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.)
If you live in King County, Washington, you have access to one of the best public library systems in the entire country! And it’s all free of charge. Here’s an overview of the services they offer, with links for more information on how to access resources during pandemic closures.
On their website at https://kcls.org, you can search for any book you want. The results will look something like this:
You can choose a physical book (and sometimes a book with a CD of the book read aloud), an ebook that you can read on a browser, or download to a device, or a downloadable audiobook.
If you choose an ebook or audiobook, and a copy is available now, you can download it right away. (Learn more about downloading e-books.) If a copy is not currently available, put it on hold, and you’ll get notified as soon as one is available for download.
If you want a physical book, then place a hold. You’ll then choose a library branch to have it delivered to for curbside pick-up. There are lots of locations all over King County.
When your book arrives, you’ll get an email and can schedule a pickup using an app, or just go to the library during open hours. All pick-ups are contactless curbside pickups, so if you’ve scheduled your pickup, you walk up, find your bag on the table and walk away. If you haven’t scheduled one, typically you hold up your library card at a window so the librarians can see it and they fetch the bag for you.
Once you’ve checked out a book, you have it for 28 days. If you want it for longer, you can renew online, unless someone else has placed a hold on that book.
Libby has ebooks and downloadable audiobooks. Hoopla has movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics and TV shows to stream or download for free. Tumble Book Library has video storybooks and read-alongs for readers in grades K-6, including some in Spanish and French. Bookflix is for preschool to 3rd grade and has classic video storybooks paired with non-fiction eBooks.
The identity of a family is wrapped up in its traditions: the daily routines and the annual rituals. As a parent educator, I talk a lot about the power of routines – the ways we move through each day that help us feel like the world is safe and predictable and manageable even in the midst of chaos and change. Rituals are also important – whether it’s how we do the tooth fairy in our family, what we do on the Fourth of July, or how we spend our winter holidays. Rituals honor our cultural heritage. They show our children what we value by what we pay attention to. They make our children feel special and loved. They help to define who we are as a family.
2020 has messed with all our routines, and with all our rituals. We may have found new daily routines that are working for us. But rituals… so many of which revolve around gathering in-person with the people we love and gathering with our communities… may seem out of reach. It’s natural to have a lot of grief over all the things we can’t have this year. (Here are tips for managing the grief.) But we can also work to figure out ways to adapt our traditions to this year’s limitations. We can create new rituals. And we can use this as a year to focus on resilience.
Resilience is often thought of as the ability to bounce back from challenges. Another way to view it is ““being able to continue functioning relatively normally” in adversity.
There are lots of ways we can build resilience in children, but one important one is to tell our children stories of the family’s history that are not just about the family’s successes, but about the ups AND the downs… “we had plenty of hard times, but we made it through together.” It creates a story for the child that “our people” are resilient. (Learn about Marshall Duke’s research on family stories and resilience.) This year is a great year to find a way to incorporate these narratives into your holiday celebrations. I’ll share something I’ve done here, and encourage you to reflect on how you might celebrate resilience through the holidays this year.
Honoring Your Family’s History
At my church, one Sunday in every December, we ask members to share a photo of their family’s holiday traditions, and we gather them into a slide show. Watching those slideshows always brings smiles, and warm cozy feelings. But this year, when I went to find a photo from a previous holiday, it made me very sad. At first, seeing all those photos of large family gatherings just made me grieve all the things that I couldn’t have this year.
Then going into Thanksgiving, I realized that I needed to reclaim those memories, and re-define their meaning for this year. For our family’s Thanksgiving over Zoom, I went through 30 years of photos, and for each year, I found one photo of a family meal or holiday gathering. The first slide read: “Our Family, Gathering Together for the Holidays… The location changes, the guest list changes, loved ones pass away, and new loved ones join us, and through it all, the family goes on.”
We watched it together on Zoom, talking and sharing memories. We talked about the loved ones in the photos that have passed away and shared stories about them. We puzzled over a stranger in one of the photos… who was it? Maybe the nephew’s “holidate” for that year?? We remembered the year my partner and I were divorced, before we got back together again. (We’ve now been back together for 20 years!) We smiled as the babies appeared – including a baby who is now 27 and all those who came after him. We welcomed the new family-in-law members who have joined us over the years. I included a picture from this year, with three of us at one table, and the laptop showing everyone else on Skype. The pandemic reality seems all-encompassing now but it’s helpful to think that someday, 2020 will be just one picture of many, and we’ll chuckle as we remember “the year we all stayed home.” In our holiday pictures, we clearly saw that although the family changes and evolves every year, the love and connection stays constant.
