Making Music: How it Benefits Early Learning

When parents attend our parent-child classes with their children, they may think of the songs we sing at circle time as one of the fun and enjoyable parts of class, but they may not realize just how much important learning is going on. When children actively participate in making music (whether that’s a baby bouncing to rhythm, a toddler shaking their bells, a preschooler singing along, or an elementary age child playing an instrument), here’s how they benefit:

Music Skills: Of course, they begin learning musical skills, such as rhythm, varying tempo and pitch, and how to echo back what they hear. They learn to use their singing voice and play instruments.

Auditory Processing: They learn how to listen. Children who have music lessons respond to sounds more quickly, distinguish between sounds, and pay attention to sounds, all of which aids in learning.

Language: When listening to and singing songs, there’s lots of language learning. They learn to hear the rhythm of language, the break between syllables and words, hear and predict rhymes, work on pronunciation, and get exposed to a wide ranging vocabulary – from the water spout the spider climbs up to the pockets full of posey and the fleece on Mary’s lamb. Singing the alphabet song and singing about 5 little ducks who went out one day teach letter and number sequences.

Vestibular Development: With babies and toddlers, when we hold them in our arms while we dance, or hold them in our laps for lap songs, like the Grand Old Duke of York, all that bouncing up and down, swaying side to side, and even flipping upside down helps to develop their vestibular system – the system that helps them to balance and know their position.

Large Motor: When kids dance, clap, swing their arms, roll arms to Wheels on the Bus, shake the shaker or bang the drum, they’re learning large motor movements – new ways of using their bodies.

Small motor: As children learn to use more sophisticated instruments, starting with triangles and rhythm sticks, moving up to keyboards, and then stringed instruments or wind instruments, they develop precise fine motor skills. They can then apply these in lots of other areas of life.

Steady Beat: By the age of 3 or 4, children should know how to keep a beat, but most do not. Steady beat helps with a huge array of physical tasks which are easier and/or more effective with rhythm: walking, dancing, dribbling a ball, rowing a boat, typing on a keyboard, cutting vegetables, jumping rope, cutting with scissors and much more. Also, research shows kids with the ability to keep a steady beat pay attention for longer periods and do better in school.

Keeping Time / Math: Music enhances brain development in areas tied to counting, organization, time, and division of larger notes into smaller notes (i.e. fractions).

Impulse Control: When we take our shakers and we “shake and we shake and we shake and we stop”, kids are learning impulse control and following directions. How do we stop doing something when told to stop, and how do we wait till we’re told it’s time to start again? These are key skills for success at school and life.

Predicting what comes next / pattern recognition: When you sing the same song to your child over and over, they learn to expect what is coming next… “After mom says ‘with a one step, and a two step’ she’s gong to tickle me!” This helps them learn to understand cause / effect, and routines.

Emotional Intelligence: In Brain Rules for Babies, John Medina describes how when a child learns to recognize different musical tones, they also learn to recognize different emotional tones, and can tell more about how others feel. Young babies who were exposed to music classes had improved communication: more likely to point to objects, wave goodbye, smile, and show less distress.

Attachment: Music can foster emotional attachment. Even when babies are still in the womb, music can be a way to make a connection – they will respond to your voice. After birth, your family’s songs start becoming familiar and recognizable, and a part of their safe and secure environment.

Tradition: Music is a unique and powerful way for children to connect to their roots. An African-American spiritual, a Yiddish or Irish lullaby, a Mexican folk song… all introduce a child to the family’s heritage in a way that goes beyond words or pictures.

Routines / Transitions: Familiar songs create a sense of comfort for a child. No matter where you are, you always have access to this same familiar tune. Many parents and teachers learn the value of songs for reinforcing routines (“this is the song we always sing at bedtime”) and signaling that it’s time to transition from one activity to the next (the cleanup song!).

Memory: Research has shown that children who’ve taken music lessons have a better ability to repeat back and to remember what they hear or read. Teaching information in a song form also makes it easier for kids to remember – make up a little song to help them memorize your phone number!

Practice group skills: Sitting at circle time, listening to the teacher, participating when asked, figuring out when they’re supposed to just sit quietly (and learning how to just sit quietly!), starting an activity when all the other children do and stopping when they do are all important steps in school readiness.

