Race and Empathy

There are so many emotions that our country is experiencing right now: anger, fear, frustration, sadness, grief, horror. If you are feeling any of these emotions, your child is feeling it too. Children learn from their parents and feed off their emotional energy. However, it is not easy to put those emotions aside in times of great upheaval and strife. What can help to quell the despair and helplessness, is action. Helping someone in need, calling on friends and family, donating time, money, or goods and using your voice to strengthen the voice of others. We, as parents, have been committed to teaching our children right from wrong, even before they are born. But we now understand that it is our responsibility to teach not just acceptance, but acknowledgement of our differences and the celebration of those differences. We have a responsibility to teach our children not only to be kind, but also empathetic to the feelings and struggles of others. We have a responsibility to teach our children not only about race and racism, but how to stand up and speak up against racism in all its forms.

If you are looking for ways to begin these lessons at home with your child, here are some ideas to get you started.

Start early:
Babies will begin to recognize faces and stare at faces that look familiar, by 6 months. At toddler age, children are recognizing differences in people and can learn simple age appropriate concepts about race. What is important to remember is not to ignore racial differences, but to talk about them in thoughtful and respectful ways.

Acknowledge, Accept, and Celebrate Our Differences:
Pointing out differences in skin tone, hair texture, and other cultural differences helps our children to understand the world around them. Children are looking to their parents to give them insights on how to categorize and process what they are taking in. If your child points out differences in people they see or meet, use it as an opportunity to celebrate those differences (Yes! They look different from us and isn’t it wonderful that we have different colors of skin/hair/eyes etc). When we as parents acknowledge and accept the differences of individuals, we are showing our
children that our differences are not a deterrent to being friends.

The more we expose our children to others of different backgrounds than ours, we are helping them to create a wider world view. Our view of the world is narrow when you look at your own neighborhood, school, playmates etc. Challenge that through exposure. When we are able to socialize again, try out a “new to you” playground once a week. Your child will love the novelty of it and they will also have an opportunity to see and
interact with other children that may look different then them. Also, set up a play date with a new neighbor you’ve been wanting to meet. Until then, add to your home library and choose picture books featuring and written by POC. Make sure the characters are as diverse as their skin tones. It is important that the books you choose depict POC in many different roles, just as in the real world. Also, choose diverse television programs to expose your child to multicultural characters as well. Sesame Street has been creating positive multicultural programming for decades.

Model Kindness and Empathy:
Empathy is the ability to understand what someone else is feeling. We are born with the capacity to feel empathy but it is something that needs to be
developed. As parents, we can teach our children how to be empathetic by modeling those behaviors with our kids. Pretend play is one way to do that. By using toys to role play simple age appropriate situations of caring, inclusion, and acceptance you are giving your child powerful tools to help them navigate challenging emotional situations. While reading books together, talk about the character’s expressions and emotions. Asking
simple questions such as, “How does Gerald feel?” and “How could you help Gerald feel happy?” are easy for young children to understand and verbalize. If your child doesn’t have an answer, talk it through for them. They will be learning through your empathetic response. When children can once again socialize together, use play dates and playground meet ups to talk through emotions in the moment. Even if your child doesn’t get it at first, the continued practice of identifying emotions in other people is
part of developing the skills of empathy. Most importantly, your child learns from you. How you treat, react and respond to others, especially POC, what you watch and listen to, what you read, and who you socialize with will give your child the most influential lessons of race and racism of all.

We at Play to Grow are devastated for the BIPOC community and we stand with them as they are crying out for real change. We are listening to understand how to help and are committed to learning about our role in this fight for racial equality. We are at the beginning of our own journey in making antiracism truly part of our family’s, and Play to Grow’s, narrative and will be exploring and sharing more on this topic in the future as we learn and grow in our own education.

Here are some resources you may find interesting. We will be
adding to this list as we come across more information that may
be beneficial:

Multicultural Books for Babies and Toddlers

Books About Activism for Kids

TV Shows with Diverse Character

“Even Babies Discriminate: A NutureShock Excerpt”

Play it Again!

Welcome back to our “Play it Again” blog series. If you missed the
first post you can check it out here.
This series is about sharing multiple ways to play with one simple toy or
object to encourage and enhance cognitive, communication, social/
emotional, and motor skills for your baby, toddler, and preschooler. We
hope sharing a few simple ideas will make play time more fun and may
spark your own creativity!

