Caring for Caterpillars

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

Perfect for a home or child care environment, welcoming live caterpillars is easy and engaging. The caterpillars arrive in their own individual cups with their food included. You provide the habitat, which can be as simple as a jar or small mesh laundry hamper. Once the butterflies emerge, they spend a couple of days drying their wings, providing lots of time for up-close observation. On a nice day, release the butterflies in your yard or garden.

This wonderful experience offers many opportunities to:

  • invite children to explore and enjoy caterpillars and butterflies up close
  • inspire curiosity and a love for nature
  • help children make meaningful connections to the environment & the world around them
  • encourage children to wonder and develop their own theories
  • examine nature from a scientific perspective
  • foster a love for and gentleness toward all living things

Ready to get started?

  1. Order your Painted Lady caterpillars online at
    • 3/$20 or 6/$35
  2. Pick-up your caterpillars on Friday, April 28th 4pm-8pm in Orleans or Saturday, April 29th 8:30am-10am in Nepean (dates & times tentative, to be confirmed mid-April).
  3. Observe and enjoy watching them grow. After 1-2 weeks they will transform into the chrysalis and in 8-10 days will emerge as butterflies.
  4. Observe and enjoy the butterflies for a few days and then release them outside.

Caring for your caterpillars and butterflies:

Each caterpillar comes in a tiny clear container with a cover that holds a paper towel to control humidity and to serve as support when the caterpillar hangs itself by the tail when it pupates (transforms into a chrysalis). In the container with the caterpillar, there is a spoonful of artificial diet (soya flour based).

Leave the container on a shelf away from direct sunlight (and away from pets!) and at room temperature. You can open the cup for a closer look and even very gently hold the caterpillar.  The caterpillars grow quickly! Be sure to spend some time enjoying this stage.

The caterpillar will manage alone and when it is finished feeding, it will push away the frass (caterpillar poop!), hang itself upside down from the paper towel and transform into a chrysalis or pupa without your help.

When this happens do not disturb the pupa for 72 hours until it has dried, hardened, and is solid.

Once the pupa is dried and solid, pull the paper towel and chrysalis from the container and pin it into a small flight cage (small mesh hamper—good if you have several caterpillars), about three inches from the bottom. It must be high enough for the butterfly to spread its wings completely and dry them when it emerges. If the pupa is pinned too high in the cage, the butterfly could fall and hurt itself. If the emerging butterfly falls from its chrysalis, it must be able to crawl up again in a hurry to dry its wing, so your flight cage must have a rough wall for it to crawl up. Slippery plastic or glass containers will not do the trick unless you add a wooden branch.

Alternatively, you can place the paper towel and chrysalis on the bottom of a jar or bug container.  Include a stick to allow the butterfly to hang from once it emerges.  Be sure to cover your jar with some sort of breathable material (mesh, a piece of screen, etc.).

Once the chrysalis becomes translucent, the butterfly will soon emerge.  The paper towel and chrysalis shown above were placed at the bottom of the container.  When the butterfly emerges it can climb onto the stick and up the branch (not shown) where it will dry its wings.

In all, the pupa stage will last eight to ten days. Once the butterflies emerge, they will spend some time (could be a day or two) drying their wings.  Place a slice or two of orange at the bottom of the enclosure for the butterflies to drink.  Release the butterflies a day or two later into your yard or garden.

Another option:

When the caterpillars are quite large, open the lids of the tiny cups and place them into a larger jar or enclosure (make sure that the lid is breathable yet secure!).  Provide sticks for climbing and when the caterpillars are done eating, they will climb to the top and hang directly from the mesh, or from a larger sheet of paper towel.

One caterpillar in a small jar or container is fine if you plan to release it as soon as the butterfly emerges.  If you have several caterpillars and/or want to observe them for a couple of days as butterflies, then a larger enclosure is better.  This could be a mesh laundry hamper, a small aquarium/terrarium, or even a clear plastic bin with a screen or mesh lid.  You can include sticks, rocks, and greenery if you like.  Information on host plants for Painted Lady butterflies is abundant.  Search it up online and you might learn that you already have the perfect host plant growing in your garden!

Several butterflies in a large mesh enclosure, soon to be released outside:

Release the butterflies on a warm day in your yard or at the park:

Using Visuals Supports—Schedules and So Much More!

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

When I came across this great “visuals” reminder from Kristin Wiens (@kristin.wiens, @kwiens62) I thought that it would be good to share it along with a bit of information on the various types and benefits of using visuals with your children at home or at child care.  While it might seem a bit daunting at first, using visual supports quickly becomes routine.  I’ve used them both at home when my own children were little and in various professional capacities.  I love these 9 great reasons identified by Wiens:

Visual cues benefit all children as they provide information, identify expectations, support communication, cue new skills, and enhance memory.  Using them throughout your program supports skill development and promotes children’s independence.  Examples of visual supports include photographs, line art, words, gestures, and actual objects—used consistently to convey information.  Depending on how they are presented, visuals can be used for schedules, choice boards, labels, first/then boards, and sequencing charts.

A Visual Schedule reinforces the daily routine by providing a tangible way for children to see what comes next. Seeing the sequence of the day and learning to anticipate the routine reassures children and helps them to feel a sense of control over the environment. Simple graphics or actual photos of the children in the home or child care environment work well. Velcro or magnets on laminated cards make it easy for you to adjust the schedule as needed and allow the children to actively participate in removing the activities from the schedule once done. If wall or fridge space is not an option, the visual schedule can be easily strung up on a line with clothespins or assembled in a binder.

