Author Archives: Janelle Durham

About Janelle Durham

I teach Discovery Science Lab and Family Inventors' Lab, STE(A)M enrichment classes in Bellevue, Washington for ages 3 - 9. I am also a parent educator for Bellevue College, a childbirth educator for Parent Trust for Washington Children, former program designer for PEPS - the Program for Early Parent Support, a social worker, and mother of 3 kids - age 26, 22, and 9.)

Outdoor Theatre 2021

Kitsap Forest Theatre,

Kitsap Forest Theatre,

Each year, I write a post about all the outdoor theatre productions that will happen that summer. It was awful last year when all the theaters were dark, and it’s heartbreaking that even in 2021, many have not yet returned. But, I am thrilled to say that there WILL BE OUTDOOR THEATER IN SUMMER 2021!!!

So… here’s this year’s update of my almost-always-annual post.


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.) In 2021, productions will have COVID precautions in place, such as masking and distancing. Check their websites for the most current info.

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. Other than Storybook Theater, most of the shows listed here are good for ages 8 and up. We have brought preschoolers to shows, but we don’t expect them to pay full attention – bring snacks, toys, and sticker books to entertain them quietly. Also understand that during outdoor productions, at times your experience may be interrupted by Frisbee players in the far distance, dogs sniffing by, and airplanes flying overhead.

Seattle Area:

NEW THIS YEAR: Storybook Theater in the Park. Studio East in Kirkland has been doing fabulous productions perfect for 3 – 7 year old children for many years. This August, they will perform The Boy Who Cried Wolf for free at various sites on the Eastside. Studio East is also doing Twelfth Night – Shakespeare in the Park featuring teen actors, on June 18 – 20 at Juanita Beach Park in Kirkland. Free.

Greenstage Shakespeare in the Park is presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They also have smaller 4-actor adaptations of plays, called Backyard Bard that are an hour long. They’re doing Twelfth Night and the Tempest. (All three of these shows are some of the more accessible Shakespeare plays for older children.) Fridays – Sundays from July 9 – August 14 in Seattle, Burien, and Fall City. Free, but please donate lots!

Snoqualmie Falls Forest Theatre. On 5/19, the website says: “first 3 Saturdays in August a Dinner Theater show is planned, stay tuned for details and purchasing tickets!!”

Wooden O. As of 5/19/21, their website only says they were cancelled for 2020. I assume that means they’re also not happening in 2021.

Outdoor Trek from Hello Earth Productions. In 2022, plan for Return (at last!) of the Jedi.

The Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival will return in 2022.

Day Trips or Overnights

Island Shakespeare Festival – Langley. Will present As You Like It, Thurs – Sun at 6 pm, from August 6 – September 12. In the past, they were free, with donations encouraged – I assume it’s the same this year. (If you go, donate lots!) Their postponed 2020 Summer Season, with Love’s Labor’s LostTitus Andronicus, and Cyrano de Bergerac, will be presented in 2022.

Kitsap Forest Theatre – near Bremerton. Will present Little Women – the Broadway Musical. (My kids liked this show a lot when they saw it at age 9 or 10.) Shows are on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00.  June 12/13, 19/20, 26/27; July 10/11, 17/18, 24/25; August 7/8, 14/15, 21/22.  $34 adults, $18 youth, 6 and under free. Their shows that weren’t presented in 2020 (Beauty & the Beast and Bend in the Road, the Anne of Green Gables Musical) are moved to 2022.

Leavenworth Summer Theatre is presenting Sound of Music most Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays from July 9 – Aug 21. Tickets go on sale in June. In previous years, they were $14 – 35. They will perform their planned 2020 shows of the Music Man and The Secret Garden in 2022.

Other Summer Arts Opportunities

Library Summer Reading Programs

Library programs for ages 3 – 12 happen all summer long, and include reading logs with completion prizes, story times and other events. In 2021, for KCLS, all events will be held online. King County library:  This year’s theme is space themed so the shows are about space, the stars, and science. Go to this page, 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. The Seattle Public Library summer reading info is here.

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

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!!

Screen Time – Connection, Context, Content

As a parent, you’ve likely seen countless cautions about the potential dangers of screen time for young children, and you’re exposed to continuous marketing of screen content for children. You know the American Academy of Pediatrics says children 18 – 24 months can begin exploring screen content with their parent, and children 2 – 5 should be limited to 1 hour a day, but you know 10 month olds who are proficient at swiping through photos of themselves on a phone. It can be hard to make sense of it all. Instead of the “just say no” approach to screens, let’s try a more nuanced approach:

We argue that this long-held focus on the quantity of digital media use is now obsolete, and that parents should instead ask themselves and their children questions about screen context (where, when and how digital media are accessed), content (what is being watched or used), and connections (whether and how relationships are facilitated or impeded).           

