Category Archives: Toddlers

Art For All Ages

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up”- Pablo Picasso

Just the other day, I received an email from a woman who had joined the PlayLearnParent Facebook Fan Page and was really excited about the January 27, 2011 post from the New York Times titled Mom, You’re One Tough Art Critic.   She was an Art Teacher and was glad that something art related was posted and wanted to let me know that she would like to see more!   Well, she is in luck- she inspired me to do a little more research on Art and Young Children.

I came across a three items that I wanted to share:

1. In 1998 the Arts Education Partnership and the Task Force on Children’s Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight came out with a report called Young Children and the Arts: Making Creative Connections. This report focuses on the importance of early Arts Education and has guidelines for how to successfully implement a program.  For parents it also has a great chart that provides appropriate arts activities for children at every level of development (see page 6-13).

2.  Angela Eckhoff, an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Clemson University in South Carolina has published 2 articles about young children and art.

First, Eckhoff published an article in Early Childhood Education Journal in 2008 that examined how Art Teachers teach art to young children.  Eckhoff (2008) reports that Art teachers used 4 main strategies when teaching children age 4-5 about art: Questioning, Game Play, Storytelling, and Technical.  Based on her research each of these strategies were effective in teaching preschool aged children about art and are strategies that could be adopted and used by parents with their own children.

Eckhoff (2008) explained that Questioning was used by the teacher to help introduce the children to the artwork by discussing technical aspects like color, design, etc and contextual factors like  what the art was intended to look like.   Parents could use similar questioning techniques to help their children begin to think and discuss aspects of artwork they see.

Eckhoff (2008) explains that storytelling was used by the art teachers to further engage the students in understanding the art.  On page 468, Eckhoff uses the example of a teacher asking a young child to pretend that they were very, very tiny and that they could be in the painting and then asking the child to describe and tell a story about what it is like “living” in the painting.

Technical discussion may be a little bit more challenging for parents who do not have as much of a background in art, but it can still be done.  Eckhoff (2008) describes a teacher talking to preschoolers about how the paint was made to decorate a Rawhide Box in the 1930’s.  While this teacher had the expertise to know that the paintbrushes used to paint this box were sticks made from Yucca, parents can provide other technical information to their children.  Possibly a parent could discuss the orange paint and explain that you can make orange paint by mixing red and  yellow paint.

Finally, Eckhoff (2008) talks about gameplay and the ways in which teachers were creative in developing age appropriate games to engage their students in the art.  Eckhoff just recently published an article in Young Children– a magazine published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children providing teachers with more ideas of how to use games to help children explore Art.

Eckhoff’s article is titled Using Games to Explore Visual Art with Young Children and is in the January 2010 edition of Young Children which is free online. This is a great article, please read!

The article (on page 20) provides excellent games to play with young children to help them understand, appreciate, and enjoy art.  Here are a couple of great suggestions from that article:

1.  Color Spinner Wheel:  Bring a color spinner wheel (take one from a game at home or make out before you leave) to the museum with you.  Have the child pick out a picture that they like and the child spin the wheel to determine colors to search for in the piece of art.

2. Eye Spy: play the traditional eye spy game in a museum.  Have the child give “hints” based on the colors, size, texture, type of art, etc that they see in the room.

And some fun suggestions of my own:

3.  Bring a large notebook and crayons with you to the museum (some museums even have these available for young children to use) and have your child pick out their favorite piece of art and let them draw it. (This is good for kids who are preschool age and older and are good at staying on the paper when they color).

4.  Bring different colored index cards or post-its or even the color swatches they give you when you are painting a room.  Go around the museum and see if you can finding paintings with each of the different colors.  As you find them write the name of the painting and the date on the cards and one sentence describing the painting so you can talk about it again when you get home.


Eckhoff, A. (2008).  The Importance of Art Viewing Experiences in Early Childhood Visual Arts: The Exploration of a Master Art Teacher’s Strategies for Meaningful Early Art Experiences.   Early Childhood Education Journal, 35, 463-472. Link

Eckhoff, A. (January, 2010).  Using Games to Explore Visual Art with Young Children.  Young Children, pp. 18-22.  Link

The Task Force on Children’s Learning and the Arts: Birth to Age Eight & Sarah Goldhawk, Arts Education Partnership.  (1998).Eds Carol Bruce.  Young Children and the Arts: Making Creative Connections.  Retrieved from: on February 3, 2011.

