Not just fun and games: How the museum helps grow literacy


Everyone knows that Families First Children’s Museum is a great place for kids to play and have fun, but did you also know that children learn important skills at they play? In the first of a series of blog posts about how children learn through play, Museum Manager Kashya Boretsky discusses how the museum helps improve literacy. She also offers ideas on activities to grow literacy skills while playing at the museum.

Literacy is hands down one of the most important skills we learn as children, and it comes in many different forms: reading, writing, listening, talking, etc. Although children who come to the museum may not be able to read or write yet and some may not even be verbal, they can still explore and improve their literary abilities at the museum.

One way in which children can do this, is through print recognition; at the museum, and in everyday life, there are words everywhere! We have signs, labels, and print all around the museum, from the food and shopping lists in our Go, Grow, Grocery store to the weekly craft instructions in the Art Studio to the dinosaur and fossil facts in the Dino Dig. Just by seeing words, children are learning and beginning to recognize the symbols. There are also books all around the different exhibits, each pertaining to that specific area. By seeing and flipping through these books, even if they can’t read yet, they are developing a budding interest in books and an eagerness to learn to read, this can be strengthened when they see other children or adults looking at books, as well!

Listening and talking are also important to early literacy! Although some children who come to the museum are still non-verbal, they can learn so much from being surrounded by other families. As your child is playing, they can listen to parents and other children talking and playing (sometimes even in another language!), this can in turn improve their vocabulary and eventually their speech. As children begin talking, they can quickly improve their spoken vocabulary and confidence in speaking by talking as they play. Whether they are exclaiming “I caught a fish”, making up a story while playing dress up, or checking up on their patients in the Doctor Kid Office, they are learning how to communicate through talking and listening.

Early literacy is not just about words and letters though, it’s also about fine motor skills, which can help with writing later on. Writing takes a lot of hand strength, control, and muscle memory that needs to be developed over time; this can be a big challenge for beginning writers. But the best way to train and prepare our hands for pencils is by playing! At the museum, your child can improve these muscles by digging with shovels in the Dino Dig, using the Busy Board in the hallway or the Baby Area, building with the wooden blocks and cars in the Construction Area, or cutting, painting, and drawing in the Art Studio!

You can help to further your child’s play and early literacy by trying on of these ideas the next time you’re in the Children’s Museum:

  • Ask them questions as they’re playing!
  • Read books with them!
  • Check out the Little Free Library (take a book or bring a book)!
  • Help them use tools like scissors or a paintbrush in the Art Studio!
  • Sound out letters and words on a shopping list with them!
  • Practice using silverware in the kitchen area!
  • Take them to programs like Taletivities where we read a book and do an activity with it!
  • Help them spell out their name with the alphabet blocks in the Construction Area!
  • Encourage them to talk with other children!

Join us in the museum Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.!

Slow parenting: Harried holidays? Learn to hear the body talk

Get some valuable tips on how to stress less and enjoy the holidays more from Parent Education Director Dara Newman, LCPC.

Holiday Season seems to come when we are least prepared for it—like every year! How many self-help articles do we have to read (and write!) and how many times must we talk with each other about how stressed we are this time of year before we learn to listen to our bodies? Our bodies tell us what we need to do; our heads tell us what we should do. What would happen if we gave ourselves permission to do what we need even if it’s not the “right” thing—the thing we feel like we should do? What about our children? What message would we be offering if we showed compassion to our own limits? Similarly, if we see our children as individuals, with their own needs for solitude, downtime, and just being (which to us may seem the opposite of doing the “right” thing)? Isn’t our goal in parenting to help our children grow up and know and like themselves? Don’t we want to teach our children how to pay attention to their insides, so they can learn to care for their own well-being, and thus, can show-up in the world as whole and integrated individuals?

For many of us, including me, this is much easier said than done. For several reasons, we have a hard time honoring the true needs of individuals. I believe the most important reason is that we haven’t learned to recognize our own needs, because our individual needs were dismissed in the name of “it’s the right thing to do. Talk about mixed messages! The right thing to do is more important than what you NEED? Hmm? What does that say about your worth? (Importantly, I am talking about genuine needs, not wants.)

