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.

Best Pumpkin Patches & Farms in Alameda County

pumpkin patch guide

Looking to pick out the perfect pumpkin? You’re in the right place. If you’re looking for a patch where you can pick up a pumpkin to whip up some tasty desserts, this guide tells you all about the best pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and fall fun in Alameda County. Take your family to a farm featuring family games, tractor rides, petting zoos, and so much more.

Alameda Point Pumpkin Patch
The Alameda Point Pumpkin Patch (formerly in Emeryville) has a rock climbing wall, extreme air jumpers, a 40-foot ship slide, and a 200-foot zip line for thrill seekers. Above all, a petting zoo and bouncy houses for children. And yes, they have a ton of local, valley-grown pumpkins too!

Location: 2153 Ferry Pt, Alameda, CA
Hours: Mon – Sun | 10 am – 10 pm

Perry Family Farms
This spot offers the family a chance to see the whole process of growing veggies and pumpkins. Located on the grounds of Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont, Perry’s is a real working organic farm. Kids can learn about the pumpkin growing process and burn off some steam at the kid’s maze. There are also character cut out photo ops, a hay pyramid, and hayrides for everyone to enjoy even more.

Location: 34600 Ardenwood Blvd, Fremont, CA
Hours: Mon – Fri | 12 pm – 7 pm
Sat – Sun | 9 am – 7 pm

G&M Farms
Getting lost is half the fun of visiting this Livermore farm. They boast a 6-acre corn maze full of twists and turns. Once you find your way out, check out some of the other attractions like the pony rides and a cow train. And don’t forget the pumpkins! You can certainly pick your own in the field, or pick one up at the farm stand.

Location: 487 East Airway Blvd, Livermore, CA
Hours: Mon – Fri | 2 pm – 6 pm
Sat – Sun | 10 am – 6 pm

Piedmont Avenue Pumpkin Patch
This patch carries over 15 varieties of pumpkins, from tiny Muskins up to Atlantic Giants, with vibrant colors such as orange, red, white, green, and multi-colored. Above all, they have two haunted houses experiences—a scary one (for big kids and adults) and a not-so-scary version (for the little ones).

Location: 4414 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA
Hours: Mon – Sun | 9 am – 8 pm

Moore’s Pumpkin Patch  
Getting your Halloween pumpkin is more fun at Moore Farm because they have large pumpkin patches with hundreds of beautiful pumpkins for you to choose from. Children use red wagons, commonly called as “Pumpkin Patch Travelers” to transport pumpkins. At Moore’s Pumpkin Patch, your visit includes more than just pumpkins for the reason that this is a family fun park complete with rides and attractions. Let your children enjoy the popular “super slide”, the pony rides, the bounce house, and so much more.

Location: 9711 Dublin Canyon Rd, Castro Valley, CA
Hours: Mon – Sun | 10 am – 8 pm

ABC Tree Farms 
This new pumpkin patch offers tons of “jumper” inflatable fun houses to jump around for children ages 2-12. You will find different varieties of pumpkins and don’t forget to take pictures with your family at the wonderfully decorated “memory zone” that has corn and pumpkin barrel boards and cut outs. Your children will certainly love to look through these cut outs.

Location: 2200 Hilltop Mall Rd, Richmond, CA
Hours: Mon – Sun | 10 am – 9 pm

Whether your children want big pumpkins that will take hours to carve, or a teeny-tiny one, these pumpkin patches have them all. Get ready to get carving!