– The Media Policy Project 

Connection – Are Relationships Facilitated or Impeded?

Screens can disconnect us from each other. In natural communication, we have a series of “serve and returns” – you say something, I respond. I ask a question, you answer. Screens can interrupt that. We’ve all experienced a time when someone glancing at their phone, or the TV that is on “in the background”, pulls our attention away from a conversation we’re in the middle of.

If parents are using a screen, we may not notice a child’s bids for our attention, which can lead to attention seeking behavior, risk-taking, and potentially injury. When a child is using a screen, they can seem zoned out and a parent may get very frustrated, feeling like they’re not being listened to. For all of us, we can get very irritable when someone else interrupts our screen use, and there can be a “withdrawal period” where it’s hard for us to disconnect from the screen and re-connect to others.

On the other hand, screens can help us to connect. Long-distance, video chats have been a key way for kids to connect to family and friends who are distanced, whether geographically or due to COVID. There are ways we can enhance the connection – peekaboo, puppet shows, guessing games, reading stories, show and tell, drawing together… And screens can connect us with others right at home if we use them together. Co-watching shows and co-playing games can be fun for both participants, can be an enjoyable shared experience to talk about later, can lead us into great conversations about complex topics that might not come up otherwise, or extend the screen experience into real world experiences (like watching a show about science, then doing a hands-on experiment together).

Goal: Decrease times when screens disconnect your family, increase connection during screen use.

Context – Where, When, How?

Co-watching with our child any time they’re watching would be optimal. But let’s be realistic. One of the biggest reasons parents use screen time is to keep kids busy while we do something else! Screens are the easiest way to take a demanding child and keep them passive, stationary, and entertained. And sometimes, we just need that break. Just be intentional and don’t overuse it. Be mindful about unconscious screen time – the TV that’s on all the time, continuous social media check-ins, the Candy Crush… A question to ask yourself… if I didn’t have the screen option, what would we do otherwise?

Consider screen time limits and curfews. Consider screen-free times (like mealtime, family time). Some families have screen free time one hour per day, one full day each week, one week each year.

Set rules for where screens can be used – many experts recommend children only use screens where parents can overhear / see what the child is watching. Consider screen free places (like dining table, bedrooms). Some families have screens in low traffic areas of the house – out of sight, out of mind.

Some families say screen time has to be earned – the child has to complete chores to earn it. Some offer a standard amount each day, but it’s a privilege that the child can lose as a punishment. These can both be viable strategies, but be careful not to make screens too special – a forbidden fruit.

Goal: Whatever rules you set for where, when, how and how much, be sure they are rules you can stick to and enforce consistently. If you let them cheat it some days, they’ll ask to cheat it every day!

Content – What is Being Watched?

All screen use is not equal. For example, social time on screens, like Skype/Facetime calls to family aren’t really “screen time” – they’re social time where the screen is the mechanism that connects us, and don’t need to be limited as other screen use does. (Although you should still practice good screen hygiene – keep screens 18 – 24” from face, use blue shade in the evening, use good posture during calls, take breaks to rest your body and your eyes, and spend time outside in nature each day.)

There’s lots of great educational content for kids. Don’t feel like your kids have to use screens to learn what they need to learn in life. If there are other things they could be doing in the moment – like finger painting or playing in a playground – do that! But, if there are times they’ll be using a screen anyway, choose content that helps them to learn new ideas (like science shows), or experience things they can’t experience at home (like wildlife shows), or drill them in things that are best learned by rote practice (like learning the alphabet or basic math skills).

When choosing content for entertainment time – whether that’s social entertainment for the whole family, or solo entertainment for the child – there’s a wide range in quality, developmental appropriateness and questionable content in children’s media. Read reviews and seek out recommendations for the best content. A fabulous resource is

Try to minimize addictive content. Many screen time activities have lots of reward moments, where your brain is flooded with dopamines, and you want to keep using to get more of the feel-good chemicals. For example, many apps and video games are designed to keep you playing forever: every time you clear one level, another presents itself and you want to keep on playing. Many video apps will auto-play one video after another. Choose slower-paced, calmer items that you “consume” one at a time, without that same addictive reward process, and without ads that make a child crave more.

Goal: choose age appropriate, educational or entertaining content that matches your family’s values and priorities.

Tips for Reducing Screen Time Battles

Plan your screen time – agree ahead of time on when it will start, when it will end, and what you will do together after screen time. Ask them what reminders they need about the plan – for example, do they want to set a timer they can see? Then stick to the plan!

