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Minnesota Childrens Museum Blog

Last week was Safety Week here at the Museum! Once a year we spend nine action-packed days reviewing our safety procedures. Because safety is a top priority we spend a lot of time talking not only about the routine things like reuniting families, but also about the more serious scenarios that we hope will never happen.

Spot the Hazard: Oh, no! Our World has been filled with safety hazards! How many hazards can you spot in two minutes? Part of the Visitor Assistants' job is to constantly be monitoring for safety issues while they are in the galleries. This could be anything from a water spill, to an unlocked door, to a broken exhibit.

Evacuation Drill: The alarm has sounded and the staff must quickly and calmly evacuate our paper visitors from the building. Will everyone make it out safely? Although we rarely have to evacuate the building, it is something we take very seriously. Every evacuation drill is timed and evaluated.

First Aid: Not only do we practice first aid procedures (all floor staff are certified in first aid), we practice safety procedures for dealing with blood and other bodily fluids. Can you take off your safety gloves without contaminating your skin? We smear ketchup on our gloves to find out.

Box Office Safety: The entrance to the Museum is a key spot for safety awareness -- that is why the security guards are posted there. We always need to be aware o who is coming in and out of our building. Staying aware is also the number one way to protect our building and our visitors from acts of theft.

Although we hope that most of these scenarios will never happen, it is important for everyone to practice their safety procedures. What do you do to practice safety with your kids?

-Jessica Turgeon
Director of Visitors Services and Organizational Development

Five to six times a year, we practice emergency evacuation.  Although we haven't had to actually evacuate the building in over six years (quick, knock on wood!), it is really important that everyone know exactly what to do.  As you can imagine, it isn't like evacuating a normal building- someone has to crawl through the anthill, peek in the bathrooms, and check all the nooks and crannies in the Museum. 

All of our practice evacuations take place before or after normal hours, so to make them as realistic as possible we tape up paper people around the building.  Once the alarm sounds, the staff have to "save" all the people and regroup in the lobby where we check our time and success rate.

Because we have to be prepared for any situation, we will often throw zingers in the mix- telling the staff they can't use a certain stairwell because of the fire, putting obstacles in front of the exits that they have to clear, or setting off multiple alarms for investigation.

The craziest situation we ever had to deal within real life was one busy Saturday many years ago when we not only had to evacuate hundreds of visitors, but also get Elmo and Cookie Monster down the stairs and out of the building without them taking their costumes off.  And for those of you who have ever wondered- that was the day we turned the coat rack motor off for good.

As for today's drill, we are happy to report that everyone made it out alive.

-Jessica Turgeon, director of organizational development and visitor services

So. . . how did those prevention tools work for you in Part 1? Here are some more tools to help you manage conflict and teach your children responsibility, in other words, guidance tools.

Encourage thinking:
  • Explain limits
  • Make a polite request
  • Provide a reminder of the rule
  • Ask your child to restate the rule
  • Ask your child for solutions or consequences
  • Use humor!
Show concern:
  • Affirm your child’s feelings and thoughts
  • Ask your child to help you understand
  • Redirect your child’s thinking
  • Provide a “hearing”
  • Help with frustrating tasks
  • Be willing to compromise
Confront the Situation:
  • Offer substitutes
  • Remove children from situations they can’t handle
  • Say, “No!”
  • Have child repeat the action
  • Give permission 
Try to stay calm and take a break if you find yourself getting too upset. Sometimes a “time out” for mom or dad works better than anything! Once you’re in a better frame of mind, you’ll be able to approach the situation more successfully.

Esther Schak
Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

Minnesota Children's Museum is dedicated to supporting and honoring children's creative expression.  Children learn and make sense of their world through play, and creative expression is a critical component in a young child's learning by supporting and enhancing their physical, social-emotional, and cognitive development.  The Museum's daily programs, exhibits, and community partnerships all provide ample opportunity for children and families to engage in self-expression and creative experiences.  As you explore the Museum, notice the children's art work is displayed in prominent and meaningful exhibits throughout the Museum.

Over the past several years, school classes focused on creative expression have become vulnerable.  Art and music classes are often the first to be cut or shortened to make more time for math and language arts classes.  Since 2001-02, and average of nearly 30 minutes of art related instruction per day has been cut to accommodate a shift in educational focus.  (Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in NCLB Era, Center on Education Policy, Jennifer McMurrer, 2007)

Six years ago, in response to this reduced time spent on arts education in schools, Minnesota Children's Museum developed a community partnership program that sends visual artists into elementary classrooms to engage children in hands-on artistic experiences.  (If funding is not available to hire a local artist, the museum will partner with the school's art teacher to deliver the art program).  After each residency, the entire project is exhibited for at least six months in the Community Gallery in the Our World permanent gallery.  The exhibits highlight the cross-disciplinary nature of the projects, display the children's final art creations as well as writing the science-inquiry that are often important parts of the project.

Minnesota Children's Museum takes pride in embracing and nurturing development of the ‘whole child’ through experiential play!  Developmental pieces of the ‘whole’ child focus on language/literacy, social/emotional, cognitive, and physical growth.

Physical Growth:
Large motor skills begin to develop immediately for children.  Movement adds to a child’s ability to master skills that allow them to maneuver their bodies with intention, fluidly, and accuracy.  Constant opportunities for movement not only develop these skills, but also stimulate the brain for further developmental growth.


