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.

BANANAS Celebrates Black History Month

This February, we observe Black History Month, an opportunity to teach young children the importance of peace, diversity, and acceptance. For parents and child care providers, this month provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss race, civil rights, and the importance of love and tolerance with children. Educate your children about the many achievements of African Americans and involve them in celebrating Black History Month.

BANANAS has been long-serving African American families and child care providers. We offer support, education, and professional development opportunities to help child care providers better care for children.

This Black History Month, we are highlighting one of our very passionate and hard working child care providers – Linda Faye Johnson.

Linda understands that education is at the heart of professional achievement and she credits BANANAS’ staff and our free workshops as the foundation for her successful family child care business – Umoja House. In April 2018, with support from BANANAS staff member Soyla Madrigal, Linda was enrolled in the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) On-The-Job Training Project for Family Child Care Providers. This program allows her to earn a CA Child Development Associate Teacher’s Permit through the four college courses provided by Berkeley City College. In addition, Linda receives monthly on-site coaching through BANANAS and a stipend of $2,200. “I feel blessed to be a part of this program because it strengthens my skills and increases my knowledge and understanding in providing early care and education to children in my program,” says Linda.

The Training Project helps child care providers like Linda with professional development opportunities. It also provides tips and techniques on how to improve interactions with children, supplemental training materials, and one-on-one guidance.

Linda continues to attend BANANAS child care provider workshops in order to increase her knowledge of child development and improve her skills as a caregiver. She says that she is thankful to the BANANAS staff for recognizing her professional needs and supporting her step-by-step while encouraging her to be the best provider she could be. “I love BANANAS,” she says. “Teaching is my passion and the more I know, the more I can do to help children build their future.”

BANANAS has been extremely grateful to serve African American families for many years. Our community of children, families, and child care providers visits our office for numerous reasons. These include looking for a child care provider, assistance paying for care, educational resources, workshops, support groups, playgroups, and items in the free children’s boutique.

We consider it a privilege to offer support to all of our communities, especially when we know it is going to change lives. Learn more about our programs and how we help our children, families, and child care providers in Alameda County!

Putting Our Words in Action

Inti with his Children

We’re highlighting just a few of the thousands of families whose lives have been impacted by BANANAS. This year, we put Our Words in Action to support the most vulnerable families and young children.

Meet our client Sharon:

Sharon, a single mother, recently transitioned to traditional housing in Oakland. She came to BANANAS because she needed to go to school and find work to support her two children, Ziya and Ken, who are two and five years old.

“I didn’t even realize we qualified for subsidized child care. BANANAS has made a monumental difference in our lives. Having my children in a trusted environment, I know they are happy and their needs are being met. This has really allowed me to focus on my school.”

Sharon found a job at a retail store in Oakland. “Here I am loving myself again, and I’ve got a new life to care for. I feel like I’ve got a second chance.”

Meet our client Kiera:

Before coming to BANANAS in August 2017, Kiera was taking care of her 3-year-old granddaughter Denae on her own. Born from a mother who has an addiction, Denae went through many health problems at birth. It was then when Kiera stepped in and started taking care of her granddaughter.

Soon after Kiera received the guardianship custody of her granddaughter, she decided to get back into the workforce. When she didn’t think she could afford the care that would prepare Denae for kindergarten, she turned to BANANAS for help.

With the help of BANANAS, her granddaughter began to receive full-time child care services in a family child care while Kiera could focus on her new job. “My life changed for good because of BANANAS.” Kiera feels optimistic about her granddaughter’s future.

Inti with his Children

Meet our client Inti:

Inti Fernandez aspires to be a good father, a superhero to his two children. In addition to raising his kids alone, Inti is pursuing his dream job of becoming a visual designer. For a long time he struggled to find an affordable child care program for his children. He needed child care in order to go to work, support his family, and attend court hearings to secure custody of his kids. Being a single father was tough and he had to take more than one job to make ends meet. “I made some money, but not enough to pay for my family’s basic needs. I worked very hard to keep a smile on my children’s faces,” says Inti.

Thankfully, Inti’s friend introduced him to BANANAS services. Michelle, our counselor, helped Inti by enrolling his children in one of our Alternative Payment Programs through which they received full-time child care services. While his kids continue to thrive in a safe and loving environment, Inti now focuses on growing professionally at his job.

Meet our client Eva:

Eva, a single mother who has an addiction to drugs came to BANANAS in 2016 looking for child care for her two kids, ages two and three years old. Eva desperately needed care for her two children so she could focus on her recovery at a drug rehab program in Oakland.

She enrolled in a subsidy program here at BANANAS, and both of her children received full-time child care services. She took parenting classes at BANANAS and visited the Boutique for her immediate needs, such as diapers, formula, and clothing. “I am fortunate that despite my background, my children can grow in a warm and loving environment in a family child care center in Oakland.”

We need your help!

Each year at BANANAS, we help thousands of families like these by connecting them to quality, affordable child care. Through the Our Words in Action campaign, we are combatting the effects of poverty for young children where they live, learn, and play.

