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Congrats and Goodbye

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By A.J. Gain

Welcome to a new Fun Van grant year! If you have been with us for a few years you have probably grown quite familiar to our staff, but things are going to look a little different this year. At the end of June we sent Miss Julie off to retirement with a fun celebration, but man are we sad to see her go. I was able to catch up with Miss Julie before she ventured into the great unknown to ask her a few questions about her past memories and future plans!

What was the best part about working at Fun Van? The joy of helping others and playing with the kids!

What will you miss the most (aside from A.J.’s fantastic performances)? Driving all over Pinal County in Bertha (the biggest Fun Van vehicle)!!

What are your plans for your retirement? Read, garden, travel and spend more time with my four grandchildren.

What is the best retirement advice you have received? Your 60’s are your “go-go” years. Get going while you still can!!!

And that’s exactly what Miss Julie is planning to do. Fun Van will not be the same without her. Our lives and this program gained so much richness from her warmth, knowledge, organizational skills, and kind words of encouragement. We wish her the very best and hope she comes to visit us soon!

If you have a special message for Miss Julie, leave a comment below and we will make sure she reads it!

Let’s Hear it for the Dads!

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Let’s be honest…Father’s Day sometimes gets pushed aside. With summer break, vacation, Mother’s Day burn out and the overall craziness that comes with small children, it’s no surprise that our special guys sometimes get the short end of the stick. But not this year! This year I want to make sure we take a day to say, “Thanks,” to the dads, grandfathers, uncles, foster dads, surrogate fathers and male mentors who make our lives grand! Here are a few ways to help make this Father’s Day one to remember!

  1. “Dad, what would you like to do?”: First and foremost, make sure you ask dad about his expectations for Father’s Day. It’s easy to get carried away with extravagant plans, or to give them what we think they like only to find out that another light up tie was not on their list. Remember, most guys are happy working side by side on something active, not talking about the wonder that is Fatherhood.
  2. Let’s Play: Hey Dad! play boxes are one of my more recent finds. The boxes come once a month and include everything you need to create fun experiences for dads and children ages 3 and up.  Think indoor camping, PVC pipe creations and super hero play. Each box includes an instructional video. I will definitely be checking these out when my daughter is older! Head over to for more information or research ideas to make your own.
  3. Out and About: Some dads are thinkers and some dads are doers. For the doer dad, an adventure may be just the thing he needs to feel special. Bowling, fishing, a movie, mini golf, splash pads, a day trip, hiking, an amateur sporting event, or even geocaching are all fun adventures to try. Check Groupon and other discount sites to see if there are any holiday deals!
  4. Fill their Stomach: What’s a celebration without a delicious spread to satisfy dad’s appetite? Spoil dad with breakfast in bed, enjoy a barbecue or skip the meal preparation and head out to eat. Just remember to call for reservations since it’s a holiday.
  5. Let Him Sleep: Any adult who takes care of young children knows that sleep is a precious gift. If at all possible, let dad sleep-in or catch up on zzz’s with a mid-afternoon nap. If dad is not a nap person, offer to give dad a few hours of alone time to catch up on reading, video games, a workout, or anything else that gets lost in the shuffle of day-to-day life with young children.

Above all else, say thank you! Here at Fun Van, we have a great group of dads who are working hard to raise awesome kids. We see you and want you to know that we appreciate all that you do. Happy Father’s Day!

Raising Children Who Delight in Reading

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As I lugged all of my bags after work to the front door of my home, I could hear squeals seeping from the windows. I smiled as I thought of my giggly, toddler daughter playing happily with her dad. I imagined them shaking maracas and beating on the cajon together, or throwing balls back and forth, two of her recent favorite activities. Instead I found my sweet daughter laying on her play mat, happily exploring a Berenstain Bears book she had recently received from a friend. As she flipped the pages, she pointed excitedly at different pictures and babbled and laughed as if the book was an old, dear friend. My heart melted as I realized that my daughter delighted in reading, even before her first birthday.

In our home, we are readers. If you open my front door on any given day you would find books on our coffee table, books on our shelves, books on the floor, books on the kitchen table, books in the toy area, books in our bedrooms, and yes, even a book or two in the bathroom. We read A LOT. And my husband and I decided that our children will read A LOT. But how do you raise children who love to read, without force, bribes, or tears? How do you compete with the bright screens, noisy toys and short attention spans?