  • holding head up
  • rolling over
  • sitting up without tipping
  • crawling
  • walking
  • mastery of walking
  • running
  • marching
  • jumping, hopping
  • climbing
  • skipping
  • hopping
  • catching
  • throwing
  • This is also when other related factors begin to emerge and become new skills for children to master such as:  
    • coordination
    • strength
    • balance
    • endurance
    • flexibility
Fine motor skills are essential for proper pencil grip and control when writing effectively (later in the early childhood years). The muscles in the hands and fingers are small, yet, used in grand proportions. Strengthening these muscles takes concentration and practice. Open-ended activities that allow children to develop these skills with little or no attention to precision will benefit their efforts.

  • batting at a mobile
  • grasping/grabbing for objects
  • holding objects
  • transferring objects from one hand to the other.
  • pincher grips (using the index finger and thumb to grab that Cheerio)
  • pushing buttons
  • working on turning pages of a board book
  • stacking small blocks
  • eating with utensils
  • beginning to hold writing utensils to make marks on paper (which, they also love to tear and rip…another great muscle builder)
  • writing
  • drawing
  • cutting (in any form)
  • playing with Playdoh
  • building with Legos
Don't forget to visit Minnesota Children's Museum's newest exhibit Balancing Act. 
Balancing isn't just an act.  From teetering toddlers to tight-rope walkers, balance is something we all use in our everyday lives.  Our body and brain work together to help us balance.  Expand your understanding of balance as you participate in active learning experiences such as balance beams and boards, and discover what keeps spinning tops spinning, gymnasts on track and ice skaters on edge.  Put your sense of balance to the test in this hands-on children's exhibit and learn how you can practice and improve your own "balancing act"!

The sun is shining, the weather is warm, the kids are out of school… why not plan a fun day with your family? Summer is a great time to explore Saint Paul and the Minnesota Children’s Museum! The city offers the perfect start to your weekend, so put on your walking shoes.

1. First stop by The Saint Paul Farmers Market located conveniently in downtown Saint Paul. It’s a great place to take in the local flavors with their selection of 100% locally grown produce, flowers and freshly made foods that will be sure you excite your morning taste buds. Make sure you get there in the morning because it’s only open Sat. and Sun. 6am-1pm.
290 5th St. East Saint Paul, MN 55101

2. Next, walk four minutes west to Rice Park and enjoy all of your farmers market treats. The park offers a relaxing haven of green space amongst the downtown landscape. Rice Park also highlights several statues from Peanuts’ characters to F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Source by Alonzo Hauser, the popular fountain located in the center of Rice Park. Toss in your penny and make a wish!
109 W 4th St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

3. Last, but never least, stop by the Minnesota Children’s Museum and paint your face at the Spark Cart, play with bubbles in World Works, and discover the summer’s great new exhibits Balancing Act and The Wizard of Oz TM. Or get a bird’s eye view of the city you’ve discovered today up on the Museum’s Rooftop ArtPark!
Summer Hours: Sat-Thurs 9am-5pm, Fri 9am-8pm
10 7th St. West Saint. Paul, MN 55012

Children can- and do- thrive under many different styles of parenting.  The choice of an effective style is not a matter of "either-or," but of finding a comfortable balance.

On the one hand...
Children need FREEDOM. They need to be permitted to:
  • Explore the world
  • Use their senses
  • Move about freely
  • Make mistakes
In other words, children need room to grow and develop.

On the other hand...
Children need LIMITS.  They want:
  • Guidance
  • Advice
  • Responsibility
  • Routine
By offering protection, you can help your children feel secure.

Still too much of even a good thing can be harmful

On the one hand...
Too much FREEDOM may overwhelm a child.  Indulged children may become self-centered and demanding, and have trouble getting along with others.

On the other hand...
Too many LIMITS may smother a child.  Over protected children may become passive and dependant- possibly resentful and hostile.

How you raise your children will depend on many factors- you, your children, the situation.  Some parents feel comfortable withe parenting styles that the other parents might find too tight or loose in fit.  Some children can handle more freedom and responsibility than others.  And some situations call for more control than others.

You'll want to stay away from the extremes of over-permissiveness or over protection.  Between the extremes are many approaches that make room both for your sanity and your child's growth.  What is important is that your style of parenting be reasonable and motivated by love and respect for your child.

Esther Schak
Parenting Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

Last week, we shared some ways that both your child and you can clear up your "monkey minds," and cultivate calm. Here are a few more resources to help in the battle for a calmer mind.

For more information on practicing mindfulness with children, check out Mindful Kids and Inner Kids (FYI - Inner Kids requires registration).

The following books are also good resources.
The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland
Teaching Mediation to Children by David Fontana and Ingrid Slack
Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything by Deborah Schoeberlein with Suki Sheth, PhD
Take the Time: Mindfulness for Kids by Maude Roegiers

And, of course, please check out Monkey Mind Pirates!

"Monkey Mind" is a popular yoga phrase to describe when the brain swings from thought to thought, unable to focus. Left to the wilds, Monkey Mind can provoke intense distraction that hijacks the brain and veers humans towards increased agitation. Unfortunately, the fast pace of people's daily lives combined with widespread mental health conditions (ADD, ADHD, depression, anxiety, etc.) can cause children and adults to feel frequently overwhelmed. However, simple techniques of breathing, visualization, and movement can clear distraction, quiet the mind, and bring a sense of calm. But how do you engage children in the practice of mindfulness? Play...with the Monkey Mind Pirates method!

Monkey Mind Pirates is an innovative approach to combining playfulness with mindfulness that is based in simple ideas you can try at home with your children to cultivate calm.

Turning into senses:
Many meditation sessions begin by ringing a chime or a bell that produces a sustained tones. focusing attention on the sound can clear the mind of distracting or aggravating thoughts. Children can practice closing their eyes and listening to the bell, raising their hands when they first hear the ringing disappear and the silence emerge. In a group of children, each can take turns ringing the chime or bell and describing their experience of listening to quiet.