Related Resources:

The Artful Parent

Creative Art Helps Children Develop Across Many Domains

Art Ideas for Small Children

Children’s Museum of the Arts

Parents Magazine Ten Best Art Museums for Kids Number 1 is the Art Institute of Chicago

National Gallery of Art



Filed under Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers

Help! Quality Media?

When I was growing up media consisted of the Television- a total of 5 channels (cable was around, but we didn’t have it), a VCR, a Nintendo (the result of a particularly traumatizing dentist appointment that my Dad had taken me to), eventually a GameBoy, a computer (that my mother “borrowed” from the school she taught at), a record/tape/radio combination stereo, and books.

I don’t even know where to begin with what is considered “media” today! There are ipods playing songs from YoGabbaGabba, DVD players in minivans playing the Princess and the Frog, laptop computers with A Bug’s Life CD-Rom software (although that seems to be nearly extinct), ipads with Sesame Street apps, smartphones & iphones with apps that translate your child’s voice into a cute squeaky guinea pig voice , regular old Television programs like SuperWhy (that you can  now get in High Definition on cable, satellite, or online on demand), new motion sensored video games like theNintendo Wii, handheld video game players like PSP, and online interactive storybooks of the 3 Little Pigs… I could go on forever, but instead I will provide you with a Sesame Street clip called “There’s an App for That”.

Given all of these technologies and all of the content that is now “out there”.  How do parents decide what programs/games/books/music/content to show/play/interact/use with their kids? In a world of instant replies via email and blog posts about everything, are parents supposed to rely on “word of mouth” (which now exists via telephone, Facebook, email, etc) or base their purchases/downloads on reviews and product descriptions and their own best guess?

Should there be some sort of Children’s Quality Media Guru?  A resource that offers advice on what apps to buy for your 2-year-old versus your 8-year-old?  A guide that can tell you what is required to play the newest top app Bubble Ball (created by a 14-year-old boy)?  A checklist of questions parents might want to ask before purchasing media for their child?  Do parents want/need help with these questions?

Earlier this week the Fred Rogers Center held a roundtable discussion at Erikson Institute with 30 impressive people in the fields of child development and media production/creation to discuss just this issue.  Given all of the technology out there, how do we help creators and parents decide what “quality” media is for young children?  Lisa Guernsey at the New America Foundation wrote an excellent blog about the event.

But my question is really to parents… what questions are you asking before downloading new material for your young children? Who are you asking for advice? How do you decide what IS and what is NOT quality media for your children?  Help!  How do you decide what is quality media for your young children?

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Filed under Elementary School Age, Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers

He Said, She Said

Parents seem to talk constantly.  Yesterday, I was in a relatively full elevator in very tall building with a mom and her approximately 15-month-old daughter.  The mom talked to the daughter the entire trip up the elevator.

Mom: “Is the door closing?”

Daughter: “Yeah.”

Mom: “That lady has a pretty hat, doesn’t she”

Daughter: “Yeah. Hat.”

Mom: “Do you want a hat like that?”

Daughter: “Yeah.”

Mom: “The elevator is going up, up, up.”

Daughter: “Yeah. Up.”

Mom: “The door is opening”

Daughter: “Yeah.”

Mom: “Time to get out”

Daughter: “Yeah.  Out.”

Many parents begin talking to their children before they are even born and they just keep right on talking… forever! And while many teenagers think that their parents talk entirely too much, all of this talking is actually very good for development.

According to Lev Vygotsky- a psychologist from the early 1900’s- social interaction and scaffolding are particularly important for children’s cognitive development.  Vygotsky is probably best known for two terms “zone of proximal development” and “scaffolding”.    According to Vygotsky, the “zone of proximal development” is a period in which a child can almost but not completely perform a task independently. But with the help of someone more advanced or knowledgable, like a parent, the child can complete the task.  For example, the little girl on the elevator was just learning to speak.  She clearly had a few words and she was beginning to engage in conversation with her mom.  Her mother was clearly working within her child’s zone of proximal development by asking her questions using words that the child knew and some words that the child could say or repeat, like “hat”, “up” and “out”.  The little girls’ mother was scaffolding her daughters language learning.  Like the scaffolding that is used to help workers to reach higher up when they build a building, this mother was supporting the child’s learning by prompting her with questions that had answers that she knew the child had the words to answer but that were slightly challenging and helped her daughter grow and continue to practice and develop her language.

