Keep the Play Alive

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.

Quality Matters in Child Care Program, Here’s How Our Coaches Help!

It is true to say that quality matters in child care programs. At BANANAS, we’re committed to providing early childhood educators with the tools and resources to help them build, and sustain, successful child care programs. With that goal, we partner with First 5 Alameda County and the City of Berkeley to offer Quality Counts on-site coaching to child care providers.

The Quality Counts program helps early care and education providers improve their programs so that children are prepared for kindergarten and succeed in school and life. Our quality improvement coaches spend time at licensed child care centers and family child care homes to discuss ways to improve and support the implementation of health and safety practices and create nurturing environments. The coaches also provide support in child development and school readiness through child observation, developmental and health screenings. The coaches connect providers to workshops and trainings, prepare them for assessments and ratings, and help them identify their program’s strengths and areas where they need more support.

Recently, one of our quality improvement coaches, Sue Mei offered individualized on-site coaching to support teachers at Golden Gate Learning Center in Berkeley. Su Mei’s work has been incredible and helped dramatically improve quality of the child care center.

“I meet providers where they are, talk about what is possible, and map out a continuous plan of quality improvement,” says Su Mei who has worked in early childhood for more than 10 years. “I work with providers to improve the environment and create more enriching teacher-child interactions. When you have these elements in place, the programs run more smoothly and teachers are motivated to improve quality care for children.”

Routine, enriching teacher-child interactions are critical to a child’s development. It’s one of the most important areas where coaches help providers. For example, Su Mei observed a teacher say “good job” to a child pouring water in a cup. Su Mei suggested the teacher that saying “good job” is nice. It is also important to acknowledge child’s efforts by saying “I could see you are pouring water carefully without spilling.” Small changes like these are more likely to keep a child motivated to learn and challenge their cognitive and thinking skills.

Nadia Rivera, Program Director at Golden Gate Learning Center says that Su Mei has made immense contributions to the school. “She helped guide me in the direction that our center would most benefit. The workshop she gave us on health and safety turned our view on cleaning around. Every time she visits, the teachers feel excited to learn.”

Su Mei also suggested behavioral management strategies to address challenges such as biting or sharing issues amongst children. Providers also receive videotaping, observation, and feedback sessions that prepare them to meet these challenges better. Children thrive in programs that provide quality care and opportunities to learn through play. Su Mei ensures that her quality improvement efforts create lasting benefits for children and families.

“Ms. Su Mei is a delightful ray of sunshine for all of us. She has helped turn our classrooms around immensely. She’s very insightful and always strives for us to be our best selves as teachers. She’s great at listening to our concerns and advocating for both the children and teachers. Thank you for all that you do Ms. Su Mei,” says Fergie Acosta, Teacher.

 

 

Raise a Reader with ‘The Berkeley Baby Book Project’

What could the amazing City of Berkeley have in common with the vibrant music legend Dolly Parton? They both love giving books to young children. And so does BANANAS! Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has teamed up with The Berkeley Baby Book Project to distribute free books to kids in Berkeley, ages 0-5. BANANAS is proud to help spread the word about this wonderful program.

Calling it the “gift of literacy,” Dolly Parton began the Imagination Library in 1995 in her home state of Tennessee. Since then, the program has expanded to other states and recently it distributed its 100 millionth book. The milestone was celebrated in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. where Dolly Parton read books to a group of children.

The benefits of reading early to children are huge. It is never too early to build that close connection with your infant, toddler, or preschooler while stimulating their brains and love for learning. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library helps make this possible with its 60 volume sets of books that include classics such as The Little Engine That Could, Last Stop on Market StreetHooray a Pinata, and many more.

To be a part of this program, a child needs to register for The Berkeley Baby Book Project. Each month, new books are mailed to the child’s home. Books are chosen based on each child’s age and will be sent until the child turns five or the family moves out of Berkeley. The books are a gift and there is no cost to families for being a part of the Imagination Library. Children get the opportunity to create an amazing personal library before they enter Kindergarten.

BANANAS is cultivating the importance of reading in a child’s early development by helping families register for the Berkeley Baby Book Project. Berkeley parents can register in-person or contact our referral line at 510-658-0381. Families are also welcome to pick up gently used children’s books from our Boutique. These books are accepted through generous donations from our community.

Share the wonderful world of books with your children and promote the importance of literacy. For more information on The Berkeley Baby Book Project, visit their website.

What Do Toddlers Like to Do?

By the time many babies grow to be between nine and twelve months in age, they are sitting up and crawling; some can even walk while holding onto things. This is an age of exploration for little ones and to help them learn about the new, wide world, parents and child care providers can offer babies a safe space to touch, taste, and experiment. While playpens, gates, and high chairs can be helpful, it’s best not to keep toddlers left in one space for too long. This has the potential for slowing down their curiosity, which we never want to do. A room becomes a safe place for toddler learning and exploring when it is uncluttered and free of any medicines or sharp or poisonous objects. Once you’ve got your room ready, here are some fun ideas for keeping your little one entertained.

#TalkReadSingPlay: Whenever you talk to your toddler, you are not only creating a bond with them, you are also introducing them to language. This early connection with words and sounds can help encourage healthy brain development. So, get out those storybooks!

Hide and Seek: Since toddlers are fascinated by all the new things around them, they will be excited to watch items disappear and reappear from inside other items. This can be as simple as putting a blanket inside of a box and then pulling it out again. Be sure to explain what you are doing so little ones begin to understand that just because they can’t see something, it doesn’t mean it has disappeared.

Peek-A-Bo0: To continue the simple idea of reappearing and disappearing introduced in Hide and Seek, try hiding your face behind your hands or a pillow. Toddlers enjoy this type of play, which teaches the idea of permanence and will no doubt bring some smiles too.

There are lots more ideas to explore on our Pinterest pages! Check out Activities for Baby, Best Books for Little Learners, and TalkReadSingPlay.

 

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