The object is to leave the area neat, with the child participating in achieving this goal.

The personal benefits of IPT that I have experience and seen in my son:

  • It allows me time to shower in the morning and get ready without having my son cling to me or worrying that he is getting into trouble. It also allows me personal time to check email, do laundry, or just read a book.
  • My son is better at playing independently now. Before starting IPT, my son was the master of cling. I had a hard time getting much done because he was clinging to me constantly or he was fussy because I want in the same room as him.
  • I have noticed that my son is better at playing with a single toy for longer now. He seems more content with the toys I have out for him to play with. Before starting IPT, he would jump from toy to toy rather quickly. He still changes up toys rather frequently, but I would say he is improving.
  • If my son does not have his IPT one day, I notice a huge difference in his additude. He is much more likely to be clingy and fussy if he does not start his day with IPT.

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