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Supporting Childhood Development Through Gardening

From What’s In My Garden? written by Cheryl Christian, illustrated by Annie Beth Ericsson

Play isn’t just fun; it is fundamental for supporting a child’s learning, growth, and development. In particular, outdoor play helps improve sensory skills and encourages physical activity. Outdoor play doesn’t stop at the playground; it can also take place in a garden. Gardening with your child provides bonding time and helps them develop positive habits that enhance lifelong health. This activity can be accessible to children who live in urban and rural areas.

 

Gardening Supports Health

Sunlight, fresh air, and digging in the dirt benefit your child’s health in multiple ways. Gardening supports sensory development by engaging every sense—the sights and scents of flowers, tastes of veggies, and textures of leaves. Gardening has also been shown to improve mental health by helping reduce stress and depression. Exposure to healthy microbes in the dirt can strengthen your child’s microbiome—an important part of their immune system. Playing outside can even help children sleep better at night.

 

Tending a garden also supports essential motor skills. Fine motor skills are needed for tasks like using a pencil or tying shoelaces. Using gardening tools, grasping tiny seeds, and pulling weeds help your child develop these skills. Carrying a watering can and walking in soft soil can boost gross motor skills like balance and coordination. Physical exercise like this is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing illness.

 

A garden can help your child enjoy a healthy diet. It can be a challenge to convince picky eaters to try new foods or get proper daily servings of vegetables. Children are more likely to try new vegetables and fruits if they help to grow them. Multiple studies found that gardening increased vegetable consumption in children far more effectively than nutrition education programs.

 

Gardening can also be part of a healthy lifestyle for children with physical disabilities. There are many simple ways to make gardens accessible. One of the easiest is to use raised containers in order for the soil level to be within reach. Window boxes, hanging baskets, or vertical gardens can accomplish this, as well as tall plants like tomatoes or pea vines on a trellis. Wide walkways of compacted soil or gravel can offer better traction for scooter or wheelchair users.

 

Gardening Builds Cognitive Skills

Tending plants can spark your child’s curiosity for science. Starting a plant from seed offers a hands-on opportunity to see the life cycle of plants. Once the seed develops, grade schoolers can learn the basic parts of a plant—flower, leaf, fruit, stem, root—and their functions. Middle and high schoolers might find interest in identifying more detailed parts of a flower—anther, filament, stigma, etc.

 

Planning for a garden can also help develop your child’s vocabulary as they learn the names of plants and vegetables and read requirements on seed packages for light, water, and soil. Grade school children can create plant labels by writing plant names on popsicle sticks or stones. If you are creating a larger vegetable garden, older children can help you make a garden map to plan when to sow seeds and how to maximize available space.

 

Your child’s critical thinking will be challenged by tending a garden, whether it is through figuring out how to move a big rock or quickly pulling weeds. You and your child can solve problems together by discussing how you will manage bad weather, plant diseases, or garden pests.

From A Garden for Groundhog by Lorna Balian

 

Get Your Garden Started

Gardening doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or take up a lot of space; but it does require a little planning. First, consider the needs of your family and the age of your child(ren). With toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary-aged children, avoid plants that may be dangerous if touched or ingested. Young children may delight in the reward of quick-sprouting seeds like peas, lettuce, and beans. Children in middle and high school may enjoy seeing a flower bloom or a vegetable ripen after weeks of anticipation.

 

If you have a big yard, in-ground garden beds are a great option, but smaller spaces like patios can host beautiful container gardens. Urban families with limited outdoor space may be able to use hanging baskets, window boxes, rooftop space, or even plant an herb garden on a windowsill. Many cities offer community garden plots where anyone can volunteer. If you aren’t sure what to plant or how to care for plants, most regions in the US have an extension office with gardening experts who can give you advice.

 

Whether your garden fills an acre or a couple pots on your front steps, it will provide your child countless opportunities to grow and develop as you nurture nature together.

Creating A Cultural Learning Experience Through Vacation

The arrival of summer means planning family vacations! Although the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly reduced travel options, around 42 percent of Americans are cautiously optimistic about 2021 vacation plans. Small family vacation trips adhering to the CDC safety guidelines are definitely a possibility!

 

A family vacation can be a fascinating learning experience for children through cultural immersion. A 2019 survey by the US Travel Association revealed that 55 percent of Americans traveled in order to learn something new about a place, culture, or history, and 85 percent said they planned trips with the intention of creating an exciting experience for their children. With the US increase in cultural diversity, the need for cultural understanding through vacationing has also augmented as more families opt to teach their children about different heritages and cultures.

 

What are the benefits of a cultural immersion trip?

 

There are several different benefits of taking children on a culturally focused vacation!

