Back to Preschool Jitters - Overcoming back to school jitters, fears and anxieties

Back to Preschool Jitters
by Rebecca Walsh

“I was scared, but I actually loved it.” This, a direct quote from my 4-year old after starting his first day in a new preschool classroom on Tuesday. He was only moving up from one classroom to the next, and most of his friends were going with him, but still it was a big shift in his little world. Moving from three teachers that he adored to three brand new teachers, changing classrooms from the one he had grown so familiar with, meeting brand new friends, and going through the preschool identity shift of being “a Penguin” to becoming a “Prairie Dog.” 

These don’t seem like huge things from an adult perspective, and some children just seem to roll with the punches right through these kinds of shifts, but for some children this change can be a pretty big deal. My son happens to be one of these children. When the teachers told the children about the upcoming shift back in July, my son spent weeks telling us he was not going to leave the Penguin Room.

We created a calendar for him at home, and marked off days so he could see how many days he had left to enjoy being a Penguin. He was somewhat calmed by this, and occasionally engaged in conversations about fun things he might to do as a Prairie Dog. But as the big day on the calendar got closer and closer he became more and more nervous. The weekend before school started he went back to telling us he wasn’t leaving the Penguin Room. On the first day of school, he woke up and announced decisively, “I’m not going to school today. I’m going to skip it.” I could honestly relate. I’ve had those thoughts myself when about to do something totally out of my comfort zone.

In fact, not to long ago, I was booked to speak at a conference for educators and parents and I remember waking up that morning and thinking, “Maybe I could just call in sick?” Of course I got out of bed, pumped myself up a bit, and ended up having a lot fun delivering a couple of workshops to a bigger crowd than I’d been in front of in a while. So when Patrick woke up and made this announcement, I thought about how I could support him to move through and ultimately overcome this fear of the unfamiliar.
But that wasn’t my first thought. As a parent, we often feel first and think later and my first feeling was “This is so sad, my poor little guy.” Irrational thoughts raced through my head like "Maybe he could skip just the first day" and even that "Maybe this whole preschool thing was too much for him." This from the woman who taught preschool for nearly 20 years and had dedicated her career to early childhood education! These weren’t rational thoughts, and of course I didn’t act on them, but they were real, and excellent reminders about just how hard it is to be a parent.

Parenting requires actually a lot of standing back and looking at the big picture, making decisions that you know will not just help your child in that moment, but will help them become successful adults. It requires a lot of objectivity actually, and yet it is one of the most subjective experiences of our lives. Well, we managed to get dressed, collect our stuffies, and get out the door. The car ride, however, was even worse. The closer we got to school, the more anxious he became, and eventually the tears started to stream as he said “I’m scared mommy, I’m really scared, I don’t want to be a Prairie Dog.” So we talked about times when I had been scared too-I told him the story about the conference, and his older brother who was in the car told him the story of his first day in a new school. He seemed to feel a little better knowing that sometimes things you’re scared of could turn out OK. Then, we made up a song. “Oh I’m gonna rock this Prairie Dog day. Feeling a little scared, but that’s OK, cuz I’m gonna rock it anyway!” We sung it over and over and by the time we got to school, Patrick walked into the classroom, shoulders back, confident and looking like he was ready to take on anything life would throw his way. But the best part, was on the way home. I asked him how his first day as a Prairie Dog went and he said, without skipping a beat, “I was really scared, but I actually loved it.”

Wow. Imagine if I had swooped in to protect him, and in the meantime had protected him from learning this incredibly valuable life lesson about resiliency. Things can be tough, they can even be scary, but I can get through, and I might even end up loving it.

I hope your first few weeks of school are off to a great start. Don’t worry if the “turn around time” from worried to loving it isn’t quite as fast, especially for a brand new school or a younger child, it will of course take some more time. But try to look at the big picture and remain as positive as possible as your child moves through the range of emotions and ultimately learns that she can overcome her anxieties and fears, and end up having a really good time in the process!

See a few more pro-tips below from our instructors on easing into the transition back to school!

From Alexis Buckley:
When kids start a new school or classroom, it’s good to not over schedule after school activities. Plan lots of down time for your child to unwind after a long day of keeping it all together for their teachers. Also expect lots of meltdowns and emotional release at home. As hard as it is, try to create some space for this, and know that it will pass as their little bodies and minds get used to the new schedule. And remember, if you yourself are feeling anxious about the school transition, make sure not to discuss it in front of the child. Children are always listening so even when we think we are just talking to our partner or a friend on the phone, it’s very easy for children to overhear and take on our worry. You really have to fake it until you make it and exude confidence you might not even have (then run to the bathroom and cry alone!) One final tip I often tell parents is to make sure to bring a healthy snack to pick-up. Kids often do not eat lunch well as they adjust to a new school/class and are often starving at pick up!

From Evelyn Nichols: As parents we are often eager (maybe a tad anxious) to know about what went on at school and how our kids are feeling about all the new things. However, coming in hot with too many questions about the day can be overwhelming, particularly because young children live more in the moment then we do as adults. I suggest at pick up time focusing on how glad you are to see your child. I find I learn more about the day from my kids through random songs they start to sing, or memories that they recall when we’re playing or even just sitting near each other. And that’s the best time to listen and ask questions. Here's a link to some great questions to get children talking about their day!

Another thing to keep in mind: transitions are hard on the whole family, not just kids. At our house when we’re getting used to a new schedule. I find in the first few weeks of school it really helps if I get lunch packed the night before, have my kids pick out their clothes the night before (or even better wear their school clothes to bed), and wake up a bit early to make sure I’ve had my needs met before the rush of getting ready and out the door for school. That way I have time to be more playful and patient, rather than rushed. Things go much smoother when I’m not adding my own anxiety about getting places on time to the already big feelings that my children are having.

One more pro tip from our team: The Octopus Watch. (Pictured above on Patrick) This brilliant back to school time saver allows you to program visual schedule cues to pop up for your child to follow on their own (non radio-frequency emitting) watch. I've never seen my children get dressed, brush their teeth, and move through their morning routine with more ease! Even my husband commented the other day, "These watches are really working for our family! Get yours here - it might just change your mornings forever! Please use this code LITTLEDRAGONECM for FREE SHIPPING and to support Early Childhood Matters!

Drop and Dramatize

Drop and Dramatize

Getting down on my child’s level is hard to do. I mean, really, to get 
on the floor I have to stop what I’m doing, thinking, planning, turn off 
the phone, turn off my whole adult mindset. I might even still be in my 
work clothes, which I can’t ...really ....move And my back 
might be hurting, or my knees sore. But... that said, WHEN I make the 
effort and get down on my child’s level, I notice that life afterwards 
happens with a little more ease. Requests and expectations are met with 
surprising willingness. Moods are lighter. My child and I have a 
shared experience - a connection - and that makes life just more fun…

Indoor Activities to the Rescue!

Indoor activities to the rescue!

What to do with your toddler climbing furniture and bouncing off the wall energy?  These activities not only create calming effects, but help organize your child’s growing mind and are great alternatives to screen time.  Activities that incorporate the vestibular (balance) or proprioceptive (muscle and joint input) can give you much more bang for your buck in calming cabin fevered children.

Vestibular Sense Activities: Develop language, music, handwriting, social interaction, and attention.
Swinging child around in a laundry basket
Dancing-lots of spontaneous dance parties over here lately!
Hanging upside down
Swinging-can create a blanket swing with two adults or swing child around in a laundry basket (see above!)
Row, Row, Row your boat with a rocking chair or on the floor with two people interlocked in hands and touching feet
Spinning in chair or by themselves (not too much!)
Standing upside down with feet on the wall

Proprioceptive input or “Heavy jobs” develop stability for coordination and promote attention, focus, and calmness.

