“Play is serious learning…

Play is the work of childhood” – Fred Rogers

Watching children play may seem like it’s all fun and games, but if you take a closer look, there’s a lot of learning going on. Babies and toddlers explore their physical world by playing with simple items like rattles, plastic cups and bowls, and their all time favorite toy, the empty box. They are fascinated by sand or water in a cup and finding that they can dump it out. They will explore every facet of an empty box, and if it’s big enough they will even crawl into it.

Toddlers will often play side by side but not necessarily with each other. As they reach pre-school age, they begin to play cooperatively.  They imitate what they see adults do, they create every day scenarios, and they begin to cooperate with each other.  They create specific roles and rules for pretend behavior and adopt multiple themes and multiple roles. They learn how to negotiate who is going to be the “mommy” and who is going to be the “baby.” They use props such as dolls, toy dishes, and dress-up clothes. They construct “houses” with sheets on a clothes line. It’s as if they are trying to re-enact what they see in their everyday lives, or what they know of it so far. Children from all cultures play in a similar manner.

Play actually helps foster social interaction and cognitive development.  It helps children realize that others have feelings and needs and it is important to consider other’s perspective.

Most elementary teachers would not expect students to enter first grade already knowing how to read, spell, or do math, but they do hope their students will arrive already knowing how to concentrate, cooperate, pay attention, and be considerate of others. These are the kinds of things children learn through play while interacting with peers.

Today some children don’t have as much opportunity for “constructive play” and this is influenced by several factors.  In many households both parents have to work, and due to hectic pick-up / drop-off schedules, children don’t have the opportunity to play with other kids in their neighborhood. TV, video games, and the computer also cut in on that time. They also interact with modern toys that are not always conducive to building imagination and make-pretend play themes. There are more adult organized and directed activities than in years past, such as sports and dance classes.

A good opportunity for constructive, creative play can be found in early childhood classrooms. Children can play with others from various backgrounds and similar age groups. They can see their peers on a regular basis where large blocks of time are devoted to playing and exploring. Playing may not look very important to the untrained eye, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see children are learning more and more about the world every day.

Try Our Favorite DIY Playdough Recipe!

DIY Playdough

We LOVE this playdough recipe! Miss Michelle, our Beginning Learners Daycare teacher,  makes a fresh, new batch every month in a different color.  Using and manipulating this colored ball of dough helps strengthen fingers, helps with concentration and social skills, and encourages kids to use their imaginations.  According to NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, playdough also encourages children’s language and literacy, science, and math skills—all at the same time!

Kaneville Community Child Center puts a fresh cup of this magnificent homemade playdough in each “goodie” bag given to children after their tour of the center.  Here’s the low down on how to make this at home with your kiddos.


1c flour

1c water

2tsp cream of tartar

1/3c salt

1T veg oil

Food Coloring

Directions:  Combine all the ingredients in a 2qt saucepan.  Stir and mix over medium heat.  Keep stirring until it starts getting a little solid and doesn’t stick to sides of the pan.  It will look very sticky and gooey.  Take it out of the pan and knead it on the counter.  Do this until it’s the right consistency for you.

That’s it!  You’ll love it AND you can make a fresh new batch with your kids every month.

Want more??  Here’s a great link:  “Building with Playdough/Simple STEM Challenge for Kids by Lemon Lime Adventures

5 Tips towards Helping Your Preschooler Become An Independent Reader

Mother and Daughter Reading Together --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

One of the easiest ways to begin telling the story of a book is through the use of illustrations.  Most books for young children are illustrated in great detail, and noting important details related to the characters, plot, and setting will provide a wholesome first literacy activity.  Children at this level should be encouraged to browse through books and pretend to read the story, an initial step toward becoming and independent reader.  Here are five tips.

  1. Set aside a regular time and place for books so that reading books becomes as natural as eating and sleeping.
  2. Browse through books to help your child become familiar with books and how they are handled.
  3. Read the story as your child points to the pictures on each page.
  4. Let your child pretend to read the story as the adult points to the pictures.
  5. Make regular trips to the library and attend storytelling sessions.  Visit bookstores together to begin a personal library for your child.

Steps to Improve Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Self Esteem Dr. Seuss

Do you make your child’s self-esteem a priority?  You may not have even really thought about it.  Parents and caregivers are the most important people in promoting a child’s self-esteem.  Your words and your actions have a far greater impact than you may realize.  Once you are aware of what you say to your kids and how you say it, you will see the change in the way they feel about themselves.

According to an article printed by The Child Development Institute on “How to Help Children and Teens Develop Healthy Self-Esteem” your child may have low self-esteem if they:

  • avoid trying new things
  • blame others for their own shortcomings
  • feel, or pretend to feel, emotionally indifferent
  • are unable to tolerate a normal level of frustration
  • put down their own talents and abilities
  • are easily influenced

Read More here  to help you assess your child’s self-esteem and how you can help improve it.


TV Free Activities You Can Do with Your Child – It’s easy as A-B-C!

