Winter’s Hum-Drums…What To Do?

The parents in the Hopkins ECFE classes have been discussing the challenges around keeping their children’s energy channeled into constructive play during the winter months.  This gets so much more difficult as the weeks melt into each other and the activities that started out so exciting during the first part of winter become more hum drum.

Young children are constantly interested in engaging with the people they love most.  Their play is their best way to develop an understanding of the world around them. Children often want us to play with them, set up games for them, act out stories with them, read books to them and pay attention to them as much as possible. As the cold and snowy months keep us house-bound it is tempting to find more passive ways to entertain our children.  High quality screen time, carefully scheduled throughout the day and offered under clearly defined limits can often help parents find a moment of peace during the long hours.

However, it is important to remember that both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have strongly recommended that children under the age of two watch no television and experience no screen time. They recommend children aged three and older experience only 1-2 hours of screen time a day. (Screen time includes television, computer, i-pad, computer games and etc.)

These recommendations make sense to us as parents, we understand that children learn more when they are directly involved with a real person.  We know that children learn best when they are engaging their senses and whole body fully. We know that children learn through imitation and we are often much more comfortable with what we model than what the television models.  But that does not change the fact that in the middle of winter we as parents are just completely, absolutely, undeniably and frustratingly out of creative ideas.  So what to do?

As the Hopkins ECFE staff discussed the winter hum-drums, we also worked together to come up with creative ideas to offer an afternoon’s entertainment.

  • Big cardboard boxes with crayons
  • Long sheet of paper with crayons
  • Make your own sensory table/bin – big plastic storage bin from target filled with snow, beans, cornstarch etc. Bring in SNOW to play with! Put storage bin on plastic table cloth on floor.
  • Dress up in Mom/dad clothes
  • Grocery list treasure hunt – Do we have milk?  sugar? mustard?
  • Create an obstacle course of pillows, blankets, chairs and etc.
  • Make a fort out of blankets and chairs or a table.
  • Have an indoor picnic–have lunch on a blanket in the living room
  • Tie a rope to a sled and pull your children around the yard (or block if you are really ambitious!)
  • Use a cardboard milk carton to make snow bricks, and make a snow fort
  • Mix food coloring and water, and go outside and paint the snow
  • Did you know bubbles blown outside in winter freeze? Try it!
  • Shoveling is actually fun for children–even a summer time bucket and sand shovel will be entertaining
  • Make designs and shapes in the snow–one staff member remembers building snow horses (which were just big piles of snow roughly shaped) and pretending to ride them with her children.  You could make snow dragons, horses, dogs etc. Decorate with leaves or twigs
  • Of course, building a snow person is classic and always enjoyable
  •  Make a train out of your laundry baskets and pull the stuffed animals around your house
  • Collect your paper towel tubes, and use them to make a marble maze
  • Make colored ice cubes with food coloring and water, then go outside and have a scavenger hunt to find them in the snow or “hidden” around the yard
  • Try including your child in a baking project.  They can mix, pour, measure with help, and taste
  • Looking for a book with more great ideas? Kid Concoctions has instructions for science explorations, baking projects and all kinds of activities
  • Check out the Creativity Corner on this blog to find recipes for art materials and projects

These ideas may provide the opportunity for you and your children to have some wonderful afternoons of cozy family play. But what if you are looking for even more?  The Lexington Health Department in Kentucky has provided an activity list entitled 101 Things to Do Instead of Watch Television.  Some of these ideas appeal to older children, but most ideas could be modified to work for younger children. Some of these ideas are also designed for play during the rest of the year–so be sure to have this list handy throughout all four of the seasons.

Don’t forget that Harley Family Center is offering their Saturday Open Gym throughout the winter months. This is an opportunity to share in art time, gym time, circle time and play time with your family.  It is great fun and a nice outing in the morning.  If you are looking to register feel free to call our office at 952.988.5000

Come On Over and Sit Right Down

Parents who have been to a Hopkins ECFE class will recognize the words to our gathering song for circle time.  In fact, parents who have spent time in ECFE classes can often be heard absentmindedly singing the tunes for a great many of the songs that we sing during our group time (teachers are often heard humming as well!). Each class–infants through five year olds–incorporates a special group time with parents; we get a chance to sit together, sing, play simple games and enjoy the closeness of each other’s company.

There are many reasons for gathering in a group and creating a bit of structure in the midst of the joys of free play. The early childhood staff thought we would share some of these reasons with you to give a sense of the academic and social benefits of this experience.  We couldn’t resist sharing some photos of the smiles, interest and excitement that happens during this time as well!

Circle time creates a natural break in the class where free time shifts to down time. Parents have the opportunity to focus in on their child in a way that incorporates a kind of play and interaction that children learn best from–engaging in activities together with a relaxed sort of teaching stemming from the songs.

What are the songs teaching? This shifts throughout the years. Infants learn to recognize the significance of their own name, learn to hear words as separate entities that have meaning, build muscle control through the bumping, popping, shifting and rocking that accompany the songs. In addition, infants get much needed and much delighted in face time with parents–one of the best ways to teach socialization is to socialize. Babies get to study a parent’s face, listen to the beloved parent’s gentle voice, and thrill in the touch of cuddling and hugging.

As children get older, they are gaining different things from song time, even though they may be hearing some of the same songs over the years. They begin to use the songs to learn the names of the other children in their class, they begin to develop a sense of how rhymes work (which sounds like a basic skill, but it is hugely important to literacy) and they begin to see that the teacher is the central figure and authority in the class–she is, after all, the one leading the songs and reading the books. In addition, the repetition and routine that accompany circle time helps the child to gain a sense of control over the process. Children learn best through repetition (although it can sometimes drive their parents crazy), and knowing what movements go along with each song allows the children to get a sense of mastery in this activity. In addition, the fact that the teachers create the same routine around circle time allows the children to get comfortable with the flow of class. They learn that song time comes before snack time, or before the parents separate, and they can relax into that routine and concentrate their energies on learning through play.