Seeing the Breath:
Breathing is one of the most powerful tools to combat stress bu may not be an activity that interests children on its own. Children make deeper connections to their breath when they can see and feel the action of the breath. Ask children to hold an imaginary ball with both hands. Using your own hands, demonstrate how the ball expands on the inhale and contracts on the exhale. Encourage the children to match the size of the ball's expansion and contraction with the length of their inhaling and exhaling. The Hoberman Sphere, available in toy stores (and seen in the Museum lobby!) is a collapsible plastic ball that also can mimic this expanding, contracting action.

Moving Meditation:
Often, meditative practices state stillness as an objective towards reaching the goal of calm. Although complete stillness may be difficult for young people to attain, many children like to play with moving in different speeds -- including slow motion. You can guide children to slow down by making it a game. Begin by turning on music and asking them to walk around the room in any pattern without talking. Periodically, call out instructions, such as, "As slow as you're moving, slow it down," until they are barely moving. To extend the experience, experiment with moving back and forth between slow and fast, always ending with slow motion. Afterward, ask children to describe the experience and what they noticed at the different speeds.

Drawing on the power of image and metaphor:
Metaphors such as Monkey Mind Pirates can provide children with language to talk about stressors in their lives in a story-based way. For example, children can create a character that represents how they feel when they are stressed. The character can take any form that the child suggests -- an imaginary creature, an animal, a person. Adults can encourage the child by asking questions: What is the character's name? What does it look and sound like? How does it move? What does it like to say? The child can draw pictures, tell stories, and act out events to bring the character to life. Adults can then refer to the character as a base for on-going conversations about the child's stress level.

An added benefit to practicing mindfulness with your children is that you get to develop some of the same skills along with them. The next time you find yourself at the end of your rope, take a moment to focus your awareness on your breathing. see if you can slow down and identify what type of character best depicts the way you feel. Talking with your children about your own challenges with Monkey Mind will encourage them to talk with  you about their own as well.

-Shari Aronson

Shari is an exhibit developer at Minnesota Children's Museum, a yoga teacher for youth and adults, and a puppeteer with Z Puppets Rosenschnoz, an award-winning performance company that is one of the collaborators of Monkey Mind Pirates.

Monkey Mind Pirates is a puppetry, rock n' roll yoga adventure to help families reclaim calm -- beginning with a camp for kids ages 8-11 at the Camden Music School in North Minneapolis July 19-23 and culminating with public performances July 23-24.

"You never listen to me!"  Have you ever heard this complaint from one of your children?  Good communication helps parents develop a good relationship with their children.  Try these tips:

  • Teach children to listen...  gently touch a child before you talk...  say his or her name.
  • Speak in a quiet voice... whisper sometimes-so children have to listen carefully!
  • Bend or sit down so that you can look the child in the eyes and tell when she or he understands.
  • Respect children and use a courteous tone of voice.  If we talk to our children as we would our friends, our children may be more likely to seek us out as confidants.
  • Use "door openers" that invite children to say more:  "I see," "Oh," "Tell me more," "No kidding," "Really," "Mm hmmm."
  • Give your undivided attention when your children want to talk to you.  Don't read, watch TV, fall asleep or make yourself busy with other tasks.
  • Praise and encouragement build a child's confidence and reinforce communication.  Unkind words  tear children down and teach them that they just aren't good enough.
  • Children are never too old to be told they are loved.  Try writing it in a note that the child can keep as a reminder.
Esther Schak
Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

Do you remember the time you spent outdoors when you were a child? Parents don’t let their children just “go out and play” like parents used to do. Yet outdoor unstructured play promotes imagination, cognitive learning and healthful activity. The lack of experience outdoors, along with a sedentary lifestyle encouraged by computers and technology, has serious implications for the long-term health and well-being of children.

What is keeping kids inside? Parents often mention safety. To counteract this, you can set clear limits and rules that reflect your children’s ages, your neighborhood and available supervisors. For instance, are the children allowed to play in the yard only, or can they explore a nearby park?

For safety – and companionship – ask other parents in the neighborhood if their children can play outside at the same time as your children. Enlist the help of other parents to watch out for the children, or join the children outside yourself.

What about the lure of indoor activities, especially those that involve technology, computers and television? Limit screen time to a couple hours a day. And make your outside area interesting with such activities as gardening, feeding birds or building a fort. (My husband once entertained half the neighborhood with an “archeological dig” in our back yard.)

The Twin Cities has many, many wonderful parks and playgrounds, rivers and lakes, nature centers and campgrounds. Make outdoor time family time. Children and parents alike will benefit from the physical activity and the calming effect of nature.

Please share your favorite outdoor places!

Esther Schak
Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

I have yet to meet a four-year-old who enjoys standing in line. especially in the lobby of our Museum, where there are so many other things to entice them: a whole rack of brochures positioned right at their height, long rows of purple stairs and, of course, the toy store. 

A few years ago we were talking about family-friendly environments when we realized that our lobby was a problem.  Adults were struggling to keep their children with them and stay in line at the same time.  Even when there were no lines, adults have to check-in, get tickets, stickers, parking coupons, ask questions and find out where thy are going.  All while trying to corral one or more children who have different agendas.  Not a great way to start your day.

To address this challenge, we started a new volunteer position called FunstigatorsFunstigators work in the lobby of the Museum, and their job is to play with kids while adults do all the boring (but important!) work of getting tickets.They may b playing with puppets or tossing footballs or letting kids climb inside the giant Hoberman sphere.  Since we implemented this simple idea, the stress level in the lobby has greatly reduced.  Adults can focus on their business, knowing that their child is within eyesight and having fun.

