Fifteen Minutes a Day

Read Aloud Fifteen Minutes a DayMarch is Read Aloud Month. To help celebrate, Fairytale Town has become a partner with the national Read Aloud 15 Minutes campaign. The 15 minute movement is bringing together a passionate group of partners united behind the idea that 15 minutes of daily reading aloud to children ages 0 to 8 can improve the education of children.

The tenets of the movement are simple and direct:

  • Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher.
  • Reading aloud is the single most important thing a parent can do to improve a child’s readiness to read and learn.
  • By making 15 minutes of daily reading aloud the new standard for parents, we can change the face of education in the country.

The need for this initiative is great. More than one in three children enter kindergarten without the necessary skills for lifetime learning. Less than 48 percent of children are read to every day, and over 15 percent of young children are read to by family members less than three times a week.

Improving these statistics can be easy – as easy as reading aloud for 15 minutes every day. Research shows that reading aloud is the single most important thing adults can do to help a child prepare for reading and learning. It improves a child’s language development, builds literacy skills, enhances brain development, and, most importantly, establishes a strong bond between the reader and child.

Reading aloud can be made playful – not a chore. Let your child pick out the books to read. Substitute wrong words to test their comprehension. Insert the occasional fart joke. Make up nonsense words. Act out the story with funny voices.

Reading aloud for 15 minutes every day can be part of a new routine to play every day as well. Fifteen minutes isn’t a lot of time for either play or reading… but by committing to it you can have a tremendous impact to the children in your life.

Playful Readings

I’ve been able to catch up on some reading lately, and I am happy to recommend the following books and articles to you.

Play by Dr. Stuart BrownPlay by Stuart Brown, MD. Dr. Brown is the leading expert on play behavior in the US and the founder of the National Institute for Play. His book draws from thousands of ‘play histories’ of people from serial killers to Nobel prize winners as well as his clinical research and observations of animals and humans at play. I had the chance to hear Dr. Brown speak recently at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. His book and research drives home that play is anything but trivial, and is, in fact, hard-wired into all of us.

Adventure: The value of risk in children’s play by Joan Almon. This short publication was recently released by The Alliance for Childhood, a research and advocacy organization that promotes policies and practices that support children’s healthy development. Almon explores what children gain through risky play and provides helpful information on the differences between risks and hazards.

The Value of Play by Perry Else explores the purpose of play and demonstrates why it is important to our bodies and minds, as well as to our cultures and communities. Else gives examples of how play can be supported at home and in children’s settings.

Recent articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post were also interesting, and underscore how important play is for child development. The “Language Gap” article demonstrates how essential play is for very young children to learn language. The “Ridiculous Test” article demonstrates how a young child’s natural curiosity and playfulness can be stifled in a high-stakes testing environment.

I hope you also get some down time to enjoy some playful reading!

We need your help to renovate Farmer Brown’s Barn!

Farmer Brown’s Barn. Photo by Karen Iddings.

Fairytale Town’s family of animals has grown since we opened in 1959. Plans have been made to renovate Farmer Brown’s Barn so that the animals will have more space to eat, stretch their legs, play, sleep and dream. The plan includes a new wall for a honey bee display complete with remote entry/exit for safe and easy access, adding new stall gates, expanding and redesigning of the storage area to maximize space, reinforcing and adding polymax to the siding to minimize dry rot, and – most importantly – increasing the size of Eeyore’s stall.

The family of animals that live here play important roles at Fairytale Town – as well as in the stories they represent. Animals help children to understand the books they read and help educate children through summer FunCamps and workshops throughout the year.

Donations of all levels are needed now to make this project a reality. The cost of the project is approximately $35,000. The work will begin during the winter months and will be completed by the beginning of summer – our peak season. We hope you will join us in making these improvements a reality.

To make a contribution to the barn renovation project, click here to make a donation online today or please contact Kathy Fleming at (916) 808-7060.

Happy Halloween!

Peter Rabbit HalloweenEverything about Halloween screams PLAY! Decorating, costuming, running through the streets at night… no wonder Halloween is a favorite holiday for children. It’s not just the free candy. It’s the playfulness of the holiday that delights children and adults alike. There is something about putting on a costume and assuming a different persona that frees us from our day-to-day cares and gives us a new outlook… and that something is play!

Fairytale Town holds the proof. Our Halloween event last weekend attracted more than 5,500 people. Nearly everyone came in costume. They all enjoyed the incredibly good weather as they played games, made crafts, showed off their costumes – and went trick-or-treating, of course.

BagginsMailBoxOur incredibly talented staff had fun preparing the park for the extravaganza. Each year we choose a theme for the event and this year’s was ‘The Hobbit.’ Planning began in early summer, and from Labor Day on, everyone pitched in to make papier-mâché figures, paint scenery or carve pumpkins. A couple of us even admitted it was a favorite time of year. And this was before the candy was delivered!

So, it all comes down to play. Tap into your playfulness when you go out trick-or-treating. The candy is sure to taste better – and may even have fewer calories if you do!

