The Fall Challenge for School-Age Parents by Heather Lang-Heaven

So many parents didn’t think we would be here again: our kids back in school with a remote setup looking similar to how we wrapped up last Spring! The pandemic lasting longer than originally thought has meant distance learning has kicked off again for Bay Area kids this Fall. For parents who work out of the home it poses an even greater challenge and concern: what are the safe options for school-age children who need supervision during school hours, as well as distance learning technical assistance and support? Here is an overview of the current, various daytime options for school-age children:

Licensed providers continue to be a reliable option and referrals of licensed providers in Northern Alameda County can be obtained by contacting the BANANAS Referral Service at 510-658-0381,, or visiting our Referrals webpage HERE

These programs consist of:

Licensed family child care providers: programs that operate out of a provider’s home, and

Licensed child care centers: facilities that operate in non-home settings.

Once getting referrals, it is important to contact as many licensed programs as possible in order to compare and determine the quality of care. This can feel challenging now and BANANAS referral staff can discuss with you about best practices when looking for care during the pandemic. These practices should include: 

  • Thoroughly interviewing the primary caregiver over the phone.
  • Calling references; people who have used the caregiver. These you can get from the provider.
  • Making arrangements to see the program, and maybe observe the provider working with children. This is tricky these days. See if the provider would allow you to look through windows, over a fence or, at the very least, give you a tour on their phone. 
  • Checking their licensing history. These programs have earned their license from Community Care Licensing (Department of Social Services), and parents can contact or 844-538-8766 to get more information about a program’s licensing history. 

Alameda County Department of Public Health’s Reopening & Recovery health and safety resource for child care programs and schools has very useful information and can be found here: Recovery | COVID-19 | Alameda County Public Health 

When looking for an environment for a school-age child, ask questions of providers in order to help verify the quality of care and determine best-fit of child care programs such as:

  • What activities and arrangements do they have for school-age children?
  • How many children are in care and how are different age groups managed?
  • Are student workstations setup, and is there high-speed Wifi that supports distance learning?
  • What is the outdoor physical setting like, and how flexible is the schedule to accommodate the important play needs of children?

The state’s child care licensing agency recently issued an official notice regarding an application process for a temporary waiver. If an application is approved, this would allow a licensed program (or license-exempt program) to operate without a license, or “beyond the current conditions for licensure or exemption” – in order to expand capacity to serve primarily school-age children during this time. So, for instance, after-school programs or summer camps would be able to create full day, full week, school year option. It remains to be seen how many programs will be granted this expansion option. BANANAS is in communication with Community Care Licensing to make sure we are notified when and if these programs become available. 

Even though licensed child care settings are a good option for families, during the pandemic it can be harder to find available programs with spaces for children. Therefore, here are some other creative solutions families are using:

Shared caregiver arrangements: parent-created child care situations where one caregiver is hired to care for the children from two or more families. The care can take place in one parent’s home or it can rotate among the homes of the participating families. Shared caregiver situations are completely managed by the participating parents and there is no license for this type of care, as long as it is happening in the parents’ homes. All the responsibility for screening and contacting references is upon the parents who are the employers of a domestic worker. This means there are tax, minimum wage, and overtime pay implications. Parents interested in hiring this type of care can contact BANANAS for more information and visit BANANAS Community Jobs Listings to post the job announcement.

Parents can also create care pods in each other’s homes, rotating responsibility for supervising the group (instead of hiring a nanny or tutor) and parents simply exchange their time and support. The key is that no one is being paid. Parents can also use BANANAS Community Jobs Listings at to post their interest in forming a care pod and to look for others who would like to join. 

This is proving to be a unique academic year during a difficult time for parents, teachers, child care providers, and school-age kids! But take heart, and remember that children remain resilient while caring adults ensure their safety and success.

Having Fun with Your Kids During the Holidays by Heather Lang-Heaven

The holiday season is a wonderful time of year, but it can also be a challenging moment for parents, providers, and the children in their care. It is very easy to become consumed with endless activities, extra tasks at home, and mismanaged schedules.