IQ and academic success: Research has shown that children who participate in music lessons have higher IQ’s, do better in school, and score better on standardized tests. The more years of music lessons they take, the better they do.

Fun: One of the biggest reasons we have music in our classes is because it is fun! Making music with others gives us all joy. The smiles and giggles in music time delight parents, children, and teachers.

Resources I’ve compiled

Other Resources

  • King County library – videos of librarians singing 100’s of classic children’s rhymes. http://kcls.org/content
  • Jbrary – a YouTube channel featuring children’s librarians singing songs, lap songs, and finger rhymes from library story times: www.youtube.com/user/Jbrary/videos.
  • Nancy Stewart – lyrics and .mp3 audio recordings of lots of traditional songs, including “songs every child should know” http://singwithourkids.com/song-library.htm. Recommended books which include songs, or have rhythmic text that can be sung, to reinforce early literacy skills: http://singwithourkids.com/bookshelf.htm.
  • Let’s Play Music – Over 150 songs, each with lyrics, sheet music, a video of the tune played on a xylophone and motions to go along with the song. www.letsplaykidsmusic.com
  • YouTube has a huge collection of animated videos featuring traditional and new children’s songs, in a wide range of languages. Quality ranges tremendously, and many are inappropriate for children; however, there are some great ones if you search and preview and make your own playlists.

If you would like a printable version of this information to hand out, here’s the Music Benefits PDF.

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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.

Wait for it…

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As a parent educator, I often tell my students: we can’t make our children do something before they’re developmentally ready. We can encourage them, provide opportunities to try a new skill, model behavior, try praise and punishment to motivate them, and create an environment that encourages them to master that skill. But sometimes, we just have to wait for them to be ready.

Sometimes when it comes to raising my own kids, the advice I give to other parents just flies out of my head…

Just 4 weeks ago, I was despairing that my child would ever want to write or draw anything. He is five years old, and was about to start kindergarten. Yet, I could count on one hand the number of times he’d attempted to draw a picture. The only time he would write was if we made him do it to earn something. “Want a chocolate Kiss? OK, write the word kiss and you can have it.” His grandma started paying him a penny for every letter he writes for her, and despite that, he didn’t write much.

This is in stark contrast to my older kids, but especially to my daughter who started drawing and trying to write when she was less than 18 months! And in contrast to one of his buddies, Jelly Bean, who sent him a lovely card covered with flowers and butterflies she had drawn when she was 3 and he was 4 and didn’t want to draw a straight line.

Any time your child seems developmentally behind where you feel he should be, or behind other children, it’s always worth checking into. Look up developmental newsletters and checklists to check whether your expectations are reasonable. It could be you’re expecting too much, too early. If he’s not meeting the exact questions on a checklist, ask yourself whether he is doing other tasks which show that same developmental capability.

For example, with my son, he was generally right on track developmentally. When it came to writing, I knew that the issue wasn’t that he didn’t understand letters, or the power of the written word. He was an early reader – beginning to read words at age 3, and reading chapter books by age 5. The issue wasn’t small motor skills – he could easily manipulate small lego pieces and small pieces in “experiments” he was working on. He just truly had no internal motivation to draw or write or paint.

From time to time I’d suggest it. I would show him the fully stocked cabinet of art supplies, and he would walk away and do something else. He even took an arts enrichment class, called Creative Development Lab for a full year, and managed to never paint or draw a thing.

So, there we were, on the brink of starting kindergarten and wondering if he’d even be willing to write his name.

Then, overnight, for no external reason, he started drawing. And writing. A lot! And talking about how exciting it was that he had his own “art studio” (the art supply cabinet). And producing drawing after drawing. We went to the meet-the-teacher session at kindergarten and she asked him to draw a picture of himself. My husband and I looked at each other with doubt – what would he do? He happily sat down, drew a stick figure drawing (his first!) and wrote his full name next to it. Now, one week into kindergarten, every day he brings home pictures he’s drawn, coloring pages he’s completed (mostly coloring inside of the lines when he chooses to do so), worksheets where he’s traced every letter carefully and well, and craft projects where he’s easily mimicked the teacher’s sample project.

