Hold On A Second!

Watching our preschoolers rush with energy and exuberance is exhilarating! We often dream of capturing that energy because our adult selves can’t imagine what we would do with it.  It is important to remember, however, that the youthful energy we all admire is still part of us — we have just learned as adults how to channel it more effectively.  We may not run at top speed across a playground anymore, but we harness our energy to complete tasks at work, take care of households and children and find a moment or two for our favorite hobby.  Throughout our life spans, our ability to regulate our energy changes.

The staff at Stepping Stones has the opportunity to watch that energy channel itself productively throughout the school year. The young preschooler continuously is developing her ability to focus and control her energy; as she enters kindergarten she has many of the skills around self-regulation that will help her get the most out of her school experience.  We talked recently about the value of developing these self-regulation skills, and we wanted to share with you their benefit as well as discuss strategies for helping your child gain more and more control over all that energy.

The typical kindergartner will need to exhibit focus skills in order to best meet academic goals. Although we rarely expect a three year old to have these skills, it is reasonable to assume that a 5 year old will – and that a four year old will be working on them. It is typical to expect that a kindergartner will be able to sit and listen to teachers for 10-20 minutes at a time. She will need to focus on directions and information even while sitting in a larger group of kids on the rug during circle time. It will be a great skill to be able to wait to take a turn, rather than insist on immediate action because the other students in the classroom will also be waiting for their turn. Being able to meet unexpected situations and transitions with a reasonable emotional response – honest and regulated ‑ will help the kindergartner move smoothly through a day that involves many activities and lots of jostling to get from one place to another. These are all self-regulation skills: skills that ask the child to show control and focus.

The staff at Hopkins preschools are working with our young students to help them gain mastery over their bodies and emotions. One of the most important ways that this happens is through friendships and relationships. Taking the time to discuss with students how a certain action felt for another, and problem solving ways to address the situation are key elements in building self-regulation skills. For example: two friends are looking to play with the same teddy bear and during their “discussion” around who gets to play with it one friend grabs it roughly away and throws it in anger. The adults will sit with these two children and talk about how that action caused hurt and frustration rather than a solution to the problem. The children are encouraged to voice their feelings around the teddy bear problem, and then work on a solution. Being able to talk about feelings without behaving in a way that is uncontrolled is self-regulation. It will help the future kindergartner have relationships and friendships when he is on the playground during recess and there isn’t an easily accessible adult to help him work through disagreements.

Another way that the preschools are helping students develop the social and emotional regulation of students is through awareness of the group.  Students are asked to wait until everyone is seated at a table to begin snack, to raise hands to speak rather than talk over each other, to be aware of the next person’s personal space and not crowd or kick to get comfortable. This sense of personal responsibility helps the preschooler to see that others deserve the consideration he would hope to get himself.

In addition, the emotional focus of a child will be especially helpful when working through kindergarten tasks. Learning new things is often challenging, and when a child is able to work through frustration she is more likely to find success in a task. The teachers use various strategies to help a child who is growing frustrated. For example, they may encourage deep belly breathing, hugging themselves in a tight squeeze or pressing hands together in a lap.  Having an acceptable physical outlet for the frustration we all feel sometimes will help the child to move through daily frustrations and focus on solving the problem at hand.

Parents play a significant role in helping a child learn to self-regulate.  For all of these early years your child has been using your energy to help her regulate her own energy. She feels your tenseness or frustrations as well as senses your calm in different situations. She then uses your mood to help her decide how to adjust her own mood.  If you tend to have an intense reaction to a frustration, she will also tend to escalate her reactions in that situation. Children learn best through imitation through the age of seven years old, so offer your child the sort of coping strategies you would like to see them imitate. When you are frustrated or unhappy, talk about your feelings and narrate the steps you are going to take to calm down.  For instance, if you are feeling especially grumpy about a situation, say out loud “I am really unhappy right now, and to calm down I am going to go into the other room and take 5 deep breaths.”  Then go ahead and do just that in order to calm yourself down. Talk to your teacher about the coping strategies that are being used in the classroom so that you can use these same methods with yourself and with your child. The consistency between the different locations will help your child to practice this calming-down skill.

