Teaching about “Tricky People” vs. “Stranger Danger”

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Parents worry. It’s part of being a parent. We worry about all the things that could possibly harm our children. We do all we can to protect them. But sometimes our efforts to keep them safe limit their opportunities to fully experience life, and learn all that they can.

Parents’ Fears and how they impact our children:

One of the biggest fears amongst American parents is abduction. One study indicated that 72% of parents were worried about abduction. Parents believe that the risk is much higher than it used to be, when actually rates of child abduction have been steady for over 20 years. (On a related note, child sexual abuse declined 62% from 1992 to 2010.)

Abduction is a rare risk. In the US, we have almost 70 million children under age 18. One research report showed that if you total up all the cases of ‘stereotypical kidnappings’ – the kind that parents imagine, where a stranger snatches a child and disappears with them – it was 115 that year in the US. A tragedy for those families, but a rare tragedy.

Despite the unlikelihood of abduction, the fear stops parents from sending their kids outside to play. In one survey, 19% of parents never allow their child to play outside. In Great Britain, 49% said they limited their children’s outdoor play because of fears about “stranger danger”. (Source)

What do kids miss out on when we keep them inside? They miss out on a lot of what we think of when we say the words “happy childhood.” Running in the sprinklers, playing in the backyard, riding bikes around the neighborhood, climbing trees, playing tag….

Parents need to consider not just the potential risks of unsupervised time outdoors, but ALSO consider the risks of:

I encourage parents to teach safety skills to their children when they’re young, because that lays the foundation for them making smarter decisions as they grow older, and are out of our sight more often. When I teach a toddler how to carefully climb on a small rock or climb a small tree, I teach them how to be cautious, but I don’t convey fear, because I want them to have the skills and the courage to climb bigger rocks and trees as they get older. In a similar way, I want to start teaching my child at a young age how to stay safe around unsafe people. But I don’t want to create a universal fear of “strangers”. I want to teach what behaviors would show us that someone was a “tricky person” and how we would avoid interactions that put us at risk.

Why Not Teach Stranger Danger?

For decades, parents and educators have taught the idea of stranger danger. There are several flaws to this message:

  • It creates a culture of fear. It can be frightening to a child to be out in public when they’ve been told that all the strangers around them are people to be feared.
  • Talking about “bad people” means that our children are on the lookout for people who look and act evil: the mustache-twirling, black-clad villain. Most people who perpetrate crimes against children are nice looking and quite charming.
  • Talking about “odd looking” or “dangerous looking” people or “people who don’t look like us” can lead to racial profiling and prejudiced attitudes.
  • Creating fear of strangers might mean that our children are afraid to seek help from adults when needed – such as a lost child who is too frightened to approach a security guard to help find their parents, or a lost child who evades rescuers because they are strangers to him.
  • Crimes against children are much more likely to be perpetrated by someone the child knows than by a stranger.
    • According to the Department of Justice, for sexual abuse, 10% of perpetrators are strangers, 60% are non-family members who are known to the child, 30% family members. Not all perpetrators are adults – 23% of reported cases were attributed to individuals under the age of 18. (Stats for Canada here.)
    • For abduction, about half the kidnappers are family members, a quarter acquaintances, a quarter strangers. Source.
    • If our children have been taught that strangers are always bad, but that the people they know are “safe”, then we have not protected them.

I don’t want my children to be frightened of all the new people they encounter. I want my children, and the children I work with, to feel safe in their world. Children are happiest and learn best when they feel safe. I tell children, through my words, my body language, and my interactions, that the vast majority of people are good people. Even a stranger who looks very different from the people I interact with every day is most likely a good person.

But, when children are around three years old is a good time to start talking about “tricky people.” They’re not a certain kind of people (like strangers, or like people whose skin is a different color from my own) but they are any person who displays certain odd behaviors. Those behaviors should raise red flags for a child, and let them know they should check in with a trusted adult for advice on how to respond.

What are Tricky People?

Here are some things to tell your child to watch out for. Tricky people may:

