5 Places to Learn About Animals in Central Ohio

Children love learning about animals, but not everyone can have a pet at home. Fortunately, there are many places in central Ohio where kids can see,interact with, and learn about animals. Here are 10 places to see animals in central Ohio and some suggested learning activities you can do together.

Columbus Zoo (Powell)

The world-renowned Columbus Zoo has a huge variety of animals, habitats, and play areas. Little ones will enjoy learning the names of all the animals. Ask toddlers to describe the colors and sizes of the animals they see. Read interpretive signage with preschoolers and pre-K students. Talk about how the different habitats affect that animals that live in them. (Example: Why do you think polar bears are white?) Check out the Columbus Zoo animal guide online ahead of time to start the conversation. (Free for under 3, $11.99 for 3-9, $16.99 for 10+)

Stratford Ecological Center (Delaware)

This non-profit educational organic farm and nature preserve can teach children about wildlife, farm animals, and even where honey, herbs, and other yummy foods come from. Infants old enough for solid foods can taste some of the farm products. Toddlers will love singing Old McDonald and seeing the farm animals in real life. There are special camps and day programs for preschoolers and pre-K. Check the calendar to see what’s available for your child! (Regular visits are free, fees apply for camp enrollment.)

Slate Run Living Historical Farm

In addition to wildlife and agriculture, children can learn about history and culture at Slate Run Living Historical Farm. Part of the Columbus Metro Parks system and managed by the Friends of Slate Run Farm, the farm has historical reenactors on site that show children what it was like to live on a working Ohio farm in the 1880s. Kids can explore the farm and even participate in pumping water, carding wool, and playing with historical toys. There are also trails for nature walks. Take a look at what’s going on this month at Slate Run Living Historical Farm. (Free)

Columbus Metroparks

The Metro Parks system consists of 20 parks and trail systems throughout central Ohio, from downtown all the way out to neighboring counties. You can find wild animals on nature hikes, and many of the park nature centers have living micro ecosystems and preserved specimens kids can explore. In particular, Battelle Darby Creek as a herd of American bison (you can look but can’t touch!) and Scioto Audobon hosts large flocks of migratory birds. Click here to find the Metropark nearest you. (Free)

Sunrise Sanctuary (Marysville)

Sunrise Sanctuary is a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and caring for abandoned farm and companion animals. While younger kids will just enjoy seeing the animals, preschoolers and pre-K students may have questions about animals that appear sick, injured, or disabled. Don’t be afraid to ask sanctuary staff and volunteers about animal health and ethics. Visit on Open Barn Days and support the rescue work at Sunrise Sanctuary. (Tickets $10)


Playing with animals can teach children so many things: empathy, responsibility, and caring for another living being. We hope you will take the opportunity to visit some of these great organizations here in Central Ohio!

 

7 Ways to Thank Your Child’s Teachers

The weather is warming up and the school year is winding down. What better time to show gratitude and appreciation to your child’s teachers? There are many ways to show teachers and support staff how much their hard work means to you and your child, and many of them don’t cost a thing. Here are 7 ideas to say thank you to your child’s teachers:

Give a thoughtful gift.

Many parents like to give gifts during Teacher Appreciation Week, holidays, or the end of the school year. Popular gifts for teachers include high-quality lanyards/key fobs, sealed beverage cups (for all the coffee they need for those early mornings!), or gift cards for restaurants, groceries, or pampering services.

Contribute to the classroom.

Classroom supplies and equipment are expensive. A lot of teachers pay for these items out of their own pocket. Let parents contribute toward the cost of school supplies for next year…and replace the ones our kids used up! Or band together to help purchase larger items like iPads, classroom sets of books, or even a new computer. You’ll want to ask the teacher what items would be most helpful. They can even set up a campaign on DonorsChoose.org and receive donations from around the world.

Volunteer.

There’s never enough time in the day if you’re a teacher. If you can spare a half day from work, volunteer to chaperone a field trip, present a lesson in the classroom, or even just come in after school to help clean and organize the classroom. Gather a few other parents to make quick work of sharpening pencils, cleaning toys, and sorting supplies.

Attend parent-teacher conferences.

