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Parenting Center

Don’t Toss It, Play with It!

As we all do out best to work with what we’ve got, our Parenting Center staff offers some clever play ideas that start where something else ended! Repurpose paper shreds, egg cartons, cereal boxes and more with these activities sure to engage and delight your child.

  • Have a paper shredder? Repurpose those shreds! Pile them in a large bowl or the bottom of a large box. Gather little figures, cars, animals, etc. and nestle them deep into the paper. Young children love putting things in and taking them out, and they’ll have fun searching through the paper to find the hidden treasures!
  • Before you toss cereal box after cereal box, cut the fronts off and use to make homemade puzzles! For very young children, cut the image into three or four large pieces. For older children (or once your little one gets the hang of it), cut a larger number of smaller pieces (you want the puzzle to be challenging but not frustrating!).
  • Repurpose empty egg cartons! Fill the wells with different objects of varying sizes and textures (Legos, cotton balls, foam or plastic alphabet letters, etc.). Your child will love taking them out, putting them back, organizing them differently, etc. You can help them sort colors and make a pattern. Or pour a bowl of Cheerios and help your child put one, two or three in each well. This activity is great for fine motor development and a fun way to teach categorization, sorting and counting.
  • Empty toilet paper tubes can be used for dozens of activities. One of our favorites: binoculars! Your child can decorate the tubes with crayons, stickers and such. Tape them together, and they’ll have a whole new way of looking at the world!

Make a Splash!

Little ones don’t need an ocean, a pool or even the tub to have some water fun! The Parenting Center’s Jody Bernstein offers sensory-rich waterplay activities every child can do at home. Lay a large towel on the kitchen floor before you get started.

  • Fill a large bowl or deep pan with water. Give your child plastic measuring cups, spoons, a funnel, etc., and let them splash, scoop and pour.
  • Fill a deep pan with water, add a few drops of dishwashing liquid, and give your child a sponge for a baby doll bath! When the bath is over, have your child pat the baby dry with a towel, and help make a little diaper out of a paper towel. Your child can then wrap the baby in a blanket and sing it to sleep.
  • Fill a bowl with water, gather objects like corks, stones, cotton balls, etc., and play a game: "Does it sink or does it float?"
  • Let your child paint with water! Fill a small bowl with water, and give your child a paintbrush and a few objects like a shell, a rock, even a baking potato. Let them paint and see the objects darken in color when wet.
  • If you have a chalkboard, your child can paint with water on the board, starting over again each time the water dries. It's the ultimate no-mess painting!

The Simple Fun of Plastic Cups

Parenting Center director Sally Tannen shares an idea that will keep your toddler engaged and delighted while helping to hone their fine motor skills.

Start with a stack of plastic cups and …

  • Unstack them, spread them out on the floor and show your child how to stack them, one inside the other.
  • Show your child how to arrange a few cups upside down to make a base, then stack other cups on top of them. Little ones love building things and knocking them down!
  • Hide a small (but not chokeable) object under one cup, and have your child try to find the cup with the object.
  • If you have cups in different colors, ask your child to stack just the red ones, etc., or make a pattern of red/blue/red/blue.
  • Line the cups up one behind the other to make a little train.

Celebrate Passover in Song

Music and song are a joyful part of the Passover holidays. Jody Doomchin, music instructor with the 92nd Street Y Nursery School and Parenting Center, picks up her guitar to lead children through songs to celebrate the holiday. Join your children (and don’t miss everyone’s favorite—“Dayenu” at the end!) Watch, listen and sing-along!

An Egg-stra Fun Easter Egg Hunt

Make your child’s Easter egg hunt as fun for them in the apartment or house as it would be outdoors, by upping your game on the contents of those eggs! Adding a little note in each one prompting a different activity will keep children engaged beyond the fun of finding the eggs. Our Parenting Center offers these suggestions, good for a dozen eggs!

  • Hop on one foot while you search for the next egg!
  • If the next egg you find is blue, it has to be hidden (by the egg hider!) all over again.
  • Play a game of “Easter egg bocce” — everyone takes turns rolling an egg across the rug, trying to land the farthest distance away (and knocking others away to help you get there!)
  • Find a few magnet or foam letters in your egg, and you have to use them to spell a word that has to do with Easter.
  • Get a note with the words “circus music,” and you have to try to juggle two eggs!
  • Plan ahead, and before Easter morning, take an empty egg carton, and write the numbers 1 to 12 in each compartment. Tuck a note into a couple of jelly bean-filled eggs to “Place five (or three or nine) jelly beans where they belong in the egg carton.”
  • Set a timer for one minute and come up with a rhyme using the word *egg.*
  • Get two crayons, grab a sheet of construction paper and make the tallest and most imaginative bunny ears you can. Cut them out, and tape them to a headband to wear.
  • Grab a partner and two large spoons, and have an egg and spoon race from one end of the living room to the other. If your egg falls, pretend it made a mess, grab a broom (not that a broom would do much for a real broken egg!), and “sweep” all of the already collected eggs into a little pile.
  • Get a slip of paper with a color on it, and you have two minutes to gather everything you can find in that color.
  • Play a game of (bunny) hopscotch! (Use masking or painter’s tape to create squares in a hopscotch pattern on your floor, number them, then play!)
  • When all of your eggs have been collected, set the basket down a distance away, and have an egg toss, seeing how many you can land in the basket.

