Questions about kindergarten options? Join us for answers!

The year-before-kindergarten is an exciting time for families, filled with questions, decisions, and to-do’s that must be navigated. Kindergarten Information Nights at the elementary schools are the perfect time to ask all your important questions, gather more information about options, and to meet other parents who will attend your child’s school. These meetings are designed for parents of children entering kindergarten in the fall, but are open to any family wanting to learn more about the schools. You are welcome to attend any information night.

Alice Smith Elementary: Tuesday, November 1, 6:30 p.m.

Eisenhower Elementary+XinXing Academy: Thursday, November 17, 6:30 p.m.

Gatewood Elementary: Tuesday, November 22, 6:30 p.m.

Glen Lake Elementary: Tuesday, November 15, 6:30 p.m.

L.H. Tanglen Elementary: Thursday, November 10, 6:30 p.m.

Meadowbrook Elementary: Thursday, November 10, 7:00 p.m.

XinXing Academy: Tuesday, December 13, 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday, January 10, 6:30 p.m.

If you have further questions, please call our Hopkins Public Schools kindergarten specialist at 952-988-4133 or visit us online:

Cold Weather Play Times in 2011-2012

The temperature is now widely careening from one extreme to the next. It drops below freezing during the night, requiring all family members to get bundled up in mittens and jackets and hats before jumping into the car for the morning. However, by the late afternoon we may be hearing lots of complaining about being too hot.

Soon, however, we know what will be coming. Snow, freezing whistling winds, and a strong urge to hibernate through the dark months. Getting out of doors with young children is a real challenge during the colder months because it sometimes doesn’t even feel worth the effort to get all the gear on, warm the car up, stuff ourselves into car seats and travel the icy roads. However, long days indoors tend to test the patience of every parent in the upper latitudes.

Here is the great news!!! Harley Hopkins Family Center offers Stay and Play Opportunities on Fridays and some Saturdays throughout the coldest months! These classes are a chance to spend a few hours out of the house in a room designed to offer developmentally appropriate activities for you and your child to do together. A wonderful reason to get out into the morning of a cold wintery day.

This is in addition to our fantastic once-a-week classes for families with young children. Our early childhood program offers a room full of toys for the children, with supervision provided by licensed and highly skilled classroom teachers, and a chance for adults to discuss parenting topics with others who have children just the same age.

In addition, Minnesota cities have taken our cabin fever difficulties to heart. Often there are indoor gym opportunities provided for families with young children: a community gym opens its doors and welcomes children for a chance to run free, play with hula hoops, climb through tunnels and ride tricycles to their hearts delight.

Hopkins School District services quite a few cities in the area. Here is a listing of what those cities are offering you in the form of indoor entertainment. Take advantage of these great activities as you feel the weather turn chilly.

St. Louis Park:
Rec Center
3700 Monterey Drive
St. Louis Park, MN 55416
Phone: (952) 924-2540

Ages 1 to 5 by start of session (must be accompanied by an adult)
Enjoy “open play” time in the Banquet Room. Little tots can play Nerf basketball, jump in one of the moon walks, and play on the creative carpet.

  • Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
  • Nov. 1 – March 30, 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
  • (no session Nov. 8, 23, 25 & Dec. 23)

Golden Valley:
Brookview Community Center
200 Brookview Parkway
Golden Valley, MN 55426
Fridays beginning September 16, 10–11:30 am

Come run, jump, crawl, and have a great time indoors on Friday mornings at Brookview Community Center. A variety of play areas will be set up for your child ages 1-5. Adult participation required. No instruction provided. Pay at the door or purchase punch pass at Brookview Community Center. $3/child or $25/10-time punch pass. No fee for parents and children under age 1.
Golden Valley Preschool Play Time 

Plymouth Fieldhouse Open Play
14800 34th Ave
Plymouth, MN  55447-1482

Preschool / Homeschool Open Play: 10:30-1:30 pm
Resident: $2 Child  Non-Resident: $3 Child (supervising adults are free).
The fieldhouse is available for open play on Mon, Wed, Fri (starting November 2nd).
Plymouth Preschool Play Time 

Eden Prairie:
Eden Prairie Community Center
16700 Valley View Road

A time for parents and children to interact, Tot Time makes actively playing together easy. Enjoy free play with balls, hoops, scooters, jump ropes, tumbling mats, parachutes, music and more. Members and guardians are free, however they must pay for play structure time if desired.
Combination Tot Time and Play Structure Rates:

  • Tots (18 months–4 years): $5
  • 5 years and up: $6

Member Play Structure Rates:

