Bainbridge and the Kids’ Discovery Museum


Are you looking for a great car-free day trip from the Seattle area, perfect for kids age 1 – 7?

Ride the bus to the ferry terminal, then hop on a ferry to Bainbridge Island, check out the Kids’ Discovery Museum, stroll into town for a snack, and catch the ferry and bus back home. (See travel tips below.) From downtown Kirkland, we can do the full trip in as little as 6 hours. Last week, we got on a bus at 11:30 am, and were back home at 7:30 pm after a great leisurely day of travel and fun.

The Kids’ Discovery Museum

The museum is a short walk from the ferry terminal. (directions below) They’re open Monday through Saturday 10 – 4, Sundays 12 -4. Admission is $8 for adults and children (babies under 1 year are free), with discounts for senior and military. The Museums for All rate is $1 per person with proof of participation in EBT, CHIP, Provider One or WIC. (Info current as of July 2018.) You could see / do everything in the museum in an hour. We relaxed and settled in and played for a long time and were there for about 2.5 hours. It is best aimed at 3 – 6 year olds, as are all Children’s Museums, but fine for toddlers and still engaging for my 7 year old.

Entry Zone

Just inside the entrance, you’ll find a small gift shop area and this climber.

Tucked behind it is a dress up zone, currently stocked with firefighter costumes and books.

This is the toddler area, with toys, story books , musical instruments, and a playhouse.

The Bank

The first room is bank themed. It included play money, an abacus, a world map, and clocks set to different world time zones.

There was a memory game where you had to find and match a picture of the front of a type of money with a picture of the back of it.

The bank also included this board for talking about what causes to donate money to,

an “ATM” – I don’t think the screen did anything, but you could pull “money” out of the slots, and re-insert it,

and this “roulette wheel”.

You start with $20, and when you spin, you may earn a few dollars (by gathering recyclables, washing cars, or caring for a cat) or spend a few dollars (buying a gift for a friend, or repairing something you’ve broken). Some of the wedges were about making a choice about whether or not  to buy an optional item, and you spun the middle spinner to decide. Our son was engaged for quite a while, and has talked about this often in the days since the trip as he makes real decisions about whether to spend his allowance or not.

The Doctor’s Office

There are posters and rugs showing the different systems of the body (skeletal, digestive, etc.), a pretend sink and fake teeth with information on the importance of hand-washing and teeth-brushing, and an exam table with a doll patient and pretend medical equipment.

There’s an eye chart, a waiting room chair with books to read, and a food pyramid where there’s play food to velcro to it, which you sort into the correct food group category.

There’s a scale, a lab coat, and an apron your child can put on where you can attach stuffed organs (liver, heart, etc.) to the right place on the apron.

Transportation Zone

This features a small electric car they can climb into and pretend to drive, and little plastic cars they can paddle around in.

Plus a pretend ferry boat to capture the island experience.

Building Zone

This featured Fort Blocks, which I hadn’t seen before. The cool thing about them is they are big, and you can build pretty big structures with them. The down side is that even for our seven year old who has experience with a lot of building tools, they were a little tricky to assemble… he could build a wall of them, but couldn’t really figure out how to get them together to form a 3D cube.

Grocery Shopping and the Mail

My son LOVED the grocery area when he was four. At age 7, he passed it by. But it’s a nice grocery area, with plenty of plastic foods and food boxes to weigh, to load in your bag or cart, and to check out at the cash register.

Outside the store was a mailbox, with pretend letters to put in and take out, and there were several residential style mailboxes on walls nearby so your child could “deliver the mail.” I can see a three year old loving this play opportunity!

Outdoors

They have a climbing wall, gravel to load into buckets and dump trucks and transport around the area, and a water table.

Upstairs

There’s a giant Lite Brite board (where you push the colored pegs into the board and they glow) which appeals to ages from toddler to adult.

At the Magnifying Madness station, you place a card under a microscope and the image is projected on the screen. We had fun bringing up a family photo on our phone and placing that under the microscope to project.

They have a small train table for free building tracks on,

and then a large track layout for playing on.

There’s a puppet theater for putting on a show, with books nearby for inspiration.

And blue foam blocks for building.

Motion Madness

The remainder of the upstairs area is Motion Madness – Fun with Physics where there are several different exhibits to explore motion with golf balls. This is our favorite part! There’s this tower, where you simply place golf balls on the track at the top, and they roll down.

There’s a gravity well, where you drop the balls in and they spin round and round before falling through the hole in the middle.

A skee-ball style ramp game.

Another ramp that has a rotating platform at the bottom, where you have to time your ball drop just perfectly in order to get the ball in the cup.

A ball maze that you can take apart and re-build. (I LOVE ball mazes – I think they are a great place for kids to explore the idea of tinkering – you build it, test it, adjust it till it works, test it more, then re-build it to be even cooler.)

And, my favorite… a tall platform you climb stairs to get to. There’s a basket on a pulley that you can load up with balls at the bottom, then use the rope to haul it up to the top.

From the top, there’s a giant ramp to send the balls down.

