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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Preschool Choice Time

choiceThe holidays are over. You’re ready to sit back and relax.

Then suddenly you start seeing ads for preschool fairs, and lectures on choosing a preschool, your parent educator tells you the discussion topic is preschool, friends ask you if you’ve decided what you’re doing next year, and other parents tell you that you need to think about it NOW before all the best places fill up.

It can be very stressful!

Let’s take a deep breath, and take a few moments to reflect on this decision-making process.

If your child will be 3 or older on September 1, then it could be a good year for you to start preschool. (But you don’t necessarily have to.) And January and February are prime time for preschool open houses, and for enrollment to begin, so now is a good time to think about it. (Though, truly, if you don’t think about it till August, you’ll still have good options.)

If your child will still be younger than 3 this September, you don’t have to make any decisions yet about their future preschool. But now is a good time to check out some of those preschool fairs, just to get some sense of what options are available in your area, when  there’s no pressure to make any firm decisions.

Check out these posts for things to think about:

First decide: Is preschool necessary? Is it something you want for your child?

If you decide you’re looking, the first thing to think about is logistics: What do you need in a preschool in terms of location, schedule, cost, and so on. What are your goals for preschool?

Then, research your options. Have you considered cooperative preschool? outdoor preschool? specialty preschools (e.g. bilingual or religious)? academic preschool or play-based learning? multi-age programs?

Then visit, or attend an open house, and ask these questions to learn more.

After you’ve done all the research with your head, narrowing it down to the list of the best three options, then listen to your heart. Which school feels best to you? Where will your child be happiest? From the science of brain development, we know that we all learn best when we feel safe and happy – our brains have a high degree of neuroplasticity and we can absorb all the teacher has to teach. In the end, it’s that happiness and preserving the love of learning that will serve our child’s educational future the best.

photo credit: JoshSchulz via photopin cc

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.

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!

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

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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.

Should we teach toddlers to say “I’m sorry”

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My short answer:

  • Yes, teach the behavior – teach when it is appropriate to apologize. Also teach that they can take actions that help to right their wrong.
  • However, you can’t expect a young child to really feel sorry. As they get older, they will learn this empathy and learn to take responsibility for their actions.
  • Don’t force a child to apologize. This is perceived by the child as punishment and shaming, and does nothing to teach them empathy for the other person or teach them what steps to take to make things better.

The long answer…

Should you force a child to apologize?

We’ve all seen times where a parent marches their child over to someone, then stands over the child saying “You need to apologize. You have to say you’re sorry, right now.”

Some children feel embarrassed or awkward, and stare at the ground, and shuffle their feet, and get more and more anxious until forced to blurt out the word. Others get into a power struggle with their parent, inflating a small transgression into a big battle, where the parent adds additional punishments – “no dessert till you say you’re sorry” till the child says a sarcastic ‘sorry’ through clenched teeth. Some kids will figure out that they should just get it over as quickly as possible, and mumble out the word “sorry” without looking at the person the apology is theoretically directed at, and then try to escape the situation as quickly as possible, moving away from the parent and from the person they apologized to.

When apologies are used in this way, the child views apologies as a punishment for bad behavior.

Got that? The apology is something you’re making them do because they were bad. They’re not learning “you shouldn’t hit your friend because it hurts him and makes him sad.” They’re learning “you shouldn’t hit your friend because if your parent / teacher sees you hit them, you’ll get this punishment.”

A forced apology is unpleasant and uncomfortable for everyone involved, and this awkwardness distances the apologizer from the person they are making the apology to. It does not encourage empathy toward that person’s experience, and instead can promote resentment toward them. The person being apologized to often feels awkward as well, and moves away from the apologizer as quickly as they can.

For older kids who understand what sorry means, forcing them to say it when they don’t mean it is teaching them to lie.

The forced sorry can also feel like it “fixed” the situation. We hurt someone, but we said sorry so it’s resolved now, right? It implies that there’s no need to check in to see if it’s resolved, or to take any further actions to right our wrong.

