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

Peek a Boo!

Want a fun, free, awesome game to play right now? A game that will
help your child develop important language and social/emotional
developmental skills? A game that can be played in lots of different ways to
also encourage motor skills in babies, turn taking in toddlers, and problem
solving skills in preschoolers?

It’s Peek-a-Boo of course!

Peek-a-boo is one of those never gets old, joyfully fun games to play over
and over again. Peek-a-boo is played all over the world and for good
reason! It is a tool for all areas of development. It’s easy, it’s portable, and
it’s fun for all ages. That is why we are sharing some quick tips and ideas
for playing peek-a-boo games for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

For babies, peek-a-boo is a wonderful way to encourage social
emotional sharing, language skills, motor skills, and to develop object
permanence. Object permanence is the understanding that when an object
or a person is out of view, they still exist. Babies develop this skill between
four and seven months and peek-a-boo is a perfect way for them to
experiment and learn about this concept. When playing peek-a-boo with
your baby pause and wait before revealing yourself. Allow your baby a
moment to react, vocalize or reach for you. The simple act of waiting, even
for a second or two, will give your child an opportunity to be an active
participant in the game instead of just an observer. As your baby grows
and learns the game, you can place a cloth on their head and give them
time to pull it off. You can also encourage them to sign or vocalize for
“more” after each turn. The excitement and fun of the game, as well as the
back-and-forth, makes for a motivating opportunity to practice language
skills. For motor skill development, you can play peek-a-boo during tummy
time. Lay on the floor, face to face with your little one, and encourage your
baby to strengthen their neck by looking up for you. You may also hide a
favorite toy under a blanket. Show your baby the toy disappearing under
the blanket (you may even want to let a little show through) then watch your
baby reach and stretch to reveal the toy. Peek-a-boo!

For toddlers, peek-a-boo is still a fun game to play that encourages language and social/emotional sharing. Now, your child can say “peek-a-
boo”, “I found you”, and “play again”. Each time you play with your child, you are practicing the rules of a game and turn taking as well. At this age,
children also play a simple game of hide-and-seek, which is a variation of
peek-a-boo. Toddlers like to hide in the same place over and over
however, the act of seeking and finding creates a bonding experience; you
are excited to find them and they are excited that they found you. This game also builds their confidence and problem solving skills when they are
the “seeker”. Just make sure they will be successful by not hiding too
well. 😉 Your child can also play hide-and-seek with their toys while working
on pretend play, language, and problem solving skills. For example, while
playing with my son’s toy barn, we often hide a farm animal and the farmer
has to find the animal that “ran away”. We practice language skills “Oh no,
where is the horse? We have to find him!” and problem solving skills “Is he
under the couch?” “Is the horse inside the basket?” “Can he fit in this
box?”. Another variation of the game is to hide toys in tin foil and try to
guess what the item is before unwrapping. This game also encourages
your child’s thinking skills. Model and practice exploring the object, taking
a guess as to what it could be and, if possible, answering why they think so
before unwrapping.

For preschoolers, hide-and-seek will become more sophisticated.
You may be able to really tap into your child’s problem solving skills by
hiding in a “challenging” place. Another variation of hide-and-seek is to go
on a scavenger hunt. Pinterest has many types of scavenger hunts that
you can click and print. Your child will be working on thinking skills and
social/emotional skills as they work collaboratively to complete the hunt
with you or even a sibling. You can make your own scavenger hunts as
well to practice cognitive skills such as beginning sounds (find an object
that begins with the letter sound), or numbers (find one apple, find two
cups, etc.). The possibilities are endless!

Now, go play!
Chelsie and Michele

Tiny Humans, Big Feelings.

When little people are overwhelmed by BIG emotions,

it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos. L.R. Knost

I read this quote recently and it got me thinking about stress, anxiety and about my own son and how he must be feeling during this unprecedented time. If I am feeling unsure, uneasy, stressed, confused, overwhelmed, and anxious… how is he feeing? He is only two and unable to expertly explain to me his emotions throughout the day. I now know his recent behaviors (extra cranky, wanting me to hold him more often and even the separation anxiety he was expressing when I simply leave the room) may not just be “being two” but something more. I immediately began to feel more patience and calm knowing that my behaviors have a direct effect on his. As a result, I have been talking about feelings more lately in an effort to help him label his. I do this throughout the day and especially while reading books. I point out the characters in the pictures and we label their feelings. I also try to avoid the news during the day so that I am not creating an atmosphere of stress in our home. We also check in with grandparents, cousins, or friends at least once a day on FaceTime or WhatsApp. It’s a great way for our children to stay in touch and to see that those important people in their lives are still there and they are ok. I tell him we have to stay home to help people stay healthy (he says “happy” and that’s true too). We are doing our best to help people stay healthy and happy and wanted to share some thoughts and ideas that may help you and your family relieve some anxiety and create a positive atmosphere in your home.

Exercise is a terrific stress reliever for us and for our children. You are probably already getting out and about for walks and playtime but if you are not, today is a great day to start! Walk, ride bikes, jog, blow bubbles, color on the sidewalk with chalk, dig in the dirt, hose off the sand and water table from winter storage or just bring a plastic bin outside and fill it with water and play on a nice day. You won’t have to worry about making a mess inside and your child will be more than willing to make a big mess outside. If you can’t get outside try stretching, yoga poses, jumping, dancing, and even a pillow obstacle course counts as exercise and your child will love it!