Parent can also help with self regulation by maintaining a schedule throughout the day and the week.  Part of scheduling for the family is to know when to say no to events or programs if it disrupts the healthy schedule you have created.  If your preschooler is getting 11-12 hours of sleep per day, three good meals and two snacks at predictable times and family time when you are all enjoying each other, then you have a schedule for your family.  If more and more activities are crowding into the calendar and getting in the way of the basics, it is time to say no to some of those opportunities. A good night’s sleep should likely trump any other activity because self regulation can not happen in a sleep deprived person—whether that person is 4 years old or 40.

When you say no to your child—whether it is no to an outing, a cookie or another book at bed-time, stick to your no. Your child will surely show displeasure at being told no—none of us like to hear it—but one of the difficult lessons we need to help our children learn is to be able to handle a no, and get through the disappointment. It is a valuable social skill to learn to say to ourselves “That is not what I want, I guess I will need to do something else.” Preschoolers need to be working very hard at learning this skill. Without a tolerance for frustration and a problem solving approach to unpleasant issues, the grade school years may be a tumultuous crisis after crisis.  Better to work with your three year old who is upset about not getting a second cookie than a teenager who is upset about anything!  Parents teach this lesson by remaining calm when their child is upset, and accepting the sadness and frustration. “I see you are sad that you don’t get to have another cookie. It is hard not to get what you want. We can go read a book together when you are ready.”  Let your no remain a no, but be available to your child when she is finished being sad about it.

Ellen Galinsky has written a book about seven life skills parents need to work on with their children entitled Mind in the Making. Self control and focus is the number one skill she discusses.  Here are some ideas she offers to help your child gain this important skill:

  • Encourage free play and projects while at home. Projects that encourage children to work together to achieve a goal are great for preschoolers. Dramatic play does this particularly well. When children decide to play store they take the empty boxes from the recycling bin and set up a stand with a cash register.  They collect coins and sort and organize them fairly among the players. They find costumes so that each person is a specific kind of person when they go into the store.  They discuss with each other what each person will do and when each turn is over so the next person can be that.  The project builds and builds and so do the focus skills and social self control skills.
  • Play games that require children to pay attention. Games that do this well are some of the old favorites: Simon Says, I Spy, puzzles
  • Read books to your child in a way that encourages listening and focusing. Be engaging when you read: change the voices for characters, let your voice get loud and then soft, have your child fill in the blanks of stories that have repeating lines.
  • Remember that background television can be very disruptive to a child’s focus and concentration. Research has shown that having a television just playing in the background disrupts a young child’s play.
  • When you hear the complaint “I’m Bored”, sit with your child and ask them to come up with a plan for something to do. With young children the plan is small and simple. “What can you decide to do for 15 minutes? Look through books? Color a picture? Build with blocks?”  Don’t offer TV or screen time as an option.  Have your child carry out the plan, and then when he is done, ask him how it went. “What did you enjoy about doing that? What did you make? What are you going to do now?”
  • Make sure your child is well rested and has breaks.  A preschooler needs her sleep as much as we adults to. Ensure that she is getting 11-12 hours.   Make sure the schedule of her day includes quiet time and down time.  She needs that too in order to regain her energy for the next activity.

Sweet Slumber?

After having children, do you wonder if you will ever get a full nights sleep again? Having a baby or a toddler tends to make us nostalgic for the evenings when falling asleep was smooth and soothing.  What can we do to help our toddlers fall into the habit of a full nights sleep? The early childhood staff  at Harley Family Center wanted to share some strategies for snoozes.

Remember that sleep is a neurological function. It is affected by development, stimulation, emotional experiences and even how much sleep your child got earlier in the day.  In short, the young child will experience sleep disturbances throughout the first years of life just because she is growing up. You can expect that your child’s sleep will be spotty at times. Knowing that your child is expected to wake up throughout the first years of life can help us to have more patience toward the process of helping them get back to sleep.

Toddlers need to have 12-14 hours of sleep during a twenty four hour period. This includes nap and night-time sleep. If your child is not getting this amount of sleep her sleep is likely to be disturbed at night. Make sure that your family is prioritizing sleep over other experiences. Even if these experiences seem to be special and exciting opportunities they are likely undermining the general well being of your child if they are interrupting sleep.