However, it is a season filled with teachable moments and important values. Reflect on what you want your children, or the children in your care, to learn. Talk with them about the good things adults feel during this time of year. As a parent or provider, are you excited about spending time together as a family? Do you feel joyful about delicious cooking, or giving a simple gift to tell a person they are special?

As a way to model care and generosity for children, try the following:
• Be aware of over-planning and resist the urge to completely book the calendar. Children need unstructured playtime to process and relax.
• Stick with regular routines as much as possible. Children thrive when they know what to expect and this is especially important when they sense adults rushing around them with additional plans.
• Keep regular bedtimes too! Just as adults are tired from the busy season, certainly the children are. Infants need 14-17 hours of sleep per day, toddlers need 10-14 hours, preschoolers need 11-13 hours, and school-age children need 9-11 hours.
• Be flexible and creative if their behavior becomes a little challenging. Children are probably feeling the stress and excitement of the holidays too. Allow extra outdoor time to get out those wiggles. Playing alongside with them will help burn off adult anxiety too!
• Talk with children and remind them they are loved and special. They are a big reason why holiday traditions are fun. It’s important to honor and celebrate them!
• If your family is in a position to do so, brainstorm with children how they can help give back to the community and donate to families in need. These are some local Bay Area resources to help get you started:

From all of us at BANANAS, we wish you a joyous holiday season filled with love, laughter, good food, and the time to make long-lasting memories.

Keep the Play Alive by Jethro Rice

Diverse children enjoying playing with toys

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Fred Rogers

I remember when I first came across this quote from the patron saint of positive child development messages, Mr. Rogers, at a workshop. The show defined everything I believe about the value of play, and how fundamental it is for children to experience this method of learning. It reminded us to value the important ways that play builds skills development. If simply having fun was the only outcome of children’s play, that would be more than enough, but there is so much more to it.

As parents and caregivers, our primary role is to support play. We are understandably anxious about the pressures for children to have kindergarten readiness skills in place well before they start elementary school. The reality of standardized kindergarten curricula that is aligned to state standards and Common Core standards leads many parents to focus on academic skills, such as learning the ABCs and counting to 20. The pressure to teach our young children these skills can lead us to overlook play. We might even feel that introducing worksheets, drills, flash cards, or the many learning apps that mimic these modes are the key to bringing our kids up to the standards of kindergarten.

Research has shown that young children learn differently from school-aged kids. Play helps early learners build the skills necessary for critical thinking, autonomy, self-awareness, focus and leadership. Children build confidence through problem-solving. Academic skills like number sense, letter recognition, and phonological awareness (letter sounds) are developed through active play and the use of language. For example, when children experiment by sorting objects and building structures, they are learning observation, spatial reasoning, and logic skills by comparing sizes, shapes, and amounts. This forms the fundamental building blocks for understanding math and science.

Through playing together or with a caregiver, children learn how to cooperate with others, share materials, listen and build self-control and self-awareness. These are the necessary social skills that serve as foundations for academic success. Ask a kindergarten teacher what their students need and they will likely talk about self-control, focus, and sharing over every student entering their classroom knowing their upper and lower case letters. Nurturing a love of learning through open or guided play with others builds the social-emotional skills that make our children ready to learn.

Parents and caregivers help children learn by supporting creative play. We can support them by providing a variety of creative materials like blocks, crayons, dolls, toy cars, and animals or household items like pots and pans, thread, laundry caps, scarves, and utensils. We know that children get the most out of play when they interact with caregivers but it is important to let kids lead.

Ask questions about their play without giving too much of your own interpretation. When they are roaring like a lion, instead of just saying, “Oh no! It’s a scary lion”, try asking questions that lead to more dramatic play. “I hear you roaring, who are you going to eat today?” “Where do you live, Madame lion?” When they are drawing, instead of saying what it looks like to you: “Is that a ladybug? That’s so pretty”, try a more open-ended approach. “I see that you used a lot of strong red and black colors. The pattern of dots is striking and really stands out! What is it? What goes next to it?” Let the child tell you whether or not it’s a ladybug.