Treats in Town

When you finish at the museum, it’s easy to take a short walk into town (Winslow) for treats. We saw a pizza place, many lovely looking restaurants, wine-tasting venues, and a bakery. (Here’s a dining guide.) We decided on ice cream at Mora. There was a huge line outside, but they had seven people on staff, and moved us through quickly. And the ice cream was great! We had the dulce de leche and the strawberry cheesecake. Next door to Mora was a crepe place, and we were tempted to try that… maybe next time. After ice cream, we did the 0.5 mile walk back to the ferry for our trip home.

Other Activities on the Island

Next door to the Children’s Museum is the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, which offers free admission. In the downtown area, there are also many art galleries and gift shops, which looked quite nice, but we’re not really a shopping family. (Although Eagle Harbor Books was a very tempting option.) If you choose to bring a car and/or stay longer, you’ll find lots of info about lodging and activities at www.bainbridgeisland.com.

Getting There

Use Transit to the Ferry Terminal

Use Metro Trip planner (or Google Maps or whatever) for directions to the ferry terminal in downtown Seattle (Colman dock). In our case, the easiest route is to take a bus to the Pioneer Square station in the bus tunnel, then walk 0.3 miles to the terminal.

The bus fare is $2.75 for adults, $1.50 for kids age 6 – 18, and free for those under 6. If you don’t often take the bus, read How to Ride Metro. Buses can be delayed off schedule, so I also find it helpful to download the One Bus Away app to my phone, which gives up-to-the minute updates on when to expect your bus to arrive.

We usually bring a couple books along in case our child gets antsy on the bus. But often he’s happy to just look out the window for the ride.

Now, obviously you could drive to downtown Seattle and park, but that would be pricey! Or you could drive to Seattle and take your car on the ferry – but then  you have to be there much longer before ferry departure time, and it’s more money and more effort, and makes this trip actually MORE complicated than just walking on the ferry and walking into town.

Taking the Ferry

You can find the ferry schedule here. The ferry runs approximately every hour, but the schedule varies greatly, so be sure to check it if you’re picky about your timing. As a walk-on passenger you only need to arrive ten-ish minutes before a ferry time. There is no need to make a reservation to walk-on, as there’s usually plenty of room for passengers. When you arrive, buy your tickets, or use your Orca card. Fares are $8.35 round trip for adults, $4.15 for kids 6 – 18. Here’s a FAQ with more info.

The ferry trip is a lovely little cruise across Puget Sound. If you want a preview of what the trip will look like, just go to YouTube and search for Seattle to Bainbridge ferry, and you’ll find lots of videos of varying quality.

If you haven’t taken a ferry before, you should! My husband and I had a conversation on this trip, and we think that if someone is visiting Seattle for a few days, the 5 most quintessentially Seattle experience you could have are: Pike Place Market, the Underground Tour in Pioneer Square, seeing the view from the top of the Space Needle, riding the monorail to MoPoP, and taking a ferry. Not that we don’t also love the zoo, and the science center, the aquarium and more, but we think those 5 are the things most unique to Seattle.

The ferry crossing is only 35 minutes. We eat lunch on the ferry (Ivar’s chowder and hot pretzels!) and you pretty much have to go straight to the restaurant as soon as you board, get your food, sit and eat, and you’ve arrived. On a nice day, you might instead opt to stand outside on the deck and enjoy the view. If it’s a rainy day, bring along a deck of cards, or you can often find a public jigsaw puzzle in process somewhere on the boat.

Getting to the Museum

When the ferry arrives, just walk off with everyone else… this puts you on a road walking straight into town. (Here’s a map to orient you.) In about 1/4 mile, you’ll come to the first real intersection. That’s Winslow Way East. Look across the street to the northwest corner of the intersection – you’ll see the art museum there.

There’s a path between the art museum and the building to the west of it. Walk down that path and you’ll come to Ki-Di-Mu.

Costs:

For our family – 2 adults and a 7 year old, it was $7 each way for the bus, ~21 for the ferry, $24 for the museum, plus the cost of lunch on the ferry and ice cream.

More Summer Fun

Looking for other ideas for fun activities with kids in the Seattle area? For another day trip to a museum, read about Mindport in Bellingham or check out KidsQuest in Bellevue. For a unique experience for kids age 5 and up, go build forts with hammers and nails at the Adventure Playground on Mercer Island. Explore parks in Kenmore or Kirkland. See an outdoor play or outdoor movie. Or check out my series on Cheap Dates with Toddlers.

For school year fun and learning (for you and your child), consider taking a parent-child class (for ages birth to 7) sponsored by the parent education program at one of our local community colleges. We offer everything from parent-baby classes to coop preschools to art and science enrichment for elementary age kids.

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Outdoor Theatre 2018

Kitsap Forest Theatre, www.foresttheater.com/

Kitsap Forest Theatre, http://www.foresttheater.com/

Outdoor productions of Shakespeare and other plays are a fun way to experience the arts in the summer time. Bring a picnic, spread a blanket out on the grass, and enjoy! (If you prefer sitting in a chair to on the ground, be sure it’s a low profile chair so you don’t block anyone’s view.)

Although you can see Shakespearean tragedies outdoors, I personally prefer big, rollicking shows outdoors – the comedy and music play better in situations where there are Frisbee players in the far distance, dogs sniffing by, and airplanes flying overhead.

