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.

BANANews: Father’s Day Fun and Pride Festivities!

Happy Father’s Day weekend from the Bunch!


What a week! Big congrats to the Golden State Warriors for their NBA Championship win. If you want to celebrate with your family in Oakland today, head on over to the Warriors Parade! This week Governor Jerry Brown approved the state budget and included $265 million to fund child care and early learning. All of the details are available in his press release. We’ve had tons of fun putting together our Pinterest board Father’s Day Is on the Way, so if you are looking for last-minute gift ideas, then be sure to check it out! From mugs to shirts to cards and sauces, this compilation has it all. Along with this board, we also began another celebratory collection called Festive Fun: Fourth of July that is filled with red, white, and blue food, crafts, and fun.


If you have a new baby and are looking to hire a nanny, then BANANAS is the place to be! Sign up for a free workshop on Best Practices for Employing a Nanny on Wednesday, June 24th. You’ll learn all there is to know about creating and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship with your in-home caregiver. On Sunday, June 28th, we’re hosting a CPR & First Aid Training and there are a FEW SPACES LEFT! Sign up today to reserve your spot. We’re very excited to introduce two new workshop series that are coming to BANANAS this summer. Beginning Thursday, July 30th, we’re offering Fathering From Within: An African American Fatherhood Series. This will be an enlightening, empowering workshop that will encourage personal growth and positive change. Then, on Tuesday, August 4th, we’re kicking off Turning Tantrums Around, a three-part series that will teach parents about ways to transform challenging behaviors.


Cool off and get into the summer scene at Splash Park on Saturday, June 20th, for only $2 a person. And before you go, be sure that the kids are up to date on water safety by checking out these educational videos. On Sunday, June 21st, bring Dad to the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center for a free leopard shark feeding display that will have the little ones mesmerized. June is also Pride Month, so there are lots of family-friendly events taking place this weekend and next weekend in the East Bay and in the city to celebrate the LGBTQ community! Next weekend, on Sunday, June 28th, is Play Day on the Plaza in Oakland with face painting, a climbing wall, and a sports zone. If you want to plan your Fourth of July family fun, then pencil in the Green, Red, White, and Blue Celebration in Albany for a full day of activities. It’s great to live in the Bay Area.

See you online at our Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn!

BANANews: Week in Review and Fun Things to Do

Hooray for Friday! It’s certainly been a busy week here at BANANAS, so before we venture off into the weekend, we are revisiting everything we did and what we can look forward to in our community in the next couple of days. Be sure to read on for all the details.


We’re getting ready to celebrate the men who help raise our wonderful children—whether the guys are uncles, grandpas, brothers, or great friends—with creative ideas that we compiled on our Pinterest board: Father’s Day Is on the Way!  You’ll find simple gifts such as Homemade BBQ Sauce and Paper Cup Trophies that kids will love to put together as well as lots of other clever crafts to show love and appreciation. This week the Joint Legislative Budget Committee met to discuss how California will allocate its money and to negotiate how much funding will go to child care. We hope for a strong stand from Governor Brown as the committee continues deliberations. Fingers crossed that they see the importance of investing in kids!


If you’ve got a new baby and you’re headed back to work, we’re here to offer support on Choosing Infant Care. Sign up today for this free workshop on Thursday, June 11th, to learn about all the available options and gain guidance on finding the right child care fit for your family. On Thursday, June 18th, we’re holding a special Teen CPR & First Aid Training where kids ages 13 to 17 will learn life-saving techniques and receive a certificate of completion. RSVP today to reserve your spot! Child care providers, get ready for an amazing resource fair on Thursday, July 9th, at the next Directors’ Roundtable. We’ll be teaming up with leading community partners such as First 5 to offer an informative event about all the current trends in the child care field.


What is there to do this weekend? How about bringing the kids to the Bay Area Book Festival on Saturday, June 6th, and Sunday, June 7th? Don’t miss this chance to meet renowned children’s author Judy Blume! But before you get there (and after a healthy lunch), consider making a stop at CREAM in Rockridge for their grand opening and get a FREE ice cream sandwich. Also on Saturday is the Rockin’ Kids Singalong at La Pena Cultural Center, which is a free drop-in musical playgroup happening at 12 o’clock.

We’ll be bringing you a whole new roundup of free family fun next Friday, but until then, stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter (for updates on the budget!), Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

BANANews: Weekend Fun, Workshops, and What’s Going On with the CA Budget

What a busy week! Governor Brown released his May Revision for the California Budget and included increased funding for CalWORKS and child care and development funds. We are pleased that he recognized the value of investing in early learning and child care but recognize that there is still a long road ahead to ensure that all families have access to affordable child care. At BANANAS, we’ve been hard at work helping families to find the perfect child care fit and supporting providers with all they need for success. Here’s a roundup of what’s been going on:


Monday was a momentous day at BANANAS because we launched our online child care referrals search on our website! Now parents can find child care providers that fit their specific needs with the click of a button. On Tuesday, we published our May Newsletter, which includes super fun ideas for celebrating National Physical Fitness and Sports Month (see our Pinterest board Movement for Fun and Fitness for lots of kid-tastic activities), free community resources for parents and child care providers, and local events the whole family will enjoy. We also had a fantastic New Moms Support Group on Tuesday where moms came together to gain support and decrease isolation. If you are a new mom or you know someone who is, check out next week’s free support group on Tuesday, May 19th, from 10:30am to 12pm.