After doing some research I ran across Sarah Mackenzie’s blog Read Aloud Revival. She wrote and produced a podcast and blog series titled Creating a Book Club Culture at Home. In this series, she gives tips and tricks to remove the pressure placed on our children to read and encourages parents to cultivate a home environment that satiates their desire to delight in a book. Below are a few of her tricks, along with some tips from the educators at Fun Van, which we hope will lead you on your way to raising children who devour books purely for the sake of enjoyment.

Tip 1: Model Reading in front of your children: Often we read to our children, but we wait until they are not around to read “our” books. Our children need to see us indulging in our favorite books just as much as we want to see them reading their books. Don’t have time? Try just 10 minutes. Pull out a book while your children are playing quietly, have a book in the car to read while waiting in the pickup line, bring a book to appointments, or even set aside 10 minutes for everyone to read their own books together.

Tip 2: Schedule reading time into your day: Make reading books a natural option during your day. For smaller children, pull them onto your lap and read a quick 5 minute story before running an errand, or while they are eating a meal. For older children who do not nap anymore, establish a quiet hour (or 30 minutes) where everyone engages in books either together or separately to wind down and recharge. Bedtime is still a great time for scheduled reading, but try to get more creative as your children get older.

Tip 3: Have conversations about what your children are reading daily: At first it may seem awkward, but the more you engage your children in discussions about what they are reading, the more they will be eager to share what they are enjoying, what moves them, inspires them and even what questions they have about a book. This should be a discussion, not a drill of questions. Think about how you discuss a movie you really enjoy. You use phrases like, ” I was surprised that…” or “I could relate with this character because..” These questions get to the heart of what moves your child to read because they want to, not because they are going to be quizzed on it. ( There is a time and place for asking questions for comprehension, but try to limit those times when encouraging reading for reading’s sake.)

Tip 4: Display books in an appealing way: Have you noticed how libraries and book stores display the books they want to catch your attention? Cover facing out! Try to find creative ways to display books with their covers facing out to attract your child’s attention. Books can be displayed on window sills (like the picture below), coffee tables, in baskets on the floor, and anywhere else where your child will be able to see and reach books whenever they want.

A Fun Van parent’s display in his daughter’s play room!

Tip 5: Choose a small snack or treat to serve your children during their quiet reading hour: Sarah Mackenzie points out in her podcast that anyone who has attended a book club knows that half of the fun of book club is dishing over your favorite book while eating delicious food. So, why not create the same environment for your home? Try a small treat that has a low chance of damaging a book. Sarah suggests 3 jelly beans, but you could also give yogurt drops, pretzels and cheese, dried fruit, popcorn (for children over 4) or something else yummy your child enjoys. The positive association of a special treat while reading will increase the likelihood that your child will be excited to participate in quiet reading time.

Tip 6: Create a mock book club or other special reading event: As your children begin to enjoy reading and discussing books more, you can plan your own book club event. Choose a book suitable for the majority of readers in your family and decide on a date and time to discuss the book. Create a warm environment (maybe a fort, or a tent outside, or even tons of blankets and pillows to create a comfy book nest), have special treats (you could even have themed treats to the book you read), and model discussions about the book with your children. If you need help with what questions to ask, some books have a book club discussion guide that you can modify for your family. If you do this, please send us pictures to feature on the blog and Facebook!!

What about you? What tips have you tried with your family to cultivate a lifelong love of reading? Leave a comment below to let us know! Thanks to Sarah Mackenzie for her great ideas and articles. Click over to to learn more about reading aloud as a family.

And the winners are….

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We are excited to announce that the following individuals are the winners of the Refer a Friend, Win a Prize Contest. Your teachers will bring your new set of Magna Tiles to class!! Thank you for promoting our program and we hope to do another giveaway soon!

Names are listed first initial, first 4 of last name and last 3 digits of phone number.


KGUS7305 – Maricopa WIC



Cold Weather Fun

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I don’t know about you, but I am feeling robbed this winter here in the valley of Arizona. We Phoenicians typically brag about our mild climate in the winter and plan all of our outdoor activities for December- April, but not this year. It is cold.

So what are we do to with these tiny humans who are trapped inside the house and are ready to play outside? How do we keep our sanity when we also want to be outside enjoying the mild weather before the triple digit weather returns? Below are a few fun activities that take minimal supplies and will keep your children busy for a little while we wait for the warmth to return.