From Alicia’s Happy Day, written by Meg Starr, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

 

1) Cultural Saturation
By the age of 3 or 4, children are aware of their own racial or ethnic backgrounds. Children who experience multicultural surroundings become more aware of different lifestyles and other cultures. This in turn helps activate vital developmental and social-emotional skills such as open-mindedness and empathy. It also helps children to understand inherent biases and stereotypes and how to overcome them. Through cultural appreciation and understanding, children learn to adapt to diverse cultures and environments.

 

2) Increased Cultural Intelligence
As infants and toddlers constantly examine their environments, every moment can become a learning experience. In an article for Parents, child psychologist Dr. Margot Sutherland stated, “An enriched environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive, and sensory interaction.” In other words, infants and toddlers become more attuned to the world around them and can begin to recognize differences and similarities between their upbringing and that of other children.

 

3) Multilingualism
Exposure to different cultures means exposure to different languages. Experts suggest that children under the age of 10 are more adept at learning a new language. “If you want to have native-like knowledge of English grammar you should start by about 10 years old. We don’t see very much difference between people who start at birth and people who start at 10, but we start seeing a decline after that,” said assistant professor of psychology Joshua Hartshorne, who conducted a postdoctorate study on children’s critical period for learning a second language.

 

4) Interconnection
Family vacations allow you to forge memories and bonds with loved ones that last a lifetime. With a cultural focus, your child will learn to embrace other communities and develop a personal connection with them. For multicultural families, a multigenerational vacation can help foster these connections as children learn about their grandparents’ heritage.

From The Girl on the Yellow Giraffe by Ronald Himler

How should I plan a cultural immersion vacation?

 

Admittedly, planning a vacation in these times is tough. However, there are several ways of ensuring a diverse vacation while also maintaining safety. Some of them don’t require traveling too far and can take place in your own city!

 

Below are a few tips for planning a trip that focuses extensively on a cultural experience.

 

1) Celebrate International Festivals
Most families plan vacations around popular American holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. This year, you can also celebrate international holidays! The Diversity Calendar 2021 is a great resource that includes holidays and major events from other cultures such as the Lantern Festival, a Chinese festival, or Holi, an Indian festival. You and your child can read books on such festivals together and visit nearby areas where celebrations take place. This way, your child can simultaneously have fun and learn the significance of festivals in your community.

 

2) Visit Local Areas
Instead of visiting the same tourist spots and attractions, look for local museums and historical villages of different communities. For instance, the Museum of African American History in Boston focuses on Black culture and hosts collections of historical items accrued the last 50 years. Another great option is the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Museum complex, which celebrates Indigenous tribes and houses one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts.

 

3) Try Local Cuisines
Book a hotel that offers cooking classes for cuisines from a different culture and whip up new dishes with your child! Another great way of assimilating cultures is by visiting local food markets and restaurants. This 2017 blog compiles all the best cultural markets in the US. Local cuisines offer a variety of dishes that will enhance your child’s palates. You can also extend their vocabulary knowledge by teaching them the local names of each dish. When visiting any restaurant, make sure to follow all current CDC guidelines and maintain social distancing wherever required!

From Zachary’s Dinnertime, written by Lara Levinson and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright

4) Attend Local Events
Although difficult during the pandemic, live events are one of the best and most entertaining ways of learning about a new culture! Live music and dances are especially interactive, often inviting audiences to participate. In Los Angeles, a famous music festival called Mariachi USA is held annually. It features performances from Mexican and American mariachi musicians, along with other mesmerizing folkloric musicians.

 

As you can see, there are a myriad of possibilities in which you can help your child learn about new cultures through vacation activities. These experiences will aid children in developing cultural understanding, while also creating memories the whole family can cherish for a lifetime.

Meet The Family You Never Knew You Had: A Guide to Creating a Family Tree with Your Child

Children might be curious about the people and cultures they descend from. Genealogical research can be a fun, engaging, and visual way to help children bond with their heritage.

 

One option for helping children learn about their ancestors is by creating an organized family tree. Make it a fun family activity! You and your child can work together to visually trace their ancestry, helping them form links with people from the past.

 

It doesn’t matter how far back you can trace the family, as long as you talk with your child and other relatives about the people and places you come from.

 

But where does one start to dig up their families’ history? When beginning your family tree, you’ll have two main options:

 

  1. Create an online digital tree that will store and organize information such as records, birthdays, marriages, etc. There are many resources that allow free trials and tree creation, such as Ancestry, Familysearch, and Geni.com.

 

  1. Or use a big poster board to visually plot each member of the family. You’ll need a big poster board, lots of pens or pencils (multicolored preferred), scissors, glue, and pictures of family members (if available) for maximum visual aesthetic.

