May is a Good Time to Play!

Friends taking a walk on the Crooked Mile

May is quite a month! It’s National Bike Month, National Fitness Month and it also boasts National Screen Free Week.  Below are a few suggestions for celebrating the month.

Take the kids out for a bike ride.  According to the League of American Bicyclists, as soon as a child can hold their head up and fit into a helmet, they can be a passenger on a bike. Until they are age 5 or so they should ride in a child’s seat or trailer.  Children need to have basic motor skills before they can operate a bike on their own.

Take a walk.  Taking under 5,000 steps a day is considered a sedentary lifestyle. It is recommended that we take 10,000 steps. So get out and walk! With a friend, the kids, the dog – or enjoy a 500-step getaway by yourself.  If you don’t want to use the time to chat or reflect, count the number of trees you see, the number of cars you pass, or find shapes in the clouds or the stars.

Play Hopscotch. This simple game can be played with several players or alone, by a wide range of ages and needs little or no equipment. Many playgrounds have painted hopscotch courses, you can make your own with chalk on the pavement, or with a stick in the dirt.

No matter what you do this May, make a point to get out and play!

Word Play

The Children’s Theater

About 15 educators of children ages 3 through 12 met at Fairytale Town’s Children’s Theater last night to learn about reading aloud effectively. CSUS Children’s Literature Professor, Francie Dillon, led the workshop titled, Giving Voice to Children’s Literature. A similar workshop for parents will take place on May 3.  The program is free, but reservations are required and can be made through

At the teacher’s workshop, Dillon shared information on the importance of reading aloud and demonstrated useful tips on how to use your voice to make books come to life.

You could say she taught us how to play with words.

It’s a good reminder that play comes in all forms. Word play is just as important to a child’s growth and development as active play. Word play helps children develop communication skills and vocabulary, and also a sense of humor and love of language.

Below are three examples of how you can use words playfully.

– Rhymes are a great way for kids to begin playing with words. Through rhyme children can learn about individual letter sounds. Take advantage of this opportunity by substituting rhyming words in a favorite book. For example, if P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother is a favorite, substitute Brother for Mother from time to time. Your child will enjoy correcting you, and you can use the opportunity to talk about the different letters and their sounds.

– Children also love to use new words.  In conversation or during play, use as many words as you can to describe or identify something. For example, in conversation the word silly can become goofy, crazy, wild, or even inane. This helps children build their vocabulary and learn about context and meaning.

– Acting out words and stories is also a great way to bring them to life.  You can ask your child to show you their happy face, sad face, sleepy face, etc. You can also cast family members to play roles while reading a book together. The activities help children learn meaning and expression, and help them gain confidence is speaking and reading.

Children’s Masterpieces

So, before or after some good physical play, engage your child in some fun word play as well. As Francie demonstrated at last night’s workshop, you will both enjoy it!

Note:  The tips above are not taken from Dillon’s Giving Voice to Children’s Literature workshop. Please attend the workshop on May 3 to learn more about reading aloud effectively. Details are at

Get Outside and Play Month

In honor of get outside month, below are few things to do inside and outside of Fairytale Town.

Five Things to Do Inside Fairytale Town

1. See how long it takes you to walk the Crooked Mile.
2. Climb through Sherwood Forest, and balance on the jousting beam.
3. Find a feather.
4. Do ten nimble jumping jacks by Jack’s Candlesticks.
5. Skip across the Mother Goose Stage.

One of these yellow bricks has only an "A" on it!

Five Things to Do Outside Fairytale Town in Land Park

1. Find a brick with only the letter A on the Yellow Brick Road. (Hint: It’s near the beginning.)
2. Stroll through the WPA Rock Garden.
3. Count how many different birds you see at the pond.
4. Run across the soccer field.
5. Sing a song on the amphitheater stage.

It doesn’t matter what you decide to do, just get outside and play!

PTA’s Work for the Arts

March was Arts Education Month, and the California State Parent Teacher Associations and the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association Arts Initiative celebrated with a gathering of State, Regional and Parent Arts Education Leaders.

The PTA help fund assembly performances by Francie Dillon.

The PTA has played an integral role in bringing the arts to students throughout the County. Often it is only through PTA funding and involvement that children are introduced to art – in all its forms. I know that my own children had wonderful education in the arts in their public school thanks to the involvement of an active PTA.

On hand to express their appreciation to the PTA for their support of the arts were folks from the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, the Assembly Committee on Arts, the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the California Arts Council, and parent arts education leaders.