If you look only at this year, it seems so disconnected from all that came before. But it’s not. It’s just the current chapter in a long history of a family. A history that includes good times and bad, that has been through challenges before and still is strong. Taking time to acknowledge that was helpful. It led me to think more broadly of the stories we could tell with this year’s celebrations.
Honoring Your Family’s Traditions in a New Way
Remembering What Connects Us
A Jewish friend of mine said: “Maybe to bridge the separation we are all feeling this year, think as you light candles over Chanukah of the connection you have to Jews all over the planet who are lighting candles with you. There is synergy this year as remembering a holiday that celebrates our perseverance and faith that things will get better.” Your faith traditions can help to link you to the history of your people, and also to others around the world who are walking through this challenging year with you.
Every year, my church ends our Christmas Eve service by holding candles as we sing Silent Night, and passing a flame from candle to candle till all are lit. This year, on Zoom, we’ll share a slide show of all of us holding candles, and we’ll all light our own candles at home as we sing along. Our community still unites even as we are separate.
Gather Around the Virtual Table
Many families have long been gathering on Zoom (or Skype or Messenger or Teams…) for family dinners and celebrations. (If you don’t know how to use Zoom, I have a full guide to Zoom which can take you from beginning to expert.) My own family’s tradition of a family dinner every Sunday for those of us who live in Washington has now evolved into weekly dinner calls including family in Nebraska, New Jersey, Wyoming, and England. This Thanksgiving was the first year EVER where my husband and I saw ALL of our siblings and ALL of our parents on Thanksgiving. Zoom gatherings are not the same as in-person, but they have their own blessings. (If you need ideas for fun interactive things to do on a telechat, check out this post.)
At a holiday gathering on Zoom consider doing a Year in Review. Share the highs and lows of your year, and celebrate the roses you’ve found amongst the thorns of 2020. That celebrates our strength, resilience, and adaptability.
Deck the Halls… or the Yard
Some people are saying “why bother decorating – no one else will see the decorations.” If you always find decorating exhausting, then 2020 is a great excuse to skip it. But if any part of decorating gives you joy, go for it! Do whatever small portion of it has meaning, or go way over the top beyond what you’ve done before. Take pictures and share them on social media! Or decorate the OUTSIDE of your house so neighbors get to enjoy. That outdoor décor can also be helpful if your family gatherings will be outside in the back yard this year.
As a preschool teacher whose classes haven’t met in person in months, I have an overabundance of bubble solution in my life… and I have a bubble machine! So on Christmas Eve, we plan to send bubbles streaming from our deck to anyone passing by. It’s just a small way to connect with a community of neighbors that we value.
How Can We Keep From Singing
Music is important to our family… particularly singing. It’s something we do together as a family. If you miss singing out loud:
can you just crank up the tunes out home and sing along?
can you sing “with others” online? On a Zoom call, one person sings aloud (learn how to make music work on Zoom) and everyone else is on mute, but sings along at home and can see the others singing- it’s more joyful than you might think!
could you go for a Christmas Caroling walk through your neighborhood, belting out the tunes? (Just be sure not to sing when anyone else is within 25 feet or so, because singing does carry a higher risk of transmitting any virus we might have.)
Enjoying singing is claiming your right to find JOY even in these challenging times.
The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol?
Theater is a big part of our family culture. If your typical holiday season includes viewing live performances and the arts are important to your family, try a “dinner and a show” night at home. Get dressed up, pick up a fancy meal takeout, sit at the table and eat a celebratory meal. Then go sit in your living room with the lights off as if you were in a theater, and watch many of the holiday shows that are available for streaming online via your local arts organizations, Broadway on Demand and Broadway HD. (We did this last night and our son pretended to be our “usher” – he escorted us to our seats, asked if we needed anything to be comfortable and reminded us to silence our cell phones before the show started. We clapped at the end of each number.) After the show, remember to donate to an arts organization that has fed your family’s soul in the past.
Giving To Others
Many experts recommend thinking about gratitude and celebrating all the things your family DOES have this year, and then consider spreading your “wealth” – whatever form that takes – to others. Donating money, or time, or sharing beauty through art, or sharing kindness with others, or donating to food banks and gift drives could all be ways to acknowledge that your family has enough blessings to share.