Once you and your child have decided which avenue you want to take, write down all the family members you know. An easy place to start is with you and your child(ren), your parents, your partner, their parents, your siblings and your partner’s siblings, their children, and everyone else you’d be obliged to send a holiday gift or might see at the next family reunion.

 

For those working on a physical poster board, remember to be cautious with spacing. It’s easy to run out of room when creating a family tree, with its many twisting branches and leaves. Plan for mathematics: four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and sixteen second great-grandparents. Not to mention all the cousins, aunts, and uncles!

From 21 Cousins, written by Diane de Anda and illustrated by Isabel Muñoz

Make sure to include your child by having them help identify family members they already know: cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. They’ll get a kick out of helping you organize and record it together! In lieu of printed photographs, your child can draw pictures of Cousin Ruby, Aunt Louisa, and other relatives the know.

 

Now that you’ve jotted down everything you know, it’s time to contact any family elders. Call up Great Aunt Dorothy and let her tell you everything she knows about the family, especially the names of her parents, grandparents, and other relatives. Talk to Grandpa José and record what he can remember about his childhood and early years. And so on. This is a great way to bridge generational gaps with your child and family elders. As your child listens to stories and legacies that shaped the people in their family tree, they will simultaneously strengthen family relationships and understand their culture and heritage.

 

While talking to family elders, interesting stories about family members may come to light. What was Nana Rose’s life like after the war? Why didn’t Great Uncle Richard like his job? Who taught Auntie Sofia that family recipe for ricotta? It’s a great idea to record these sessions with family elders (with their consent) so the conversation is never lost. You can even make copies for other family members who may be interested! If you’re working with a digital tree, most genealogical services provide areas to “attach” stories to particular people.

 

Continue to synthesize information you already know with new information from family elders, making sure to plot them digitally or on the poster board. Your child can help write down names and dates or cut out pictures and glue them down.

 

Facilitate conversation with your child throughout this process. With everything you’re learning together, questions (from both you and your child) will arise. Why did Great-Grandmama June stop speaking with her sister? How come we never knew we had family in El Paso? Mysteries come to light that fascinate and intrigue when we start to dig into our ancestral pasts. Even you will be surprised how much you never knew about the recent past!

 

Here comes the final piece! With a visual model of your hard work in front of you, talk with your child about the people you’ve learned about together and the places they’re from. Not only have you given honor to the people who you descend from, you’ve done your child a service in helping them uncover their identity, building cultural awareness, and opening their eyes to how unique they truly are.

Mindfulness Activities for Kids

From Grandma is a Slowpoke, written by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Michele Coxon.

What is mindfulness?

 

The practice of mindfulness is one that has gained mainstream popularity over the last decade. With rising rates of stress and anxiety across the US, many have turned to meditative and mindful exercises to find balance in their lives.

 

According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is defined as a state of active, intuitive attention to the present that involves observing thoughts, feelings, and sensations in an objective manner. Rather than avoiding pain or difficult emotions, mindfulness equips us with the tools to become aware of our feelings and work toward acceptance. The goal of the practice is to cultivate inner peace that can translate to external relationships with others and the world around us.

 

The benefits of practicing mindfulness with children

 

Mindful practices present abundant benefits for people of all ages, including improvements in focus, patience, emotion regulation, and decision making. For children still developing key social-emotional skills, mindfulness techniques can teach them early on how to process their thoughts, emotions, and actions and react in positive ways.

 

Scientifically speaking, a majority of the skills that mindfulness promotes are controlled by the prefrontal cortex section of the brain. Connections are created and formed in the prefrontal cortex at the fastest rates during early childhood. While the brain continues to develop throughout our lives, childhood is an especially crucial time for these skills and connections to form.

 

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has outlined five core skills crucial to SEL learning:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management or self-regulation
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills

While CASEL has explicitly cited the benefits of mindfulness in relation to self-awareness and self-management, additional research suggests that all five CASEL skills may benefit from practicing mindfulness in these ways:

  • Improved ability to pay attention and remember information.
  • Improved ability to transition between different tasks.
  • Improved academic performance, classroom participation, and interpersonal interactions.
  • Increased focus, curiosity, self-control, coping abilities, empathy, and compassion.
  • Decreased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and disruptive behavior.

How incorporating mindfulness may differ across age groups

 

It’s never too early to introduce mindfulness to children! The practice may also simultaneously ease the stress of parents and caregivers. In fact, it is highly suggested that caregivers who practice mindfulness themselves may be better suited to integrating it into their child’s life.

 

Infants learn primarily through observation; an infant will sense when a caregiver is present in the moment. Try to limit use of digital devices around a baby and learn to ask yourself where attention is directed when spending time with one. Since parents and infants often feed off of each other’s emotional reactions, it’s equally important to maintain mindful habits in stressful situations, such as crying tantrums or sleepless nights. One example is gentle and loving eye contact.