Young children crave routine and predictability. Making changes in the routine will likely cause sleep disturbances. These changes can occur around positive or negative situations. A new baby, a new bed, a new activity during the day, anything can make the sleep cycle of a young child go haywire. Try to keep your activities throughout the week and the day predictable. If you need to make a change, make only one change at a time and allow your child to acclimate to the change. While you are transitioning to something new, have patience with the sleep disturbance.  Meet your child’s waking with patience, a consistent routine for soothing back to sleep and quiet insistence on very little interaction during the hours when she should be asleep.

Develop an understanding of what is over-stimulating for your child, and avoid those activities in the later afternoon and evening hours. Caffeine can stay in a child’s body for hours (think chocolate and soda—and don’t forget about the effects of sugar in candy). A bath in the evening can be over-stimulating rather than calming. Exercise or rough play can rile up a young child rather than wear them out. Screen use of any kind generally keeps a child more alert rather than soothes them to sleep. If a child shows signs of tiredness and we push them past those signs to keep them up a bit longer, her body will kick back into alertness and she will have trouble relaxing into sleep.  Although we cannot make our children sleep we are responsible for and in control of the sleep routine—so take this job seriously.  If we create an environment around them that favors sleep we can help them to soothe their own bodies and relax into sleep themselves. Although we do our best to keep a consistent and calming routine around sleep, remember that there will be many nights when they do wake up due to internal or unexplained circumstances. Knowing that we have created a quiet and soothing environment for sleep, we can meet waking in this instance with patience, a consistent routine for soothing back to sleep and quiet insistence on very little interaction during the hours when she should be asleep.

Small things that we do can make a big difference in helping our child sleep. Keep a simple routine for bedtime. Remember to keep it short rather than extensive. A book or two, a simple song, a hug and a kiss and a tuck in to bed is a simple way to signal to your child’s mind and body that they are expected to let themselves relax into sleep. By waking up in the morning with good morning light and activity throughout the day we help the child regulate when times are appropriate to be awake and when times are appropriate to fall asleep.  Her body and mind fall into the rhythm of the day and she recognizes mornings as active and evenings as quiet. By feeding your child meals and snacks at regular times in the day you can help her to regulate her system and mind towards predictable events. This allows her to accept sleep at regular times in the day as well. Some children really appreciate a white noise machine in their room, some children need a light on to be comfortable, some children need to toss and turn for a while to relieve their bodily stress before relaxing. Some children need a gentle back rub or back scratch just before the light turns off. All of the “helps” we give our children are respectful ways of providing tools so they can learn how to soothe themselves to sleep.  Even with all the things that we do to help them sleep, children will sometimes wake up for reasons that we can’t identify.  During these instances, knowing that we have done all we can to set the scene, we can meet the waking with patience, a consistent routine for soothing back to sleep and a quiet insistence on very little interaction during the hours when she should be asleep.

Toddlers can sometimes use these waking up instances as an opportunity to play or explore the house, or visit parents who are looking for just a moment of time together. When your child takes to getting out of bed and refusing to sleep, instead trying over and over to get out of her room and play, find ways to clearly and consistently state your expectations. Some parents have been successful by setting up a visiting schedule with the child as she lays awake. For instance “I will come back and check on you in 5 minutes.” Continue to visit the child on a predictable schedule until she falls asleep. These visits help her to build trust that you are still around, and having that sense of security will help her to relax and fall asleep. Provide your child with a comfort item. Your scent is often very comforting for the child, so ensure that the item she finds special isn’t cleaned too thoroughly. The blanket or stuffed animal is comforting because it is so well used. If your child tries over and over to get out of bed then we as parents have to insist on returning her to bed over and over. Keep the lights off, don’t be playful during this time, keep the house and yourself quiet and calm and boring and bring your child back to bed. Remember that with all the efforts you make to insist on your child sleeping in her designated area, she is likely to fight you at some point in her early life. The advice to offer will by this time seem familiar: know that you have done all you can to set the scene for sleep, and meet the waking with patience, a consistent routine for soothing back to sleep and a quiet insistence on very little interaction during the hours when she should be asleep.


How Can I Help When He Cries?

The times when your child is crying, frustrated or sad can be some of the most heart-wrenching moments of parenthood. We want our children to have happy memories and joyful moments throughout their early years. For this reason, we often jump in to help our children when they are sad or mad or frustrated — we do our best to make it better as soon as possible.