Today, we are talking about blocks. Blocks are the most perfect toy!
They are open ended, versatile, adaptable, creative, and come in many
different varieties. Blocks can be played with in so many different ways to
further all areas of development from the baby stage to older children.
Playing with blocks provides opportunities for learning science, math,
problem solving, gross and fine motor, language, creativity, imagination,
and social emotional skills like self esteem and cooperation. Not only that,
when parents get down on the floor to play with their child they are also
learning ways to enhance development by using specific language (up, on
top, build, balance), sharing, building together, and celebrating success.
It’s fun for everyone! Before you begin, make sure you have blocks
available and accessible for your child. That way they can grab the blocks
anytime and start playing in their own way. We use baskets to corral
similar blocks on our toy shelf, but stacking blocks on a shelf to be easily
seen is a great option too.

Babies (6-12 months)
Babies are in the early stage of block play. They are exploring, holding,
and carrying the blocks.
Use a bin with low sides and toss blocks of various textures, weights,
colors, and sizes to explore.
Use soft blocks to play fill and dump games. Use a basket or cardboard
box to fill up with blocks then dump it out to start again. This is your baby’s
way of exploring early concepts of science and math.
Babies also love to tap objects and hear the sounds they make. Use
wooden and plastic blocks to tap together and tap on metal pots or bowls.
Add some drum music in the background to play along with.
Use the soft blocks to make a tower for your baby to knock down. Practice
saying “go” and “more” and giving your baby time to respond.
Place blocks along the couch so your baby can cruise toward each one and
practice those steps!

Toddlers (1-3 years)
Try the baby activities and also…
Build simple structures with blocks and knock them down!
Build blocks up and also horizontally on the floor. Challenge your child to
see how long or tall their structure can go. Also, create two structures side
by side and explore which one is bigger, taller, or longer.
Trace different shaped blocks on paper and have your child find the match.
Also, use various shapes, sizes, and colors of blocks and make matching
Use muffin tins to practice one-to-one correspondence with small alphabet
blocks then use the alphabet blocks to identify the pictures on the sides for
an early math and language activity.
Make block structures and incorporate a favorite character or stuffed
animal. Place the toy on top of, under, in, out, in front of, behind to practice
positional words.
Play block bowling by making small block towers then knocking them down
with a ball.
Begin to use blocks in pretend play. For example make a fence for the
barnyard animals, make a tree for the monkey to climb, or a train track for
Thomas to ride.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Try the toddler activities and also…
Make bridges and enclosures with blocks to explore the concepts of
Preschoolers are at the stage of using blocks for more pretend play by
making advanced structures for their play world. Allow them the freedom to
“take over” the living room rug for a bit as their creativity soars!
Use a spring scale and measure the weight of blocks.
Use blocks to measure things around the house. How long is the couch?
How tall is the desk? How tall am I?
Have a building contest with mom, dad or a sibling and see who can stack
and balance the blocks the tallest.
Use colorful blocks to make simple patterns.
Use blocks as dice and tape pictures to the sides.
Use action pictures to play a movement game, letters and a bingo board to practice reading skills, and familiar or even unusual pictures to practice language skills by making up a story. Each roll of the dice is a new line of the story. Your child may
just want to listen at first but will soon play along.

Last, but not least, follow the child’s lead as they build and play with blocks
Let them figure out what will and will not work according to the laws of
gravity! 😉

Now, go play!
Chelsie and Michele

Inspiring Independent Play

Now that you are home for an extended period of time (this isn’t a snow day!) you may be thinking, “How will I get it all done?” So we would like to share with you some tips to encourage more independent play from your child. As with all learning, it will be a process and won’t happen overnight. However, your child can, and will, learn to play more independently so you can drink that hot cup of coffee, check and respond to your boss’ emails, or make sure that load of laundry actually makes into the dryer this time.

Independent play encourages important cognitive, social, physical, emotional, and problem solving skills. As children grow their ability to play independently for longer periods increases. It is important to remember how old your child is, as well as their temperament, to understand how much independent play they can reasonably sustain. At 6 months a child may play with colorful toys hanging from a play gym for 5-10 minutes. At one year old they may be able to play with stacking toys for up to 15 minutes. At 18 months they may play with their sensory bin for 15-20 minutes, and at two years old, they may play with a train set for 20-30 minutes or more.

First and foremost, make sure your child has a safe place to play. Any room, or even a corner in your home, will work just as long as there are accessible, age appropriate toys. As always, stay near your child to monitor their safety, but as they begin to become immersed in their play, you may be able to move away to give them space to explore on their own.

The novelty of toys always helps to encourage more independence as your child explores and discovers something new. Before you open the Amazon app, check your child’s toy bin for those toys that haven’t been played with in a while. Take them out and put the others away in a box or a closet for now. This way your child will be encouraged to play with their “new” toys and it may spark a whole other level of interest and curiosity.