Many sample visual schedules can be found online.  A simple example might include:

  • indoor play
  • snack
  • outdoor play
  • story or circle
  • lunch
  • nap
  • snack
  • outdoor play
  • pick up

It’s also easy to add in extra activities such as going for a walk or tasks like bathroom visits and hand washing.


image on the left:

image on the right:

Choice Boards provide information about what options are available and prompt children to make a choice.  This can be a choice between two play activities, two objects, two foods, etc.  Once the children are comfortable choosing between two options, you can gradually increase the choice board to include more possibilities.  A choice board with multiple favourite activities/items is sometimes called an “I Want Board” and is used more commonly as a communication tool but can also be helpful in a group setting such as home child care.  Here is a wonderful example of a choice board (or “I want board”) in use by a classroom teacher.  Each student chooses how they would like to be greeted from choices on the board (hug, bow, high five, fist bump, dance, or handshake.):

For choosing between two places (i.e., playing at the park or in the backyard), photographs work well.  For choice between two objects, or two foods, you can use the actual items if you prefer.  Choice boards themselves (compared to simply holding up or pointing to the actual choices) cue the child that they are about to be presented with a choice, sometimes this in itself is helpful.  In this case, using a consistent “board” (a dedicated clipboard for example) is easiest and most effective.  Whether you use an actual board or not, the key feature is to only present available options.   The adult determines the available options, and the children get to choose their preference.  Eventually, children who are comfortable making choices will not need as many visual cues for everyday decision making.


Labels help us all to know where things belong—use simple pictures or words to identify the room, area, bin, or cupboard.  Labelling personal cubbies and/or playroom toy bins, for example, supports independent self-help skills and contributes to group tasks such as tidying up.

Photo from:

Some home child care providers assign a colour to each child.  This is another type of visual cue and can include items such as personal bins (red bin is for child A’s hats, mitts, and bag while blue bin is for child B’s belongings, etc.), snack and lunch dishes, facecloth and towel, water bottles, etc.  The important thing here is to be consistent in maintaining the colour assignments.

First/Then Boards indicate a sequence of events and are helpful during transitions.  The “first” picture is an activity that you need the child/children to do followed by the “then” picture of an activity or object that the child/children enjoy.  Help them to complete the sequence and be sure to follow through.  Make the “first” action easier and more interesting by pairing it with a little song—extend the song by repeating or making up verses to suit and/or prolong the task:

  • Time to put the toys away, toys away, toys away, time to put the toys away, so we can play outside. (Tune of London Bridge)


This one in particular is super easy to adapt (no rhyming lol!).

  • Now it’s time to wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands, now it’s time to wash your hands, so we can have our snack.


An easy little clean up rhyme:

  • Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere, clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.


And one for handwashing:

  • Wash, wash, wash your hands, get them nice and clean! Wash the front and wash the back, and wash them in between. (Tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat)


Sequencing Charts support children in learning a new skill.  The skill is broken up into smaller, step by step tasks which are represented by a sequence of images.    Sequencing charts are often used to teach and remind children about various routines—including handwashing, toileting, and dressing.  Sesame Street offers a printable handwashing sequence here:

Just as adults use and rely on various visual cues (traffic signs, calendars, post-it notes, etc.), so do children.  Not only do these supports serve as important reminders, but they also establish expectations, promote language development, encourage autonomy, and provide comfort in knowing what’s coming up next.

With reference to decision making, linking visual supports when you communicate with children helps to keep their attention, gives context to your words, and provides a concrete reference for making a choice.  Think of a restaurant menu–isn’t it so much easier to make a choice when you have a menu to look at? Isn’t even nicer when the menu features appetizing photos?  What about when you want to order something that you’re not sure how to pronounce or that might be in another language?  Pointing to your choice is pretty handy.  Listening to the server rattle off the options could also work but an actual menu really does enhance the experience.

Children are constantly working to process information and make sense of the world around them–providing visual cues supports their growth and development as capable and competent learners.

No matter what type of visuals you use, be sure to present them at the children’s eye level and keep them in a consistent location (i.e., a dedicated spot on the wall for the daily schedule and/or the daily greetings, use a dedicated clipboard or binder for a choice or first/then board).  If you haven’t used visual supports in your home or child care program, give it a try—you’ll soon see the many benefits for both you and the children in your care.

When a Pet Dies–Supporting Children in Their Grief

Adapted from "Grief and Loss: A Resource Guide for Parents and Home Child Care Providers"

Often, one of the first and most common grief experiences for young children is the death of a pet–whether a beloved family pet or a special pet at a caregiver’s home.

Just as with the death of a person, and depending on their age and development, every child will react differently to the death of a pet. Be patient and reassuring as you talk to children in a way that is age-appropriate and sensitive.

You can support children by:

  • Keeping to the facts (use your discretion regarding the details) and using words that are direct and honest but not scary.  Use simple language and truthful explanations: “He died.”, “She was very sick/old and her body stopped working.”, “They’re dead. They can’t eat or breath or walk anymore.”, “She died. Died means she’s not coming back. We won’t see her again.”, “We can still think about him and remember the special times we had together.”.  Avoid euphemisms such as “put to sleep”, “gone to a better place”, “lost” or “crossed the bridge”.  These terms can be confusing and lead to misunderstanding.
  • Answering their questions as best you can–if you don’t know an answer, just say so.
  • Encouraging them to share their feelings, whether sad, mad, scared, etc.
  • Sharing your sadness and/or your own personal pet loss story.
  • Modeling and building empathy. Express your own feelings : “I’m sad too. I’ll miss feeding Finn and watching him swim around” and give children the opportunity to express theirs. Help them to build empathy when a friend is grieving: “She’s sad. Her dog died and she misses him. What can we do or say to tell her that we care?”.
  • “I wish…, I miss…, and I remember…” are good starting off prompts. Some children will join in and want to share while others might prefer to listen as you share your thoughts and feelings.
  • Wondering together.  Some questions have no answers. It’s ok to say that you don’t know the answer but that you’re glad that you can wonder about it together.
  • Offering comfort–be close and be present. Respond with care and kindness and reassure children that they are safe, cared for, and loved.
  • Reading together–picture books can help children to process their feelings.
  • Encouraging children to play. This is how they work out difficult situations and make meaning of events they don’t quite understand.
  • Celebrating the pet’s life with a special gesture—Invite the children to take a favourite walk, draw a portrait of the pet, plant a flower or tree, paint a memorial rock, blow a wish, sing a song, etc.