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Over and over, we wondered whether he’d ever be willing to write or draw. But then, when he was ready, he leaped right into the deep end of non-stop creative work. It reminds me of the validity of the advice… sometimes you just have to wait for a child to be developmentally ready to make that leap in skills.

Great Classes for Kids AND Parents: Parent Education & Coop Preschools

Classrooms in the Bellevue College Program

Classrooms in the Bellevue College Program – click for larger view

Are you a parent of a baby, toddler, or preschool age child? Are you looking for:

  • A place where your child can explore toys, do art, hear stories, sing songs, and make friends? (And use up some energy on a cold winter day?)
  • A fun activity to do with your child where s/he learns new skills and you get new ideas?
  • Opportunities to meet other families and build community?
  • Expert advice and research-based information about parenting and child development?
  • Support from professionals and other parents for the challenges of life with a little one?

You can find all these great opportunities in one place!

In the Seattle area, our community colleges sponsor parent education programs, including parent-child programs and cooperative preschools, which are a fabulous resource for families. For children, classes offer hands-on learning, discovery and play. For adults, they offer on-going education on all topics related to parenting, plus connections to other parents.

What is the children’s experience like?

The programs are play-based, because research shows children learn best through hands-on exploration in places where they feel safe and free to explore. Each classroom has several stations around the room, with developmentally appropriate activities to help kids build the skills they need. Children are encouraged to move around and explore at their own pace. In parent-child programs (aka “mommy and me classes”) for babies and toddlers, parents play along with their children. In coop preschools, working parents are assigned to a station. Activities vary by age, but might include:

  • Art activities: play-dough to roll, easels to paint at, markers for learning to write
  • Sensory activities: tubs of water or rice or beans to scoop, pour, stir, and run fingers through
  • Large motor: mats for tumbling, tunnels to crawl through, climbers and slides, balls to throw, dancing and movement games
  • Small motor: blocks to stack, puzzles to assemble, shape sorters to solve, beads to thread, and building toys for construction
  • Imaginary play: dress up zone for trying on new roles, dolls to care for, kitchen for “cooking”
  • Science and nature experiences: seeds to plant, tadpoles to watch, items from nature to explore
  • Snack time: a place to practice social skills and table manners and to discover new foods
stations

click for larger view

Classes also include “circle time” or “music class” where the teacher leads the class in singing songs, dancing, playing musical instruments, and reading stories. This is a chance for children to practice sitting still, listening to a teacher, and participating in a group activity, all essential skills for kindergarten readiness. Academic skill-building (reading, writing, pre-math skills) is integrated into all types of activities.

What makes these children’s programs different from other programs?

Diverse Experiences in One Familiar Setting: Most children’s programs focus on one domain of learning: dance class, art class, story time, music class, or tumbling. These programs do it all. And they do it in a known space where the child feels safe and comfortable. Some of the same toys activities reappear from week to week to provide reassurance and routine, and some new toys and activities rotate in to encourage children to explore and try new things.

Long-Term Relationships: Lots of programs run in short sessions of 4 – 6 classes. Parent ed programs run for the full school year. Seeing the same children week after week allows kids to build friendships.

Close parental involvement: Parents are always welcome in the classroom.

What are they like from the parent perspective: how do they work?

Each program works a bit differently, so check to be sure of the details, but here is the general idea:

Parent-infant Classes and Parent-Toddler Classes: Meet weekly for two hours. Every other week, the parents attend a one hour parent education session. In infant classes (for babies birth to one year old), the baby remains with the parent for parent ed. In toddler classes (for one-year-old and two-year-old toddlers), children are encouraged to play in one room with the children’s teachers and other parents while their parent attends parent ed.

Staffing and Parents’ Role: Each class is staffed by a parent educator and one or two children’s teachers. Parents provide snacks for the class on a rotating basis. Each family may bring snacks 1 – 3 times a year. Parents may also be asked to help tidy up the toys at the end of the class.

Cooperative Preschools:Three-year-olds may attend 2 or 3 days a week, four-year-olds attend 3 or 4 days a week. Typically, the parent stays with the child and works in the classroom one day per week, and the other days are “drop-off” preschool for that family. Classes may be 2 – 3 hours long.