Outdoor theater is a good venue for kids because it gives more leeway for squirming and wiggling than an indoor performance with theater rules. However, you should still endeavor to keep kids quiet and well-behaved. Most of the shows listed here are good for ages 7 or 8 and up, but I would save King Lear and Henry IV for teens and up. We have brought preschoolers to shows, but don’t expect them to pay full attention – bring snacks, toys, and sticker books to entertain them quietly.

Seattle Area:

July 14 and 15 is the Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival in Volunteer Park in Seattle, which features performances from Wooden O and Greenstage (see above) plus Last Leaf, Theatre Schmeater, Jet City Improv, 14/48 projects, Freehold, and Young Shakespeare Workshop. Our favorite for years has been Jet City Improv’s Lost Folio, where they improvise Shakespeare (yes, dialect and all) based on suggestions from the audience. Free, please donate to support it!

Greenstage Shakespeare in the Park is performing Henry IV, part 1 and the Three Musketeers this year in Burien, Fall City, Lynnwoood, Maple Valley, and Seattle; their smaller scale Backyard Bard performances are of Two Gentlemen of Verona and Winter’s Tale at various Seattle parks. Season runs July 13 – August 18. Free, please donate!

Outdoor Trek becomes Outdoor Star Wars… For the past several years, Hello Earth has performed live an episode of Star Trek The Original Series. Simple props like hula hoop and streamer transporters are surprisingly effective and always entertaining. This year they’re doing Star Wars – A New Hope.  Blanche Lavizzo park in Seattle. August 4 – 26. Free. (Donate!!) Schedule here.

Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theatre is doing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. July 14 – August 19. $10 to $20. Ages 5 and under free. Optional dinner 5 – 18 per person. Can combine nicely with a day trip to Snoqualmie Falls.

Theater Schmeater. July 14 – August 18. Pinocchio – Seattle parks, free.

Wooden O is doing  King Lear and Merry Wives of Windsor (set in swinging 60’s London). (Learn more.) July 12 – August 12. In Bellevue, Des Moines, Edmonds, Federal Way, Issaquah, Lynnwood, Mercer Island, Seattle. Free but please donate so they can keep doing them for another 25 years!

Day Trips or Overnights

Island Shakespeare Festival – Langley. July 14 – September 3. Thursdays – Sundays. Sense & Sensibility, Othello, Twelfth Night. Free. (Donate!)

Kitsap Forest Theatre (near Bremerton) is doing Tuck Everlasting the Musical. (They did  Peter Pan on the weekends from Memorial Day to Father’s Day.) Saturdays and Sundays 2 pm, July 28 – August 19. $10 – 20, 6 and under free.

Leavenworth Summer Theatre is presenting Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Little Women. July 6 – August 30, Tuesdays – Sundays. $14 – 32.

Skagit River Shakespeare Festival (near La Conner, SW of Mt. Vernon). July 13 – August 18. King Lear, Titus Andronicus, the Grimm Shakespearean Tales of Uncle Dicky. $10 – 13.

Other Summer Arts Opportunities

Library Summer Reading Programs

Library programs for ages 3 – 12 happen all summer long, and include story time and much more.

King County library:  This year’s theme is Libraries Rock, so the shows are all music or sound related. Go to this page https://kcls.bibliocommons.com/events/search/index, and you can filter for events that work for you, or type the name of a show you want to see into the search bar at the top of the page. Some theater style shows to consider: Bing Bang Boom, Fiddler in the Forest, Magic Sound Show, Musicians of Bremen, Reading Magic Show, and Too Much Noise.

The Seattle Public Library summer reading theme this year is “Make a Splash.” Check out Thumbelina, the Vain Little Mouse, Stellaluna, and more.

Movies

I have a full post about cinema morning movies, outdoor movies in the parks, and drive-in theaters: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2018/06/08/summer-movies-2018/

Concerts:

Red Tricycle has already assembled this great Guide to Free (and Cheap) Summer Concerts. It includes info about kid-friendly concerts – some free, some pricey. At the Ballard Locks, the zoo, Issaquah’s Spring Free trampoline, U Village, downtown Seattle, Seattle Center, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Kirkland, Issaquah, Sammamish, Everett, Kenmore, Redmond, and Tukwila. Also check out ParentMap’s listings: www.parentmap.com/article/outdoor-summer-entertainment-for-families-seattle-eastside-north-sound

Other Activities for Kids in the Seattle area:

If you’re looking for other fun ideas for the summer, check out my series on “Cheap Dates with Toddlers and Young Kids”,  or reviews of Eastside Parks or find hands-on STEM enrichment activities for kids age 3 – 7 at www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

For school year activities, if you have kids age birth to 7, check out info about info about fabulous classes at local community colleges that are great for kids AND include parent education for you,- register now before they fill up!!

 

Fun with Toddlers: Sensory Play

img_20140522_095756848.jpg

A sensory bin is a simple toddler play activity: take a plastic tub, fill it with rice (or another filler), add scoops and containers to pour into (or other tools) and a few of your child’s small toys, and let your child play. The benefits for your child are: learning to use tools, using fine motor skills, and sensory exploration. The benefits for you are that your child will play independently for quite some time while you get other things done! (Expect some clean-up time when you’re done!)

