This week, we’re discussing oxytocin – its functions, how it affects children and ways to increase levels to help them lead a more balanced and fulfilled life.
There four major chemicals in the brain that influence our happiness are:
Activated by positive social interactions, oxytocin is known as the “love molecule” or “cuddle chemical” and is the foundation for trusting others. It motivates us to work together for a common purpose and makes us care about others in tangible ways – and essentially increasing empathy and compassion.
Let’s discuss the neuroscience bit.
“Oxytocin helps us respond appropriately to our social environment by changing its amounts in the brain second by second.
Because it is so ancient (a precursor can be traced back at least 400 million years to fish), natural selection has found ways to utilise it in both the brain and the body. Unlike almost every other neuro-chemical we make, studies have shown that the change in oxytocin after a social interaction as measured in the blood reflects changes in the brain. Thus, if an activity causes a spike in oxytocin as measured in the blood, a corresponding spike is likely occurring in the brain. It is brain oxytocin that is most responsible for effects on behaviour, and blood oxytocin gives us a window into what occurs in the brain.”
So, as parents and caregivers, how can we increase levels in children, thereby increasing their empathy and compassion? By offering them lots of sensitive, responsive care.
We have good reason to believe that sensitive, responsive parenting and care-giving can cause immediate spikes of oxytocin in babies and children. Skin-to-skin contact appears to raise levels in both parents and infants (Vittner 2018). An experiment on school-aged children confirms that big kids can get a boost when their parents offer emotional support. Affectionate physical contact does it. So does affectionate conversation (Selzer 2010).
Benefits of increasing oxytocin levels:
Reduces anxiety and the release of cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone
Increases feelings of calmness and security
Suppresses activity in the amygdala, the fear centre of your brain
Improves mood and increases feelings of contentment
Stimulates the vagus nerve
Improve self-perception in social situations
Increases positive personality traits such as empathy, warmth, trust, and openness
Ways to increase oxytocin
Natural sunlight, ideally first thing in the morning as well as throughout the day
Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables, as well as a supplement
Magnesium-rich foods such as spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, avocado and bananas
Hugs and cuddles
Listening to music
Singing along to music
Giving someone a gift
Doing something kind for someone else
At Wild.Kind., we encourage activities that help boost oxytocin, such as ample time for free play, playing outdoors and group play. We also provide nutritious, healthy meals and our caregivers provide the children with a safe, caring and happy environment to thrive in.
If you’re interested in enrolling your child at Wild.Kind., please contact us.
This week, we’re discussing dopamine – its functions, how it affects children and ways to increase levels to help them lead a more balanced and fulfilled life.
The four major chemicals in the brain that influence happiness are:
So, what’s dopamine all about? It is the primary neurotransmitter that helps us to focus, feel motivated, and enjoy activities. Although often referred to as being a ‘happiness chemical’, it is actually more involved with anticipation (of pleasurable reward) than the actual ‘happy’ feeling.
Low levels can cause children to have issues with social anxiety, focus and attention, problem-solving and executive functioning. A lack of this chemical is also associated with ADHD. To kick start and boost their low levels, children with ADHD are often drawn to things that constantly stimulate them at an intense level, such as video games.
Try incorporating the following things to help stimulate the reward response:
Completing a task
Celebrating little wins
Eating homemade food
Our body makes dopamine from an amino acid called Tyrosine, so eating a diet rich in tyrosine is an excellent way of boosting levels naturally. Ingredients that contain antioxidants and natural folate also support healthy dopamine levels.
Hugging – one of life’s joys. We all thrive on oxytocin, and nothing reflects the feeling of giving and getting a hug.
All children crave a sense of love, trust and safety – and a simple hug can foster those feelings in all of us. One thing to keep in mind – hugs that last 20 seconds or more carry the most benefit.
Giving your child a hug actually carries more benefits than you might think. In fact, it’s scientifically proven that hugs aid brain development, boost physical health, help emotional regulation and build resilience.
For young children and babies, who need a variety of different sensory stimulation for development, hugging is one of the most important ones required to grow a healthy brain and strong body.