Children are naturally curious about life and death. Turn everyday moments into an opportunity to talk about the life cycle. Observing plants and insects often provides a natural segue to talking about death. Understanding the inevitability and irreversibility of death takes time. As children grow and develop, they begin to process and accept these concepts. Introducing the language and simple facts can help to prepare children for the death of a pet down the road.

Know that each child will  process their grief in their own way and in their own time.  Being present, giving children the time and space to work through their emotions, wondering together about the hard questions, and bearing witness to their pain will all help to validate their grief.

Interested in learning more?  Check out our e-book Grief and Loss: A Resource Guide for Parents & Home Child Care Providers.  Topics include:

  • How do children grieve? Common reactions and ways to offer support
  • A note about separation and divorce
  • Talking about death
  • Ways to honour and celebrate life
  • Book suggestions and reading lists
  • Recommended resources

You can download a free copy of the guide on the Resources section of our website.

We All Worry

Adapted from "Anxiety: A Resource Guide for Home Child Care"

We all worry—some more than others. The same is true for children. It is natural and normal to worry and have fears. In fact, it is very common for young children to express a wide range of worries. The world is new, and their frame of reference is small.   Worry and fear are different forms of anxiety and are a normal part of development.

The brain’s alarm system alerts us to threat and keeps us safe—that little voice, those gut feelings, the spontaneous physiological symptoms—they all have a purpose, and thankfully so.   Plus, we’re all familiar with fight, flight, or freeze—the most common reactions when faced with danger.  This is your brain, doing its job to keep you safe.  Letting you know that something’s not right.  For some people though, their internal alarm system is naturally more sensitive and therefor more easily activated.  They worry more.

Preparedness and prudence help to keep our worries in check. Preparing for a test, new job, or presentation will often lessen the worry and help to keep us calm. With increased preparedness, the level of threat decreases. Similarly, being prudent in a potentially dangerous situation (i.e., wearing a seatbelt or bike helmet) can also help to minimize the risk of danger and keep us safe.

Because young children can’t judge what is dangerous, they don’t prepare for danger and aren’t prudent enough to be careful and avoid it. It’s the adult’s job to keep them safe. Through our relationship with a child, we can help to calm their alarm system by being present, acknowledging their worries, and helping them to understand the likelihood and/or severity of the threat.

When children are young, and their experiences are all new, their frame of reference is very small.  Many experiences present as a potential threat resulting in some children having lots of worries—especially those with more sensitive internal alarm systems.

For example: An infant who loses sight of their parent truly doesn’t know where that parent went or if they ‘ll be back—Where are you? Who will take care of me? Who will keep me safe? They cry and learn that although we might be out of sight, we are close by and will always respond to their needs. As they grow and experience more frequent and prolonged types of separation (nighttime, being cared for by Grandma, child care, etc.), they learn that the parent always returns which builds trust in the relationship. Their worries are calmed by that knowledge and by the predictability of the experience—the parent’ s consistent return. Eventually, this worry dissipates, and the child is comfortable going to school, to a friend’ s house, and before you know it—moving out on their own. Their frame of reference for “being apart” is large and they are able to stay connected without having to have the parent within sight.

Understanding the brain’s alarm system and a child’s limited frame of reference helps to explain why they worry. When we understand why children worry, we are better able to support them in their ability to handle their own fears and worries.

Interested in learning more about common childhood fears and how exactly you can help? Take a look at our free e-book Anxiety: A Resource Guide for Home Child Care.  Available as a free download under the Resources section of our website.

Transitioning to Child Care

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

Home child care providers are one of the most influential people in a child’s early life—helping to shape the developing brain and laying a strong foundation for future learning and growth. A quality home child care environment features a caregiver who is committed to the well-being and safety of the children in their care. This commitment begins during the transition phase as the caregiver works to establish a secure attachment and foster a deep sense of belonging for each child.

A secure attachment—the component of an adult-child relationship relating to the child’s safety and security—develops from a consistent, reliable, responsive, and caring relationship. It is within this secure attachment that young children learn to trust others. It also provides them with a safe place from which to explore and investigate the world. Feeling secure and having a strong sense of belonging allow children the freedom to learn and grow.

One of the most fundamental and intimate human needs is the need for connection and belonging—the feelings and experiences of being valued and of forming meaningful relationships with others. Ontario’s pedagogical document How Does Learning Happen? describes belonging as a core foundation of the framework.

“When children are strongly connected to their caregivers, they feel safe and have the confidence to play, explore, and learn about the world around them. Enabling children to develop a sense of belonging as part of a group is also a key contributor to their lifelong well-being. A sense of belonging is supported when each child’s unique spirit, individuality, and presence are valued.” How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years, page 24

Home child care environments allow children to grow and learn within the comfort and structure of a family setting. Just as with any family, connection and relationship between the members of a home child care family are essential. A strong foundation of trust, open communication, mutual respect, and kindness between a parent and provider will allow the child to flourish.

