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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

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10 Lessons Cloth Diapers Can Teach - Before They Enter Kindergarten!

When I started using cloth diapers nearly 6 years ago, I had no idea how much our lives would change because of the journey. With every diaper change, we got a little more confident as parents: advocating for our children, making decisions based on research with careful consideration, and a lot of teaching by example and instruction. We knew that our choices made a big difference in what our kids would understand and choose in the future. As a stay at home parent, building with blocks, playing with stuffed animals and making things crinkle got old day after day. To decrease my own boredom, I decided that starting to teach my oldest child--ANYTHING--was better than the alternative. These lessons had to fit into what I was already doing, and be beneficial to me at the same time. Everyone wants something value-added, right?

Colors - This is perhaps the most natural learning 'jump' you can make from cloth diapers to your own mini-classroom! By classroom of course I mean the changing table, living room floor, couch, or anywhere else you are located at any point in time. I give my mom credit for this one, she told me that when she got us dressed as babies, she always told us what color our shirt or pants was. I figured since I changed diapers a LOT more often than I changed clothes, I had that many more opportunities to reinforce the idea! At first I started with my non-talker saying 'let's put on this blue diaper, yep it's blue'.... I also took the opportunity reinforce that we were changing into a clean DRY diaper and how good it felt to be all dry--great for potty time! Once my child started talking, I would ask if she could say the color. Then once she could say any color in particular I'd ask her what color the diaper was. If she got it wrong, no big deal, she was associating color with the meanings of the color words, that's a feat in itself! Then I would say the correct color name again and see if she could repeat it. Great also for keeping wiggly toddlers occupied while they are being changed! The lesson can go on for older kids with light or dark purple, and then, when it's light purple like this, it's called lavender (or robin's egg or sky for blue or whatever). This even works when you have a diaper graduate who is in training pants or has a younger sibling! If you want a particular cloth diaper, you could say 'please bring me the dark green one'... and you're likely to get your beloved Hummingbird bumGenius, Shamrock Fuzzibunz, or Emerald Imagine Baby Cover.

Counting - As kids get older, they start to count things. Cereal pieces, fingers, cars, or items related to cloth diapering. You could even have a older child count out cloth wipes as they are folded or stacked to be put away! If you're tired of freshly stuffed or folded diapers being knocked over, it would keep our little one busy as they stumble through those first attempts at counting. It's something you do by second nature, so it doesn't even take much of your concentration. Older kids can fetch a certain number of diapers for the diaper bag if you're running late and need a helping hand.

Simple Math - Once kids can count, they can start learning the concept of addition and subtraction. If you have 2 diapers and add 2 more... how many do you have? Right. Same with subtraction. We had 6 diapers and used one, how many are left? You can work on elementary physics too, by encouraging stacking horizontally (like dominos) or vertically (like blocks) and watching them wobble! Bonus points if you have them fold flour sack towels, prefold or flat diapers and teach 1/2, 1/4, 1/3 fractions! The possibilities are endless.

Patterns - Patterning is a basic math concept, to be sure, but I feel like it deserves its own category! Whether you're using a Kissaluvs OS Diaper Cover to explain a zebra's stripes, or having your child finish a pattern of "pocket, fitted, pocket, fitted, pocket ?-what comes next" there are plenty of ways to use patterns (and cloth diapers) to teach your children about the world.

Matching - Finding things that are alike and different are perfect for little learners. Whether you're matching the exact color of yellow in a t-shirt to a diaper, or a tie or scarf as an adult to the rest of your outfit, having an eye for things that go together is a useful skill. It's also helpful if you're trying to pair socks, mittens or anything else that comes in twos!