The Hopkins early childhood staff would like to offer that sometimes it can be most helpful to our crying children when we do not fix the problem. This doesn’t seem to make sense until we dig a little deeper into what parents are really doing when we try to make it better.

The immediate achievement of helping your child return to happiness often short circuits the long term goal of helping our children deal with the wide range of emotions they will have in their lifetimes. We as adults are often uncomfortable dealing with feelings outside of happiness. We don’t like to watch or be part of creating frustration, anger or sadness. However, everyone feels these emotions deeply – including toddlers and preschoolers. Everyone needs to learn how to deal with these uncomfortable emotions and find ways to help themselves feel better. When we as parents share strategies with our children to help them soothe themselves, regulate their own emotions, and deal with their own disappointments, we are providing the gift of a lifetime.

Building Strategies:

Children learn through imitation and watching the modelling of others. When a child sees a parent acknowledging and talking about her own emotions, he will learn to do the same. During frustrating moments in your own life, narrate your feelings and your actions: “I am really frustrated right now because the traffic is so bad. I am going to take three deep breathes and sing a funny song to try to calm down.” These narrated examples help your child to see that there are no bad feelings, and that there are concrete ways of calming down the body and mind to deal with the difficult feelings that arise in us all.

Label every feeling that comes along during your day. Both your own feelings and your child’s feelings. Help them to connect what is happening in their body with what is happening in their emotions. Being able to label feelings is a first step in being able to deal with them. If the only emotion you talk about is happiness and excitement, then the message is clear that the other emotions aren’t ok.

During quiet moments in your day, talk about sad or disappointing times your child has experienced. For young children you will have to do most of the talking.  Start with an example of something hard for them. “I notice you get disappointed when your sister doesn’t want to play with you. What can you do when you feel this way? Maybe you can tell her you are disappointed, and then find another game to play by yourself until she is ready to play. What toy would make you feel better the most? Let’s keep your toy truck ready for you to play with whenever your sister needs a break.”

When the Parent is Causing the Sadness:

Toddlers and preschoolers are often sad and angry because of the limits that a parent is putting on them. It is so tempting to give in when we see the genuine sadness that occurs because we have refused a request; this would return the child to happiness. It is important to remember, however, that the short term goal of happiness short-circuits the long term goal of dealing with disappointment and frustration in an effective way.

Our job as parents is not to keep our children happy. Our job as parents is to help children deal with the range of emotions that occur in a typical day. If your limit setting is causing sadness in your child, remind yourself that consistency is far more important than your child’s brief episode of sadness. When your child cries, and then finds a way to feel better, he has learned that he can deal with disappointment and successfully move on. When a child knows in his heart that he can do this he has emotional resiliency, and it creates a strength and confidence that will serve him well throughout his life.

When your child is sad because you are not giving in, label that feeling. “I see you are sad because you can not have the cookie.” Don’t follow up by giving the cookie. Follow up with strategies he can use to help himself feel better. “You can be sad here, or you can play with your blocks for awhile, or I can give you a hug if that will help.” Then allow him to feel his sadness and use the strategies he is most comfortable with to soothe himself. Sometimes that involves a parent sitting close and rubbing his back, or sitting on the couch close to him until he is done being sad. Sometimes that involves the parent giving space and allowing him to be sad in another room.

If sadness builds to anger and a tantrum, then the parent’s job is to keep the child safe, not to fix the tantrum.  The calmer the adults remain, the less escalated the situation will become. “I can’t let you throw things or hurt yourself. You can stomp your feet, or jump up and down, or you can lay on the floor and yell awhile. I am here to give you a hug if you would like. I love you.” Then give a minimum amount of attention to the tantrum, and let the child ride it out. When the emotional outburst has run it’s course, and he has moved into feeling sad or trying to feel better, then move on with him.

What Can I Tell Myself When I am Tempted?