“We know that even from the moment we’re born, as a newborn, that touch, physical touch, attention, hugs, are so very important for both nervous system regulation, brain development, just from the moment we’re born. We talk about kangaroo care and skin-to-skin, and that really continues through childhood.” Dr Emily Mudd
Hugging triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with trust, safety, and love. When released, it also stimulates particular growth hormones in the body.
Find out more below.
1. Brain development
Touch is the first of the five senses to develop, and because babies first learn to navigate through the world this way, physical contact such as a hug is crucial for their development. Premature babies are particularly receptive to brain response when they are hugged or gently touched.
In fact, maternal skin-to-skin contact was found to enhance prematurely born infants’ physiological organization and cognitive control for the first 10 years of life in one study, according to Psychology Today.
3. Emotional development and regulation
Nothing soothes more than a big, loving hug.
Children can lose control of their emotions quickly – not because they’re being difficult, but simply because they haven’t learned how to regulate their emotions. Hugging a child in a moment of intense emotional outburst will actually teach them that you’re a support during difficult times.
4. Reduces stress and increases resilience
During moments of distress and stress, adrenaline and cortisol are released into the body and brain. Because children haven’t learned how to regulate their emotions, stress can linger in the bodies of kids reaching toxic levels. When this happens, these stress hormones can impact a child’s health both mentally and physically.
“When you get a loving and firm hug, it stimulates pressure receptors under the skin, which in turn send a message to the vagus nerve in your brain. The vagus nerve takes this cue to slow down your heart rate and your blood pressure, putting you in a relaxed state. The hug even curbs stress hormones such as cortisol, facilitates food absorption and the digestion process, and stimulates the release of serotonin, which counteracts pain.” The Connected Child
In addition to the scientific benefits for your child, hugging your child also creates a stronger bond between you. When you’re giving a hug, your brain releases dopamine — the pleasure hormone that signals reward. This hugging “high” helps babies and children recognize your smell, and vice versa. The more you snuggle, the more dopamine kicks in, which creates a cycle that makes you want to snuggle more.
It’s important to mention that all the above benefits are a result of natural and ‘wanted’ hugs. Some children just aren’t ‘huggers’ – and that’s OK, too. Teaching children how to speak up and be confident about not wanting a hug is also a very important lesson as they grow up. If this is the case, we suggest a very simple message like “you’re in control of your body, and if you don’t want to hug the people at this gathering, that’s okay. Perhaps you can give them a high-five instead.”
A child’s laughter is one of the most heartwarming sounds in the world.
It’s also a critical part of their development; helping diffuse stress, develop self-esteem and connect socially.
Director of the InfantLab at Goldsmiths, Dr Caspar Addyman, suggests that “a baby’s delight, and the help they continue receiving because of it, are part of what drives them forward to master the next thing, gradually achieving greater and greater mastery over the world.”
Helps not take themselves too seriously
Reduces stress, anxiety, and depression
Releases ‘feel-good’ hormones (endorphins)
Relaxes muscles and reenergises the body
Develops connections with family and other children
Helps see things from a different perspective
Ages and stages
Babies don’t really understand humour but become highly responsive to tactile stimuli like tickles and blowing raspberries on their tummy
From around 9 months (although every baby’s development is different) babies begin to laugh at things that are unexpected, e.g. when you make animal noises or animated facial expressions
1.5 – 2.5 years
Appreciation for physical humour grows, especially when it involves an unexpected turn, like a surprise tickle or round of peek a boo
Rhymes and made up words become extremely funny (this stage continues on for a little while!)
Another dimension of humour is discovered – making others laugh. Children might give silly or ‘wrong’ answers to evoke a response of laughter
2.5 – 4 years
Visual humour grows and children see the funny side in pictures that are a little out of the ordinary e.g. a giraffe on a skateboard
Incongruity between pictures of sounds is also hilarious, e.g. a fish that barks like a dog
Toilet humour begins now too, with children finding anything to do with this subject raucously funny
So whether it’s a tickle, joke, game or just doing something a little bit silly, have some lovely deep belly laughter with your children today!
