Playtime Through the Eyes of a Volunteer

Posted by on Feb 10, 2015

Playtime Through the Eyes of a Volunteer

My name is Melissa and I have been a volunteer with the Playtime Project for three years and a Baby Room Captain for nearly two years at the DC General Emergency Family Shelter. I joined HCPP for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, I believe in its mission. The research is clear – young children need consistency and play-based learning experiences for their development.  Another factor was Playtime’s child-centered approach that uses developmentally appropriate practices. Finally, there was my own selfish reason. As I transitioned from teaching pre-kindergarten to taking on a role as a researcher that works with states on early childhood policy matters, I found myself missing the time spent with children and their families. Playtime has kept me grounded in what they experience, which has made me more informed and thoughtful in my work. As a baby room captain, I am blessed with the opportunity to engage with not only the children, but their parents. I could talk all day about the positive changes I see with children each week as they grow more confident in their abilities, more expressive with their words, and more engaged in activities through the relationships they build with volunteers and other children. But I’d really like to share the effect it has on families. There is the simple fact that this gives caretakers a much needed break. I can’t even tell you how many parents have shared stories of the long commutes on public transit they take to get to work and take their children to and from child care or preschool. To have even two hours to themselves gives them a much-needed time to de-stress and rest up, which I believe helps them in their parenting roles. That in itself would be enough for me, but there is so much more. The bonds we build with parents over time create a safe space for them to ask questions and solicit advice on different aspects of child-rearing. For instance, a mother discussed her nervousness about potty-training and how she wasn’t sure how to address it, especially in the environment of a shelter without private bathrooms. Playtime was able to give her a potty seat, information on best practices in potty-training, and books to read with her son about it. As a result, she felt more confident and prepared. Every family wants to be the best parent they can for their child and wants the best for their child. I see it every time a parent’s face lights up when we share information about the book their child read or the pretend play they were involved in. Just the other week, a mother gushed, “This is her first piece of art” as we presented an art project her daughter did that day. These interactions with parents create connections that extend learning from the playroom to the time they spend outside...

Read More »

Take a Bite Out of . . . Biting: How to keep Playtime a bite-free zone!

Posted by on May 30, 2013

Take a Bite Out of . . . Biting: How to keep Playtime a bite-free zone!

This book by Elizabeth Verdick is a great way to teach kids notto bite. Playtime has copies available in the office! Nearly every Playtime volunteer has seen it happen: one minute, everything is going along swimming in the playroom. Then, seeming out of nowhere, a toddler has sunk her teeth into, well, another toddler.  Biting is actually very common in toddlers, but it is still a behavior we would prefer not to see at Playtime! Zero to Three has a great article on why toddlers bite, and what can be done to prevent biting. Why do children bite? As with any behavior, it is helpful to understand WHY kids bite. Remember, there is always a message behind a child’s behavior – they are trying to communicate something to you when they bite. Babies and toddlers have limited language skills, so they often rely on other methods to tell you their wants, needs, and feelings. Here are some of the messages children may be trying to send you by biting: 1) “I am so angry/scared/excited/frustrated right now.” 2) “I am overwhelmed by all the noise, colors, and other children in the Playroom.” 3) “I am bored. Play with me or give me something else to do!” 4) “I am a little scientist and I just want to know what will happen when I do this.” 5) “I am really, really tired.” 6) “I am teething!” 7) “My mouth is bored & needs something to do.” Understanding why kids bite can help you to have patience when bites occur, and can also help prevent bites. Preventing biting Now that you know why kids bite, here are some ways to be proactive and stop the bite before it happens! Click here for more strategies. Help verbal children practice naming their feelings, so they can grow their expressive vocabularies. E.g., Chris, I can see you are feeling angry. If the playroom is particularly noisy or crowded, keep an eye for children who seem overstimulated or frazzled and bring them to a quieter space. Trouble with sharing is a big reason for the angry & frustrated feelings that lead to biting, so help kids negotiate sharing toys. Perhaps set a timer, to mark how long a each child gets to play with a particular toy. If a child seems to crave oral stimulation (puts toys in their mouth, sucks their thumb, etc), offer them a carrot stick or a cup of water. Biting relieves the pain associated with teething. The average age of the onset of teething is 7 months, so if you know a baby is at that age, ask his parent to provide a teething toy. Make sure there are plenty of appropriate book, toys, and activities for all ages in the playroom! What to do when a bite happens 1) Stay calm. Even if you are angry and upset, stay calm!...