Letting Go of What Doesn’t Bring Joy
This article from Mental Health America has a good point: “Don’t Romanticize Your Typical Holiday Plans. Remember that while your holiday season may normally be full of excitement and joy, it can also be a time of high stress. Long days of travel, endless to-do lists, and dinners with that one family member you don’t get along with are all part of the holidays too…” This year may be a great chance to free yourself from the stale habits and burdensome obligations, and re-focus on what your true priorities are and what things would actually make your holidays happy.
Talking with Children about New Traditions
If you’re parenting young children this year you may feel like you have to put on a smiling face all the time. I think it’s fair to share with our children when we’re feeling sad – “This year, I miss the fact that we can’t do _____ like we usually do.” For older children, honor that this may make them sad too. (Young children may have no memory of what you “normally” do.) And then we can say (to ourselves and to them) – “But I know our family has many many years we’ll be able to do that exact tradition. The part of that tradition that is important is that it honors ______ because that is something that is important to our family. Here’s how we’re going to honor that this year.”
I would love to hear ideas for how you are adapting your holiday traditions for your family and how this could tell a story of how “our family is resilient and comes through hard times even stronger than before.” Click on “Leave a Reply” at the top of this post to share your ideas.
“Next year all our troubles will be out of sight… Faithful friends who are dear to us will be near to us once more. Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow…”
As we admit that we’re muddling through this year, we can also embrace that we are learning how to be resilient, how to adapt, and how to find the light in the darkness.
Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle has a new winter-season light display called WildLanterns. The displays are absolutely gorgeous, and walking around the zoo after dark looking at the lanterns made for a special evening for our family in a year with few new and inspiring experiences. I would recommend it for people of any age, although since walking the whole experience takes almost two hours, toddlers and preschoolers may not have as much patience for it as older children and adults.
When you arrive, you get into a long but fast-moving socially distanced line. They scan your ticket, and in you go. Most of the time, you’ll be walking along the paths, gazing at the lantern displays around you. There are a few animal exhibits open (the penguins, the meerkats and bats – though the meerkats are diurnal and were all sleeping and the bats were hard to see.)
Everywhere you look, there are beautiful scenes.
There are A LOT of displays!! As you walk down the path by the carousel, there’s otters, then lions, then eagles, then wolves, then orca, one after another after another. And in every area, there are a LOT of every animal. For example, in the panda display, there were at least 28 pandas! We were amazed at how many items were on display. Here are a few photos of some details I particularly liked.
Some animals have moving parts – like a lion’s tail that waves, eagle wings that flap, and more. One of the highlights, when you first enter, near the penguins is a peacock whose tail is lifted with hydraulics for an incredible display – check out the video below. It was fun to watch the children’s delight when the tail came up.
The visuals are great. I think the one thing about the event I would improve is the audio experience. There was music playing – just low key environmental music – it was fine and pleasant but not inspiring. Also, it could have been louder. It was a comfortable volume standing right in front of a speaker, but faded to pretty quiet when you were between speakers. You can hear the music in this walk-through video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsSkMTk0hsg
We walked the Living Northwest loop, then through the Jungle Lights zone fairly quickly (since we knew we’d be back, and it was the most crowded area, then Seamazium with an underwater theme, then the African Savanna zone, then a desert area, then back through Jungle Lights.
It is beautiful, and a festive winter event, but I think it’s worth noting that it is not a “winter holidays” event. You will not hear Christmas music or see a lit-up dreidel or a solstice celebration. If you’re specifically hoping for Christmas theme, you may want to try another special event.
Near the south entrance, there is a tree surrounded by lit up stars on the ground. If you step on them, they make musical notes! Near there, in the African village, you’ll find a lit up piano to walk on. (A staff person makes sure people line up nicely and enter the area one household at a time.) On the Jungle Lights path, there’s an area with a cool lit-up tunnel to walk into, and a photo opp with angel wings and a halo (my son doesn’t appear to have a halo in this picture… hmmm….)
Also in that area is my favorite thing of the whole event: there are bubble blowing machines that must dip into dry ice, so they blow streams of these cool opaque bubbles, and when the bubbles pop, they release clouds of gas. You’ll see them in the video below. (Note, the bubbles were the most challenging place to maintain social distancing, because we all wanted to crowd together in the stream of bubbles. There were lots of playful giggles from the children, and delighted sounds from adults too.)
WildLanterns will be held November 13, 2020 – January 17, 2021, from 4:00 – 8:30 p.m. They are closed Mondays and November 26 and December 24 & 25.