We’re embracing the warm weather with some fun summer activities.
Real, free play – a chance to get a little messy and have fun without constraints – is so important for young children, and helps them develop and improve their motor skills, co-ordination and concentration. It also encourages independence, collaboration, exploration, problem solving and creative thinking.
Here are six fun summer activities we encourage you to try this week.
1. Fizzy ice chalk
This is so much fun for kids – and adult! And super easy to make. Children can get involved in the making, as well as playing afterwards.
Chalk cubes are made in the freezer with three ingredients and frozen in an ice cube tray. Pop the ice chalk put of the trays and they’re ready to use! Hosing down the road/patio can help blend the colours beautifully, but isn’t necessary at all.
Once the ice chalks has sufficiently melted and mixed, it’s time to have fun with squirting vinegar to make the chalk ‘erupt’ and fizz!
What animal might win the race – crab, duck, bunny, frog, elephant… or maybe even a starfish?! Keep children moving, fit and having fun with these hilarious animal exercises. They’ll love pretending to be one of their favorite animals!
Here’s a great video from hellowonderful.co to get started.
This is super easy to set up and so much fun for little ones to spalsh around with. Kids can scoop, pour, whilst, scrub and dry toys in any way they wish!
Washing up liquid/soap
Washable toys, e.g. wooden animals, dolls etc
Bowls, sponges, ladles, spoons and other utensils
Fill the container with warm water and washing up liquid/soap.
Place the bowls in the water, some filled with water, some not.
Here’s where children can have ultimate free play – using the main container for washing, a bowl for rinsing, another bowl for ‘drying’… the options are endless.
5. Squishy colour bags
Image: Learning 4 Kids
This a wonderful sensory activity for children to experience how colours mix. They can use their hands to squash the bags and create new colours.
Water paints (red, blue and yellow are the minimum number of colours that can be mixed to make the greatest number of secondary colours)
Clear plastic zip-lock lunch bags
Add a few squeezes of paint to each bag, starting with one colour in each corner, ad using three in some bags (being careful to keep them separate). Zip the bags closed. Feel free to double-bag if you’re worried they might split!
Use sticky tape to seal the squishy bags. You can also stick the bags down to the table to keep them in one place and help younger children with control over ‘squishing’.
Help children identify what’s happening by explaining how each colour is blending with the others, and asking them to repeat the colour names. It’s also a great opportunity to ask questions like “which colours made purple”?
For younger children, just feeling the consistency of the paints and seeing the colours mix are great sensory experiences.
6. Looking for Spaghetti Worms
Image: Learning 4 Kids
Possibly the messiest – but also one of the most fun activities! It’s amazing what a little mud and some cold spaghetti can do to keep children entertained.
Container (large tray or bowl)
Sand or soil from the garden
Wet the soil or sand and make sure it’s not packed down too tighlty (spaghetti can break easily under too much weight)
Place the strands of spaghetti on top of the soil, covering some lightly and burying some deeper down
Children can use their hands to dig out the spaghetti worms from the soil. For more of a challenge for older children, they can try lifting the worms out with BBQ tongs or tweezers.
Extra ideas to add to the sensory experience: counting ‘worms’ as they’re saved from the mud, and measuring the lengths of the worms.
Teaching future generations about sustainability has never been more important.
If we can show children the importance of protecting the environment, they will undoubtedly play an integral role in making our planet more sustainable and healthy.
Environmental education also helps build creative thinking, relationship skills and leadership qualities.
Here are 14 activities to do with children to help spark their interest in, and get involved with, sustainability.
1. Pick your own fruit and flowers
This is such a great way to be outdoors and be active, whilst also supporting local producers. There are many seasonal ‘pick your own’ locations around Basel.
2. Help at a local farm
There are lots of fun activities like feeding animals and raking hay that encourage children to understand how farms work. Or, just observing the animals in their paddocks can be just as interesting for little ones.
3. Go on a green walk
Children love having a sense of purpose. With gloves on and a bag, go on a ‘green walk’ to pick up any small bits of rubbish in the woods or a park near you. Going with other children and wearing hi-vis vests can make it even more fun for them.
