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:

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.



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.

Capable & Competent

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

When we think about children’s behaviour and define for ourselves what is “acceptable”, one of the first things to consider is our own expectations of how children should behave.  What are our expectations? And are they developmentally appropriate?   If we have unrealistic expectations (either too high or too low) of what children ought to be able to do then their behaviour will more often than not fall into the category of “unacceptable” leading to undue strain and stress on the adult-child relationship.  Knowing that children learn best within the context of caring and supportive relationships, we can see how our own expectations influence and shape that learning—either positively or negatively.

How Does Learning Happen? helps us to understand that seeing children as capable and competent is the place to start.  But what exactly does this mean and how do we communicate it to our children? When our expectations are developmentally appropriate it’s much easier to see what children can do and are doing instead of won’t do and aren’t doing.  We are then more inclined to support learning and teach new skills.  Our beliefs, words, and actions directly impact how children see themselves–either as competent or not—which in turn influences their behaviour.

Shifting our beliefs and expectations:

When we reflect upon a child and really think about how we see them it helps us to understand their competencies.  What are they good at? What skills have they mastered?  What are their interests? Next, we take a look at our expectations for behaviour.  Are they appropriate for the child’s age and ability?  For a complete picture, it’s important to consider all domains of development.  There are many great tools available to help define and clarify these expectations—some of which are referenced below.

Expressing our beliefs and expectations:

Conveying the view that children are capable and competent is not always easy.  Evaluative praise (“Good job!”), generic reinforcement (“That’s beautiful, I love it!”), and well-meaning directions (“Does your coat go on the floor?”) or corrections (“Your boots are on the wrong feet.”), can all communicate the message that a child isn’t actually capable or competent at all.

Internalized thoughts might sound something like this:

“Good job!”—She says that to everyone.  What does it mean? How does she know that I’ve done a good job? Reinforcement is much more effective when it’s specific and not based on the evaluation of good or bad: “Zippers are hard! You practiced a lot and today you zipped up your coat without any help!”.  “You tidied up the blocks by putting them in their bin.  That was helpful.  Now the carpet area is clear and ready—let’s dance!”.

“That’s beautiful, I love it!”—Does he really love it? He only loves it because it’s beautiful.  I don’t know what beautiful means so I will concentrate on making all of my paintings the same.  Commenting on what you see or how it makes you feel sends a much clearer and more genuine message: “I noticed that you used the red paint to make all of these dots and the blue paint to make the lines—tell me more about these.”.  “Your painting is so colourful; I love how you’re experimenting by mixing the red and yellow over here. What were you thinking about while you were painting? ”. “Looking at your painting reminds me of all the colours we see outside.”

“Does your coat go on the floor?”— I’m stupid, I always forget, I never do the right thing. Questions or directions for which the child already knows the answer can lead to shame-based thinking.  Modeling and narrating the action that you want to see (“I’ll put my coat on the hook”), using a verbal prompt (“Coat!”), or a physical gesture (eye contact while tapping coat hook), can all remind the child what to do in a way that says “I know you know what to do.  We all forget sometimes.  Everyone needs reminders”.  Of course, there are times when a clear direction: “Stop.” or “No running.” is imperative for the child’s safety or the safety of others.

“Your boots are on the wrong feet.”—I give up. I can’t do it.  While well-intended, these type of corrections don’t consider the process and steps that the child has done properly and only focuses on the end “problem”.  When we pause to think about these other steps (finding boots, standing boots upright, balancing to insert one foot and then the other) we see that the child has really done quite a lot.  The fact that they’ve accomplished all of this is more important than the fact that their boots are on the wrong feet.  Acknowledging the effort is more likely to result in the child feeling confident and encouraged to keep trying.  “Terrific! You’ve found your boots and put them on. You are ready to play outside.” Acknowledging the error is more likely to result in the child giving up and feeling like they “can’t do it”.   The natural uncomfortableness of having their boots on the wrong feet might prompt them to correct this on their own.  Otherwise, it is something that can be gently discussed another time (“It might feel more comfortable to try…”).  Again, it goes without saying that some things absolutely need correcting/adjusting–car seat straps or bike helmets for example.  In this case,  we can still acknowledge the child’s role “You’re learning to do it yourself!” while explaining that some jobs have an adult role too “It’s my job to keep you safe and that means that I have to fasten your seatbelt/helmet.”.

The actions we take also communicate our view of the child.  What messages do we convey if we never give children the opportunity to try? If we as adults are constantly doing things for them, things that are developmentally appropriate and that they could be doing for themselves (dressing them, cutting their food, lifting them up to the slide, etc.) or are constantly intervening to rescue them or resolve their problems, we are sending a message that says: You can’t do it. You’re not smart enough, strong enough, skilled enough.   Over time, children internalize these messages and come to believe them to be true.