Parent-teacher conferences are not just for behavior or academic problems. Even if your child is doing well at school, attending conferences is a simple way to be present in your child’s education. It shows the teacher that you care, and perhaps more importantly, it shows your child that you care.

Vote and campaign during Board of Education elections and for school levies.

Whether your child attends public school or not, issues in public education affect everyone. Learn about candidates for your local board of education so you can make an informed decision at the voting booth. Attend board meetings that are open to the public so you can see the needs and issues facing the schools. If a funding levy is on the ballot, encourage neighbors and friends to support education for all children.

Write a personal note.

Just about every teacher agrees that personal notes and photos from students are a wonderful way to remember each special child who spends time in their classroom. You may have to “help” little ones write a little letter of appreciation, but know that these notes will be cherished.

Go back and visit.

If logistics and schedules permit, bring your child back to a former teacher to visit. Teachers love to see how their students have grown and taken the benefits of their teaching with them. Kids often love seeing their old classrooms, especially how small everything looks when they’re big!

Our teachers at Sprout Early Education Center work hard all year round to provide loving care and enriching education for your students. We are so grateful for their efforts and presence every day. Say hello and thank you to them next time you’re around!

5 Simple Ways to Bring the Benefits of Nature Home

Children (and adults!) can gain a multitude of benefits from playing outdoors and being exposed to nature in general, from reduced stress to improved creativity, social relations, and even eyesight!

But it can be hard for children to get enough time outdoors if you live in an area like Central Ohio where the weather is unpredictable. Maybe you don’t have easy access to large natural areas like parks or nature preserves. Or perhaps your kids would rather sit with an mobile device than play in the dirt.

Don’t worry! You can still find ways to expose your kids to nature and conservation without building a windmill in your yard. Here are some simple ways to bring the outdoors to your home:

Show children how to tend to house plants.

Grow some hardy plants like pothos or rabbit’s ear and teach children how to water them on schedule. (Just be aware that certain species, like succulents, don’t like having TOO much water.)

Grow herbs in a container or vegetables in a small garden to cook with.

In addition to learning how to care for plants, kids will also learn where their food comes from. They might even be more interested in trying new things if they watch the herbs and vegetables growing over time. Mint, parsley, and basil are easy to grow herbs and also provide interesting sensory exploration of smells and texture.

Pick up nature items for crafts or just collecting.

Even if you live in the city or out in the suburbs, you can find nature items like pebbles, leaves, and sticks. Start a collection of the most interesting pieces, and you’ll have something to look for whenever you do go to a park or travel. You can also use nature items for crafting. Here are some easy nature crafts you can do with simple items you probably already have at home.

Provide books or magazines about nature.

Even if you can’t get outdoors, many kids enjoy seeing colorful pictures of natural scenes or learning about strange animals from the jungle or under the sea. You can subscribe to magazines like National Geographic Kids or Ranger Rick or purchase them from used bookstores.

Start a fish tank or terrarium.

If your kids are a bit older (and you feel more ambitious), start a real living habitat in your own home. Choose fish that can live well in a bowl or plants that can survive a brown thumb (or overly eager watering).

No matter where you live or what time of year it is, you can always find ways to bring the benefits of nature home to your family.

5 Nature Play Activities You Can Do At Home

Here at Sprout Early Education Center, we know that unstructured play is so important for the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of our children. There are also many benefits to spending time outdoors for kids and parents alike, such as improved focus, decreased inflammation, and even better immunity.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go to a national park to gain the benefits of outdoor play. Whether you have a small patio or acres of property, you can give your kids the opportunity to play outdoors. Here are some 5 simple nature play activities you can do in your own backyard:

Earth Moving

Set aside a patch of yard or a container of dirt and sand for kids to dig in, run toy cars through, or build structures.

Water Play

You don’t need a fancy water table. Just provide some different size containers (clean food containers are great for this!), have some extra clothes handy, and let them go to town. You can also let kids “help” with watering any houseplants or gardens you may have. (Make sure the plants can tolerate extra water!)

Container Gardening

Kids can watch seeds sprout and grow over time! Planting seeds in clear glass jars allows children to see the roots and shoots of plants emerging from the seeds. They can check on the plants each day and draw or write down the changes they observe.

