From News

Ten Tips for Talking to Children about Death

Part Two of our series. 

By Heather Hansen, RSW MSW BSW BA

Step one: Honour your own grief.

You are allowed to feel and it’s important that you do. In fact, your ability to engage with your own grief can enable you to be aware and responsive to your child’s needs.

Step two: Orientate yourself towards what your child needs.

While it is productive for children to see honest emotion, it can be terrifying for a child to see their parent collapse with grief. Be mindful of what you need, give yourself time and space for that, and then orientate yourself towards what your child needs: a gathered, albeit emotional, you.

Step three: Gather the facts.

All people, and especially kids, need context to help them understand and accept their loss. You may not choose to share these details, but having the information about when, where, and how the person died will ensure you’re ready if (and when) they ask.

Step four: Think timing.

While there may never a “good” time to talk about death, sooner is better than later. When a death is expected, advanced notification can support a child prepare more gradually. If the death has already occurred, inform them as soon as you are practically and emotionally able to do so. This will prevent them drawing their own conclusions based on what they perceive, observe, or overhear.

 Step five: Be clear and concise.

Age appropriate, simple, and direct communication is of critical importance when notifying children of a death. Avoid euphemisms like “gone to sleep” or gentle words like “passed”. These are inaccurate and can be confusing. Though children may not understand the meaning of the words, using language that reflects the truth, such as “dead” and “died”, can assist them create a vocabulary that they can use in future conversations. It can also help them differentiate between other goodbye words such as “gone bye-bye” and “all gone”.

Step six: Go slow.

The pace of the conversation should be slowed so to not overload and overwhelm them. Give space for them to hear, make sense of your words, and to ask questions. You may have to break up the conversation in to small pieces.

 Step seven: Be ready for the questions…

They might ask if you are joking. They might need you to confirm what you just said. They might ask you to repeat yourself. They might need you to tell them every day, for a while. They are curious, and they might want to know how the person died. They might ask questions that seem unrelated. They might ask questions that are surprising. They might ask questions that are difficult to answer, hurt your heart, or that seem almost rude. They might ask you questions that are really an attempt to have other questions answered (Am I safe? Are you going to die? Is this my fault?). You might think that they have understood and then, at the most random or inopportune time, they might have more questions.

To be ready for their questions does not mean you need to have all the answers. You may need to communicate that you are not sure, or that you need some time before you can answer that. This is perfectly understandable and fair. Readiness is not about knowing everything, it’s about anticipating that children will likely be full of questions, even if they don’t verbalize them.

Step eight: Give permission.

Children need to be provided with permission to feel or express themselves, as they often behave as they believe is expected of them. Some children might need permission to ask all the questions they have. Without permission they might mask their grief or silence their wonder. Children also need to hear that their reactions are normal and acceptable, whatever they might be.

 Step nine: Offer opportunities and choice.

Death can make people feel out of control. Being empowered by choice, therefore, is a productive counter to this. To talk about death some more, or not? To read a story about death, or not? To look at pictures of the deceased person, or not? To attend the funeral, or not? Let them teach you what they need.

Step ten: Caring for children, caring for yourself.

It is important to be tender with yourself, you who have been so brave and generous with your child. Self-care is not just an act of self-love but a way to renew yourself so you can continue to give attention to your child’s complex needs. Be kind to yourself, this is hard work.

Parent-Child Mother Goose at Qayqayt

Discover the power and pleasure of rhymes, songs, and stories.
Cuddle, communicate and connect with your child at the Parent-Child Mother Goose program

at Qaqayt this coming January, 2017. This is a free program run by New Westminster Family Place.

Space is limited and pre-registration is required.  For information and to register please phone

New Westminster Family Place, 604-520-3666.

For more information see Parent-Child Mother Goose Qayqayt

The First Acquired Language: Music

Mishael discovering the guitar in his first months

A pair of deep brown eyes stare into mine already so full of love and trust, and although I’m not sure I deserve such love and trust, they continue to gaze into mine and I am speechless.

Let’s rewind one year. Here I am. First time mom with a new born baby boy in my arms. I couldn’t be happier and also more humbled. Being in the child care field for so many years and working mostly with infants I assumed having my own would be a piece of cake. Wrong.

Sure I already knew how to change a diaper and understand baby babble but what do I do with a newborn that, well, really just lays there and looks at me?


I rested my son, Mishael, on the living room floor and crossed my legs next to him with an acoustic guitar. Delicately, I strummed chords and sang softly. He seemed pleasantly content and at peace. The next day I let him rest in the living room again as I played and sung to him. The next day as well as the next, I did the same.

Finally, a smile. Before I would even begin to play, Mishael would grin at the sight of me grasping the guitar from its stand.

And then a coo and a hum. He was not only excited when he caught glimpse of the guitar but he had acquired a unique singing voice.