You MUST purchase your tickets in advance. They are for a specific day and for a specific entry time. (For example, we had tickets for 7:00 pm on Saturday 11/28. We were asked not to arrive before 6:55, and not to arrive after 7:30 pm.) Once you arrive, you can spend as long as you choose there. We walked at a leisurely pace through all exhibits, stopped for a quick snack and a bathroom break and it took us one hour 45 minutes.
Ours was the last timeslot of the day, and I recommend that for adults or those whose children have later bed times. When we first arrived, we did the “Living Northwest” loop and Jungle Lights, and on Jungle Lights, there were times where it felt a little too crowded for my COVID comfort. (i.e. there were people who passed within 12 feet of me.) And there was a long line for the interactive area. But by the time we were moving through Seamazium and the African Savannah, there was hardly anyone else around. When we passed by the Jungle Lights interactive area again (at 15 minutes till zoo closing time) we were some of the very few people left.
If you want to minimize the number of people there when you attend, I’m sure weekdays are slower than the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend was. And January will almost certainly be slower than December.
It’s $28.95 per adult (13+). $23.95 for children ages 3 – 12. Toddlers 2 and under are free. Parking is $4. If that seems steep to you, I ask you to consider two things: First, remember that you’re supporting the zoo during a year of financial hardship for them and all public exhibitions. Second, there’s not a lot of other holiday activities to spend money on this year, so it’s a great year to check out this event. Some other year you’ll spend your holiday event budget on the Nutcracker. This can be your special event this season.
WildLanterns is a rain or shine event—there will be no ticket refunds for weather. The night we were there was a clear night with no wind or rain. It was in the mid 40’s when we arrived, and 40 when we left.
I was wearing flannel-lined jeans, a coat, lightweight gloves, lightweight earmuffs, and my mask and was very comfortable the whole time.
If it’s a rainy night, wear rain gear and bring an umbrella! The only places I remember where you could have gotten out of the rain were: the covered seating under the tent by Gather and Graze (for those who are eating), the building in the African Savannah, and the meerkat exhibit, and you can’t be in either of those places for very long due to COVID requirements to keep distanced.
There were some fire pits in a few places around the zoo. They ask that you only gather at them with members of your own household, and then move on to let others use them. They were good for warming your hands over if you held them close to the flame, but they weren’t body warming intensity.
Food and Beverages
There were snacks in the North Meadow, Gather and Graze, and at the south end of the zoo. I saw: popcorn, hot pretzels, cotton candy, hot drinks. There may have been more, but we’d eaten dinner just before coming, so we didn’t look closely. You can also bring your own food. All food must be eaten in designated areas and cannot be consumed all around the zoo (because you need to remove your mask to eat.)
Everyone over the age of 5 is required to wear a mask properly. Children age 2 to 5 are encouraged to wear masks. You are asked to stay at least 6 feet apart from other guests. We were able to maintain this almost the whole time, but around the bubbles at the interactive exhibit, children were running and playing in the bubbles and were closer, and people also crowded around the peacock, although there was no need to, as you could watch easily from a long ways away. The Jungle Lights path is the most crowded area, as the two loops overlap there. Bathrooms were open, but I didn’t use them, so can’t report anything there. No strollers are available for rent (bring your own) but you can rent a wheelchair.
If you’re looking for more lovely winter walks in King County, check out my post on low-contact parks on the Eastside, which highlights some lesser known gems that are rarely crowded – helpful in COVID times. If you have children under the age of five, I highly recommend you check out the parent education programs offered by all our community college programs – fun learning for your kids, and social connections and support for you in these isolating times. Some are in-person now, many are online only. (If you’re dubious about online learning for young children check out this article on online preschool.)
There are several sections of this page – here’s what you’ll find:
Making Life Easier: tip sheets on how to turn events that are often challenging for parents into something more manageable or even enjoyable. Covers: Bedtime / Naptime, Diaper Changes, Going to the Doctor / Dentist, Holidays, and Errands.
Visual Schedules: how to use this powerful tool for teaching routines and expected behaviors: first you do this, then we’ll do that.
Backpack Connection Series: a way for teachers and parents/caregivers to work together to help young children develop social emotional skills and reduce challenging behavior. Handouts on four topics:
Emotional literacy includes being able to understand other people’s feelings, understand your own feelings, and know appropriate ways to express those feelings. One way to teach these skills to young children is by reading books about emotions. Here are some books that are suggested for 1 – 4 year olds.