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“Oh, like Baby Einstein?”

I seem to be travelling a lot these days and whenever I travel I end up meeting people.  Just the other day when I was “travelling” home from work (also known as commuting) a guy was waiting for the train and asked me if I was a graduate student.  I explained that  I finished graduate school and our conversation continued, as it frequently does, with me explaining that I wrote my dissertation on how toddlers learn from media.  “Oh, like Baby Einstein?” the man on the train platform asked.  Yes, like how kids learn from Baby Einstein (but I really looked at how toddlers learn from Elmo).  It’s funny, a version of this conversation has happened with almost every person I have sat next to over the past 5 years.  I’ve been on planes home from Singapore, buses to New York City, ferries to Cape Cod, and even on a motorcycle in Cambodia.  It seems that no matter where I am, when I tell people what I study almost everyone can relate and almost everyone has a question or an anecdote about their kid watching TV or their friend’s kid who doesn’t.  And just about every single person asks a variation of the same question.  “Well, what about ‘baby videos’?  Should I be showing them to my kid?”

This question, and answering it every time, played an active role in my starting this website.  Originally I was thinking of calling this website, “ThingsI’”  And to be honest, I’m sure a lot of what will drive this blog will be based on the great questions that parents, nannies, teachers, researchers, uncles, and grandpas have asked in the past.

So What about baby videos? Well, like almost everything in our lives that we want a “yes/no” answer to, the answer to the question is, “we still are not exactly sure”.  But the good news is we are getting there.  And the short answer is baby videos and media products for babies are probably a lot like cookies – you don’t want to only feed your kids cookies, but a cookie every once in a while is not going to kill them either.

So what do we know?

First, we do know that for preschool-aged children quality educational television, like Sesame Street,  Dora the Explorer, and Blue’s Clues have been associated with positive outcomes for children (both during the preschool years and even through high school!).  This is discussed in Malcolm Galdwell’s book Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference as well as in multiple academic journal articles.

The question that has arisen since the creation of Baby Einstein and Teletubbies in the late 1990’s is: What is the impact of “baby videos” on our babies?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (yes, this is the group that tells your pediatricians what they should be telling you) recommended about a decade ago  (in 1999) that children under age 2 not watch any screen media and children older than 2 should be limited to 2 hours of screen time a day.  Just this fall the AAP updated their recommendation but  maintained that parents should still try to avoid TV and video viewing for children under 2.

Social Scientists are also very interested in this question and have now conducted dozens of studies in order to understand how/if infants and toddlers can learn from a screen like their preschool-aged siblings. I could write forever about these findings (or I could just upload my dissertation) but I won’t, I’ll keep it as brief as possible.  Early research found that children under age 2 learned better when an adult demonstrated an activity in front of the child in “real-life” than when they saw a video-taped version of the exact same demonstration.  Other studies have found that younger infants (around age 6 months) might actually learn equally well from an adult in real life as from a video, but that as they get older they need to see the video repeatedly in order to learn the task as well as they learn from an adult in real life.    More recent research is beginning to understand what types of factors may help young children learn from video and screen presentations.  Factors like seeing the video repeatedly, slowing down the presentation of the material, making the videos feel like they are interactive (sort of the way that Dora from Dora the Explorer stops and speaks to the audience), and using familiar characters to perform the tasks on the screen (like a mother or Elmo), seem to help young children learn material from a screen.

Unfortunately, most of the research that demonstrates ways in which young kids can learn from screens never makes it to the public.  The newspapers and reporters love to grab on to scary titles about media: “TV Really Might Cause Autism” “It’s Official: TV Linked to Attention Deficit”  Recently Time Magazine came out with a great article discussing the actual study that was reported in the “TV Really Might Cause Autism” article.  Time Magazine discussed that among other problems with the study TV watching was never measured in the study!

So my advice, is to make sure you think twice when you read any news article reporting about a research study.  Ask your pediatrician about media use with your young babies and do some research on your own as well.  There are great scientific and child development resources on the Internet these days that can help you to understand what the science says.  Also, Lisa Guernsey did a lot of the work for parents and came out with a great book called Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Effects Children from Birth to Age Five and summarizes the research that has been done in this area. Finally, remember that sitting with your child and talking about whatever you are doing, whether you are playing with blocks or watching Sesame Street is a good way to help your child get the most out of each and every one of their experiences.