At home, why not create and label recycling bins? They can decorate them with pictures of what should go in each one and then ‘practise’ sorting by putting the right items in each bin.
4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The three ‘Rs’ are an excellent way to help children remember how to be sustainable most effectively.
Children also learn through singing – This Jack Johnson song is a great one they can learn to sing along to!
5. Make a compost container
Having the responsibility of looking after their own compost container can help children’s green habits.
Most children love watching worms at work! Even if you’re not the most enthusiastic worm-lover, you’ll find this easy eco-friendly activity great for teaching your kids all about recycling and taking care of the environment.
8. Do a water pollution experiment
Here’s a super simple activity that helps children understand that water pollution exists, even if we can’t see it.
9. Make a mini greenhouse
Plant the seed of sustainability with a mini greenhouse – a great way to recycle cups (in line with the 3 Rs!).
10. Make recycled paper
Making paper offers children a rich sensory play experience, too. Here’s a recipe to try at home.
11. Plant a garden
Children will get a huge sense of achievement from growing something from scratch and then being able to eat it afterwards! Teaching kids to do some gardeing also encourages those green fingers for later on in life.
12. Recyclable art
The 3Rs explored creatively through art – here are some ideas to get you started.
13. Explore nature
Whether by foot or on wheels, exploring nature is a beautiful way for children to gain respect for looking after the environment. On a rainy day the exploring can continue further afield via Google Earth maps! Komodo Island, the Great Barrier Reef or the Sea of Cortez are just a few to look at.
These are just some of many activities to do with children to help them learn about the importance of sustainability.
At Wild.Kind., we focus on the positive impact we can have on the lives of young humans and their own positive impact on the world through:
• Vegetarian nutrition of mainly organic, seasonal and regional origin
• Care and compassion for ourselves and each other
• Awareness of nature, animals and our environment
• A sustainable approach to all materials and resources we use.
Are you interested in finding out more and potentially booking a place in the playschool for your child/children? Please contact us to organise a visit or to speak to our team.
As a parent or caregiver of young children, it’s crucial to encourage the development a child’s cognitive skills from the day they’re born as it forms the foundation for success in school and later adult life. Children who can distinguish sounds at six months, for example, tend to be better at developing the skills to read and write when they reach the age of four or five.
Here, we focus on some of the things we can do to encourage the development of cognitive skills in our children.
Things to do on a daily basis
Encouraging a baby to explore and move around
Singing and reading to a baby
Being patient and taking the time to answer “why” questions
Encouraging growth in knowledge of a particular interest, for example cars, trains or dinosaurs.
Children learn best when they’re interested in an activity, so it’s a great idea to let your child take the lead when playing.
Here are some play ideas to support your child’s cognitive development:
Games that combine singing and moving, such as ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’
Jigsaw puzzles and other memory games
Card games like ‘Snap!’
Stacking and building games like Lego and Duplo
Board games like ‘Snakes and Ladders’
Cooking (especially the measuring, counting scoops, repeating ingredient names)
Exploring in the garden
Playtime is also a great opportunity to help your child practice language skills by asking them to describe what’s happening. For example, if Teddy is at the vet we can ask “What can we do to help Teddy?”.
It’s important for us all to remember that every single brain is completely individual, both in its development and in the way it encounters the world, so progress in your child’s development may differ to other kids.
At Wild.Kind., we encourage the development of cognitive skills as much as we can in everything we do. Interested to find out more about our approach? Read up on our philosophy or contact us.
We live in a wonderful, colourful, diverse world. Children’s books that celebrate diversity are a fantastic way to teach youngsters about embracing culture, differences and the world around them.
By reading stories that discuss different cultures and people from around the globe, children gain exposure to these topics. In turn, they can understand and embrace these differences and become rounded individuals from an early age.
Here’s our list of 15 children’s books that celebrate diversity.