Household Management - You may have noticed I have mentioned a lot of 'hands on' with kids and cloth diapers. While you may not want them running with them through the house, I feel it's important for kids at around age 2 to start helping with chores and get an idea of household management. Even kids that can't talk can fetch and carry! Is this baby chore boot camp? No. But as I've said, it's much nicer to have a child working with you, or at least not AGAINST you when you're trying to get things done. You could explain the order of how laundry works: rinse, wash, dry, is one example. Older kids could get an idea of the time it takes to complete one load of laundry, from washer to changing table. It might help them to balance their frustration of not having their favorite blue shirt washed yet, when you point out that you can put that shirt in the wash as soon as the diapers come out. They can empty the dryer for a mom who shouldn't be bending over. Helping with chores (especially if they feel it will help mom or perhaps a younger sibling) gives children a sense of pride in the job they did. While things like stuffing pocket diapers might be an easy task for an adult, for a child it might take practice, and they might wish to do other things like getting the container the diapers are stored in for you from the nursery, downstairs changing area, etc. so they can be refilled. Everyone can and should have jobs to do to help out, that's can help a house run more smoothly and combat several frustrations on the part of the parent. This spills over into other areas, too, kids involved in helping are not as likely to undo their own (or your) hard work!

Reduce - One day I quietly pointed out the giant box of disposables on someone else's cart to my then pre-schooler. I explained how since we use cloth diapers on her younger siblings, we reduced the amount of diapers we needed to buy and we can fill our cart with more food instead of a big cardboard box of things that just get thrown away. I also pointed out that we have a lot less trash by putting the bag of cloth diapers next to the trash can and showing how many diapers would be going in the trash instead of the washing machine and how full the can would be on trash day--explaining that we wash 2 or 3 times a week so we'd have several bags. It really hit home that we're reducing the amount of disposable items we use, and led to talking about other items we could...

Re-use - It's amazing how much my kids look for towels, wash cloths, and other re-useable items to wipe up spills or their mouths and fingers. I think we had family visit for a dinner once and they used half a roll of paper towels. They couldn't believe that I wiped up a spot on the floor with an old kitchen towel and threw it in the laundry room to be washed. They're always looking for paper napkins, too, and my kids don't really understand them. They want a warm washcloth to wash their faces with, silly! My kids know where to get things, and learn the shape ROUND or CIRCLE fairly early, because that's our designated 'towel' spot for things to dry out/wait to be washed. They rest of the baskets are rectangles (bonus shape learning!) Once we're sure they know what we mean, they get duty of cleaning up after themselves and putting the towel in the right spot. Funny story: I really confused my toddler when I put some mom items in my diaper purse captured in one of the re-usable snack pouches. I couldn't understand why she kept asking for a snack, until she pounced on it and I showed her the inside: chapstick, Cj's Butter sample, cloth nursing pads, etc. They're used to that pouch being equal to food, whereas a plastic bag would be something that's truly going to be trash at some point.. unless you can...

Recycle - Teaching your children to recycle can be as simple as putting out 3 bins, one for cans, glass, paper. Check your local area for pick up or drop off and rules. You can teach them to designate a certain spot for coloring pages they are done with and want to get rid of, while keeping it out of your trash. You can put purchased soft drink cans or bottles from outings back into your car and explain that you don't just throw things on the ground because you happen to not have a can nearby. It's a great way to teach about the environment and perhaps gain a little cash back, too. Some places pay for recycling aluminum cans, plastic or glass bottles. This conversation can be as simple or detailed as you want to get into, but my kids said recycling before they were 2, I'm fairly certain. It's just a way of life around here.

Financial Savings - This one is much easier to explain to older kids. If you tell a 2 year old you saved enough money using cloth diapers this week to buy 5 big bags of candy? They want 5 big bags of candy! Don't ask me how I know. While we're not rich, we could afford disposables some months and not others-my husband has a good job but there's always something that goes wrong. That's everyone right? Which is why I'm glad we don't ever need to buy disposable diapers and made the choice to switch to cloth wipes after my first daughter was a year old. We count our lucky stars someone pointed us in the direction of cloth diapers years ago. I'm so glad we took the plunge. I'm certainly thankful I don't have to take 3 kids out just to buy diapers a few times a month. That would get really old, really fast.

I known I'm missing on a lot of different points, so what have you taught your kids with cloth diapers? What are you most excited about trying in the future?

Bio: Jill blogs about her role as wife and mom in a life just this side of crunchy at

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