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Interactions Matter!

Interactions Matter!

Written by: Hannah de Vries

Everyday interactions between caregivers and children build the foundation for children’s social-emotional and cognitive development. Research shows that when caregivers are responsive, warm and sensitive to children’s needs, children develop confidence, resilience and communication skills. These skills help to prepare children for interactions with others and to work through problems, manage stress and form healthy relationships. Caregivers who engage children in different opportunities and experiences help them to develop a love of learning. For example, caregivers might encourage shared book reading, constructive play, independent exploration and participation in decision making. Children also benefit academically when caregivers engage them in conversation, use new vocabulary words, provide a literacy rich environment and embed problem solving in everyday family activities

What do high-quality interactions look like? Here are some simple and effective strategies to promote meaningful interactions:

Engage in responsive, warm and sensitive interactions.
• Attend carefully and listen actively when your child speaks to you by using eye contact, head nods, caring facial expressions and encouraging gestures that demonstrate empathy, engagement and validation. Allow enough time for your child to share, and avoid interrupting. 
• Provide toys and activities that are appropriate for your child’s development and understanding. Check the labels on toys to see if they are age appropriate.
• Be available when your child needs support, and recognize that all children have different needs. Perhaps your child needs your help with a transition routine, or to get ready for bed time. Perhaps your child needs you to arrive a bit early for school pick-up so they do not wait nervously. As you consistently identify and meet your child’s needs, they learn to trust and respect you. 

Follow your child’s lead.
Engaging in intentional number play with your child can help them to learn numeracy skills and get excited about learning more! Research shows that number play is more effective for a child’s skill-building when an adult guides the play. 
• Let your child take the lead in conversations and play by supporting their ideas. Avoid the temptation to direct all interactions, but instead show acceptance. For instance, if your child is pretending that stuffed animals are alive or wooden blocks are food, that is okay.
• Notice your child’s interests and play preferences. Suggest doing what your child enjoys and have fun together!

Engage in turn-taking.
• Establish predictable, back and forth verbal and social interactions with your child to enhance their language and cognitive abilities.
• Be patient and provide time for your child to take a turn. For instance, if you are working on a puzzle together, give your child enough time to explore how to place a puzzle piece in a space before helping. Talk your child through the interaction by modeling and prompting with statements like, “First it’s my turn to place a puzzle piece. Now it’s your turn.”

Challenge and support your child’s learning.
• Try elaborating on your child’s communicative attempts by repeating, rephrasing and expanding on your child’s words and non-verbal cues. 
• Use phrases that build on what your child is thinking about and contribute to what they want to investigate. Support your children’s language development by introducing and defining new vocabulary. 
• Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no.” When you ask children to provide detailed responses, you support their developing thinking and comprehension skills. 
• Model, encourage and build trust with your child to develop their independence. Practice different skills with them. For example, model how to tie a shoe, brush teeth or fold a shirt and then say, “Now you try by yourself.”
• Encourage and comment on your child’s interests. For instance, if your child is pretending a cardboard box is a car, ask “Where are you driving?” or “Should we draw wheels on your car?”

Be a good role model.
• Be aware of your own emotions because children look to you for ways to express and regulate their emotions. For example, if you model self-talk for calming yourself when you are angry, you will model for your child how they can use the same technique. If you control your voice volume when you are excited, you will show your child how to experience intense emotion and use self control at the same time. 
• Children attend to everything you say and do and may imitate words and actions – try to be your best self. However, it is okay to make mistakes. Consider it an opportunity for modeling. If you make a choice you regret, take responsibility and help your child understand what you wish you had done instead.

These strategies can be used anytime and anywhere. You can create high quality interactions during transitions, travel time, daily routines, meals, bath time and play time. Everyday interactions matter!

Preschool Number Play: Countless Benefits!

Preschool Number Play: Countless Benefits!

Written by: Clarissa Alfes

It might be surprising to know that it is important for preschoolers to learn about math. Children’s math skills at kindergarten entry have been found to best predict their later school achievement. Research has also shown that children’s early math play contributes to their math achievement and attitudes toward math in later schooling.

“Early math” references a broad area of child development. Of early math skills, numeracy is arguably the most important area for kindergarten preparation and is one of the main areas that families can work on at home.

What is early numeracy?
To develop early numeracy skills, preschoolers need to learn about numbers. This could look like counting out loud in the right order, counting objects one at a time, finding and naming the number symbols, comparing and estimating amounts, and understanding ‘how many’ objects there are total. The state of Washington has guidelines that outline, by age, important early math skills, including preschool numeracy (pgs. 64, 78, 93).