All children are different and each child will adjust to child care in their own time and way. Factors including the child’s age, communication skills, and comfort with being left in the care of others, all contribute to how a child might react when starting child care. Here are a few general things to expect:

  • A range of emotions that might include excitement, joy, apprehension, sadness, and/or worry.
  • A possible change in behaviour and/or eating/sleeping/toileting habits.
  • Days that are easy and days that are hard.


We know that starting child care can be hard. With this in mind, we’ve set out to offer a range of practical suggestions and online resources for both parents and providers. Tools and tips to help ease the transition, establish a sense of belonging, and pave the way for a successful child care partnership.

Transitioning to Child Care: A Guide for Parents and Home Child Care Providers” includes information on all of the following topics:

  • Transitioning during COVID-19
  • Easing the transition–what parents can do and what providers can do
  • Napping and Breastfeeding during the transition period
  • Saying goodbye and cherishing connection
  • Transition schedules
  • Picture book suggestions
  • Transition rituals
  • Using a visual schedule
  • Creating a Family Wall
  • Extreme separation and other anxiety disorders


Please visit our resources page to read and/or download the full guide.

Imagine.Create.Play Resource Kits: “I Care” Home Child Care

We have created 2 lovely original resource kits designed specifically with home child care in mind.  Use these kits to:

  • welcome a new child into care
  • prepare your group for a new child
  • talk about kindness and empathy
  • celebrate differences
  • ease transitions
  • help children with separation anxiety


“I Care” Bear Cave Home Child Care:

This unique kit was conceptualized and created by Andrea Gingras.  She has lovingly donated hours (and hours!) of her time and her artistic talents to bring you a play set featuring the warm and welcoming environment of home child care.

“I Care” Home Child Care:

Use this kit to welcome new children to your daycare and to prepare your current group for the addition of a new friend. Help the current group to understand that a new friend might feel scared, or worried, or sad at first.  Talk about ways to be kind and caring.

Visit to order your kit today! Each kit includes a copy of “The Kissing Hand” board book, a detailed resource handout, and the opportunity to create a personalized “Welcome to Daycare” booklet featuring photos of your home daycare and text of your choice.

For the Love of Sharing

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

Sharing—such a hard concept for young children. And teenagers. And let’s face it, many adults too.  It’s one of those words that we assume has one “shared definition” but really it doesn’t.  It in fact has several definitions and depending on the situation can be a rather confusing word.

Share your toys.  Share your cookie.  Share the couch.

There’s a lot going on with that one word.  It’s no wonder that it can be confusing for children when we use the same word to mean different things.

When we say “share your toys”, what we usually mean is take turns or lend your toy for a little while.  “Share your cookie” is completely different.  That half will disappear, never to return!  “Share the couch”, is different again.  We’re asking to share the space, make room, or move over.

It helps young children to learn and understand the different meanings if we use more specific language detailing what it is that we are asking.

Semantics aside, sharing is a pretty loaded word, rife with pressure and judgement.  Why do I have to share? What if I don’t want to share? What if I don’t want to share with you in particular? If I don’t share am I a bad person? Am I selfish? How do I decide? How do I know?

Why do we expect children to share when we as adults don’t always?  Do you always share your food? Do you share items that are valuable to you? Would you trust just anyone to take care of your special things/pets/children? Would you still share something with someone who has broken your trust (someone who never returns things or has returned something damaged)? What about something that you are using—your car? Your phone?  Would you just give it up because someone else asked to use it?

I’m not sure that there are any easy answers.  What’s right for me is right for me and what’s right for you is what’s right for you. The item in question, the people involved, and the context of the situation are all relevant factors.  There are no right or wrong answers.   What I do know, is that for sharing to be meaningful, the motivation for it needs to come from within.  I love Raffi’s song for highlighting this concept “It’s mine but you can have some, with you I’d like to share it, cause if I share it with you, you’ll have some too!” Sharing because I want to feels good and is meaningful to me.

When we tell children “you need to share”, or “you’ve had the doll long enough”, or “Jo’s going to have a turn now” we are imposing the act of sharing and teaching them that sharing feels bad.  Instead of insisting on sharing we can teach our children to consider the request (or better still notice and observe: “I see that Jo has been waiting and watching you for a long time now…”) and make a decision. If they decide to share, great.  If not, that’s ok too.  Teach them to kindly and assertively let the other child know that they are not done or are not ready/willing to share. Help the other child to wait and be patient, and to accept the decision.  Distraction and redirection often work well.  In her post “It’s OK Not to Share”, author Heather Shumaker gives great examples of words to use:

Positive assertiveness
– You can play with it until you’re all done.
– Are you finished with your turn? Max says he’s not done yet.
– Did you like it when he grabbed your truck? Tell him to stop!
– Say: “I’m not done. You can have it when I’m done.”
– She can have a turn. When she’s all done, you can have a turn.
– I see Bella still has the pony. She’s still using it.
– You’ll have to wait. I can’t let you take it out of her hands.

Waiting and awareness of others
– Oh, it’s so hard to wait!
– You’re so mad. You really want to play with the pony right now!
– You can be mad, but I can’t let you take the toy.
– Will you tell Max when you’re all done?
– I see you’re not using the truck any more. Go find Ben. Remember, he’s waiting for a turn.

Sharing (space or toys) at home (or at child care) can be encouraged but does not necessarily need to be enforced or policed.    Longer turns can be allowed and the children can practice using some of the language noted above.  The more opportunities that they have to practice turn taking the better they will become at expressing themselves and regulating impulse control and emotions.

