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Play is crucial for your child's brain development

by Dr. Amanda Williford, Child Psychologist, Research Professor, UVA

Your child’s play is critically important for his or her learning and development. Young children’s brains are rapidly growing and brain development is dependent upon high quality play opportunities.

Imagine the scenario: you stop and stare at the living room you just cleaned a half hour ago. How is it possible that your child could create a disaster of this magnitude in such a short period of time? You get ready to say “You need to clean-up this mess right now” but in your pause of disbelief you realize that your child has carefully orchestrated this play environment and is completely immersed within his imagination. Checkers are people, the empty snack bowl (crumbs included) is a boat, and everyone is sailing across a mighty ocean that was very recently your child’s blanket “lovie”. You think to yourself “Wow, that’s impressive, I would never have thought of that!”

Children need to explore a variety of experiences and be encouraged to fully engage in their play. This doesn’t mean that you need to buy a lot of toys. You want a reasonable variety of toys that can be used in multiple ways.

More important is that children need freedom of movement. Sometimes, we are tempted to leave our young children in a stroller, highchair, or even a playpen (especially if they seem content being there) because it’s easier to keep our eye on them, but this may limit their potential for play. So, get your child out of that seat, even if they might get into a bit of trouble! Another great way to stimulate play (and the brain!) is to encourage children to play with your safe household objects. It’s tempting to turn on the TV for 25 minutes to entertain your toddler while you cook dinner, but your child will be better stimulated if you allowed some of your pots and pans to become rockets and fairy houses.

So, next time you walk in on your child engaged in some serious play, take a few minutes to sit down and carefully observe your child. What do they get excited about? What do they do when things don’t work the way they expected? Join in, but let them lead the play. You can do some parallel play (if your child is stacking blocks, you can stack some blocks too) and see how your child responds. In paying attention to how your child plays, you will learn a lot about how play contributes to your child’s development.

3 take aways:
  • Your child’s brain development depends on high quality play opportunities!
  • Take time to play with your child.
  • You will learn a lot about your child by paying attention to how your child plays.
Amanda Williford is a child psychologist, professor at the University of Virginia and contributor to Please and Carrots, an expert approved subscription service of toys, books, and activities for children ages birth to 3 years old. 

SPECIAL OFFER: apple seeds members now receive 20% off subscriptions with the following code: appleseeds20. Visit the Please and Carrots site to take advantage of this great offer!

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watching my girls spin for the Progeria Research Foundation

Last weekend, I watched my 9 year old daughters enter the Team Zoey Spin-A-Thon in Mountain Lakes, NJ to raise money for Progeria, also known as “rapid aging disease.” As we drove there, I secretly wondered if their feet would even reach the pedals. I wondered if they were too young for this type of rigorous exercise. I wondered when is a child too young to take on such a challenge and test their own will and strength?

During the first hour, my fourth graders, Maddie and Sydney, quietly observed me spin next to my sister Karen and my friend Charles. Karen, Charles and I were scheduled to spin for the entire four hour day. I could feel Sydney watching me, silently overcoming her nerves, and I could see Maddie, suddenly emboldened by her newly discovered ability to join a group of middle school students, high school students and adults. In no time, the two of them jumped on their bikes, their feet just made those pedals, and they spun their hearts out, smiling, dancing and singing to the beats.

When their 30 min time slot was up, they asked if they could do another. I complied. And then another. I again said yes. But then another? Ok. Another? Really girls? Please one more Mom? I’m worried about you. Please one more? Ok I guess if you are drinking enough water and feel up for it….

In the end, they rocked it for a couple of hours! They revealed to me what my friend Charles always says in his inspirational speaking– that kids can do a whole lot more than most adults think.

They also showed me that most of their inspiration was coming from their ability to make a difference.

Together, the two of them raised over $1000 for the Progeria Research Foundation. They clearly felt the responsibility of the money they raised and wanted to do as much as they could for Zoey, and other children with Progeria.

Their successes that day were, I think, based in a few things. It was a blend of confidence in themselves (no matter how young they are), resilience (which allowed them to keep going), strength (which got them on the spin bikes in the first place) and passion for the cause (knowing every dollar raised goes to research that can potentially extend the lives of children living with Progeria).

I continue to sit in awe of my kids – despite the sometimes heartaches in raising pre-teen girls – I genuinely cherish their ability to try something new, do something hard, keep going if that is what they want (despite what’s going on around them), and to make a real difference.

For more information on Progeria or to donate to this important cause, go to:


we took our kids to the theater...

This weekend we took 5 of our 6 kids (ages 4 ½ to just about 10) to see Theatreworks USA’s performance of “Click, Clack, Moo” – based on the book of the same name.

Theatreworks creatively expanded the short story into an hour long musical – the perfect length for young kids. It was the best children’s theater performance we have seen in the past 10 years of taking our kids to children’s productions. We were both blown away by the quality of the actors’ performances, the sets, the script and the music.

The songs were so catchy and the lyrics were incredibly creative, topical and hilarious. Our 4 ½ years olds laughed and clapped the entire time and our just about 10 year olds gave it a 4 ½ out of 5 stars (pretty solid since they were really only coming to accompany their younger brothers).

The show was performed at Hunter College -- a great theater for kids because it has stadium style seating (so we did not have to pile up all our coats under Dov and Jack’s bums). As soon as the performance was over we were investigating what other Theatreworks USA performances we could take the kids to. 

The back of the playbill listed the following…

Fly Guy & Other Stories – Sunday, March 1, 2015
Charlotte’s Web – Sunday, March 15, 2015
Charlotte’s Web – Sunday, March 21, 2015
Junie B. Jones – Saturday, March 28, 2015
Curious George – Saturday, April 4, 2015

And they are offering 50% off all tickets if you use the code: twnyc
Click here to buy tickets!