Zoom In

Plastic magnifying glasses are inexpensive tools that can provide hours of entertainment. Use them to investigate different textures and animals outside.

Treasure Hunts and Collections

Make a short, simple list of items or animals to find outside: a rock smaller than their hand, something shiny, something blue, etc. You can also start a collection of small nature objects like shells or rocks that kids can add to as they visit other outdoor places. (Just make sure to check any regulations at state parks and other public property.)

There are many other nature play activities you can do with your children at home, your local park, or even on vacation. Starting in your own backyard will give them frequent opportunities for outdoor nature play and help them get comfortable outdoors. Let us know your favorite outdoor activities in the comments!

Q&A with a Registered Dietician

Along with sleep and behavior, meal time can be one of the stickiest issues (literally and figuratively!) for parents and children to deal with. We reached out to Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition for some advice and answers to commonly asked feeding questions. Sally is a registered dietician in Columbus, Ohio and has been published in ParentsPreventionSelfFamily Circle,  FitnessShapeHealth, Eating Well, Ladies’ Home Journal, and The Chicago Tribune. She is also the author of the Cooking Light cookbook, Dinnertime Survival Guide.

Are snacks (even healthy ones) a bad idea if we’re trying to get our child to eat more and more types of food at meal times?

Snacks are helpful for young children, since they have small bellies and may not eat enough at mealtimes to see them through the day. Snacks are also a great way to provide food groups and nutrients that kids may have missed at mealtime. But problems arise when kids are nibbling throughout the day–so they’re not coming to the table with an appetite, and that makes them less willing to try new foods or even eat much of what you’ve prepared. Another issue is when kids are snacking mostly on “fun foods” like crackers, cookies, and gummy fruit snacks, they’re taking in foods that supply a lot of sodium and sugar but few nutrients and also favoring those foods over what I call “meal foods” like vegetables, beans, and meats. I recommend serving mostly “meal foods” at snack time and keeping snacks at least 1-2 hours away from mealtimes.

What are some ways to motivate toddlers or pre-schoolers to try new foods?
I know it sounds boring but just keep serving them! Make those foods super-familiar to your kids–fixtures at snacks and mealtimes–because the more familiar your kids are with a food, the more willing they will be to eventually try it. You can certainly do something fun like a “try new foods” chart but only if your child is excited about it and a willing participant. If you’re wondering whether you should have a “Just One Bite” rule, here’s my take.
At what point do we let our 2-year-old decide that he’s had enough to eat at a meal even if he’s only taken a few bites?
Toddlers are notorious for skipping meals and not having the patience to stay put at mealtime. A few things that can save your sanity: Give your toddler very small, bite-sized portions of food at mealtime so he’s not overwhelmed. If dinner is his trouble spot, serve more of those dinner-type foods at lunch and snacktime. And save his plate for when he wants more–not as a way of punishing him, but just as a way of honoring his appetite. Finally, avoid giving him a “fun” snack after meals (like fruit-flavored yogurt or gummies) because he’ll have no incentive to eat the meal if he knows he’s getting a yogurt afterwards!
My husband and I were both raised to clean our plates and mind our manners at the table, which caused stress and anxiety about food and eating throughout childhood. We don’t want to repeat that with our kid, but we also don’t want her to eat with her hands until she’s ten or tell someone their cooking is yucky! Are there positive ways to encourage socially appropriate table manners?
“Clean your plate” is definitely an outdated and unhelpful rule, so I would recommend avoiding that in favor of allowing your child to eat the amount she wants. But I do think it’s reasonable to have some expectations at the table about manners. Here are 5 table manners every kid should know.
How do we determine if our child’s picky eating habits are actually a problem that we need expert help for? (i.e. when does pickiness cross the line from annoying to unhealthy) What help is available for children (kindergarten age or younger) with real feeding issues?
Some red flags that your child’s eating is more than garden variety pickiness are: eating very few foods, frequently becoming upset (such as acting sad or fearful) at mealtime, and losing weight and/or falling off her growth curve. In that case, you can talk to your child’s pediatrician for next steps. I’m a big fan of the book Helping Your Child With Extreme Picky Eating, which is written by a doctor who specializes in feeding. You can also find help from a feeding therapist, but I would get a recommendation from a trusted friend or family member and do your research before choosing one since there are different approaches therapists take.
Sally has a free Picky Eater Problem Solver e-mail course to help your kids become happier, healthier eaters. You can sign up for the free course on her website.