Whoever You Are
Every day all over the world, children are laughing and crying, playing and learning, eating and sleeping. They may not look the same. They may not speak the same language. Their lives may be quite different. But inside, they are all alike. Stirring words and bold paintings weave their way around our earth, across cultures and generations. At a time when, unfortunately, the lessons of tolerance still need to be learned, Whoever You Are urges us to accept our differences, to recognize our similarities, and-most importantly-to rejoice in both.
The Family Book
The Family Book celebrates the love we feel for our families and all the different varieties they come in. Whether you have two moms or two dads, a big family or a small family, a clean family or a messy one, Todd Parr assures readers that no matter what kind of family you have, every family is special in its own unique way.
Told in rhyme, this story follows Susan through a series of familiar activities. She swims with her father, works hard in school, plays with her friends — and even rides a horse. Lively, thoughtfully drawn illustrations reveal a portrait of a busy, happy little girl with whom younger readers will identify. Not until the end of the story is it revealed that Susan uses a wheelchair.
Told with insight, and without sentimentality, here is an inspiring look at one spunky little girl whose physical disability is never seen as a handicap.
Last Stop of Market Street
CJ begins his weekly bus journey around the city with disappointment and dissatisfaction, wondering why he and his family can’t drive a car like his friends. Through energy and encouragement, CJ’s nana helps him see the beauty and fun in their routine.
This beautifully illustrated, emotive picture book explores urban life with honesty, interest and gratitude.
Last Stop on Market Street has won multiple awards and spent time at the number one spot in the New York Times Bestseller List.
The Sandwich Swap
Lily and Salma are best friends. They like doing all the same things, and they always eat lunch together. Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus-but what’s that between friends? It turns out, a lot. Before they know it, a food fight breaks out. Can Lily and Salma put aside their differences? Or will a sandwich come between them?
The smallest things can pull us apart-until we learn that friendship is far more powerful than difference. In a glorious three-page gatefold at the end of the book, Salma, Lily, and all their classmates come together in the true spirit of tolerance and acceptance.
Same, Same but Different
Elliot lives in America, and Kailash lives in India. They are pen pals. By exchanging letters and pictures, they learn that they both love to climb trees, have pets, and go to school. Their worlds might look different, but they are actually similar. Same, same. But different!
Through an inviting point-of-view and colorful, vivid illustrations, this story shows how two boys living oceans apart can be the best of friends.
The Colours of Us
Seven-year-old Lena is going to paint a picture of herself. She wants to use brown paint for her skin. But when she and her mother take a walk through the neighborhood, Lena learns that brown comes in many different shades.
Through the eyes of a little girl who begins to see her familiar world in a new way, this book celebrates the differences and similarities that connect all people.
Karen Katz created this book for her daughter, Lena, whom she and her husband adopted from Guatemala six years ago.
This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World
This Is How We Do Itfollows the lives of seven REAL kids from Japan, Uganda, Russia, Iran, Peru, India, and Italy for a single day.
From the time each kid wakes up until the time they fall asleep, the details of their days differ: their homes are different, their schools are different, even how they play is different.
This genuine exchange between real kids provides a window into lifestyles and traditions that may differ from our own, as well as a mirror reflecting the common experiences that unite us all
Everywhere Babies is a fantastic diversity book for toddlers. The rhymes are catchy, but the best thing about this story is that it’s full of babies (and their parents) of all different races and creeds. The underlying theme is that no matter what babies look like, they’re all loved “for being so wonderful just as they are!”
Not Quite Narwhal
In the tradition of Uni the Unicorn and Gaston, this heartwarming and adorable debut picture book tells the story of a young unicorn who was born under the sea to a family of narwhals.
Growing up in the ocean, Kelp has always assumed that he was a narwhal like the rest of his family. Sure, he’s always been a little bit different—his tusk isn’t as long, he’s not as good of a swimmer, and he really doesn’t enjoy the cuisine. Then one night, an extra strong current sweeps Kelp to the surface, where he spots a mysterious creature that looks just like him! Kelp discovers that he and the creature are actually unicorns. The revelation leaves him torn: is he a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? But perhaps, if Kelp is clever, he may find a way to have the best of both worlds.