Learn all about sensory play in: The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Play.

Summer Movies 2018

Whether you’re looking for outdoor movies to enjoy those warm summer evenings, or indoor movies for those hot summer mornings when you really just need some A/C, or a drive-in movie, here are some options in the Seattle / King County area for summer 2018.

Kids’ Summer Movie Clubs

As you may remember from your own childhood, these are probably the cheapest, easiest way to entertain your kids for two hours on a summer morning…

Outdoor Movies EastsideSummerMovies2018
Below, I will list all the outdoor movie series in King County, with more details and links. (For Pierce and Snohomish County options, check Red Tricycle.) If you want a printable list of all the outdoor movies on the Eastside, in calendar order, (like the image on the right) click here for the PDF..

Note: all outdoor movies start around “dusk”. In  the Pacific Northwest, that means around 9 – 9:30 pm in July and 8:30 – 9 in August, so outdoor movies aren’t compatible with early bedtimes.

Get some handy tips / etiquette advice for outdoor movies here and here.

Top tips are: go early for good seating location, bring a sweatshirt and blankets, as the weather cools quickly after dark, and if you bring a chair, make sure it’s a low profile chair so you don’t block anyone’s view.

Tuesdays

Downtown Movies in the Park at Bellevue’s Downtown Park (by the mall). July 10 – Aug 28. Free entertainment, popcorn and movies – each week has a non-profit partner, and you’re encouraged to donate to support these programs. Most movies kid friendly. https://parks.bellevuewa.gov/special-events/outdoor-movies/downtown-movies-in-the-park/ 

Wednesdays / Thursday

Movies at Marymoor in Redmond. 6/28 – 8/29. Mostly on Wednesdays, EXCEPT Thurs 6/28, 7/5 and 8/2.  Some weeks are kid movies, some are teen/adult movies – check schedule. $5 per person ($6 credit), $5 to park. Live entertainment, trivia, food trucks, vendors. www.epiceap.com/movies-at-marymoor/

Movies at the Square in Kenmore.  Free. Food trucks and pre-show entertainment at 8:00 p.m. http://www.kenmorewa.gov/MoviesattheSquare

Thursdays:

Fridays / Saturdays

Friday / Saturday

Saturdays:

Drive-Ins

Movies start at dusk… see note above. There aren’t many classic drive-ins left… and when you search for them online, you’re likely to find out of date listings. For example, http://www.driveintheater.com/drivlist.htm lists Samish in Bellingham, which was demolished in 2004, and http://www.driveinmovie.com/WA.htm lists Valley in Auburn which has been closed for several years and Puget Park in Everett, which closed in 2010. Here’s what’s still open within a two hour drive from Seattle:

The only other one in the state is Auto-vue Drive-in – Colville, WA. 6 hours from Seattle. www.facebook.com/Auto-Vue-Drive-In-Theatre-120740527937813/

If you go to a drive-in, PLEASE spend lots of money at concessions!!! That’s what will keep these classic theaters open in future summers!

Summer Movie Guide and Parental Guides to Media

If you’re looking for advice on whether a particular movie is kid appropriate, check out Common Sense Media which provides reviews of movies, books, TV shows, games, apps and websites. In their movie reviews, they look at educational value, positive role models, positive messages, violence and scariness level, sexy stuff, language, consumerism and substances, providing information so parents can make their own informed decisions about what’s right for their child.

Kids in Mind also offers film reviews which rate, on a scale of 1 – 10, the level of sex/nudity, violence/gore, profanity and substance use in a movie. They also give detailed descriptions of each incident they counted, for parents to consider.

Other Activities for Kids in the Seattle area: If you’re looking for other fun ideas for the summer, check out my series on “Cheap Dates with Toddlers and Young Kids”,  or reviews of Eastside Parks or find hands-on STEM enrichment activities for kids age 3 – 7 at www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

For school year activities, if you have kids age birth to 7, check out info about info about fabulous classes at local community colleges that are great for kids AND include parent education for you,- register now before they fill up!!

Note: If I missed any outdoor movie series in King County, let me know!!

Talking with Children about Death

cemetery

Parents in my classes ask: “when should I talk to my child about death?” I say: whenever the opportunity presents itself. Because death is a part of life. There will be plenty of chances to talk about it. Here are just some of the opportunities I’ve encountered with my youngest child in the past year or so.

On the walk to my son’s kindergarten, once we saw a dead squirrel, another time, we found the leg of a bird, and there was a lost cat sign up for months, which led to lots of discussions of what might have happened to the cat. On the way to first grade, we drive past a cemetery. On Memorial Day, he asked whether we would have a party for this holiday, and I explained why we don’t “celebrate” Memorial Day, which led to a whole discussion of death, war, what is a generation, and so on. A member of our church, a teacher at school, and a student at school have died, and he heard people speaking about these deaths and being sad about them. His older sister’s pet gecko died and we buried it together. We heard on the news about many people being killed in a shooting. (I try not to listen to the news much around him… but this was a TV that was on in a public place.) His pea plant died. We see flowers on a sign post on the side of a highway where a fatal car accident occurred. Somehow at school, a discussion came up of the danger of thunderstorms, and he worried for a few days about whether his dad would be struck by lightning and killed. He was wondering about heaven. He’s seen death occur in many books, movies, and TV shows. Each time one of these ‘teachable moments’ came up, we talked openly about death, the dying process, and grief. None of these were long drawn-out, or stressful conversations. Most were brief (one minute?) discussions, where I try to be as matter-of-fact about things like decomposition as I am about things like new buds coming out on a tree. I try to talk about grief as a natural emotion similarly to how I talk about other emotions.