Quick, Healthy Meal Options for Your Whole Family

Our motto here at Sprout Early Education Center is Nurture, Flourish, Grow. We take a whole-child approach to education, and that includes nutrition. We serve organic, homemade lunches (prepared by our director Khi’s dad!) to our Transitional Preschool, Preschool, and Pre-K classes. You can also prepare healthy meal options at home without going to culinary school or spending hours in front of the stove. Here are 10 kid-friendly, nutritious meal ideas that can be ready in less than 30 minutes.

Egg Fried Rice

Homemade Chicken Fingers

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

Quinoa Pizza Bites

Easy Mini Calzones (can be made vegetarian or vegan)

Lightened Up Mac & Cheese (vegetarian)

4 Recipes for Kid-Friendly Veggies (vegetarian)

Apple Cheddar Panini (vegetarian)

Easy Vegan Black Bean Burgers (vegan)

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes (gluten-free)

Bon appetit!

Detaching From Parent Guilt: 5 Myths About Secure Attachment

Being a parent can be really difficult sometimes. You have to meet the physical needs of your children, help them develop emotional health, teach them social skills, and keep up with academic learning. Don’t forget meeting the demands of work and housekeeping, and maybe enjoying a minute to yourself once in a while!

All of this pressure can lead to guilt and anxiety about the choices you face. This pressure is particularly strong on parents during the first year of a child’s life. Breastmilk or formula? Babywearing or stroller? Cosleeping, sibling room sharing, or separate rooms? Go back to work or be a stay-at-home parent? Organic or conventional baby food?

We just want to remind you that you are doing a great job.

 

Secure attachment is an important, but often misunderstood, parenting principle. The misinterpretation of secure attachment can lead to a lot of parenting guilt, so we would like to bust a few myths about attachment.

Myth #1: Secure attachment requires constant physical contact between parent and child.

While loving touch is comforting to both parents and children, you do not have to carry or wear your baby all the time in order to develop secure attachment. Nonverbal communication and indirect physical interaction through eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language can all help create a secure attachment bond.

Myth #2: Secure attachment requires parents to meet their child’s needs immediately and perfectly.

Not only is this myth untrue, it is also impossible! The foundation of secure attachment is responsiveness. This does not mean you must drop everything you are doing the instant your baby cries or give your child everything he or she asks for. Recognizing their cues and acknowledging their needs is just as powerful in creating a secure attachment bond. As children get older, an important part of secure attachment is their trust that parents and caregivers will come back if they go away for a period.

Myth #3: Secure attachment requires focusing solely on the child.

A parent’s well-being (or lack thereof) can have a strong effect on attachment. If you are stressed, depressed or overwhelmed, you may not be able to provide as much emotional responsiveness for your child. So it is important to make sure your own needs for food, rest, and self-care are met!

Myth #4: If my child is securely attached, they will always be happy and never cry.

Before the development of verbal skills, which is itself an extended process, infants only have a few ways of communicating. Babies cry when they are tired, hungry, or uncomfortable because that is the only way they know how to communicate that they need something. (They may not even know what their needs are!) Securely attached children will feel comfortable expressing their needs and emotions. Insecurely attached children may actually become quiet and withdrawn because they have learn that their needs are not met even if they cry.

Myth #5: If I can’t always read my baby’s signs and cues, they must not be securely attached.

Parents may think that a fussy baby must mean that they have done something wrong. Every child’s temperament is different, and the reality is that some babies are more irritable or sensitive than others. This doesn’t mean that they won’t grow up to well-adjusted adults. As long as you do your best to sense any disconnect in attachment and attempt a repair, the attachment bond will stay strong and may even grow deeper as a result.

For more information on how to create a secure attachment bond with children of all ages, click here.