The highlight of the gathering was when the Bret Harte Elementary School Choir performed. They received a standing ovation. The children in the choir were engaged, focused, and articulate – as well as talented. They provided positive proof that arts education works for kids. Thanks to the PTA, they have it.

US Play Coalition Conference

The US Play Coalition’s annual conference, The Value of Play, was held in February at Clemson University. More than 250 people from all over the world attended the four-day conference. We were busy from 8 AM to 8 PM hearing from play experts, educators, pediatricians, sports enthusiasts, park and recreation professionals, children’s museum managers and nonprofit directors.

Highlights of the conference include:

– Fraser Brown – Dr. Brown is a playwork professor at Leeds University in England. He also led a team of play workers to Romania to work with orphans between the ages of 2 and 8 who had been tied to their cribs their entire lives. Incredibly sad circumstances, incredibly important work, and incredibly positive results. Fraser’s team used play to help the children gain physical and communication skills and an increased sense of trust and belonging.

– The Chinese Delegation – History was made when the US Coalition and the Minister of Health  from Shanghai signed an MOU to declare their cooperation in promoting play. It’s an international movement! 

– Dr. Bernard Griesemer, Pediatrician – The American Association of Pediatrics recently declared “active play is so central to child development it should be included in the very definition of childhood.” Dr. Griesemer supported their proclamation with staggering statistics. Children today have a shorter life expectancy than their parents – a historical first. He believes one of the reasons for the current epidemics childhood obesity and diabetes is lack of active play. He emphasized that playworkers are allied health professionals as they advocate for children to get the kind of play they need. That’s right, play is a public health benefit!

– Mapping of Play Deserts by KaBoom! – The industrious playground installer, KaBoom!, has a new initiative – to map out the play deserts in the U.S.  Play deserts are areas that have no playground or play resources within easy walking distance. It will be fascinating to see where the deserts in Sacramento are. 

Everything else about the conference was great too, from the people planning it to those who presented and attended. We all left excited to be part of a movement to promote play, and reassured that play is, indeed, essential to human development.

Adventure Play in Berkeley

Glamis Adventure Playground in London

I was so inspired by the Adventure Playgrounds I saw in London that I continue to learn as much about them as I can.

There are about 1,000 Adventure Playgrounds in the world. Most of them are in Europe. Germany has the most with 400.

There are two in the United States: one in Berkeley near the Marina, and one in Huntington Beach.

One weekend I took a jaunt to the Berkeley Adventure Playground for a look-see. As usual, I heard it before I saw it. Children laughing, hammers pounding, music wafting. And when I got there it looked just like… an Adventure Playground!  There were piles of lumber and higgledy-piggledy structures that children were hammering and painting on. There was a zip line that let children fly through the air (just a couple of feet off the ground) before landing (crashing) into a pile of sand. There were some broken down pianos that kids were banging on and strumming (yes they were that broken down). There was a hill bordered with old tires than kids rolled down in hand-me-down mini-jeeps. There was a garden area, a painting area, a shop to get hammers and nails (you had to turn in three old nails to get one), and a quiet area. Kids and parents alike were having a blast playing.

And that’s what the difference was. There were parents! In the UK, Adventure Playgrounds are free and pretty much for kids alone – with a few adults as facilitators (or playworkers as they are called there). At Berkeley, use of the playground was free for children as long as an adult was with them. If a child was dropped off alone, there was a per-hour charge.

No matter, it was wonderful to see an Adventure Playground on US soil – parents or not! Now all we need to do is build a few in Sacramento! Where would you build an Adventure Playground?


I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live abroad – an opportunity I enjoyed, appreciated immensely, and will remember the rest of my life. After four very full months, and one very long day – an hour drive to the airport, a two hour check-in before departure, a 12 hour flight to SFO, and a two-hour drive to Sacramento – we came home. It was a joy to see our children – especially since they are so grown up they could pick us up at the airport and drive us home.

We got home just before Christmas so we were able to do all the family traditions and activities. Lights on the house, tree trimming, food extravaganzas… the usual. I had a week to recover from the holidays before I returned to work on January 3.

As I walked into Fairytale Town, its magical charm took over as usual. The Castle, Shoe Slide, Crooked Mile, Sherwood Forest, Stages, and Gardens looked the same as they did before I left – minus the tree leaves. The animal menagerie was the same as well, only a bit fuller with their winter coats. 