 

These sentiments are important when practicing mindfulness with toddlers as well, but this age also presents more opportunity to explore the vast reaches of mindful practice. Mindfulness can be incorporated into reading, making art, or outdoor time with a toddler. Intentional expressions of mindfulness can begin to be practiced at this age as well, such as breathing exercises and learning to express gratitude often.

 

Young children will retain the mindful skills they’ve learned as infants and toddlers and may begin to explore meditation, yoga, and independent mindful activities. Across age groups, there is an array of mindful activities that children can enjoy!

 

Mindfulness practices to try with your child!

  • Walk around a room slowly while holding your infant. With each step, think about the love you hold for them and silently repeat phrases of gratitude or well wishes to yourself and your baby with each step.
  • Sit with your child and ask them to relax the tension held in their muscles. Take it slow and name each part of the body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes until each muscle has been relaxed.
    • Practicing squeezing and releasing your hand is a good way to demonstrate tension for younger children.
  • Use coloring as a mindful activity and ask your child to color their feelings. Invite them to associate colors with their thoughts and feelings.
  • Blow bubbles and associate each drifting bubble as releasing negative emotions. Offer farewells to the bubbles by saying “goodbye tears” or “goodbye sadness.”
  • During snacks or mealtimes, ask your child to describe their food to you. This can include size, color, texture, and taste. Ask them to consider ways the food nurtures their body and keeps them healthy.
  • Fill a jar with water and glitter. When your child feels distressed they can shake the jar and watch the glitter slowly settle to the bottom of the jar as a grounding and calming exercise.
  • Create a mindfulness kit! It could include essential oils, stimulating sensory objects, a journal, art supplies, or a comfort toy.
  • On a walk with your child spend time collecting different natural items. Take turns describing your findings to each other, including what they look and feel like.
  • Take five deep breaths in the morning and/or at bedtime. Encourage slow, deep breaths drawn in through the nose and pushed out through the mouth. A child may find comfort by holding a stuffed animal or closing their eyes.

Practicing mindfulness with children equips them with the tools to be self-reliant and self-aware, preparing them to overcome challenges later in life. The earlier mindfulness is introduced in a child’s life, the more empowered and resilient they will be. A mindful lifestyle can be refined as they grow older.

Supporting Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander Bookstores

Since the coronavirus outbreak began in March 2020, there have been increased attacks on Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander communities. Many attacks have resulted in death or life-altering injuries.

 

Star Bright Books believes it is vital to support communities in times of distress. We stand with the Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander communities in the US. Here is a link to find out ways to support these communities, in whatever way you can contribute.

 

May is Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! One way to honor these communities is by supporting local businesses. Below is a list of US bookstores and publishers to support. Click on the name of each bookstore to visit its website!

 

California

Arkipelago Books

  • Address: 1010 Mission Street, San Francisco
  • Phone: 415-795-3382

Bandi Books

  • Address: 2777 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles
  • Phone: 888-880-8622

Bel Canto Books

Eastwind Books

Giant Robot Store/GR2 Gallery

  • Giant Robot Store Address: 2015 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles
  • Giant Robot Store Phone: 310-478-1819
  • GR2 Gallery Address: 2062 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles
  • GR2 Gallery Phone: 424-426-7626
  • GR2 Gallery Email: info@giantrobot.com

JANM (Japanese American National Museum) Store

The LEV

Now Serving

Philippine Expressions Bookshop

SeJong Bookstore

  • Address: 3250 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste 326, Los Angeles
  • Phone: 323-735-7374

Siam Book Center

USC Pacific Asia Museum

  • Address: 46 North Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena
  • Phone: 626-787-2681
  • Email: shop@pam.usc.edu

Colorado

Townie Books

  • Address: 414 Elk Ave., Crested Butte
  • Phone: 970-349-7545

Florida

Femme Fire Books

Georgia

Maomi Bookstore

  • Address: 5391 New Peachtree Road A, Chamblee
  • Phone: 770-451-5171

Hawaii

Hakubundo Inc

  • Address: Pearlridge Center, 98-1005 Moanalua Rd. #823, Aiea
  • Phone: 808-591-2134
  • Email: web@hakubundo.com

Illinois

The Dial Bookshop

  • Address: 410 South Michigan Ave, 2nd Floor
  • No phone calls are taken, the owners want the bookshop to feel like an escape for their visitors!
  • Email: hello@dialbookshop.com 