There are so many times when we see our sad child and move into fixing the problem. How can we remind ourselves to be thoughtful about our long term goal of self-regulation and resiliency? Here are some things to say internally when you see the sadness or frustration and you are tempted to fix it, rather than allow her to feel the success of helping herself:

  • Consistency is more important than this moment of crying
  • My child needs to practice soothing herself early in life
  • My child needs to know she can overcome disappointment
  • This will build up her frustration muscles
  • I don’t need to end this quickly
  • If we help her deal with anger now, there will be a lot less screaming when she is a teenager

As your child gets older, use these moments of emotional upheaval as teaching opportunities. At a calm moment in your day, revisit the experience briefly. Review the emotions that your child felt, ask her what helped her to feel better. Talk together about how to use this strategy when she feels herself getting upset.  Show her you are confident in her own ability to handle her emotions.

Books are often a great resource for these teaching moments, and the book Calm Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen is a useful resource for talking about emotions and dealing with frustration.

Give your child the opportunity to be emotionally resilient in her early life. The success she will have in dealing with her own emotional experiences will help her to confidently navigate the wild roller coaster of life as she gets older.

Finding and Being the “Helpers”

 “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I’m always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

In the past few days, months, (even years) it may feel hard to turn on the TV or any media source because of the images that we are constantly bombarded with.  As a parent of young children, this can feel overwhelming.  How are we supposed to raise children to love and inspire when they are constantly faced with so much hate?

The answer lies in the wise words of a man many of us grew up with…Mr. Rogers.  It was he that clued us in to the idea his own mother passed on to him “Find the Helpers.”

In nearly every scary, tragic, untimely event, there will always be people doing good; being good; showing good.

Recent events show thousands lining up to donate blood in Las Vegas and millions of people donating time, money, goods and effort to help the victims impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

No matter the situation, there are always, always people helping. This is a reassuring on a global level, but also on a day to day level.  In any situation we encounter, we can help our children find the helpers…while also being the helpers.

How can we do this? Small steps include

-Take time to notice the every day good and point it out to our children.

-Engage in small moments of “paying it forward.” This can be as simple as bringing cookies to a neighbor, helping new parents adjust to baby life, raking leaves for an elderly friend who may need assistance, or bigger gestures like prepaying in the drive-thru or donating winter gear to children who may go without.

-Speak kindly.  About everyone and everything.  Kindness is a powerful tool in the face of hate and discord.

Looking for more?  DoingGoodTogether.Org is a fabulous resource for:

Everyday Acts of Kindness:


Talking Tips:


Books About Kindness:


Family Service Ideas:



Welcome Back!

We are so excited to be back in the classroom!  While summer definitely has its perks, there is something to be said for the routine that a new school year brings.

As we start these first few weeks of classes, we wanted to inform you of some of the “extra’s” that our program is offering in addition to our standard classes!

Early Childhood Fest 2017

Saturday, October 7

10:00-11:30 a.m.

Hopkins Library, 22 – 11th Ave. N, Hopkins

Join us for a free fun-filled celebration at the Hopkins Library with family-friendly entertainment, live music, and fun family activities.

Sponsored by Hopkins Public Library & Hopkins Early Childhood Family Education.

Advisory Council

October 23rd, 6:30pm

The Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) Advisory Council is composed of parents, school district personnel and representatives from the community that act as an advisory group for developing ECFE programs. This group reviews policies, fees, and program offerings in an attempt to reflect the community’s needs. The Hopkins ECFE Advisory Committee also has developed a variety of volunteer opportunities for parents within the program. Thanks to all the generous and busy parents who have contributed to our program.

The Advisory Council’s purposes are:

  • To assist in developing, planning and monitoring the Early Childhood Family Education Program in District 270.
  • To be responsive to the needs and concerns of the community.
  • To serve as a sounding board and a source of ideas for the Early Childhood Programs Coordinator.
  • To offer budget-related input and suggestions.
  • To serve as a resource to staff in program preparation, outreach and delivery.

Anyone interested in serving on the Advisory Council should contact the Harley Hopkins Family Center office at (952) 988-5000.

Young People’s Concert 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 5:45-7:00 p.m.

Hopkins High School

2400 Lindbergh Drive, Minnetonka

Hopkins High School Orchestra students will perform in a kid-friendly concert. Experience an “instrument petting zoo” where children can try out various orchestra instruments and enjoy other fun activities! Children are invited to wear their pajamas and bring their favorite stuffed animal.

Admission is free, join us!