  • ask kids for help (such as help finding a lost puppy or pretending to be hurt). If safe grown-ups really need help, they’ll ask other grown-ups. If an adult asks them for help, they should go speak to a trusted adult.
  • try to arrange for alone time with a child. Let your child know that it’s best to have two adults around them, or be with other kids and an adult. They should not go somewhere alone with one adult unless a trusted adult has told them it’s OK.
    • Note: parents should be wary of someone who offers “too enthusiastically” to help out by doing things like free babysitting, car rides, or trips that put the child alone and unsupervised with that person, especially if they try to make the parent feel guilty for saying no to them
  • try to make one particular kid feel special, lavishing praise and gifts. Tell your child that if someone offers to give them something (candy, money, a kitten), they should not take it, they should say that they need to ask their parents if that is OK.
  • ask kids to do something that breaks the family rules, or just doesn’t feel right. Teach your child the idea of thumbs up or thumbs down – does the interaction feel perfectly fine to them (thumbs up) or does it give them an uncomfortable “uh-oh” feeling (thumbs down.) Encourage them to trust their instincts.
  • ask kids to keep a secret from their parents or their teacher, or threatens something like “if you tell anyone, I won’t be your friend anymore” or “if you tell, you’ll be in big trouble”. Any time this happens, a child should tell their parent or a teacher.
  • touches a child a lot (tickling, wrestling, asking for hugs), and gets angry or unhappy if the child says no to the touch
  • touches a child in a private area, asks a child to touch their private areas, asks to see a child’s private areas, asks to take pictures of private area, or shows a child their private areas. See below for more on how to talk to your children about this topic.
  • tells the child “there’s an emergency. You need to come with me right now.” Note: For children over 5, it can be a good idea to establish a password (see below).

How to Help Your Child be “Street Smart”

An article for kids on Kids Health describes street smart as “knowing how to keep yourself safe from strangers when you’re alone or with other kids. Whether you’re walking to school or to the bus, hanging out on the playground, or riding your bike in your neighborhood, being street smart helps you stay safe. When you’re street smart, you know your way around, you know how handle yourself in tough situations, and you’re able to “read” people.”

Here are some things we can do to help our kids be safe:

For a child age 1 and up

  • Teach them their name and their parents’ name(s)
  • Under three years old, I don’t talk about “tricky people” or “bad people.” But, if I am in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, I show it with my body language, and I tell my child “I don’t like being here… I don’t feel safe right now. We’re going to leave.” Even at this age, I want to start teaching them to trust their instincts.
  • Tell them they need to stay near you when you’re out in public, set boundaries – tell them where it’s OK to go and what’s not OK. If they step outside those limits, or refuse to hold your hand in a parking lot, or whatever guidelines you have set, then there should be consequences (e.g. you need to leave the park, or you need to carry them in the parking lot.)
  • When going anyplace where you might become separated, put your contact info somewhere on them (e.g. on a card in their pocket, on a bracelet, etc.). Also, take a picture of them that day with your phone so if you become separated you have a photo of what they are wearing.
  • Teach healthy touch: high fives and fist bumps, patting on the back, brief hugs, etc. Don’t force your child to give a hug to someone if they are not comfortable.
  • Teach them names for their body parts, including private parts. It is best to use commonly used terms (e.g. penis or vagina), not family euphemisms. Feeling comfortable with these words makes it possible for a child to explain if something inappropriate happens.
  • You should always know the basic description of your child at all ages, so if they are missing, you can tell searchers: how tall they are, how much they weigh, piercings, tattoos, birthmarks. Take good head and shoulder pictures at least every 6 months (every 3 months for young children.)

For a child age 3 and up

Everything listed above, plus:

  • Be sure they know their address, parent’s names, and parent’s phone numbers.
  • Help them know what adults you trust. Tell them: “if you ever feel scared or need help, then ____ and _____ are adults you can talk to.”
    • Talk to them about how to find a trustworthy stranger if they somehow become separated from you and need help. I tell my children to look for a person who is working there – I help them identify workers – they’re standing behind the check-out counter, or they’re wearing a uniform. I also tell them to go to another parent – someone who has a child with them. From time to time, I ask my child to look around and identify two people who they could ask for help if needed. Also, point out “safe spots” – the places they are most likely to find helpful people.
    • Talk to them about “tricky people” and what behaviors are red flags. Don’t try to cover it all in one big “talk” – it should be an on-going dialogue.
    • If your child is uncomfortable around someone and wants to avoid that person, don’t dismiss this. Respect your child’s instincts.
  • If you go somewhere you might get separated (the zoo, an amusement park, a large event), talk to them on the way there about the importance of staying close to you the whole time. Tell them that if they look around and can’t find you, they should stop where they are and you will find them.
  • By the time they are three, teach them that the parts of their body that are covered by a swimsuit are private. They should be kept covered around other people, and other people should not touch them there, except for parents or caregivers who are briefly helping to clean them, or a doctor, when the parents are in the room.
  • Don’t label your child’s clothes or backpacks with their name in big, visible letters. “Tricky” adults often use a child’s name to convince the child they are safe.