Examples of proprioceptive (deep pressure/muscle) activities
Crawling through tunnels
Log rolling
Animal walks (crab, bear, etc) Can create game where you play music and then "Freeze! and turn you into a....snake!
Wheelbarrow walks (hold their feet and have them walk)
Cocooning in blankets-
Making a "Joey Sandwich" with couch cushions as the bread
Pushing or pulling heavy boxes (can push or pull groceries and help put them away!)

We talk more about these in our Parenting Through the Toddler Years series!

There are also more great examples here.

For older children, plan a good old fashioned treasure hunt with clues hidden around the house or a treasure map.

Tactile Sensory Activities

Children need lots of tactile experiences to organize their brain, feel centered, calm and entertained!

  • Shaving Cream and Block Building: Put some small blocks on the table along with some craft sticks and a can or two of shaving cream. See what happens! Our children built and built for days! *Can use whip cream if worried about children eating it!


    Scribble Cookies: Gather all your broken crayons. Put them in a muffin tin. Can also pour into metal  "Halloween" cookie cutters!  Melt on low heat (150°) for about 15 minutes! Once melted, turn the oven off and let the crayons cool IN the oven before popping them out and using them! Hint: non-stick coated tins will work best! Did they stick? Pop them in the freezer for a few minutes! They will pop right out!


    Pumpkin Spice Playdough: (Promise your kids will play twice as long with homemade playdough!!)  Combine in a bowl: 3 cups flour, 1 1⁄2 cups salt, 6 tsp cream of tartar, 6 TBS oil, 3 Cups water, orange food coloring(color optional).   Add cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or pumpkin pie spice! Mix together. Cook over low heat until a ball forms. Cool. Knead. Store in Ziploc bag.

    Knox Gelatin Mold: The ratio is 3/4 cup water to 1 packet of Knox. You probably want at least 3 packets. In a saucepan, heat the water over low heat, add the packets of gelatin. After it dissolves pour it into your container. Let set over night. **BE SURE TO SPRAY YOUR CONTAINER WITH PAM FIRST! Allow the children to inject the knox mold with pipettes and eyedroppers filled with colored water! Or for younger toddlers just let them slice with a butter knife, squeeze in their hands and squish it all to pieces.  Totally edible!


    The above tactile sensory ideas are in part from Ooey Gooey Inc., Lisa Murphy Rochester NY – For more ideas visit

Traveling With Young Children Soon?

For many of us, the holidays mean traveling with small children in tow! As much as we may be looking forward to our destinations, as parents of young children, we often dread the journey. Our family recently completed a 14-hour plane ride to Australia with our three little ones (7, 4 and 16m), and I probably worried, prepared, and packed more for the plane ride then I did for our vacation! There were certainly a few harrowing moments, like not being at all prepared for the first three hours of the red eye taking place in bright lights while they served us dinner on Australian time. However, with the "prepare for the worst, hope for the best" mentality, I'd say overall we thankfully veered toward the latter. I have written below some ideas that helped us make it through. I hope that whether you are traveling by car or plane, or just want some alternatives to screen time for the hopefully extra downtime you'll enjoy over the holidays, you'll find a few extra tricks to pull out of your sleeve!


  • Prepare your child as much as possible for what's coming. Talk, tell stories, or show pictures of relatives they may not have seen in a while. 
  • Talk ahead of time about sleeping arrangements and houses, hotels, etc. you might move to and from. You can even create a simple calendar so they have a visual to refer to.
  • Read books about the new holidays, activities or weather they may encounter to increase excitement (and reduce anxiety) about upcoming new experiences.



Busy Bag: Create a bag of surprises! Build it up the week before so they will be super excited when they finally get to open it up! Some people wrap each "gift" inside, but older kids will probably prefer to dig through and choose which ones they want.

Some of the biggest hits on both past and present trips have been:

  • Lacing/sewing cards
  • Magnetic games (fishing games for smaller ones and checkers, four in a row, and more for the older set)
  • Handheld pinball/ring toss type games
  • A new box of crayons (Never underestimate the joy of a brand new box of crayons.)
  • Activity and sticker books (more varied than a coloring book) for hours of fun!
  • Sticky dudes
  • Playing ‘I Spy’ on the plane
  • Audiobooks (Epic app is fantastic and shows pictures of books too-does require wifi unless you download books ahead of time) 
  • Playing cards (UNO, Go Fish, Crazy Eights, etc.)
  • Play Foam
  • Silly putty (Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty is great)
  • Water Wow!
  • Magic pen coloring books
  • Boogie Board writing tablet for endless drawing fun, stickers, and books. 
  • Cheerio necklace makings (can be made for little siblings as well)

For the youngest toddler (under twos) try:

  • A homemade toy made from a slit cut into the lid of a clean yogurt container. Child pushes caps (milk, bottle, or the ends of your squeezy food packs) into hole. Dump. Repeat.
  • New books, especially lift the flaps, textures, etc.
  • Download a couple of child's favorite CDs onto your device and bring child-sized headphones
  • Bring a couple of sweeter or saltier than usual treats (maybe fruit snacks, a natural lollipop, or cheesy crackers) for take off and departure emergencies. 
  • Stickers to be placed on your nose, cheeks, foreheads for mid-flight fun
  • Take trips up and down the aisle and look out by the window near the back of the plane. 

Other great tips:

Fly at Night/Nap Time if Possible: For flights over five hours and international flights, flying at night or nap time is sometimes best to ensure your child sleeps on the plane and best acclimates to time zones. 

Scavenger Hunt in the Airport: Create a list of items to help your child find once you are in the airport. We found some fun ones here and here

Roller Bag/Backpack: Give your child their own roller bag or backpack to be in charge of at the airport. The sense of ownership will help keep them focused. You may even consider a backpack with a harness, especially if traveling with multiple children. For older kids, I even saw a suitcase that attaches to a scooter...brilliant! 

Bring Plenty of Snacks and Supplies: Expect delays. Pack an overabundance of your children’s favorite healthy snacks (think fresh fruit and crunchy vegetables), wipes, diapers, and multiple changes of clothes.

Bottles, Pacifiers, Sippy Cups, and Gum (for older ones): These help alleviate ear pressure on take off and landing.

Breathe… It will only last a little while. Try to enjoy the adventure with your little one, and remember most people have either been or may one day soon be traveling with their own little one in tow.

For more plane ride photos click here.

Less Stress, More Magic, and Gifts That Will Last - Holiday Gift Guide 2016

The holidays are upon us once again. With small children around us, many of us have a renewed magical holiday spirit about us. The holidays can be a wonderful time to share family traditions, create new rituals, and enjoy extended quality time with friends and family alike. Of course the holidays can also bring a tangible feeling of stress, and sometimes the desire to give our children the “perfect holiday season” can only add to this stress, and probably doesn’t end up feeling so magical for our children in the end. I have learned (through trial and error) that sticking to simple activities like making cookies at home with a few friends, caroling with neighbors, or driving around to look at Christmas lights, are the things that my children remember the most fondly. We try to limit our big holiday events to one or two things like visiting the life size gingerbread house at the Fairmont, or riding on a cable car. Keeping in mind their bed times as much as possible, we have learned to schedule these things earlier and earlier in the evening to reduce the holiday fatigue syndrome for our little ones.