When asked about their discipline methods, many parents will mention that they use consequences when their children misbehave. But discipline is so much more. The root meaning of discipline is “to teach.” To discipline – or to teach – effectively, parents need many, many tools, not just one (consequences). Here are some tools to put in your discipline toolkit. You may be surprised at some of the ideas listed; some may not seem much like discipline to you. But once parents begin to use a broad range of “tools,” they usually find that their efforts to teach their children to behave become more effective.

I’ll start with prevention tools. Preventing misbehavior before it happens is more effective (and less stressful) than anything else. Here are strategies parents can use when children are not misbehaving that will help keep problems from occurring.

Teach values and behavior:
  • Demonstrate the desirable behavior yourself
  • Tell stories to make a point
  • Make your expectation clear before an event or activity
  • Give specific (and brief!) instructions
  • Prepare your child for something that might be difficult for him
  • Catch your child being good!
Change the situation:
  • Change the surroundings
  • Change the activity
  • Physically redirect the child
Increase your child’s feelings of security:
  • Move physically closer to your child
  • Provide reassuring routines
  • Provide ways to ease transitions
Strengthen your child’s self-esteem:
  • Show interest in what our child does
  • Provide real affection
  • Enjoy each other’s company
Try some of these prevention tools this week and see if they improve your relationship with your child. Next week, I’ll go over some more tools to help you manage conflict and teach your children responsibility.

Esther Schak
Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

Springtime -- when the world wakes up from her winter slumber and becomes fresh and new again!  Spring is also a great time to set new family goals.  You might want to focus on:

Healthy Food

  • Eat your homegrown veggies this summer!  Now's the time to plant vegetables -- depending on the weather, either seeds in small containers in the house, or small plants outside in containers or in the yard.  It's a fun learning adventure to nurture seeds and watch them grow! 
  • Cook up a storm!  Plan the menu, shop for the ingredients (or pick them from your garden), cook the meal and eat together as a family.  Children often eat better when they help create the meal and then share it with their family. 
Outdoor Exercise
  • Go for frequent family walks.  Count the number of flowers poking their heads out of the dirt.  How many different colors do you see? 
  • Turn off the TV, go outside, and kick around a soccer ball.  Studies show that obesity in children increases the more hours they watch TV (Crespo, 2001). 
  • Spring winds help warm the Earth and make great kite-flying adventures.  Pack a picnic lunch, grab your kite and head to the park for an afternoon of family fun!
Bedtime/Story Time
  • The best way to wind down after a fun day (or even a not-so-fun day) is to climb into bed and read books before falling asleep.  This routine calms everyone down and creates a positive, loving way to end each day.
What kinds of things are you working on in your family this spring? Do you have more great spring reads to suggest?

Judy Schumacher
Director of Education, Minnesota Children's Museum

    Last week, we detailed some of the milestones you may be noticing as your child grows. This is a continuation through age five, but keep in mind: the ages and stages described below are general developmental stages that a majority of children reach at the stated ages. It is very important to understand that every child is different!  Please don't panic if every milestone is not reached right on time for your child. Some children meet the milestones ahead of time. Some children just take longer -- for lots of reasons -- and not all developmentally-related.
    Some toddlers don't talk by a certain age because they have an older sibling who does all the talking for them! Some little ones would rather go straight to walking from sitting and skip crawling altogether--walking leads to running and they're just in a hurry! Saying a child "should" be able to do something by a certain age can cause great worry for parents if their child has not achieved that particular milestone at that particular age.  Yes, it's extremely important to catch physical, cognitive or social/emotional developmental delays and get the child help as early as possible, but it's also important to remember that each child will develop at his or her own pace. If you are worried about your child's developmental progress, please consult your pediatrician.

    Judy Schumacher,
    Director of Education and Community Partnerships, Minnesota Children's Museum

    At 2 1/2 years
    Does your child know a few rhymes or songs?  Does he or she enjoy hearing them?
    Many children can say short rhymes or sing songs, and enjoy listening to records or to singing.

    What does your child do when the doorbell rings, or when a car door or house door closes at a time when someone in the family usually comes home?
    If a child has good hearing and these are events that bring pleasure, the child usually reacts to the sound by running to look or telling someone what she or he hears.

    At 3 years
    Can your child show that she or he understands the meaning of some words besides the name of things? (Examples: "Put the block on the table." or  "Give me your doll.")
    Your child understands and uses some simple verbs, pronouns, prepositions, and adjectives, such as go, me, in, and small.

    Can your child find you when you call from another room?
    Your child should be able to locate the source of a sound.

    At 4 years
    Can your child tell about events that have happened recently?
    Your child gives a connected account of some recent experiences.

    Can your child carry out two directions, one after the other, when given simultaneously (such as, "Find the library book and put it on the table by the door")?
    Your child carries out a sequence of two simple directions.

    At 5 years
    Do people outside your family understand most of what your child says?
    Your child's speech is intelligible, although some sounds may still be mispronounced.
    Can your child carry a conversation with other children or familiar adults?
    Most children this age can carry on a conversation if the vocabulary is within their experience.

    Does your child begin a sentence with "I" instead of "Me," "He" or "She" instead of "Him" or "Her?"
    A child uses some pronouns correctly at this age.

    Is your child's grammar almost as good as your own?
    Most of the time, a child's spoken language will match the patterns of grammar used by the adults of his or her family/neighborhood.