Staffing: There is a preschool teacher, trained in early childhood education, who is responsible for planning and coordinating the children’s activities, and leading group times. A parent educator observes / consults during some class sessions, and offers a monthly parent education session plus one-on-one expert parenting advice.

Parents contribute by working in the classroom once a week. They also help with the running of the school by: providing snacks, fundraising support, helping with end-of-year cleanings, serving on the board (chair, treasurer, secretary, etc.), or as class photographer, play-dough maker, etc.

Length of program: Most classes (parent-child and coops) meet for the full school year – September through May. [Note: you may be able to enroll mid-year, if there are spaces available. Check with the programs to find out.] Some have summer programs.

What do Programs Cost?

For some programs, you pay by the month, some by the quarter, some by the year. If you look at the cost for a quarter (11 weeks) or year (33 weeks), it may look like a lot compared to other children’s activities in the community. So, to compare apples to apples, it’s best to look at it as cost-per-hour. Infant and toddler groups at our local community colleges range from $7.50 – 11.50 per hour. For comparison’s sake, here’s what a sample of other programs cost on an hourly basis:

  • Big motor activities: Gymboree $30, Gymnastics East $20, Northwest Aerials $13
  • Parent education and support: Mommy Matters $22 plus child care costs. Baby Peppers $10.
  • Art programs: Kidsquest $17 per hour. Kirkland Parks $13. Kirkland Arts Center $10.
  • Music programs: Kindermusik $22, Kirkland Parks $11. Bellevue Parks $21.

Cooperative preschools in these programs range from $7.50 – 10.00 an hour. For comparison sake:

  • Bellevue public schools, $10 per hour. Bellevue Boys & Girls Club $10. Bellevue Christian School $11. Bellevue Montessori $18. Jewish Day School $19. Villa Academy $18. Seattle Waldorf $22. Cedar Crest $24.
  • Note: most preschools have an adult/child ratio ranging from 1:6 – 1:9. At a coop, the ratio may be 1:3 or 1:4.

All the parent education programs and cooperative preschools offer scholarships to lower income families which can further reduce the cost.

What makes these programs different from other programs?

College credit and student privileges: Parent education programs are college classes, and parents receive college credit for attending. They can also receive student ID cards, which depending on the school may give access to services such as fitness center or gym access. They may also allow you to get student discounts at a wide variety of local and online businesses.

Parent Education: Experienced professional educators offer information that is current and research-based but also relevant to the day-to-day reality of parenting little ones. Topics are tailored to the age and needs of the families, but may include: daily routines, discipline, child development, early learning, nutrition, potty training, emotional intelligence, kindergarten readiness, and self-care for parents.

Individualized Advice: Parent educators and children’s teachers have the opportunity to get to know each child as an individual, and also get to know parents well. This allows them to answer questions in a highly personalized way. They can also refer on for additional services when needed.

Parent Involvement: Participating in your child’s classroom from day one encourages you to think of yourself as an active participant in your child’s learning and an advocate for them in future classrooms. You’ll know the other children and can help your child learn about them. You’ll know what happened in class, so you can later reinforce the learning. Seeing classroom activities may give you new ideas for what you can do at home to enhance your child’s development. Having the opportunity to observe other children each week helps give you a deeper understanding of child development, and seeing parents respond to their children shows you options for parenting style.

Peer Support and Long-Term Relationships: Parents meet with other parents over the course of many months, which allows for long-term connections. Working together on projects strengthens those bonds, as does the peer support gained when parents discuss and share the joys and challenges of caring for kids.

Programs offer classes for families with children from birth through age 5, so instead of having to search for new classes every month or every year, you always know where you can find a fun and educational class for you and your child.

Learn More about Programs Near You and Register Now!

Note: Classes for each school year start in September but it is best to register in spring or summer, because they do fill up!