With all of these Holiday moments also comes comes the question… what to get our children? There is the temptation to go overboard in attempt to give them a magical, unforgettable day, forgetting that for our youngest children they are probably completely content with 1 or 2 well-chosen gifts. Before you and your children become heavily laden with a mountain of toy clutter that you might not want in your house after January arrives and the initial joy has worn off, we encourage you to take some time to consider what items will bring the most meaningful use to your child throughout the coming year(s). Buying with intention will help ensure that items are well loved, used, and cherished, and actually teaches children to value, be grateful for (and play with!) their toys so much more. 

In last year’s toy list (also a great reference for this year), we focused on helping you envision creating a home play space with intention, shopping like a preschool teacher, and engaging your children in various areas of play. With these same concepts in mind we have added a several new favorites!  Gifts that are open ended in nature and inspire imagination and creativity, gifts that get out some of that abundant energy, and gifts that inspire dramatic play are at the top of our list this year.  We have also added an “experience” section, particularly helpful for well-meaning grandparents and other relatives to consider giving a museum or zoo memberships as well as special outings and quality time that will literally “keep giving” the whole year through!

Onto the toys… Our suggestions are broken into categories and include items that are made to last, both in materials and across age ranges. Most of these (Magnatiles, Jungle Jumparoo, forts, sturdy blocks, etc.) are things your children can use for years. Each category fits particular interests and making sure your child has a balance of elements in each category in their play space will help expand their play.

As you make careful, conscious shopping decisions, please remember to shop locally when possible. Many of the links below are reference suggestions. Some of our favorite local shops include Recess, Green Apple Books, West Portal’s 3 toy stores, and, of course, consignment shops like Chloe’s Closet.   We also highly recommend reducing your family’s carbon foot printby buying secondhand from parent listervs, Craigslist, school rummage sales, neighborhood parenting pages on Facebook, etc. Not only is it greener to shop local and second hand, but it’s also a great way to connect with like-minded parents around you, help out folks in your community, and of course reduce the stress of the financial burden of the holidays.

Blocks & Manipulatives

All Ages:

Magna Tiles: If you haven’t discovered these yet, let me be the first to introduce you to what will likely lead to hours of engaged, happy, creative children! These colorful tiles will hold a child’s interest well into elementary school.  If you got your first collection last year, consideradding another set as children can certainly construct new and different things with a bigger selection.  You can also add a “wheels” set!

Light Table: To add extra fun to your Magnatiles, and life in general, a Light Table is absolutely amazing.  This is definitely an item that will grow with your child. Its uses are endless. You can use clear shapes to teach counting, enjoy sorting activities, and have fun with tracing.

Floor Blocks-perhaps you started your block collection last year? You may consider expanding or adding a collection of floor blocks which are still going strong in my house for my 7 year old! A great thing to try to find second hand, but if you have to buy new, this is probably the most reasonably priced.

Toddlers (Up to 36 Months)

Balls-a good collection of indoor soft balls to help redirect the toddler throwing stage, as well as some balls to bring along to the park!

Scarves- store bought or a thrift store collection to encourage dancing, imagining and moving in creative ways.

Play Tunnel

Three and Up:

A great stacker for little ones to learn their colors and manipulate objects are Lakeshore Learning’s Crystal Climbers. This pairs perfectly with a light table.

Design & Drill: This drill can hold the attention of a little one for hours on end. The mechanical drill allows them to put colorful screws into a peg board and reverses to take them out again. This is great for color patterns. It comes with suggested patterns, or your child can create their own picture.  

 Wooden Dominoes: Endless sorting, stacking, and fun domino runs! Click here.

Marble Run: Children can create their own marble run and learn about cause and effect by testing their design to see if their marbles make it through to the end. There are also suggested designs with varying levels of building difficulty.

Fantacolor Junior Pegboard


CitiBlocs/ Keva planks

Castle Blocks

Discovery Ramps:  For those budding engineers, a great way to learn about force, motion, and gravity.

Dramatic Play

Fort Magic/Fort Builder – Children love forts! They are a safe place to hide, help them feel powerful, and create plenty of opportunity for imagination. Fort kits, such as Fort Magic provide the basic building tools to provide structure for unlimited possibilities.Costumes



Arts & Crafts

Foam Rollers & No-Spill Paint Cups

Magnet Board: Can be homemade (framed metal sheet). IKEA has a great one.

Clay, Clay Tools, Wooden Hammers

Water Paper: Paint it, let it dry, paint it again. Reusable and wonderful!

Active Play/Gross Motor:

Jungle JumparooBy far one of the coolest toys around. This looks like it would be ideal for a backyard setting, but is an amazing indoor addition. It doesn’t take up a ton of space and is a safe, fun way for toddlers and preschoolers to get their energy out.  You can also attach a swing to the top for added fun.

Hoppity Hops

Monster Feet:

Balance Board:

Bop It Bag

Climbing Dome: For those of you with outdoor space, this is a great investment. Children from 3 up to pre-teens will benefit from a geometric climbing dome. Add to the fun by attaching a swing or spinner to the top. Another great idea is to get magnetic letters to put on the sides and do a “word hunt” with older preschoolers. Climbing to the top and searching for letters adds to the adventure.

Gorilla Gym:

GBOP Ball 

Jumbo Parachute – Aside from the obvious ways to play with this toy, draping it over a fort or play dome make an instant hideout.


 Sensory Sand

Sensory Table/Bin (homemade) 

Ball Pit (Kiddie Pool/Plastic Balls) 

No Spill Bubble Pails

Sensory Swing: Similar to

Educational Insights Playfoam:


Family Board Games: Make family game night your new tradition in 2017.

Literacy: There’s nothing better than a good book. Please check out your local used bookstore or buy online used if possible.

Pout Pout Fish

Cars, Trucks, and Things That Go

The Whale & The Snail

Caps for Sale

Harold & The Purple Crayon

Boogie Monster

Go Dog Go

I Spy books

Don’t Squish the Sasquatch

Little Blue Truck

But Not the Hippopotomus

Some ideas for extended family of “experiential” gifts include:

-        Experiences: A picture that depicts going to a nearby park, to a science museum, aquarium, boat ride on the bay, picnic at the beach, etc. or something else they plan to do with the child in the coming months

-        A Memoir: Give a blank journal or one with questions that you write to an older relative to write the story of their lives or memories from their childhoods for your children to enjoy for years to come and pass onto their children

-        A family photo shoot with a local photographer

-        For long distance relatives, the promise of a real letter each month. There’s nothing quite like real mail and the anticipation at the mailbox.

-        A craft kit that incorporates family handprints. There are some amazing casting kits around that are fun to make.

-        A game or book that they enjoyed in their childhood and the promise to share in the fun

-        Movie tickets (to share together)

-        Teaching your child how to prepare a favorite family dish, basic sewing, etc.

12 Ways to Include Your Children in Acts of Gratitude This Thanksgiving

By Kellam Eanes

  1. Have children make place cards for visiting family members. You can also ask them to say something positive or something they appreciate about that person and write it on the back of the card. You can write it for the smaller ones.
  2. Interview children and/or adults individually prior to the Thanksgiving meal about what makes them thankful/happy. Read out what children or adults said to the larger group before (or during) the Thanksgiving meal.
  3. Set the tone when friends and relatives come over or when we enter someone’s home. Greeting everyone with excitement and welcoming them when they walk through the door shows our children the importance of making someone feel special.
  4. Have children make cards specifically for older family members.
  5. Write sweet thank-you's together for teachers or other caregivers.
  6. Involve children in making at least one dish for the big meal. Whether it’s stirring, dumping in the ingredients, or rolling pie dough, make sure everyone knows your gratitude in the role they played.
  7. If you are going to someone else’s house this year-tell the story of Stone Soup and how each person brings something for a wonderful communal meal.
  8. Include your child in shopping for a local canned food drive (even if its easier to do it yourself).
  9. Have your child help you gather coats, sweaters and other outgrown warm clothes around your house for a coat drive.
  10. Share family stories and have older relatives tell your children about their own childhoods. It’s fascinating to watch how intently little ones listen to and are captivated by these stories. Making children aware of their family history makes them feel a sense of belonging.
  11. Give a Thanksgiving "interview" to your children each year where they reflect on what they are thankful for either through drawing, writing, or dictation to you. Record in a single notebook or folder, so that they look back on it when they are older.
  12. Hand turkeys, feet turkeys, elbow turkeys - There is no greater Thanksgiving joy!