These are all good books, well worth reading. Personally, rather than buying just one or two of them, I would get them from my library or find them online so we could learn the lessons that several different books have to teach. (Look here for more thoughts on Choosing Books for Children and resources for finding books online.)
When you read any of these books, read them with feeling! Use your voice, your facial expressions and your body language to illustrate / echo the feelings being described on the pages. Stop and discuss some pages with your child: “Have you ever felt that way?” “Remember yesterday, you felt like that… how do you feel today?” “I feel that way sometimes. When I feel that way, I ____.” “If you felt that way, what could you do?”
The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Llenas. Video. Great attractive illustrations that pop up! Monster’s feelings are all jumbled up, and they sort them out into jars. “This is sadness. It’s gentle and blue… when you’re sad, you might want to cry or be alone. This is anger. It blazes bright red. When you’re angry, you want to roar and shout… this is calm… all your feelings are in their places now. They are easier to understand when they’re not all mixed together.” It’s a nice approach to understanding the different types of feelings, and could be a good companion to some of the ideas about helping children understand the different intensities of feelings and zones of regulation, as I discuss in my Big Feelings post.
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr. Video. Colorful goofy illustrations. Each page shows one feeling: “Sometimes I feel brave… sometimes I feel like making mud pies… sometimes I feel lonely… sometimes I feel like trying something new…. No matter how you feel, don’t keep them to yourself… share them…” It’s just a nice sampling of all the different ways we can feel and how our feelings change and move on all the time.
When I Am / Cuando estoy (Bilingual) by Rosa-Mendoza. (Video) Nice illustrations of diverse children. Each page addresses an emotion and an action: “When I am angry, I stomp my feet… when I am sad, I hug my bear.” Nice simple overview – I would use it as a springboard to discuss other options for things they could do when they have those feelings.
How Do You Feel? by Browne. Video. “Sometimes I feel bored…. I feel confident, but I can also feel shy.” I like that at the end, it asks “how do you feel” and shows images from all the other pages that allows you to review the feelings. The illustrations of an anthropomorphic monkey do a nice job of illustrating the feelings with color, body language, and other visuals – like on the lonely page, he’s very small.
Lots of Feelings by Rotner. Video. “We have lots of feelings. Sometimes we feel happy. Sometimes sad. We feel angry at times. Loving other times.” Each page has multiple photos of diverse children showing the facial expressions and body language of that emotion. I like the end papers on this book that are filled with feeling words: kind, furious, enthusiastic, perturbed, and many more.
Book series Feelings for Little Children, which includes When You’re Mad and You Know It by Crary or If You’re Angry And You Know It by Kaiser (video). These books can be sung to the tune of If You’re Happy and You Know It, and each gives options for a variety of ways to express that feeling. ” “blow air out,” “shake it out” and “give a shout.”
The book series called Let’s Look at Feelings. Video. It includes books like What I look like when I’m Scared, which shows photos of people looking frightened. It very concretely teaches expressions – “when I am scared, I pull my chin in and frown.” This might be most appropriate for children who really have a hard time intuiting people’s feelings and need this to be very literal, such as autistic children.
The Way I Feel Books books, like When I Feel Sad (video), or Angry (video) talk about some of the reasons someone might feel that way, lets them know it’s OK to feel that way, and that the feeling will pass. They’re great for age 3 – 5.
A Is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet by Boynton. Video. Although I’ve read HUNDREDS of books to my kids, I own only a very few favorites. This is one of my favorites. “A is for Angry Anteater, B is for Bashful Bear… O is for Outraged Opossum.” So fun to read… with feeling! It just teaches words / moods – doesn’t provide info on what to do with your feelings.
There are lots more options, like Today I feel silly by Curtis; The Way I Feel by Cain, My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, and Glad Monster / Sad Monster by Ed Emberley. Find more ideas in this list from Zero to Three. And here are more videos from the Feelings Channel.
I have lots more recommendations for books, including: toddler favorites, “books that sing”, books about science, children’s books about autism, and more. Find all the links at the bottom of my post on Choosing Books for Your Child.
Note: In the list above, the book title is an Amazon affiliate link which will take you to all the info on the book. If you then purchase anything on Amazon, I do get a small referral fee, with no additional cost for you. The “video” links are to YouTube videos where you can see the book and hear it read aloud. Some of these videos were created by people with permission to do so; others may be copyright violations – I encourage you to purchase the books you like best and support their authors and illustrators.