Finding the balance between helping and hindering is the key.  Letting children know that we believe in their abilities, encouraging them to trust themselves, and supporting them to develop age appropriate skills set the foundation.  Providing lots of opportunities to practice new skills with the knowledge that we are here to help if needed, communicates that we see them as capable and competent.

When we believe that children are capable and competent and we express this belief (with words and actions) in a way that affirms their skills and abilities, we are more likely to see their behaviour and learning as developmentally appropriate.  When we see their behaviour as appropriate and acceptable, we are more likely to want to support and further their learning and development.  This creates and contributes to a caring and responsive relationship, one in which children can truly flourish and thrive.


How Does Learning Happen– Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years A resource about learning through relationships for those who work with young children and their families.

Think, Feel, Act: Lessons from research about young children “Positive Relationships and Brain Development”

Book–How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

Caring for Kids & Canadian Pediatric SocietyYour child’s development: What to expect

Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development: The most up-to-date scientific knowledge on early childhood development, from conception to age five.

Zero to Three–Your Child’s Development: Age-Based Tips From Birth to 36 Months

On Track: Supporting Healthy Child Development and Early Identification in the Early Years A reference guide for professionals in Ontario

The Looksee Checklist is a simple, easy-to-use developmental tool designed to help monitor a child’s development from 1 month to 6 years of age, featuring a short list of “yes” or “no” questions about the child’s abilities. Register for an account to access the online or PDF screening tool.

The Magic of Storytelling

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW RSW

Oral stories are powerful things—they can teach, entertain, evoke emotion, elicit memories, develop imagination, provoke deeper thinking, and prompt reflection.   Most importantly though, they bring us together and keep us connected.  Stories transcend time and space, have the power to evolve, and are free to give and receive.  Pretty impressive if you ask me.

Storytelling is also very natural—we do it all the time without even thinking about it—when we recount an incident or event, when we reminisce, when we tell a joke, and when we use examples to teach or reinforce a moral or value.  What’s more, is that oral storytelling—many stories existed well before the printed word—with children is universal.  And for good reason!  Oral stories are hugely important to a child’s cognitive and emotional development.

“Telling and listening to stories provides a bridge between the oral language skills of early childhood and the more formal language of print. With the ability to tell stories develops the ability to talk about things outside the here and now, to understand how we use language to express cause and effect and to talk about feelings and motivation.”

Did you know that by the time a child is 2 ½ years old they are usually familiar with the basic structure of storytelling?  They know how to sequence basic events, understand the purpose of place and time, and can organize characters.  Amazing! But why—and to what end? Telling stories helps children solve problems and work out concerns.  Just as we might see them acting out a worry with dramatic play, children will tell stories (not necessarily to others) to help make meaning of an event or incident.  Storytelling also plays a role in how children view and understand themselves within the context of their family, and their community.

We know that children express themselves in many ways.  When we support the development and expression of communication in all of its forms, we are telling children that we see them as capable and competent.

What stories are being told here? Who are the storytellers and who are the story-listeners? Look at the connections and togetherness created during these moments.

So, what can we do to encourage storytelling in young children?

  • Have lots of conversations using rich vocabulary and a variety of concepts
  • Introduce and expose children to a wide variety of story mediums—written, oral, theatrical, etc. and story genres.
  • Encourage storytelling and story-listening all throughout the day—mealtime, bath time, naptime, in the car, out for a walk…have children narrate stories about their play and about their art. If you can, transcribe their stories or take a video.
  • Tell them stories about themselves, children love to be the central character in their own story!
  • Practice re-telling a familiar story together—based on a real event or a popular tale.
  • Use the tools of rhyme and repetition—children love hearing the same story over, and over, and over…!
  • Ask open-ended questions: Who are the people in the story? What happens next?
  • Model storytelling using various props. A felt board and felt shapes (take a look at Frosty Fun our new Winter Mini Felt Kit!), simple masks, a story apron, story stones or discs (check out our Wooden Wonder Collections!), all add to the storytelling and story-listening experience. 
  • Play with puppets—puppets no matter how simple, can provide a “third voice” (separate from the narrator and audience) adding to the dramatic interest. Puppets often have the freedom to say and do things that we might not, making them excellent teaching tools.  Simple puppets might be as easy as using your bare hands.  Other puppets might be made out of paper bags, paper and popsicle sticks, paper plates, photos, socks, fabric, etc.  These can be made by an adult or child.  More elaborate puppets can be purchased commercially.  For a unique and beautiful addition to your storytelling tools consider one of CCPRN’s handmade story puppets (Coming Soon!)—crafted to include a puppet pocket and puppet accessories, these pieces are sure to inspire.
  • Don’t forget to think about your tone of voice, volume, body language, and gestures. Using these effectively is what makes the story come alive.
  • Invite the children to enjoy a story table, story basket, or story sensory bin: Using the script from a familiar picture book, children manipulate the materials to act out and re-tell their own version of the story.
  • Try something new: cut and tell stories are fun and engaging! This one is simple yet captivating:
  • Introduce reflection with occasional comments: “Hmm, I wonder how that makes him feel?”, “I was thinking about that story you told earlier…”.