Handing Down Traditions of Human Kindness, Dignity, and Emotional Presence

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
— – Albert Schweitzer, Philosopher, Physician, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

 This Thanksgiving, perhaps more than other years, I find myself in need of some rekindling. I find myself struck with the “meaning” of Thanksgiving at a time in history where our nation is grappling with discord, fear, injustice and inequality. 

Growing up in a family where my father's side was Jewish and my mother's side was Christian, I have always felt that for our beautifully diverse nation Thanksgiving represents the potential for people of all races, ethnicities, and religions to unite and celebrate at one table.

When we listen to the news and feel that things are spiraling beyond our control in the other direction, we might find comfort in remembering Gandhi’s words to “Be the peace we wish to see in the world.” We may even find moments this Thanksgiving to gather together and draw courage from one another while we contemplate action to translate our anger and fear into concrete steps of helping create the world we want our children to grow up in.  

But we must also keep in mind that whether we gather with like-minded friends, or family members with conflicting views, our children are listening and watching and we must set the tone and model this peace we wish to be for our children. I believe modeling how to handle our emotions and maintaining our own centeredness, while also being honest with our children about our feelings, are some of the greatest gifts we can give our children during these times. 

When we try to pretend that nothing is wrong and our words don’t match our facial expressions or the outburst they just overheard, children often assume the worst. Because of the egocentric stage of young children, they may even assume that we are angry or upset with them. We can be honest without scaring our children by saying things like “Mommy is angry about some things that are happening that are not fair for all people, but our family is going to help make sure that things stay fair for all people.” 

When politically heated discussions arise, we can try to bring the conversations in front of children back to neutral or set limits beforehand with adults about the tone so that all of our children feel secure. In order for children to develop the parts of their brain that code for compassion and self-control, they need not live in fear, but need loving reassurance from the adults around them that they are safe and protected and that the world is full of goodness and full of love. 

My 8-year-old niece reminded her mother after a heated political exchange with a neighbor in New Orleans, "Mommy, remember what you told me? We won't let this fill our hearts with hate. We have to keep loving and fighting and filling our hearts with love. You are the kindest person I know and you can't hate anyone." It is difficult to stay grounded in love while deeply hurting and deeply angry, and yet perhaps now more than ever, this is what we are called to do.

We also model our centeredness when, during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, we continue to include moments of being present and fully awake to our children. I believe that when children are listened to, respected, and allowed to express ideas and feelings that are different from our own, they grow up to be adults who will do the same for others. When we look our children in the eyes and say, "I am thankful for you, that of all the millions of possibilities, I am so thankful that I ended up with you," we light a little flame of love within them that is not easily extinguished. We invite you to celebrate and be present with your child or children this season, who truly are and will be the light for our world.

May our little lights shine this year, and may you have a truly Happy Thanksgiving.



Rebecca Walsh

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
— Chinese Philosopher - Lao-Tse - 6th century BCE

Sunny Day Shadow Play!

The easiest, most fun and mess-free science experiment for our (finally) sunny days!

The sun is finally starting to shine on us here in San Francisco and this science experiment allows you to capitalize on those sunny moments with no advance planning or purchasing of materials.  Follow instructions below for 5 steps to build curiosity, awe and joy on your next sunny day!

Step 1: Pick a place indoor or out where the sun is shining and shadows are casting. (If you are outside you may want to place a light-colored blanket or sheet down over the ground).

Step 2: Start to talk to your little one about shadows.  Experiment with your hands and bodies first-then ask your child to find a couple of objects and to guess what shapes the shadow will be. 

Step 3: Once they have discovered that the shadows generally make the same shape as the object (though sometimes bigger or smaller), talk about the color of the shadow and how it is usually dark, even though the objects may be different colors.

Step 4: Now comes the fun part-grab something colorful but translucent and watch the joy as they discover “color shadows.”  For verbal children be sure to ask why they think these objects are making color shadows and these other objects are not.  For all children, but especially the younger set, try not to talk too much and focus on the joy of discovery!

Step 5: Go on a “see-through” hunt around your house to find colorful translucent objects and let the learning, fun and scientific discovery begin!

Happy Mother's Day! Beyond breakfast in bed: Self-care all year long

By Rebecca Walsh

...when your cup is full, it runs over to fill those around you.
— Aviva Jill Romm

As Mother’s Day approaches each year, we are inundated with messages that we deserve “the day off” or to be pampered with breakfast in bed, spa visits, flowers and gifts. While these can be gratefully received and sincerely appreciated, what if this message to take extra special care of ourselves was a year-round approach? Sadly, I think we often encounter the opposite message: the expectation that we should be able to do it all, take on more, care for all, and care least for ourselves.

The other day, a friend texted me that she had just had surgery on her shoulder and was now spending the day in bed for the first time in 10 years. She told me this felt like the first day she truly “had off” since she had become a mother. I could relate to the feeling: several months ago, I had spent a day at the hospital and in some strange way, it felt like a retreat. This bothered me greatly. It seemed that everyone did survive without me that day, and it begged the question, "Why don’t I take a day off every once in a while? Why don’t I take a morning, an afternoon, anything?” I would readily hire a babysitter to go to work, to volunteer in my son’s class, even to run errands for the family, but when, if ever, did I hire a babysitter to sit in a cafe alone with my thoughts for an hour?

Self-care seems like a buzz word these days and often seems like one more thing we don’t have time for, or one more thing we are failing to accomplish. The past few years I have been trying (often desperately) to see it differently. Instead of a big hovering to-do list, I’ve been learning to see self-care as small acts of intention that we choose each day. When we make a point to extend the same care and respect we show our children and families to ourselves, we nourish ourselves. We are sending the vital message to our children that we are worth taking care of.

When we take the time to prepare a healthy meal for ourselves, instead of absently grazing as we hurry through our days, we are practicing self-care. When we make the time to care for our bodies through exercise, acupuncture, or even scheduling that dental check-up, we are practicing self-care. When we decide to take our kids on a walk through the Canyon instead of the playground they are begging for, because we know the time in nature will be more life-giving for us, we are practicing self-care. When we decide to put down our phone or computer and eat our lunch on a real plate, uninterrupted, or read a book, or go to bed early, we are practicing self-care. When we acknowledge that we can’t do it all, and we seek out support from others, we are practicing self-care.

And when we finally admit to ourselves that the “super mom” concept is as elusive as Wonder Woman herself, we are finally, I believe, heading down the road to better care of ourselves. As mothers, especially in this hectic, demanding chapter of raising young children, it can be very difficult to carve out protected time to care for ourselves. It can be helpful, then, to identify moments where we can care for ourselves in the midst of parenting. These small, ongoing moments of mindful self-care can keep us nourished year-round as we grow through this season of life.

Wishing all mothers a joyful Mother’s Day. May we find strength in supporting one another through this journey!