As your child gets older, and more independent:

Everything listed above, plus

  • They should know contact info for multiple trusted adults, and have a plan for how they could contact them. (For a younger child who doesn’t have a cell phone, they should know how to seek adult help. For older kids with phones, they need plans for what to do if their phone battery dies.)
  • If going someplace  you may get separated, have a plan in advance for where you would meet up again. Make sure they can describe it to you, and from time to time, ask them “do you remember where our meet-up place is? Can you point to where it is?”
  • A responsible adult should always know where they are. Set boundaries on where they can go, ask that they check in with you from time to time, and require that they check in if their plans change.
  • In the places they frequent, they should be able to list “safe spots” where they could go for help if they were feeling worried – for example, if someone at the park was making them uncomfortable, they could go into the nearby convenience store. They should also know to avoid unsafe spots – isolated areas with no one around.
  • They should know how and in what circumstances to call 9-1-1.
  • They should know never to answer the door when they are home alone.
  • They should know never to approach a stranger’s car. If someone calls them over to a car, they should not go.
  • When out and about, they should use the buddy system, not go places alone.
  • If someone offers them money, or an easy job, they should be wary.
  • Consider a family password so that if you ever could need to send an unexpected adult to pick them up in case of emergency, your child could ask that adult for the password to be sure it’s really someone you sent. You could also use that code word or another one for your child to communicate to you “I’m feeling unsafe and I need your help.”
  • Tell them to trust their instincts. If they’re worried about something, they should talk to you or another trusted adult who can help them problem-solve. If they’re very frightened, they should call 9-1-1 or shout for help. Tell them it is better to seek help and find out that everything is actually OK than it is to not seek help when things really are bad.
  • Give kids examples of “tricky behavior”; have them describe how they would respond.
  • Don’t talk about “bad touch” because sometimes sexual touch can feel good or can “tickle.” Instead, talk about “secret touch” that the other person wants you to hide from people, or touch that makes them feel wrong after it happened. Let children know that if anyone ever touches them in an inappropriate way (or makes the child touch them), that it’s not the child’s fault and they will not be in trouble with you. Perpetrators may first involve children by showing them pornography – let your child know that if someone shows them pornography, they should let you know.
  • Explain that you’re teaching safety rules because they are more mature and ready to be responsible. You want to give them more freedom, but you also need to be reassured that they know how to stay safe.

Letting Your Children Out of Your Sight

Here’s an example of how this could play out: My six year old wanted to be able to sit on the front porch and read while I was inside making dinner. We set boundaries: “you can sit on the porch swing, or come back inside. You may not leave the porch or step onto the driveway or the path to the sidewalk.” We reminded him of tricky people ideas: “we have lots of people walk by the house. Remember, that most people are good people. If they say wave or say hi, you can say hi back. However, if they ask you to leave the porch, they’re being tricky and you need to come inside and get us. If they step off the sidewalk onto our driveway or path, you need to come in right away. Even if it’s someone you know from church or school, I would still want you to come inside and get me.” We let him know that as long as he could follow the rules, he could have porch-sitting privileges. But if he ever violated those rules, he would lose those privileges.

Deciding to let a child play outside unsupervised, or let an older child go places without you, requires a leap of faith on your part. It can be scary to take that risk. But remember that keeping them at home and in sight at all times also creates risks – it limits their potential to be active, independent, decision-making people.

Part of parenting is teaching our kids the skills they need to know so that later on, they don’t need us so much any more. This is just one of many things that we do to prepare them to be out in the world on their own.

Handouts: If you’re a parent educator who would like to share this information with families, I’ve created a 4 page handout and 2 page handout of this information.

Resources

The New KidsQuest Children’s Museum

KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Bellevue, WA has just moved to a new location – from Factoria to downtown Bellevue, into the building next to the library that used to be the doll museum (1116 108th Ave NE Bellevue, WA 98004). The grand opening was today, but we were able to check it out last Thursday night. Here’s what we saw (Note: you can click on any picture for a larger view)

Climbing Sculpture

When you enter, you pass by the gift shop and the front desk – within moments of entering the building, my son was already trying out the new climber. img_20170126_165839952

There’s one path for the littler kids (age 4 and under). The entrance looks like this, and it leads to a little path that tucks around the corner into a little nook – I think it’s all walkable by a toddler, and looks like a parent could follow them in. (My 6 year old didn’t spend much time in there, so I don’t know details.)

The main climbing structure is much more adventurous! It says on the bottom that it is a challenging climber for ages 4 and up, and that’s definitely true. When they enter, they have to step onto ropes to make their way up the tower, till they reach the mesh tunnels. The tunnels carry them up to a mesh platform far above the lobby:

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My son (a big climbing fan) LOVED this climber! It was hard to get him out of it!

I have to confess that I, as a mother, felt a little nervous seeing him 25 – 30 feet above me… partially because I couldn’t see what the tops of those mesh tubes looked like… when you’re walking around on the platform, is it obvious where they are so no one just accidentally steps in the hole? And if they step in the hole, what would happen? Is the slope of the tube gentle enough to catch them? I’m sure it’s fine, really. My husband wasn’t worried at all… but I’d feel a little better if when I’m at the bottom I could see a photo of what it looks like from the top. They did have an employee up on the platform all evening helping keep an eye on things.