At Sprout Early Education Center, we support all of our families equally, and we want our parents to be able to break free from guilt! Please don’t hesitate to ask your chlid’s teacher for help. You are all family to us and we want to provide any encouragement or support you need throughout the parenting journey.

Social Development Milestones from Birth to Kindergarten

Do you remember your first friend? Even if you can’t recall their name or face, those early social interactions were important for learning how to manage personal feelings, understand others’ feelings and needs, and interact positively with others. Every child develops at a different rate depending on temperament, cultural influences, behavior they see modeled by adults, the security of their attachment to adults, and the opportunities for social interaction. Here are some general milestones you can expect to see in your child as they grow.

Birth through 1-year-old

Infants are completely narcissistic and impulsive, so it’s a good thing they’re cute! Newborns do start developing relationships as soon as they born, but learning to communicate and interact takes time. In the first year, infants gradually become more responsive to social stimulation, from coos and smiles to loud giggles. Parents are still their favorite people, even if they attend daycare. Infants communicate through crying, whether they are cold, tired, angry, or hungry, and it’s important for them to learn to distinguish their own feelings and, at times, self-soothe.

1 to 2 years old

Young toddlers begin to be aware of other children, though they may not play “with” others the way parents might expect older children to do. They may develop preferences for familiar children but may not be able to share a toy or play cooperatively yet. One-year-olds use their secure attachments to parents and frequent caregivers as a “home base” for exploring new objects and experiences. They may experience a bout of separation anxiety around 12 months. They recognize their own name and may enjoy learning to identify objects even if they can’t say the words themselves yet.

2 to 3 years old

Despite being labeled the terrible two’s, this year is when many children begin developing rudimentary awareness of their own emotions, which is an essential step for self-regulation when they are older. They are also learning to recognize and respond to emotions in others, such as trying to offer basic help when another child is crying, or trying to make amends when they see a parent frowning at something they did. For the most part, they are still playing around other children rather than interactively with them.

3 to 4 years old

This year sees a blossoming in empathy and emotional self-regulation. Young pre-schoolers take a strong interest in what others are doing even as their sense of individuality and preference is strengthening. They start developing friendships and playing cooperatively for a period of time. They are learning conflict resolution, though most will still turn to adults for guidance and mediation. This is a great time to teach them about compromise, sharing, and waiting their turn!

4 to 5 years old

This is the year your child may become an actor or politician! Children really begin to imitate their trusted role models, from the way a teacher reads to the class to trying on their parents’ clothes and mannerisms. Pretend becomes a popular game among children this age. As they gain greater insight into the causes of feelings and awareness of others’ needs and emotions, they start suggesting solutions and responding appropriately to peers who are upset, hurt, angry, etc.

5 to 6 years old

Before they enter kindergarten, children expand their social toolbox, from ways to enter a group (“Do you want to dig in the sandbox with me?”) to complex, sustained cooperative play to independent problem-solving. With their enhanced language skills, they can express their feelings in more complex ways. They also have greater self-regulation of their emotions and more strategies for conflict management, but they still need adult help in these areas.

Remember: every child grows and develops at a different pace. There is a wide range of acceptable behaviors and abilities at any given age. These milestones are just general guidelines for what to expect. Always consult your child’s teachers and pediatrician if you have concerns about their social and emotional development.

10 Ways to Learn through Play at Home

Maybe school is closed for a snow day, or you just want some ways for your children to continue learning at home that don’t require a lot of preparation or technology. You can always just let your children play on their own with toys or books, but here are some ways you can facilitate play-based learning at home.

Crafting

1. Find everyday materials like (clean) coffee filters, advertisements and catalogs, or shipping boxes to decorate or use for building.

2. Use found objects (cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes, etc.) to build an obstacle course for toy cars or small balls. See how far the ball or car can roll.

Chores

3. Get a little help with chores and teach children how to take care of their belongings. Ask them to help you sort laundry, dust baseboards and other non-fragile surfaces, or play a game while picking up toys by color, shape, or area.

4. Older children can reshelve books or organize toys in containers by color or size.

5. Cook together! Practice reading recipes (or invent your own!), finding ingredients, and using measuring spoons or cups. (With younger children, you may want to use pretend food.)