Rebecca Walsh

Tips for a Low-Stress Holiday Season

For me, one of the most stressful parts of the holidays is the pressure I put on myself each year to give my children a season full of rich and meaningful traditions and experiences. Ice skate in Union Square, Check. Make cookies and give to neighbors, Check. Make home-made ornaments, Check! And the list, of course, could go on and on.

Over the years, I have learned that, in fact, all of my holiday traditions do not have to be relived in their entirety each year! Keeping in mind that these memories were created over a lifetime and will be recreated over my children’s lifetimes has allowed me to relax and enjoy the season without overdoing or overscheduling. I have sought balance by picking one or two special holiday activities that I try to do with the children each year. Beyond that, I think of anything else as a bonus: if they work out, wonderful! If not, maybe we will try to do that activity next year.

This year, I begin our holiday season with a newborn and I think with the newborn comes somewhat of a “free pass” to not expect myself to do everything. So far, I am finding that without the pressure, there are surprisingly sweet holiday moments popping up around many turns. Here, we offer a few tips and ideas to reduce the holiday stress meter in your life!

1. Keep it simple. It is so tempting to buy lots of gifts for our children during the holidays in an effort to give them an unforgettable day. It can be helpful to remember that the more toys children have, the less they value them. Overall, having fewer possessions helps children have longer attention spans and be more resourceful, cooperative and creative. Giving your child a few lovingly chosen, made-to-last toys is far more valuable than a mountain of toys that will quickly get lost or forgotten.
2. Manage expectations. Remember that the holiday season can be overwhelming for your child. Try to keep your child’s sleep and dietary habits as consistent as possible, and let your child know what to expect before any events that might be overstimulating or involve a lot of unfamiliar people. At this stage of parenting young children, less is more. Simple, low-key activities can be a great way to keep stress levels down and create warm, positive family memories.
3. Cultivate gratitude. Keep the focus on gratitude for the blessings in your life, and model this gratitude to your child. This article has great, concrete suggestions (including holiday-specific ideas) for fostering gratitude in young children.

If you are considering donating your time or resources to families in need this season, here are some of our favorite organizations working to support strong, healthy, safe families in the Bay Area and beyond:

Homeless Prenatal Program
Talk Line Family Support Center
Hamilton Family Shelter
Rita de Cascia Program
La Casa de las Madres
Every Mother Counts
4. Take time to care for yourself. As parents, the holidays can add another layer of stress and expectation to our already demanding lives. Be sure to factor in time for self-care. A few suggestions on how to easily incorporate self-care into your daily life:

  • Have a couple spare moments? Need to detox after a trip to the mall? Try the Mindfulness app for an easy, guided daily meditation anytime, anywhere.
  • If guided meditation isn’t your thing, try relaxing with a mindfulness coloring book for adults-a great way to de-stress and settle your thoughts.
  • Practice deep breathing and yoga poses when you have a few moments. We love the Daily Yoga App or if your children are underfoot-include them! Books like Good Night Yoga by Mariam Gates are a great way to introduce basic poses to children.

Here's to a low-stress holiday and new beginnings in the New Year!

-Rebecca Walsh & Shannon Jerolmon

Think (and Shop) like a Preschool Teacher: The ECM Holiday Gift Guide is here!

By Rebecca Walsh & Shannon Jerolmon

Ready or not…the holidays are here!   Holidays with little ones can be a marvelous and nostalgic time to reignite holiday traditions and bring back a little bit of the holiday magic.  At the same time, they can include stressful travel, disruptions in schedule and childcare, and lots of extended family (and their well-meaning gifts!)  

When I became a parent six years ago, I immediately began to think about the home play space I would create for my child. After carefully designing countless preschool and toddler classrooms over the years, I excitedly set out to organize my own child’s play space. Play is the work of childhood, and a child’s toys and the environment in which she/he plays has a significant impact on their “work.” Years later, many of the same considerations about play environment continue to inform my holiday shopping decisions.

One way I have avoided accumulating so many toys, and being pulled into purchasing the latest and greatest gadgets, is to basically not buy anything that I wouldn’t find in a high quality early childhood setting.  When I think about what toys would benefit my children, I think about the curriculum areas of a preschool or toddler room-each of which support specific areas of child development.  From there, I consider how to diversify and enliven each area to engage my children in all areas of play, deepening their specific areas of interest and thoughtfully expanding their play in ways that might not come as naturally. As we create a more intentional balance in the play materials offered to our children, their play will become more balanced as well.

It is so tempting to buy lots of gifts for our children during the holidays in an effort to give them an unforgettable day. It can be helpful to remember that the more toys children have, the less they value them. Overall, having fewer possessions helps children have longer attention spans and be more resourceful, cooperative and creative. Giving your child a few lovingly chosen, made-to-last toys is far more valuable than a mountain of toys that will quickly get lost or forgotten.

Read on for the 2015 Early Childhood Matters’ Gift Guide. You will find toy suggestions arranged according to their corresponding preschool curriculum area. I hope you find this guide helpful as you build up your toy libraries in thoughtful and creative ways.

While we have provided some online links for your reference, we strongly encourage you to shop local wherever possible. Some of our favorite local shops include Recess, Green Apple Books, West Portal’s 3 toy stores, and, of course, consignment shops like Chloe’s Closet. We also like to check out local parent listservs, Craigslist or neighborhood parenting pages on Facebook for gently used children’s items. A quick online search will yield an abundance of postings for items like balance bikes, play kitchens, train sets, clothing and baby gear. Not only is this a great way to keep costs down during the holidays (and throughout the year), it is also a great way to connect with your community, reduce waste, and help your neighbors de-clutter!

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

ECM Approved Holiday Gift Guide: 2015


BLOCKS/MANIPULATIVES (Fine motor skills, mathematical thinking, collaboration, problem solving)

·         Wooden Blocks: If you don’t have a solid collection of wooden blocks, I would recommend starting here. It is great to have a large selection in a variety of shapes and sizes, to inspire limitless creativity in building. Ages 2-still going strong at 6!

·         Shape Stacker (Maple Landmark): This stacker grows with your child. A very young child can grab and stack the pieces, and this stacker’s unique geometrical shapes extend the learning well into 18m-3years. Available at Recess!

·         Magna Tiles: If you haven’t discovered these yet, let me be the first to introduce you to what will likely lead to hours of engaged happy creative children! Ages 2-still going strong at 6!


DRAMATIC PLAY (creative thinking, social emotional, collaboration, problem solving)

·         Wooden Play Kitchen/Kitchen Toys These are available in a wide range of styles and price points. Keep an eye out for gently used play kitchens that have plenty of life left, or if you’re feeling crafty, try making your own!

·         Baby Dolls These are beloved by toddler boys and girls alike. When selecting baby dolls, think about dolls that are diverse in ethnicity/gender/appearance as a way of enriching your child’s play space.

·         Baby doll strollers can add great fun for indoor and outdoor walks and nurturing imaginative play. Doll-sized baby carriers and wraps are also a sweet, hands-free way for toddlers to transport their lovies just like grownups (and can be helpful in the adjustment to having a younger sibling!).

·         Tool box: Wonderful for imitating and “helping” parents with home repairs; these also help develop fine-motor skills and teach cause-and-effect.

·         To encourage your little helper to join in household tasks in a more practical way, child-sized brooms and dustpans (like these) are a great place to start.

ARTS & CRAFTS (Creative expression, fine motor skills)

·         Toddler-sized crayons Left-Right Crayons (International Arrivals): These crayons are erasable, ergonomically appropriate for even the earliest drawers, super sturdy, non-toxic, and eco-friendly. And the colors are beautiful! (These left/right crayons are available at Recess!)