Learning numeracy through play
Engaging in intentional number play with your child can help them to learn numeracy skills and get excited about learning more! Research shows that number play is more effective for a child’s skill-building when an adult guides the play. 

1. Read books
Research shows that actively reading books with math content to young children can boost early numeracy skills and provide an engaging method for lots of practice. Books that focus on numbers and colorful images of quantitieshelp to teach numeracy. When reading books together, add in observations using math words (i.e., “I see 6 dogs on this page”). Ask your child questions about the story that target numeracy skills:
• How many ____ are there?
• What number is this?
• Can you count up to the number you see on the page?
• Let’s count all the ___.
• Find the number ___.
• Match a verbal number with objects (i.r., find 5___ ).

2. Play games
Board game play can strengthen early numeracy enjoyment and skill-building. Choose board games that already target math learning (e.g., Chutes and Ladders, Hi-ho Cheery-O) or adapt other board games you have at home (e.g., Let’s Go Fishin’, Candy Land) for numeracy play. Tips for making game play effective for numeracy learning:
• Simplify the board game to only focus on number play.  
• Add number stickers to board games that only have color spaces. 
• For younger learners, start with a limited set of numbers (e.g., 1-3 or 0-5).
• Play on board games that have straight pathways rather than circular pathways. This makes it easier for children to learn number order. 
• Ask your child to count up from their current number spot. For example, if your child is on space “3” and they spin a 2, ask them to count “4, 5” as they move to their new spot. 
• Incorporate math-targeted questions (see above).

Your family can play dice or dominoes and ask about comparing quantities (e.g., “Who has more?”) or play bingo, cards, or UNO to identify number symbols and connect to number names.

3. Use “math number talk” 
Using “math talk,” or language related to math concepts, supports early learning. This can be incorporated into daily activities and all forms of play. “Math number talk” can be added to:
• Meal times with counting and comparing amounts of treats or walks in the park searching for certain numbers of animals or plants.
• Your home environment with identifying and naming numbers (e.g., calendars, appliances, clocks, etc.), the store (e.g., prices) or in the car (e.g. road signs).
Songs, rhymes, and hand games including learning the order of counting aloud and matching finger/sound amounts to number names.
• Outdoor play such as the game “What time is it Mr. Fox?,” which matches the number said to the amount of steps taken. 
• Pretend play, like dolls or vacation, and asking questions about counting objects, total amounts, comparing quantities, sorting amounts by least to most and simple operations (e.g., sharing food equally between 3 dolls at a picnic). 

It is important for caregivers to model, or use examples of “math number talk,” through narrating play. Provide opportunities for children to answer numeracy questions and use “math number talk” too. 

4. Attend events
Attending STEM events is another way to change up early numeracy learning and have hands-on play.Check out Imagine Children’s Museum’s Little Science Lab for engaging classes where preschoolers and their grownups can practice categorizing, playing with numbers and drawing conclusions. These free classes are available in Spanish and English.

Learning through adult-child play can be a fun and meaningful way to develop key early numeracy skills!


Building Self-Esteem in Children

Building Self-Esteem in Children

Written by: Kayla Polk

“I’ll never make the basketball team.”
“I am not smart enough to compete in the spelling bee.”
“I never do anything right.”

Do any of these phrases sound familiar? If so, this might be a sign your child is struggling with low self-esteem. Self-esteem is how a person thinks about themselves, and it impacts a variety of factors in children and adolescents, including physical health, coping strategies, interactions with peers, mental health and education. We all deal with low self-esteem at different times in our lives, and as parents, you’ll likely see your child struggle with this too. Below are a few ways to help your child build their self-esteem.

Tips for Building Self-Esteem
1. Provide Support. Research shows that parental support affects self-esteem, especially for girls. Support can include providing more praise than criticism, providing opportunities for children to communicate openly and honestly with you, spending quality time with your child and displaying physical affection. Encourage your child’s interests and help them find their talents.

2. Encourage physical activity.  Research shows positive, short-term effects of physical activity on self-esteem in children.Along with the other important benefits of physical activity, encouraging your child to be physically active may also help to boost their self-esteem. Find a fun activity the whole family can participate in to encourage your child’s involvement in physical activity while also spending time together as a family. Children who see their parents or siblings participate in and enjoy physical activities are more likely to participate themselves. Encourage taking part in sports if your child seems interested, or provide active toys for your child to play with, such as jump ropes, balls or bicycles.

3. Praise a child’s efforts, not just the successes. We have all been there: we didn’t come in first place, we didn’t get the job we tried so hard to get, we didn’t get the A+ grade we hoped for, and so forth. Our efforts are just as important as the ending result, and self-esteem is not just about succeeding all the time. Mistakes can help children learn and grow. Talk openly with your child about their mistakes and how they can learn from them for the future. Praise a child’s efforts, progress and attitude as they’re trying to complete a task. For example, “I’m proud of you for working so hard on this spelling homework!”