  • Under 18 months: Free
  • 18 Months–4 years: $3.50
  • 5 years and Up:  $4.50

Hours Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011:
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
Eden Prairie Tot Time Play Time 

Hopkins / Minnetonka:
Hopkins Pavilion
11000 Excelsior Blvd

March 1–May 11, 2012
Monday–Friday, 9 am–2 pm
$3/session per child
Turf Tots is a drop-in freeplay program for children up to 5 years old. Kids can run and play with equipment provided by the Pavilion, including sport balls, crawl tunnels, bounce houses, hula hoops, and more!
Parents are required to stay on the field and supervise during the event.
*no program on April 27 or May 4
Hopkins Turf Tots Play Time

Williston Fitness Center
14509 Minnetonka Drive, Minnetonka.

Tuesday Tot Time will be held the first and third Tuesday of each month, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., starting this September.Bring your little ones to swim and play in the splash pad or climb in the Treehouse. Adult admission is free with a paid child admission.The Williston Fitness Center is owned and operated by the city of Minnetonka.
Williston Fitness Center Tot Time

…And Baby Made Three

There are a rising number of parents choosing to have one child. The reasons for this are as varied as the families who are making the choice. After having children, parents realize that love and joy fill a home when a child arrives–regardless of the number of children in the home.

More recent research on the only child has found that he tends to match his peers academically, emotionally and socially. His character traits tend to be similar to the oldest child in a multi-child household.  For instance, there is a tendency to be a rule follower, work diligently towards perfection and take on a lot of responsibility. Only children are as equally likely as children with siblings to have social success and emotional fortitude.  We as parents, however, tend to want to be sure that our only child is able to meet his peers confidently when social situations occur.  Multi-child families do have an ever-present arena in which to address peer relations, and parents of only children will be providing a gift to their children if they can actively seek out experiences for their child to engage with peers in the same way.

The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center have some tried and true strategies for encouraging social competence and resiliency which can work for all children–whether they have siblings or not. Parents of only children will note that some of these strategies, though helpful for all, are directed mostly at you.  Families of three often have questions that need answering and aren’t always able to get them addressed–and so this post is for you!

1. Rest assured that many of your child’s actions are stemming from his development–they are not a direct result of being an only child.  For instance, if you have a young child who tends to pull on your arm and demand all of your attention, please note that this is what all young children do. He is not necessarily doing so because he is an only child. If you had a family of four children, you would have four children pulling on your arm and demanding your attention–it is a developmentally normal behavior.

2. When you notice that your child is struggling with something, take a moment to acknowledge that the task looks difficult but do not step in to help immediately.  As adults it is always easier for us to take care of things, but our only child needs to work through the frustrating task in order to get through it and feel a sense of success.  It is best to state “That looks really hard. Let me know if you need help.”  Then count to at least 20 before you say something else.

3. Children do not share with others naturally until around three and a half or four years old.  However, long before that age they are watching us to learn about which behaviors are appropriate in different situations. Model sharing whenever possible–either by sharing between adult and child or between adults. Be sure to take advantage of opportunities that arise to “take turns”, even if it isn’t absolutely necessary for you to take a turn.  For instance, if a child is playing with a toy ask your child for a turn at playing with the toy. After playing for a bit, hand the toy back to the child so he can play some more. Modeling the behavior will teach the behavior.  There is some evidence to show that only children can be better sharers later in life because they have had this modeling, and because they haven’t had a need for really insisting on “mine” around siblings–the adults in their life tend to hand over what the child wants–there is that modeling again!

4. Encourage free play in social groups whenever possible. Be sure to find unstructured play groups, rather than subject classes taught by adults (such as music class or art class; these classes have a beneficial place in our schedules, but they do not allow the child to play freely with others).  The free play with other children creates an arena where they will have to compromise, problem solve and handle conflict. When your child is in these social situations, do your best to allow them to solve the inevitable problems that arise.  If both children are safe, allow them to work out a solution–even if you see the solution disappoints your own child sometimes. Handling this disappointment will help them to build resiliency, and teach them how to approach the problem for a better result next time.  Often times children, when left to their own devices, will come up with a solution to a problem that is ingenious and acceptable to all parties.

5. Role play tricky situations with your older child.  If you see that during a play date your child has a hard time sticking up for himself when another child grabs a toy from him, give him statements and actions he can use to have a more confident approach. Teaching him to say “Let’s take turns” or “This is mine, I will let you have it when I am done” can give him the confidence he needs to deal effectively with his peers the next time. In addition, role playing situations where he wants to join the play is also beneficial. Giving him the words to invite himself into the game will help him to do so in the play group. For instance,  “You are playing house. I will be the father.”