·         Do-a-dots are great for creative expression with minimal mess and cleanup required

·         Easel and washable paint in primary colors for hours of mixing fun!

SCIENCE/SENSORY (Sensory integration, scientific thinking)

A great home-made gift idea is to make some play-doh, moon sand, kinetic sand, or Gak as a holiday present for your child. This can also be a wonderful gift for an older sibling to make for their younger toddler-aged sibling! (Recipes can be found online; a great resource for sensory recipes and ideas is Ooey Gooey)


No matter your age, there is something special about having a real instrument of your very own. Ukuleles are just the right size for toddlers to strum, and are quite pleasant to listen to (as long as they are in tune!). Small instruments such as kazoos, egg shakers, tambourines and harmonicas are also great fun for budding musicians and make for very affordable gifts for the younger set.

GROSS MOTOR (big body play, energy release, muscle strengthening, balance, and lots of sensory input)

·         Balance Bikes are preferable to scooters for building left/right hemisphere connections and, well, balance

·         Mini Trampoline great energy release on rainy days!

·         Radio flyer rocking horse-Great indoor energy outlet and proprioceptive and vestibular stimulation

·         Door swing/ladder-for an active toddler (and way beyond!) a door swing or ladder to climb will provide countless moments of indoor fun, muscle building and energy release

·         Punching bag or bop it bag - a great energy release for the active child!

·         Hoppity hops-a classic bouncing toy for developing balance and releasing energy

·         Balls-a good collection of indoor soft balls to help redirect the toddler throwing stage, as well as some balls to bring along to the park!

·         Scarves- store bought or a thrift store collection to encourage dancing, imagining and moving in creative ways.


The holidays are a wonderful time to build your child’s library. Listed below are some of our recent favorites-books that our children request time and again, and that we are happy to read as often as they like. Our favorite books tend to include rich, detailed illustrations (often with humorous hidden details), books that highlight and celebrate diversity, and books that carry valuable messages in a beautiful, lyrical voice.

·         Little Humans by Brandon Stanton. The creator of Humans of New York wrote and photographed the images in this book. Simple, empowering text with gorgeous portraits of children in New York City.

·         All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon. A lovely, gentle book about families living through the simple joys and disappointments of a single day. A great story to read before bed; its nature-centered illustrations and mellow, reassuring rhyme are incredibly soothing for children and adults alike.

·         Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback. A simple folk tale with a message, masterfully illustrated with die-cut images and plenty of hidden details that will make adults chuckle. There is a song version of the book that is fun to sing with toddlers.

·         The Day the Babies Crawled Away by Peggy Rathman. A funny and tender story of a small child coming to the rescue when a group of babies escape from a pie-eating contest, written by the author of the classic Good Night, Gorilla. The illustrations are all in silhouette, making it visually striking to look at.

·         Cars and Trucks and Things that Go by Richard Scarry. We love this book (and really, anything by Richard Scarry) and so do our kids. The incredibly detailed, whimsical illustrations and meandering storyline mean that there is always something new to notice in its pages.

·         The Ultimate Book of Vehicles from Around the World by Anne-Sophie Baumann. If your child loves vehicles and/or Richard Scarry books, this gorgeous book is a great next read. It features realistic but fun illustrations of a wide variety of cars, trucks, boats and planes (even rockets!) and has pop-up features and moving parts throughout the book. A fascinating keepsake.

·         The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman. Another beautifully illustrated book, filled with detailed illustrations that even the littlest readers will pore over with interest. This book explores and celebrates families of all kinds. It is a fantastic book to have in your library as your child grows, gracefully addressing big topics and opening the door for meaningful discussions.

·         Life-Size Zoo by Teruyuki Komiya. This is a fascinating book that will grow with your child. It features up-close, fold-out, life-size photographs of a variety of different animals. Toddlers will enjoy looking at their favorite animals and pointing out body parts; older children will love learning interesting facts, which are written and illustrated in small comics along the margins.

When Halloween is More Tricks than Treats

Parenting insights and advice from Rebecca Walsh, director of Early Childhood Matters

“My three-year-old is very frightened by Halloween decorations. From the giant spiders and bats on the walls of the grocery store to the truly spooky decorations in our neighbors’ windows, he seems to get scared every time we leave the house these days! How can I help him be less afraid, and make sure our family makes it through all our scheduled Halloween festivities in one piece?”

Rebecca says:
First off, it’s important to remember that, at this age, young children cannot separate fantasy from reality. Images that may seem benign or silly to us as adults (such as a fake flying bat or a plastic mummy) can be very frightening to a young child. While we may try to avoid exposing our children to scary images or media, it can be impossible to avoid during the Halloween season. The following tips can be helpful for taking some of the fear away:

1. Talk to your child about what is real and what is not. 

If they are afraid of a spooky bat decoration, you can tell them about bats in an objective, scientific manner. “This is a pretend bat. Real bats are animals who fly at night and sleep upside down.” Have your child make the whooshing sound that a bat’s wings might make. Encourage your child to touch the fake bat to reassure himself that it is not alive. Giving your child the opportunity to confront their fear in a supportive manner will empower him, and take some of the power away from his fear.

2. Help create positive associations with fearful things.

Visit the library to find books with friendly protagonists (for example, if your child is afraid of bats, check out the classic children’s book Stellaluna). If your child is frightened of vampires, The Count from Sesame Street can create a positive and humorous association. If the giant spider in the grocery store is causing your child some anxiety, try singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and then changing the words to “The Big Hairy Spider” in a silly voice.

3. If the daytime fears are manifesting themselves into nightmares, stay calm at night and simply remind your child that he is safe. 

Don’t ask for details about the dream unless he brings it up, then calmly and lovingly reassure him. The next morning, you might bring up the dream again. Help your child to process by talking about the dream using some of the strategies described above.

4. In planning Halloween activities, be mindful of events that might be too frightening for young children. 

Daytime activities tend to be more family-friendly and less anxiety-provoking for little ones than events after dark.

5. Talk through events with your child before they happen.

If your child will be trick-or-treating for the first time, explain the sequence of events in detail, several times if possible. You might want to prepare your child that there will likely be people wearing a range of costumes, some of which might be scarier than others. Continue to emphasize the difference between fantasy and reality.

6. Focus on the fun of getting to delve into the fantasy of wearing a costume and pretending to be something or someone different. 

Follow your child’s lead and keep things light and fun. And parents who love haunted houses and scary costumes, take heart: before you know it, your children will be older and able to engage in the holiday in a new way.

Good luck!

Off to Preschool!

Your child is about to start preschool! This is a wonderful opportunity for your child to develop new friendships, gain new skills, and grow in independence. Of course, this transition can be a time of mixed emotions for both you and your child.

Like so many things in life, preparation is key. Here are some ways to help prepare your little one for their big transition. Try to keep your efforts low-key and lighthearted-conveying excitement and confidence in your child’s readiness for this next chapter.

One or Two Weeks Prior to First Day of School

Visit the preschool if possible. Ideally, your child will have explored the environment and met their teachers before their first day of school. Ask about arranging such a visit if one is not offered. Note: often these visits happen well before two weeks prior to the first day of school and that is perfectly fine.

Read books about going to preschool, take advantage of any opportunities that arise to talk about the feelings the character in the book and/or your child might be feeling. Some of our favorite “first day” books include The Kissing Hand, Llama Llama Misses Mama, and Bye-Bye Time.

If possible, you can also make your own book including pictures of your child’s new preschool: the entrance, the indoor and outdoor environments, the teachers, etc. Photos such as these can often be found on the school website, and if you can snap some during the visits with your child in them, even better!  You can also add to this book as the year goes on. Having a personalized book such as this can make a huge impact for a young child’s sense of belonging in a new space.  It also allows a natural way for the child to reflect with you about their day.