4. Create actionable goals. You can create goals for your child to try and achieve in various ways. These goals can be related to school, homework, activities outside of school or chores at home, for example. Once you create a goal with your child, you can talk about what skills or steps need to be taken to reach that end goal. Maybe your child wants to score a goal during their upcoming soccer season. Create a plan with your child on how that goal can be achieved. Remember to celebrate your child’s efforts toward the goal as well as the success! Another idea is to create a reward chart with various chores and tasks, which will allow your child to visibly see what goals they can reach and when they accomplish them. This can also help your child to feel more involved in the family and allow them to feel proud for being able to contribute!

5. Teach by example. Children naturally imitate what they observe. Try to model strong self-esteem but also allow your child to see you deal with struggles and conflicts, as this is completely normal throughout life. Don’t pretend to be perfect, but tackle your struggles with positivity and perseverance. Allow your child to see that you believe in yourself.

Here are a few activities you can do with your child to help strengthen their self-esteem. These activities require only a few materials, such as pens, markers and paper.

A Guide to Healthy Screen Time for Kids

A Guide to Healthy Screen Time for Kids

Written by: Hannah de Vries

Getting through the long, dark winter can be a challenge. Kids have fewer chances to play outside because of colder temperatures and less daylight. This is also cold and flu season, and sick days out of school may mean more hours in front of a screen.

What is screen time?
Screen time refers to the time spent watching TV or using a device such as a computer, tablet, video game console or smartphone. There are benefits and risks of screen time, so it is important to make sure that kids don’t spend too much time in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics gives the following suggestions:

  • Children under 18 months should avoid the use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • Children 18-24 months can watch high-quality programs, but an adult should watch or play with them to help them understand what they are seeing.
  • Children aged 2-5 should limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programs that interest the children and support learning with adults watching or playing with them. 
  • Children aged 6 and older should have regular limits on the time spent using media and the types of media used.

Benefits of Screen Time
Screen time and media can be good for children for many reasons. Media can help children learn new and important skills. For example, children can learn about counting and letter names through shows like Sesame Street. Activities like computer games with friends can give children opportunities to learn social skills like turn-taking and cooperation. Creating a presentation for school could help your child learn PowerPoint or other video-editing skills.

Media can also connect children to the world around them. By exposing children to new ideas and information, and raising awareness of current events and issues, children can learn about cultures different from their own. And through the use of social media, families and friends who live far apart can now connect with each other through technology.

Risks of Screen Time
While there are benefits to screen time, there are also risks to consider. Using a screen for long periods of time can lead to inactivity and contribute to obesity. Too much screen time can also cause physical ailments like sore, irritated or dry eyes; headaches and fatigue; and discomfort in the neck and spine.

Too much screen time can also have a negative effect on the development of language and social skills. Screen time can affect children’s ability to keep eye contact, read body language and have conversations. Children need real-life interactions to develop these skills. Screen time at night can also disrupt sleep, which can in turn negatively impact school performance.

Finally, some media sources can also pose safety risks. Children can come across dangerous content or people through chat rooms, online games and social networking. Therefore, it is a good idea to monitor the content children can access on the internet.

Tips for Reducing Screen Time
Understanding the pros and cons of screen time empowers parents and caregivers to make informed choices. Here are a few steps you can take to provide a healthy balance of screen time for your family:

  • Create a family media plan. Technology is a central part of families daily lives, and a family media plan can offer a realistic way to manage media and devices at home.
  • Set aside media-free times, such as during dinner, and media-free unplugged rooms in the home, such as bedrooms.
  • Turn off screens one hour before bedtime.
  • Be a good role model by turning off your own screens.
  • Find alternate activities to do during the times when your children most often use screens. Reading, art or music projects, playing with friends or family game time are all good options.
  • Find ways to get your child moving. Take part in a team or club sport, dance class or family activities that include walking (like going to a museum or the zoo).

The Power of Play

The Power of Play

Written by: Jessica Anderson

As the new year begins, many parents make resolutions, set new priorities and shift routines. But how many of these changes in daily living include increasing children’s imaginative play?

Imaginative play, or pretend play, happens when a child uses his or her imagination to act out a situation based on their experiences and interests, and often includes props.During this type of play, children act out events in a scenario (e.g., restaurant, safari, pirate ship) but there are no set rules or goals. The focus is on creativity.