And… then his grandmother died. My mom had Alzheimer’s and had been fading for a few years. We had been open with my son about this and the fact that she was no longer able to do the things she had done before. This April, I had to travel to be with her for a few days as we moved her into hospice care, and then my husband and I traveled for her funeral. Around this time, we have lots of long conversations with my son about death.

I was so glad that we had a long history of open and honest conversations about this part of life. I can only imagine how hard it would be for a parent who had tried to avoid this subject for years to suddenly have to explain it for the first time when she is managing her own grief over the loss of a parent and the child’s loss of a grandparent.

When talking with a child about anything, it always helps to have some knowledge of their developmental stage, and what they’re likely to be able to understand, versus what might simply be over their head at this age. Here is how children’s understanding of death evolves:

  • Preschool age (3 – 5). Even if you explain what death is (when something living stops functioning – stops breathing, growing, etc.), they may not be able to grasp what you mean. They may believe death is temporary and reversible. Although children see many deaths in movies and stories, they don’t really see a lot of what happens afterward when that character never returns.
  • Early elementary age (5 – 9): Children come to understand that death is final. They aren’t clear on what causes death. They also learn that all living things will someday die, but tend not to yet grasp that they themselves will someday die.
  • Tweens (age 9 – 12): They understand what death is – that organisms no longer function in the way they did when they were alive. They understand that death is final, and that they will die someday.
  • Teenagers: Begin to wonder about the meaning of life and form beliefs about what happens after death. Some begin taking risks, as if to test their own immortality.

When and How to Talk

Be thoughtful about whether you bring it up.

There’s typically no reason for you to push the topic or start the conversation, unless you believe a death will come soon to someone they care about. (Just as we’d talked to my son about his grandmother as she declined, we also have a 16 year old dog who is ailing, so when he has bad days, we let my son know that Rufty may not be with us much longer.) This allows them to build special memories, and say some goodbyes so there are fewer regrets later on about what was not done or said.

If they bring it up, don’t change the subject.

Let them know it’s OK to talk about it, and you’re glad they feel comfortable asking you.

If they’ve asked a question, clarify exactly what they’re asking. Sometimes they want just a simple basic answer and we go into the Big Talk about everything they’ll ever need to know about death and totally overwhelm them.

Turn the question around, and ask them what they already know. This lets you set a baseline for what you need to talk about versus what they already understand. It also allows you to correct misconceptions. For example, if they ask when someone will come back to life, we may need to explain the permanency of death, and how it’s different than when kids just “pretend to be dead” while playing.

Reassure.

Often when someone asks a question, there is an underlying concern behind the question. If your child seems worried when they ask you about something, think what fear might be behind the question. If a child asks you “can parents die?”, they’re really asking “will you die? Who will take care of me?” If you suspect this is the case, you can put it into words for them: “are you worried I won’t be here to take care of you?”

First, unless you have reason to suspect otherwise, say “I don’t expect to die any time soon. I know that idea feels scary to you, but I expect I will live for a long time yet.” (Note, you didn’t promise anything, because we can’t ever really promise that.) Then reassure that even if that were to happen, they would be OK: “But if I did die, here’s who would take care of you.”

Think about key points to make about what death is.

There are a few key ideas to convey at some point – not all at once, but in multiple minute-long conversations through their childhood:

  • Death is the cessation of life functions. Use simple terms and concrete examples from their life experience. “When an animal dies, it no longer breathes, or eats, or moves or feels hungry.” “Do you remember when your pea plant died, and it stopped growing?”
  • Death is caused by physical reasons. Describe in a simple, non-graphic way what caused a death. Explain enough that they understand… for example, don’t just say “she died because she was sick”, because then the next time your child is sick with a cold, they might think they might die. Explaining something like “she’s really sick, with a disease called _____. It’s not something I would expect you or me to get…”
    • Note: Children are inherently self-centered – their world view rotates around themselves. This can often mean that if someone dies, they wonder if it was their fault. “I said ‘I hope you die’ and then they did!!!” This can lead to a lot of guilt and shame. Reassure them that the death is not their fault.
  • Death is permanent.
    • Don’t confuse them by saying the person “went to sleep” because then it can be scary to go to sleep, or saying the person “went away” because then they will worry when you “go away” to the grocery store that you may never come back. Using the word death is actually helpful to reduce these anxieties.
    • Saying that the person who passed away is “watching over you”, or asking your child to “draw a picture for grandma to tell her how much you miss her” may confuse children about the permanency of death. If the idea that someone is watching over you from heaven fits into your belief structure, it’s fine to say this, but just be aware of this possible confusion effect.
  • Everything that is alive will someday die. You may also address that different things have different expected life spans. We might expect some pets to only live for a few years. We expect people to live for many decades. (Again, you may need to reassure them that you or other important adults expect to be around for a long while still.)
    • At some point, we’ll need to acknowledge that not only old people / animals die. It can happen to someone very young, it’s just less likely.