Boo! Young Children and Halloween

Halloween is a time for scares, tricks, and spooky stories, right? Some young children seem ready to embrace Halloween and all the scariness that it has to offer, and some children are much more likely to hide from the ghosts and goblins. As a parent, this time of year helps you to quickly learn what your child is able to handle in terms of thrills and excitement.

Children under the age of seven still have the tendency to confuse fantasy and reality, and so the child who looks like he is enjoying a thrill may later that day become scared about what he saw.

The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center has discussed ideas for helping you navigate the spooky stuff in a way that best meets your child’s attitude toward the holiday. Here are some of our tips:

1. Halloween really celebrates spooky, but sometimes the excitement of the holiday can be too much for our youngest children. Parents often need to advocate for their child. Control the environment and expose children only to what they are ready to handle. If a party is getting too scary,  go home. Avoid areas of the store that might have Halloween displays that are too scary. If your child sees someone in a scary mask, you could ask that person to take off the mask to confirm with your child that it is just a costume, not real.

2. Our children need us to follow their lead during this holiday. This means we respect what they are willing and able to do during Halloween. We love to see kids in costumes, and we remember our own years of joyfully running in our outlandish outfits and gathering all that candy. However, young children may not be willing to even put on a costume. This is very common for the young child because the costume itself may be uncomfortable, or the child is not comfortable “becoming” someone different—even for a day. Masks can be especially difficult for young children to tolerate, as it is extremely difficult to see behind those tiny holes designed for eyes.

If your child is uncomfortable in a costume, acknowledge that this may not be the year for a costume. Parents can help children participate by handing out candy at the door rather than dressing up to trick-or-treat.

3. Are you and your child ready for the excitement of Halloween? Practice what you will be doing that evening. Talk with your child about what to expect. Talk about the people she will see in costumes. Talk a lot about how these people are pretending. Discuss what to say at the door of the neighbor’s house—both “trick-or-treat” and “thank you!” Remind your child that they are not to have any candy until they are back at their house.

4. Remember, also, to keep your expectations realistic: go trick or treating while it is still light out or during dusk (there will be lots of fun years ahead when your child will be old enough to brave the scary dark spooky Halloween experience) and feel free to go home when your child is tired of it (they are usually satisfied with the experience after just a few houses). Lastly, be sure to dress for the weather. Halloween in Minnesota often means the costume is covered by a winter jacket, mittens, scarf, and hat. Better to be warm on Halloween night than to catch a cold that lasts a week or more!

5. Enjoy Halloween with your young child! These sweet years quickly give way to haunted houses and scary parties and nights out with friends. Enjoy as a family the celebration of Halloween as a young child needs to see it.

The staff at the Fred Rogers Company provide more information on dress up, costumes and Halloween. Learn about young children’s idea of pretend and real, and follow their lead on how they want to experience the scariest holiday of the year. This can help your whole family enjoy the spooks and tricks of the season in these early years of childhood.

Time Flies By—How Do You Capture It?

The beginning of the school year moves us swiftly from the lazy days of summer into a fast-track structure of running from one thing to the next.  It is also a time when many parents reflect on just how fast time flies by.  Watching our child board the bus for the first time, or dropping him off at preschool and watching him walk excitedly but nervously into the classroom for the first time, makes an impression on us.  It really wasn’t all that long ago that we were holding him over our shoulder, lulling him to sleep.

There are times when we see our kids are growing so quickly that we wish we could just capture a moment, so that we will have the memory in the future. Taking time to create family rituals can do just that. Having a ritual that allows your family to come together and do something that feels special to all helps to slow things down, and creates the memories that our children take with them into life.  One example of this is the practice many parents have of creating bedtime rituals–the events that begin to calm our child’s body and mind. The books we read, the songs we sing and the activities we have each evening are a ritual that your child can count on, and that you use to create routine and structure. Rituals like this become deeply ingrained in a child–the songs we choose to sing now to our children are likely to be the songs they sing to their children one day.

Families can often create rituals around holidays, seasons or life events.  For instance, the time around back-to-school is often a ritualized time. We as parents want to mark the beginning of each school year with something special–a picture or a meal or a family event that marks the end of one season and the beginning of the next.  We document these rituals with pictures and as we add years and years, we add pictures upon pictures marking the passage of time. As our children continue to build their identity, they begin to see that they are a part of a unit that is held together through ceremony and tradition as well as daily schedules and activities.  They being to say to themselves “We are a family that goes for a walk every Saturday morning” or “We are a family that has a special dinner on our birthdays”. When children see their family as a strong group tied together through joyful activity, they are often inclined to make the effort to preserve that connection.