When you’re nearing the end of screen time, instead of giving warnings that you’re about to take the screen away, give reminders that “when you end screen time well, then we get to…”

Instead of just yanking the screen away in the middle of whatever they’re doing, try “joining them” on screen – watching what they’re watching and talking about it, and seeing when a good endpoint is coming (the end of an episode, the completion of a level). Then gradually transition them off.


Parks with Industrial Artifacts

Some people love nature, and can look at mossy trees, birds, and spider webs all day long. Some people don’t connect to that at all and are far more interested in mechanical objects. And sometimes those two types of people are married to each other. Or sometimes there’s a parent in one camp who has a child in the other camp. One way to find common ground is to seek out signs of cool machines in natural settings. Here are some options with that appeal in western Washington: Gas Works Park in Seattle, coal mining remnants in Newcastle, Snoqualmie Falls, Fort Casey on Whidbey Island and the Ballard Locks.

Gas Works Park in Seattle

In the Wallingford neighborhood (2101 N Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98103), Gas Works contains remnants of a coal gasification plant that operated from 1906 – 1956. (Learn more about Gas Work’s history and the park today.) In addition to viewing the gas works, there’s also a great hill for kite flying, a sundial, great views of the boats on Lake Union, and easy access to the Burke-Gilman trail.

Coal Mining Remnants in Newcastle

On the border between Bellevue, Issaquah, and Newcastle, you’ll find the Coal Creek Trails in Cougar Mountain Regional Park. It’s a beautiful nature hike with lots of native plants, and view of Coal Creek, with the added bonus of ruins from old coal mines, and interpretive signs about their history. There’s also an old Nike missile installation, but not a lot to see there. (Learn more here.) I wrote up a guide to the science of coal formation and the history of coal mining in the area when I took an elementary school age class on a field trip there. You can read it here.

Here’s a trail map of the zone I’d recommend hiking. Walk Wildside trail to Steam Hoist trail to see the Steam Hoist. If the path isn’t flooded, go around the Steam Hoist trail loop to see the info about saw mills. Use Steam Hoist trail to get back to Ford. At Ford Slope, view a rail car (picture here), machinery, a closed mine shaft, swamp gas vents, and the 1920 (bridge??) just up the hill. If you still have lots of energy, hike up Rainbow Town (steep) to Red Town, then down Bradley Seam Trail back to Wildside to trailhead. If you have some energy, then you can duck back down Wildside just a bit, go UP Bradley Seam, and then walk down Red Town. On Bradley Seam, you’ll see an exposed coal seam and be able to pick up and examine lots of coal samples along the side of the path.

This is around a mile and a half hike without a a lot of elevation gain. Parts of the trail are wide gravel roads, some are more challenging terrain. I hiked it with 5 – 9 year old kids who did great. With younger kids, it would be trickier, and you’d need to make sure they were stating safe. (More about the hike.) The hike to Coal Creek Falls is beautiful, but it’s 3.5 miles with 350 feet of elevation gain and some tricky terrain, so not the best for a novice hiker. (Full Trail Map.)

Directions: Start at Red Town Trail Head parking lot, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. From I-90 take exit 13 and drive south on Lakemont Blvd SE for 3.1 miles. Parking lot is to left (east side) of Lakemont. (Watch for the park sign and a dirt parking lot). The trailhead parking does fill up from about 9 – 2 on sunny summer weekends.

Snoqualmie Falls

The falls are gorgeous –  268 feet high with the width ranging from 50 to 150 feet, depending on water levels. When the water level is high, they’re really LOUD and powerful feeling. This is also the site of Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Project, built in the late 1890’s. It is one of the Pacific Northwest’s oldest hydropower facilities and the world’s first hydroelectric plant built completely underground. The museum (closed during pandemic) houses exhibits about hydroelectricity. Here’s a virtual tour video covering the history.

Near the top of the falls, next to the Salish Lodge, you’ll find two observations decks (aka “cliffside observation areas”) with great views of the falls, a gift shop and concessions. The observation deck is wheelchair accessible. There is a very steep trail down to the base of the falls. There is also a lower park area, with a hiking trail through forested wildlife habitat, a kayak and canoe launching area, historic interpretive displays and an observation platform for viewing the Falls.

Here is a map of the park and the parking areas. The parking lot by the gift shop is paid parking. The other 2 lots are free. The falls are lit up after dark.