While he was on the climber, I took a quick peek at the classroom / birthday room (I think they called it the learning lab). They had a few toys set out now, and a sensory tub filled with pompoms. It looks like a nice class space.

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Then it was on to….

The Water Zone.

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Stream Table and the Big Splash. There’s a bucket at the top that fills and dumps, making a giant flood down the chute. The lower part has a stream that you can add dams and such to in order to change the flow of the water. I only played with this for a moment and wasn’t able to get it working well – I look forward to spending more time tinkering there in the future.

 

img_20170126_184409230_hdrMagnetic Water Wall – This has lots of chutes, funnels and spinners to channel water through. They are mounted on magnets, so you can take them off and re-arrange them. This is similar to the idea for the Ball Wall in the old museum (see below). One cool thing is that the flow of the water is adjustable. I imagine that will allow for more variation in set-up. It’s another thing I look forward to exploring more.

Water Music: with this exhibit, you press the button, and it shoots a jet of water at the bottom of a drum. Kids who love loud things will love this!

There’s a “Fountain Making Table” – imagine a chocolate fountain, but with water… there’s pictures of it on their website.

These pictures show a ball launcher (insert plastic balls in the blue holes, and fans shoot them out across the water… fairly gently… my son loved this… he loves any ball launcher! There’s a pump which works much better than most other pumps that my son has encountered. There’s a delightfully simple kid activity of a mirror with spray bottles full of water and squeegees – could keep some kids entertained for hours, and a very low basin called the tot splash, which is a great toddler sensory experience of glass rocks embedded in it to feel, and slowly dribbling water to fill the buckets with – didn’t appeal to my 6 year old at all, but the 1 – 2 year olds I work with would LOVE It.

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Our favorite water activity was the vortex – at the old museum, they had this, but it was up too high for kids to reach (I had to lift my son up to it MANY times over the years.) Now they’ve put it down within reach. The water in the tank swirls around – you can drop beribboned beads into it, and they swirl and slip through the hole at the bottom, or you can drop balls in and they swirl or they block the opening till you release them… it’s really fun, but hard to explain. I got a bit of video, but it’s a lousy video… we were too busy playing… but at least it will give you an idea:

On The Go

Conveyor System: Oh, this is so cool!! Load the boxes, wind the crank, it carries the boxes up a tall ramp. At the top, they get sorted to either go down one path, or across a ramp high above our heads to the other side of the room. They also have places to weigh the boxes, and an “x-ray” that shows pictures of what’s inside. Love it! It’s not perfect yet, as we did see some boxes get jammed up at the top, and to get them unjammed a parent has to help the kids at the bottom back up the belt while wiggling some boxes out of tight jams. So, tricky. But cool!

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There’s a test area for folding paper airplanes, seeing how far they fly and how accurate they are (i.e. can they fly through a hanging hoop), some of the car ramps from the old museum (but not the cool permanently installed one) and the car display case with the variable LED lighting that they’d added to the old museum in the past year, and an exhibit of old toys inherited from the old doll museum.

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Big Rig – there’s a new Paccar truck exhibit. img_20170126_174223302My son liked it just as much as the old one, but I liked it SO MUCH better! I didn’t like the truck, because I use crutches and it was hard for me to get in and out of it, and from the outside I could barely even see if my son was in there, and since he could go in and out on either side, there were times where I “lost” him because I didn’t know he had left the exhibit. This one has a window low in the door of the cab so you can see into the cab without getting in! And on the other side, you can step up onto the step by the door to get a good view in. This added visibility would have been a big reassurance to me when he was 2 and 3.

Recycle / Rebuild. This is another party room you can rent. What it had in it that night: Building materials for hydraulics projects:

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Tools, bins of recycled items to build with, and collection bins for recyclables that guests bring in:

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At least with the materials in here today, this struck me as a room aimed at kids age 6 and up, which is interesting because the old KidsQuest didn’t have a lot for the older kid. My son is 6 and we were thinking he would “age out” of finding the old museum interesting, but there’s definitely some things here that will continue to appeal for a few more years.

Now let’s head upstairs…

Bellevue Mercantile – a farm, yard, and store from 100 years ago.

Cow Wash – you can blow dry this cow with a big hose; Sheep that you can comb the wool of, information about how wool is made into clothing, a Chicken Coop where you can reach in and find wooden eggs, then sort them into the right size hole, and a sign about Bellevue 100 years ago.

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Mercantile – a big bin of beans to scoop and weigh, fabric ice cream cones and scoops of ice cream, and a display of toys from the period. Many children’s museums have grocery stores with baskets, cash registers and fake plastic food. I liked this twist on that idea where they had wooden trays to gather things in, and wooden milk bottles, and some plastic fruits. Still all the fun of a “grocery store” for pretend play, but a little different.