Allow your child to select any necessary school gear such as a special backpack, lunchbox, or nap mat of their choosing. Write your child’s name on their personal items together.

Start adjusting your child’s bedtime and morning waking if need be. Try to get them on their “school schedule” prior to their first week if possible. You can adjust the timing by 15 minute increments each night/morning for a smooth transition.  

The Day/Night Before Preschool

During daytime hours, mention that school will be starting the next day. Answer any last-minute questions that may arise. Explore feelings if need be, acknowledging and normalizing ambivalence or mixed emotions. Convey confidence in your child’s ability to handle change.  

Let your child choose their outfit for the first day of school if that is something that works in your home. Some children do better with fewer choices, you know your child best.

Create a visual routine for their morning including breakfast, special time (see note below), getting dressed, bathroom, teeth, shoes, etc. This visual checklist can work wonders to give your child a sense of ownership and independence during this daily transition out the door.

Pick a bedtime that gives your child a good night’s rest before his or her first day. Keep the bedtime routine soothing and relaxing.

At bedtime don’t focus too much (or at all!) on the first day of school unless your child initiates the topic.

The First Day

Wake up early enough to allow ample time for your morning routine so you and your child don’t have to rush to get to school on time. If possible, leave enough time for some floor time or special time with your child before you head out.  This emotional connection with you can help to ease the morning time transition and “fill their cup” for a day independent of their parents.

Make breakfast for your child and, if possible, sit down to eat together.

Review the day’s routine: what preschool will be like, who will be dropping off and picking up.

Let your child choose a special stuffed animal or blanket to bring to school with her. These “loveys” can help children make the transition from home to school, and can also make naptime easier, too. You may want to send your child with a family photo or favorite book as well. These familiar objects can help if she feels lonely during the day.

Saying Good-Bye

Plan to stay a little while. Staying for up to 15 minutes on that first morning can help ease the transition. Together, the two of you can explore the classroom, meet some other children, and play with a few toys. When you see that your child is comfortable it is time to leave. If he is having a harder time getting engaged you may want to ask your child’s teacher to stay with your child as you say good-bye so when you leave he can turn to another caring adult for support.

Think about creating a special good-bye routine. For example, you can give your child a kiss on his or her palm to “hold” all day long. Or, the two of you can sing a special song together or read a book together before you leave. Good-bye routines are comforting to children and help them understand and prepare for what will happen next. 

DO NOT SNEAK AWAY. It might be tempting to sneak out when you see your child is occupied, but your little one will feel more afraid and insecure if you suddenly disappear.

Say goodbye. Keep your tone positive and upbeat. Children pick up on the reactions of the trusted adults in their lives. Try not to look worried or sad (even if you are), and don’t linger too long. Say a quick, confident good-bye and reassure your child that all will be well. “Mommy/Daddy always comes back”.

Resist the urge to rescue. It is natural for your child to feel a little sad. If you hear your child crying try not to run back in the classroom to help them. Instead allow the teachers to comfort your child and get them acclimated. If you run back in it could send the message that he is only okay if you are there, and it will likely prolong your child’s distress and make it harder for them to adapt. Even if you have to run to your car afterward and have a good cry, it is important to display confidence in your child, her school, and her teachers while you are in front of your child. After all, they will take their cues from you about how comfortable they should be with this transition!

Rest assured, teachers are adept at helping children adapt to their new environment. They will typically contact you if your child seems too distraught for an extended period of time.

Take care of yourself! Emotions can arise for parents too, especially if you have left your crying child behind. Express your feelings to a trusted friend or partner and practice good self-care during this time of transition for yourself as well!

 Wishing you and your family a smooth and happy start to the school year!

-Karin Appleton and the ECM team


Plenty to Sing About: Music in Early Childhood

Since becoming a parent, I find myself singing my way through every day. I am, to put it generously, a below-average singer, but my toddler son delights in music, and his joy and enthusiasm are contagious enough to force me to set aside my self-consciousness. Walking down the street, riding on the bus, preparing lunch, playing on the floor-we are always singing, humming, shaking instruments and dancing. We love music in our family, and for good reason.

Music is tremendously valuable for young children in so many ways. Singing to babies and toddlers is precious bonding time that helps deepen the connection between children and their family members. Listening to music introduces new words, teaches the concepts of rhythm and rhyme, fosters language, listening and pattern recognition skills that help prepare children for school, and is a wonderful way to expose children to different cultures. Music can help calm children when they are overstimulated, or enliven and “reset” children after a meltdown. Predictable songs can also help young children with daily transitions, like getting in the car or being put down for a nap. And above all, listening to, and making, music is endlessly fun!

We listen to all kinds of music in our home, and we have found that our son loves plenty of music that is not specifically intended for a child audience (I have yet to meet a child, for example, who hasn’t responded positively to Paul Simon’s Graceland). But while, in my pre-child life, I derided the idea of “kid music,” I have since found some great musicians whose songs are geared for children. They are catchy, with kid-friendly themes and lyrics, but still enjoyable for the grown-ups who are listening too. These are some of Early Childhood Matters’ favorite musicians for kids. If you haven’t checked them out, we recommend giving these artists a listen!

Putumayo Kids These compilation albums of kid-friendly music from around the world are delightful for children and adults alike. “Playground” albums are lively and upbeat; “Dreamland” albums are mellow and soothing. Our favorite albums include Reggae Playground, New Orleans Playground, and African Dreamland.

Elizabeth Mitchell This New York-based “all-ages folk singer” has an achingly lovely voice and sings a variety of folk, international, and classic children’s songs. She began her musical career while working as a preschool teacher, when she discovered the power of music as a profound point of connection between herself and students. My wife and I like her music so much, we actually listen to her albums when our kid is asleep.

Raffi A childhood staple for many of us, Raffi’s songs-at once both silly and gentle-still resonate greatly with little ones. His songs work great for transitions-we sing the “Brush Your Teeth,” “New River Train,” and “The Corner Grocery Store” songs regularly as we go about our days.

Crosspulse Percussion Ensemble We started listening to this group after stumbling upon their album in a Vermont library, but were lucky enough to see them perform live within a week of moving to the Bay Area. Based out of Oakland, this performance arts nonprofit project delivers “rhythm-based, intercultural music and dance.” Their music is fun to listen to, and it is a treat to see them perform live-the artists make music from all manner of unexpected instruments.

Who are you and your children singing along to these days? Let us know!

To learn more about the benefits of music in early childhood, check out the following resources:
"Music and Movement-Instrumental for Language Development"
"Playing With Music at Home"
"10 Ways Babies Learn When We Sing to Them!"

Singing through Transitions

If transitions are turning into power struggles for you and your little one, try singing! Predictable songs for getting dressed, changing diapers, getting in the car, or brushing teeth can ease transitions and make trying times into fun bonding experiences. Here are a few tried-and-true examples that you might try:

Getting Dressed: "This is the way we put on our shoes, put on our shoes, put on our shoes, This is the way we put on our shoes, so early in the morning!"
Changing Diapers: "What's inside your diaper, oh what's inside your diaper, what's inside your diaper, oh what's inside today?" 
Getting in the Car: "Take me riding in the car, car, take me riding in the car, car, Take you riding in my car, car, I'll take you riding in my car!" (credit to Woody Guthrie; learn the full song here)

-Shannon Jerolmon

Kitchen Time with Toddlers: From Frustrating Whines to Squeals of Joy!