Most importantly, listen attentively and participate actively when a child tells you a story (even if you’ve heard it 50 times before!). Enjoy the beauty and magic of the moment.

Hello Winter!

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW, RSW

(Originally posted Dec. 4 2019)

Well, it’s no surprise, we knew it would happen sooner or later—winter is well on its way. There’s a chill in the air, frost on the car, and snow on the lawn. It’s that time of year—time for snowsuits and hats and mitts and boots. Whether you are helping to dress one or more children, it can be exhausting. Here are a few reminders and ideas to help ease you and your children into the season.


Know what to expect from a developmental perspective. Expectations that are too high will lead to frustration for you and the children.


Teach skills that are age-appropriate and set the children up for success. Try different techniques to find what works best. Is the child having a hard time getting on her coat? Try the flip trick (see #8 below), use a chair (place the open coat against the back and have the child sit to put her arms in), or try hanging the coat off of her head (from the hood) to provide a bit more stability.

Keep in mind that we all have different learning styles. Some children will learn best with a demonstration and visual prompts (having the clothes laid out in order, or having a poster listing the tasks (see #6 below). Others will need verbal prompting. “Sit down. Wiggle your legs into your snow pants. Ok, now stand up. Put your arms through the straps. Great! Now pull up the zipper!” Other children will need the physical prompts of the adult physically assisting. Try placing your hand over the child’s hand to teach or cue them. This could be you placing your hand over the child’s hand to pick up their hat to prompt them to put it on their head. Many children will benefit from more than one type of prompting.

Try chaining to teach a skill. Forward chaining works by breaking a task down into small steps and then teaching each specific step within the sequence by itself. The child masters one small step at a time and the adult provides assistance to complete the task. Putting on a coat for example, would start with teaching the first step of putting in one arm and eventually working your way up the chain to teach subsequent steps (using verbal/visual/physical prompts). Backward chaining teaches from the last step of the task rather than the first. The child is provided with adult assistance throughout the process until the last step. The child is then encouraged to complete the last step alone. For putting on a coat, the last step would be to pull the zipper up once it is started. The adult then works down the chain teaching (using verbal/visual/physical prompts) each previous step. Each method includes lots of positive reinforcement for the steps that the child completes independently.



Provide opportunities for children to practice and learn new dressing/undressing skills.

  • Keep a bin of dress up clothes accessible to entice the children to dress and undress themselves with fun costumes and dress up props. Include items with zippers, buttons, Velcro, and snaps.
  • Create a mitten and glove bin, let the children practice putting on and taking off different types of mittens and gloves—perfect for odd and mismatched items!
  • Provide dolls and doll clothes.
  • Invest in a quiet page or book featuring zippers, buttons, snaps, etc. Lydia (lydiamo[email protected]) makes a beautiful assortment of quiet pages.
  • Have older children help you dress the younger ones.



Plan ahead. Have your bag packed and ready by the door.  Make sure that all of the necessary winter clothing and boots are close by.  Having items readily available will ensure that you aren’t looking for things at the last minute. Have families label all of their child’s winter clothes and boots.  This will help to avoid mix-ups between children in your care and even more importantly, potential mix-ups when you are out in the community enjoying playgroups and/or other events. There can easily be duplicate (or triplicate!) snowsuits, boots, etc. Having the items labelled will make things much easier.  It’s also a good idea to help older children learn to recognize their name/label as their own. This is an important self-help skill for starting school.

Check out Oliver’s Labels for awesome designs and a variety of products. Support CCPRN (Child Care Providers Resource Network receives 20% of all sales! Purchase Oliver’s Labels through this fundraising link:


Allow plenty of time for getting ready. It is hard to learn and/or practice a new skill when you are feeling rushed or pressured to perform. Having extra time built in to your schedule, specifically for this purpose, is sure to help. Just as with any new skill. Time to practice is essential.