Our oldest ECFE classes find the children learning that the structured time has expectations for behavior. This is what will lead them to success in preschool, kindergarten and beyond. They are asked to sit in the circle for circle time, they are asked to take turns and delay gratification (they may see the delightful scarves and want to throw them in the air, but they need to wait until the teacher hands them out–they can not just run en mass and grab them).

Individual children may be working on specific skills within the context of circle time. Teachers are always most concerned with ensuring the safety of all the children–no middle of the circle crashes–but in addition teachers may be working with families to encourage more focused attention, or body awareness and personal space awareness, or even comfort in separation at a certain level from a parent. For this reason, in the older classes, you may see more focused attention on certain skills. If you have a question about why things are operating in a particular way with circle time, be sure to ask your teacher. They are happy to share their reasoning with you.

Parents often learn to love circle time because there is an opportunity to learn songs that engage their children. Often the time between being a child yourself and having your own children is just long enough to forget the words to many of the favorite songs children love. Parents also learn that the method of singing can have a significant affect on the way their children learn. Practicing songs in a slow, paced manner will help children attune to the song and the words. Learning the songs, the finger plays, and methods of soothing activities can help parents when they are looking for play experiences that are genuine, beneficial, social and relaxing. The children recognize the songs and games outside of class and love the experience of re-playing them in their own homes.

There is often an opportunity to gain insight into child development as well as your individual’s personality through circle time. In the early years we notice that some children tend to sit comfortably with a parent and never dream of moving–they may or may not be singing, but they are certainly sitting still. Other children enjoy getting to move in and out of the circle.  They are listening and attending to the songs even if they aren’t sitting in the circle, but they aren’t yet interested in sitting through it all. Teachers see both of these approaches as typical. Parents can gain an understanding of how their child engages with the world by watching their activity level during circle time. Often, the best approach for parents is to remain in the circle and continue to take part in the activities. The child will, in time, realize that the special time with the parent is worth staying in the circle.

Circle time is a delight for all the participants in an ECFE class. It is a special time for parents and children, as well as a purposefully crafted learning experience by teachers. Most of all, circle time should be FUN, so enjoy this special time during class with your child!

It’s cold out – Open Gym starts this Saturday!

We have the cure for the winter wiggles – come to our Open Gym at Harley to move, play and have fun!

Saturdays, January 21-March 24      10:00 – 11:30 a.m.
Harley Hopkins Family Center, 125 Monroe Ave., Hopkins

(Note: Feb. 25, no Open Gym session, instead join us at Kiddie Karnival).

Open Gym gives parents and children (Birth to 5 years) a place to move, play and have fun! The entire class is devoted to parent-child activities in the gym and classroom, with time at the end for music and songs. Open Gym classes are drop-in classes in which you can attend any or all of the class offerings.

Two choices are available for registrations: 1. Register for the entire series. 8 spots are reserved for this option. 2. Register for individual classes only.

Registration for the entire series can be made by calling 952-988-5000 or online.

Registration for individual classes must be made 24 hours prior to the date by calling the Harley Hopkins Family Center at 952-988-5000. Please bring check payable to ISD #270 or exact amount to each session.

Cost is $5 per session per child or a special rate of $40 for the entire 9-week series. Cost is $2 for each additional sibling. Sibling care is not available for Saturday classes.

Resources You Can Trust

When we are looking for answers to our parenting questions, we want to know that the information we are being provided is trust-worthy.  The Hopkins Early Childhood Staff takes great pride in being able to offer their knowledge through this web site.  Parents can use the blog to find answers to parenting issues as well as a source for updates on community events and school related activities. The early childhood staff knows that parents have access to a lot of information through the web, and we want to be sure that we are providing you with research-based, parent friendly, solid information.  To this end, here are a few more sites that offer parenting information which has been equally evaluated for quality. It just so happens that all three of us–Hopkins Early Childhood Education, the Early Learning Digest, and the Tufts Child and Family WebGuide–have been made possible through the partial funding of the MN Department of Education!

The Minnesota Department of Education and the Working Family Resource Center (WFRC) have partnered to provide research-based information about the development of children from birth through age five in the Early Learning Digest . The publication provides a snapshot of information about parenting and child-rearing in a concise way that parents will appreciate. In addition, there are options within the e-newsletter to link to further information if you are interested in learning more about a topic.This collaboration is possible through two innovative initiatives of the Minnesota Department of Education: MN Parents Know and Help Me Grow. The mission of the WFRC is as follows: Working Family Resource Center delivers high quality family and wellness education to employees where they work, in order to strengthen individuals, families and communities.

The Tufts Child and Family WebGuide provides parents with answers to their specific questions. Since it’s inception in September 2001 it has systematically reviewed and evaluated articles and web-based information to ensure that what is offered through their directory is supported with a foundation of quality research. The statement of purpose for this project is as follows: The Child & Family WebGuide provides approved links to websites and videos on topics of interest to parents, and it is also by students and professionals in the fields of child development, education, and psychology. All the sites and videos listed on the WebGuide have been systematically evaluated by graduate students. In order to ensure reliability, the evaluation system includes criteria such as the inclusion of citations in peer-reviewed journals.

FInding information on the web is not hard to do–it is wonderfully easy to get access to an almost infinite amount of information. The sites above are certainly not an exhaustive list, but they offer a strong place to start when you are looking for research-based answers about how to best help your children grow.