I'm bored cat

“Mommy, will you play with me?” or “I’m bored!” are common phrases for children ages two and up.  You can do activities with your child that don’t involve a television or an Ipad.  Your kids will actually enjoy the time spent with you more than the time spent with their media. In fact, they would choose it hands down every time especially if you replied, “Yes! I will play with you.” or “I have an idea of something we can do!”  Here are three easy as A-B-C, cheap, and fun activities you can do with your kiddos that don’t involve media of any kind.  Have fun playing with your kids!

Animal Footprints – what you’ll need: scrap wood/styrofoam/thick paper, scissors, string or a pair of shoelaces

Your kids can easily make their own mystery tracks in snow or dirt – and then lead an expedition to track the elusive critter PLUS you will be OUTSIDE.  You can create footprint makers out of all kinds of scrap material.  Styrofoam or small blocks or plywood work well.  Draw a pattern on paper; consider webbed feet (do you know where those flippers from summer are?), feet with exaggerated toes or claws (search for cool tree branches for some interesting “bird” or “monster” feet),  or feet with pads.  If you want to get real fancy, take a trip to the library and consult a nature guide.  Cut out the footprints, then fashion two straps made out of shoelaces, string, or ribbon.  The “straps” will hold the footprint maker to your child’s shoes or boots.  Be careful not to make the footprints too big or your child may not be able to walk in them.  Next, hit the great outdoors!  Your child can be the “track maker” and you or the rest of your family or friends can be the trackers.  By the way, the imaginary animals can only be snagged by non-violent means and they must be released back into to the wild after capture.

Balloon Volleyball – what you’ll need:  string, two chairs, a balloon

A rigorous game of volleyball is probably the last thing you want in your living room…unless the “ball” happens to be a balloon!  You can easily turn any room into a safe volleyball court.  Clear away a space and tie a string to the backs of two chairs.  You now have a playing field and a net.  Blow up a balloon.  Grab a marker and give your balloon a face.  You’re ready for action!  Encourage your kids to make up their own rules.  The game is only limited by the size of their imaginations and the room (of course).

Columbus – what you’ll need: smooth table surface, salt shaker or some other item that slides smoothly on the table

If you have a smooth table and an object that will slide harmlessly across it you can play this game.  Two players sit at opposite ends of the table; one slides the shaker to the other.  The object is to come as close to the edge as possible to the edge without going over.  Explain that back in the old days explorers used to fear going over the edge of the world until Columbus came along – hence the name of the game.

For every two slides, one from each person, the person who comes closest to the edge without going over wins.   You’ll find that the fun of the activity will transcend winning or losing. The real enjoyment comes from letting your shaker go…and watching it slide over the lip of the table, then stop just before tipping over!

You may find that once this activity has begun, it takes a considerable amount of willpower to stop.  Helpful hint:  place a blanket or pillow on the floor underneath the edges of the table.

From “365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do with Your Child” by Steve & Ruth Bennett



FREE Guide to Choosing Preschool or Child Care


Let’s face it! Choosing preschool or child care can be overwhelming whether it’s your first child, your first experience with child care, or you have experience with child care but life has thrown you a curve ball and you need to start searching again.  Here are some helpful tips to consider when making this very important decision for your family.