Lastly, allow your child to play like Sinatra and do it “my way”. Corny, I know, but the point is that child led activities are when your child is using play as an experiment to learn about their world. Give your child the freedom to explore and play in a way that sparks THEIR interest. You can help by using their favorite toys and expanding the play in a new way. If they have a love of dinosaurs, take those toys and let them wash them in a soapy bowl of water. Place the bowl on the kitchen floor with a towel underneath and you just may have enough time to get dinner started.

Do they love their cars and trucks? Build a road on the floor with painter’s tape and see where it takes them. You may have time to check those emails.

Are they obsessed with a certain character? Let them have a tea party with their favorite “guys”. You may be able to drink a second cup of coffee.

Do they just love books and snuggles? Make a cozy fort with blankets and pillows, add a few favorite books and a flashlight and you may be able to fold that laundry after all.

Remember, as with all skills, independent play takes time and practice but you will get there. Also, during these times, your child may also be feeling a bit unsure and may want more of your attention than usual. As they (and we) get used to a new routine, they will feel more comfortable and confident.

Now, go play!


Bubbles are a baby staple. Every baby, child, and adult enjoys good bubbles. Think about it, isn’t it satisfying to blow through a bubble wand? And isn’t it disappointing when they’re just not good bubbles?

Bubbles are an inexpensive toy that can provide endless activities. Here are ways to use bubbles and activate each area of development.

Cognitive: Babies are in awe of bubbles. “What are these shimmering balls floating above my head?” Blow bubbles to extend tummy time and encourage those eco muscles to look ALL around. For toddlers, they are using problem solving skills as they learn how to shape their mouth and how hard to blow, trial and error at its finest!

Language: “Where should we blow the bubbles? On your head or toes?” “Look! The bubbles are going up, up, up!” Bubbles make room for lots of language. Babies will communicate with you through smiles and reaching while toddlers use their words or hand gestures for “more”.

Social and Emotional: Who wants a turn? Everyone. Always. Practice turn taking with your toddler every time the wand needs reapplication. For babies, they are expressing their feelings of joy when the bubbles pop on their nose (or dislike) and it’s your job to respect their emotions. “It looks like you don’t like when the bubbles pop on you, I’ll blow them farther away,”

Motor Skills: Pointing, teaching, clapping, stomping, running, how many ways can you think to pop a bubble? Get moving!

The best part is bubbles are inexpensive, available almost anywhere including the dollar store, and last forever!

Dollar Store Haul

Wander the aisles of your local dollar store and fill up on goodies that are sure to entertain your kiddos.  Below are a few activities you can throw together with simple materials available from the dollar store, although you may already have most of them at home.  Keep them in a bin and store away when not in use.  Pull out in times of need, ie: prepping dinner, making doctor appointments, checking email, writing a blog post, etc.

Animal Bath: Fill a bin with an inch or two of water, add some plastic animals and a sponge.  Use a plastic table cloth as a catch-all and for easy clean up.  Let your little ones give their animals a “bath”.  Add some dish soap for some bubbles, or not if you have someone who eats everything.

Push and Pull Garden: Poke artificial flowers through a colander, let your little one “pick” flowers for you!  For a toddler, show them how to weave pipe cleaners in and out of the holes then let them work it themselves.

Stainless Steel Fridge Fix: Baking Sheets double as a magnetic refrigerator.   Add magnetic letters for spelling fun.

Tummy Time: mirrors, paper cups, bubbles, masking tape sticky balls, balloons, and items of various textures (cleaning cloths, hairbrush, gift bows, measuring cups, flashlights, practically anything.

Dollar Store Shopping List (all materials noted above plus some extra)
Plastic Animals
Dish Soap
Artificial Flowers
Pipe Cleaners
Baking Sheet
Magnetic Letters
Paper Cups
Masking Tape
Velcro Hair Rollers
Toy Cars
Baby Doll
Kitchen Utensils (spoon, spatula, tongs)
Gift Bows
Tissue Paper
Paper Plates
Coffee Filters
Spray Bottle

Want more?  Drop a comment with a random dollar store item and we will make an activity out of it!

Now, go play!

Don’t forget to pretend.

It’s January.  The batteries are fresh and the volume is up.  Sometimes it can be hard to find something in the toy aisle at Target that doesn’t involve a blue tooth or laser beam.  As mentioned in a past post, when shopping for toys, whether it be for your own child or someone else’s (parents will thank you!), look for toys that involve the imagination. You’d be surprised when a child doesn’t know how to push a car around the kitchen floor because he is fixated on pushing the buttons that make siren noises and lights flash.   Pretend play is a crucial part of childhood.  It’s when a child practices fine motor skills as he pours invisible coffee into a cup, when she develops her communication as she talks to her stuffed animals, when he practices his balance while pushing a shopping cart around the kitchen, pulling items out of your pantry.  Pretend play encourages exploration and problem solving, strengthens memory skills, creates expectations to learn from.