Sometimes, adults do need to guide the play.   In a public space for instance or during a group activity an adult might have to remind the children that the toys and equipment are for everyone.   Turn taking might need to be discussed ahead of time: “Today at playgroup, you can have a turn on the slide and so can all of the other children”.  Another example might be to talk about sharing toys and turn taking when hosting a playdate.  It’s ok if there are certain special toys that your child does not want to share.  Put those toys away for safe keeping only to be brought out once the playdate is done.  The same is true for taking special toys to child care.  On the one hand, if it will be hard to share the special toy then it might be best left in their cubby or backpack.  On the other hand, it is also important for children to learn that not everything is for sharing.  Discuss it with your child care provider to determine how best to proceed.

To share or not to share–it’s not easy, to say the least, and takes a lot of practice and patience.  When we model the language of sharing (positive assertiveness and waiting) we are teaching lifelong skills and increasing resiliency. When we, as adults, feel intrinsically motivated to share with others, our children will witness this kindness and learn from our example.  Best of all, when they feel motivated to share, and when they make that decision for themselves, we’ll know that it’s sincere and comes from the heart.



How Your Interactions Impact the Developing Brain

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

Did you know?

Infants are born with all of the brain cells (neurons) they’ll have for life.  What shapes and grows the brain is the amount, and speediness, of the connections (synapses) between these cells.  Picture a map—the cities and towns are already established but the best routes in between have yet to be formed.  Most routes will do the trick to get you from point A to point B but for sure some are faster, more direct, easier to navigate, etc.  The more a particular path is used the better it is and the more you travel from point A to point B the more you learn and understand the most efficient way to get to your destination.  The same is true for the brain—the first time a connection is formed between two cells it might be a bit slow but with each “journey” between cells the connection improves—it gets faster and stronger and more efficient.  Plus, over time, many more connections are formed. As with the map and roadway analogy, simple brain connections are formed first, followed by more complex pathways and circuits (highways if we follow the comparison above).   The pathways we continue to use regularly are reinforced and refined while those we no longer need are eliminated through a process called pruning.

Key Facts:

  • From birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in life.
  • Starting from birth, children develop brain connections through their everyday experiences.
  • Brain connections allow us to think, move, communicate—really just about everything.
  • In the first few years of life, more than one million new neural connections (synapses) are formed every second, more than at any other time in life.
  • Neural connections are built through positive interactions with a child’s parents and caregivers and by using their senses to interact with the world.
  • The quality of a child’s experiences in the first few years of life – positive or negative – helps shape how their brain develops.
  • Early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life.

Home child care providers have a huge role in shaping the brain development of the young children in their care.  By providing a caring and responsive relationship and being sensitive to a child’s needs, caregivers nurture optimal brain growth—and support the formation of essential neural connections.

Building neural connections through focused back and forth interactions is called “Serve and Return”.

“Serve and return interactions shape brain architecture. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills.”

A child “serves” by showing interest (by looking, pointing, making a sound or expression, using words or actions, etc.) and an adult “returns” by responding with interest. Here are the 5 steps for Brain-Building Serve and Return from the Harvard Centre on the Developing Child:

1) Notice the serve and share the interest.

2) Support and encourage. Return the serve with a word, gesture, expression, or action.

3) Name it.  Label what the child is seeing, feeling, or doing.

4) Take turns back and forth.  When you return a serve, wait and give the child a chance to respond.

5) Practice endings and beginnings.  Recognize when a child is ready to end one activity and start another.  Follow their lead and maintain interest.

Watch the short video here: 5 Steps for Brain-Building Serve and Return

When you engage in regular serve and return interactions with the children in your care, you provide the positive stimulation that each brain needs for healthy growth and development.  Everyday moments can be turned into serve and return experiences—during play, while reading, enjoying a walk, sharing a meal, and even while getting ready for nap. For many adults, this type of interaction feels quite easy and intuitive.  For others, it might take some getting used to.  Either way, know that when you notice a child’s “serve” and “return” it with interest and care you are helping to develop the pathways of their “brain map”– neural connections and complex circuits that will last a lifetime.

References and Resources:

Jean Clinton, Love Builds Brains (Tall Pines Press, 2020)

5 Steps for Brain-Building Serve and Return

Thanks to the Ottawa Community Foundation for supporting our initiative “Supporting Mental Wellness in Home Child Care”.

The Ottawa Community Foundation is a public, non-profit organization created by and for the people of Ottawa. It connects donors who care with causes that matter and serves as a trusted resource for addressing issues and leveraging opportunities in the community. It attracts and manages a growing endowment, the invested earnings of which provide grants to charitable organizations.

The Foundation’s role is as neutral broker in support of all charitable causes that contribute to the community’s quality of life. With a growing profile, the Ottawa Community Foundation has built an enviable reputation for astute financial management, high-quality donor services, strategic grantmaking and innovative partnerships. For more information, visit

Imagine.Create.Play. Resource Kit Handouts

Why They're Handy to Have!

Did you know? Nearly all of our kits include a detailed digital handout to help you make the most of the kit components—saving you valuable time searching for ideas and inspiration on how to integrate the kit materials into your daily program.

We know that as you welcome children into your home each day you strive to create a nurturing environment which supports their emotional, social, and physical well-being. Your daily observations of the children guide your engagement and also help you to support the unique ways in which they express themselves.

You believe that all children are capable, competent, and curious individuals and you know that when you purchase an Imagine.Create.Play Resource Kit you are investing in the quality program that you provide for the children in your care.  As a home child care provider, you understand that by scaffolding the children’s abilities you are supporting the development of emergent skills that they will need to head into the world of school and beyond.

