Earthquake Preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What NOT to do:

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

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

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

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

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Top Ten Posts of 2016

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

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

Computer Skills and Kindergarten Readiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Fun with Little Ones

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

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

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

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

Teaching Kids about Northwest Native Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your hikes!

Why We Walk to School

zozowalk-to-school-posterWe live in a safe, clean, suburban neighborhood, three-quarter’s of a mile from the school where my son attends kindergarten. We walk him to and from school almost every day. I wouldn’t think this would surprise anyone. Yet, I’ve had people stop to offer me rides home, then be surprised when I say we choose to walk. I’ve had people assume we must not own a car, or are not able to drive. But no, we choose to walk.

And in the summer, we walk to swim lessons, the park, the library, and out to lunch.

Here’s why we walk [Note: I’ve also made a handout with summaries of this information, called “The Benefits of Walking Your Child to School.”]

For my son:

  • Walking to school can help my son do better in school.
    • Exercise: Kids who exercise pay better attention in school, are less moody, and have better impulse control. (Source, another source, another and another, and a final one for good measure)
    • Time in nature: Spending time outside and connecting to the natural world improves academic performance, ability to concentrate in the classroom, and improves self control. (Source, source, and more info on the benefits of nature.)
    • My son is a very active, squirrelly kid who struggles with impulse control, so I really think that our daily walk is an essential part of his success at school.
  • On our walk, there’s plenty of learning opportunities that don’t happen at school:
    • Nature: Nature provides an always-changing experience on our walks…. and we have time to stop and observe, ask questions, and learn. Yesterday, we looked at these pinecone-like seed pods (I don’t know the name of the plant), which over the past few weeks have been falling to the ground, and then slowly, gradually opening up to reveal bright red berries – we talked about how those berries probably appeal to birds who eat them, fly away, and poop them out, propagating that species of plant. Today, we found a bird leg… just the leg, which led to a conversation about what might have eaten the rest of the bird.
    • Science and Engineering: A few months ago, we got to watch the progress of digging a trench and installing drains and irrigation. Recently, we’ve seen them cut down a large tree (and we got to see the rotted out core, which showed why they’d cut it), then break up the stump, and haul it away. A new development of town homes has provided an on-going experience of the construction industry.
    • Traffic rules and navigation: We get lots of practice at looking both ways before you cross the street – and knowing what you’re looking for and making judgments about whether it’s safe to cross. He’s learned the names of all the streets, and learned about addresses, alternate routes, bus stops, parking rules, turn signals, and more.
  • Teaching a lifelong habit of walking instead of driving: Amongst children 5 – 15, 15% of their total trips are walking. As they get older, it’s 7 – 9%. Source  The more we turn to driving as our default mode, the more our children will do the same. We choose, instead, to role model deciding to walk whenever possible.
  • Social / Independence Benefits: For now, we get a chance to interact some with the (few) other families that walk back and forth to school along our route. Some of the older kids in the neighborhood have a “walking bus” where a group of them walk home together. This gives them a chance to connect with and socialize with these other kids, and also helps them build skills at independently navigating their world.
  • Exercise: He also gets all the health benefits of walking, as described below, plus a reduced risk of obesity.

For both of us:

  • Walking home from school together is a great chance to re-connect and catch up on all the news of the day. If we drive home, it’s about four minutes, and my mind is mostly focused on driving. Walking is more relaxed, slower paced, and doesn’t take much of my attention, so we can be much more tuned in to each other.
  • We also have a good relationship with his teacher, partially because we see her briefly every day at drop-off time and at pick-up. It often gives us the chance for that ten second check in on his day.