  • Cozy Day: Start and end the day in PJ’s, have a warm cocoa bar with fun toppings, watch a family movie together, build a fort, snuggle with stuffed animals, or read-aloud a fun book. There are very few opportunities to bundle up and just enjoy each other, so this is a great excuse to lay low and practice hibernating! You can even use this as an opportunity to teach your children about animals that hibernate in the winter.


  • Balloon Ninja: Blow up a few balloons and encourage your children to try to keep them in the air by using their hands, feet or even their heads. This game encourages cooperation and is safe to do inside.


  • Where’s the Toy? : Have your children choose a favorite stuffed animal or small toy. Hide the toy somewhere in the house allowing a little portion of the toy to be seen. Let the children work together to find the toy. Take turns being the person to hide the toy or choose specific rooms to hide the toy. After a few rounds encourage your children to lead the game themselves, which will give you a well-deserved break.


  • Messy Play: Often times as parents we shy away from messy play, but it is an extremely important part of play and learning. Grab a cheap table cloth or use the bath tub to allow your kids to explore messy play. This could be anything from bubbles and water, play dough, shaving cream, yogurt, Jell-O, or pudding. I like to use food because it’s one less battle to fight if your child decides to eat it. For babies, I love using different types of baby food to let them explore taste and textures. It’s a great way to expose picky eaters to new foods without the pressure of being hungry or trying something new during meal time.


  • Play Board Games: Take out a few of your favorite children’s games and teach your children how to play. You can change the rules if you need to make the game more developmentally appropriate, or make up your own board game.


  • Read books!:This may be so obvious that we forget about it. Cuddle up and read books together. Use colddays to delve deeper into subjects that your children are interested in, and take the time to research the answers to those endless “Why” questions. Act out stories, listen to books on tape, or even let your children read to you.


  • Tape Trap: Using masking tape and a hallway, create a maze back and forth between the two walls. Encourage your kids to try to make it down the hallway without touching any of the tape.


  • Bundle Up and Go outside: Take a nature walk and look at the difference between being outside in the warmth and the cold. Talk about the differences in the environment, the animals you see, how your breath looks in the cold and anything else your children notice. Play games that encourage your children to run around and stay moving to keep themselves warm.


  • Culture Pass:  If you are a member of certain libraries, you can check out a Culture Pass and receive 2 free tickets to museums, the Arizona Science Center, performing arts programs and more. Contact your local library to see if they participate in the Culture Pass Program and which passes are currently available.


  • Bake for Neighbors: Teach your children about generosity and thinking of others while also exploring math and science. Choose an easy item to make like No-Bake Cookies, Trail Mix, or Sugar Cookies to bake and bring to neighbors. Encourage your children to brain storm people they would like to share treats with like the school nurse, their teachers or friends. Extend the activity by coloring cards or pictures to go with their treats.




Being inside can be challenging, especially with young children, however it can also be a great opportunity for bonding, teaching cooperation, creative play and scientific observations. Feel free to leave comments about how you are spending these chilly days with your children!

Social and Emotional Development

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Social and Emotional Skills:

There is a lot of talk about social and emotional skills in the early childhood development community. When we think of these skills, typically our first thoughts are related to feelings and emotions. While that is true, there is much more to social and emotional development then just how a child feels. Social and emotional development occurs as a child learns how to process and manage his/her own feelings, express his/her feelings to those around him/her in an appropriate way, assess and respond appropriately to other’s feelings and interact with peers and adults in a positive manner. Smiling, pointing, making eye contact, blowing kisses, taking turns, asking for help and yes, even temper tantrums, are all normal milestones a child experiences as his/her social and emotional skills develop. As these milestones happen, it is crucial that children have access to attentive caregivers who take the time to process and teach them how to handle each of these experiences.

Research shows that children who enter kindergarten with poor social and emotional skills have a significantly more challenging experience than their peers. These skills are instrumental in helping children feel confident away from their parents, asking for help from another adult, learning to trust other adults, engaging with peers, managing their emotions when they don’t get their way, taking turns, expressing their feelings appropriately and taking risks. Helping young children learn these skills is not always easy. It requires patience, understanding, and a healthy dose of laughter along with regular communication and ongoing teaching moments. Here are a few other tips for encouraging your child’s social and emotional development.