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Cityscape.

City and train table: a much bigger train table, with some Seattle specific features (Space Needle), drawbridges and wooden boats, and a great Seattle mural.

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City wall – with videos of construction and demolition; a mirrored table with Keva blocks to build with, and this really cool tilting table that you can build a maze on and then steer a ball through.

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Connections – between Cityscape and Story Tree, there’s a big open space that can be used for gatherings, performances, and temporary exhibits.

Story Tree – This is a lovely space, which really honors the magic of books and reading. I didn’t get a good picture of the whole tree, or the fabulous quotes that are on it. Check out their website for those pictures…. Here you see the really nice reading room at the top of the tree (up an easily climbed flight of stairs, which is more accessible than the ladder access to the old tree house) – this is a great space for relaxing and reading! Downstairs they have a great activity table area… KidsQuest has always done a nice job with developing special activities to go with a book of the week, but in the past, the places these got displayed made them feel like second-class activities… this space will help make it clearer how delightful they are. There’s also a nice book collection there, and a “stage” space with dress-up clothes… a really impressively compact way of achieving a stage environment for pretend play.

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Art Studio – when we were there, this room was being used for food, drinks, and cake, so I was distracted by all of that, and didn’t get the chance to really explore it as an art room. But there was a kiln, and lots of shelves with art supplies.

Tot Orchard – this is the special area for ages 3 and under so I had to sneak in without my son (he was probably on the climber). There were: toy flowers to pick and plant, locks to unlock and latches to latch, wooden apples to pick, a tractor to “drive”, an area for climbing up, sliding down, and hiding in, a train area where you don’t have to compete with the big kids for a train, a picnic table and an outdoorsy / campground type kitchen (if you had a really upscale campground) for kitchen style pretend play, an area with open close doors with fun vegetable faces hiding behind them, and two faces with wooden pieces you can turn around to make various faces – happy, sad, mad. (This exhibit made me laugh, because about two years ago, I pinned this image to my Pinterest page, and it’s been my most often re-pinned pin ever… far more the any of my pins of my own posts, ironically, and now here’s a recreation of it on the wall of KidsQuest. :-))

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And, off to the side of the Tot Orchard, in its own quiet little alcove, is the SHHH Station – a quiet space for nursing or cuddling a little one who needs some downtime.

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What was missing

There were some exhibits that did not come over from the old building and were not replaced by a similar exhibit in the new building, such as the giant Lite Brite wall. Sadly, this includes my son’s favorite two exhibits:

  • The Whoosh: whooshwhat we called the “scarf poof” – where you load scarves into tubes, and a fan sucks them up and shoots them out another tube. It also had an area where you could “levitate” a ball above a fan. Luckily Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett has a great scarf poof, and Pacific Science Center has a ball levitator and we’ve made a scarf cannon to use at home which can do both these things. But we’ll still miss the Whoosh.
  • The ball wallballwall1ballwall2that’s where you load the balls into a pneumatic tube, and it launches them at the top of the wall where they then fall down the wall through the maze that you set up. We’ve made our own ball wall and tried out lots of ball walls / marble mazes in our time, and the water wall at the new KidsQuest will capture some of this tinkering magic. But again, we’ll miss the KidsQuest ball wall, where we spent MANY hours of our son’s childhood.

Summary and Tips for Your Visit

Lots of great stuff at this new facility! As I said, my 6 year old was on the verge of outgrowing the old museum, but now I’m planning to renew our membership for a few more years because there’s plenty to engage him here. If you have a child anywhere between 1 – 5, the whole museum is a great fit.

It’s $12 per person per visit. If you’re attending with one child, you’ll break even on the membership after 4 visits. When my son was younger, we went to KidsQuest easily 3 times every month – it was one of our standard near-weekly activities from September to June and as a toddler, he never tired of it.

Parking might be an issue at the new place, so they give tips in advance on what to do. I think we’ll plan to bus it most of the time. Options are:

  • KidsQuest Parking Lot: Limited space on a first come, first serve basis
  • Ashwood Parking Lot: Free parking off NE 12th St (pass through library lot, but keep in mind the library garage is for library patrons only)
  • 929 Garage: Paid parking 1½ blocks south of KidsQuest at 929 108th Ave NE
  • KidsQuest is also conveniently located near several bus routes. Please visit King County Metro for more information.

For more information about the museum, check out their website.

Check out more KidsQuest reviews at: https://www.parentmap.com/article/kids-eye-review-of-the-new-kidsquest-childrens-museum-Bellevue and http://www.marcieinmommyland.com/home/kidsquest-museum-grand-opening-in-bellevue

Other fun local activities with little ones

If you live in the Seattle area, then check out the programs offered by the parent education departments of your local community colleges! They offer programs for families with children from birth to age 7. Each class offers play-based, developmentally appropriate learning activities for the child which aids them in all areas of development (large motor, small motor, language / literacy, music, art, and social skills). AND they offer parent education and support to guide you in helping your child grow and develop. Programs meet weekly during the academic year – they’re taking registrations for next year already, or you can join a class right now if there’s space available in it! Read more and find links to all the program here: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2016/08/02/parent_education/.