For me:

  • Free Exercise. When he started school this fall, and I suddenly had lots of kid-free time on my schedule, I thought of joining a gym. But, based on my past experience, I’m lousy at going to the gym, and I mostly waste the money I’m paying for a membership. Walking is free, with no expensive equipment or specialty clothing required. The only time I ever managed to go to the gym was when I had a scheduled obligation – a class I was signed up to take, or a friend I was meeting. The walk to school means a scheduled obligation twice every weekday – I gotta kid the kid to school, and I gotta pick him up.
  • Regular exercise. Plenty or research shows that more short bouts of exercise is better for our heart and our metabolism than a few long bouts. Walking him to school, dropping him off and coming home is 1.5 miles, and about 35 minutes of exercise to start my day. Then, after a day of sedentary work at my computer, I have another 35 minutes. In an average week, I walk at least 12 miles – about four-and-a-half hours of exercise.
  • Healthy Exercise:
    • Healthy for my heart: Walking improves my blood pressure and my cholesterol (Source), and reduces my risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by 34-35% (Source).  It also reduces risk of diabetes. (Source)
      • “Protection [from cardiovascular events] was evident even at distances of just 5½ miles per week and at a pace as casual as about 2 miles per hour.” (Source)
    • Healthy for my brain:
      • “Nine years later, the walkers underwent brain scans, which revealed that those who had walked more had greater brain volume than those who walked less. Four years after that… 116 people showed signs of memory loss or dementia. Those who had walked the most … about 7 miles each week — were half as likely to have cognitive problems as those who walked the least.” (Source)
    • Healthy for my bones and joints:
      • “In just one mile, a typical runner’s legs will have to absorb more than 100 tons of impact force. …walkers have a much lower (1% to 5%) risk of exercise-related injuries than runners (20% to 70%).” (Source)
      • “Healthy postmenopausal women who walk approximately 1 mile each day have higher whole-body bone density than women who walk shorter distances. Walking is also effective in slowing the rate of bone loss from the legs.” (Source)
      • Note: Adding 60 seconds of high impact exercise (running, jumping jacks, jogging up stairs, or sudden backwards steps) to a walk will further strengthen your bones. (Source)
    • Reduces risk of breast and colon cancer (source). I have a family history of both.
  • Efficient use of time: For picking him up at 3:30 in the afternoon, it honestly takes the same amount of time to walk as to drive. Driving there takes about 4 minutes. But… if I want to find a space in the parking lot, I have to leave the house at 3:10. Then I sit in the parking lot for 15 minutes, then pick him up, then drive home… 35 – 40 minutes round trip, just like walking. If I’m too late for a parking space, I have to get in the giant line of cars to pick up. Again, about 35 – 40 minutes round trip. And here, my time is doing double-duty for exercise and kid pick-up.
    • “Because walking is less intensive than running, you have to walk for longer periods, get out more often, or both to match the benefits of running. As a rough guide, the current American Heart Association/American College of Sports Medicine standards call for able-bodied adults to do moderate-intensity exercise (such as brisk walking) for at least 30 minutes on five days each week or intense aerobic exercise (such as running) for at least 20 minutes three days each week. That makes running seem much more time-efficient — but if you factor in the extra warm-ups, cool-downs, and changes of clothing and shoes that runners need, the time differences narrow considerably. Add the time it takes to rehab from running injuries, and walking looks pretty good.”  (Source)
  • Time to listen to podcasts! When I’m walking alone, I get a chance to listen to some of my favorites /Filmcast, NPR Politics, Pop Culture Happy Hour, Vinyl Café, the Moth.
  • Walking also improves your mood, and reduces depression. (Source, Source)

For my marriage: My husband and I are often able to walk together in the morning. This gives us connection time with our son on the way to school, and with each other on the way home. Sometimes we use that connection to catch up on family business, sometimes to have deep conversations about how we’re doing emotionally or relationship wise, sometimes it’s catching up on politics and world news, and sometimes it’s picking each other’s brain for help solving a problem one of us is working on. Just having that slow-paced, in synch time together is a lovely way to start the day.

For the environment and my community:

  • 28% of all car trips in America are less than one mile. (Source) When people travel a distance of 1 – 3 miles, 90% use a car. (Source)  Many of these short trips are about driving kids to school or activities. And that’s hard on the environment.
    • “Emissions from cars are greatest when an engine is cold. The first few minutes when you start up and then drive your car produces the highest emissions because the emissions control equipment has not yet reached its optimal operating temperature. On a cold day a petrol car may take up to 10km [6.2 miles] to warm up and operate at maximum efficiency. One of the best ways individuals can contribute to reducing air pollution is to leave the car at home for short trips and walk instead.”  (source)
    • “Transportation accounts for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions, and passenger cars are responsible for the majority, more than 60%, of those emissions.” (Source)
    • “If a family walks to school twice a week rather than driving, they can reduce their carbon emissions by 131 pounds each year… If half of the students at an average-sized elementary school choose to walk… [saves] 36 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year…. equal to the carbon removing abilities of 1,000 trees.” (Source)
  • When we walk, we do little things to help the community: pick up litter when we see it (impressively rare on our stretch of road), move away leaves that are clogging the storm drains, fix the lost cat sign that’s falling off the pole, pick up a trash bin that was knocked over in the wind. They’re little things that take a few seconds when you’re just walking by, but would never happen if everyone drove by.

Barriers to walking to school (Source) – and how to overcome them

About 55% of children travel to school in a private car. (Source) Some of these children may live far enough away that they have the option to take a bus but are choosing to drive. But many of them are children who live within what is considered “walking distance” from a school. What stops the families from walking?

Barrier Percentage of parents
Distance to school: 61.5
Traffic-related danger: 30.4
Weather: 18.6
Crime danger: 11.7
Opposing school policy: 6.0
Other reasons (not identified): 15.0

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2005)

Distance to School

In 1969, 48% of elementary school students walked or biked to school. In 2009, it was just 13%. Yes, some of that is because fewer kids live less than a mile from their school (31% now vs. 41% in 1969). But, even amongst those who live less than a mile away, only 35% usually walk or bike now vs. 89% in 1969. (Source)

What if you don’t live in walking distance from your school? Consider parking half a mile away (or a few blocks away) and walking in! Many schools (at least in the Seattle suburbs) have walking paths through nearby neighborhoods that keep you off busy streets. (And then you won’t have to deal with the crowds in the school parking lot / the long line up of cars.)

Traffic Danger

First, it’s worth noting that a big part of the traffic load is people driving their kids to school…. “Parents driving their students to school comprise 10 to 14 percent of morning rush hour traffic (McDonald, Brown, Marchetti, & Pedroso, 2011).” If more people were walking their kids to school, there would be less traffic – especially in school zones.

Second, driving is not necessarily safer than walking. Motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death.

As more and more people drive, and fewer and fewer people walk, city budgets focus more on roads than on sidewalks and pedestrian safety. Be an advocate in your community for making your neighborhood pedestrian friendly!

We used to live in Bellevue, the city right next door to Kirkland. Hardly anyone walks in most parts of Bellevue. Lots of people walk in our part of Kirkland. That means that drivers in Kirkland remember to watch out for pedestrians vs. people in Bellevue don’t bother. The more people who walk, the safer it is to walk.

You can also increase safety while walking by choosing high visibility clothing for your child – like a red coat with reflective stripes instead of a black coat.

Weather. I’ll confess – Of the few times we’ve driven to or from school this year, half were for weather. I don’t mind walking in drizzle to mild rain. (I live in the Seattle area – that’s our normal everyday weather.) But this year, we’ve had some times (weird for Seattle) of POURING DOWN RAIN. One happened when we were walking back from school… by the time we got home, we had to hang the coats to dry, change our pants, shoes, and socks. I was glad that hasn’t happened on my son’s way TO school, where he wouldn’t have spare clothes to change in to. So, there are days when the weather seems too bad to walk.

But, most days, it’s just a matter of choosing appropriate clothing and footwear for the weather. My son attended outdoor preschool for two years, where he would be outside for 2.5 to 3 hours straight, so we’re used to dressing appropriately. And yes, it’s possible even if you live in a colder climate than Seattle. There’s plenty of outdoor preschools in Scandinavian countries with much colder winters. Getting good outdoor clothes can be pricey, but just think how much money you save on gas, wear and tear on your vehicle, and on a gym membership by walking!

Crime Danger: Clearly, there are neighborhoods where it is risky to walk through. (Unfortunately, those are often also the same neighborhoods where parents have no other option than having their child to walk to school.)

For the majority of American neighborhoods, the risk of crime is not that high, especially in the hours when you would walk a child to and from school. Although many people believe that the world is a “more dangerous place than it used to be”, statistics actually show that the rate of child abduction by strangers has stayed stable over the past 20+ years.