Whether you have chosen to have one child or more, enjoy the time you have with them!

Raising Your Spirited Child

For parents of children ages 1-3 years

Author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka describes children best with the word – MORE. They are more intense, more active, more sensitive, and more persistent. Participants will discuss parenting strategies to help them raise a delightfully challenging child.

Date: Tuesday, Nov. 15

Time: 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Location: Harley Hopkins Family Center, 125 Monroe Ave. S., Hopkins

Cost: $10/adult, $15/household. Child care for children birth through kindergarten available, $5 per child in Harley room 35.



Temper Tantrums – Putting the Fire Out!

For parents of children ages 3-8 years

Everybody get angry – it’s normal in families. It’s difficult to know what to do when anger takes over. Discuss healthy strategies for managing conflict. Learn methods of discipline that will help with tense situations. Prevent blow-ups that affect peace in the home. Life can be calmer!

Date: Thursday, Nov. 10

Time: 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

Location: Harley Hopkins Family Center, 125 Monroe Ave. S., Hopkins

Cost: $10/adult, $15/household. Child care for children birth through kindergarten available, $5 per child in Harley room 35.


Playgroup Etiquette?

Parents of small children enjoy the chance to create play groups for their children.  These play dates are often informal, fun outings which allow children to play together at one person’s house and allow the parents a chance to get to know each other better and have real conversations.  Definitely a pleasant atmosphere for all!

Playgroups can sometimes, however, be a little tricky.  If you do not know the other parents as well it can be difficult to know how to best approach the inevitable issues that will come up between your children. When groups of young children get together they will struggle over the social graces that the adults tend to handle smoothly.  When that happens, it can be easy for the parents to sometimes lose their social grace too!

The staff at Harley Family Center discussed proactive approaches to creating playgroup expectations and boundaries with other families.  It is most helpful to have open conversations about the discipline strategies you are comfortable with early, so everyone knows what to expect from each other, and knows how to handle a situation as it arises. Talk about methods of setting limits that you use, and ask others for their preferred methods. Settle on tactics that can be comfortably carried out by all families.

When inviting parents and children into your home for the first time, don’t be shy about approaching the subject of boundaries early.  A conversation about behavior expectations and methods of ensuring those limits is a clear way of getting everyone on the same page before any trouble begins.  For instance, with young children it is common to hit out of frustration. If all parents know at the start of the play date that hitting in your household is not allowed, and the child who hits should be removed quietly from the others for a chance to cool down, then all parents can address the issue when it does occur. By stating your general “house rules” clearly, it is easier for you to be consistent with your discipline, rather than feel a bit sheepish about carrying out what you would normally do if no one was at your house. It is important for your children to understand that the “house rules” are always the same–even if there are other children in the house.  If you are arriving at a house for the first time, and the host parent does not mention any house rules, don’t be shy about bringing up the subject yourself.  It will always be beneficial for the group to discuss limits and consequences before the children have an altercation.

Remember to discuss your expectations for behavior with your child before going to the play group.  If you think it is helpful, role play some situations that might come up and discuss ways to handle the situations peacefully. Create a plan with your child that involves coming to you if he feels that things are getting out of hand with the group of children. For instance, ask your child to let you know if there is hitting or fighting between the children, rather than allowing him to think he should handle it himself.  Often when there is anger involved in a group of children, it takes adult intervention to restore amicable relations. If you have an older child, remind him that he is a role model for the younger children and talk with him about what that means. Other children will be watching him, so his behavior should be what he expects of others. Older children tend to savor this “teaching” role when it is presented with enthusiasm. Do not make the mistake of assuming the older child is able to monitor and handle the younger children, however. He may be the oldest one in the group, but he is still too young to take on the responsibility of child care.

It is tempting during a play date for the parents to move to a separate area of the house in order to actually get a real conversation going.  This is not advisable with very young children.  They need constant supervision and often direction. This creates a very real obstacle to ever finishing a sentence in the early years.  However, by catching the escalating situations early and taking an active role in calming things down when necessary, the group of children are able to play longer with fewer blow-ups of temper–and the play date is ultimately more pleasant for all.