    Esther Schak
    Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

    Do you sometimes wonder whether your child is "on track" in his or her ability to understand and use language?  Here are some questions you might want to consider about your child's behavior, followed by a description of what the behavior might look like.

    At 3-6 months
    What does your child do when you talk to him or her?
    Your child awakens or quiets to the sound of their mother's voice.

    Does your child react to your voice even when he or she cannot see you?
    Your child turns their eyes and head in the direction of the source of the sound.

    At 7-10 months
    Your child can't see what is making a sound, what does she or he do?
    Your child turns their head and shoulders toward the familiar sounds, even when they cannot see what is happening.  The sounds do not have to be loud to cause the child to respond to the dog barking, the ringing of the telephone, footsteps, or someone's voice.

    At 11-15 months
    Can your child point to or find familiar objects or people as requested?
    Your child shows understanding of some words by appropriate behavior such as pointing or looking at familiar objects or people on request.

    Does you child respond differently to different sounds?
    You child jabbers in response to a human voice, is apt to cry when there is a loud noise such as thunder, or may frown when scolded.

    Does you child enjoy listening to sounds and imitating them?
    Imitation indicates that your child can hear the sounds and match them with his or her own sounds production. 

    At 18 months
    Can your child point to parts of his or her body when asked?
    Some children begin to identify parts of their own bodies.  Your child should be able to show his or her nose or eyes.

    How many understandable words does your child use - words that you are sure really mean something?
    Your child should be using a few single words.  They are not complete or pronounced perfectly, but are clearly meaningful.

    At 2 years
    Can your child follow simple verbal commands when you are careful not to provide and help (such as looking at the object or pointing in the right direction)?
    Your child should be able to follow a few simple commands without visual cues.

    Does your child enjoy being read to?  Doe she or he point out pictures of familiar objects?
    Most two-year-olds enjoy being read to and shown simple pictures in a book or magazine.  They are usually able to point out pictures when you ask them to.

    Is your child putting a few words together to make "sentences" as in "Milk all gone," or "Go bye-bye car?"
    These "sentences" are not usually complete or grammatical but carry the message.

    Esther Schak,
    Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

    NOTE: The ages and stages described above are general developmental stages that a majority of children reach at the stated ages. However, it is very important to understand that every child is different!  Please don't panic if every milestone is not reached right on time for your child. Some children meet the milestones ahead of time. Some children just take longer -- for lots of reasons -- and not all developmentally-related.
    Some toddlers don't talk by a certain age because they have an older sibling who does all the talking for them! Some little ones would rather go straight to walking from sitting and skip crawling altogether--walking leads to running and they're just in a hurry! Saying a child "should" be able to do something by a certain age can cause great worry for parents if their child has not achieved that particular milestone at that particular age.  Yes, it's extremely important to catch physical, cognitive or social/emotional developmental delays and get the child help as early as possible, but it's also important to remember that each child will develop at his or her own pace. If you are worried about your child's developmental progress, please consult your pediatrician.

    Judy Schumacher,
    Director of Education and Community Partnerships, Minnesota Children's Museum

    More and more research shows that family meals have numerous benefits. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, children and teens whose families have frequent family dinners are:

    • At lower risk for substance abuse
    • Less likely to try cigarettes
    • Less likely to try marijuana
    • Less likely to try alcohol or get drunk monthly
    • Likely to get better grades in school
    Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) at the University of Minnesota found that family meals were associated with better intakes of fruits, vegetables, grains, calcium-rich foods and many other nutrients. They found that family meals were also associated with a lower intake of soft drinks and snack foods, and that girls who ate more frequent family meals exhibited less disordered eating such as extreme dieting behaviors and binge eating.

    Start your family tradition of eating together when your children are young. Most families come together over a meal at dinnertime, but some find that breakfast works better for them. Turn off the television and other distractions (no cell phone conversations!) and focus on talking with each other. Children will learn a larger vocabulary, learn how to take turns, and hone other social skills. They will also learn about how the world works and how their parents feel about various issues.

    You'll want to serve a variety of good foods, but there's no need to make the meal too elaborate. Involve your children in the meal preparation -- they may be more willing to eat something new when they help. Develop your own rituals and routines -- maybe pizza every Sunday evening, or a "breakfast" menu (such as pancakes fruit and sausage) served as dinner once a month. Kids will look forward to these special events (and remind you if you forget!).

    Esther Schak,
    Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

    Dinosaurs: Land of Fire and Ice is entering its last month here at Minnesota Children's Museum. It's been such a popular exhibit, we wanted to share some ways to bring the experience into your home. Try creating your own volcano at home!

    Supplies needed:
    1/2 tbsp dish soap
    1/4 cup white vinegar
    1/2 cup baking soda
    Red liquid watercolor or food coloring
    Tray or cookie sheet
    Cylinder shape container for the "volcano" (i.e., toilet paper tube, plastic soda bottle with the top cut off, or a can

    In a measuring bowl, mix the vinegar, dish soap, and a few drops of food coloring together.
    Place the cylinder on a tray or cookie sheet and place the baking soda at the bottom of the cynider container.
    When ready, begin pouring the vinegar mixture on top of the baking soda. Stand back and see what happens.

    Suggested adult interactions:
    Encourage children to try experimenting with the recipe -- what happens if you add more or less of an ingredient, or compare recipes without soap and with soap. Make predictions as to what will happen.
    Try batches with different food coloring and see what color they make when they mix.
    Discuss what the children think is happening when the baking soda and vinegar mix.