Fort Casey on Whidbey Island

Fort Casey is a Washington state park. The fort was constructed in the late 1800s, equipped for seacoast fortification in the early 1900’s with large “disappearing guns.” Unfortunately the guns were quickly made obsolete with the advent of airplanes. The guns you see there now were transferred from the Philippines in the 1960’s. The Fort was used as a training facility up to the mid-1940s. (More history.)

You can climb the batteries, peer into catacomb like bunkers (bring a flashlight!) and climb up for a close look at the guns. You’re given pretty much free rein of the facility, without a lot of protective barriers. It was great for my 9 year old, but if you have little ones, they’ll need close supervision. (More on what it’s like to visit.)

There’s 1.8 miles of hiking trails (part of the 1200 mile Pacific NW National Scenic Trail) and amazing views of Admiralty Inlet which connects the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Puget Sound (expect it to be windy!!). We went there in the summer of 2020, and after being isolated at home for a long time, it was lovely to be in a wide open space, where we could see families out enjoying the day from a very distanced social distance.

A bonus for the mechanically-inclined (a downside for those who like the quiet of nature) is that the U.S. Navy does flight training at the nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey, with 100,000 takeoffs and landings per year, day and night. With noise levels of 100 decibels, you won’t miss them!

You can camp at Fort Casey’s 100 acres, or you can stay in their historical buildings of the Fort Casey Inn. (Read about the experience.)

Ballard Locks

Note; as of February 2021, many of the visitors’ facilities at the locks are closed due to the pandemic. Check their website for updates.

The Hiram M Chittenden Locks, completed in 1917, connect Lake Washington with Puget Sound. They carry more boat traffic than any other locks in the U.S. Boats ranging in size from one man kayaks to 760 foot boats can travel through there. When a boat enters the locks from the lake, the water level is lowered 20 – 22 feet before a boat makes its way into the Sound. You can find a lot more about how the locks work and about their history on the WIkipedia page.

From June to September, you may be able to see salmon on the fish ladders. There is also the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden, a beautiful nature oasis. Read visitor reviews. More photos.

McAuliffe Park in Kirkland

This old farm homestead has windmills, old gas pumps, old farm equipment and large pea patch of working gardens. Read my whole post on McAuliffe Park. Also, as you walk, keep your eye out for Kirkland Rocks.

Related Ideas

All playgrounds are full of simple machines. You can point out to a child the inclined planes (slides, ramps), the screws (spiral staircases or ladders), the levers (swings, seesaws), and the wheels on axles (merry go rounds).

If you’re looking for an excuse to go on a quest around downtown Seattle, check out this guide to all the public clocks in Seattle.

This Seattle Times articles shares a few hikes with fun discoveries at the end.

If you know of other great opportunities in the Seattle area for combining some time in nature / the great outdoors with something mechanical or engineering related, please add a comment below!

More Local Parks

For the nature lovers, you may also want to check out these posts:

Fun with Toddlers – Animal Theme

Crafts to Do

Make a clothespin creature: With clothespins, pipe cleaners, cardstock, googly eyes, pompoms and more, there are so many creatures you can create! (You can find sources for all these ideas on my Pinterest page at

Do animal facepaint and/or make animal costumes. Read the book Fraidyzoo by Heder. (It’s available at the King County library) It’s all about making crazy animal costumes out of materials you have around the house or can find in your recycling bin. See what animal costumes you can create!

Invitations to Play

Put out a collection of toy animals, and materials to build a habitat with or build a zoo or farm. This could be a playdough activity, or you could put items in a sensory bin with beans or rice, or could be nature play with sticks and rocks, or combined with building toys such as Duplos.

Learning Activities

  • Sorting. There are so many sorting activities you can do with toy animals. Put them in a pile, and ask your child to sort: farm animals from zoo animals, or mammals from non-mammals, or things that climb trees from things that swim, or sort by color or size.
  • Animal Sounds. Show your child pictures of animals, and teach your child animal sounds. Then ask your child “what noise does a cow make?” Praise them when they say moo. And so on. Children can often make recognizable animal sounds before they have much language, so it’s a fun way to see how much your child really understands. If you want your child to speak multiple languages, ask the question in other languages (like “Que dice la vaca?”). They will learn the answer is also moo. This helps them start making connections between meaning in the different languages.

Songs to Sing

  • To the tune of Wheels on the Bus: “The lions at the zoo say roar roar roar, roar roar roar, roar roar roar. The lions at the zoo say roar roar roar all day long.” Repeat with any animal sound you want.
  • Old McDonald. Old McDonald had a farm. E I E I O // And on that farm there was a cow. E I E I O // With a moo moo here and a moo moo there. // Here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo moo. // Old McDonald had a farm. E I E I O
  • Three little monkeys. Three little monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell off and bumped his head. Mama called the doctor and the doctor said: “No more monkeys jumping on the bed”.