Parents often dread a “major incident” occurring at a playgroup.  However, it is realistic to assume that there will one day be a situation that involves an accident, or a hurtful action by another child. If your child is currently dealing with a behavior issue–such as biting when frustrated–be sure to let the other parents know about it right at the beginning of the play date. Lots of children go through a stage of biting, and it is respectful of all the families involved to make them aware that this is what you are currently dealing with.  Let parents know how you are handling the issue when it occurs, and invite them to handle the issue themselves in this way if it arises while they are watching. The other parents are most likely to smile sympathetically and you may even receive some excellent advice from parents who have already gone through the issue themselves.

Even with all the planning, discussing and supervision there is bound to be an issue during a play date.  When this occurs, don’t spend time blaming yourself or others.  When children play together, they learn about how to get along by sometimes not getting along. It is the normal trial and error progression of social learning. When addressing the child or the other parent, talk about the altercation from your perspective by sticking to messages and statements that begin with “I”.  Be sure to acknowledge the feelings of the parent of the injured child. It is upsetting to watch your child be harmed by another–even if you know that child had no real malicious intent other than a quick venting of frustration. Allow that parent to voice what she is feeling as a means of helping her move to the next stage of problem solving. If the child harmed was so young as to not have a voice yet, talk out loud about the feelings that you assume the child is currently feeling.  The child who inflicted harm can hear what those feelings must be and use that information to continue to build empathy for others.

If you must discipline your child for her part in an altercation, it is kind and soothing to move that child away from the rest of the group while doing so. This helps you to focus on your child, and the child to lose that sense of defensiveness that tends to build when being yelled at in front of other people. While calming your own child down, you can problem solve ways to help the hurt child feel better. Young children often do not have a full sense of the meaning of the words “I’m sorry” and so choosing an action that will help the other child feel better may be more appropriate.  Possibly asking the child if she feels better, or offering a hug, or offering a toy, or a gentle stroke on the shoulder can be enough to soothe the sad child.  Remember, the child who is the instigator often feels bad too, because she lost control. As a parent, working toward cooling off and providing a positive response to help the hurt child feel better will often be enough to get all the children–even those involved in the altercation–playing together joyfully in a very short time.

Play groups can be a very rich atmosphere for gaining insight into parenting, practical strategies for dealing with issues and joyful review of childhood stories.  However, sometimes these experience come with unsolicited advice from well-meaning others. It is always respectful to keep an open mind to listening to alternative opinions, but be confident about your own parenting strategies if you have found they work well for you and your family.  A kind response to someone offering a suggestion you don’t feel comfortable with could start with “Thank you for your suggestion…I have found that this works for us…..”  In this way you can stay in the conversation by adding to the content of what is being said.  Advice will always flow freely, you can feel just as free to pick and choose what you think is best for your family.

Enjoy the chances you and your children have to play with the people in your community–they will be the people you count on for years to come!

I’ve got two (or more)! What do I do?

Siblings have the longest lifetime relationship of anyone. As a parent, when we read this statement, do we get a smile on our faces–or an under-the-breath groan?

Siblings have the power to create great energetic play together, wonderful cooperative games and projects that result in memories for a lifetime.  Those memories can also turn fairly ugly fairly fast, as the older one gets frustrated at the youngest and yells, or the youngest keeps pushing the older one’s buttons just to see the resulting blow up, or the middle one runs quickly from one to the other, working the other two into a frenzy with the news she reports on the other.

How to help the siblings in your family maintain peaceful interaction, and minimize conflict?  The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center spent some time discussing the challenges siblings can present, and methods that may help to alleviate some of the tension.  However, when we first began discussing the issue, it was made entirely too clear that no parent can expect peace in a household of siblings all the time. Conflict is a part of every relationship–a normal part of the relationship that needs to be accepted and addressed.  We do not “win” in the sibling wars by creating an environment where there is no conflict.  We “win” when we help our children find constructive methods to resolve the inevitable conflict that arises.  The parents will “win” when the kids find a “win-win” solution to their arguments!

In their book “NurtureShock” Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman present observational studies of siblings aged 3-7 years that find for every hour of play, 10 minutes of that hour is spent arguing. This is seen in typical children who are considered to be playing together fairly well.  Out the window goes our assumption that we can get them to stop their arguing.  Instead, parents can become an advocate for maintaining a positive sibling relationship through the arguments. We do this by creating expectations for how our children will argue or fight.  For instance, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish in “Siblings Without Rivalry” offer a routine for clearly stating family expectations around fights. They address the safety of the children first.  If there is harm or imminent harm being done, the children need to be removed from each other for a cool down time. It is necessary and advantageous to accept the feelings of the children involved, but these feelings can not be expressed in a way that causes harm.  If a parent sees two angry children stalking each other with menace in their eyes, the parent can state clearly “You two are very angry with each other. You may not hit each other. Let’s separate to our rooms until we have cooled down.”  For siblings, seeing that a parent understands the way they are feeling can have a sometimes visibly calming effect.