The board of directors and staff were a bit leaner than when I left.  Two Board Members completed their maximum nine years of service, and our Staff is typically smaller during the slower winter months. Other than that, they too were the same as when I left. A little tired after a long and busy year (our highest attended year in recent history!), but still dedicated to our mission of promoting the imagination, creativity and education of children – and working hard to make sure we provide meaningful experiences for our community.

And that, I realized, is the magic of Fairytale Town. Brilliant, dedicated people working hard for a common goal: to provide children and families with opportunities to spend time together in imaginative play.

It is good to be back at a place I love and with people I admire and enjoy working with. I am grateful to be part of the magic of Fairytale Town!

The Wisdom of Flight Attendants

Flight attendants are onto something. You definitely need to take care of yourself before you can take care of anything or anyone else. Here’s to them!

Access to Culture – Part 2

Train Station Sign

Public transportation makes it possible to get to all of the cultural activities London offers. It runs pretty much 24/7 – with the occasional strike and shut down of course.

I was able to get everywhere I needed to go on public transportation. Museums, playgrounds, markets, movies, theatres, restaurants, lectures, concerts, cathedrals… you name it, I could get there by bus or tube (the London underground).

Public transportation is good for other reasons.

It’s great for physical activity. Yes, even though you’re riding somewhere, you have to walk to get to the bus stop or tube station, perhaps not far, but farther than the driveway or parking lot. (I am happy to say I lost 10 pounds from this alone. I am sad to say my sedentary ways are now taking their toll.)

Buggy Parking

In my humble opinion, in addition to creating a more mobile environment, it also creates a more literate community. When you have to sit (or stand) for at least an hour a day people use that time to read. In fact, newspapers are handed out to people during the morning and evening rush hours. It is amazing to see people holding a book, magazine or newspaper in one hand – and turning the pages – as they hold on to handrails with the other.

Finally, public transportation is good for families. It allows older children to get places without having to be carted about by their parents. This gives much more freedom to both the child and the parent. And, of course, you don’t have to worry so much about drivers under the influence…

Taxi at Discovery Children’s Story Centre

It cost me about $40 a week for a public transportation pass to get pretty much anywhere I wanted to go. I spend at least that much a week on my car if I include gas, maintenance and insurance.

In addition to getting around in the city, I could take public transportation to other cities and countries pretty easily and cheaply also. I was able to get to Halifax, Leeds, Oxford, Staffordshire, Great Missendon, Portsmouth and South Hampton in England, as well as Ireland, Scotland, Slovenia and France.

Train Station

The ability for people from all walks of life to get pretty much anywhere they want to go with out driving is an amazing thing.  In my mind, public transportation is what makes a world class city.

Access to Culture – Part 1

Like its playgrounds, museums in London are busy places buzzing with visitors and activities. In my opinion, there are at least two reasons that they are so central to every day life: free admission and public transportation.

British Museum

Being trained to get the maximum value for the dollar, I was excited about free admission to museums because of the “savings” I was getting. I soon realized there were other benefits as well. When I did go a museum, I could spend time looking at one gallery or even one piece of art because I knew I could go back again and again to see the other galleries and art. One afternoon I popped into the British Museum just to see the netsuke (Japanese carvings) they had on display. A few days later I went back and spent a few hours with the Elgin Marbles. And one afternoon when it was unusually slow, I was able get close to the exhibit of the Rosetta Stone which is usually mobbed with crowds.

Because I had no financial ‘risk,’ I also found that I went to museums I would normally not visit, which opened my horizons. I am not a big fan of interior design, but because it was free, I visited the Geffrey Museum and enjoyed looking at ‘family rooms’ from different eras. It gave me sense of history from a different perspective, and made me appreciate the comforts of home. 

Obviously, on a personal level I greatly appreciated and took advantage of the free admission to museums and cultural attractions. However, the most important aspect of the free admission is the public benefit.

Whenever I went to a museum it was busy – full of tourists, yes, but also locals and students. The tourists crowded in during regular operating hours. The locals took advantage of the late nights and special programs offered. Classes of young students sat on the floor in front of paintings to learn about subject matter, art genres, and history from museum educators. Older students – from teenagers to senior citizens – could be found sketching copies of the great masters or taking notes on design trends, science discoveries or archeological finds.

London Museum

Visiting museums is much like playing together in a playground. When people play together ‘common experiences’ are created. When we play together – whether on a playground or in a museum – we learn how to work together. And when people work together amazing things can be accomplished.  Public transportation being one of them. But more on that later.