Here’s what providers have to say about the kit handouts:

  • The additional resource list is handy for ideas to capitalize on the children’s interest and further their developmental skills.
  • The kits come with a handout with songs and activity ideas to keep the fun going!
  • Excellent attention to detail and thoughtful inclusion on how to utilize the kits.
  • It takes the time and energy away from me having to source an idea and supplies, especially while we can’t shop for items as we usually would.
  • I like open ended materials and feel the handouts also provided great supporting material to help expand on the children’s play.
  • It helps to get ideas that are beyond what we may have done ourselves.
  • The quality is excellent, and they are unique.

Designed to be used as a quick reference or resource guide to help support the interests of the children in your care, the handouts often feature:

  • Extensive ideas for how to use the kit items
  • Information on the type of play and/or learning benefits associated with the kit
  • Suggestions for extending the play and learning—including suggestions for various play invitations and provocations
  • Discussion prompts and questions to inspire dialogue and communication
  • “At-a-glance” visual inspiration from Pinterest for art and sensory play, activities, and snack ideas all related to the kit
  • A compilation of rhymes, finger plays, and songs—often including original work created specifically for the handout
  • A book list featuring related titles/subjects
  • Printable components to use with the kit items—game sheets, simple work sheets, colouring templates, etc.
  • Condensed story favourites to share with children and to use with kit materials
  • Various online references and resources

Here are some excerpts from various Imagine.Create.Play Resource Kit handouts:



The Colour Monster:

Social-Emotional Development:

Vivid images engage children as they relate to how the monster is feeling…anger, happiness, fear, etc. Children learn that feelings have names, and the book helps them to identify those feelings by associating them with different colours. This story will provoke conversations among the children about how they are feeling and why.  Labelling and understanding emotions helps children learn to self-regulate and is key to developing empathy for others.

Read the book, bring out the peg monsters and ask the children:

  • How is the monster feeling?
  • How do you know? (Discuss what visual cues and body language help us to understand the emotions of others.)
  • I wonder why the monster is feeling happy/sad/angry/etc.? (Helps children to take the perspective of another and develops theory of mind.)
  • When do you feel happy/sad/angry/etc.?

Small World Play:

Encouraging Small World Play:

Small world play combines various elements of imaginative, dramatic, loose parts, and sensory play.  Inspired by a child’s interest, the adult can help to gather and prepare materials which are then left for the child to manipulate and explore.

In order to contain and define the play, a small world set up usually starts with some sort of base: trays, playmats, shallow bins, and shoebox lids are all great examples.

Next is to determine the setting: the beach, the woods, a pond, a farm, a city block, the ocean, a meadow, etc., the possibilities are endless!  A setting helps to differentiate small world play from more general sensory play.

Once a setting has been selected, it’s time to introduce various bits and pieces:

  • Loose Parts: blocks, glass beads, spools, buttons, wool, small cars, tracks, etc.
  • Sensory Components: sand, straw, water, shaving cream, shredded paper, etc.
  • Natural Elements: rocks, shells, wood, mulch, pinecones, greenery, etc.

The last step is to include some small people and/or animal figures.  These bring the small world play to life and really encourage language development.  Children manipulate the characters as they test out various ideas and theories through play.


If You Plant a Seed:

Science Extension Ideas and Activities from Pinterest:

  • Learn about the parts of a plant and the life cycle with photos, felt shapes, and/or sequencing cards.
  • Introduce the various edible parts of a plant. For instance, we eat the roots (carrots, beets), the stem or stalk (celery, rhubarb), the leaves (spinach, cabbage), the flower (broccoli, cauliflower), the fruit (tomatoes, cucumbers), and the seeds (peas, beans).
  • Plant seeds in a clear plastic baggie or cup so that the children can easily observe the roots and sprouts. Measure and document the growth.


My Watering Can—original poem

I water with my watering can, every chance I get.
I know the little plants like to be a little wet.
I shower them so carefully, just a little is enough.
I’m gentle as I water, I wouldn’t want to be too rough.
I give the plants a little drink when they are parched from too much sun.
Watering with my watering can, is really so much fun.
The water, fresh and cool, seeps deeply down below.
Spreading to the roots, so the little plants will grow.
Watering makes me happy, I’m so glad to do my part.
I love my garden and the plants, both with all my heart.

Tile Monster (original game set):

Game Suggestions

  • Fill and dump: Into an empty tissue box, wipes container, or parmesan container (or something similar that has a smallish hole to present a bigger challenge than above.
  • Loose parts: Kitchen area, doll house area…wherever the child’s imagination takes hold.
  • Exploration: Place in a bin on a table and encourage the children to explore them – how high can they stack them? What can they build?
  • Group Time: Talk about colours, encourage children to name the colours, place out two with the black side up and one of another and ask them which one is “different”, count them, place out all 6 colours – review them with the children – ask them to close their eyes as you take one away – then ask them which one is missing…
  • Matching: Roll the die and encourage children to pick the tile that matches or roll the die and the Tile Monster has to eat the tile that matches


Six Colour Tiles—original matching game poem

Six colour tiles, waiting to play,
Along came (child’s name) who took one away.
*Repeat, counting down to one, if less than 5 children, repeat names or use fewer tiles.
One colour tile, waiting to play
I came along and took it away.
Now we each have a tile…you know this game…
Quick find something in the room with a colour just the same!
*Everyone quickly finds a matching colour object and returns to show the group.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar:

Printable Resource: Fruits with holes 1-5

Print and use for storytelling, art, math games, and more.