You may worry that you don’t know what to say about things like what death feels like, or what happens after you die. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. You can say to your child “No one knows for sure. I believe ________.”

Share your own beliefs.

One of the reasons it’s important to talk to your children about hard things (read “Better You than YouTube”) is so  you can share your own values with them and talk about the beliefs that are important to your family.

Note: one thing that can confuse children is when parents say things like “he’s happy up in heaven now” but the parent is clearly grieving and sad. They may not understand why you’re sad about something that makes the departed one happy. You can explain that you are sad the person is no longer with you, and you can’t spend time with them any more.

Talk about how we might feel about death.

Don’t be shy about talking about grief. It is one of many emotions that we humans experience. (Emotional literacy is a key life skill we want our children to gain.) Sadness about someone’s loss is a reflection of the fact that they mattered to us. Share what your feelings have been about various losses in your life.

But also talk about the wide range of reactions that people may have. Some may be sad. Some may be angry. Some may not seem to react at all. And some may react on a different schedule. It’s all OK.

Know when to move on.

Sometimes your child may ask more questions in the moment. Sometimes not. If your child has initiated a discussion about death, then seems ready to move on before you think “we’re done”, follow the child’s lead and move on. Prolonging the conversation will only cause discomfort.

Children learn through repetition, so expect that they make ask some questions again and again.

When a child is grieving.

Sometimes there losses that we would consider big in a child’s life where they don’t seem to react. Give them time and space for their own reaction. And other times, there are things we think of as small sadnesses – seeing a dead bird by the road, or a death in a storybook, where our child may suffer deep grief. Don’t dismiss them or tell them “don’t feel bad.” Honor their right to their feelings, whatever the cause.

Don’t avoid talking about the person who has died. Even though they’re no longer here, you can still remember them. They may want to do a ceremony, or create a shrine to help them remember. You could establish new traditions of continuing to do a favorite thing they did with the person who has passed away.

Your child may need help remembering the person won’t come back. They may ask again and again when they will return. They are not doing this to upset anyone. They’re just wrapping their minds around the permanency of death.

Your child may “play” death. They are just trying to understand. It’s fine to use puppets or stuffed animals to tell the story or play things out. It may also help your child to draw their feelings and memories.

Many children will regress or have behavioral challenges after a death of a loved one. Be patient and understanding with them, but don’t overly coddle them. Normal family rules should still apply. The sooner you get back to normal routines, the better. This helps you all move forward to the “new normal” of what your life will look like in the future.

Here are two helpful resources: 10 ways to help a grieving child and When Families Grieve from Sesame Street.

Funerals: If a loved one has died, you may decide not to have the child participate in the funeral. If they will attend the service, be sure to prepare them – telling them who they will sit with, how they should behave, and what will happen. For example,

 “Lots of people who loved Grandma will be there. We will sing, pray, and talk about Grandma’s life. People might cry and hug. People will say things like, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ or, ‘My condolences.’ Those are polite and kind things to say to the family at a funeral. We can say, ‘Thank you,’ or, ‘Thanks for coming.’ You can stay near me and hold my hand if you want.”  (source)

If the person’s body will be at the service, talk to your child about that. (Note: although people worry that seeing a body would be upsetting to children, they typically take it in stride). Explain burial if they will go to the cemetery. Explain if there will be a wake or reception of some sort – explain that people will talk and share happy memories of the one who has passed.

If you expect to experience a lot of strong emotions at the funeral, you may want to either not bring the child or ask another adult to help care for the child and sit with the child during the service. Remind your child that it is not their fault you are sad.

Using Media to Start the Conversation

There are several excellent books and some shows that are explicitly designed to help children understand death and manage grief. There are also many excellent books and movies that include a death that you can use to help you start a conversation.

Here are recommended books: https://imaginationsoup.net/childrens-picture-books-grief-death/https://www.familyeducation.com/videos/12-childrens-books-help-explain-tragedies-deathhttps://pjlibrary.org/blog/january-2017/childrens-books-about-death.

Find  movies and shows listed here www.ranker.com/list/kids-entertainment-dealing-with-death/matt-manser, and here https://whatsyourgrief.com/death-in-disney-movies/

Resources

Here’s a free printable handout on Talking with your Child about Death that you can share with others.

To learn how (and why) to talk about other difficult topics with your child (including sexuality, “tricky people”, scary topics, and more: read Better You Than YouTube.

Talking with Children about Gender Identity

Gender is a complicated mix of our biological sex, how we like to dress and wear our hair, our interests, our identities, and what other people expect us to do based on their perception of our gender. How can we talk to kids about gender?

When do we talk to children about gender identity?