Should we teach a child to apologize? What does it mean to apologize?

Of course we should teach apologies! We absolutely want to take steps in the toddler years and preschool years to teach empathy, to teach taking responsibility for our actions, and to teach the social skills that will aid them in later life. A true apology is an essential aspect of this.

A true apology is not just good manners. It’s not just accepting blame for something. It’s taking responsibility for your actions, feeling empathy for the person you have wronged, and working to make amends.

Here’s the thing – we can’t expect children to fully understand this when they’re toddlers or preschoolers! They are not yet capable of true empathy. We can role model empathy and working to right wrongs, and we can teach the behavior of apologizing – the understanding will eventually follow.

Role model and teach empathy

If you want your child to learn empathy, respect and responsibility, the best way to teach that is to be a good role model of all these things in all your interactions, but especially in interactions with your child. (Note: being empathetic does NOT mean I say yes to everything to avoid making them sad, and being respectful does NOT mean I don’t set reasonable and healthy limits. We can say no with empathy and with respect.)

Development of empathy

As young as one year, a child may occasionally notice distress in others and try to soothe them. But other times, they are oblivious to the emotions of others.

Around 18 – 24 months, a child starts to really understand that they are a separate individual from other people and that other people can have different thoughts and feelings than they do. But being able to put themselves in someone’s shoes and see how their actions made someone feel is just more than they can understand.

At 2 – 3 years, they begin to understand simple emotions in others, such as glad, mad, sad, and scared. Around 4 or 5, they start understanding complex emotions in others. After age 6, they begin to understand what other people are thinking. (See resources below on empathy.)

So, we know it’s a while before they get the feeling side of an apology. But, we can teach the behavior long before that.

Teach the behavior at teachable moments

Starting around 1 year old, you can teach your child basic behaviors. Your child will sometimes accidentally hurt you or someone else – moments like when they bump their head into your chin when you’re bending over them. This gives you the chance to teach them. It’s easy to teach even a young toddler that “When you bump me, and I say ‘Ow’, you need to say ‘I’m sorry – are you OK?'” If they carelessly bump someone else, like moving past someone to get to the slide, say “I notice you just bumped them. Can you go back, say you’re sorry and ask if they’re OK?” If they take a toy away from someone without thinking, say “I think X was playing with that toy. Say ‘I’m sorry I took your toy. Is it OK if I play with it?'”

Note, these are all low stress moments. Your child has unintentionally (or slightly intentionally) harmed someone, and we’re asking them to notice this, and make amends. This teaches more awareness of others, which leads toward empathy.

Some preschool teachers choose to skip the ‘I’m sorry’, and go straight to the “Are you OK?” or “What can I do to help?” because those focus on empathy for the other person and moving toward a solution together.

Teaching the behavior after stressful moments

Other times, your child does intentional harm. We need to set limits on this and there need to be consequences. But the consequences for your child are about the behavior itself, and the apology is about caring for the other person. The consequences need to be separate from the apology.

I recommend: disciplining your child as appropriate to the moment, and working on the apology later. The misbehaving toddler needs immediate consequences for bad behavior. The wronged toddler needs immediate reassurance. Apologies come later.

For example, if you see A bite B:

  • Get down to their level and put yourself between them to prevent further harm.
  • Say to A “You just bit her. That was not OK. Biting is never OK.” [Setting limits.]
  • Turn to B, establish eye contact. Say “I’m sorry he bit you. Are you OK?” [Providing reassurance, and role modeling an apology.] Once you’ve verified she’s OK,
  • Turn back to A: “You and I need to take a break from playing for a few minutes till you’ve calmed down.” [Consequences.]
  • Help A to calm down. Don’t talk too much here! (When a child is upset enough to bite, they are too upset to listen to you, and too upset to learn anything, especially something as sophisticated as empathy for the person they’ve just harmed.)
  • Once A is calmed down, then talk to him about biting [reminder of limits] and let him know that his actions hurt the other child [focusing the attention on making amends rather than on his wrong-doing].
  • I will say “Let’s go check on her together and see how she’s doing.” I get down on the same level as both kids, and I encourage him “ask her if she’s OK.” After they’ve connected, then I say “you hurt her earlier. Can you please say you’re sorry?”
  • Then I help them begin to play together again before moving away. [healing the relationship]

In this scenario, the biting toddler received the immediate limit setting and consequence they needed. The child who was bit received prompt attention and reassurance. Later on, we handled the apology and moving on.

