Weapon Play

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In our Family Inventors class one week, we had giant tinker toys for the kids to play with. A group of boys designed and built three identical “blasters”. From a tinkering / creativity perspective, I was impressed at how they had worked together to create and replicate something cool.

But once a kid builds a gun, what usually comes next? Gun play.

They were pretending to shoot them at each other, and some kids were having fun, but one child was upset about being shot at. Since weapon play only comes up about once a year in my class, I had to decide in that moment how to respond. We have two simple rules in class:

1. “Be creative, not destructive” or in simpler terms, “Make, don’t break.”

2. “It’s never OK to hurt anyone.”

They had made something creative, but they were using it in a way that was hurting someone. Rather than asking them to take apart their new inventions, I decided to

  1. Set limits – “Our friend is not having fun. It’s not OK to pretend to shoot at him if it makes him sad.”
  2. Re-direct.  I suggested target shooting. I went to draw a target on the white board, but my husband had the even better idea of drawing asteroids on the white board that the kids would “blast apart” before they could crash into the earth. He would draw, erase, re-draw and so on as they blasted asteroids to save our planet.

It was a very fun game. And it re-framed their blasters. Instead of being weapons to (pretend to) hurt other people with, they were tools used to (pretend to) destroy dangerous objects in the distance before those objects could hurt people.

I also:

3. Followed up with the parents in the class to encourage them to think about how they wanted to speak to their kids about guns and weapon play at home.

This situation encouraged me to do some more thinking and more research into the topic. Although with all research, you can find studies to support either side of a topic, it was interesting to see what had been written.

Does aggressive play and weapon play increase actual aggression?

Parents worry that if young children play aggressively or pretend to use weapons, that they will become violent adults. The research shows that just the opposite may be true.

Researchers Hart and Tannock say “If playful aggression is supported, it is highly beneficial to child development. The act of pretending to be aggressive is not equivalent to being aggressive. Role reversal, cooperation, voluntary engagement, chasing and fleeing, restrained physical contact, smiling and laughing are common characteristics of playful aggression.” (Young Children’s Play Fighting and Use of War Toys.)

In one study, researchers found that children who displayed a lot of aggressive behavior in their pretend play were less aggressive in the classroom. The pretend play allowed them to work through some ideas so they did not have to bring them in to their real interactions. Other researchers argue that: “omission of aggressive play in early childhood programmes fosters the underdevelopment of social, emotional, physical, cognitive and communicative abilities in young children.” An example of this is when kids are engaged in rough and tumble play – say wrestling. If they accidentally hurt a friend while playing, they realize the impact of their actions, and we work them through the empathy and apology, and work on healing the relationship – it gives an opportunity we might not have had if wrestling was banned.

Several researchers and authors, including Stuart Brown, Frost and Jacobs, Peter Gray, and Charlie Hoehn have noted that many violent criminals have a history of being deprived of free-play opportunities as kids. Brown’s studies of homicidal males found that being deprived of play as children was strongly associated with violent criminal activity.  (Source)

So, we know that kids need to have lots of opportunities for free play to learn a wide variety of social and emotional skills. Kids, in my experience, naturally explore weapon play and aggressive scenarios in pretend play, but it appears that doing so may reduce the likelihood they’ll be violent and aggressive for real. So, given that, how do we, as parents or teachers (who are justifiably distressed by the idea of real gun violence in our country) find an approach to weapon play that feels right to us?

Sometimes we start by understanding the kids’ perspective.

What makes gun play so fascinating? Why are kids so interested in it?

  • Guns and other weapons are perceived as powerful. Kids often feel powerless, so the idea of power is intoxicating.
  • One way that children learn about and make sense of adult experiences is to play at them. So, if they watched a cooking show, they might play at cooking. If they watch a show with guns in it, they’ll want to play with guns.
  • Guns are a way to vanquish bad guys, or monsters. (Note: some children may use magic wands or pixie dust to accomplish the same goal. In both cases, it’s about vanquishing a foe.)

Given all these motivations toward weapon play, it can be hard to successfully ban it. Often attempts to ban it make it even more appealing as the “forbidden fruit.” So, how do we work with it?

Ways to Manage Gun Play:

Ban It: This is a choice many make. I don’t ban it, but if I sense play is moving in that direction, I often provide a distraction to move play in a different direction.

Re-Direct: You can try white board target shooting like we did, or if children are shooting  actual missiles (like Nerf guns) you can set up empty cans or some other object for them to try to hit and knock over. Or think about what type of energy the guns might shoot out – Teacher Tom tells a story of children firing “love shooters” at each other.