When we support play without taking control of the learning process, children learn to express their own ideas and develop critical thinking and independence. Ask guiding questions or step back and allow the child to speak freely. Knowing how to support rather than guide play recognizes and values the skills our children are developing.

At BANANAS, we believe in the power of play for learning! We host Play and Learn playgroups throughout Oakland and Berkeley and will be opening up playgroups in the Havenscourt Community of East Oakland four days/week starting in September 12 at the Cubhouse – A Family Play Zone. Come join us and get some serious learning in! Click here to RSVP.


Labor Day Family Fun

Labor Day marks the end of summer, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of fun! While many children are already back in school, this three-day weekend gives us one last chance to celebrate before school really kicks into gear. We have some fun family ideas that you can do with your child that will make this long weekend a memorable one.

Thank a worker– Labor Day celebrates the economic and social legacy of hard-working people, so why not take this opportunity to thank a few people who make your life a little easier? Bust out the glitter glue and make thank you cards for the mailman, a firefighter, or a librarian. Try out some cute and easy thank you card ideas. Foster a child’s creativity and fine motor skills with an activity that you will enjoy together.

Scoop it up– Spend quality time with your child by learning how to make your favorite ice cream at home. Check out these mouthwatering recipes! Did you know that you can help little learners practice some basic math concepts when you cook together? Help your child hone basic math skills, such as counting, sorting, and measuring. While pouring milk or cream into a measuring cup, point out fractions and say, “Let’s fill half of the cup with cream and half of the cup with milk.” Ask your child to cut the ice cream into halves and count bites with them.

Play pretend– Let children, and their friends, dress up as a nurse, a bus driver, or as someone they want to be when they grow up. Similarly, put on a backyard show and get children in the Labor Day spirit. It is no secret that pretend play is an essential part of a child’s development. Encouraging children to role play supports their social-emotional development and enhances creativity. Let their imaginations run wild with this fun activity.

Talk and read– Talk to them about all the different jobs that people do. Help them understand how everyone in the community has an important job. Check out the list of community helper books for your preschooler. Ask your child questions like, “What do you think a construction worker does” or “What is the job of a lifeguard?” By reading to children and talking about what you’ve read, you’re introducing new words that increase vocabulary and promote literacy. Furthermore, you are helping children get academically ready for school by talking and reading to them every day.

Play, learn, and grow together– As a parent, and a caregiver, you are the biggest supporter of your child’s learning. Make time for play to promote their physical, social-emotional, language, and thinking skills. Explore lots of fun arts and crafts ideas on our Pinterest board, such as handprint strawberry craft, condensed milk painting, bathtub crayons, and more that support the philosophy that children learn best through play.

These family fun activities allow you to talk, read, and play with children. And, it is never too early to start providing experiences that will help your child enter school ready to succeed. We hope you have an amazing weekend. Don’t forget to make a little time to kick back and relax. You deserve it!




Tips for Parenting Children with Dangerous Food Allergies

Baby Eating Healthy Food

By Guest Blogger Dolores “Dolly” Santos of

Being a parent is challenging enough. You are constantly dealing with schedules, babysitters, and mealtimes. When you add a dangerous food allergy into the equation, suddenly you find that even the tasks that should be simple, like dropping your child off at daycare, have become potentially dangerous. Here are some tips to help manage the care of someone with food allergies.

Ask for Help

It is important to make sure that you distribute information about allergens to anyone and everyone that is involved in the caretaking of your child. This includes: babysitters, grandparents, other relatives, day care employees, teachers, and other individuals that might at some point be responsible for giving your child even a small snack. Recruit your spouse or partner to also be as educated as possible so they can disperse important information when handing off your child to someone else for care. Do not try to take on all of the responsibility by yourself. Imagine if something unforeseen happened, and you needed someone else to step in unexpectedly. It is important to make sure that as many people close to you as possible have the information needed to keep your child healthy.

