Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fun Uses for Personalized Toys and Accessories

You know your kids love seeing their names displayed proudly on their favorite things, but there are also lots of fun and practical uses for personalized toys and accessories. Not only will your child feel special and more in control of his own belongings, but you can also use personalization to avoid conflict between children and to enforce non-confrontational discipline strategies.

First, the obvious. Personalized toys and other items helps to avoid confusion when multiple children have the same toy. This is true both for school where there are dozens of children sharing the same classroom, and for home for settling disputes over which thing belongs to whom. Let kids pick out their own toys and personalize any of them that may become a source of confusion for kids (and yourself…). That way, the next time there is an argument, you can point to the name on each toy and say "See, this one belongs to you, and this one is your brother's." Problem solved.

Another clever way of using personalized items is to help children with the concept of sharing. It is common for kids to stake their claim on prized possession during play dates. But, as we all know, kids who don’t learn to share are not much fun to play with and you may have a hard time getting parents to bring their children back to your home if their little one leaves in tears after each visit. The solution? Get your child his own personalized toy box.

Before any play date, have him put his favorite toys inside the box and then close the lid. Tell him that all toys inside don’t have to be shared because they are in his own special box, with his name right on front. (If you want to get REALLY fancy, you might also have a box labeled "Sharing Toys" or something similar.) Let him know that any toys NOT inside his special box have to be shared with his friends. Most kids will comply knowing that their feelings have been respected and that their favorite things are safely tucked away.

You can use this same concept when disciplining children by having a "No No" box, bench, or stool. For boxes, you can personalize it by adding the word "No No" or your child's name. Use them for putting toys, games, and other revoked privileges. Seeing the visual reminder of having his toys taken away is often more effective than putting them away somewhere sight unseen (out of sight, out of mind…just get a lock for the box if there is not one already)

Benches, stools, and step stools are handy for variety of reasons; and you can have them personalized for multiple uses. Have one labeled "time out" for obvious reasons. Having a specified place used for punishments only helps to reinforce the concept, and will hopefully encourage kids to avoid being sent there.

You can also add your child's name to these items to help instill a sense of belonging. Seeing his or her name prominently placed on chairs, benches, and other items gives them a reminder that their place in the family is permanent and important.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How To Avoid a Christmas Catastrophe: Batteries!

You know the scenario all too well. The kids wake up Christmas morning all smiles, anxiously tearing through wrapping paper to find out what each package has in store. They excitedly begin pressing buttons and pulling levers, only to realize where are the batteries?

Mom thought Dad was going to get them, and he thought she picked them up last week. The ones in the remote control aren't the right size, and the ones in the junk drawer are, well, junk. No batteries in the entire house, no stores open, and no way to use those new toys.

Sound familiar?

Don't worry, you can avoid this all-too-common of Christmas woes by following one simple rule: opt for toys that don’t need batteries! It's easier than you think when you stick to the classics.

Here are our timeless Christmas faves. (Your kids will love them as much as you did "back in the day" we promise!)

Toy kitchens and food: Boys and girls will love cooking up some fun with a toy kitchen with all the accessories. You probably remember serving "dinner" to your parents as a child, and the concept is just as much fun to kids today! Pair it up from toy toasters, pots and pans, and mixers so more kids can play.

Kids Art easels, tables, & supplies: Even older kids will love drawing and painting or modeling with clay; and younger kids never grow tired of crayons and markers. Add a kid sized easel, extra paint brushes, and canvas for your older artists and you've got an inexpensive gift idea that your whole family can enjoy.

Blocks: Choose from wood blocks to build structures or how about big cardboard blocks for a fort or a great wall?

Costumes and dress up props: Your small children will love getting new costumes and dress up clothes as much as your teens love getting real clothes. Find items that fit several sizes at once, and get plenty of props like headgear and scarves it's a gift that will grow with your child.

Dolls and accessories: The classic baby doll never goes out of style. Sure, there are models now that cry, wet, and burp on demand; but these extras aren't necessary for your little one to fall in love. Fashion dolls are also still number one, and when you pair them with a new dollhouse… kids can literally spend hours decorating and re-decorating their doll's new home.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Classroom Storage: Making Learning Fun

An organized classroom is a fun and efficient classroom. To maximize daily schedules, teachers need to organize their materials for easier reference so they can separate materials they use everyday from materials periodically. Storage can be exciting. Classroom storage can be a fun way to learn because you can use book displays as libraries and cubbies as mail boxes. Assign students jobs and they naturally become interested in the subject.