Some parents make the rule that you can’t shoot your gun at people, only at imaginary bad guys. (I’m not a fan of this one, because I don’t like the us/them mentality that can be common in many political circles, where people who are different are assumed to be “bad guys.” But, that’s a whole other discussion….)

Talk about the power of other options Talk to children about other ways to defeat (or reform or escape) from “bad guys” or other creatures that frighten them. Absolutely at other times in my class, I talk about all sorts of other options. I just find children are much more open to hear that in other contexts than when they are hearing it as the-words-the-teacher-says-when-she-stops-us-from-playing-what-we-wanted-to-play.

Set Limits: It’s fine to limit the times and places where weapon play is allowed. Maybe it’s an outdoor only thing, or only with one particular set of friends, not at school.

If the play is making you feel uncomfortable, you can say that. “I know you guys are playing, but it made me feel sad when you said you wanted to hurt your brother. So, I want you to move to a different game.”

Ask the kids to help make the rules: In a neighborhood squirt gun battle, not everyone wanted to play. I called the kids over and asked them what they thought fair rules were. One said “Only shoot at people who are playing.” I said “How do you know if they’re playing?” “If they have a squirt gun, you can shoot them.” We all agreed that seemed fair. One child had a smart phone in his hand, and said “don’t shoot people with phones!” I had my laptop and agreed “no shooting anyone who is working with electronics, because the water would ruin them.”

That was all the rules we needed for a while, till one child blasted another in the face with a super soaker. The soaked child was upset. New rule: no shooting in the face. Then a car pulled up and kids asked if they could shoot it, and we asked the driver, who agreed. We talked about how we know cars get wet all the time and it doesn’t hurt them, so generalized our rules to say that it was fine to squirt water at any car, but FIRST they needed to make sure all the windows were rolled up so no water could get inside.

Pay attention to other’s feelings: It’s also important to teach kids to notice the impact of their play on others. How do they know if someone else wants to play the shooting game or would rather not participate? (Encourage them to use words to ask, listen to words, notice body language, etc.)

Check In: When kids are engaged in weapon play, occasionally check in and ask: “Are you all having fun? Is anyone feeling worried or scared?” If anyone feels unsafe, the game needs to change. Encourage them to self-initiate occasional check-ins with friends to be sure everyone is having fun.

Think about the toys you buy. Try  to find open ended toys that can be played with in a wide variety of ways. They will, of course, sometimes use open-ended toys to create weapons (like tinker toy blasters, or sticks as swords), but at least they are open to other types of play.

If you do buy toy weapons, you may consider choosing ones that look nothing like a real weapon. Also, do safety checks: make sure toy weapons can’t cause real harm.

Consider choosing toys that are “powerful” but don’t tie into violence: If you choose action figures of a superhero or soldier or someone who always does battle, your child is likely to play at battles with it. Think instead about how a child plays with the action figures from “Paw Patrol” who have adventures as they rescue people. Or Spider-Man who swoops in to save people by carrying them away, and webs the bad guy to the wall for the police to pick up later.

Reduce exposure to media violence. And talk about media violence with your child in ways that reinforce your family’s values. (Common Sense Media is a great resource.)

Play Fighting vs. Intent to Harm

It is important to differentiate between play fighting and serious fighting. Play fighting has no intent to harm and is enjoyed by all participants. Even when kids are truly play fighting, it’s a good idea to closely monitor it, as sometimes a child will accidentally hurt another and the harmed child may strike out in real physical anger as a response.

Serious fighting is motivated by anger and a desire to harm, and must be handled with appropriate discipline tools.

Note: If a child has a pattern of purposely hurting other children, and either seems to enjoy that, or shows no empathy or remorse, that is concerning. and you may want to consult with a professional about the situation.

Teaching Empathy and Emotional Literacy

What I have described here on how I handle weapon play is a small portion of all the things I work to teach my children and my students. This conversation takes place in a much broader context, where we work a lot on kindness, empathy, and mutual respect, and where we actively teach emotional literacy skills. These are all essential to raising children to be good, caring adults.

Talk to your children about real guns

Children do need to know about real guns. We need to talk about them. This article in Slate does a fabulous job of addressing this topic.

We also have to understand that research shows that no matter how many times we tell a child not to touch a real gun, if they see one they are likely to touch it. So, we also need to talk with other adults about how to keep real guns away from our kids. Also, check out advice from Seattle Children’s Hospital about gun safety: http://www.seattlechildrens.org/Kids-Health/Parents/First-Aid-and-Safety/Home-Sweet-Home/Gun-Safety/.