How do you resolve the situation with the other parent

Let’s be honest. Sometimes we force our child to apologize because we, as the parents, are embarrassed about our child’s behavior, and we don’t want the other family to think that we’re bad parents. How do we handle that?

In the moment after the incident, we work with the children. They need immediate responses to understand.

If we handle it well, the other parent (who has a longer attention span and memory than the children) sees that we did address the situation in a way that was supportive to everyone, set limits, and taught empathy skills. Later on, we can also talk it over with the parent, and apologize, and talk together about how we’re all just doing our best to help our kids learn.

Are reparations needed?

Sometimes an empathetic sorry is all that’s needed. But sometimes we need to take actions to make things right. (Like re-building a tower, fixing a broken toy, cleaning up a mess.) Help your child figure out what to do in these circumstances.

The power of real apologies to heal relationships

In a study, 6 and 7 year olds were paired with a researcher and asked to build towers of plastic cups. Then the adult would “accidentally” knock over the child’s tower. The adult would either apologize OR say nothing, and then leave the room. Right after the incident, the children felt bad whether or not they received an apology. Later on, though, when children were asked to give stickers to their adult partner, the ones who had received apologies were more generous – presumably indicating they had forgiven their partner.

However, if the adult apologized AND helped re-build the tower, the children felt better right after the incident and gave more stickers later. According to the researcher “actively trying to put things right can help the victim to feel better in a couple of ways. The first is the effect of undoing some of the harm by putting things right. The second effect is by showing the victim that the person who hurt them is sincere and genuinely wants to make things better between them.”  (Source)

My experience

When my older kids were little (back in the 90’s!), I did not teach them to say “sorry” until they were four or five years old. I’d seen too many forced apologies, and too many times where the kid saying the word sorry was clearly not feeling the emotion of sorry. They were just doing what they had to do to complete their punishment.

When my older kids were little, if they did wrong to someone, I apologized for them, and I worked with them to correct their behavior. I only started teaching sorry when they demonstrated enough empathy that I thought they were old enough to understand it. (Probably around 4 years old.)

With child #3, when he was just learning to talk, I started teaching the behavior of “If you do something to someone and they say ‘Ow’, you need to say ‘I’m sorry. Are you OK?'” And every single time an opportunity came up, I reminded him of this behavior. He didn’t yet understand that he was responsible for hurting someone and he didn’t yet have empathy for the fact that they were in pain, because he just wasn’t old enough for his brain to be able to understand it. But, he could, and did, learn the behavior.

Over time, I saw him start to get it. He would say sorry out of habit, and then when he asked “are you OK?” he would notice that they weren’t OK, and feel empathy for them. He started to understand that their sadness was due to what he had done and he started to take responsibility for it. I feel like he ended up understanding the meaning of sorry (both taking responsibility and feeling empathy for the other) much younger than my other kids, because the behavior caused him to pay attention to those situations.

He’s now five, and often offers spontaneous apologies for any minor wrong he does to people. Sometimes when he’s really angry, the apology doesn’t come right away. That’s when I have to return to the method I describe above of: setting limits on him, reassuring the other child, and then when he’s calmed down helping him understand what he has done and working with him to make the apology. He’s still learning, because he is only 5 years old. Some days it comes easier than others, but I feel like we’re on the right path.

Read more about apologies

Learn more about empathy – how children develop it and how you can help

Learn more about emotional development