Plan Ahead for Playdates

You will want your son or daughter to have as normal a childhood as possible. This means playdates and birthday parties, which can also mean added stress. It is important to call ahead several days before the event and talk to the host to make sure there will be food options that your child can eat. You can alleviate some of the burden by offering to bring a dish or snack that is allergen-free, but can be shared with the rest of the children attending. As your child gets older, they will be able to take on some of the responsibility for monitoring their own diet. Go over lists of forbidden foods with them as well as items that could possibly contain allergens that might not be considered. Encourage them to always ask questions and decline graciously if they are offered anything that has the potential to cause a reaction.

Dining Out

When dining out, try to choose restaurants that offer simple, clean menus prepared from scratch. Do not be afraid to ask questions about the ingredients as well as the preparation techniques that might cause cross-contact. It is best to choose dining times that are not busy so servers have time to answer your questions and get clarifications from the chefs when necessary. Avoid buffets, as these tend to have environments where many different foods are close together and cross-contact is possible. If you have found a restaurant chain that offers safe menu items, make it your go-to while traveling, as these chains usually prepare things in the same way with the same ingredients.

Learn About Resources

You can battle the feelings of isolation by seeking out other parents of children with food allergies. Seek out websites that have forums and message boards where families share information with one another. There are support groups and foundations that address specific food allergies where you can find more information about resources you may not have considered. There are even service dogs available that can be trained to detect allergens that your child may be exposed to. Rover has a great article about this that’s worth checking out.

Educate Others

When we are engrossed in the care of our children, it is sometimes easy to forget that conditions such as FPIES, and other specific allergies are not necessarily well-known. Social events with your children are great opportunities to help others learn about dietary dangers, and spreading awareness can help other parents that are experiencing the same struggles that you are.

For more ideas and information from Dolores “Dolly” Santos, visit

Take Action for Children!

Right now there are three pieces of legislation that have the power to positively impact the lives of children, families, and child care professionals. BANANAS is part of the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, a system of nonprofit agencies that serves every region in the state with important child care and parenting resources. As part of this network, we encourage you to take action today by sending three letters of support to government officials who can make sure that California’s Education Code is up to date (SB 1154), that low-income families have access to a year of child care (AB 2150), and that parents are informed about background checks and safety measures when hiring a caregiver (AB 2036).

Below you will find details of each bill and information on how to take action today.

SB 1154 – The Patricia Siegel Child Care Resource and Referral Memorial Act of 2016 This update will preserve quality consumer education and provider support in California and at the same time will identify components of the recently reauthorized federal CCDBG Act where the state already complies.

To learn more, click this Fact Sheet and then send your letter of support using this Sample Letter.

AB 2150 – The Child Care Continuity Act: 12 Month Eligibility That Supports Families AB 2150 is an extraordinary opportunity to remove unjust and unjustified, red-tape reporting rules that cause eligible families to churn in and out of child care programs; put their jobs at risk; disrupt children’s school readiness and development; force them to turn down job promotions, make it impossible for child care providers to balance ledgers or plan for quality investments while accepting subsidized children; and burden employers and education providers who are required to sign off on endless paperwork.

If you would like to send a letter of support, view this Sample Letter.

AB 2036 – Online Care Job Postings: Consumer Education This bill would require online companies that advertise child care services provided by license-exempt child care providers (ex. babysitters and nannies) to post a statement about the California Trustline registry and, if the service provides access to a background check, a written description of the background check provided to it by the background check service provider.

Here is a Sample Letter as well as a Fact Sheet if you would like to learn more.

Thank you for your support!

BANANAS Offers Child Care Referrals at Room to Bloom!