Booties Camp is back on Wednesday, May 20th, with a workshop all about babies and Sleep, and on May 27th, moms are invited to join in I Heart Mama Stroller Exercises for a fun hour of stretching and socializing. Register today for the return of our popular workshop What Great Parents Do and learn the ABC’s of parenting: Acceptance, Boundaries, and Consistency. Providers, don’t miss your chance to sign up for QRIS Health & Safety on May 30th, which is highly recommended for participating QRIS programs, or our upcoming training on Preventive Health held on May 31st.


Grab the kiddos and head over to 4C’s 13th Annual Free Children’s Faire on May 16th in Hayward where every child will receive a free book and get a chance to meet Elmo! On Sunday, May 17th, introduce little ones to the amazing music performed by local youth at the Jazz on Fourth Street Festival in Berkeley. And you can get a jump-start on your child’s summer plans by checking out OUSD’s Summer 2015 Pre-K Camp. In this free Summer Pre-K Camp children will learn to develop early reading and math skills and receive free breakfast and lunch. Such a fantastic resource! Providers and parents will also benefit from a free workshop from Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network all about Best Practices for Employing a Child Care Provider, which will take place on Tuesday, May 26th.

Until Monday, stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn!

BANANews: Week in Review and New Things to Do!

Ready for the weekend? So are we! Here’s a roundup of what’s been going on at BANANAS and where you can find family fun in the community this weekend:


A big highlight of our week was unveiling our 2014 Annual Report with a special blog post. We are so excited to share everything we’ve been doing for families and child care providers in Northern Alameda County! The report includes client success stories, thoughts from the Bunch, ideas for educational play, and an acknowledgement of all our amazing, generous donors. If you haven’t seen this colorful publication yet, take a look today! On Tuesday, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a festive Pinterest board full of crafts, books, and snacks. Mexican culture is so bright and unique; there are so many ways to honor its beauty with young children. We also kicked off the first of our three-week-long New Moms Support Group series on Wednesday; join us next week at 10:30am to meet other new moms and bond with your little one!


Child care providers, you are invited to a free workshop all about Early Literacy for Infants & Toddlers on Saturday, May 16. RSVP for this wonderful event to learn about language development and encouraging early learning. And on Wednesday, May 13, our Booties Camp series continues with Baby Yoga where parents will learn techniques for breathing and body awareness. Babies are welcome!


Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 10! Bring Mom to the Bay Area Discovery Museum for an afternoon of family-friendly fun (free flowers for the first 200 moms!) or head to the Exploratorium for a FREE admission day. If you’d prefer to stay closer to home, check out the Alameda Spring Festival for a FREE day of outdoor activities, including face painting, a climbing wall, live music, and bouncy castles. And, don’t forget that from now until May 22, you can bring a smile to your little one’s face with a FREE snack or meal at participating Oakland libraries!

Be sure to stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn! And, if you have a question about parenting or early learning you’d like the Bunch to answer in our weekly BANANA Bites column, send an email to

BANANews (and Fun Things to Do!)

It’s almost the weekend! As you get ready to unwind from the work week, consider checking out what’s been happening both at BANANAS and in the community.


In our BANANA Bites column, we gave our Top Ten Teen Babysitting Tips for youth who are looking to learn how to achieve “babysitting greatness.” From figuring out rates and transportation to setting a good example for little ones, these tips are excellent for any teenager interested in becoming a stellar babysitter. On Tuesday, we released our newest edition of What’s Happening for Parents and What’s Happening for Providers, which list all of our upcoming FREE summer workshops. Make sure you’re up to date on all the fun! We also added some more adorable kids crafts to our Pinterest board Hooray for Mother’s Day; if you haven’t checked it out all the ideas, like the Mama and Baby Elephant Handprints, then you’ll want to be sure to see all the cuteness today. Plus, if you want to support local families as you shop online for Mom, don’t forget to use and choose BANANAS as your nonprofit of choice!


If you haven’t signed up for our free six-week parenting series Spirited Child starting on Tuesday, May 5th, then register today! You’ll learn ways to deal with tantrums, defiance, aggression, shyness, and other challenging behaviors often displayed by “spirited” children. On Wednesday, May 6th, new parents we’ll be offering all kinds of information at our Booties Camp: Baby Basics workshop.


Join Youth Uprising on May 2 from 12pm to 5pm for their 10th Anniversary Block Party and celebrate with free food, live music, and Castlemont Community Playtime. If you’re little ones love picture books, cartoons, or comics (or all three), bring them to one of many Bay Area locations for Free Comic Book Day, also on May 2nd! Parents and providers, mark your calendars and come speak up at Stand for Children Day on May 6th. Hop on a bus at BANANAS and tell legislators how important it is to Invest In Kids!

Until Monday, stay in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest!

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:


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 And, if you didn’t read our April Newsletter, be sure to see all the free resources for parents and child care providers!


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).


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!