New Ways to Play

6. If you have pretend food, set a grocery advertisement out and encourage kids to match the play food with the pictures in the ad. Or grab sturdy items out of the pantry like pasta boxes or spice shakers for them to  match with ad pictures.

7. Kids can practice letters and numbers by playing with an old computer keyboard or remote control (remember to remove any batteries).

8. Let your kids dress up in your clothes. (You can even use the dirty laundry pile and just throw it all in the wash afterward.)

9. Read books backward for fun, or pick a random page and create your own story based on the picture alone.

10. Look through family photos together. Kids especially love seeing photos of their parents when they were young. Identify family members and relationships, tell the story behind the photo, or ask what they think is going on.

(Don’t forget these fun sit-with-me activities.)

The most important part of learning through play is to let children progress at their own pace. Encourage them to use their imaginations, but don’t demand a particular end result. Ask them questions but don’t require a “right” answer. The next time you have a snow day or a slow weekend afternoon, try one of these activities to help your students practice what they’ve learned at school.

 

How to Clean Up With Your Kids (and not just after them)

Children may bring fun and laughter to a home, but they also bring lots of stuff! From clothing they outgrow in a few months to toys with countless parts, clutter can quickly get out of control. With some simple routines and systems, you can teach your kids how to clean up after themselves.

Routines

Teach children to care for their possessions.

While kids may not be motivated to win an award for World’s Cleanest Room, they can learn to take care of the toys and books they enjoy using. Gently remind children to put puzzle pieces or action figures away so they don’t get lost. Show them how to put their books neatly on the shelf so the pages don’t get wrinkled. You don’t have to be a perfectionist about it, but helping children understand how to care for the things in their home can go a long way toward getting things back where they belong every day.

Make it a game.

Children love to play–that’s why your home looks the way it does! Turn clean-up into a game by setting a timer, placing a small basketball hoop over the toy chest, or racing against them to clean up a designated area. Children also love imitating their parents, so as you’re cleaning around the house, hand them their own (clean) dust rag or miniature broom. Older kids may enjoy sweeping dust into a designated square on the floor or vacuuming a cleared area. (Of course, they have to pick up all the toys before they can vacuum!) Try to avoid frequent use of rewards like food or candy, or punishments such as time out or giving toys away as this can lead children to associate cleaning up with deprivation rather than the satisfaction of playing a game and having a neat play space.

Practice one in, one out.

The principle of “one in, one out,” can be used on a daily level and as part of a larger organization strategy. If your child wants to play with their blocks, encourage them to clean up their cars before getting the blocks out. This can help avoid the “landfill of toys” situation. Practice toy rotation by pulling out toys that aren’t getting used and swapping them back in a few weeks or months later. Around the holidays or their birthday, you can help children go through their existing toys and books to pick out items they no longer use or play with to be gifted or donated to those in need. Don’t force them to do this…if they are reluctant, you can try pulling infrequently played-with items for a few weeks and donate if they aren’t missed.

Systems

Keep things contained.

Whether you have a big toy chest or small bins for each type of toy, make sure everything has a designated home. You can even repurpose diaper boxes or reusable grocery totes for storage. Anchor a dresser to the wall and use drawer dividers to hold toys or craft supplies.

Get on the wall.

It takes a little more work to install hanging storage, but our homes of plenty of vertical real estate that often goes unused. Hang lightweight baskets by the entryway to catch gloves and hats. Small shelves or crates mounted on the wall can hold books and toys without taking up floor space. Over-the-door shoe organizers can keep craft supplies, dolls, or stuffed animals neatly stowed but easily available for use.

Establish drop zones.

Find the areas in your home where clutter tends to accumulate. Chances are, these are near entry points and high-traffic areas, like the front door, kitchen counter, or mud room. Place bins, trays, or shelves in those spaces to give items a place to land rather than the floor. Set a time each day or week to go through the drop zones and put items back where they belong.


Play is so important for children’s learning, but all the toys and books don’t have to drive parents crazy. With these simple ideas for how to clean up with your kids, you can spend more time playing and learning rather than cleaning.