Use visual cues such as sequencing cards with real photos of the children getting their winter clothes on and off or design your own. Search Pinterest for ideas or purchase a ready-made poster from Following a consistent “order of operations” each and every time the children get dressed/undressed will help.


Include a transition song to help remind the children and to prompt the order in which to get dressed.  Here is a simple example to the tune of “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes”:

Snow pants, boots, coat and hat, coat and hat, coat and hat

Snow pants, boots, coat and hat, mittens go on last!


Make it fun. Use distraction, humour, or a simple “game” to get the task done.

To keep the children on track it can be helpful to distract from the task by talking about what will happen next.  If you are leaving playgroup, heading home for lunch, talk about lunch. If you are getting dressed to play in the yard talk about something specific in the yard.  If you are going for a walk, talk about something you might do or someone you might see. Focus on something interesting to motivate getting ready.


Model and describe what you want to see. Narrate your actions as you are helping to dress the children or are getting dressed yourself: “First I line up my boots, then I slip in one foot and then the other!”


Offer lots of encouragement and specific praise regarding effort.

  • “Jody—I saw that you laid out your coat and flipped it on! Now you are ready to zip it up!”
  • “Sunil—you’ve got on your snow pants, boots, and coat….what’s next?”
  • “Kayla—I see you’ve almost got that zipper up.  Zippers are tricky, keep trying! I’m here if you want help.”
  • “I like how you are all sitting while I finish putting on my gloves.”



When possible, stick to a consistent routine for outings/outdoor play. Routines create stability of knowing “what’s next”. If every morning after snack you go out to play, the children will be more likely to get dressed willingly.   Build in the task of getting ready as part of the routine. Talk about it just as you would any other element of the day.


For those times when you are running late and it’s not possible to give the children the extra time they need, try to give them some choice or control over the situation. If you are interrupting engaged play offer to “pause” or “freeze” the play for later.

  • “It’s time to get Jenny off the bus. We need to hit “pause”. Should we tidy up the blocks or leave them out for later?”
  • “Today we are in a hurry! We need to be so fast!  Let’s do it together. Should we sing the getting dressed song or do a countdown?”
  • “We have to be so fast today friends. I will help everyone get ready and get into the van.  When we’re on our way you can listen to music or you can look at a book.” Keep certain books, songs, or small toys only for use in the car.



For children who consistently have a hard time getting dressed in winter wear consider whether a larger issue might be at play: Could it be sensory related? Are the boots too small? Is the child uncomfortable? Discuss concerns with the family and problem solve together.


Finally, for toddlers who insist on getting undressed faster than you can get out the door, here are some tips from

Embrace the Wonders of Winter:

Experiencing winter with young children definitely brings out the best of this wonderland.  Bundle up and enjoy. Breathe in the cool crisp air. Teach your children to welcome winter and all of the season’s bright possibilities. Explore together. Marvel at their wonder and curiosity. Delight in the sparkle of their eyes and admire those oh so fresh rosy red cheeks

Additional Resources:

Dressing for the Cold—learn how to dress properly for the cold so that you and your children stay warm and dry.

Car Seat Safety— dressing to play outside is not the same as dressing to ride in a car seat.  For information on how winter snowsuits and bulky clothing prevent proper tightening and positioning of straps and buckles go to or follow the SEATS for Kids Facebook page

The M.A.T.C.H. Strategy—to support and encourage dressing independence.

  • Modify the task
  • Alter your expectations
  • Teaching strategies
  • Change the environment
  • Help by understanding

Ideas for Exploring Winter with Young Children:

  • Catch snowflakes—black mittens are best for looking at snowflake details
  • Build a snowman or a snow family! Give them various faces—happy, sad, surprised, and talk about feelings
  • “Skate” on frozen puddles
  • Make and follow footsteps or other tracks
  • Play at the park
  • Build a fort—use shovels, pails, dump trucks, etc.
  • Go for a walk and collect sticks/pinecones/rocks—use them to decorate the fort
  • Fill cookie cutters with snow to make “cookies”
  • Feed the birds
  • Shovel!
  • Spray the snow with coloured water (use easy to squeeze spray bottles)
  • Work together to roll a giant snowball
  • Clear a path in the yard for running
  • Go sledding or sliding (a mini hill where you can stand beside the hill to help as needed)
  • Make snow angels
  • Pack snow onto a tray and paint with water colours
  • Hide toys in the yard and search for them together—the smaller the toy the harder the challenge
  • Create an eye-spy list together before going out and take it with you on a walk—see how many items you can see (school bus, squirrel, red car, dog, etc.)
  • Hold an outdoor concert—give the children buckets, pots, spoons, bells, etc. as “instruments”.