Your mileage may vary

What I have written here comes from my own experience, and I need to address the privilege of my experience. As a white parent / teacher in an upper middle class, suburban, politically liberal city, real gun violence is not present in the day to day lives of my children or my students. What I feel is appropriate to my setting may or may not be appropriate to yours.

What I write here is about play and young children. As children get older, we will talk more to them about the real harms of real weapons, and more about the impacts of their actions on others. There is much more to consider on this topic as they age.

In my own experience. I grew up in Wyoming in the 60’s and 70’s. We played with cap guns, BB guns, squirt guns, toy bow and arrows, toy swords. I loved shooting all these things at siblings and friends! Yet, as an adult, I am an extreme pacifist. I have never touched an actual gun, by conscious choice, and I advocate for strict gun control laws. My siblings and childhood friends who were raised in the same environment vary in their choices: some keep guns in the home for self-defense, some own rifles for hunting, or enjoy target shooting. Others, like me, avoid guns. But none of my family or friends are aggressors – there are no cases of gun violence or gun accidents among us.

But what’s true for my family and friends was not universally true. When I was in junior high and high school, I lost 3 or 4 classmates to guns (suicides or accidental shootings), and had a classmate at my high school who had shot and killed his abusive father.

Two of my children are now adults. When they were young, I followed the guidelines I share here about weapon play. As they got older, we talked about guns and violence. I found that having had a well-thought out, open discussion about weapon play was a first step to meaningful conversations as they got older. For me, as a parent and teacher, this works better than trying to avoid the topic by banning weapon play.

Read more on this topic:

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Gift Idea: Personalized Memory Game

Alphabet Memory Game

On Shutterfly, you can make a personalized set of cards for a Memory Game. (This is the game where you lay out several cards on the table face down, and then children turn over one to show the photo, then turn over a second. If they match, the child keeps both cards. If not, they turn them back face down, and it’s the next person’s turn.)

This is actually one of my favorite games for teaching systematic problem solving! (Not only do you have to remember things well, but the best player has a system that helps with memory, such as always starting in the top left, and working your way across – which helps you remember where you last saw that photo of the dog when you flip up its match.) I think every kid should have play the game, and Shutterfly makes it possible for you to choose photos that have the most meaning for your child for less than $20… about the same it would cost to buy a commercial Matching Game.

For the holidays, I’ll be making a set for my mom (she has Alzheimers and fine motor challenges, so the game offers some physical rehab potential as well as a memory refresher about the faces and names of her loved ones). For my son, who is about to turn seven, I will make two sets with matching backs, so that he has a total of 48 cards. That way, when we start playing the memory game with him, we can start with just 4 to 6 pairs and as he gets better, we can make it more challenging by adding up to 24 pairs!

Read on for the full tutorial:

How to Make Your Set:

  1. Go to Shutterfly. (I’d love it if you use this link: bcparents.shutterflystorefront.com. If you start there, it’s the same cost for you, but Shutterfly will donate 13% of your order to the scholarship program for Bellevue College Parent Education Program, which offers over 50 classes for families with children from birth to age seven.)
  2. Under the tab “Gifts”, under the category “Gifts for Kids”, you’ll see “Memory Games.” Click on that.
  3. Now, choose the design you like best, and click on that.
  4. Choose whether you want matte or glossy, then click on “Personalize.”
  5. Click on each card to customize. You’ll upload the photo you want, then edit as you want. You will design 12 cards. They will print two copies of each for 24 total.
  6. In choosing photos of people, a headshot of a single person will work better than full body shots, or group photos, just because the final cards are just 3 x 3 inches, so the final image is fairly small, especially if you chose a design with a big border.
  7. When you’re done with the design, place your order!

Shutterfly also has other great products: One year, we made a wall calendar for both sets of grandparents featuring lots of artwork by our kids. Another year, we made an 8×8 photo book that was a personalized alphabet book. The “A” page had a picture of Uncle Alan, our friend Adam, our child holding an apple, and so on.

Looking for more holiday gift ideas? Click here for thoughts on choosing the best toys for your child.

Seattle’s ReCreative Store

In the Greenwood neighborhood of North Seattle, you’ll find a unique store called ReCreative – a Creative Reuse Store and Community Arts Center. Community members and local businesses donate clean and usable art, craft, school, and office supplies that are re-sold to the public. This diverts materials headed for landfills, and re-distributes them to people who can use them for education, art, and inspiration. They are a great resource for preschool teachers, camp counselors, aftercare programs, parents, and anyone who likes to do art or make stuff.