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Sesame Street for Kids and Parents!

Technology is pretty amazing these days.  The other day on the train, I sat behind a mom and her young daughter (about 3.5) listening to music on the mom’s phone (the mom and daughter each had one earphone in their ear) and the little girl was dancing and singing to the music.  Another day, there was a father with his young son on the train and the little boy was playing a puzzle game on his father’s iphone. On a plane I sat next to mother and daughter (her husband and son were in the seats behind us) and she showed me the various games and online books that her Kindergartener likes to play on her iphone as she discussed why she doesn’t allow her children to watch TV.  Kids, even really little ones, are using these new technologies and parents are letting them. There was a very moving article in the New York Time back in October about Toddlers and iPhones.

So if kids love these technologies and parents have them, how can we use some of these technologies in ways that support child development rather than act as distractors or babysitters?  SesameWorkshop has a Parents page that offers wonderful video clips and games that you can watch on your computer or smartphone with your child.  After watching each video model an at home activity around it!

For example,  Sesame Street offers Math is Everywhere

Here, watch this video about patterns “Wiggle Wiggle Hop”.  After, see if together you and your child can create other dance move patterns!

Each of the clips on this site can provide an example (both for you and your child) of a lesson, after you watch or play the games, try to come up with your own creative ways to do something similar in your home!

Sesame Street also offers a Get Ready For School Section with videos about sharing, anger management, sleep, etc.  Also they offer opportunities to help parents explore these concepts by providing ideas about questions to ask your kids after you watch each video.  For example, Care a Lot Share a Lot talks about the importance of sharing.  Sesame Street suggests you watch the video and then ask your child about what things they can share at school.  They also include activities that you can play with your children related to each topic! Great parenting tips!

Sesame Street offers fun activities and videos to help your children develop their literacy skills: See Words Words Words!

Potty Training? Sesame Street offers videos and parenting advice for that too!

Have a two year old? Here are some videos and activities that you could play with them!

Remember, kids learn by playing and experiencing things first hand.  Videos and games online can be a great resource to help give parents ideas about lessons and to give children a bit of information about a new topic, but as a parent you want to expand upon the ideas you get from websites like Sesame Street.  If you watch a video showing The Count counting bats outside, next time you are at a park with your child, remind them of the video and ask them to count the birds they see in a tree or how many slides there are to slide down!

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Parenting Ed

In Massachusetts, and many other states,  you have to complete a Driver’s Education Course to get your License (See DMV website). As part of the course you have to attend  30 hours of classroom instruction, 12 hours behind the wheel, and 6 hours of observation from the backseat while another student driver takes your life in their hands.  In addition, you have to spend 40 hours practicing with your parent.  All of this to drive a motor vehicle from  your home to the grocery store.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the value of Driver’s Ed  You are operating a motor vehicle out on the streets where there are other people in cars, pedestrians, and young children running after soccer balls into the streets.  It’s not just your life that is in danger when you are driving, it’s the lives of your friends, family, and people you have never met and their friends and families.   I don’t question Driver’s Ed, but what I wonder is how can we be so concerned about properly operating motor vehicles and not have the same preemptive sense to require something similar of parents before they have a child? Why isn’t there a “Parenting Ed” requirement?  I mean, as a parent it’s not just you out there “on the road”.  As a parent you are impacting the life of your child and the lives of the other children and people that your child interacts with.  Shouldn’t parents be at least as informed about basic health and child development objectives when they bring a child into this world as they are about using arm signals to make a right hand turn when they decide to drive their Honda to the mall?

I started this website because I wanted to help parents and kids.  I believe that everyone can be a good parent and everyone should be a good parent, but I don’t believe that everyone is naturally born ready to parent well. I believe that no one learns to drive a car in the classroom of Driver’s Ed, but having that background information before you get thrown into a high-stress potentially dangerous situation can be life saving.  Understanding background information about child development and parenting practices is important to help parents react when the realities and challenges of parenthood come at full force.   So, I’m using this website  as an opportunity to reach out to parents who may want to learn more about child development.  I’m starting my own online Parenting Ed: Child Development Basics.  Hope you enjoy!

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Filed under Elementary School Age, Infants, Preschoolers, Toddlers