    Skills developed:
    Early science of cause and effect, predictions, and experimentation

    Reading books:
    National Geographic Readers: Volcanoes! by Anne Schreiber
    Voyage to the Volcano by Judith Stamper and John Speirs

    Adult references:
    More Than Magnets by Sally Moomaw and Brenda Hieronymus
    202 Oozing, Bubbling, Dripping and Bouncing Experiments by Janice VanCleave

    Next time you visit the Museum:
    Check out Dinosaurs: Land of Fire and Ice for your last chance to travel back in time to explore the late Cretaceous Period (when the last dinosaurs lived). Closes May 31!

    Have you made a volcano at home before?
    What are some of the best variations you've tried?

    So many of our most cherished memories involve grandparents or other relatives. Bring generations together in your family with some of these ideas.

    1. Plan a family celebration that brings everyone into the family picture.

    • When there's a religious life-cycle event (such as a baptism or Bar Mitzvah), add to the service by addressing the child's grandparents with words like these: "We recognize that you will always be an important part of this child's life..."
    • At a milestone birthday or anniversary, ask members of each generation to make a contribution. For instance, if it's a 13th birthday, ask grandparents to describe their 13th birthday or their teen years.
    • When a child enters school, ask grandparents to reminisce about their school days -- particular teachers they remember, exciting or embarrassing experiences, etc. 
    2. Collect memories.
    • Set aside New Year's Day as "create a scrapbook day." Bring out a year's worth of mementos -- programs, school papers, balloons, photos, clippings, etc. Assemble a scrapbook depicting your year.
    • As part of a family gathering, ask each family member to bring something from a day he/she will long remember and talk about the object -- maybe a lock of hair, a newspaper clipping, a phone message, etc.
    • Involve children in a project to interview and record the life stories of the older generation -- much like the ongoing StoryCorps project.
    3. Divide your extended family into groups along new lines. For example: by seasons in which birthdays occur, by favorite color, by favorite season. These groups might: 
    • Exchange gifts among one another by drawing each others' names.
    • Create a banner or poster for a family celebration.
    • Plan an outing together -- a football game, a play, a school band concert.
    These are some ideas to help get the ball rolling. What are some of the ways your family interacts across generations? Share an extended family photo from your most recent (or not-so-recent) get-together!

    Esther Schak,
    Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

    With the weather improving, you might be thinking about a road trip with your family. Here are some great ideas from ECFE parents that will help smooth the way.

    Traveling with children probably means that you'll need to take a lot of things that you wouldn't need if you were traveling alone. Your list might include:

    • Snacks and drinks -- choose items that take a LONG time to eat!
    • Wet wipes
    • Garbage bags
    • A clipboard for coloring or other art activities
    • A pan with a sliding top to use as a lap desk (with built-in storage!)
    • Pillows and blankets
    • Extra clothes
    • A night light
    • Special blankets, stuffed animals, pillows or pacifiers that your child WON'T sleep without!

    You'll want to plan many stops along the way -- playgrounds, rest stops, town squares, college campuses, all make great places to run off some energy. Take some balls or Frisbees along to throw around when you're at a rest stop.

    In the car, you'll need a lot of amusements:
    • Colorforms stick on car windows
    • Etch-a-Sketch or Magna Doodle games
    • Sticker books (or even Post-It Notes!)
    • Coloring books or a plain pad of paper
    • Pipecleaners (fun, quiet, and not messy)
    • Finger puppets
    • A ViewMaster with new slides for each trips
    • Books, comic, activity books
    • A small flashlight
    • Listen to music, or have a sing-a-long

    Try wrapping a few small toys and give them out one at a time over the course of the trip. Don't forget to save a few for the trip home.

    Happy traveling, and please share more of your family's "must-packs"!

    Esther Schak,
    Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

    This activity is best for children four-years-old and older.

    Supplies needed:
    a cup or bowl to balance the balloon
    newspaper torn roughly into 1/2" strips (do not use any paper that has a glossy coating)

    Paper mache paste mixture
    2 cups of water
    1 cup of flour
    mixing bowl

    Adults assist children in pouring flour and water in blender and process until a smooth paste is formed. Pour mixed paste into a bowl.

    Take a stripe of newspaper and dip it into the paper mache mixture. Place the paper between your fingers and pull the paper through like a squeegee. Smooth the wet newspaper over the balloon. Continue dipping and smoothing till the balloon is entirely covered. Allow the paper mache to dry overnight. Any leftover paper mache mixture can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator to be used the next day.

    The next day, repeat the above process for a second layer of paper. If desired, wait one more day and add a third layer for a stronger finished creation.

    Once the paper mache is completely dry, the egg can be decorated. Tempera, acrylic, and poster paint can all be used to paint the egg. The egg can also be decorated with collage materials -- items such as feathers, paper scraps, tissue paper, foil, or other recyclable material can all be adhered with glue to the egg.

    Eggs can also be cut in half and a small stuffed dinosaur can be placed inside.

    Suggested adult interactions:
    Challenge the children to think what else final paper mache creation can be.
    Discuss with children how dinosaur mothers and fathers took of their children. Check out the Adult Resources for books about that subject.

    Skills developed:
    Mathematics skills through measuring
    Small motor skills through manipulation of materials
    Creative thinking skills through decorating of paper mache

    Literacy connection:
    Encourage children to write and illustrate a story to go along with the dinosaur egg.

    Reading books:
    Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs (board book) by Sandra Boynton
    Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp by Carol Diggory Shields
    Dinosaur Bones by Bob Barner

    Adult references:
    Baby Dinosaurs by Don Lessem
    The Art and Craft of Papier Mache by Juliet Bawden

    Next time you are here:
    Check out Dinosaurs: Land of Fire and Ice to travel back in time to explore the late Cretaceous Period (when the last dinosaurs lived).