The Mystery of Metamorphosis:

Most butterfly larva harden into a chrysalis while most moth larva will build a silk cocoon around themselves.  A chrysalis can take many shapes and colours and can be translucent near the end of the transformation.  Chrysalis is the name of the butterfly pupa while a cocoon is external, made just before the moth pupates.  (


New Little Butterfly (original song, tune of Au Clair de la Lune)

On a sunny morning, at the break of day.
I open up my eyes, soon to find my way.
I spread out my new wings… so that they may dry,
I’m filled with such excitement; I just can’t wait to fly!
*try as an action song with the children curled up on the ground, slowly spreading their wings and flying around the room or yard.

Love Monster:

For more information, please visit our e-store at where you’ll find detailed descriptions, photos, and videos highlighting our unique and engaging Imagine.Create.Play Resource Kits.

Nurturing a Gender Inclusive Environment

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

Preface: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gender identity and gender inclusive child care.  I’ve done a lot of reading and learning, over the last few years especially, and I’ve also been reflecting on some of my experiences working with adults and youth who have struggled with fear and guilt and shame around understanding and expressing their own gender identity.  I know that if some of these individuals had had even just one adult in their early lives who provided a safe and supportive place to explore gender it would have had a lasting impact.  To have had an adult read a book about gender diverse children, be open to the idea of using new pronouns, or speak out against traditional gender norms and stereotypes might have helped to counter the many negative messages they later internalized as feelings of shame, of not belonging, and of not being worthy.  

Today I share with you some ideas and resources to hopefully inspire you to learn more and to reflect upon your own inclusive practices.  If you have a great resource or comment to share please send it to me at [email protected].  I am learning too.  When we know better, we do better.  

Together in caring ❤                                                                                                                                                      Julie (she/her)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ______________________________________________________________________________________________  

It’s never too early (or too late!) to talk about gender and to promote the healthy development of gender identity and expression.  Children begin to develop a sense of their overall identity at around age 2 and need to be able to express themselves freely through their play, clothing, hair, friend, and toy choices without judgment or expectation—without having to fit into either a “girl” or “boy” pre-set check box.  Noticing a variety of gender creative behaviours in early childhood isn’t new—young children are drawn to explore and experiment through play.  This is a completely normal and healthy part of development and does not automatically imply that a child will eventually self-identify as transgender.   What has changed (and is changing) is how we as adults understand the broader concept of gender as more than the binary categories of male and female.  And more importantly, how we use that understanding to provide a safe and nurturing space for children to explore and develop their identities while we work to dismantle traditional gender stereotypes.

Still,–it’s a work in progress.  There are new and evolving ideas to learn, new words to understand, and new pronouns to use.  For some, this is already second nature, but for others it’s a steep and challenging learning curve.  What’s most meaningful, is that we make the choice to learn and grow and change—to be open to new ideas and to actively reflect upon our own beliefs, attitudes, biases, and assumptions.

Nurturing a gender inclusive environment:

Learn more: Understand and familiarize yourself with the broader concept of gender as multifaceted—often described as a diverse and/or fluid spectrum.  For many people, the sex assigned to them at birth aligns well with how they feel about themselves on the inside.  Other people might feel a partial alignment or no alignment at all.

Some useful terms–adapted and/or cited directly from and/or

Sex at birth: When children are born, the sex “male” or “female” is determined based on external genital organs. A child who has a penis is said to be male. A child who has a vulva is said to be female. In rare cases, a child is born with external genital organs that are not clearly male or female — referred to as an intersex child.  A person’s assigned sex at birth might or might not match their gender.

Gender identity: Gender identity is the deeply held, internal sense of self “who you know yourself to be”. It is important to know that gender identity often exists on a spectrum.  A person’s gender identity can be male, female, both, neither, a combination of, or something different altogether. It can also be fluid–some people have a gender or genders that change. Genderfluid people move between genders, experiencing their gender as something dynamic and changing, rather than static.

Non-binary: An umbrella term for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.

Gender expression: This is how you express your gender to others, whether through behaviour, clothing, hairstyle, the name you choose to go by, etc. Words to describe someone’s gender expression could be “masculine,” “feminine,” “androgynous”, etc.

Transgender: When a person’s gender identity is not the same as their sex at birth, they may be referred to as “transgender” (often shortened to “trans”). For example, a child born with female genital organs may say that they identify as a boy. A child may also say that they are not a boy or a girl, but just “themselves” because they don’t want their sexual characteristics to define who they are. Indigenous people may use the term “two-spirit” to represent a person with a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics.

Gender dysphoria: Describes the level of discomfort or suffering that can exist when there is a mismatch between sex at birth and gender identity. Some transgender children experience no distress about their bodies, but others may be very uncomfortable with their sex at birth. This distress can be more obvious as puberty begins and the body starts to change.

General online resources for learning more about gender:

  • Gender Spectrum—Understanding Gender

  • Genderbread—Breaking Through the Binary: Gender Explained Using Continuums

Once you feel comfortable, or to help you better understand the broader context, explore some of the more in-depth articles and resources specific to gender identity and early childhood:

  • Caring for Kids—Gender identity:

  • Gender Spectrum—Talking to Young Children about Gender

  • Gender Creative Kids—Hi Sam: Sensitizing Youth Through Play Pedagogical Guide for Elementary Schools

  • Gender Creative Kids—The You Inside Project and video “Sam’s Story”

  • Fondation Jasmin Roy—Inform Children During the Early Childhood Period on Issues Related to Gender, Gender Identity and Gender Expression.