A Month of Play and Learning

September was a busy month at Fairytale Town, kicking off with the first ever Sacramento Play Summit, and concluding with our annual Children’s Book Festival.  We were thrilled to partner with ScholarShare College Savings Plan and the Sacramento Public Library on both programs.


Sacramento Play Summit

In my last post I wrote about the Play Summit. I am happy to report it was a success! More than 120 attendees enjoyed three keynote speakers and seven different breakout sessions. Survey feedback on the Summit was extremely positive with 100 percent of respondents saying they would attend again. Attendees told us they found the information they received both inspiring and useful, and 20 individuals also indicated interest in forming a Sacramento Play Coalition. Sacramento has joined the international play movement!

Sherri Duskey Rinker and sign language interpreterFalling on the heels of our inaugural Summit was the 13th Annual ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival on September 28 and 29. The autumn weather was perfect for our outdoor reading extravaganza! More than 8,000 people participated in the program.  They were able to see and hear 10 author/illustrator presentations and participate in hands-on literacy activities offered by 17 community organizations.  On Saturday, sign language interpreters translated the presentations which added a new element to the Festival. The highlight of the Festival was featured author Sherri Duskey Rinker. A New York Times Bestselling author, Rinker delighted the audience with her story Steam Train, Dream Train – especially as she led the children in the group on a train ride together!  Again, feedback from our audience, authors and community partners was very positive. Authors and community partners were impressed with the large number of attendees and the organization of the event, and the audience was delighted with the quality of the presentations and all there was to see and do while they were here. Fairytale Town continues to be a dynamic resource for families in our region!

Sherri leading the Steam Train!It is rewarding to know that ScholarShare College Savings Plan and the Sacramento Public Library – organizations dedicated to higher learning and education – recognize how critical play is to learning and reading.  Fairytale Town and Sacramento are better places for their involvement.

Now that September is over it is tempting to take a breather.  But Halloween is just around the corner. This year, our Halloween program is themed on The Hobbit. Already I see signs of playful work to transform Fairytale Town into Middle Earth. More on that next time!

Meet Sherri Duskey Rinker

Sherri Duskey Rinker saw her first picture book, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, rise from the infamous “slush pile” to the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, where it has stayed for more than 100 weeks. She’s inspired by her two energetic, inquisitive sons, one fascinated by bugs and magic, and the other by trucks and trains. Formerly the owner of a graphic design agency, she now devotes herself full time to writing books and visiting schools. She lives with her family in Chicago, Illinois.

Sherri will visit Fairytale Town for this year’s ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival the weekend of September 28 and 29, where she’ll present her latest #1 bestseller, Steam Train, Dream Train, and sign copies of her books.

Both of your books are “goodnight” stories. When you started working on your books, did you set out to write bedtime stories?
My fondest memories of reading as a child were at bedtime, cuddled up with my grandmother. When I became a mom, bedtime was the time for settling in and cuddling up with my own kids and reading, so I think that writing books specifically for that time was a pretty natural fit for me. And, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site was inspired specifically because my youngest son had a tireless (literally!) love of trucks, and I felt the need to give him a bedtime story that spoke to his truck passions and, yet, was soothing.

What was your favorite book to read as a child?
The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton. I still love that story and, interestingly, I feel like it’s evolved into an analogy for my own life: I was always lured by excitement and city life as I was growing up and as a young adult, and now I’m content to enjoy the peaceful pace of a quieter life—and I’m more appreciative of the simpler things.

What’s your earliest reading memory?
My grandmother had a big stack of books by the bed at her house, and I’d pick which one(s) we’d read together. I sentimentally still remember the smell of those books, the smell and feel of the soft sheets and blankets, the smell of my grandmother’s Camay soap, the cozy feeling of being cuddled up and having all of her attention, the sound of the ticking alarm clock in the background and titles like Be Nice To Spiders and Harry The Dirty Dog.

As a mother of two, do you have any words of wisdom for fellow parents who want to inspire and encourage their children to read?
Read to your kids—and read everything: picture books when they are smaller, chapter books as they grow older. Grab a cup of coffee at night after dinner so that you’re awake and present to enjoy this really special time with them.

If you could be any fairytale character, who would you be? Why?
This is such an interesting question. I guess I’ll say this: Anyone who gets to live “happily ever after!” That’s a copout, right? Ok, if you make me pick, I guess I’ll have to go with Cinderella: I really like shoes!

A First for Play in Our Region

The first-ever Sacramento Play Summit will take place on September 7.  Not only is this the first time a conference of this nature will be held in Sacramento, it is also the first time we have held such a program off-campus, the first time we have partnered with the Sacramento Public Library on a stand-alone event, and – after 54 years of planning playful and educational programs for children – the first time we have planned a full-day program for adults.  shutterstock_play image

I was motivated to develop a play conference by my sabbatical two years ago.  The play professionals I met abroad were incredibly inspiring, and the research I saw and seminars I attended were extremely compelling and powerful.