Click on the “Toddler Date” category in the right hand sidebar (or the bottom of the page on mobile devices) for links to reviews of local parks and activities plus my “Cheap Dates with Toddlers” series for ideas of easy, free or cheap activities that kids age 1 – 4 enjoy.

For activities to do at home with your child, check out activities for toddlers based around themes, or read my other blog, www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com for tons of ideas for easy, hands-on science experiments and engineering projects for 3 – 7 year olds that you can do with materials you have at home!

Earthquake Preparedness

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Although earthquakes are infrequent in the Seattle area, we are at risk of a major quake, so we do earthquake drills in our preschool classes.

When looking at websites, I found multiple references to a “Rabbits in the Hole” story to use with preschoolers for earthquake drills. I couldn’t find an official version of the story, so I wrote a little book of my own, aimed at the preschool or kindergarten age child* at school or at child care, which you could read in a group circle time to lead into a earthquake drill. It is intended to teach essential skills in a simple, manageable way, without creating fear. It tells the story of a bunny school where the teacher tells the bunnies how to stay safe if the ground shakes.

You can download and print a copy of the story here: rabbits-in-a-hole-earthquake-drill. I also made a version for parents to read at home: rabbits-in-the-hole-for-parents

For adult reference, here are current recommendations (source) on what to do indoors:

  • DROP down onto your hands and knees (before the earthquakes knocks you down). This position protects you from falling but allows you to still move if necessary.
  • COVER your head and neck (and entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk.
    • If there is no shelter nearby, crawl away from windows and things that could fall on you, covering your head and neck with your arms and hands.
  • HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

What to do outdoors: Move no more than a few steps, away from trees, buildings and power lines. Then drop and cover.

If you are driving: pull over, stay in your car with your seatbelt buckled (and your child buckled in their car seat) until the shaking stops.

What NOT to do:

  • Do NOT stand in doorways. In modern buildings, the doorways are no stronger than other parts of the house. You are safer under a table.
  • Do NOT try to run outside or run around inside the building. Although it is safer to be near an interior wall, away from windows, don’t run to another room during an earthquake. It’s better to drop, crawl a few feet to the safest space, cover, and hold.
  • If in bed, stay there – put a pillow over your head for protection.

* Note: This book is for children age 2.5 – 6. If you have a baby or young toddler, we can’t rely on them to follow instructions. In the case of an earthquake, it’s the adults’ job to keep them safe. Pick up the child in your arms, tight against your chest as  you drop and find cover for both of you. If possible, cover the child’s body with your own. (source)

There’s a lot more information on earthquakes at the Earthquake Country website.

You may also be interested in my posts on teaching child safety to toddlers and preschoolers, or in my collection of resources for parent educators.

Top Ten Posts of 2016

Here are my top ten posts by number of views… check them out!

  1. Should we teach toddlers to say I’m sorry? Teaching good manners, empathy, and taking responsibility for your actions.
  2. Passive Toys = Active Kids. Busy toys with buttons and flashing lights entertain children. Open-ended passive toys engage them.
  3. Brain Development: How to Help Your Child Learn and Grow. Learn about how novelty and repetition and down time help to build a brain.
  4. Schemas of Play. Children often have periods where they’re focused on one activity: throwing, or taking things apart, or carrying things around the house. Why do they do this – what are they learning, and how do we live with it?
  5. The Discipline Flow Chart – 6 Easy (or not-so-easy) Steps to Good Behavior. Discipline is about helping your child learn how to be a good person.
  6. Periods of Disequilibrium. Children have predictable developmental phases, when they are a struggle to live with as they work on managing new skills. Understanding that it’s just a phase can help give you the energy to make it through!
  7. How Many Toys is Enough. Finding your own balance between having “enough” toys to stimulate your child’s learning and entertain them without getting buried in toys.
  8. Fun with Toddlers: Transportation Theme. I have a whole “fun with toddlers” series which includes crafts, songs, books, and activities on various themes.
  9. Materials for Parent Educators. A large collection of handouts for teachers and parent educators to share with families on all aspects of parenting a young child.
  10. DIY Ball Wall. A fun project with PVC pipe, magnets, marbles, and an oil drip pan.

Computer Skills and Kindergarten Readiness

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There’s lots of information about the benefits and risks of screen time (TV, computers, video games, etc.), lots of opinions on whether young children should or should not be exposed, and advice on making screen time work for your family. Some parents might choose to avoid screen time through their child’s preschool years, and some may not have access to technology at home.*

But, I think it’s important for parents and early childhood educators to know that basic computer skills and tablet skills are becoming a part of kindergarten readiness.

