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Children making pretend food in preschool

Playful Children, Healthy Community

I recently attended a community event for children and families on behalf of CHKD. It was a day full of beautiful weather, a run/walk for children (and their parents), and fun activities provided by several community organizations.

I have learned one of the best ways to teach children anything is through play – so I set up a health awareness game for kids at my table. The game involved sorting plastic food into categories with an emphasis on the importance of fruits and vegetables. Each child would choose a food and then run a brief distance to a row of hula hoops. One hoop was for fruit, one for vegetables, and one for other food groups like dairy and grain. They were moving and learning!

While the children were gaining an understanding of healthy food choices, I enjoyed observing how different children approached the task. There were some children who thought the best way to get the foods to the hoops was a full-out toss. They hurled the fruit beyond the boundaries of the game and giggled with delight. The cautious kids, intent on getting the fruits and veggies in the correct hoop, looked to a parent or me for reassurance as they sorted through the pile. Then there were creative kids who thought it would be fun to make a pretend cheese sandwich or play grocery shopping instead of playing the game. We had some hoarders and some sharers and some “do it myselfers.” All ages, stages, and sizes were engaged in play.

When children are engaged in play, they show us who they are and how they get things done. It’s often hard for parents and educators to provide direction and correction while continuing to celebrate each child’s unique personality and approach. But, when we get to know how a child experiences the world, we can offer guidance that is tailored to them. It is our job as parents and educators to reel in the overly enthusiastic, or encourage the overly cautious, and guide our children to make choices that are good for themselves and kind toward others.

Circle of Security, a parenting program based on attachment theory, has a saying that speaks to me as a parent educator and child development specialist: 

"Parents should always be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind. Whenever possible, follow the child’s need. Whenever necessary, take charge." 

At CHKD, we offer a workshop called “Imperfect Parenting” for parents of children ages 0 through 5 years that is based on the Circle of Security program. The evaluations and comments from the parents who attend this class show that this simple saying reminds them of the type of parent they want to be. Research shows that children who are raised in homes where both structure and kindness are present are able to thrive. When I attend events with curious children, responsive parents, and engaged community organizations, I am confident that our community has a bright future and certain the power of play is important for all of us.

About Michele Tryon, CCLS

About Michele  Tryon, CCLS Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.