  • Fondation Jasmin Roy—Social and emotional learning to help children with the process of identity affirmation + videos made for children

Create a safe space: Model inclusive language and behaviour, welcome questions, listen, try not to make assumptions. “Gender-inclusive spaces allow children to easily move between roles or materials commonly regarded as male or female without any gendered expectations or barriers.”  (

  • Gender Spectrum—Easy Steps to a Gender Inclusive Classroom

  • NAEYC—Tate and the Pink Coat: Exploring Gender and Enacting Anti-Bias Principles

  • Gender Diversity Glossary for Parents by Rowan Renee

  • Fondation Jasmin Roy—Social and emotional learning to help children with the process of identity affirmation

  • The Gender Wheel


Provide gender inclusive books: Children need to see themselves and others reflected in your books. Reading together creates a natural opportunity for encouraging discussion and promoting kindness.

  • Parents for Diversity: Books about Gender Identity and Expression

  • 17 Books About Gender non-conforming and transgender kids

Challenge gender stereotypes: Speak up and openly discuss gender stereotypes–with children and with adults too.  Be kind and consistent.  Help children to develop an identity based on individual interests and strengths.

By creating and nurturing a gender inclusive environment we pave the way for an authentic sense of belonging, where we honour, support, and celebrate the engagement, expression, and well-being of all children.

Felt Board Fun

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

Felt board resources are a great way to “re-invent” familiar songs or stories and to introduce new material or concepts.  They provide a visual component which helps to keep children interested and engaged and often extends the learning and play.

Used with a group or even with just one or two children, felt board activities can be tailored and tweaked to best suit your needs.

Just starting out? No problem! An easy way to introduce the felt board is to start when the children are already gathered and seated—perhaps while they have a snack.  This provides a natural sort of captive audience.  Pull out your felt board and let them know that you’ve got something special to show them.  Keep your felt pieces hidden away in a small bag or basket.  Start with something simple and familiar—maybe a little rhyme or poem (make sure to have the words handy if you need them).  Make a habit of using your felt board regularly with a variety of songs, finger plays, and stories.  When the children get used to seeing the felt board they will naturally wonder what sort of shapes you have in your bag.

Once you feel comfortable and confident using the felt board to tell a song or story, you can extend and expand upon the learning by introducing other concepts—colours, shapes, counting, matching, vocabulary, guessing, etc.  You can ask questions, discuss ideas, and play games.

Felt shapes can be as simple or as elaborate as you like.  You can make your own or purchase a variety of sets, ready to go (check out the mini felt kits available on our e-store!).

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Create a small collection of felt shapes that correspond to a set of familiar songs and pull out one shape at a time asking the children “Hmm, I wonder what song goes with this? Do you know any songs about _____?”. Examples include: Star—Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Boat—Row Row Row Your Boat, Spider—Itsy Bitsy Spider, etc.
  • Tell a more elaborate song or story using a variety of felt shapes:
    • A farm collection for the song Old MacDonald—pull each animal out of your bag one at a time to maintain the element of surprise.
    • People, animals, and keys for an adapted version of “Good Night, Gorilla”.
    • Pair with an audio recording of a book—key felt shapes provide a great visual.
  • Use a series of 5 shapes to tell a finger rhyme or sing a song:
    • Five Little Ducks, Five Little Monkeys, etc. To make your fingerplay more elaborate, include other shapes.  For example: Five Green and Speckled Frogs—5 frogs, one log, a small bug, and one pond.
  • Use several pieces of two shapes to introduce matching, sorting, and patterning.
  • Play a guessing game—hide shapes in your bag and give clues for guessing (one shape at a time). Clues can be easy or hard depending on your group.  Once they’ve correctly guessed the shape, pull it out of your bag and tell a little rhyme to go with it. 
  • Tell a story: put a few random shapes in your bag and pull them out one at a time to tell a made-up story. Involve the children in deciding what shapes to use and invite them to help tell the story.  Don’t worry about your story making sense, silly or mixed-up stories are fun too.
  • Play a little hiding game—set up a few larger shapes and then hide a small shape underneath and have the children guess where it’s hidden. Or, if you have lots of felt sets make up a hiding game and rhyme: for example, with one mouse and a few different coloured houses you can play “Little Mouse, Little Mouse are you hiding behind the red house?”.
  • Have a large number or colour die? Include it in the fun. Have the children take turns rolling the die and then place the corresponding number/colour shape(s) on the board.
  • Use puppets to interact with the felt pieces—puppets can add a “3rd voice” to your play, talking, playing, or even eating your felt shapes.


Another way to extend the activity and invite expression, is to allow the children to handle the various felt pieces—to use the pieces in their own way, exploring the colour, shape, and texture, re-enacting songs and stories and making up new ones as they play.  Perfect for independent or small group exploration, felt play provides an opportunity to develop skills and enjoy many benefits:

  • Fine motor development, hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity
  • Imagination and creative thinking
  • Language and vocabulary
  • Cognitive skills including early numeracy (counting, sorting, matching, etc.), problem solving, organization, planning, memory and recall, cause and effect, etc.
  • An opportunity to share and practice turn-taking, to communicate and work together to tell a story, act out a scene, or play a simple game.
  • A lovely, soft, quiet sensory experience
  • Spatial perception and exploration
  • A way to re-enact stories and events, helping children to better understand the world around them. A time to explore emotions and think about things they have seen or heard.
  • An opportunity to learn about and practice being gentle and caring. Some felt shapes are delicate and the children can learn to care for them in a kind and careful way.
  • Connection—with you the adult, and with peers. A time to build relationships, laugh, learn, and be silly together.


If you’re new to felt board play, I hope you give it a try—take the time to explore and enjoy it and the children will too.  For those of you with lots of felt board experience, I hope you find a way to stretch the play in new and exciting ways.