Pretend Play:
Pretend play can be a wonderful way to help your child manage anxiety. Children can feel comforted by caring for their animals at the “vet” or a “grooming station” as well as washing and feeding their baby dolls. This type of activity can also lead to conversations about feelings and may reveal how your child is feeling during this time. It is common for small children to use their toys to express how they are feeling. Take time to talk to your child about feelings in an age appropriate way. Happy and sad may be all they can understand at first but they can learn that when their doll is sad, they can hold and hug her and she feels better. Their understanding of how to offer comfort and in turn be comforted, is a powerful tool.

Comforting Space:
We all need a change of atmosphere once in a while to reset our minds or attitudes. Find a spot in your home to create a quiet and cozy space for down time, cuddles, alone time for older children, or for tantrums and calming. Include soft pillows, or a comfy chair, blankets and soft toys. You will be helping not only your child but your entire family. Just a simple change of atmosphere can reset your mind, calm your body, allay your anxieties. This time is stressful for everyone and our children may need the extra attention, cuddles, playtime, and space to deal
with it all.

Sensory Input:
Sensory activities are designed for calm and stress relief and they are easy to create. When children are focused in sensory play it not only activates their brain and the muscles in their hands and arms but it also creates a calming effect much like squeezing a stress ball. Sensory bins are a great option and can be filled with whatever you have on hand and placed on a tray or in a bin. Some ideas are water, rice, dried beans, dried corn, easter grass, shredded paper, cheerios, and oatmeal. Use the materials that you feel are appropriate for your child’s age then add toys, measuring cups, spoons, scoops and let them explore. Play dough and gak can be easily made with a few ingredients you may have on hand and edible play dough would be a great option for a younger child. The sensory input of squeezing, squishing, and poking can do wonders for the whole family! Sensory input does not have to be just fine motor play either. Rocking in a rocking chair or on your lap, swinging in a blanket, pushing or pulling a heavy wagon can all give your child the calm he/she needs.

Make it Special:
Carve out moments to make being at home together even more special. Plan some fun and simple activities to make the week exciting or for something to look forward to on the weekend. You can count down the days on the calendar or make a paper chain for each day and tear off one every morning. You can surprise your family or write down choices of activities on paper strips and place them in a jar. Each week or day choose a new activity. Something as simple as going on a picnic in the backyard or on the living room floor would be silly and fun for your child. You can customize it to suit your family’s needs but some ideas are:
• pancakes for dinner
• movie night with popcorn and pjs
• make homemade ice-cream in a bag
• dress up in costumes and “pretend” trick or treat
• go on a scavenger hunt
• make a bird feeder
• eat popsicles in the bathtub
• use pudding to paint your body outside
• wash the cars
• decorate the windows or front door
• plant seeds in the garden
• make chocolate cake and celebrate…anything!

Remember, it would not be unusual for a child to be more clingy, cranky, or defiant at this time. They are processing and trying to understand the new normal we have all been thrust into. We hope that these ideas may help in some small way to get you through these times. In the meantime, give yourself a pat on the back because you are doing a great job!

Also, don’t forget to tune in to live story time on Wednesdays at 11:00 AM and play time on Thursdays at 10:00 AM EST on Instagram Live. It’s a great mood booster and a wonderful way for parents and children to connect with our Play to Grow community!

Now, go play!
Michele and Chelsie

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!

Play for 5

Do you ever plan on working out but keep putting it off, then when you actually do it, you feel so good after?  Playing can be like that.  Sometimes you may want to get dinner ready, fold the laundry, make appointments, or drink a coffee, whatever is on your to-do list, it can wait 5 minutes.  When someone small says “Will you play with me?” Say yes.  just say yes.  Don’t say “in a minute” or “not now” or “okay but only for a little bit then I have to do things”.  Just say “Yes.”

When you play with your child, you are setting off those feel good sparks in their brain.  You are strengthening your bond.  You are teaching to take turns, share, learn new words, providing experiences they wouldn’t get if you were doing the dishes.

So say “Yes” and play for 5 minutes.  This may turn into 10, 15, 20 minutes or more.  Your child will appreciate the time you give them and won’t realize just how long or short it was.

In 5 minutes you can…
play a game of catch,
have a tea party,
make funny faces at each other,
play patty cake,
play a board game,
push cars around,
make pretend soup,
stack blocks,
shake instruments,
have a dance party,

When those few minutes are up you can slowly back out of the game and encourage your child to play by him or her self by setting up a stuffed animal or doll in your place.  You can also weave the playing into wherever you are by asking your child to finish making you tea and bring it to you while you finish an email, have them push a car around the laundry basket and check for lost socks, set her up with a mixing bowl and spoon while you make dinner.

Just to be clear – we can’t play ALL the time.  Someone has to be mom.  This post is just meant to be a check in.  A reminder of how important it is for children to play and how even just a few minutes of your time takes up a big space in their brains.

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!

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

That you see and you greet each day.

One way to encourage your child’s development is to get out in the world.  By interacting with others, your child will observe how relationships work.  How to shake hands, how to say hello, how to be polite, how to make friends, how to end a conversation when someone is talking too much.  When you provide your child with different experiences he learns.  He takes it all in.  And when he’s ready, he will participate in those social experiences just like he learned.  From you.  So, the next time you are in line at the register, be kind to the grumpy teenager ringing you up, hold the door for someone, smile, say ‘Good Morning’.

And the morale of the story, greet everyone you see.  Be kind to others.  Be the person you want your child to be.  As mentioned, she is watching you.  ALWAYS.  And as she begins talking and imitating, you know just where her material will come from.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day.   If nothing else, celebrate by greeting someone.  You could also make these peace signs.

Now, go play!