Read More »

The Importance of Having Black Dolls in the Playroom

Posted by on Mar 29, 2013

The Importance of Having Black Dolls in the Playroom

Loving her baby doll! The Playtime Project requests that all dolls donated both for use in our playrooms and as gifts for individual children reflect the fact that we primarily serve African-American youth. The growing popularity of a short documentary film by 22-year-old Samantha Knowles entitled Why Do You Have Black Dolls? (watch the trailer here) is a great opportunity to reflect on why it is so important that we have black dolls in our playrooms. In describing why, with so many seemingly more substantial issues facing the African-American community – poverty, violence, etc. – she chose to focus on dolls, Knowles stated, “the conversation always reverts back to image and what is a more powerful and formative image for a young black child than her dolls?” Many people are familiar with the “Doll Study” done in 1939 by psychologists Kenneth & Mamie Clark, which examined black children’s preferences for white and black dolls and found that the children tended to find the white doll to be “nicer” and more enjoyable to play with. Perhaps fewer people, though, are aware that this study was repeated (on a small scale) in 2005 by the then 17-year-old Kiri Davis – who found similar results to the original study. While Dr. Thelma Dye of the Northside Center for Child Development cautions that these results should not lead to the assumption that all black children suffer from low self-esteem, she encourages continued exploration of the meaning of these studies. Author Debbie Behan Garrett explains, “When a young child is playing with a doll, she is mimicking being a mother, and in her young, impressionable years, I want that child to understand that there’s nothing wrong with being black. If black children are force-fed that white is better, or if that’s all that they are exposed to, then they might start to think, ‘What is wrong with me?'” By providing children with African-American dolls that reflect their beauty, we can help to instill in them a positive self-image. One child interviewed by Knowles said of her black doll, “She had curly hair just like me, so I picked this doll. I have black dolls because they are pretty and everyone likes black dolls.” This is the message we want our Playtime kids to carry with them! For more information on the history of black dolls, read this fascinating article: Black is Beautiful: Why Black Dolls Matter by Lisa Hix Purchase dolls for our Playrooms by visiting our Amazon...

Read More »

These Monsters Make Learning Shapes Fun!

Posted by on Oct 17, 2012

These Monsters Make Learning Shapes Fun!

www.houseofbabypiranha.com  One of the Playtime Project’s October curriculum themes is “Monsters,” and this colorful activity is a great way to help kids learn their shapes while also getting in the Halloween spirit! Before you get started, make sure you know what level of shape & color recognition you should expect from children of different ages: By age 2: Begin sorting by shape & colorBy age 3: Copies a circleBy age 4: Draws circles & squares: copies square shapes; correctly names some colorsBy age 5: Copies triangles & other geometric patterns; correctly names at least 4 colors. Help kids develop these skills with these cute & kooky Shape Monsters: Materials:Bright colored paperBlack paperScissorsGlue Directions1 .Cut out large shapes from the colored paper: squares, rectangles, circles, diamonds, triangles . . . these will be the heads/bodies of the monsters ** Bonus developmental fact: Most children should be able to use scissors by age 4! 2 .Cut out other shapes to be eyes, teeth, mouths, arms, legs or anything else you think might be fun to make monsters! 3. Glue them together! This is a super simple project, but the result is adorable & kids will get lots of experience identifying shapes & colors. Happy Monster Making! Interested in learning more about what children know about shapes? Check out this...

Read More »

Tip of the Week: See something? Say something . . .

Posted by on Aug 27, 2012

Tip of the Week: See something? Say something . . .

. . . About the fact that there are homeless families and children in our nation’s capital. Recently, one of our volunteers was telling a colleague about her volunteer work with the Playtime Project, and he looked at her in amazement. “There are homeless children here?” She asked us for some facts to enlighten her co-worker. Tell people about the amazing families with incredible children you know who are struggling to put a roof over their heads right here in DC. In fact, family homelessness in the Washington, DC region hasincreased 23 percent in the five years since the recession began, while theoverall population of homelessness has increased only 1 percent. This year,there are 3,388 homeless children in the area. Families are considered the “hidden homeless,” so educate your friends. Join our Facebook page to get the latest stats and articles. Give people the opportunity to get involved by inviting them to our incredible Oct. 14 fall fundraiser and our first-ever Oct. 28 5K fun run. Spread the word and see what more we can do together to turn the tide for children in our...

Read More »