To a child, the kitchen is a sensory wonderland of textures, colors, shapes, smells, sounds and tastes. It’s no wonder children are so often underfoot in the kitchen!

Unfortunately, this can often be a source of frustration and anxiety for parents who are trying to get dinner on the table, and who worry about having their little ones in close proximity to hot/sharp/spill-prone objects. However, with proper baby-proofing and careful supervision, the kitchen can be a source of endless learning and enjoyment for children and parents alike.

Read on for engaging sensory activities that await your child in the kitchen. These activities will help keep little hands and minds busy while you find yourself likely spending many hours in the kitchen. Using these tips, you can turn a frustrating time into a positive and productive time for all.

Get to know your food

While you are cooking, give your child the opportunity to engage with whole foods. Let her hold fruits and vegetables and point out their unique colors, textures, shapes, smells, and of course, their flavors! Describe the similarities and differences you see (i.e. an onion has a papery skin while an orange has a thick, squishy peel). Allow your child to sniff different spices while cooking and help you knead dough while baking. Engage all five senses in the sensory delights of food. 

Let them help!

From a very young age, children have a fundamental desire to feel a sense of belonging and to contribute as a valued member of their family and community. (In child development parlance, this is referred to as “social interest.”) A great way to foster your child’s sense of ability and belonging is to let him or her help out with household tasks. Toddlers and preschoolers are naturally interested in mimicking our behaviors and want to help out. As parents, our first impulse might be to just do things ourselves because it is faster and more efficient. Giving children an opportunity to contribute sends the message that they are capable and needed in the family. Try letting your child help pour cereal, mix batter, sweep the floor, wipe down the table, or wash shatter-proof dishes in a sink of soapy warm water. These are valuable, affirming activities for little ones.

Make some dough!

Homemade play-dough is very inexpensive, very easy to make, and ensures endless hours of open-ended play for children of all ages. We’ve included our favorite tried-and-true play-dough recipe here, but there are countless varieties. A quick online search will yield plenty of dough options: cook/no-cook, edible, gluten-free, scented, glittery… (so don’t worry if you don’t own cream of tartar and never plan to!). Dig out cookie cutters, kid-friendly utensils, and found natural items like shells and leaves to enhance play. If you have a handheld garlic press, it can be used to make great spaghetti-like strands of dough that kids love!

Homemade Play-Dough

1 cup flour
½ cup salt
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon oil
2 teaspoons cream of tartar

Optional: a few drops of food coloring

Combine all ingredients in a pan and stir.  Cook over low heat, stirring, until a ball forms. Cool before playing. Dough will last for several weeks if kept in a sealed container or bag. 

Make a sensory table

Look in your pantry for dried items that could facilitate sensory play for your child. Dried beans, lentils, rice, grains, cornmeal and pasta are all great staples-not just for cooking, but also for creating an in-home sensory table. Pour them into a large bin for your child to play with. Add measuring cups and spoons for scooping, a small colander for straining, empty jars and cardboard tubes for pouring, tongs for lifting, and watch your child stay engaged for hours. This type of hands-on, open-ended play fosters fine motor skill development, teaches cause and effect, and cultivates problem-solving and creativity. See for more details about the benefits of sensory tables and more suggestions for materials.

Water play

If your child loves playing in the water, you can help make their play even more exciting and educational with “new” toys-consisting of infrequently used kitchen gadgets. Different sized funnels, a turkey baster, new sponges (try cutting them into shapes), plastic containers (i.e. yogurt containers), and strainers can all be repurposed as water toys. The tub or sink is obviously the most contained indoor area for water play, but putting a large tub filled partially with water on the kitchen floor, surrounded with towels, might make for more a comfortable play area for your child. It will likely make a mess, but it’s only water. In our family, we regularly remind ourselves that “water is the only mess that cleans itself.” Like sensory tables, water play cultivates learning and growth in many areas. Playing in water also has a soothing effect for many children (and adults!)-a good thing to keep in mind if your child appears overwhelmed or tense.

Above all, have fun! Enjoy the learning process alongside your child.

-Shannon Jerolmon & Rebecca Walsh

Toddler Travel Tips!

For many of us, the holidays mean traveling to visit loved ones or heading to a new destination for a family vacation. If your holiday plans will include planes, trains or automobiles, read on for a few tips to help your toddler (and you!) enjoy the journey...

Read, read, read! Books with lift-the-flap features and various textures are a great option and will hold your child’s interest for some time. So will books with lots of details and hidden illustrations (Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go is a perennial favorite. Find Goldbug on every page!). Also consider packing books that might prepare your child for new climates or experiences they will encounter on your trip (for example, Ezra Jack Keats' classic winter tale, The Snowy Day).
Play! Try to introduce different toys and activities gradually on your trip, rather than all at once. Some parents find it helpful to present a new activity on an hourly basis to add an element of excitement and anticipation. A few great options for little ones on long flights:

  • Finger puppets! Easy to pack and encourage imaginative, interactive play.
  • Snacks can serve double duty as toys! Have your child practice her fine-motor skills by threading Cheerio’s onto yarn (or chenille sticks and larger round cereal for smaller hands) or see how many crackers she can stack on her tray table before they topple.
  • Dig into your memory bank and play old-school road trip games! I-Spy can be a great way to practice identifying colors and shapes and keep toddlers engaged! Remember an engaged child is a happy child!
  • Other great ideas located on our blog 5 Toddler Friendly Airplane Activities (Screen-Time Free!)

Get your wiggles out! Obviously, it can be challenging to give your child opportunities to move on flights or long car trips. When possible, help your child walk down the aisle of the plane to stretch her legs. Some basic stretches that can be performed while seated can also help your wiggly child feel more comfortable--"Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" can be performed while sitting!  During layovers, look for a less-trafficked area of the airport and do some jumping jacks, "Ring-a-Round the Rosie" or "Motor Boat". On road trips, plan for regular rest stops for everyone to get some fresh air and exercise. Utilize apps, such as Trekaroo, to find playgrounds and kid-friendly venues along the way.

Show and Tell: get ready to see the relatives! Will your child be spending a lot of time with relatives he rarely sees? Talk to your child about who you’ll be visiting. Bring along photos and tell your child tidbits that they might enjoy (Aunt Kate has a new puppy we can meet; Grandpa Joe makes the best pancakes; Cousin Leah can do cartwheels!). This will drum up excitement for seeing relatives and help break the ice upon arrival.

Preserve routines when possible. While traveling can be an exciting adventure, the stimulation and disruptions to routine can also be very disorienting and stressful to children. Whenever possible, try to maintain the structure to which your child is accustomed. This is especially important at bedtime: help your child relax in an unfamiliar environment by following the same pre-bed routine, playing the same bedtime sounds (try apps like Sleep Pillow for white noise on-the-go), and, of course, remembering to pack your child’s beloved comfort objects!
Keep calm and travel on. Traveling during the holidays can be especially trying, with crowded airports, flight delays, and emotions running high. Remember that your child is very attuned to your emotional state and will likely mirror your emotions, for better or for worse. Practice self-care and model self-soothing (deep breaths!) to your child during times of stress. When the journey feels endless, remind yourself, “This too shall pass.”
Leave room for silliness! Nothing resets a tense moment like a giggle. Put on temporary tattoos (or stamps or stickers). Surprise your child mid-flight by putting on a fake mustache. Pack a compact mirror and practice making your funniest faces.  Bring a balloon and bubbles for hours of "trapped in a hotel room with no toys" kind of fun! Learn a few new kid-friendly jokes to debut during your travels. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “These things are fun and fun is good.”

Happy travels!

-Shannon Jerolmon