Activities to Support Social and Emotional Development

*** One of our favorite activities do to at Fun Van is make sensory bottles. These bottles are wonderful to help teach young children how to manage their feelings. These are great for shaking to get out frustrations or helping your child to calm down while watching the items swirl and sink.

Here’s what you need:

  • plastic water bottle (we use the VOSS bottles)
  • 1 bottle of glitter glue
  • warm water
  • food coloring
  • heart stones or small water safe trinkets (from Hobby Lobby)
  • hot glue gun

To start, pour about half of the bottle of glitter glue into the water bottle. Next, pour in the warm water. Also drop in some food coloring to make the water colored (since the glitter glue doesn’t color the whole water). Put the lid on and shake hard. It may take a minute to get the glue to mix with the water. Then open the lid and place the hearts in the water. Glue the lid on with a hot glue gun. Shake and enjoy!



  • Read books to your children that highlight different emotions. Spend time talking about the emotions, why the character feels this way, if your child has ever felt this way, and what to do with this feeling. Try to choose emotions that are not often talked about in your day-to-day life (ex: jealousy, grief, frustration, and loneliness). This is called emotional literacy and is a great way to help children learn appropriate ways to handle feelings in a low stress environment.
  • Use stuffed animals to help children learn how to take turns. Watch how your child responds when asked to take turns with the animal and help them problem solve through their feelings.
  • Play games with your children. Allow them to practice winning and losing and how to handle both appropriately.
  • Give your child a child-safe mirror to look at themselves while they experience different emotions. Help them label which emotions they are feeling in the mirror so that they can match how they look on the outside with how they feel on the inside.
  • Plan play dates with other children or take them to activities that encourage social and emotional development. Fun Van is a great option! Model appropriate social interactions for young children and help them work through their problems. Give older children space to problem solve and work through frustrations while being present to intervene if needed.
  • Give your child his or her own alone space to feel safe, experience emotions and calm down on his or her own. This can be a corner in your living space, their room, a play tent, or even just a comfy blanket with a few special stuffed animals.
  • Play different types of music for your child. Talk about what each piece makes you each feel using feeling words. (ex: This song is so bouncy and quick. It makes me feel excited when I listened to it.)
  • Above all else, listen to your child’s emotions and give them a safe space to feel them. It’s not a bad thing for children to feel strong feelings, but they need to learn how to feel these feelings appropriately.



Masking Your Child’s Imagination

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One of the best parts about playing with young children is watching them create an elaborate world out of nothing and anything all at the same time. A box becomes a spaceship, a banana becomes a telephone and a paper plate can become the mask of a superhero, animal or president. Young children create worlds inside their own minds and bring them to life through pretend play. As parents and educators, we want to help engage these creative play scenarios by providing different materials, ideas and encouragement as our children continue to pretend and play.

Masks help jump-start a child’s imagination and gives them the opportunity to become something other than themselves. They initiate story-telling, dramatic play, and engage social-emotional development. Masks are also a great way to connect children with characters in different stories. During the spring sessions at the Fun Van, our educators have each taken a different spin on creating masks. Whether it is using paper plates, toilet paper rolls, paper, or egg cartons, toddlers and preschoolers can engage in the benefits of role playing, story-telling and dramatic play with the use of common household materials.

Ideas to get you started:

Story: The Three Little Pigs   

 Pig Noses made out of egg cartons and elastic



Story: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Bear Masks out of paper plates, paint and Popsicle sticks


Story: Duck and Goose: Here Comes the Easter Bunny

Bunny Masks out of paper, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks and pom poms


President’s Day Masks out of paper plates, paper and cotton balls
Story: This Little President: A Presidential Premier

Footprint Sleds

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We may live in the desert and sledding, unfortunately, is not a common activity.  However, reading books about the snow and activities one can do in it is definitely something we can do around here.

At Fun Van we like to have a craft and a storytime as well as all the other fun we have in class.  We often like to like to connect the craft to the book if possible.  These Footprint Sleds was a fun activity to go along with the book The Big Red Sled by Jane Gerver.



Max and Marla by Alexandra Boiger, Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner, and The Snowy Day by Jack Ezra Keats are other fun snow books you should definitely check out.



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We love seeing your cute kids in costumes!  Parents are welcome to join in the fun too!


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Straws make great bones, but only when doing crafts.