The picture above is from my son’s kindergarten classroom in the Lake Washington School District (eastside suburbs of Seattle). Every morning, during reading stations, one station is using computer-based reading programs, such as HeadSprout. They also use DreamBox for math skills. Computer-based programs are an engaging way to drill kids in some basic math and literacy skills. But only if the child knows how to use a computer.

Today I watched several kids using the software with no problem, easily navigating use of the touchpad mouse, and the touchscreen, and understanding concepts like minimizing and maximizing windows, using their fingers to magnify an image on the screen, and so on. And I watched one child who lacked any basic understanding of how any of that worked. He poked randomly at the screen, getting random results – sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. No real learning was happening during the almost 20 minutes he spent trying to figure out how the computer works. The learning value lost in that 20 minutes only puts him farther behind his classmates.

So, I’m now adding to my list of skills for kindergarten readiness. I would recommend that all kids entering public kindergarten (at least in areas that have computers in the kindergarten classroom) have these basic skills:

  • know how to use both a mouse and a touchpad mouse – they know how to move the arrow around, understand the ideas of both clicking, and double-clicking
  • know how to use a touch screen – again, both how to move the arrow around and how to click; bonus points for understanding gestures like pinch to make an image smaller, swipe to advance to another screen, drag to move an item. (Look here and here for two guides to all the gestures that are typically used on touchscreens.)
  • have played with educational software / apps where they are given verbal instructions that they should follow

So, if you have access to this technology at home, consider adding in some computer skill learning for your child at least 3 – 6 months before they start kindergarten. If you want recommendations and reviews for kids’ games and apps, check out Common Sense Media.

If you don’t have access to this technology at home (In 2012, 72% had access to the internet at home. In 2016, 72% of Americans own a smartphone, which has likely increased the number of households with access to the internet), check whether it’s available at your local library or elsewhere in your community. Here in King County, all the libraries have public computers in their children’s areas that are loaded with lots of educational software, and will allow them to learn mouse skills and headphone use. (They do not have touch screens to my knowledge.)

I don’t think children need a lot of computer time – just enough to gain some basic skills and knowledge. The majority of a preschooler’s time should be spent engaged hands-on with their world, with time spent playing with open-ended toys, outdoor time, and free play time with peers.

Winter Fun with Little Ones

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After the intense busy-ness of the holidays, we move into the quiet, boring days of January. And in the rains of Seattle, it can be easy to feel the cabin fever of being “trapped” at home with your toddler or preschool age child. I’ve written lots of posts over the past few years on “Cheap Dates with Toddlers” – easy, fun, and cheap activities. Here’s the best ideas for winter fun:

  • Go to the playground in the winter – just bundle up and bring a towel to dry everything off! (For reviews of several Kirkland area parks, click here.)
  • Try an indoor playground – lots of large motor play with new friends, out of the rain.
  • Hike in the woods and have a nature scavenger hunt to see what you can find.
  • Take a ride on a bus or train – or on a ferry – just for the fun of the journey. (Just because you don’t think riding on a bus is exciting doesn’t mean it’s not for your child!)
  • Find a construction site and watch the work.
  • Attend library story time – they’re free, happen at several locations each week, and are great for encouraging a love of reading.
  • Go to the store – a hardware store, a grocery store, whatever – focus on sharing the experience with your child instead of on what you need to buy.
  • Wander around a rock yard looking at big rocks, and collecting a few small pebbles to bring home.
  • Go to a pet store (or as we like to call them “small animal zoos with free admission).”
  • Watch the fish at the Seattle aquarium, or even just in the small aquarium at your local Chinese restaurant.
  • Go to a dog walk, watching very happy pups is a great mood lifter.
  • Check out a sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt – just watching the food go around is great entertainment!
  • If you can find your plastic Easter eggs, you can pull them out for a fun hunt any day.
  • For lots more ideas, for songs, books, games, and crafts you can do at home, check out my “Fun with Toddlers” series, which are all focused around a theme such as ducks, farm, winter, zoo, or moon and stars.
  • Also, check out Inventors of Tomorrow, which is my blog focused on hands-on STEM activities for teaching kids about science.

If you’d like someone else to do all the planning for enriching varied activities for your child (from music to art to big motor play), check out classes sponsored by the parent education programs at our local community colleges. Great play-based learning for kids from birth to age 7, and parent education and support for you!

If you still need more ideas, then we have a fabulous resource here in Seattle. Check out parentmap.com for a never-ending supply of ideas for things to do with kids in the Puget Sound area.