Books to Read

  • Dear Zoo by Campbell. Fabulous lift the flap. “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet…” See what they send!
  • Good Night, Gorilla by Rathmann. A charming (mostly) wordless book about a gorilla escaping its cage.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? or Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear? by Carle. Great repeating rhyme and rhythm. Children love to predict what will be on the next page.
  • Poke a Dot: Old MacDonald’s Farm. This is a counting book. Each page has plastic dots you can “pop”. I’m normally not a fan of “gimmicky” books, but I think this one is great for learning one-to-one correspondence, an essential math skill.
  • Who’s Like Me? This is a lift the flap (uncover and discover) book, where one animal says something like “I’m a bunny. I am furry and breathe air. Who’s like me?”

More Animal Themed Activities

Check out my Fun with Toddlers posts on Zoo Theme and Farm Theme. Or check out my preschool STEM posts about Animal Classification, Adaptations, Habitats and more.

Failing to Meet Your Own Expectations

Before we have children of our own, we typically form a lot of expectations about what it would be like to have children, and expectations of what kind of parent we plan to be. When those expectations meet reality, we may need to take time to re-evaluate and re-adjust our own definitions of what it means to be a successful parent.

What did you expect?

Our pre-parenthood expectations may have been unrealistically optimistic, filled with the sorts of happy, active families having lovely outings that you see in all the commercials for medications that will fix all your ills. We may have imagined that we would always love spending time with our children, and that we’d teach them to love the things we love, and that they would achieve things we had not achieved. Even if we saw other people’s children being challenging or difficult, we may have reassured ourselves that our children would be better, because we would be better parents – we believed that if we just did things right, it would all work out.

Within a few days after a baby’s birth, we typically discover that the reality does not meet our expectations. Even if we “do everything right”, our babies still cry and they still spit up all over us. And often we don’t do things right. We make mistakes all the time as we try to manage this new full-time job we weren’t adequately prepared for. Parenting is hard work! And it’s made harder by the contrast between our expectations and our realities. That contrast is a significant predictor of postpartum depression. Parents with very high, even unattainable, expectations are more likely to experience mental health challenges.

For parents of infants and young children, it’s worth taking some time to reflect on what expectations you hold for yourself, and making conscious choices about adjusting those expectations to make them more realistic and compassionate.

What expectations did/do you have that don’t serve you?

Let’s examine some types of thinking that parents may have which are not helpful.

  • To be a good parent, do you need to be happy all the time? Fully functional, with a clean house, healthy home-cooked meals, and festive decorations for holidays?
  • Should you always know exactly what your child needs? Should you always be able to meet all their needs? Always enjoy spending time with your child? Never speak harshly to them?
  • Is your self-worth tied to your achievements or your child’s achievements? Are you afraid that if anything goes wrong, you’ll be blamed? If you’re coming from a successful long-term career, do you expect to be just as successful at your brand new job of parenting?
  • What criteria do you judge yourself on? Should you never make mistakes? Should you do all the things that other parents show themselves doing on social media?

How would you like to adjust those expectations?

If you find yourself often thinking you’re not a good enough parent, maybe it’s worth re-defining what it means to be good enough.

  • Can you assess your own personal values so you can prioritize putting energy into the things that matter most to you, and let go of the high demands in areas that aren’t that important?
  • Can you role model resiliency for your child? We can’t always control whether bad things happen to us, but we can control how we respond. We don’t always get everything we want, but we can find ways to be happy despite that.
  • What do you want you child to remember from this time? Do things have to be perfect to make good memories?
  • Can you embrace messy moments when things go badly as learning opportunities? Can you remind yourself often that not everything will go as planned, and it’s OK to make the next best choice?
  • Can you admit that sometimes you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and that it’s OK to ask for support? OK to take breaks? OK to prioritize self-care?
  • Can you let go of your not-enough story? Let go of doing things because you think you need to prove your worth, and start believing in your inherent worth.
  • Instead of setting vague goals – “to be a better parent” or unattainable goals – “to never yell at my kids again”, can you set up clear and achievable steps in the right direction?
  • Can you practice self-compassion? I often urge parents to remember the power of the word YET. Instead of thinking your child will never do something, just think “they can’t do it yet.” We can do the same thing for ourselves – we can hold ourselves to high standards AND forgive ourselves for the times we aren’t yet meeting those standards.

I created an exercise you can do to examine your expectations, and to re-frame them into more reasonable, achievable goals. You can do either art or some creative writing of a “job description” in this exercise.