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I Speak Sheep

sheepIt was almost closing time and I was walking towards my office. I saw a family playing by King Arthur’s Castle. The adults were chatting happily, the children swirling around them. The sheep at the Mary’s Little Lamb exhibit across the walkway began to bleat. They knew they would be fed soon. As I was nearing the sheep, a little girl form the family ran up to them announcing to me, “I speak sheep!” and baah-ing to her animal friends. It was a joy to see the strength and self-confidence she displayed in this spontaneous moment of playful interaction. She transcended the language barriers and became one with the sheep, both of them baah-ing back and forth until they each rushed off – the sheep to eat their dinner, the child to rejoin her family.

These playful interactions, with family, friends… and animals, are the stuff that memories are made on. I was sad that our moment ended so suddenly. I have worked near those sheep for many years, and have always wanted to know what they were saying!

Fairytale Town is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm beginning March 1. We hope you will drop in for a visit. You can find out if you speak sheep; or cow, donkey, pig, goat, rabbit, chicken, or squirrel when you visit. Or you can just play and enjoy the approach of spring. I believe that is what the sheep was saying to that little girl.


Farmer Brown’s Barn Reopens

The home of Eeyore and Maddie, the Cow that Jumped Over the Moon, reopened on Saturday, October 11! The renovation of Farmer Brown’s Barn saw a number of improvements to this beloved part of our town, such as the expansion of Eeyore’s stall, new stall doors for both Eeyore and Daisy, repainting the interior and exterior, new exhibit spaces and more.

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Check out our exciting new exhibits during your next visit, including a wall of amazing arachnids and reptiles. An additional space will change with seasonal exhibits. Come springtime, this space will transform into Farmer Brown’s Hatchery.

A big thank you to our major sponsors who made the renovation possible: Sacramento County Supervisor, the Honorable Jimmie Yee, the Spencer Family, the Curry Family, and J. Steven Carrillo. Thanks also go to the Webber-Kozumplik Family for supporting the observation beehive, and to hundreds of additional donors for supporting the project.

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Meet Barney Saltzberg at the ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival

BarneyBarney Saltzberg is the author and illustrator of close to 50 books for children, including Beautiful Oops!, Arlo Needs Glasses, Andrew Drew and Drew, and the bestselling Touch and Feel Kisses series with over 800,000 copies in print. Additionally, he’s recorded four CDs of music for children. Barney has been working with the United States State Department as a part of the Cultural Exchange Program and has traveled to China and Russia to speak about the creative process. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three dogs.

Meet Barney at Fairytale Town the weekend of September 27 & 28 at the ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival! Barney will read Beautiful Oops! and his latest book, Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep, and sign copies of his books.

Beautiful Oops! is an inspiring read about creativity and how “oops” BeautifulOops_lowres2can transform into something wonderful. Where do you find inspiration for your books?
I travel around the world speaking about the creative process. In my PowerPoint, I show two images which were created from mistakes. Paw prints on a painting turned to clouds and a coffee stain turned into a monster. Educators kept asking if I could teach how I do that. I tore a piece of paper one day in my studio and it looked like the mouth of an alligator. I knew at that moment that a book was born!

Tell us about your latest book, Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep?Chengdu_Jacket_lowres
The US State department has sent me to Russia and China to speak about creativity. When we were in China, my wife took a 24-hour trip to the city of Chengdu, where the pandas are. She took photographs of a panda in a tree who was having trouble falling asleep. Based on her photos, I made a picture book.

Do you have any tips for parents wanting to encourage their children to unleash their imaginations?
Down time. Down time from any screen. Down time from soccer, ballet, etc. Buy a sketchbook and
have some art supplies. I would not critique your child’s work. Do not ‘show’ them how to draw
anything. Children need to play and use their imagination and often times, we, as parents get too
involved. That telegraphs to a child that they are either doing something incorrectly or that their work somehow doesn’t meet their parents approval. This is a definite imagination shutoff. Another way to jump-start creativity is to play with your children. Pretend play is a great way to activate that creative muscle. Another idea is to make a squiggle on a sheet of paper and let your child flip it around until they see something they want to draw, using the squiggle as a starting point. There are no ‘wrong’ answers here. Everything you draw is perfect. VERY liberating. Hopefully, that ability to improvise and use one’s imagination is a starting point for more to come.