Teaching Kids about Northwest Native Plants

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Once a month, our Family Inventors’ Lab meets at Robinswood Park in Bellevue. We go out for a hike in the woods, and we learn about native plants, cycles of nature, insects, habitats and more.

There are plenty of benefits to spending time outdoors, including less vitamin D deficiency, better vision, higher activity. Getting to know local plants helps your child feel more at home in their world, helps them gain a sense of competency (there’s something really fun about being able to identify all the plants they see), teaches vocabulary and science, and teaches observation skills – discerning the difference between a trailing blackberry and a Himalayan blackberry teaches your child how to observe small details, a skill which is helpful in almost all their pursuits!

We have a “plant of the month” curriculum and on this page, I’ll share the materials I’ve developed, so you can use them with your family. All of the plants can be found in most of the wooded areas and parks trails in the King County area.

  • Big Leaf Maple. (PDF)  This is the second most common tree in the Pacific NW, so it’s a great ones for kids to learn because then they can find it everywhere they go. Help them count the points on the leaves – there’s always 5. (A vine maple has many more points.) It’s great to introduce kids to a big leaf in the spring, so they can watch “their” tree go through the changes from buds in the spring, to green leaves, to fall color, to winter. Also help them find helicopter seeds to drop and let spin to the ground.
  • Blackberries. (PDF)  Get to know all your blackberry types: if it trails along the ground, and has clusters of 3 leaves, it’s Trailing Blackberry, which are native to the Northwest. If there’s a big thicket of blackberries with clusters of 5 leaves, it’s the Himalayan blackberry, an invasive species. (If you have some invading your yard, look here for tips on removal.) The Evergreen Blackberry, another non-native, looks very different from the others – its alternate name “Cut-leaf blackberry” describes its unique leaves. All these plants produce plenty of tasty edible berries from July to September.
    • This handout also includes information on Stinging Nettles, so you know to watch out for them in woods. We’re blessed in this area to have few truly dangerous plants or animals in our woods, but stinging nettles can be an annoyance.
  • Douglas Fir. (PDF) Very common throughout the Pacific Northwest. Tall trees with bare trunks for much of the height of the tree, branches full of needles up higher on the tree. Rough bark.
  • Holly. (PDF) Holly can be found in all 50 states, and is common in Christmas decorations and art, so its distinctive spiny leaves and red berries (visible in winter) are recognizable to most people. Its berries are NOT edible! They can make pets and children quite sick.
  • Indian plum. (PDF) A Northwest native flowering shrub. One of the first plants to leaf out and bloom each spring. Also called osoberry for its edible (but not tasty) berries, or skunk bush for the smell of the male flowers (you have to put your nose right up to them to smell them.
  • Ivy. (PDF) English Ivy is not native – it’s an invasive noxious weed – if you have any on your property, its best to replace it with native plants. If it’s climbing your trees, be sure to remove it. Children can easily identify ivy, and you can show them how it spreads across the ground until it finds anything vertical, then it climbs as high as it can.
  • Oregon Grape. (PDF)  Oregon grape is a native plant. Adults sometimes mistake it for holly, but your child should be able to easily learn to tell them apart. The fruit is edible, but far too tart for most people’s taste – some use it in jelly.
  • Salal. (PDF)  Salal is another native plant, with glossy green leaves, which is very common throughout our woods, and in landscaping everywhere. It also produces an edible berry that some people dry to use in cakes, or use in jelly.
  • Vinca. (PDF) A non-native evergreen. The glossy green leaves and purple flowers that bloom for much of the year make this a lovely, low maintenance ground cover.
  • Western Red Cedar. (PDF) Easily distinguished from the common Douglas fir. Branches start much lower to the ground, flat sail-like needles form spray-like branches. Very small cones. Stringy bark that can be pulled off in long strips.

This free printable Plant Guide combines all the plants listed above into one guide. Although it refers to Robinswood Park, you’ll see most of these plants on almost any hiking trail in King County.

If you’re working with a young child (3 or 4 years old), you want to focus on only one plant at a time. I’ve created postcards which show pictures of just one plant per card. Hand a card to your child to carry as  you hike through the woods, and encourage them to tell you every time they find a plant that matches that card.

Once your child is familiar with many of these plants, try challenging them with a Scavenger Hunt (PDF) – This includes pictures of 14 plants to find in the woods. (For younger kids, you could also use the postcards as a scavenger hunt challenge.)

For older kids (age 6 and up), here’s a dichotomous key they can use to try to figure out what kind of plant they see. You could also use this key as a basis for a 20 questions style game on a hike. (Learn more about 20 questions and what the game teaches here.)

If you want to check out the woods at Robinswood Park, it’s an easy park to start on with young hikers. There’s over a mile of trails, so enough to explore for a little one, but you’re never far from the parking lot. Here’s a trail map, with one of our favorite trails through the woods marked out on it.

Enjoy your hikes!