We probably started moments after their birth, with the first announcement of “it’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” By 2 to 3 years, children begin to label themselves as male or female. By 3 – 4 years, they start categorizing things as “boy things” or “girl things”, and by 4, they may say “only boys can do that” or “girls never do that.”

So, young children are very aware of gender. Even if we avoided talking about it, they would absorb lots of messages from their environment. If we talk to them about it, we have the chance to share our own values with them, and to help to shape their understanding.

What is gender?

Let’s start with a few definitions.

Biological Sex: A person’s body parts / hormones. Can be categorized: male, female, intersex.

Gender Identity: A person’s internal sense of who they are. (No one else gets to define it.)

Gender Expression: How a person chooses to dress, wear their hair, and behave.

Gender Roles: How other people expect you to act, or what they expect you to be interested in, based on their perceptions of your gender.

Those are all separate from sexual orientation. Gender is about who you are. Sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to.

Sometimes all these pieces line up just like cultural and generational stereotypes would predict, but sometimes they don’t. Many people are cisgender – their identity aligns with their biological sex. Some people are transgender – their internal sense of who they are (identity) does not line up with the sex assigned to them at birth. Others may identify as gender non-conforming, non-binary, genderqueer, or other variations. It is estimated that between 1 in 100 and 1 in 400 people are transgender.

But there are also many cisgender people don’t fit a stereotypical understanding of gender. In terms of gender expression, some women prefer to wear ‘men’s clothes” and some men like to wear dresses or makeup. In terms of gender roles, we all acknowledge that boys may like dolls and dresses, and girls might like trucks and baseball. Women can be doctors, and men can be dancers. Yet, there is still surprise in our society when people run across a male preschool teacher or a female heavy equipment operator.

Defining Your Family Values about Gender

Parents are their children’s most important teachers. The way you talk about gender, and your unconscious actions, will shape your child’s early perceptions about gender. So, spend some time reflecting, and talking with the other significant adults in your child’s life, to figure out what your family values are about gender identity, expression or roles. Then, pay attention to how you’re manifesting these values. Some things to consider:

  • When buying clothes or toys for your child, or choosing activities to sign them up for, ask yourself: does my kid like things like this, or am I picking it because of gender? Does this choice expand or limit their choices and expectations about gender?
  • If you hear your child (or other people in your child’s presence) make observations like “only girls wear pink” or “boys can’t do that”, ask them questions about why they think that, and talk about stereotypes and alternative views.

For more on gender, see: https://bellevuetoddlers.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/gender.pdf

What if your child is exploring gender roles or expression?

During preschool and early elementary years, many children explore what it means to be a boy or girl, and they may try out different roles. Especially in pretend play, girls may try out being a dad, boys may try on “girly” clothes. This is a normal part of children’s play, and part of how they learn about their world and their culture. There is no need to discourage this.

There’s also no need to overly encourage it. Just because a boy tried on the fairy wings at school doesn’t mean you need to immediately purchase full princess wardrobes for home. (If, over time, he tells you he really really wants a princess wardrobe, that’s fine… you just don’t need to jump in with both feet immediately.)

Don’t make assumptions about your child’s long-term gender identity or sexual orientation based on short-term interests or activities. Some children outgrow this and move on to gender expressions and roles that line up with their biological sex. Some continue to explore gender expression and gender roles, such as the “tomboy” who dresses and acts (expresses themselves) like a boy but still clearly identifies as a girl, or the teenager who may wear eyeliner and nail polish but identifies as male. Some people who blur these lines call themselves gender expansive or gender creative. However your child wants to express themselves, you can help them to feel safe and loved.

If children want to make non-stereotypical choices, some parents choose to inform them about what reactions they might encounter: “it’s fine to have a sparkly pink backpack, but some kids think that only girls like sparkly pink, so they might tease you.” Then if the child still chooses that, at least they had the information to prepare themselves for the response.

What if your child tells you they are transgender?

Gender identity tends to be firmly established by age 4. If a child occasionally swaps gender roles in pretend play, or tells you “I really like playing with girl’s toys” or tells you once or twice, “I wish I was a boy, so I could do that”, those are likely just short-term explorations.

There’s a big difference between that and a child repeatedly telling you that their biological sex does not match their internal identity. Transgender and gender non-conforming kids are: consistent, insistent, and persistent. They consistently identify as one gender, they don’t waffle back and forth. They are insistent about that identity and get upset when mis-identified. They identify this way over a long period of time. (Source)

If you are cisgender, you may not be able to really understand a transgender person. For me, as a cisgender woman, I have truly never questioned my identity – I’ve always known I was female, always been comfortable with other people treating me as female, and offended if someone mistakenly thought I was a boy. But imagine what it would be like if I felt that way as strongly as I do but I happened to have been born into a body with a penis. Imagine the challenges of that experience!

Transgender people often experience gender dysphoria, a distressing disconnect between the sex assigned them at birth, and their internal identity. Every time they look at their body, it feels wrong to them. Every time someone refers to them by the wrong pronoun, they may squirm inside. For some transgender people, this sensation is mild and manageable, but for many it is not. Transgender girls may talk about a desire to cut their penises off. Transgender boys may begin self-harming as their breasts begin to grow. Many transgender people (41%) attempt suicide to escape the pain of dysphoria.