New York

Eastern Bookstore NYC

Koryo Books

  • Address: 35 W 32nd Street, Manhattan
  • Phone: 212-564-1844

Oregon

Waucoma Bookstore

  • Address: 212 Oak Street, Hood River
  • Phone: 541-386-5353

Virginia

Word of Life Books

  • Address: 4113 John Marr Dr., Annandale
  • Phone: 703-256-3444

Several Locations

Bookoff

  • California
    • Costa Mesa
      • Address: 2955 Harbor Blvd.
      • Phone: 714-556-1521
    • Gardena
      • Address: Pacific Square Mall, 1610 W Redondo Beach Blvd. #E8
      • Phone: 310-532-5010
    • Lakewood
      • Address: Lakewood Center Mall
      • Phone: 562-634-6000
    • San Diego
      • Address: 4240 Kearny Mesa Rd. #128
      • Phone: 858-627-9600
    • Torrance
      • Address: 21712 Hawthorne Blvd.
      • Phone: 310-214-4800
    • Westminster
      • Address: 1025 Westminster Mall
      • Phone: 714-897-1800
  • Hawaii
    • Aiea
      • Address: 98-1005 Moanalua Rd. #860
      • Phone: 808-485-0841
    • Honolulu
      • Address: 716-A Cooke St.
      • Phone: 808-952-9115 
  • New York
    • Address: 49 W 45th St.
    • Phone: 212-685-1410

Kinokuniya USA

  • Illinois
  • New Jersey
  • New York

Online Only

Unraveling the Monarch Butterfly Migration Mystery

Monarch butterflies at Gulf State Park, Alabama, on the fall migration south. (Photo by Boris Datnow)

Guest Written by Author Claire Datnow.

 

It’s one of nature’s biggest mysteries. Every year, a super generation of monarch butterflies—which lives eight months longer than other generations of monarchs—migrates to one specific location: the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, nestled in the majestic oyamel fir forests in the central mountains of Mexico. As many as one million butterflies from wide areas of North America fly to the reserve, a place that they’ve never seen. The trees seem to turn orange, branches bending under the collective weight of thousands of monarch butterflies.

 

In my book Adventures of the Sizzling Six: Monarch Mysteries, jovial science teacher Mr. Ernie Fix describes this phenomenon to his class:

 

‘The monarchs will live here [at the Biosphere Reserve] until the spring comes and mating can begin,’ Mr. Fix says. ‘They must wait for spring when the milkweed starts to grow in the United States and southern Canada. The milkweed provides a place for monarchs to lay their eggs. When the eggs hatch into caterpillars, they will feed only on milkweed and no other plant.’

 

Monarchs make the trip to the reserve once in their lives, some navigating as much as three thousand miles to a tiny point on a map. For more than ten thousand years, these monarchs, each weighing no more a paper clip, have traveled without a map, a compass, or GPS. How do they know where to go?

 

Scientists have devoted years to studying monarchs, unraveling part of this mystery: these butterflies are guided by the position of the sun. It’s pretty miraculous if you think of the monarchs as tiny, orange solar compasses with wings.

 

After wintering in the mountains for eight months, when the temperature starts to warm the monarchs begin their return journey, traveling as far north as Canada. When summer ends, the monarchs migrate south again—and so the cycle of life keeps on turning, like a giant Ferris wheel, through the seasons.

 

Unlike the migrations of other insects, four successive generations of monarchs are born and die within two to three weeks along the way. The fourth generation to hatch, known as the super generation, is bigger than the previous three generations and can survive for eight months in the mountains.

 

The monarch butterfly isn’t just fascinating—it’s essential. Without pollinators like monarchs our agriculture and food system would collapse. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (UFWS) estimates the North American monarch population has dropped over 90 percent since the 1990s. In December 2020, the UFWS announced that listing monarchs as a threatened and endangered species is “warranted but precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions.”

 

One conservation concern for monarch butterflies is illegal logging in the reserve that destroys their winter habitat. Their food sources are also disappearing in the US because some farmers consider milkweed a weed and spray it with insecticides.

 

It’s now more important than ever for us to protect these natural wonders! The best thing we can do is plant native milkweed. It’s a great way to learn about nature. Click here for other conservation tips.

 

Teachers and Educators: Visit my website for a FREE handout with role-playing cards featuring characters from Monarch Mysteries.

Making Time for Outdoor Spring Activities

Playing outside makes children happy and healthy! (from the forthcoming Let’s Play Outside; photography by Daniel Nakamura).

Spring is fast approaching, and it’s time to think about getting kids outside! If you’re looking for new ways to encourage your child to play outside and keep their imagination active, here are some practical tips.

Why is it so important for kids to play outside?