Program Name / Website Locations * Ages Served / Programs
Bellevue College
www.bellevuecollege.edu/parented/
Bellevue, Carnation, Issaquah, Mercer Island, Renton, Sammamish, Snoqualmie Birth to 7: Parent-Child (day & eve), Coops, Inventors’ Lab (formerly Dad & Me), Art & Science Enrichment. Summer
Edmonds Community College
www.edcc.edu/pared/
Edmonds, Lake Stevens, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mill Creek, Snohomish Birth to 5: Parent-Child, Coop Preschool, Summer
Green River CC. Limited info available on their website: www.greenriver.edu/academics/areas-of-study/details/parent-child-education.htm. Auburn area, birth to age 6. Learn more by searching for: Benson Hill Coop in Kent, Tahoma Coop in Maple Valley, Covington Coop, and Darcy Read in Des Moines.
Lake WA Institute of Technologywww.lwtech.edu/parented Bothell, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville Birth to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool
North Seattle Community Collegehttp://coops.northseattle.edu/ 12 sites in Seattle, from north of ship canal to NE 145th. Vashon. Birth to 5: Parent-Child (day and evening), Coop Preschool
Seattle Central Community College.
Links to coop websites: www.itc210.cleobrim.com/about/resources/off-campus-coops/
7 sites in Seattle: Capitol Hill, Mt. Baker, Madison Pk, Rainier Val, Queen Anne One to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool; Dad’s, Summer
Shoreline Community Collegewww.shoreline.edu/parenting-education/ Shoreline, Bothell, Inglemoor (Kirkland), Woodinville Birth to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool, summer, evening
South Seattle Community College https://sites.google.com/a/southseattle.edu/homelife/ or http://westseattlepreschools.org/ SCCC campus, Admiral, Alki, Arbor Heights, Lincoln Park Birth to 5 yrs: Parent-Child and Coop Preschool, Spanish

*Not all ages served at all sites. For example, most programs only have infant classes at one site.

Would you like to print this information for your reference or to share with a friend? Get the PDF here.

If you want more information right now about parenting, look in the “categories” section on the right hand column and click through to any topic that interests you (for example, you can read my posts about tantrums or potty training or choosing a preschool or find lyrics to songs your child will love.) To receive updates as I publish new articles, go to the right hand column and click on “like on Facebook.”

Note: this is an update of a post from 2014

A book about balancing screen time and outdoor time

I wanted to write about the book Dot. by Zuckerberg and Berger. It’s an intriguing book that reviewers on Amazon either love or hate, and it inspires debate about the place of screen time in children’s lives.

First, an overview of the book. This is a picture book for 3 – 6 year olds, with appealing illustrations, a charming main character (6 or 7 years old?), and an engaging story line.

It begins with Dot using her laptop and tablet – “She knows how to tap… to touch… to tweet… and to tag.” We also see her using a cell phone and Skype / FaceTime to talk and talk and talk. She is bright, happy, and enjoying her time with her tech. (Though her dog is looking pretty disappointed in this sedentary, indoor lifestyle.)

But then Dot succumbs to a moment of exhausted ennui.

Mom says “Go outside… time to recharge!” Dot sleepwalks out the door.

But then, outside, she smiles. She remembers… “to tap… to touch…. to tweet… to tag… to talk and talk and talk.” (This time the illustrations show her tap dancing, touching a sunflower, tweeting like the birds in the tree, tagging friends in a game, and talking while walking in the fields, always smiling and always accompanied by friends.)

She is bright, happy, and enjoying her time outside with friends.

But she hasn’t completely abandoned technology – on the last page, she uses her phone to snap a photo of a friend, and another friend is using a tablet, as they swing, and paint, and play outside with their dogs.

The negative reviews

Some reviewers are dumb-founded that a child would even use technology in this way (leaving me to wonder whether they’re parents themselves and if so, if their kids are now middle aged adults… My 22 year old was using a mouse and a desktop computer to play games at the age of three – definitely a digital native. My 5 year old learned how to swipe to the next photo on my phone when he was 8 or 9 months old. Not just a digital native – totally immersed in the mobile technology world, like most children his age. (Read here about how much screen time children have in the U.S.)

Multiple negative reviews talk about the unlimited screen time and the lack of parental supervision in the book. “I don’t know any 6 year old who has such free reign with so many tech devices and, even worse, goes unsupervised. Is this really what our world has come to? I think not, and the idea of suggesting something so absurd is upsetting to me.” It is true that we don’t SEE a parent in the book. But this is OFTEN the case with children’s books: as one commenter said “Where are Harold’s parents, for that matter, and why does the poor child have only a purple crayon? How could those Seuss children’s mother have left them home alone for the whole day, and didn’t she teach them NOT to open the door to strangers?” But it is the mother who intervenes and sends the child outdoors to play. So, clearly there is supervision and there are screen time limits.