If a parent can reach an argument at the  point before the anger is really simmering, finding a way to structure their efforts at reconciliation can be helpful to the siblings. Even adults take years to work out a comfortable way to approach conflict. Using sibling interactions as a source of material for modeling how to handle angry disagreements can give your children a social leg up. Faber and Mazlish  suggest that as much as possible, when siblings are at a point of arguing but not at a point of drawing blood, we leave the problem solving up to them.  We do this by creating a go-to method that will help them to stay focused on the solution, rather than the blame. Here are the steps they suggest:

1. Acknowledge their anger.  Again, when a parent shows they understand the feelings shooting around the room, it becomes easier for the children to let go of some of that anger.

2. Reflect each child’s point of view. For example: “I see that you are both angry. You both want to play with the stuffed bear.”

3. Describe the problem with respect.  Even if we as adults can see that the problem is small, it doesn’t feel small to our children.

4. Express confidence in the children’s ability to find their own solution. Put the problem squarely back where it belongs–with them.  If you feel that your children would benefit from a list of possibilities, feel free to help them with that list.  “Maybe you could take turns, maybe there is another bear you could find, maybe you could play a game that uses the bear and the dog.” Then allow them to find the solution that works for them.

5. Move yourself out of the conversation.  For older children that may mean leaving the room. For younger children that may mean just being silent until the siblings start to problem solve themselves.

Siblings have as many ways of fighting as they have fun games to play. Sometimes the methods that we would use at home need to be amended in public, or in the car.  Here are some suggestions from our early childhood staff for creating a peaceful environment during the more pressing times of the day when we can’t take as much time to deal with the fighting.

In the car:  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

  • Sing with your kids–the joy of all that out of tune singing will really keep them entertained!
  • For older kids provide a snack in the car
  • Have a special activity bag that is for car drives only
  • During the car ride talk with the children about where they are going, what they will do when they get there, who will get to do what
  • Play the quiet game–whoever is quietest longest–wins!
  • Use audio books in the car
  • Before you get in the car, role play what you expect.  Play out the whole ride, and state expectations when you can see that they veer off course
  • Use humor to break the tension if you sense it.  Use a silly word, or make a joke, something to make them laugh

In a store: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

  • Plan your outings when your children have the energy to go with you
  • If you see that you have planned too many trips in a row–just go home. Don’t push them past their capabilities
  • If you can shop without them–after they go to bed, or when they have a babysitter–do so
  • Be clear with your expectations: State up to three rules for the outing before you get in the car. Have the children repeat the rules. Before you get out of the car, state the three rules, have the children repeat them. Before you enter the door of the store, state the three rules, have the children repeat them.
  • Be prepared to leave the store or outing if fighting escalates.  Do not be afraid to leave a full cart of items.  Many managers have been known to just hold the cart for you until you return!

How about at home? The hour before dinner time is consistently considered one of the most difficult times of day. Here are some ideas.

  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
  • Follow a routine each day at home. Keep it consistent.  Within the routine, be sure that you are spending quality play time with your children each day
  • During that hour before dinner, find jobs in the kitchen to help with dinner prep.  Could be as simple as washing lettuce or setting the table. Get them engaged
  • Children may need to eat earlier than the adults in the household. If they are consistently hungry, serve them early. Then the adults can have their meal together later
  • During times when you are busy with household tasks, like dinner prep, have quiet activities ready for them that are pulled out just for the times you are doing these tasks
  • If dinner prep is routinely difficult, find an earlier time to do some of the prep: cut and peel vegetables in the morning and store them so they will be ready in the afternoon
  • Have a place in the house kids can go to work out problems. One staff member used her stairs and called them the “peace stairs”. If there is an issue that needs to be resolved, the siblings can sit on the stairs for as long as it takes to work it out. They can’t leave the stairs until they do!

If you are looking for further resources to add to your problem solving approach toward sibling rivalry, here are some recommended books

Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Loving Each One Best by Nancy Samalin and Catherine Whitney
The Sibling Effect in NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

We want a household where the children in our lives can see the positives in each other. Find ways to model the behavior you would like to see in your children, and have patience–the possibility of a peaceful household will surely be within our grasp as we teach our children skills and watch them grow up into better and better mediators and problem solvers.