We are buying tickets to Charlotte’s Web and Curious George as we type.

*Theatreworks USA has no idea we are writing this blog. Just could not help telling you all about the phenomenal production.

Allison and Alison


help us support the Team Zoey spin-a-thon!

by Alison Qualter Berna

Next Sunday, February 8th, my daughters Maddie and Sydney will join me in the Team Zoey spin-a-thon in NJ to raise money for the Progeria Research Foundation. Progeria is the extremely rare and always fatal “rapid aging” disease. Children with Progeria typically die of a heart attack or stroke in their early teens. My friend Barbara’s niece, Zoey, was diagnosed with Progeria. Zoey is 5 years old, my son Jack’s age, and is all happiness…a little ray of light who comes to the event and keeps us motivated through the four and a half hours of sweat and purpose.

Zoey - age 5

Alison and friends
This is the third year in a row I’ve participated in this spin-a-thon. In addition to Progeria’s direct impact on my friend’s family, the reason I keep spinning and fundraising for this cause is because the money and research are making a concrete difference. 2014 was a year of exciting progress, including the discovery that the trial drug lonafarnib is giving children with Progeria longer lives.

Maddie and Sydney are over the moon to be old enough to spin and help make a difference in finding a cure (their feet can finally reach the pedals!) You can help the three of us by making a donation to the Progeria Research Foundation. Please know that any amount, big or small, makes a difference and we are extremely grateful.

Maddie, Sydney, and the team

Here are the links to our personal pages:




If you want to also spin with us, there may still be a few bikes available! Let us know…

With gratitude for your support,



Sharing this beautiful story by our good friend, Rachel Roberge, about her incredible son.

Although her story may be unique - we think every parent can relate to and benefit from Rachel's meaningful words. A very worthwhile read. - Allison and Alison

When Our Doctor Said, ‘We’re Pretty Sure Your Baby Is Missing His Right Hand’
(from themighty.com)
by Rachel Roberge

“We’re pretty sure your baby is missing his right hand.”

If I could go back to the day my son got this diagnosis, what would I tell myself?


You’re allowed to cry. You’re going to cry a lot… for a while. You’re going to wake up in the middle of the night to cry only to find that your husband is also awake. He’ll be crying too.

You’re about to go through many tests. Find the best geneticist. Find the best fetal cardiologist. Write down every question you have. If you think the question may sound crazy, ask it anyway. Get answers and write those down too. After all the tests are complete, they’re going to tell you everything looks good. It seems to be just his hand, but you’re going to be afraid they might be wrong. You won’t feel quite sure until he’s born.

You’re going to have a lot of sonograms. If they’re so sure it’s just his hand, why all the sonograms? You’ll feel uncertain and scared, so get support. You’re now part of the “limb difference” community. Check out the Lucky Fin Project,Born Just Right and Living One-Handed among other great resources.

You’re going to spend your 40th birthday in the hospital because there will be other pregnancy complications. It will be six weeks until your due date but guess what? Surprise! You’re going to have your baby boy.

They were right. It is just his hand. He’s beautiful. The best birthday present you will ever have. And to think you spent all that time worrying. He’s perfect. Perfectly imperfect. Aren’t we all?

When you bring your son home from the hospital your daughter will be almost 3. She’s not even going to notice his missing hand at first, even though you tried to explain it to her in advance. When she does notice, it’s going to be a non-issue. She’s going to be crazy in love with him, and he’ll be crazy in love with her.

When your little boy becomes a toddler, he’ll already amaze you with all hecan do. Watch out, he’s going to be a climber. You’re going to have to take the handles off the lower kitchen cabinets because he’s going to climb on the counter when you turn your back for five seconds. When you take him to the park he’s going to climb on everything and love it. He’s going to play with all the kids and pretty much all the kids are going to ask about his hand. Most will accept it when you tell them he was born like that. Some will be afraid and run away. He’ll be too little to notice but it’s going to sting you… and you’ll tear up when he runs away, blissfully unaware, to climb and play some more.

When your boy is 3 and a half, you’re going to be tucking him in one night and he’s going to start softly crying, his little lips will be turned downward, heavy with sadness. He’s going to tell you he doesn’t want his special hand anymore. He wants his fingers to grow, and he’s pretty sure “they really, really will grow, Mom.” His fingers aren’t going to grow, but you’re not going to have the heart to tell him in that moment. You’re going to tell him you love him the way he is. Aside from that, what can you do but hold him close and let him express everything he’s feeling? When he finally falls asleep your tears will fall. You’ll realize this is one of many things to come that you can’t fix for your child.

When he’s 4, your beautiful little boy will tie his shoes by himself — with one hand no less. You’ll realize that this simple act will inspire you and others. The pride, the joy, the loving and knowing he’s yours will be remarkable. Even at a young age, if he can find a way to do something, he will, and he’ll practice until his goal is realized. It’s almost as if something deep within is driving him further.

Your son is going to love basketball. Even at just 5 years old, he’s going to become good at it. Shockingly good. He’s going to want to play every day — any free moment he can. He’s going to become best buds and kindred spirits with a college student named Kevin Laue. Kevin is the first person partially missing his left arm ever to be recruited with a full scholarship to a NCAA Division 1 basketball team. Not unlike Kevin, your little boy will have seemingly unstoppable determination.

Jackson_Jordan Classic_photo by Ned Dishman_04.2013
Photo by Ned Dishman
So breathe. It’s going to be OK. It’s going to be better than OK.

This is the beautifully messy, imperfectly perfect life you’ve been given, and you won’t want to trade it for anything.