And of course, other reviewers were appalled that the child was allowed any screen time, citing concerns about the harms of radiation from cell phones, obesity, online stalking, adult websites, and more. (You can read my summary about benefits and risks of screen time here.)  “As parents, our job is to shield young children from information technology in the early years of life, not encourage it. Just where does Dot get her tech devices? She cannot afford them on her own, so her parent must be purchasing them for her. This sets the wrong precedent about our role as parents of young children: Parents as addiction enablers, not protectors.”

Other reviewers note that the character tweets and shares (presumably on Facebook) which are not typically activities that a 6 year old girl (like our protagonist) would do, and certainly not what a 3 – 5 year old (like our audience) would do. I was willing to let this slide, because of how they play with the words “tweet” and “share” later on in a different context.

There’s others who feel like it’s an advertisement for technology – the author, Randi Zuckerberg is the sister of Facebook founder Mark Z.

Positive Reviews:

My 3 year-old is enjoying this book. Tonight she says “Go outside Dot!” and that’s the message that she’s getting. Technology is fun but after a while you need to go outside.

“The “Dot.” character is extremely loveable and its easy to relate to her journey as she struggles with the differing forces in today’s society — the pull of technology versus being outside in nature and developing a sense of community.”

“I ordered this book to read as the technology facilitator for a k-5 school. Kids love it…Opens the floor for good conversation.”

I bought this book for my three-year-old son and he absolutely loves it. He knew how to ‘swipe’ on an iPad shortly after turning one. I love the overall message of the story, as technology is a big part of our culture and it is not going away. This book reminds us while technology is exciting and beneficial to our daily lives, so is enjoying friends, family and the outdoors. As we move into the future I want my son to always remember the importance of this balance, and I think this story represents that message well.

“I am a pediatrician in practice for 20yrs and really like that it brings up the importance of getting outside & playing. Since it is a reality that children are on electronics starting from a young age, the idea that what they learn on the computer can be made fun & relate to the outside world is a great concept. Its an easy way for parents & kids to have a simple conversation about the importance of balance in their life starting from a young age.”

My thoughts

This is a cute little book. I’m not saying “wow, one of the best books I’ve ever read.” But it is a nice read, and a good basic summary of the need to find a balance between technology and outdoor / active / social play. It’s a good discussion starter.

Some parents choose to strictly limit their children’s exposure to screens. If you’re a screen-free family (or very limited screen use), this is not the book for you.

But if you are a family who uses a lot of technology, and tries to balance it with other opportunities, this could be a good book to share with your children about the joys of other types of play.

You can check out my collection of Tips for Making Screen Time Work for Your Family.

Slowing Down to Toddler Speed

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Today at the end of year picnic for my toddler class, I had a chance to spend some lovely moments hanging out with some little ones (1.8 – 2.5 year olds) that I’ve known for five months now.

It’s such a delight to slow down to toddler speed and sit down and BE with children. I saw one crouched down on her knees and peering closely at something, so I sat next to her, and we watched one tiny little bug until it hopped away. Then we peered around till we found an itty bitty ant, and watched it, then another bug and another bug. We just watched. I talked a little, she didn’t talk at all, but we were clearly both engaged in the moment.

Another child had something clasped tightly in his hands. He’d occasionally open them a bit, peek in, and clasp them tight again. I asked him to show me what he had, and he let me take a quick peek at the pebbles he’d collected before holding them close again. But then he and I shared a secret, so from time to time, he’d bring them by to show to me, and he let me know when he’d decided to set them down.

Then I was at the sandbox. I found a star-shaped sand mold I started to fill with sand. Which of course caught one of the children’s attention, so he took the star out of my hand. There was no need to scold him for “taking something”. I just said “oh, that star is interesting. While you play with that, I’ll use this castle mold.” I packed it with sand. Then I caught his attention and flipped it upside down to make a sand castle. When I lifted off the mold, he was delighted by the sand castle. So delighted that he patted it gently till it was destroyed.  Then he wanted to make his own. But the part of my actions that had made an impression on him was not packing the castle mold with sand… he’d been ignoring that part. He remembered when the castle was already flipped onto the sand, and I was carefully lifting the mold up to revel the castle. So, he took the castle mold, set it on the sand, and lifted it up to reveal… nothing but the sand that was there before… and an outline of the castle mold. He tested it over and over again before giving it back to me to do the magic again. As I demonstrated it again, he still just didn’t get it… that will come in time. But in the moment, he just enjoyed the exploration.