Finding Calm: Tools and Techniques for Helping Children and Parents Cope with Anxiety

With Randi Pochtar, PhD, Ellen Birnbaum and Sally Tannen

Anxiety in all of us—including children—is exacerbated by extreme circumstances, such as the one we’re all weathering with COVID-19. Early Childhood Programs Director Ellen Birnbaum and Parenting Center Director Sally Tannen sat down with psychologist Dr. Randi Pochtar, from the Child Study Center at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital, NYU Langone, for a talk on the topic of children and anxiety one night in February. They share their advice as we all try to adjust to new challenges and help our children cope.

It’s important to begin by establishing that anxiety is a normal, adaptive stress response related to our thoughts. Anxiety actually helps keep us safe, and allows us to accomplish things. But too much anxiety can interfere with our ability to handle everyday life and situations, and this is equally true for children. We are in uncharted territory, so parents' own coping mechanisms are being challenged. But how parents handle a crisis themselves is greatly influential in how children respond.

To determine if your child is feeling especially anxious, evaluate by The Four Ds:

  • Dysfunction: How does the anxiety interfere with activities or daily life? Is the anxiety getting in the way of schoolwork? social engagement (even if remotely)? family life?
  • Distress: How much distress is it causing your child? Does it take them a long time to recover? Does it disrupt your child’s sleep? Do you have difficulty soothing your child?
  • Deviation: How different is this behavior from the way your child normally handles things?
  • Duration: How long has the problem been going on?

The Fight, Flight or Freeze response is typical of an anxious moment. To help your child, remind them (and yourself) that their reaction is incredibly uncomfortable, but it’s not dangerous or wrong. It’s their body doing its job. For example, our anxiety right now is helping us keep ourselves safe by washing our hands, maintaining appropriate distance from others, and not touching our faces.

How can parents help?

  • Help your child understand why they might be anxious.
  • Provide validation: "It makes perfect sense that you are missing all of your friends and your teacher. You are used to seeing them every day!"
  • Read books with stories of bravery and courage. People who are brave can feel scared too, and they push through.
  • Provide exposure with you as their safe base.
  • Make some adjustments, but don’t be too accommodating. When you make too many changes to accommodate fears, you validate the fears.
  • Praise efforts of bravery or trying.
  • Set a schedule that allows for downtime.
  • Externalize the anxiety. Take it outside of them. Again, right now it might be hard to differentiate worry that is accurate from worry that is unhelpful. Do your best to help your children focus on what they can do to keep safe and let go of worry that is unhelpful.
  • Provide relaxation training to help your child calm down when they are feeling anxious. Try “pizza breaths”—smell the pizza through your nose and cool the pizza off by blowing through your lips. Try shaking off the worry. Or have your child picture themself in their favorite place. These tools help a child’s body relax so they can confront the anxiety more calmly.
  • Differentiate between the “real alarm” and the “false alarm.”
  • Provide a “layout” of what your child can expect in a situation so your child can predict what’s coming.
  • Create and follow repetitious routines—they help ground children.
  • Check yourself before you respond to your child. Where are your own thoughts? Are you catastrophizing? Manage your own feelings before you attempt to help your child. Children alway look to their parents to see if they are safe and okay.
  • Model coping with anxiety. Tell your child how you cope when you feel anxious yourself.
  • If your child is really struggling, she may need extra help, and that’s ok. Reach out to a professional.

Creating Space

As families are hunkered down at home together, the only thing many are not finding endless is their square footage. With kids going to school online and parents working from home, we’re navigating more than our emotions these days—we’re jockeying for physical space. Parenting Center Director Sally Tannen offers some thoughts on how to make sure everyone gets some of what they need in this time of giving up so much. Here's what she has to say:

It's important that everyone in your household has a space to call their own, at least some of the time. It’s easy for us to get on each other‘s nerves when we’re living on top of each other day after day. I’m a great believer in the value of a schedule. Make sure yours doesn’t only include all the things that need to get done, but quiet time, or "me” time, for each member of the family.

We think in terms of “finding space” for a certain activity, but in fact, we’re not finding it, we’re creating it. Look around your home or apartment and create some special spaces. Many children share a room with a sibling, so creating a little sub-space within that shared space can be extremely meaningful to a child.

For young children, there’s nothing more fun than a tent they can call their own. Arrange two chairs and a sheet, and you’ve created an entirely new space. Tuck a few pillows and a flashlight in, and it can be a cozy place where they bring their favorite toys, or look at a picture book, or where mom or dad can read to them (if they’re allowed in!). You can even help little ones come up with rules they can post on the door about who can come in during certain times and who can't. This gives children some control at a time when they have virtually none.