Increased technology and higher rates of screen time have been linked to obesity, mental health disorders, insomnia, social disconnection, and lack of exercise. Now more than ever, it’s important for children to spend time outdoors. Harvard health experts cite the following medical (physically, mentally, and socially healthy) reasons for children to be active outside:

  1. Sunshine: Enriches children with vitamin D, contributes to bone development, boosts moods, and aids in healthy sleep.
  2. Executive Function: Executive function skills help children prioritize, plan, multitask, negotiate, imagine, and problem-solve. Children need to be outside to imagine, figure things out, make up games, and navigate unstructured, adult-led time.
  3. Exercise: Children should be active at least one hour each day. Sending them outdoors is the best way to give them room to move in.
  4. Appreciation of Nature: Children need to appreciate the mountains, the sky, the birds, the oceans, the worms. It’s essential to protect our planet.
  5. Taking Risks: Falling off a swing or tripping mid-run is part of understanding that failures occur and we can learn from them. It prepares us for life.
  6. Socialization: This can be tough during a pandemic, but forming a pod with other kids can help. Interacting outside of the classroom or sports team structure is crucial.

Safe, Outdoor Spring Activities for Kids

There are many creative ways to keep kids outside and off screens. Here are some of the most innovative and classic activities that can be done with household members or socially distanced with others.

  • Outdoor tea party: Have your kids dress up, make cucumber sandwiches, and have some lemonade or tea!
  • Go fishing: You can fish in almost any type of water. It teaches children patience, and their faces light up when they catch a fish.
  • Fly a kite!
  • Plant a tree: Purchase a tree seedling, dig a hole that’s twice as wide as the root ball, and pull dirt over it. Make sure to create a little dam around it so the tree can get more water!
  • Grill outside: Hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie skewers, and steaks all taste better outside!
  • Dig for worms: Kids love seeing what’s right under their feet. Dig for worms after the rain when the soil is damp.
  • Press flowers: Pick some flowers and let them dry for 7-10 days. Put them in journals or cards or use as art decorations!
  • Go green for St. Patrick’s Day: If you celebrate, make the theme of the day green. Dress in green, spend time in the green world, and eat green foods!
  • Make a fairy garden: Let your kids pick the spot, set up a little house, lights, glitter, beads, garlands, rocks, figurines, and anything else you want!
  • Dandelion crowns: Collect dandelions with long stems. Wrap one dandelion around the stem of another, and keep adding until it looks like a crown!
  • Make a rain gauge: Find a jar, mark measurements with a ruler, put the jar outside on a level place while it’s raining, and bring it back inside to measure how much it rained!
  • Blow bubbles: All you need is a wand and some bubbles (water and soap)!
  • Celebrate May Day: May 1 is right between the March equinox and the June solstice. Celebrate by making a maypole with colorful ribbons, make flower crowns, have a bonfire, go hiking, and read or write some poetry about spring.
  • Decorate a flower pot: Purchase a terracotta pot, and let your kids use paint, stickers, chalk, markers, etc. Add soil, a plant, let them keep it or gift it!
  • Start a nature collection: Collect rocks, feathers, shells, snakeskins, four-leaf clovers, turtle shells, eggshells, empty nests—anything goes!
  • Make wind chimes: Use anything: seashells, wood, glass, stones, silverware, or anything you think would look beautiful!
  • Make a magic wand: Using a stick and some colored ribbons, let your kid’s imagination run free!
  • Dance in the rain: Dress your child in rain gear, or go barefoot! Splashing in puddles is always fun.
  • Make DIY butterfly wings!
  • Go strawberry picking: Visit a local orchard. Apply plenty of sunscreen and wear boots for the muddy terrain. Fresh strawberries taste delicious!
  • Create a backyard golf course: You can use anything as makeshift holes: cereal boxes, buckets, whatever you think would look cool and might give kids a challenge!
  • Set up a hammock: Taking a nap outside or reading in a hammock is one of life’s simplest pleasures.

Engaging Children in Multicultural Music During Early Childhood

From Papa Gave Me A Stick, written by Janice Levy and illustrated by Simone Shin.

It is important to begin teaching children about different cultures throughout their early childhood. Their brains rapidly develop during this period, which allows it to be especially effective for learning.

 

Because there are so many options, introducing multicultural resources to young children may seem overwhelming. Music is an excellent place to start, especially because of its universality People from many cultural backgrounds use music to convey unique experiences and connect with others. Music can help teach a child about their heritage, foster language development, or present new values.

 

Multiculturalism and Children’s Development

Educating children about different cultures promotes socialization, tolerance, and openness. These characteristics can lead to an appreciation of diversity and assist in establishing new relationships. Introducing new cultures also promotes curiosity. An important benefit of music is its accessibility—there are many online resources that provide free multicultural songs.

 

Between birth and age five, children develop a foundational understanding of music that can even influence them as adults. Though babies will not react and engage as toddlers might, it is equally important to introduce them to music.