If you could be any fairytale character, who would you be? Why?
I have never thought about this before. It’s not really a fairytale, but the classic story of The Little Engine That Could would be my inspiration, so I would have to say I’m the little engine. Two reasons. I’m not that big and I never give up. I think I can, I think I can, seems to be my motto!

Thanks Barney!


Remembering a Playful Friend

Fairytale Town is located across the street from the Sacramento Zoo. Their Executive Director, Mary Healy, began working there about six months before I began at Fairytale Town. Over the years we got to know each other and learned we shared many things besides a similar start date and a street. We’re both baby boomers who were raised in middle class Irish Catholic families. We both recently lost parents. We both loved travel. And we both loved cheese and wine. We once even attended Cheese School.Glasses 1

You can imagine our excitement when we learned there was a Cheese Festival coming to Sacramento. Mary found out we could get in free to the cheese-tasting gala if we volunteered. (Yes, we’re both frugal and resourceful too.) We had a great time at the Festival tasting cheeses from all over the United States. I shared stories about my recent vacation to Europe. She told me about her upcoming vacation to the Galapagos Islands, a trip she was very much looking forward to. We received commemorative glasses as part of the gala. I mentioned in passing that we were running short on wine glasses and Mary gave me hers. It was a simple and generous gesture that was typical of Mary.

I was shocked and saddened to receive a phone call just a week later telling me that Mary had passed away while on vacation. As I reflected back on the time we spent together, I realized that what we shared most of all was a sense of play. As we get older it can become harder to find partners in play. I am so lucky I found one right across the street. I will forever treasure the playful times I spent with my friend and colleague Mary Healy.


Play Around the World

The International Play Association (IPA) held its tri-annual conference in Istanbul, Turkey from May 20-23, 2014. The conference brought together 355 participants from 40 countries. I was thrilled to be among the participants which included college professors, play practitioners, non-government (or nonprofit) organization representatives, and government officials.IPA Conference

The theme of the conference, Children’s Access to Play in Times of Crisis, was timely as the news from the recent mine catastrophe in Soma, Turkey, went from bad to worse while I was there.

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Adventure Playground In Halabja, Iraq

There were two particularly powerful keynote presentations on play in time of crisis. A UNICEF representative spoke about how the lack of play led to the isolation, depression and victimization of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. The Mayor of Halabja, a Kurdish city in Iraq that was decimated by chemical warfare in 1988, spoke about how a new Adventure Playground brought hope to children and adults in his community. Both reinforced how important play was to the health development of children, as well as the development of communities.

There were also thought-provoking keynote presentations on the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and Title 31 (which states that children have the right to play and to pursue cultural activities), ground-breaking play policies in Wales, play and technology, and the importance of play in education. In addition to the keynote addresses, I attended workshops on playground development, play in education, and play in recreational environments. I was proud to be among the workshop presenters and to share the things Fairytale Town has been doing to promote play in our community. All of us – from the Czech Republic to Australia and the Netherlands to Beirut – noted that the entire community benefited from building playgrounds and developing play programs.

Representatives from the Ankara Toy Library

Representatives from the Ankara Toy Library

A random sampling of playful happenings in other places include:

  • Ankara, Turkey has a Toy Library where families can check out toys and games for two-week periods.
  • Well Played is a public awareness campaign in Holland to raise awareness that play in open spaces is productive time for children and not a nuisance. (Recent research shows that many adults think that children playing in open spaces are irritants.)
  • Sand pools and mud pools are regular features in playgrounds across the globe. Many adventure playgrounds hold regular mud play days. In fact, international mud play day is June 29.
  • Wales is on the cutting edge of play policy and implementation. They have a national play policy and each community has to conduct a play sufficiency assessment and improve delivery of play if warranted.
  • Many play providers are facilitating play in open spaces such as parks, sports fields, public squares, streets and sidewalks, etc.
  • Many playgrounds are using natural elements and loose parts for playgrounds so children can change the play environment regularly. Some are including children in design discussions on specific playgrounds.
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View of Istanbul from the Galata Tower

It is always inspiring to go away from home and hear about the wonderful things people are doing from far-flung places. It’s also rewarding to come home – with the recognition the playful opportunities we offer at Fairytale Town are important to the development of children, families and our community.