If a child says they are transgender, we don’t need to know whether they will always identify that way. But, in that moment, we should listen to our children tell us about who they are, so we can provide the best possible support. Trying to change a child’s identity, by denial or punishment or whatever, doesn’t work, and can do long-term harm.

Amongst transgender people, rejection by their families can lead to depression and other mental health problems, homelessness, behaviors that put their health at risk, and suicide.

Family acceptance promotes higher self esteem, more social support, improved health, improved mental health, with reduced anxiety and depression, and a huge reduction in suicide attempts.

How you can show your support (for your child or others that you know):

  • Assure your child that they have your unconditional love and support
  • Use the child’s preferred pronouns and preferred name
  • Ask that others respect the child’s identity
  • If they ask to transition to a gender expression in line with their identity (e.g. clothes and hairstyle), many parents have followed the path of first trying it out at home, then trying it out on a vacation – what is it like to be out in public with that identity, then transitioning in their home community.
  • If children ask for a medical transition, there are options: adolescents can take hormone blockers to delay puberty – these put on a “pause” button while they make long-term decisions. Taking gender hormones (e.g. testosterone and estrogen) can help to move biological characteristics to line up more with their identity, and most of the effects are reversible if the hormones are stopped. There are gender-affirming surgeries as well. These are not common for youth, but can reduce suicide risk for children experiencing severe dysphoria.

You can find many more resources at: www.hrc.org/explore/topic/transgender-children-youth

What if your child asks about someone else’s gender?

Young children are trying to make sense of their world, and one way they do that is by categorizing the people they see. If they think they’ve worked out an understanding of gender, but then see a person who doesn’t fit that understanding, they may ask questions – quietly, or at the top of their lungs. Remember that if your child asks a question about something, they are trying to understand it, and they may also be asking you if you think that it’s OK.  (check out Jacob Tobia’s post on this)

So, your child might say “that boy is wearing makeup!” or “Why is that woman dressed like a man?” If you shush them, or avoid the topic, you imply to your child that what they have seen is bad or is a taboo subject. Try answering the question: “Yes, sometimes boys do wear makeup, and that’s OK.” Or “Yes, some women prefer to dress in men’s clothes. Or, that might be someone who identifies as a man, even though their body might look more like a woman.”

You can find some simple, matter-of-fact things you might say to a child about gender identity at http://muthamagazine.com/2014/01/mama-ella-has-a-penis-marlo-mack-on-how-to-talk-to-your-children-about-gender-identity/; and www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/its-not-that-hard-talking-to-children-about-gender_us_5899f3b0e4b0985224db5a3f

Interacting with a transgender person

Some other things you can do (and model for your child) about how to interact with someone who is (or may be) transgender:

  • Use the language a transgender person uses for themselves. (He, she, they, or whatever.) Sometimes you may just wait till it comes up in conversation with those who know them. Or, if you don’t know what pronouns to use, you can ask – or even better, share your own pronouns. “Hi, my name is Janelle, and I use she/her as my pronouns.” If you make a mistake on pronouns, apologize briefly and move on.
  • Some transgender people choose to medically transition, or change their names, or change their appearance, but some don’t. You (or your child) may be curious. Before asking questions, ask yourself “do I need to know this information to treat them respectfully?” and “Would I be comfortable if they asked me this question, or would I ask that question of any other person?” (So yes, it would help to know their name and pronouns, but there’s no need to know about the status of their private parts.) Some specific questions you would generally avoid: Asking their birth name, or asking to see photos of them from before they transitioned, asking what hormones / surgeries they’ve had, or asking about their sexual relationships.
  • Someone’s transgender identity is their private information. It is not yours to share.
  • Remember that you don’t have to understand their identity to respect it.
  • You can’t necessarily tell if someone is transgender by looking at them. So, many people are working to be gender inclusive at all times. You can encourage this process by sharing observations. For example, if forms you’re filling out have two checkboxes for male and female, encourage the provider to instead ask for gender, and leave a blank space for people to fill in. If there are single stall restrooms at a facility, encourage that facility to replace the Men and Women signs with “Restroom” signs. If you notice a teacher frequently divides a group into “boys” and “girls”, encourage them to consider other options: “everyone wearing jeans”, or “everyone whose birthday is in January – June” or “everyone who likes cats.”

Learn more about how to be a trans ally: https://bolt.straightforequality.org/files/
Straight%20for%20Equality%20Publications/2.guide-to-being-a-trans-ally.pdf  and https://transequality.org/issues/resources/supporting-the-transgender-people-in-your-life-a-guide-to-being-a-good-ally 

Handouts

If you’re an educator who would like information to share with parents, I have created two handouts. Both address the concept of gender identity, defining your own values about gender, kids who explore alternate gender roles and transgender children. Choose between Gender as a Spectrum and Talking with Children about Gender Identity which adds info on how to talk with a child about gender non-conforming people you may encounter, and how to be supportive of transgender people.

Resources for More Information

Overview: www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/ 

How to Talk to Kids:

Transgender Children:

Big list of resources:  www.genderspectrum.org/resources/parenting-and-family-2/  

Recommended Children’s Books about Gender Identity