I was delighted to find allies for play in the Sacramento Public Library and ScholarShare College Savings Plan.  A public library and a college savings plan are not the most natural partners for promoting play, but Rivkah Sass and Zeny Agullana, the leaders of these organizations respectively, recognize how important play is to healthy child development, raising readers, and, as a result, to future success.

IMG_1356_croppedWe brainstormed about a conference last year, and our first formal meeting about the conference was held on February 14 – an auspicious date for a new partnership!  We identified our goals and set out to design a meaningful conference for our community.  And, nearly one year after our initial conversation and many months of planning we are ready to roll!

The conference features three keynote speakers. Our morning keynote, Dr. Melissa Arca, will discuss play and health. Our noontime speaker, author Barney Saltzberg will talk about the importance of play to the creative process. Our closing presenter, Myla Marks of Playworks, will address the need for meaningful play in schools and community settings.  In between the keynotes there are nine workshops focused on four different tracks: play and literacy, play and the arts, play in parks and recreation, and adventure play. The workshop presenters include university professors, elementary teachers, parks and recreation professionals and literacy experts.


Keynote Speaker author Barney Saltzberg

There will be more than ‘talk’ about play, though! We will share morning coffee, lunch and afternoon snacks; take time to play in-between sessions; and, perhaps, end the day by setting up a coalition of people who want to promote play in our community.  Play is as important to community development as it is to child development.  In fact, play is the foundation for all learning and development – something that will be driven home when you attend the first-ever Sacramento Play Summit on September 7.

I hope to see you there!

New Little Engine That Could Play Set

A new train inspired by the classic children’s book The Little Engine That Could opened at Fairytale Town on August 15, 2013!

Comprised of an engine car, train car and caboose, the new train replicates the little train that saved the day with its plucky attitude and positive thinking. It was designed and fabricated by local artist Shane Grammer. The train sits alongside the little red engine that currently represents the classic story. Playground surfacing surrounds the base of the play structure to make for soft landings during play time on the structure.

The new train was made possible in part by generous gift from the Ken Stieger family, William A. Brown, Jr., Raley’s Family of Fine Foods, Otto Construction, and Lionakis, as well as a portion of the proceeds from Fairytale Town’s Yellow Brick Road fundraising project.

Watch a time lapse video of the train being built!

All Aboard for Play!

TrainMany years ago, a young visitor pointed out that the engine we have representing the story of The Little Engine That Could was actually the engine that broke down, not the little engine that could. The Little Engine That Could was blue, he said, not red, and had a wide smokestack, not a crooked one.

His comment inspired us to include a new train in our master facility plan. In 2011, a donor made a $10,000 lead gift for the train. In 2012, plans were drawn and budgets were created. In 2013, we raised the rest of the funds needed to build the new train and construction began in July.

SG Studios WeldFrameA crew of artists fabricated the train in an off-site studio. Meanwhile, the crew at Fairytale Town prepared our site to receive it. The ground was excavated and a concrete pad was poured. The existing red train was brightened up with fresh paint.

The new blue engine, coal car and caboose were transported to Fairytale Town on July 19 and put in place. Once secured, another construction crew came in to pour playground surfacing around the play set. This crew was artistic also – they made the surfacing look like train tracks on the section where the train sits. Once the playground surfacing cured, the Fairytale Town and artist crews returned to add the finishing touches.

I wish I knew how to get in touch with the child who inspired us to add the new train. I think he would be surprised to know that hundreds of people have been involved in making our The Little Engine That Could play set more true to the story. Thousands more will become involved when we open the new set in mid-August and they are able to play imagine themselves in the story.


I hope that somewhere, a young man recognizes that his childhood comment was taken seriously, and is thinking happily to himself: I thought they could, I thought they could, I thought they could.

The Work of Blogs


Photo by Dina Heidrich

I don’t know how, but time seems to slip through my fingertips these days.  When I began this blog in 2011, I was away from my ‘normal’ life and was experiencing so many new things it was easy to post on a regular basis. Now that I am back to ‘normal’ – and in the thick of our busy season – blog posts are not part of my ‘normal’ routine!  This doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy with the work of play. Quite the contrary!  Below are a few of the things we’ve been working on.

FunCamps: These weeklong day camps involve a lot of moving parts. Lesson plans are developed, special training is provided for camp staff, supplies are purchased, registrations processed and teachers are contracted for each of our 17 camps. Teachers and aides are exhausted by the end of the day – but they love getting to know the camp kids – and having the chance to play!

SG Studios WeldFrame

Welding the Train Frame


A New Play Set – The Little Engine That Could:  Set design, permitting, scheduling and fundraising for the new train set began late last year and continued into this year. We are scheduled to install the new set in late July!


Photo by Dina Heidrich


Mad Hatter Meets Mad Men:  This new fundraising event was wonderfully creative and playful. Held in May, it was months in the planning and involved 29 volunteers, 19 sponsors, 12 food purveyors, 13 wineries, 42 raffle/auction donors and about 250 guests. Nearly all who attended wore mad Hats – many made them by hand! And, of course, all proceeds support everyday play at Fairytale Town.

More to come on these and other projects as I get back into the swing of blogging!