Next a wave of the arm and a shake of the leg. As Mishael’s excitement grew every time I brought out the guitar, his body began to move and wiggle as well.

Music is a language he identifies with. It provides him a way of expressing himself as his vocabulary grows. It wasn’t long after incorporating music continually throughout the day that his expressions grew into many. His babbling grew into words. His waves became clapping. And his legs began bouncing to the rhythm of a song.


Mishael has developed emotionally, cognitively and physically due to music.

I truly believe that every child can make meaning of the world in their own way through music some way or another. And it doesn’t have to be with an acoustic guitar either. Here is a short list of some places nearby that my son and I love to go every week. They will provide your child with a wonderful start in music and you might just learn a thing or two as well!


Baby Time @ New Westminster Public Library. Fridays at 10:15am (no charge)

Pre-school story time @ New Westminster Public Library. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday at 10:15am (no charge)

Mini Music ages 0-5 @ Music Box. Fridays at 10am and 11am (no charge)

Music Kids Daycare @ Top floor of River Market. Occasional and flexible child care, music focused. Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. (Charges apply)

 -Kimberly Ngugi is co-owner & manager of Music Kids Daycare at the River Market, a new flexible music daycare by Music Box. After completing her Early childhood education certificate and diploma specializing in infant/toddler and special needs care, Kimberly has enjoyed many years of experience teaching children in a variety of settings from daycare, junior kindergarten and pre-school internationally in Kenya. Kimberly is passionate in creating environments for children to make meaning of the world on their own with room to create, imagine and discover. She also has special education in teaching English as a second language and music.  She lives in New Westminster with her husband and 1 year old son.

A Hundred Languages

All children learn, discover and understand in different ways. The way in which one child will understand why leaves are green during summer and fall in autumn, may be completely opposite from another. Being aware that every child learns differently and providing them an atmosphere and environment to explore and make their own theories about life seems crucial to me.


Below is a poem by Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio approach. A poem that was shared with me in college when studying early childhood education. It completely changed my perspective on children and the environments which they should be surrounded by to make meaning of the world around them.


The child

is made of one hundred.

The child has

A hundred languages

A hundred hands

A hundred thoughts

A hundred ways of thinking

Of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred

Ways of listening of marveling of loving

A hundred joys

For singing and understanding

A hundred worlds

To discover

A hundred worlds

To invent

A hundred worlds

To dream

The child has

A hundred languages

(and a hundred hundred hundred more)

But they steal ninety-nine.

The school and the culture

Separate the head from the body.

They tell the child;

To think without hands

To do without head

To listen and not to speak

To understand without joy

To love and to marvel

Only at Easter and Christmas

They tell the child:

To discover the world already there

And of the hundred

They steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:

That work and play

Reality and fantasy

Science and imagination

Sky and earth

Reason and dream

Are things

That do not belong together

And thus they tell the child

That the hundred is not there

The child says: NO WAY the hundred is there–


Loris Malagasy 

Founder of the Reggio Approach

-Kimberly Ngugi is co-owner & manager of Music Kids Daycare at the River Market, a new flexible music daycare by Music Box. After completing her Early childhood education certificate and diploma specializing in infant/toddler and special needs care, Kimberly has enjoyed many years of experience teaching children in a variety of settings from daycare, junior kindergarten and pre-school internationally in Kenya. Kimberly is passionate in creating environments for children to make meaning of the world on their own with room to create, imagine and discover. She also has special education in teaching English as a second language and music.  She lives in New Westminster with her husband and 1 year old son.

Do all children play?

Red elastic. Blue elastic. Green elastic. Yellow elastic. Tiny fingers working diligently to wrap band around band until their labours have produced a brilliant and vibrant coloured ball. Believe it or not, if you wrap enough elastic bands around themselves with a couple polythene bags intertwined, it will create a ball durabUntitled1le enough to kick around as a soccer ball.  A clever skill I learned while living in rural Kenya for three
After working in child care for many years and seeing the endless amount of plastic toys the children had to play with, it made me wonder if play was universal. Could children living in the uttermost poor and rural environments still play like children exposed to plastic toys and IPad’s?

The idea of children living in a slum with mud walls to form a simple home and walking in streets of debris seemed to shout a loud, “NO!” Surely children do not play all over the world. But as I walked through the slums of Kenya interacting with the children there, my opinion began to change.

I found children making use of other’s garbage to create toys. I remember one young girl crouched on the ground biting her lip as she put all her concentration and efforts into tying a filthy string to a polythene bag that had been thrown out. I crouched next to her and asked what she was making.

“A kite,” she replied.

Sure enough, as she finished attaching strings to each side of the bag and a breeze passed by, the kite lifted into the air. With a cheerful giggle, the girl stood up and raced around with her kite.