During this season of generosity, your gift to BANANAS is extremely important because it will offer immediate services to children and their caregivers. Invest in us and we will continue to put Our Words in Action.

Donate Today 

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.

It’s Week of the Young Child!

Week of the Young Child

Welcome to Week of the Young Child! Today is the beginning of a week-long celebration of children, teachers, families, and early learning started by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Each day has its own theme to inspire learning through a range of fun, educational activities. At BANANAS, we are joining in on the excitement by having daily events at our office for kids, parents, and caregivers to enjoy. Here’s what we have coming up:

Music Monday – Stop by to join in movement and dance while we play a variety of international music in our lobby. Program Director Judy Kriege will drop in with her guitar for a few impromptu singalongs too! Music is a great way to encourage language and literacy as well as math skills. Click here for some great ideas on how to incorporate songs and music into children’s daily lives.

Tasty Tuesday – We’ll be going bananas for delicious recipes on this cooking-focused day. Teaching young children about making healthy food and lifestyle choices can’t start early enough. Plus, cooking is a fun activity that can promote science and math skills! When you come in, we’ll give you recipe cards to try at home together. You can also click to find them here. There are more super ideas on our Cooking with Kids Pinterest board.

Work Together Wednesday – Come to our office to create art that will become part of a beautiful collage. When we work as a team, we get to celebrate our diversity and learn from one another. Kids get to practice social skills and problem solving. Want more ideas? Click here for a whole list of activities for building and working together.

Artsy Thursday – This will be a day when we continue to create artwork to take home and add to our collaborative collage. Doing hands-on projects can help children develop fine motor skills and inspire creativity. Check out more art ideas here.

Family Friday – BANANAS will be closed on Friday for staff development, but we’ll be celebrating the families we serve and our work together as the BANANAS Bunch family. We encourage you to spend time with the people in your life who make up your family too! Here are some ways to bond and build deeper connections.

We hope you will join us in this five-day celebration of children and early education. You will find lots more ideas for Week of the Young Child on our Pinterest board!

Child Care Subsidies: A Solution to End Child Poverty?

The statistics are staggering. Today there are 14.7 million poor children living in the U.S. Sadly, research has shown us just how detrimental poverty is to young children and how dramatically it impacts brain development and lifelong health. The combination of toxic stress, substandard housing, malnutrition, exposure to violence, and family unrest all contribute to long-term cognitive and behavioral difficulties. Matthew Melmed, CEO of Zero To Three notes that “An alarming number of today’s babies—tomorrow’s workforce—are spending their early years in distressed economic circumstances, impacting their health, their families, and their opportunities for learning.”

While these facts are startling, the good news is that we can impact positive change. At BANANAS, we are dedicated to supporting the success of all families, and we know that we can make strides to end child poverty by advocating for changes at the local, state, and federal levels. The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) released a comprehensive report that includes national statistics about child poverty—and a detailed plan on how to combat it. One of the ways to bring children out of poverty is to expand child care subsidies to every eligible child. CDF reports that “Because of limited funding, demand for subsidies far exceeds supply. In fiscal year 2009 only 18 percent of federally eligible children benefited from child care subsidies in an average month.” That means fewer than 1 in 5 eligible children received subsidy support.

CDF explains, “The child care subsidy expansion would reduce child poverty by 3 percent or 300,000 children. Three-quarters of that reduction would come from affordable child care helping 358,000 adults gain employment.”

This is a crucial component of combatting poverty. When parents have to choose between going to work and caring for their children, it not only affects the families, it affects the economy. Many of these families end up requiring federal or state assistance and are unable to attend school to develop professionally or maintain employment to become self-sufficient. With an increase in child care subsidies, these parents would have the opportunity to pursue their goals and provide for their families.

We will continue to advocate for policy changes and are inspired that child poverty has become a recognized critical concern. Families benefit from our Alternative Payment Program (child care subsidies) every day and we see the benefits of it in our hard-working clients. If you want to join in the discussion on how to fight child poverty, stay connected with us on Twitter and Facebook where we’ll be sharing current news on this issue.

Find additional resources on the link between poverty and child development from Talk Poverty, Huffington Post, and Reuters.

BANANews: Week in Review and Fun Things to Do!

April is in full swing and there are so many family-fabulous workshops and events happening at BANANAS and in our community. Here’s the roundup:

THIS WEEK

April 12th through 18th marks the Week of the Young Child, so we joined in celebrating the wonder of early childhood with some new springtime build-together activities on our Crafty Kids Ideas Pinterest board, such as Paper Roll Butterflies and Ladybug Rocks. In the spirit of childhood joy, we talked all about toys in this week’s edition of BANANA Bites and offered some tips for which items are the best fit for different age groups. Be sure to check back next week for another parenting and early learning column where we answer YOUR questions! If you have something you’d like us to cover, email elyce@bananasbunch.org. And, if you didn’t read our April Newsletter, be sure to see all the free resources for parents and child care providers!