Told with heartwarming illustrations and spare, sweet text, Jessie Sima’s debut picture book is about fitting in, standing out, and the all-encompassing love of family
All Are Welcome
Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions and the whole community gathers to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.
“This is a must-read for pre-school and elementary classrooms everywhere. An important book that celebrates diversity and inclusion in a beautiful, age-appropriate way.” – Trudy Ludwig, author of The Invisible Boy and Quiet Please, Owen McPhee!
The Skin You Live In
With the ease and simplicity of a nursery rhyme, this lively story delivers an important message of social acceptance to young readers. Themes associated with child development and social harmony, such as friendship, acceptance, self-esteem, and diversity are promoted in simple and straightforward prose. Vivid illustrations of children’s activities for all cultures, such as swimming in the ocean, hugging, catching butterflies, and eating birthday cake are also provided. This delightful picturebook offers a wonderful venue through which parents and teachers can discuss important social concepts with their children.
Why Are You Looking at Me? I Just Have Down Syndrome
This story is about the life of a child with Down Syndrome that wants to be your friend. Lynn may look different than most children, but has many of the same likes and dislikes. Help your child discover what it means to accept and embrace a relationship with people who are different.
Big, small, curly, straight, loud, quiet, smooth, wrinkly. Lovely explores a world of differences that all add up to the same thing: we are all lovely!
Elmer’s Special Day
Elmer, the patchwork elephant, has been a favorite of children around the world since the first book debuted in 1989. Elmer’s Special Day is the latest book in this classic series. It’s almost Elmer Day again for the elephants, and they are getting their colorful parade outfits ready. But in their excitement they are making an awful lot of noise and upsetting the other animals. So Elmer changes the rules and invites every single animal to join in the parade. And they have a surprise in store for Elmer…
Happy reading! We hope you enjoyed seeing our top picks of children’s books that celebrate diversity.If you’d like to find books that teach children kindness and compassion, read our list here. All books can be purchases via Amazon and good book shops.
We are proud to celebrate diversity at Wild.Kind., and encourage children through play, reading, and general conversations to become knowledgeable and well-rounded in this topic.
The most important skills we teach in the early years are social-emotional ones – like kindness, sharing, and self-regulation.
Children who are socially and emotionally healthy tend to demonstrate, and continue to develop, several important behaviours and skills. They are more likely to form good relationships, care about others, recognise and manage their own emotions, understand others’ emotions, and show empathy.
According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of The Whole-Brain Child, “When children are interconnected, in tune with others, and have the capacity to be reflective, it increases empathy and understanding for the self and others. The ability to be reflective and to understand the self and others is what builds resiliency.”
Progression through the early years
At around 3-4 years of age, a child is likely to:
feel generous and show an understanding of sharing, but might not share all the time
use words to describe basic feelings like sad, happy, angry and excited
understand if they have done something ‘wrong’ and feel sorry
At 4-5 years of age, child is likely to:
use words to describe more complex feelings like frustration, annoyance and embarrassment
hide the truth about something if they feel frightened, embarrassed or guilty
be better at managing strong emotions like anger, frustration and disappointment
By the age of 5, a child is likely to:
use words to describe complex feelings like guilt and jealousy
be more aware of their feelings towards others and act on them with kindness and empathy
try hard to follow the rules to avoid getting in trouble
To boost social-emotional skills in children there are lots of activities you can do with them, such as:
Reading books – hearing stories about characters can help children empathise and relate (here’s a list of our recommendations)
Starting each day with a check-in helps them identify their emotions
Listening games like “Simon Says” allow children to practice listening carefully
Simple yoga poses help them learn how to control their bodies when emotions are running high
Create a special share box that children can decorate, for items that can be shared like instruments, toys and games.
We can also help by:
Showing respect and care to each other and ourselves
Giving effective praise and modeling appropriate behaviour
Listening with full attention to what children are saying and taking the time to answer fully
Showing warmth and affection.
Teaching social-emotional skills is clearly an investment of time for parents and caregivers, and something we focus on heavily at Wild.Kind.
Efforts are richly rewarded with engaged, happy, empathetic and kind children who express their emotions in productive ways.