 

Creating Awareness of Different Cultures

Exposing children to diverse music is a helpful way to introduce them to different cultures. Music can highlight a variety of instruments, languages, styles, and practices from places across the world. It is a powerful vehicle for storytelling and upholding traditions. Pre-recorded songs allow children to hear music directly from other cultures, no matter where they are.

 

One of the ways music is universal is its connection to festivities. Through songs, children can learn about different customs like holidays or other celebrations. Even if a song is not personally relevant, people can still connect with music they do not “understand.” Music is much more than its lyrics, and instrumental songs can foster connection as well.

 

Developing Language Skills

Listening to songs while learning a new language is a well-known strategy for adults, but it is also beneficial for children. Music in another language can help children to memorize, understand grammar, and build vocabulary. Many songs employ repetition, which reinforces familiar words.

 

Studies also show that learning a second language before the age of ten enables children to speak most fluently, so it is never too early! Multicultural songs can be added to a child’s routine from the time they are born, which can ease learning as they grow older.

 

Ways to Expose Children to Multicultural Music

Here are some fun activities that parents and caregivers can engage in with young children.

 

  • Play songs a child is already familiar with, such as the ABCs or counting songs, in different languages.
  • Watch videos of live performances. Children will be able to visualize instruments, locations, and people along with the music.
  • Play an instrumental song and make up a dance together.
  • Watch a simple lyric video and sing along to the words.
  • Build a running playlist of multicultural songs and integrate it into a regular routine.

 

Learning through music is not only educational, but it can be fun as well! Finding ways to integrate a variety of musical forms into a child’s routine can spark curiosity, introduce new ideas, and celebrate diverse cultures.

Nurturing Positive Development in Quarantine Babies and Toddlers

From Always by My Side, written by Susan Kerner and illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Haywood.

With the world in various degrees of isolation for the last year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents and caregivers are filled with questions on how this could impact their newborns, infants, and toddlers. There is concern that the loss of socially stimulating environments (like a daycare) could stunt a young one’s early language development or their ability to recognize faces or places. This absence also leaves many wondering if an entire generation will be under-stimulated and anxiety-ridden in the future. While it’s still too early for any conclusive research, now is a prominent time to discuss this topic.

 

The Impact of Past Crises on Children’s Development

 

Some researchers have turned to studies of past crises for possible correlations, specifically children’s responses to life-changing events. For example, parts of the Netherlands experienced severe famines in the 1940s as a result of Nazi occupations. Studies show that children born during this time had higher rates of antisocial personality disorder and shorter lifespans. In another case, 30 to 50 percent of children at the epicenters of Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew developed PTSD and a third experienced recurring symptoms. However, most children reverted to the baseline within a year.

 

Many past studies reflect similar findings in which childhood development may be temporarily altered because of a crisis situation without necessarily indicating long-term effects. Such studies are examples of correlation and not causation. After the Great Depression, for example, children who survived with mild or no changes to their development or personhood were from families who financially recovered from the crisis faster than others. The financial recoveries meant parental figures were less hostile, angry, or depressed, which then had a positive impact on their children.

From Always by My Side, written by Susan Kerner and illustrated by Ian P. Benfold Haywood.

Covid-19’s Impact on Infant Development

 

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers have already begun conducting their own studies. Philip Fisher, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, sent questionnaires to one thousand American families in April 2020. By the twelfth week, 79 percent of parents with children under the age of five reported their kids were more fussy and defiant than before the quarantine period, while 41 percent were more fearful or anxious. Throughout the study, which concluded in October, Fisher found that the more distressed parents reported being, the more distress they observed in their children.

 

Other studies also reveal that children’s mental health is significantly correlated to that of their parents. The youngest kids, especially, have the strongest bonds with their parents, meaning their reactions to isolation are directly influenced by their parents’ reactions.

 

From Look at You!, by Star Bright Books.

 

Nurturing Positive Development in Isolation

 

The good news is that while child development specialists conduct these studies and explore correlations, they remain hopeful for children! Dr. Brenda Volling, an expert in social-emotional development and a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, emphasizes that infants and toddlers are most in need of stability and loving parental interactions during unprecedented times. Now more than ever, it’s important to pay attention to the needs of your child and adjust support accordingly so as to avoid lingering damaging effects.

 

Here are some signs that your infant or toddler may need more support:

  • New or worsening behavioral problems (such as tantrums)
  • Regression in behavior
  • Withdrawal
  • Difficulty separating from parents or caregivers
  • Sleep irregularities or difficulties
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thumb sucking
  • General fear, nervousness, stress, irritability, or hypervigilance

 

It’s natural for young children to exhibit signs of distress in a stressful environment, even if it’s not indicative of long-term developmental effects. Because parental interaction and support is the most significant socialization for infants and toddlers, it’s completely feasible to meet your child’s needs right at home!