NEXT WEEK

We’re gearing up for the first of six FREE workshops in Booties Camp! Sign up today for Baby Language & Brain Development on Wednesday, April 22nd (bring your baby!), and on Thursday, April 23rd, we’re holding a great parenting workshop on Living with Ones and Twos (limited child care is provided for this workshop; call 510-658-7353 to reserve your spot).

IN THE COMMUNITY

To celebrate the Week of the Young Child, this Saturday, April 18th, families are invited to Early Childhood Family Fun and Learning Day with exciting workshops and activities from Raising a Reader, Bay Area Discovery Museum, Oakland Parks and Recreation, and the Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network. Sunday, April 19th, kicks off a free Foster Family Fun Day at Habitot Children’s Museum. Come and make your own work of art! For child care providers, there is an Education for Change Info Session and Hiring Event on Friday, April 24th, where teachers can network and speak with prospective employers. And on Saturday, April 25th, Family Support Services of the Bay Area is holding a FREE Kinship Caregivers Conference for families to share the challenges and rewards of raising kin youth. Children are welcome to attend this event that includes lunch, raffle prizes, and educational workshops.

Have a great weekend, and remember to stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn!

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: How Can I Protect My Kids from Measles?

Welcome back to this week’s edition of BANANA Bites, where we answer YOUR questions about parenting and early childhood education. Today we’re addressing the very important subject of measles and how to prevent it from spreading to children. This is a must-read for parents and child care providers!

Dear BANANA Bites, 

I run a family child care here in Oakland and I want to make sure I am doing everything I can to keep the kids in my program safe from the spread of measles. What are the best ways to do this and where can I find more information about this topic? Thanks in advance. 

– Provider Who Wants Measles Prevention

Dear PWWMP,

We absolutely agree about the importance of measles prevention and are so happy to address this topic. According to the U.S. Administration for Children and Families (ACF), childhood diseases like measles can cause children pain and discomfort. These diseases can lead to doctor visits, hospitalization, and even death. The ACF recognizes immunizations as the best way to protect young children from 14 serious diseases, including measles. A recent announcement in conjunction with the California Department of Education, Early Education Support Division, notes, “Measles can be dangerous—especially for babies and young children. Measles spreads very easily, so it is important to protect against infection. To prevent measles, eligible children should be vaccinated with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The measles vaccine has been used for years, and it is safe and effective. The ACF’s Office of Head Start and Office of Child Care consider it critical that children in programs are vaccinated according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization recommendations.”

Recommendations from the CDC can be accessed here. This document includes guidance for child care programs to follow state and local immunization requirements and also discusses what to do if a case of measles occurs in your program.

One of the most important contributions child care programs can make is to reach out to parents. The CDC has also provided sample materials and articles to share with parents in newsletters, web pages, or other publications.

·       Immunization Protects Us All 

·       Five Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child 

·       Easy-to-read vaccination schedules in English and Spanish

Please share this information with friends and family members to help ensure all children are kept safe and healthy!

-BANANA Bites

If you have a question for the Bunch, please email elyce@bananasinc.org.

BANANA Bites: How Do I Get My Kids to Clean Their Rooms?

Welcome to our inaugural edition of BANANA Bites! Each week we’ll feature a client question and an answer from a member of the BANANAS Bunch. This week we’ve got a question from a parent dealing with her child’s messy room. Whether you’re a child care provider or a parent yourself, you have no doubt dealt with this issue. Luckily, we’ve got some great strategies to help young ones keep things tidy.

Dear BANANA Bites,

My four-year-old daughter loves to create elaborate adventures for her stuffed animals, which often (or more like always) results in an enormous mess from one end of her bedroom to the other. Clothes, blankets, toys, books—you name it, it’s strewn all over the floor. I love that she plays with such enthusiasm and I want to encourage her creativity, but getting her to clean up afterward is nearly impossible. Even offering prizes (gold fish or peanut butter crackers) doesn’t do the trick. Do you have any tips for a mom who just wants the clean-up routine to be a breeze and not a battle?

– Mom with a Mess

Dear MWaM,

You are not alone! This is a common struggle for anyone who cares for young children. Here are five ideas that you can try.

  1. Always give a five-minute “warning” that a clean-up time is coming. Setting a timer works well with some children.
  2. Break down cleaning a room by tasks: “First pick up the toys on your bed, then the ones on the floor, then put the books back on the shelf…”
  3. Set the time for clean-up just before some favorite activity (i.e., a TV show or trip to the playground).
  4. Set a deadline. Allow your child’s room to be messy, but make clear that is needs to be cleaned by a certain time. Some older kids enjoy the freedom they get from being able to “choose” when to do the clean-up.
  5. Don’t expect a child’s clean-up job to be perfect and don’t forget to give lots of praise for a job reasonably well done.

– BANANA Bites

For more information on this subject, check out our BANANAS handout: The Uphill Struggle – Getting Young Children to Clean Up Their Rooms.

Parents and Child Care Providers, if you have other tips that work well for you, please leave a comment! If you have a child care question, we’d love to hear from you. You could be the next featured question on BANANA Bites. Please email elyce@bananasinc.org. And remember, don’t go bananas, just ask the Bunch!