Meet the Queen of the Fairies

MellisaBefore the fairy fun at A Midsummer Night’s Dream & Crystal Ice Cream Fantasy on June 28, we wanted to introduce you to this year’s Honorary Queen of the Fairies, Mellisa Paul! Mellisa needs no introduction as the hostess of Sacramento & Company. She is also the Community Liaison Director for News10, coordinating all station events and many other community projects. We’re thrilled that Mellisa will be taking on the role of Titania, Shakespeare’s Queen of the Fairies, presiding over the festivities and greeting guests in her magical fairy bower. Read on to learn more about Mellisa’s history with Fairytale Town as well as a few of her favorite things!

Tell us about your history and experience with Fairytale Town.

I first started going to Fairytale Town as a parent of my eldest daughter Abbi. We went as a family a handful of times for play dates and then had her third birthday party in King Arthur’s Castle. She loved it! We have been avid fans since.

What are you most looking forward to at A Midsummer Night’s Dream & Crystal Ice Cream Fantasy?

I am a big fan of Shakespeare. I actually have a certification in Shakespearean performance from the Oxford School of Drama in England. My favorite dessert is ice cream. So A Midsummer Night’s Dream & Crystal Ice Cream Fantasy is a marriage of two things that I love! So…what am I looking forward to the most??? ALL of it!

We have to ask: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?!

Tough question…hmmmmm…. I like berries a lot…and chocolate. So anything with berries and chocolate is a win for me.

And your favorite Shakespeare play?  Why?

Oddly enough… A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. I’ve played numerous characters in the play over a series of years. One great experience was when we used the stylings of the ‘commedia dell’arte’ in one interpretation of the play…but my favorite was when I played Hermia in college. I was opposite my husband who played Demetrius. We weren’t dating at the time…but the whole experience led to us falling in love!

If you could be any fairytale character, who would you be?  Why?

Rapunzel…because I’d LOVE to have super long, gorgeous thick hair!!!


Meet Brad Peters, Honorary Chair of Mad Hatter Meets Sherlock Holmes

Brad Peters of Hock Farm Craft & ProvisionsWe are fortunate to have Brad Peters of Hock Farm Craft & Provisions serve as the Honorary Chair of Mad Hatter Meets Sherlock Holmes on May 8!

With over 13 years of experience in the hospitality industry, seven of those behind the bar, it’s Brad’s enthusiastic and genuine approach to mixing drinks and guest service that have earned him recognition as one of Sacramento’s most respected bartenders. Brad emphasizes ingredient-driven classic cocktails, often re-imagined with local produce and locally produced goods. Brad has received recognition for his recipes and perspectives in local, regional, and national media outlets.

We wanted to introduce Brad and ask him about a few of his favorite things and what he’ll be making for the party.

What’s your favorite: Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, or both? Why?

I am a Sherlock Holmes guy. I love crime dramas, mystery and suspense. However, I guess when you look at it that way Alice in Wonderland is a lot of the same and I love the undertones of Alice. I’ll still stand by Sherlock.

If you could be any character from Alice in Wonderland or Sherlock Holmes, who would you be? Why?

Watson. He’s the trustworthy sidekick to the eccentric Holmes. All the excitement but none of the hassles of fame.

Have you been to Fairytale Town? If so, what is your favorite feature?

I have, multiple times. I love the venue for adult fundraising fun. I’ve been for concerts. I have a 7 month old boy now, and I’m sure I will be hanging around Fairytale Town a bunch soon.

What will you be showcasing at the Mad Hatter Meets Sherlock Holmes event on May 8?

We will be sampling Hock Farm’s sangria and demonstrating how to make a traditional punch. We will also be showcasing some fun methods to improve your at-home punch making experience!!!


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!


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.

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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!