Do all children play? My heart and mind have been persuaded to say, “yes.”

My son & I taking a moment to explore on one of our walks.

My one-year-old son reminds me of these children every day. Like most of you, I’m sure, we have a toy box in our living room. It’s full of plastic toys, as I like to call them. Rarely do I find him playing with a single toy in it.

Instead he is eager to play with wooden spoons or to open every cupboard in the kitchen and discover a toy box of pots, pans and Tupperware’s.   When we go to the park, I pack the diaper bag full of toys and every time I fail to unpack even one of them as he much prefers to play with the leaves, sticks and rocks. I’m sure many of you can identify.

Real. Authentic. Natural. My son will choose a real adult-like spoon over his small plastic spoon. He will choose to play with a stick over a plastic car. He prefers to watch real fish in a pond than play with his plastic fish that flash and play music.

Do all children play? I’ve determined whether children are exposed to manufactured toys or left to imagine what they can create with the natural items around them, it is an outstanding YES.

After working with children for many years and studying the way they play and learn, I couldn’t be more excited to have just opened Music Kids Daycare at the river market by the New Westminster Quay. Founded with Reggio Emilia philosophies from Italy, children are exposed to real, authentic, natural items.

I believe every child is competent and should be treated so. Every child discovers and understands differently from another and I truly desire to provide an environment that allows a child to make meaning of the world in their own way.

Do all children play? Even in the uttermost poor and rural environments? I have no other word to answer with but “yes.” Let’s replace the plastic with natural, the manufactured with authentic and provide our children with an atmosphere that encourages creativity, imagination and understanding.

Clinton, age 3, discovering that he can still draw a picture in the dirt with a stick even though he lacks paper and felts.
Clinton, age 3, discovering that he can still draw a picture in the dirt with a stick even though he lacks paper and felts.

-Kimberly Ngugi is co-owner & manager of Music Kids Daycare at the River Market, a new flexible music daycare by Music Box. After completing her Early childhood education certificate and diploma specializing in infant/toddler and special needs care, Kimberly has enjoyed many years of experience teaching children in a variety of settings from daycare, junior kindergarten and pre-school internationally in Kenya. Kimberly is passionate in creating environments for children to make meaning of the world on their own with room to create, imagine and discover. She also has special education in teaching English as a second language and music.  She lives in New Westminster with her husband and 1 year old son.

Travelling With Kids

I love to travel, and started my own personal traveling when I was 14 and went on my first solo trip to visit my Grandparents in Arizona. In fact, a luggage set was my 14th birthday present. When I was 21, I began my backpacking career, after being inspired by people I saw sleeping on the deck of a boat on a previous journey along the Alaskan coast line when I was 16. This is the way I wanted to see the world!

I always remember my parents saying that it was good to go traveling when I was young, because once real life started, travel would have to wait. Well, that didn’t sit well with me. I was determined to make traveling a part of my life, and a career, a house, a business and children were not going to stop me!

We live in a world where we are able to connect globally, and yet, often we are reluctant to do that in a real way. It is easy, and safe, to explore the world and its varied people from the comfort and safety of our homes, or in resorts that have all the comforts of home and give us controlled experiences that give us a small glimpse into another person’s life. Don’t get me wrong. I recognize the need for a relaxing holiday where no one has to worry about the day-to-day things, and the experience is hassle free. We all need this type of TLC from time to time.

Traveling without the safety net of a pre-arranged tour, and carrying your home on your back leads to a very different experience, especially when doing that with children in tow. Our family decided to travel in this way for most of our journeys. It wasn’t always easy. We typically arrived with a guidebook in hand and no reservations. We did not have an itinerary, just some locations in mind, and a flight home at the end.

Why would we choose this way of traveling? Well, because our goal was to explore, and follow the paths that we encountered along the way. We wanted our children to experience people and places as they were presented to us.   We wanted them to learn about cultures of the world through direct experience. We decided to use exploring the world as a canvas for learning about life, both the way other groups live their lives, and as a way to make decisions, form opinions, and recognize similarities and differences between the global community.

Travel is often seen as a way to bring a family together. This was true of our method as well. We each had our own roles and responsibilities. Each for their own packing and carrying of clothes and personal items. When we would arrive in a new location, I would have some possible places marked in our guidebook, and we would split up – two staying with the packs, and two checking out lodgings for the night. When we started exploring the following day, we had a list of questions that could be answered by tourist information, or a local such as a hostel worker or someone in a restaurant. When our kids were young, most of the decision making was left to the adults, but as they got older, they were increasingly involved in transit and route planning, navigating to locations we used in a particular city, finding a place to stay, and in the information gathering process. By our last trip, they would go to find our room, and find out important information independently. Of course, there were times when this was problematic. The first trip that we allowed the boys to pack for themselves resulted in a huge rope and grappling hook, shoes that were falling apart, zap straps, bungee cords and duct tape. Well, the rope was sent home, but the duct tape and zap straps saved our feet and clothing many times, and the bungee cords were used daily for attaching luggage to the tops of taxis so that we could stay together in a car rather than being split up.