Adults are feeling that loss of control too. Sometimes something as simple as a pair of headphones or an unhurried shower can help create the feeling of a special space. Look around, get creative and help every member of your family have a space of their own for at least a little time every day—it’s renewing for everyone, and will make the time together all the sweeter.

Playtime Ideas

Parenting Center Director Sally Tannen shares inspired playtime ideas using your everyday laundry basket!

1. It’s a boat! A plane! A train! Let little ones climb in and become the captain, pilot, etc.
2. Turn the basket upside down, drape a cloth over the top, and it’s a table for a tea party!
3. Push cotton balls or corks through the holes, collect and repeat (young children love to “put in” and “take out”).
4. Use an upside down basket to make a tent (and a great place to hide!).
5. Older kids can shoot hoops—using balled-up socks! (Keep the game challenging by having them stand increasingly farther back.)

Advice from Ellen Birnbaum

What does a parent say to a young child worried about the changes in their world? How can we keep our own stress from being felt by our children? Early Programs Director and former 92Y Nursery School Director Ellen Birnbaum offers some advice:

Working from home, going from one device to the other, I find that I actually have to remind myself to breathe. As we are role models for our children in managing anxiety, we have to remember that we need to take time for relaxation, even if just for short periods. Children are aware of and sensitive to our tone of voice and facial expression. If we look worried, they will react with worry. This crosses all age ranges. With younger children, less is more when it comes to responding to their worries. Children might be asking questions right now like, “Why are we not going to school?” or “Why do we have to stay home?” Parents can respond by simply saying, “We need to keep safe.” My grandchildren—who we typically see at least once a week—are asking why we can’t see each other. We respond by saying, “We will see each other soon.”

Reading stories to children is a great way to help them deal with their emotions, and can give parents additional ways to talk to them and reassure them. Ellen loves these three books:

For very young children:
  • Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
  • Swimmy by Leo Leonni
For four- and five-year-olds:
  • Brave Irene by William Steig

Make a Weekday Schedule for the Family!

92Y Parenting Center Director Sally Tannen offers some tips for creating structure to allow both parents and kids to thrive best:

For young children:
  • Make a visual schedule. Little ones love being to see the activities for the day, and having something concrete really helps them.
  • Create the schedule together as a craft project. Use stickers, draw pictures or glue photos on the chart—whatever cues you think will help children know what to expect.
  • The sequence of activities will be as works best for your family, but categories can include things like:

This is when we take a walk
This is when we have lunch
This is when you have your nap
This is when we have playtime
This is when we read

  • Screen time is difficult to eliminate entirely when everyone is home and children are restless. Designate an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon when young children can use a screen device, and be clear that the other times are when they can’t.
For older children:
  • Creating a general schedule is still important, though the shape of that will be very different for a seven-year-old than a 12-year-old.
  • Establish guidelines and communicate them effectively.
  • Screen time for older children needs to take into account online schoolwork and learning, along with a family’s regular allowances and routines. But it’s very easy for older children to become more deeply engaged in texting and social media when their regular activities are temporarily unavailable. No one knows your family better than you. Remember that you’re still in charge, even if you get some pushback!

Three Things Families Can Do Together

Families are going to be spending a lot of time together, and our Parenting Center will be offering suggestions for all kinds of activities to keep young children active and engaged in the days ahead. Most important is that parents maintain routines - or create new ones - whether it’s the time children have breakfast and brush teeth or help with daily household chores (now is the perfect time to involve them more!). Routines help ground us. Embrace them!

Here are a few suggestions for fun activities:

However familiar home feels, it’s filled with sightings and treasures just waiting to be recognized. Have your children try to find everything red in the house, or note how many things are round, or shiny. Use the opportunity with a baby to point things out and name them. Older children can make a checklist, crossing off the things they see in classic “I Spy” fashion. They won’t just have fun, they’ll be developing their skills as observers of the world around them.

Young children love being involved in the kitchen, and even a 3-year-old can help measure, pour and stir, plus they get to eat the cookies that result! They’ll be honing their fine motor skills while having sweetly messy delicious fun. Watch for lots of creative “Kids in the Kitchen” ideas from The Parenting Center in the days to come!

Not being able to visit Grandma or a favorite cousin for awhile is disappointing for everyone. In addition to phone time and skyping, help your children create a daily communication, drawing a picture or writing a little message every day to send to their loved ones. Make it the first thing they do after breakfast each day, to help reinforce routines. Whether Nana is across the country or a few blocks away, everyone will be nourished by the expression of love.

Children are going to love all the extra attention! Stay well, and please be in touch with us!


Sally Tannen
Director, 92Y Parenting Center

Contact Us

For more information, email or call us at 212.415.5500.

Please note that all 92Y regularly scheduled in-person programs are suspended.