The early childhood staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center discussed the ways they worked to preserve memories and mark the passing of time with their children.  We thought we would share some of our favorite family ideas with you:


1) Taking pictures with a treasured object each year helps to mark time. Using the same stuffed animal, or the same backpack, or something meaningful to you year after year shows the growth of your child. Each year the object miraculously gets smaller and smaller!

2) Every birthday mark the height of your child on the wall, or the door frame, or a special poster designed for the purpose.

3) Each birthday take a picture with your child holding a sign that says “I am 3 (or the age that your child is that year).


1) On the first day of kindergarten, (or any first day of school–or last day of school for that matter!) have a special outing with just that child to honor the day. The first and last days of school tend to be great days to go to the kid friendly places that are usually packed, because on these special days of school they are usually ghost towns!

2) On the week before school, have a crazy dinner day to celebrate that summer is ending and school is beginning. One of our staff has an “Ice Cream for Dinner Day!”


1) In the summer, one of our staff remembers having her Friday nights be “Stay up til ya drop night!”. This was the evening that the kids could stay up as long as they lasted.  Gratefully, the kids lasted usually until about 8:00 each time. But they felt as though they had made it into the deepest part of night!

2) Families on staff have spent year after year going apple picking in the fall, strawberry picking in the early summer or raspberry picking in the later summer. These seasonal experiences helped shepherd the new season in, and created a better knowledge for the kids of how their favorite foods grew throughout the year.

3) One family we know of kept her Christmas tree in the back yard throughout the winter and spring. The first day of summer was marked by a bonfire in the back yard with the Christmas tree.

4) Grow a sunflower throughout the summer. By the end of August the plant is tall and impressive, and taking a picture beside the large flower every year shows just how much a child has grown.

5) Summer time for older families can involve movie marathons. One member of staff has her kids pick a movie title out of a hat and then the family watches that series of movies over the Labor Day weekend. Her family does the same thing over the Memorial Day weekend. This marks the beginning as well as the end of summer.

6) On the coldest day in winter one staff member takes her child out to ice cream.


1) Throughout the school year our students tend to collect lots and lots of art, examples of work, and precious treasures. One way to keep all the items, without having to actually keep them, is to take a picture once a month of everything hanging on the fridge, or wherever it is kept. Then keep the most important pieces, and let the others go.

2) During the start of the new school year, one staff member asked her child to go through last school year’s paperwork. After the summer, and with the start of the new school year, many of the items had lost their “specialness” and it was easier to decide what to keep and what to let go of in order to  make room for the new school year’s items.

3) Summer time can be a good time to go through a child’s toys and clothes and decide what is no longer necessary, what has been grown out of, and what can be given away to someone who needs it more. The trip to the local thrift shop to drop off items no longer necessary can be combined with a special trip to the park, or some other refreshing activity.

4) Birthdays are a natural mark of time moving forward, and a good time to talk to your child about making room for the new by letting go of some of the old.


1) Special dinners chosen by the child make a birthday special. One staff member remembers providing mashed potatoes, corn and peas for years and years as a favorite birthday meal.

2) Children who have been adopted have another day to celebrate–the day they arrived to their adoptive family. One staff member marked this day by writing a list of new things she had seen in her children throughout the year, and three or four wishes for the upcoming year. She then shared this list with her family.


Our staff also discussed the practice some of us had of keeping favorite t-shirts or outfits throughout the years. It is so hard to let go of that favorite shirt that your child loved and loved, but what exactly to do with all of them? A few of the people on our staff made (or received) t-shirt quilts. The quilts are handmade from all the t-shirts that had been worn throughout the years. When was the favorite time to offer this gift? High school graduation! So if you start planning now, you can begin collecting those t-shirts, and you likely will have years to learn how to actually make one of these magnificent pieces of art.

Marking time throughout the years by creating special rituals and meaningful events helps to keep a family focused on togetherness throughout the year. Do you have a favorite activity you would like to share with others? Log in and let us know what you do with your family to create and capture memories.