Great news! BANANAS now offers free child care referrals onsite at Room to Bloom! We are so thrilled to be partnering with this amazing family resource center to bring more services to parents. Held at the Room to Bloom office at Castlemont High School in Oakland, these free, one-on-one referrals will be available every 3rd Wednesday of the month.

Parents will receive one-on-one counseling about referrals and subsidized child care, including what types of assistance are available for families. Referral counselors will also provide information about the parent education program at BANANAS, which includes free support groups and workshops on everything from baby basics to positive parenting to choosing the right child care fit. Says BANANAS Resource & Referral Manager Heather Lang, “We have been working to make this happen for a long time and I am so excited it’s now a reality. I think this is going to be a great new community service.”

For more information, contact Heather Lang at BANANAS (, 510-658-7353 x131 ) or Marcie Meadows at Room to Bloom (, 510-545-9470). Pictured above is Room to Bloom Coordinator/Family Advocate Carla Jasso (left), BANANAS R&R Manager Heather Lang (center), and Room to Bloom Site Director Marcie Meadows (right).

Child Care Referral Dates

Every 3rd Wednesday from 9:30am to 12:30pm

Room to Bloom is located at 8601 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, 94605

BANANA Bites: What Toys Are the Best for Young Children?

It’s Tuesday again and that means we’re here to answer your parenting and early learning questions! Today we’re talking all about toy shopping and how to choose toys that will stimulate a child’s development and last for longer than a few months. Happy reading!

Dear BANANA Bites, 
My niece’s birthday is coming up and I want to get her something really special. Can you offer some tips on what to choose?
-Aunt Buying Presents

Dear ABP,
When buying a new toy, there are some important factors to consider: safety, durability, price, fun factor, and developmental purpose.

Safety: Toys should be chosen with care, especially for the very young. Safety considerations don’t end with the purchase of a toy; proper maintenance and safe storage are equally important. Always discard plastic wrappings immediately and protect outdoor toys for rust. Avoid toy boxes with heavy lids and those with no ventilation holes. Be a label-reader, particularly on toys that are labeled “not recommended for children under three, due to small parts.” Some key toys to avoid are: those small enough to be swallowed, those with detachable parts, those that can be easily broken into small pieces or pieces with jagged edges, and toys that have parts that can pinch fingers or toes, or catch hair.

Durability: You can expect some toys, such as wooden blocks, an easel, or sturdy wheel toys, will last for years with the potential of being passed to another child. These have the durability to survive your child’s play over a long span of time. When you opt for a toy with longevity, you know you are making a good investment.

Price: We all want to get the most value for our money, and when it comes to choosing toys, the same holds true. Consider purchasing items that are well made and be sure to check if they come with a manufacturer’s guarantee or if the store has a return policy. As children get older, they might begin to tell you exactly what toys they want. Items such as video games and electronics can be significantly more expensive. It’s ok to be honest and tell a child if a specific toy or game is out of the question financially. (In fact, this can serve as a great way to encourage kids to start a piggy bank or add to an existing one. There’s no better incentive for learning to save money that having a desired toy in mind!)

Fun Factor: You’ll definitely want to ensure that your child has fun with their new toy, so consider what types of play your child enjoys. Some children enjoy playing alone for hours with a set of tiny plastic people. Others prefer a to share a toy with playmates. Think about what toys have been popular with your child in the past and consider choosing a new toy that will stretch this interest further. Also, many toy manufacturers classify toys by age, but these are broad generalizations, so look beyond the label.

Developmental Purpose: Play is often called children’s work, so you can think of a toy as a tool that stimulates imagination and helps a child actively learn about the world. Children enjoy imitating tasks they see adults performing, so you can consider helping to grow this process by taking a stroll through an art supply store, sporting goods store, or hardware store and looking for items that kids can play with as a way of learning about the world. Some possibilities could be: kitchen timers, mixing bowls, whisks, clothes for dress-up, envelopes and tape, stamps and stamp pads, boxes and empty food cartons, or aprons. And, don’t forget books! They are affordable and they give children knowledge, comfort, art appreciation, humor, and joy.