Research shows there are many important reasons for children to engage in pretend play. Here are a few reasons to prioritize play this year:

1.Play Gets Kids (and Adults) Moving
Child-directed play promotes movement. During play, children constantly move, run, crawl, climb and jump. In a day and age where it is so easy to live an inactive life, researchers suggest that taking time to play can encourage healthy activity and get everyone in the house moving!

2.Play Connects Children and Caregivers
Research shows that play is important for building emotional connections between children and parents, allowing them to build healthy relationships that are a necessary part of child development. These positive connections built through play help both children and parents manage stress well. The moments that caregivers and children spend together stampeding through the living room on horses or playing restaurant servers can make all the difference in building strong and safe bonds.

3.Play Builds Confidence
Play is a safe way for children to practice being adults. Children constantly imagine they have new roles and often pretend they are adults. In the world of pretend play, children can drive the local bus, give their stuffed animal a wellness checkup, parent their baby doll or talk on the phone to a good friend. This kind of play is important for children to take on new roles, practice resiliency and master new skills, routines and ideas. Play gives children a safe place to practice life and build confidence.

4.Play Boosts Social-Emotional Skills
Unstructured play with peers is important for boosting children’s social skills. For example, when two children pretend they are in a bakery, one child might be the cake decorator and the other the customer or the baker’s assistant. Maybe they will decide to switch roles, or in a change of events, they will host a cake party. Even in a simple game, children practice taking turns, figure out what happens next, make decisions and solve problems. Research shows that these skills are important for a child’s development and lead to strong social skills as adults.

5.Play Gets Kids Talking
Research shows that creative play can help children to learn new words in a new setting. For example, when children pretend they are dinosaurs, a unique scene unfolds. In the land of dinosaurs, the kitchen table becomes a cave or the bookshelf a volcano ready to erupt at any minute. Maybe there are dinosaur nests, teeth or tails to talk about. Creative play gives children and parents a unique way to use new words and strengthen language skills.

There are so many strong reasons for giving children time to engage in pretend play. We hope you all have a playful and fantastic 2019!

Coping with Holiday Stress

Coping with Holiday Stress

Written by: Caitlin Courshon

It’s the holiday season. Anna is filled with hope and excitement about having her children at home for two weeks during their school’s winter break. Anna’s home is picture-perfect – filled with winter warmth and holiday cheer…and chaos. Her children are running at full-speed through the kitchen, excited about the days off from school and a routine-free schedule.

Anna’s thoughts are swirling about how to create a “perfect” winter break with her children. She thinks to herself, “How do I reduce their noise and focus their attention? How do I plan exciting and interesting days that don’t break the bank? How can I increase our family connection and happiness while still having time to enjoy the season myself? How do I turn ‘wild’ into ‘wonderful’?” Collecting her thoughts, Anna finds a quiet space and takes a few minutes to write a list of activities and events that she hopes will accomplish her goals for family fun.

Does Anna’s story sound familiar?
Research shows that the holidays are a joyful time for many families. However, around 38% of people also say that their stress increases at this time of year. This isn’t surprising considering the many demands the holidays bring, like hosting guests from out of town, planning special activities, finding the perfect gifts and being able to afford all the holiday fun.

Luckily, research also reminds us that there are simple ways to de-stress the holiday season.

Top Tips for Handling Holiday Stress
1. Plan ahead. Research shows that planning and managing your time are key ways to handle stress.

Think ahead this holiday season about your family’s goals and consider which ones are top priorities. You don’t have to do it all, and that’s okay! Does your family love to go ice skating every year? Plan the outing in advance so you know you’ll have time to go. Does last-minute shopping overwhelm you? Plan ahead and get your shopping done before the holiday events. Remember to set aside some time for yourself this season. Try baking cookies, watching a favorite holiday movie or going for a walk. Dust off your old planner or family calendar if that helps you to stay organized.


2. Pay attention to the positive. Research shows that people who regularly pay attention to the positive are better able to cope with stress.

It’s understandable that the holiday season might stress you out, but try to focus on the parts of the holidays that you love! Things don’t always have to be perfect. Instead, set realistic expectations and look on the bright side if things don’t go exactly as planned. Think ahead about positive ways to manage the many events at this time of year. If plans change at the last minute, focus on turning this into an opportunity rather than a disappointment.


3. Spend time strengthening your social connections. Research shows that building and maintaining positive relationships with others is a key way to manage stress.

Plan time with your family to enjoy each other’s company! Spend an evening driving around to look at holiday lights, visit a neighbor, take an afternoon to create a craft, cook or bake together or visit local holiday events. Check out Imagine Children Museum’s event calendar for upcoming events like Polar City and the New Year’s Eve Pajama Party!

Happy holidays to all!