You would be surprised what a child can do with an empty box, a few plastic cups, or a piece of tinfoil.  The next time you give your child something new, whether it is a toy or something you came across in the junk drawer, give it to them without saying a word.  Well, build it up with “ooohs and aaaahs” but then, let it go.  See where it goes.  And play along!  Blocks don’t have to be stacked and spoons don’t have to be just for stirring.  By allowing your child to play in their own way, you are strengthening their imagination and their self esteem, which in turn will lengthen the time they can play on their own!  Hellooo coffee time!

What is your child’s favorite non-toy item?  Pots and pans? Pinecones? The dog leash?

Now, go play!  And don’t forget to pretend.

Put a bow on it.

Here it is!  Your guide to holiday shopping for the little ones in your life.  These are Play to Grow’s fave items for gift giving.

Tips for toy giving:

  1. Buy something that does not take batteries.  The parents will thank you.  And so will the child’s brain.
  2. Look for something that can grow with the child, that they can use throughout their childhood.
  3. Stay away from gender stereotypes!  Boys can play house and girls can drive toy cars around.

All of the gifts are linked to buy them but PLEASE visit an actual store!  Although the holiday crowds can be crazy at time, remember it’s important to interact with people on a daily basis! Brick and mortars for the win!

Disclaimer: Play to Grow does not receive any monetary reward for this post or any of the links you click on.  They are truly just great products!  Wouldn’t that be nice though? (So, hey! Any retailers reading this, hit us up!)

shopping (1)

Latch puzzle


Toy house


Shopping Cart


Tea set


17001460 (1)





Sit and Stuff Bean Bag


And more books


Step Stool


Pop up Tent

shopping (2)

Shape Sorter



For more ideas on gift giving, check out this past post.

Looking for ways to keep it all together despite ribbons and bows, click here.


Now, go shopping.
Then, go play!



Have you ever watched your child observe a school bus drive by?  Have you seen your child try to put legos together or stack blocks only to have them fall down?  This is your child’s brain developing cognitively.  Babies are observers and as they get older they become explores, question askers, and doers.  By providing this experiences for your baby from day one you can help them develop to their fullest potential.

Make the world accessible.
Show your newborn her house, each room, look out the windows, walk the neighborhood, go to the grocery store.  Allow your baby to feel the breeze, lay in the sun, listen to music, touch (gasp) the dirt, the grass, anything that is a part of their world.

Narrate each day.
Label, describe, point, repeat, sing and read.
By talking to you child your are encouraging their language to develop.  If you have never heard a word you don’t know it exists, and if you aren’t taught what it means, you’ll never use it.

Create opportunities.
If you want your child to roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, talk, ride a bike, play baseball, make their bed, be kind, help others, and grow, show them how to do it.  All of it.  It’s been said before, you don’t need the most popular toy, a new app, the latest iPhone, your child just needs you.  You are the one they want, who’s attention they crave, so show them how it’s done.   Provide your child with the means to grow with what you have available.  Sit with your 5 month old and help him balance, reach for a toy and place it just within reach during tummy time, encourage sharing by sharing at home, say hello and thank you to the cashier at the grocery store, take her to the park to watch a softball game, have books on the couch, in the bathroom, in the bedroom, and everywhere in between.  Allow your child to observe, try and try again.



Now, go play!

What is Early Intervention anyway?

Between 0-3 years old, babies’ brains are growing like a wildfire.  Everything is new and exciting.  And they are growing to be able to explore their world by crawling, walking, reaching, grabbing, communicating, and more.  Some babies need a little extra boost to reach milestones, and some are predisposed to ailments both minor and major.  The Early Intervention (EI) System is a service provided by the government under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  If you are worried your child is not advancing as his peers, talk to your pediatrician.  She can point you into the direction of the Early Intervention System in your state.

Now, that being said, not every child develops at the same rate.  And just because your neighbor’s 11 month old is walking, doesn’t mean your 11 month old should be walking.  Instead, focus on what he CAN do, not what he can’t.  When a lacking skill impairs your child’s daily activities, Early Intervention can be resourceful.

Early Intervention is not a bad thing!  Do you take your child on play dates because you want him to socialize?  Do you take your child to the playground so he can be active?  Do you allow and provide and play your child with age appropriate toys?  These are all opportunities an Early Intervention Therapist would take part in.  An EI therapist will show you specific activities you can do to help your child meet those milestones.

Don’t think you don’t have time for EI.  The therapists will work around YOUR schedule.  They will come right to your house or meet with your childcare provider.  Whatever works FOR YOU.  The earlier you begin EI services, the better for your child.

If you think your child needs a little extra help but does not qualify for services you can also seek private therapy.

Email cyoung@weplaytgrow.com for questions or to help get you started in this process.

Now, go play!