 

How to encourage positive development in your baby while in isolation:

  • Reinforce social skills at home—like sharing and communicative exchanges—to replicate what babies would learn through interactions with other young kids. Verbal and physical exchanges help to build language development skills and broader cognitive abilities.
  • Encourage self-directed activities to allow your child to develop a sense of independence in an environment where they’re likely only engaging with people they depend on. Such activities include building with blocks, finger painting, or playing with dough.
  • When coloring or creating art, ask your child if they want to send it to a family member. Making a habit of this will help to foster understanding of and connection with people beyond your isolation bubble!
  • Read books that encourage facial recognition to build your baby’s social and emotional skills. Star Bright Books offers books that encourage self-expression and self-discovery, such as My Face Book; Look at You!; and Babies, Babies!.
  • Without sheltering your baby, try to keep them away from heighted levels of stress. This could mean creating a separate working space at home, taking shifts with another caregiver when possible, or saving difficult conversations for while the child is sleeping.
  • Be careful when teaching caution to avoid instilling fear. When introducing stressful topics like social distancing, it’s important to avoid framing other people as threats.
  • Remember to take care of yourself! If your mental health is being pushed to the side, the stress and anxiety your child observes may impact them. Make time to relax whether it is meditation, yoga, a walk, or something else.

 

The pandemic’s impact on the inner workings and responses of infants and toddlers may not be reflected in concrete research for years to come. The most important way to support your baby is to pay attention to their needs and build your relationship with them. What your child needs most while living through this time of isolation is your love and support.

Stimulating Social Development in the Time of COVID-19

From Madison’s Patriotic Project, written by Dr. Vanita Braver and illustrated by Carl DiRocco.

Socialization is a critical component of young children’s development. Finding opportunities for safe interaction during COVID-19, however, can be a challenging task. After nearly a year of social distancing to mitigate the spread of the virus, many are struggling with pandemic fatigue. During this difficult time, children can grapple with disrupted routines, emotional challenges, and feelings of instability.

 

Safely socializing within a “bubble” or “pod” is an option that some families have chosen, but there are ways to connect with people outside of this group. Implementing new and different socialization strategies can help children develop emotional intelligence and relationship-building skills while feeling less isolated.

 

How does socialization impact children’s development?

Interacting with others in school, family, and social environments helps children to understand behavioral cues and relationships. By hearing and participating in conversations, they are able to build speech and language skills. This communication provides exposure to new and varied outlooks. Having the opportunity to interact with diverse perspectives is a crucial element in developing an understanding of inclusivity.

 

Utilizing Technology to Stay Connected

In-person gatherings may be limited, but video calls can keep children connected to others. Virtual meetings with classmates, friends, and extended family members allow children to stay connected to parts of their routine that have been disrupted. They also offer a sense of normalcy and combat fatigue.

 

There are many accessible online activities and games available for children too. However, it is important to be cognizant of screen time (especially in the era of virtual learning).

 

Encouraging Children to Play (and Partake in Playtime)

Playtime promotes critical thinking skills for young children. They engage their senses of creativity and imagination. It can also be educational and fun. Challenges like puzzles or card games help develop math skills and spatial awareness.

 

Another benefit of playtime is that it creates valuable bonding opportunities with those in a child’s bubble. Instead of neighbors or classmates, toys—such as stuffed animals—can provide companionship during indoor play.

From Let’s Play Outside, written by Pat Rumbaugh and illustrated by Daniel Nakamura.

Playing outside allows children to stay active and explore new environments. Organizations like Let’s Play America aid in planning virtual and outdoor play events that can safely bring communities together.

 

Establishing a Pen Pal

Children can write letters to their loved ones or friends, thus developing communication skills and fostering connections. Writing to a pen pal is an activity that parents and children can even engage in together! Parents can stay informed and assist children with language and grammar. An added benefit is that children can work on their handwriting.

 

Having a pen pal creates personal communication with someone outside of a child’s immediate bubble. Many people also feel handwritten messages are more meaningful than virtual ones. This exchange can be an especially great option for grandparents or family members who live far away.

 

Reading SEL Stories

Reading books with children that contain social and emotional learning (SEL) messages is a way to promote development at home. SEL stories feature important themes such as responsibility, compassion, self-awareness, and inclusion. Exposure to them benefits students in school and in interactions with others. Families can read SEL books together and discuss significant takeaways.

 

In-person socialization is not the only opportunity to promote relationship-building, behavioral understanding, and emotional intelligence among children. These are just a few strategies that can introduce variety, stimulate development, and reduce feelings of isolation in uncertain times.