Then one child had a whiffle ball, and figured out he could put rocks in through the holes. A simple spontaneous shape sorter. Two other children started playing too, all working on putting rocks in through the holes. The inventor soon wandered away, but I sat with the other two for several minutes as we all put rocks in holes. Although 99% of the rocks around us were small enough to fit, one of the children had a magic talent for finding the rocks that were too big to fit. So I would offer smaller rocks in trade. Then we figured out that if you gently shook the ball, all the rocks would fall out. It was just a simple, quiet little game, as we all settled in and explored together. Simple but sweet.

Having all these quiet moments with children who used to be hesitant to interact with me and who have now welcomed me it was a lovely way to finish my year of teaching all these little people.

Specialty Preschools

Some preschools have a special focus, such as: religion, language learning, sports, arts, or science. Sometimes this is a special focus that is very important to the family, and they’re willing to drive long distances to get their child exposure to this special focus. But they also want to be sure that their child isn’t missing out on anything while getting this focus.

Sometimes parents choose a preschool due to its proximity to their home or work, and that preschool happens to have a specialty focus… For example, And I know a family who sends their child to a German immersion preschool – they don’t speak German themselves, but it’s a great preschool that’s a very short walk from their house and they’re happy to have their child exposed to another language. It’s a good match for them… But, I also know other families who say “There’s this preschool across the street from my house, but they’re Christian, and we’re not really religious – will it be a good match?”

The questions to ask are:

  • How much of the day is spent on that special focus?
  • Does that schedule also allow for all the other activities we typically expect in a preschool – do they have art time, circle time, outdoor play, and so on? (In a language immersion school, they get all this just as they would elsewhere, because the language learning is just woven into it all.)
  • If there is a limited set of activities offered at the preschool, how do you make sure your child gets a well-rounded set of the essential skills of the preschool years? (We can often “supplement” a limited preschool experience with other classes, or with the things that we do with our child at home, in non-school hours.
  • Who are the other children your child will meet there? Will there be good options for playmates? (For example, if you don’t speak the language taught, but most of the parents do, will you feel comfortable spending time with these families at birthday parties and playdates. Or, if you’re driving a long ways for class, other parents may be too, so you might not be meeting any “neighbor kids.”)
  • What are your goals for having your child experience that special focus? And will the way that preschool teaches that topic meet your goals?

For more information, see:

My experience with specialty preschool:

I offer my experience here not as “here’s how YOU should do things” advice, but more to illustrate one parent’s decision-making process for one particular family.

My oldest child attended coop preschool two days a week. She was up to having lots more structured learning in her week’s schedule, and I also wanted some hours where I could just focus on my second child. So, we were open to finding a drop-off preschool option for a couple days a week. Then we discovered there was a theatre preschool! This was the perfect match for this child, who LOVED stories, and loved watching plays and movies, and loved pretend play. (Note: the preschool was run by Studio East in Kirkland – they are not currently offering a preschool option, but they do offer fabulous weekly enrichment classes for ages 4 – 6.)

In this preschool, they managed to roll in most of they typical preschool activities under the theatre theme. For example, when they were talking about Midsummer Night’s Dream, the art projects were making donkey ears and fairy wings. They had pre-academic practice with reading words written on the board with names of characters. They had big motor play of learning different walks, learning prat-falls, learning some basics of stage combat. They had small motor practice with puzzles and such. Plus, they also had the additional challenges of learning a story, memorizing lines, practicing entrances and exits, and learning a whole lot of impulse control in having to wait to enter, wait to deliver their lines, and so on. I thought it was a fabulous program.

They did not have outside time, so I made sure my child got outside time before or after class. They didn’t have a lot of free play and exploration time, but my child got plenty of that in non-class hours and at her coop preschool, so I really felt like all of her preschool learning needs were met through this combination of coop and specialty school.