  1. Start early!  Start looking as far in advance as you can but at least one year prior to attending.  Tours are typically offered October through January.  Some schools/centers have year round admissions and attendance is accepted as long as there is an open slot.  If you are expecting a new baby, begin researching your options now! Depending on where you live, you may need to get on a wait list even before your baby is born. No matter what type of care you are considering finding the right child care center or preschool is a process that needs to be started as early as possible.  After all, you will be searching for the best fit for your child and your family when it comes to providing care and/or preschool, their daily needs, and a safe/happy environment that you trust.  Begin thinking about what type of care may fit your family’s needs and your child’s personal style best.
  2. Where to look? The best ways to find preschool programs are to attend preschool fairs where you can talk with teachers in person, get recommendations from fellow parents and scope out the programs’ websites.  Join a local mom blog or neighborhood social media group and get references. Locations close to home or work are a good start but remember they may not be the best fit for your family.  It may be worth your while to check out other centers or schools recommended by families like yours or families in your neighborhood in addition to the ones that are closer to home or work.
  3. Make a call and schedule a tour – then submit the application and fee. Usually you can tour the school while classes are in session, and sometimes you can even bring your child to spend time in the classroom.  Bring your child to see how they respond to the setting and teachers.  Bring anyone with you who may drop off or pick up as well.  Be ready with a notepad on the tour, and bring a list of all your questions.  If your gut says, “I LOVE it!” and your child responds well, go ahead and submit the application and fee.  If you are still on the fence, schedule a tour for each center/school you are considering.  Be patient as this is a very important decision.
  4. Know your needs – Children usually attend preschool for two years between the ages of 2.5 and 5 years old. Often, preschools run half-day programs for a nine-month school year. Some preschools have half-day and/or full-day programs and some offer before- and after-school care.  Child care centers vary from birth to age 12.  Most are year round five days a week.  Some parents opt for a half-day preschool and hire a nanny if they need additional hourly care. Be very specific to what your needs are when it comes to days of the week and hours needed.  Do you need to make a different schedule each month and will the facility be able to accommodate it?  Do they offer a drop-in program for those unexpected days when your child isn’t already scheduled for that day?  Grab your pad of paper and write down exactly what you need for your kiddos’ schedule.
  5. Ask questions to make an informed choice – Visit all the child care facilities you are considering. Before your visits, create a list of questions that you plan to ask.and note indicators of quality that you will look for. Make special note of these key qualities:
    • Adult to Child Ratio – the smaller the ration, the better!
    • Group Size – the smaller the group, the better!
    • Teacher Qualifications – what is their training and education?
    • Turnover – how long have they been with this facility?
  6. What to look for? 
    • Observe the staff and child interactions in each classroom. Pay close attention to the language used in the classrooms and the friendliness of the staff.  Make note of how the teachers interact with students and with YOU.
    • Home-to-school connections are important. Preschools that have high family involvement are often the schools with the strongest programs. When families are involved, children do better, teachers feel supported and everyone works together for the children’s learning and development.
    • High-quality preschools have structure and routines.  They follow a specific philosophy or model (i.e. play based, Montessori, Reggio-Emilia, faith based, or an outdoor program).  Do they have a daily routine?  If so, how does that work?  What are their guidelines for addressing challenging behavior?
    • Discipline policies should emphasize positive approaches to teaching children new skills and proactive strategies for behavior management such as classroom rules, routines and social-emotional lessons or curriculum.
  7. Ask about policies – find out the policies on potty training, discipline, tuition, drop-off and pick-up.
  8. What is the philosophy on learning and development or their Core Values? Ask about their philosophies on learning and development. You’ll want to hear an enthusiastic and passionate response to this question.  Preferably, you’ll want to choose a preschool that follows a play based emergent curriculum.    Core values not only help the children but the families and the teachers.  It is vital to have a strong partnership between the school/center and the families who are enrolled.
  9. Trust your gut and know what’s most important for your family-  Does the program seem like a place that your child would enjoy coming to each day? Does it seem like a place that you can trust?  Will their program accommodate your families needs and calendar?
  10. Decision made! Now stay involved as much as you can. 
    Now that you’ve found the best fit for your child, the work continues as you are now partners with your chosen child care/preschool.
    Here are some ways to be involved:
    • Meet regularly with your caregivers and teachers, and ask questions.
    • Volunteer whenever needed, like being a special reader for the day, help with fundraisers, or join their parent group or Board (if they have one).
    • Enjoy your child’s birthday with their classmates.
    • Join in special events, field trips, family events, music programs, or for holiday parties or gatherings.
    Even if you can’t get time off from work during the day, please take a moment to check in at drop-off and pick-up times. Ask how your child’s day went, who did they play with today, or how your child is doing.  By visiting and/or participating in events at your child’s program, it sends the message that you think what your child is doing and learning is important and that you really care.

    Printable version  FREE Guide to Choosing Preschool or Child

Tips to Help You Balance Family Life with Your Career

Balancing your time with family and time spent developing your career is hard! It’s not easy to find the time to do both well. It’s essential to spend time with your partner or spouse as much as it is with your kids. Whether you work full-time or part-time or you work from home or outside your home it’s REALLY hard to make quality time with your family. You might feel like you have to choose between your job and your family. How do you choose when you want to do both?! It’s awful to feel torn but there ARE ways to make quality time with your family. It’s really all a matter of managing your time and making the most of it. Here are some simple strategies that may work for you.

1. When you leave work, leave work behind!

Do you go home and feel the need to answer emails or check voice mails or even continue a project? When you leave work, leave work behind! Spend your time at home relaxing with your family and doing things that boost your energy. This will not feel “normal” at first, especially if you are a workaholic. Making a conscious effort to leave work behind will actually benefit you at work (and your boss). Give yourself a break!

2. Create routines that will bring you closer.

Daily routines let you spend time together whether it be waking up a little earlier to have breakfast or a cup of coffee together, help pack lunches, or even make beds together. Routines can be practical chores that allow you and your loved ones some bonding time. Insist on having dinner with your family every night! This does not need to be fancy or even at home. With busy lives and busy kids, dinner can be as simple as eating out of the back of your van or truck together or stopping to sit and have a bite to eat at a restaurant. You will be creating a memory that your family will always remember and hopefully follow this routine with their family someday. Creating regular family routines can help you appreciate the ordinary aspects of life.

3. Make an effort to carve out a little time to be together.

Your family needs to be your priority when you are not at work. You can prioritize your family on the weekends and during your vacations. Plan special things to do together and even surprise them once in a while. It can be as simple as playing a board game together or renting a movie, picking out your favorite box candy, and making popcorn. You could do a little planning by taking a road trip together or even visit treasured friends who don’t live close anymore. Keep this simple by planning one day a week or even one weekend a month to spend time with your family working together on simple chores or hitting the road and stopping at “that place” we like to visit but never seem to have time.

Make these strategies part of your regular routine and you will find yourself making quality memories and recharging yourself. Leave work at work, establish a few simple routines, once a week or month carve out time for your family. You will never regret that you did these things. You may if you don’t. You won’t be compromising anything at work. It will still be there waiting for you when it’s “work’s” turn for your time!