They offer adult art classes (painting, knitting, art journalling), kids’ art classes (paint playground for ages 1 – 5, kids studio for age 5 – 7, early release Wednesdays for grade 2 – 5, crochet critters for ages 8 – 12, and family woodworking), and camps during summer and school breaks. They also offer a creative playspace which is open to kids and parents every afternoon, and parents’ night out for 4 – 12 year olds, and children’s parties.  Learn more on their website.

Their inventory is ever-changing, but here’s what we found on 8/23/17 – click on any picture for a larger image.

Yarn, Fabric and Sewing Notions

       

Paper of all sorts

   

Miscellaneous re-useables: Corks, bottle caps, lids, straws, wood bits

   

Photo frames and albums, stencils and stickers, photos, beads and jewelry supplies

   

Paint, markers, crayons, pens and pencils

  

Rubber stamps, office supplies, leather bits
  

Shells, bottles and jars (although everything else is cheap, I think 50 cents for jars is a bit high), tile samples and laminate samples

  

There’s more… I got pictures of about 70% of what I saw.

As you can see at the top of the post, I bought a little notebook, some index cards, and LOTS of markers… my total (minus the 25 cent hair clip my son wanted) was $1.35!

To be fair – I tested the markers, and although there were no dead markers, five of them are on the verge of drying up. (That’s fine – we’ll use those for DIY liquid watercolor paints… learn how here.) But over 40 markers that work great for under a $1.00 is still a great deal.

If you’re local, check out Seattle ReCreative and let us know what you think in the comments. If you’re not local, do you have anything like this in your community? Let my other readers know!

Summer Movies 2017

Whether you’re looking for outdoor movies to enjoy those warm summer evenings, or indoor movies for those hot summer mornings when you really just need some A/C, or a drive-in movie, here are some options in the Seattle area for summer 2017.

Kids’ Summer Movie Clubs

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

Outdoor Movies

Note: all outdoor movies start around “dusk”. This being the Pacific Northwest, that usually means around 9 – 9:30 pm in July and 8:30 – 9 in August, so outdoor movies aren’t compatible with early bedtimes. Get some handy tips / etiquette advice for outdoor movies here and here.

If you want one page that has all the movie listings all in one place, go to https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2017/6/9/seattle-summer-outdoor-movie-guide-2017

Tuesdays

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

Wednesdays:

Movies at Marymoor in Redmond. Wednesdays, 7/5 – 8/23. Some weeks are kid movies, some are teen/adult movies – check schedule. $5 per person, $5 to park. Live entertainment, trivia, food trucks, vendors. www.epiceap.com/movies-at-marymoor/

Thursdays:

Fridays:

Saturdays:

More options: Fridays at Auburn’s Summer Sounds; Fridays at Shilshole Bay Marina; Saturday teen movies at Three Dollar Bill, Cal Anderson Park, Capital Hill.

Drive-Ins

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

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

Summer Movie Guide and Parental Guides to Media

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

Kids in Mind also offers film reviews which rate, on a scale of 1 – 10, the level of sex/nudity, violence/gore, profanity and substance use in a movie. They also give detailed descriptions of each incident they counted, for parents to consider (and sometimes, at least for me, to laugh at…). For example, for the Captain Underpants movie, under violence and gore, these situations are described: “Children run around in a frenzy after a man pours sugar on their heads. Toilet paper rolls are launched and one roll hits a man… Flashbacks to pranks pulled on teachers include water fountains spraying in their faces, paint splattered on them, among others. A man falls into a dunk tank and is sprayed with water guns at a carnival. Thunder claps sound and lightning flashes when children go into school on a Saturday.”

Read more: http://www.kidsinmind.com/c/captainunderpantsthefirstepicmovie.htm#ixzz4jpOR1j1t
TERMS OF USE: Our reviews are copyrighted. Copy, save, print, email and share content, but publishing our reviews on other websites is both illegal and immoral.
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives

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

If you have kids age birth to 7, check out info about fabulous classes for them that include parent education for you, available at all local community colleges during the school year – register now before they fill up!!

The New KidsQuest Children’s Museum

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

Climbing Sculpture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Then it was on to….

The Water Zone.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

On The Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s head upstairs…

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

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

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

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Cityscape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What was missing

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

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

Summary and Tips for Your Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other fun local activities with little ones

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

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

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

Winter Fun with Little Ones

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[Note: a similar article by me was published on Red Tricyle. This one includes links to lots of my posts with more details on every one of the ideas.)

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

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

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

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

Teaching Kids about Northwest Native Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your hikes!