    Create your baby’s first book using photographs of recognizable people and objects in your baby’s life. Photos could include siblings, caregivers, a favorite stuffed toy, etc.

    1. Place photographs between sheets of clear contact paper.
    2. Round the corners to make them smooth and safe.
    3. Punch a hole in the corner and bind pages together with yarn.
    This simple book is not only drool-proof, it also invites talk surrounding the pictures and familiarizes your baby with the joys and comforts of sharing books.

    Did you ever stop to think about how much time you spend telling your child what NOT to do?

    It's easy to get caught up in all the things your children are doing wrong and forget about what they are doing right. Giving specific, positive attention to the behavior you want to see will teach your children what you do want them to do and will increase the likelihood of children repeating a positive behavior.

    Here's how "catching your child being good" works:

    You are enjoying an unusually calm shopping expedition with your child. Before your four-year-old has a chance to start climbing out of the cart or demanding a candy bar, you look at him and say, "Wow, Joey! It makes me so happy when you help me get the shopping done so quickly."

    When dealing with challenging behavior, you may feel that your relationship with your children is strained. But taking the time to increase positive interactions with children can actually decrease those challenging behaviors.

    Here are just a few ways to build positive relationships with your child:

    • When playing, follow your child's lead.
    • Really listen to your child when he or she is talking.
    • Don't be afraid to be silly or get dirty.
    • Have fun!  

    Esther Schak
    Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

    Not surprisingly, the number one thing that parents can do to help their children become good readers is reading to them!  Here are some other ways you can help your child acquire reading skills.
    • Take time to listen to your child and answer his/her questions.
    • Sing and recite nursery songs and rhymes together. 
    • Read something to yourself every day, showing your child that reading is important. 
    • Get library cards for you and your child.  Take your child to the library regularly and pick out books for both of you. 
    • Look at books and magazines together, talking about what you see and read. 
    • Ask your child to tell you a story or to describe something he/she has done or seen. 
    • Write down what your child tells you and read back the “story” exactly as it was dictated. 
    • Give your child his/her own bookshelf (or a box or a drawer) to hold books.
    • Carefully select the TV programs your child watches, and limit TV viewing so that there is at least equal time for reading. 
    • Praise your child’s efforts and accomplishments so that he or she will have self-confidence and zest for new learning experiences. 

      Esther Schak
      Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE 

    Spring break is a great opportunity to focus on family time and take a real "break" from the normal busy schedule. Some families are able to travel, which is ideal for special activities. In our present economy, however, fewer people are traveling away from home. This is when fun, creative ideas for activities at home come in handy!

    Depending on the weather, outdoor activities are fun -- and family exercise is good for everyone!
    • Walk to the park and scavenger hunt for winter nature items; look for animal tracks in the snow.
    • Take water bottles with a squirt top, add water and some food coloring, and head outside for some artwork in the snow!
    • Build a snow castle or snow turle -- a mound of snow with legs, head and shell pattern -- and then go inside and have some hot chocolate while you read books.
    Bad weather can present indoor opportunities to play board games together or to create simple, inexpensive artwork.
    • Use recyclables to create a mobile and hang it in your child's room. Talk about the importance of recycling.
    • Curl up and read a chapter book gradually over several days.
    • Make homemade play dough and create exciting pieces of art; display them in your home.

    We'd like to welcome a new voice to the Smart Play blog: Esther Schak, an ECFE parent educator, who will be imparting some of the wisdom she has gained in her many years teaching classes for Saint Paul Public School's Early Childhood Family Education program.

    Esther's posts will bring content from her classes straight to you to help you think about your interactions with your children in a new light.

    Parenting for Friendship

    All parents want their children to have friends. Here are some ways to help children develop friendships.

    • Help build a positive self-image. Being able to reach out to others begins with a healthy self-concept. A good self-concept gives the child the confidence to try new things and meet new people.

    • Provide a friendly model. “It’s Anne’s birthday; I think I’ll bake her favorite cake. “I do feel hurt that Marta and David didn’t invite us to the party.” “We’ll have to miss your game this one time. Our old neighbors are in town and we’re meeting them for dinner.”

    • Provide opportunities for your child to be with other children.

    • Allow your child to choose her own friends. Respect her choices even though you may not always understand them. The most important factor is that the relationships are nurturing to your child.

    • Respect your child’s friendship style. Each child forms (or tries to form) friendships according to his own particular needs. Many children seem to need just one or two intimate friends, while others enjoy a large circle of friends.

    • Help your child gain social skills. She needs to learn:

    • How to start playing with someone, how to become part of a group, how to handle rejections.
    • How to cooperate in pretend play, games, and choices; how to compromise.
    • How to cooperate in pretend play, games, and choices; how to compromise.
    • How to handle conflict – express feelings clearly, listen to others, and stand up for herself.

    Esther Shack
    Parent Educator, Saint Paul ECFE

    Last week, we wrote about ways to help encourage children to explore their world. Bring the following list to your local library to open the door through books, and prepare for a trip through the newest exhibit at the Museum, The Children of Hangzhou: Connecting with China:

    • Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes by Leslie Swartz and Nina Simonds
    • Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan's Chinese New Year (Reading Rainbow Books) by Kate Waters and Martha Cooper
    • Chinese Children's Favorite Stories by Minamei Yip

    At Minnesota Children's Museum, we support children in developing a positive view of themselves and their own culture. We also engage children in exploring other traditions so they can interact effectively with a variety of people.

    Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with diverse people. One way the Museum supports these skills is by hosting exhibits such as Children of Hangzhou: Connecting with China, which opened earlier this month.

    You can help your child build positive attitudes and cultural skills at home.

    • Compare your family traditions with those in other cultures such as China. What and with whom do you celebrate? How are the celebrations alike and different?
    • Try foods from other countries. Visit a restaurant or find an ethnic recipe to make at home. Use chopsticks at home and read the book How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina Friedman, which tells how the author's Japanese mother and American father adapted to new cultures.
    • Attend a cultural celebration.
    • Look for experiences in which children encounter familiar things in new ways and new things in familiar ways.

    Ann Boekhoff
    Director of Special Projects, Minnesota Children's Museum

    Last week we proudly vested Julie and Gary as new visitor assistants (VAs). When we hire a new VA, we are looking for someone with a good attitude who enjoys interacting with people. During the interview we actually make them go on a test drive- prospective VAs go out onto the floor with the interviewer and have to interact with some children while they are playing.

    Once hired, a VA has to go through about 12 hours of training before they are “vested” – given their official purple vest. After being vested, a VA goes through an additional 30-60 days and about 40 hours more training before they are all done. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the same staff members that are playing with children and monitoring the galleries – these are the same staff members that selling tickets at the Box Office and running some of the programs. That cross-training allows us to best meet visitor needs because we can move people around as traffic patterns change.

    An interesting fact: 25% of the staff in the visitor services department started out as volunteers!

    -Jessica Turgeon, director of organizational development and visitor services

    Today in Minnesota is the kind of cold made for cuddling up by a fireplace with a good book. Here are four cuddle-worthy winter-weather stories perfect for bedtime:

    Snow Dance by Lezlie Evans
    Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
    The Mitten: A Ukrainian Folk Tale by Jan Brett
    The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

    Minnesota Children's Museum's best stories come from the daily interactions with visitors. "Kids say the darnedest things," as the old chestnut goes. Jessica Turgeon, the director of organizational development and visitor services (and holder of the longest title at the Museum) has worked for the Museum for almost 12 years, starting first as a cashier. She has heard many cute-kid stories in all those days in a purple vest.

    With the addition of her "Tales from the Floor" contributions to the Smart Play blog, she will share some of the best "heard-at-the-Museum"s and the inner workings behind the purple vests of the Minnesota Children's Museum visitor assistants. These stories will provide insight into how the staff members and volunteers keep visitors' experiences educational, safe and fun.

    Tales from the Floor: Lost Children
    Safety is our number one priority at the Museum. One of the most common safety concerns we encounter is reuniting lost children with their adults (or reuniting lost adults with their children!). While this can be a very scary situation for them, it is something we handle literally every single day.

    When we are reuniting families, we ask the child (or adult) for a description to help us look for the person who is lost, and then share those descriptions with the staff over our two-way radios. Here are some of our favorite radio calls:
    • I am with Caleb and we are looking for his mom. Her name is “mommy” and she looks like an angel.
    • I am with Sam, we are looking for his dad. His name is Mike and he has a big head.
    • Cancel that search for Keisha’s mom -- mom didn’t come with to the museum today. We are now looking for Keisha’s dad...
    • I didn’t find the girl in the pink leopard shirt, but I did find a pink leopard shirt in the Atrium. We are now looking for a three-year-old girl with brown hair and no shirt.

    Visiting the Museum? Here are some tips for a safe visit:
    • Talk to your child about what to do if they get lost -- anyone in a purple vest can help them
    • If your child is old enough, make sure they know your first and last name -- not just “mom” or “dad”
    • If you lose your child during your visit, stay calm and find a visitor assistant in a purple vest right away

    -Jessica Turgeon, director of organizational development and visitor services

    A recent study showed that children are, on average, consuming more than seven hours of media per day. One of the categories mentioned is listening to music. The Museum has a few ideas of how to positively develop a love of music.

    1. You can help your child develop their listening skills by encouraging them to tune into the sounds around them and try to mimic them. Some fun suggestions are: walking footsteps, skipping footsteps, galloping footsteps, running footsteps, a ticking clock, rippling waves on water. The rhythmic possibilities are endless!

    2. You can use household items to create your own instruments. Pots and pans can be used with wooden spoons to create drumming beats or even plastic Tupperware for a softer sound. Two pan lids could by used as cymbals. Two tablespoons taped, back to back, can be used for tapping each other or even tapping on your knees. Be creative and find the many sound possibilities in your household.

    3. After experimenting with home made sound instruments, a great way to familiarize your child with rhythm is to play along to any recorded song. They can drum, shake, tap or jingle along to any music. Remember that there is no right and wrong way to play and you will be surprised at how inventive your child can be.

    4. You can encourage your child to create simple rhythm by using their spoken language. Demonstrate to your child how you can clap, tap, rattle, or drum the rhythm to a favorite phrase such as:

    Mary Had A Little Lamb (or any other nursery rhyme)
    Listen to the clock-tick, tock, tick, tock
    Cake, Cake Birthday Cake

    Or invent your own sounds and words.

    5. You can play your own game of rhythmic “follow the leader.” Clap a simple rhythm with your hands and encourage them to copy you as they play one of their homemade instruments or clap or tap their hands.

    6. You can incorporate some physical movement into your rhythms by making your own band and marching, skipping, hopping or whatever movement comes to mind as you move around inside or out. Another game is a quiet-and –loud activity. Play a loud rhythm on an instrument and have your child reach above their head when they hear the loud sound. Next, play a quiet sound and have your child touch their toes when they hear a quiet sound. You can also play this game by using your voices, speaking loudly and quietly.