One way to increase safety is to travel in a group. Some neighborhoods organize a walking train, where there’s an adult “engine” leading the way, and an adult “caboose” at the end, making sure all the kids in the middle stay safe.

School Policies: Some schools place limits on children walking to school, or on children arriving at school unaccompanied. If this is true of your school, talk to the administration to learn more, learn what the options are, and advocate for any change you believe would be beneficial to the families at your school.

Physical condition: Although this wasn’t in the top 5 issues in the survey, I imagine this is a barrier for many. My husband’s foot was injured for the past few weeks by too many dance performances in a short period, so he had to take a few weeks off from our walk. But, if you have physical limitations, walking may actually be one of your best ways to get active. I have one leg and use crutches to walk, and walking on the sidewalk works great for me, but treadmills, ellipticals, and lots of other specialized exercise equipment is completely unusable for me. For my parents, who are 80-something, walking and going up and down stairs are the main exercises they are still able to do. If your physical condition prohibits long walks, can you fit in a few short walks outdoors each week with your child?

Schedule: Sometimes a parent’s work schedule means that walking is not feasible. For example, a few mornings each month, I need to be at work across town 20 minutes after I drop off my child at school. I have to drive on those days, because I don’t have time to walk back home and pick up my car, and then drive. If this is your situation, ask your manager whether there’s any possibility of making a slight adjustment to your work schedule, or consider talking to neighbors about a walk-pool / walking bus, where you take turns being the grown-up walking the kids to or from school.

What do YOU do? What could you do?

I’d like to hear from others… do you walk your child to school and other activities? If so, why – what are your favorite benefits? If not, why not – what are your barriers?

Play-Dough Recipe

Our students are often surprised to discover we make all our own play-dough. I tell them: you should make all your own play-dough!! It’s cheaper, it’s much nicer texture to work with, and shapes much better than commercial PlayDoh. It also doesn’t dry out as quickly. Plus, I hate the smell of commercial PlayDoh… when you make your own, you can leave it unscented – my preference – or you can add scents with a few drops of essential oils. And making a batch takes only 15 minutes from start to finishing clean-up… longer if your little one “helps.”

There’s LOTS of recipes out there. Here’s the one that works well for me:

Recipe 1

Mix together: 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 2 tbsp. cream of tartar, 4 tbsp. oil (note, 4 tbsp. is the same as 1/4 cup)

Boil 2 cups water

Mix in separate container: 1.5 cups of the boiling water plus food coloring – make the color STRONG! (I used Betty Crocker Gel in my last few batches, and found I used 1/3 – 1/2 a tube in a batch)

Mix the colored water in with the other ingredients. Stir well.

Then spread a thin layer of flour on a counter or cutting board. When it’s cool enough to touch, place the dough on that and knead it. What you’re trying to do is create  good, consistent dough that’s just the right texture for kids to play with. If it’s sticking to your hands, add a little flour. If it’s too dry and crumbly, add a little hot water. (It’s a little different each time – if the weather is really humid, or really dry, that affects the dough.) Knead till it’s just right. Usually takes a few minutes. When not in use, store in a ziplock or a closed plastic container. It keeps for weeks or months, depending on how frequently it’s used.

Recipe 2 – A recipe my co-teacher Cym likes has slightly different proportions / ingredients, but the process is the same.

3 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 2 tbsp. corn starch, 4 tbsp. cream of tartar, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, 2 cups boiling water, food color.

While I’m sharing recipes, another Cym recipe that we use a lot is her cocoa cloud dough. Mix together 1.5 cups flour, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, and 1/4 – 1/2 cup of any edible oil (canola oil, safflower… whatever you’ve got.) For a big batch, 6  cups flour, 2 cups cocoa, 1 – 2 cups oil. How much oil you use depends on the texture you want. We use this in the sensory bin to simulate dirt so we want it pretty crumbly (it looks like dirt, but it won’t hurt any little ones who decide to eat it! and it smells good. See pictures on my other blog, Inventors of Tomorrow, here and here.) If you want to shape it more, use more oil.

Learn more about cloud dough at Babble Dabble Do.