If you have the chance to travel with children, it is so important to be flexible, and to add fun. I see traveling as a learning experience, but this does not always mean learning facts and dates, going to museums and taking tours. It means finding places to climb and explore, renting bikes, going bowling with the locals, renting ATVs and going zip lining. When we started, there were no cell phones or personal computers, so reading a family novel, playing cards and dice games, drawing and seeing movies in a theatre were our entertainment. Part of the beauty of this simplicity is that it removes distractions. It forces a family to work together as a unit, and siblings to rely on each other as friends. It requires problem solving, collaboration, and compromise.

Traveling teaches life skills that are really survival skills no matter what setting one finds oneself in.   Recognizing dangerous situations, trusting your instincts, goal setting, facing challenges, developing tolerance, accepting differences, talking to strangers safely…these are invaluable lessons. I feel confident in the abilities of both my boys when they venture into the world, whether that be living independently in the lower mainland or living abroad.

From an educational point of view, there are a wealth of learning opportunities. Traveling should never be seen as ‘missing school’, it simply provides direct experiences that add to continually building our understanding of life and the world.

When exploring any place, be it at home or abroad, there are many questions to explore.

  • What plants and animals live here?
  • What are the homes made from?
  • What does the architecture tell us about the local history and resource use?
  • How do people get their food and what do they eat?
  • How do families live, work and play?
  • How do the locals travel and what do they pay? Are there differences between locals and tourists? (female only cars on the trains in Egypt, different fares for locals)
  • What does the night sky look like?
  • What are the environmental and social issues?
  • What are the dangers in a particular environment? (pick pocketing, drug abuse, poverty, hunger, street safety)
  • What writing, number and money system is used?
  • What is the geography, and how has it changed? ( Erosion, volcanoes, canyons, deforestation, salinization, rock formation)
  • How has history shaped a place and it’s people?
  • How do nature and man interact?


When learning on the road, there is no need to formalize this learning. It can simply be used to start discussions, raise questions, and as the building blocks of memories and connections. I do work with families who travel through my work at Hume Park Homelearners who choose to formalize learning. Younger students may simply keep a travel journal as a scrapbook, adding photos, artifacts, collections, drawings and stories. Older students often use a computer, and create projects related to science and social studies concepts. They sometimes also read a historical fiction novel that takes place in the area of the world they are exploring.

Things to think about when on the road with kids:

  • Pack lightly- only bring clothes you like wearing, but are not too attached to. You will wear the same things day to day, so bring things you can part with, and buy something new when you need a change. Your old clothes may be a gift for someone else.
  • Pack toiletries in waterproof bags which can go into the shower if needed when in hostel situations
  • Use a money belt or small purse that attaches to your body and can be worn under clothing when needed. Also, as adults, split up money, cards and passports. Keep a photocopy of documents in a safe place. This is for safety, but also, in some places, photocopies are expected even to buy a train ticket.
  • Bring a separate day pack to carry water, snacks, cards, cameras, an extra layer of clothing, suntan lotion and bug spray
  • Bring an extra stuff sac or fold up shopping bag for dirty laundry, and later to bring gifts home
  • Buy things that will entertain and be a piece of home. For example, once we bought a small guitar for hours of musical exploration, another time we bought cheap skateboards which kept the lids active, where a point of interest with locals, and also helped with transporting packs and rushing to catch a boat
  • Don’t be discouraged by ‘mistakes’- often these detours are gifts in disguise. Stay calm, don’t rush, and follow your instincts.
  • Bring journals for yourselves and the kids. These can be a form of documentation, reflection, but also, give kids permission to use them as they wish- it might be drawings, collections, paper for keeping score of a card game, stories, and maybe it serves as a travel log, but not always
  • Bring a book just for information, and that has rip out pages
  • String for laundry, as well as a small amount of detergent or a multi-purpose bar of soap to do underwear and socks in your rooms if staying more than a day
  • Pack a few cheap novels- most hostels have book exchange shelves so having some trades is a great idea. Also, look for family read aloud novels that take place in the country you are visiting
  • Use a guide book- second hand is fine and can be abused if needed. You can mark places on maps, highlight information, rip out a map if needed, and serves as a souvenir of the trip later on. There are many on line options that can be useful when traveling, but a book is accessible on the bus or train and can be put in the daypack.
  • A personal child’s camera of some form to capture images and memories on a personal level


Wherever your travels take you, remember to live in the moment and enjoy the journey!