For additional details on choosing age-appropriate toys, see our handout: Some Thoughts on Toy Buying. You will find more information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

BANANA Bites: Staying Connected with Grandparents

Welcome to another edition of BANANA Bites! Today we’re focusing on ways to stay connected to grandparents and other family members who may live too far away for frequent visits. Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to ensure that your little one is in touch with everyone in the family no matter where they live!

Dear BANANA Bites,

We recently moved to Oakland from the East Coast and our three-year-old daughter really misses seeing her grandma and grandpa. Do you have any tips for ways to help her stay connected to them even with all these miles in between?

-Mom Feeling Disconnected

Dear MFD,

We definitely understand how tough it is to be away from loved ones. In order to help kids maintain relationships with family members who are located on different parts of the map, we came up with some simple, fun ideas to stay connected. Here are our top five favorites:

1. Create an original story with your child and then send it to family members asking them to write the next chapter. This is a creative way to exchange ideas, encourage imagination, and inspire continued correspondence.

2. Have your child make a collage of what grandparents or other loved ones mean to them using magazines, cards, stickers, and other materials.

3. Plant a tree or flowering shrub in honor of a grandparent and take photos to show how tall it has grown. If possible, send along a cutting from your tree or shrub so grandparents can grow a “twin” where they live.

4. Ask grandparents to record themselves reading your child’s favorite story and play it while you turn the pages. Any opportunity to encourage kids to #TalkReadSingPlay is a great one!

5. Keep family traditions alive by asking grandparents for a treasured recipe. Make this special dish with your little one’s help while talking about your memories of eating it as a child.

For more ideas on how to stay close and connected, check out our handout on Bridging the Miles and the Years.


If you have a question on parenting, early education, or child care, send an email to

BANANA Bites: Help! My Child Has Lice!

We’re back with a new edition of our parenting and early learning column, where we answer YOUR questions! Today’s topic: the dreaded discovery of head lice. Answers below!

Dear BANANA Bites,

I recently discovered that my child’s day care has had an outbreak of lice and it looks like our son, who is 5, now has nits in his hair. I want to make sure we do everything possible to get rid of these pests. What is the best course of action?

– Really Bugged Dad

Dear RBD,

Great question! It can be truly upsetting to discover the signs of lice in our loved ones, but rest assured there are ways to wipe the bugs out.

Step One: There are two types of lice treatments currently on the market: nonprescription (RID, Triple X, Nix and A 200 Pyrinate) and prescription. Discuss their advantages and disadvantages with your pharmacist or physician. Most treatments will require a repeat application seven to ten days after the first application. Read and follow the directions carefully, especially when treating infants, pregnant or nursing women, or people with extensive scratches on their heads or necks. Use of mayonnaise, vaseline or kerosene is not recommended.

Step Two: After using the shampoo, cream, or lotion, the dead nits must be removed from the hair – a truly tedious job that will extend over several days. One effective method is using a metal nit comb available at pharmacies.

Step Three: After treating the people, you should treat the environment. Launder clothing, head gear and bed linens in hot water and dry in a dryer. Non-washable items can be placed in airtight plastic bags and stored for two weeks, which should kill any eggs. Consider how the infestation might be spread – a toy corner with dress-up hats and veils or a favorite storytime rug that everyone likes to lie on. See that these items are either vacuumed well or thrown in a hot dryer for 20 minutes. A treated child may return to school or child care within 24 hours if the nits have been removed. You will need to routinely reinspect the child’s head to make sure s/he has not been reinfested. A good schedule for inspecting your child’s head is to do it on Fridays after school or child care so you can treat the child on the weekend or do it on Monday morning before school or child care so you can keep your child home that day if lice are present.

– BANANA Bites

For more information on this pesky problem, check out our BANANAS handout: Head Lice and visit If YOU have a question about parenting, running a child care, or early education, please send it to