Yesterday, I was preparing holiday gifts and the day got crazier and crazier. My son went to get a Christmas tree, which like everything else, took longer than I expected. Tired and wet, he came home late for a friend’s birthday party. There was mild tension in my body. We were late! A slight blanching of color in his face and glazed eyes indicated his depleted energy level as his astutely self-aware question, “Do I have to go? I am so beat,” corroborated. I know (despite a slow learning curve) that, as an introvert, his energy level is only going to be that much more diminished by a gaggle of friends. But, we said he was going and it was someone’s special celebration and going was the “right” thing to do. There was more tension in my body.  Should I do the “right” thing or recognize that my son has acknowledged that he has reached his limit?

For the next few weeks (and years), are we all going to be forced into doing the “right thing” or are we going to honor that what is right for you might not be right for your child’s temperament or immediate needs? Families will be gathering, eating, talking, opening presents, and sharing time together. When our children are melting down, not engaging with the grandparents, rebelling against going to yet another party, and showing a lack of societal level involvement in the holiday spirit, how do we respond in a way that says I see you and you matter as much as anyone else?

If our individual differences can be recognized and honored, then how great we will be together! Happy Holidays!

Looking for more tips on helping everyday life go smoother with your kids? Consider a parenting consult! All services are offered on a sliding scale. Call 721.7690.

Slow parenting: Is my child a ‘liar’?

It’s a question just about every parent asks at one time or another. Parenting Education Director Dara Newman shares her insight.

We look our child in the eye and ask, “Did you eat all those cookies?” They look back at us, directly in our eyes, and say “NO!” But we know they did.

“I saw a tiger outside,” exclaims our excited three-year old. But we know they did not.

We ask in response to their request to go play with the neighbors, “Did you finish your homework?” “Yes” they reply. But they did not.

“Did you throw that ball that broke the window?” “Nope,” comes the response, although we know it’s not correct.

Most parents can rattle off a similar list, and many of us are upset or anxious when our sweet children are “less than truthful.” Why? Because WE value honesty. We want our children to tell the truth, take responsibility, and be trustworthy. But our toddler did see a tiger! And the child was attempting creative (albeit not-so-honest) problem-solving so it would be possible to play with his or her friend.

Toddlers are living in the world of imagination and creativity. Hobbs IS alive to Calvin. But all Calvin’s parents see, through their grownup eyes and using their grownup cognitive skills, is a stuffed animal. Young children go through a developmental period where they give life to inanimate objects. This stage is developmentally important in order for the natural procession to the next cognitive and social stage. When we enjoy with, and delight in, our child’s world, we are giving them the sense of security they need to thrive. So, maybe next time your child, with his or her wondrous imagination, sees a dragon in the backyard, you too can delight in that fire-breathing, colorful friend!

Children, like adults, do not like getting into trouble. However, their cognitive skills, grasp of causality, problem-solving capacity, and ability to clearly communicate are not yet fully honed. In fact, their brain is not completely developed until they are in their mid-twenties. The more they get to practice in their childhood, in a safe, secure, environment, the greater developed these cognitive skills will become. So what should we do when our children tell us they didn’t break the window, did do their homework, or didn’t eat all the cookies—when in fact we know the “truth”?

Keeping in mind they need our help to learn, and keeping in mind they only learn when they are calm and not scared (thus, not in trouble), we work with them. We set them up for success. If we know they did or did not do something and we corner them into an answer, then most likely they will fib. However, if we say “I know you didn’t finish your homework yet and I know you want to play outside, how are you going to figure that out?” they can learn. Or, “Oh, it’s a big problem the baseball just broke the window, what do you need to do to fix it?” Or, kiddo, you know the rules about eating too many cookies—let’s think about what you need to do next time, because I know you like dessert, but eating too many cookies is not healthy.

As parents, our goal is to help children develop these skills and when we SLOW down and take time to teach, reteach, and teach yet again, having them participate in the learning and problem-solving in a future-oriented, non-punitive way, we will be fostering the natural developmental process. AND it makes our life so much easier, because we do not have to do all the work; they are coming up with ideas because they know we are with them, collaborating and learning together. So next time your child tells you something less than truthful, get into their world and figure out what is going on for them—because they need you!

Remember–If you have questions or concerns about your child, help is just a phone call away. A parenting consult can give you the guidance–and confidence!–you need to handle any problem, large or small. Call 721.7690