You can have a cubby assigned to each student so they can have a place to keep their art supplies, assignments, & books. Teachers can also use the cubbies to give the students projects, leave notes or give home work.

Its also a fun way for students to learn responsibility in the classroom and for them to get to know their classmates names. Many cubbies, such as the 10 Tray Mobile Storage Unit, come with removable plastic drawers.

For students who are still learning to read, each plastic draw can be labeled with a picture of the item that is inside. Students will love being called on to retrieve an item for the teacher or a classmate. Books that are displayed in an orderly and eye catching fashion will not only help the classroom look organized but it will also encourage the students to read. Books are part of the classroom, its common for classrooms to have lot of books for quiet reading or book reports. If you arrange the books in an orderly fashion this will encourage the students to check them out.

Cubbies can help teachers showcase books and display books in a manner that will interest the students. The best way to display the books is to place them in an angle that will show the front cover instead of putting them in a line showing just the spines. Students have materials that they need to carry around, portable storage is just the thing for this. Retrievable storage cubbies such as the See, Store and Take-Along Storage Cart, is equipped with lids that have handles. You will find that students like carrying them around and take pride in it.

Organizing the classroom using cubbies is fun and easy, it can also be an activity to keep them busy while the teacher is involved with other projects. Also, for super safe storage solutions make sure to check out the tip me not line of school furniture from Wood Designs.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Top Five Toy Ideas for Toddlers

The holidays are right around the corner, and you are probably already thinking about what to get your little ones. If you have older children, they will more than likely have no problem letting you know exactly what they want this Christmas (including size, color, and precisely what aisle of the store it can be found on…). Toddlers, on the other hand, can be a bit more difficult to shop for.

Because children between the ages of two and five grow and change so quickly, it can be hard to choose items that will not only be fun for them now, but in the year ahead. As small children learn new things and master new skills, the same ole toys he's playing with now probably won't cut it in a few short months.

Luckily, there a few toddler toy options that kids can enjoy now, and in the years to come.

Blocks and other stacking toys: Younger toddlers learn fine motor skills and hand eye coordination by stacking a few blocks on top of each other. They also learn the concept of cause and effect as they knock the blocks over again and again. Older toddlers and preschoolers continue to enjoy these toys by building actual structures and playing pretend. They can build houses, bridges, people, castles almost anything they want. The usefulness and play value of most blocks is limited only by your child's imagination.

Drawing materials: This can include easels, markers, crayons, paper, finger paints, and anything else kids can use to make their mark. Not only will kids be able to create and use their budding imaginations, but drawing with your child is a great way to introduce color recognition, shape recognition, and early reading and writing skills. By watching you make different shapes and letters, they can more easily learn and follow suit.

Climbing toys and indoor playgrounds: These are always a hit with kids from crawling age all the way to upper elementary school (if the unit can accommodate older kids). By climbing and jumping around kids not only master the use of virtually every major muscle group, they also have a lot of fun.

Play kitchens and play food toys: There is nothing a child likes more than being just like mom and dad. These toys allow them to prepare meals and care for their "children" just like you do, without all the dangers and mess of your real kitchen. Not only that, but these toys grow with children. Young toddlers find it amusing just to pretend to cook and clean, while older children use these items as props in more sophisticated imaginative play.

Sand and water tables: You would be hard pressed to find a child of almost any age who didn’t love to build with sand and splash around in the water. Sand and water tables are great for families with kids of various ages because more than one child can play at once. Smaller kids will love feeling the texture of sand and exploring the water with their hands, while older toddlers and preschoolers love to use play tables in conjunction with other toys in imaginative games. (action figures trekking across the dessert, or submarines diving beneath the ocean).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Value-Added Method of Teaching: Is it the Solution?

Not many dispute the fact that the education system in the United States is flawed. Teaching is a hard job and the pay is not that great. However many blame the powerful teachers unions for allowing poor teachers to keep their job and benefits while younger more eager teachers get put down for thinking of new methods to improve student performance.

There is no "right" answer to solve the multitude of issues surrounding education. However the U.S. should not lag behind any other country in education considering the fact that when Americans put their minds to it, we can be among the best in any area. We have the money, we have the resources, we have the best colleges with the brightest minds and think tanks to figure out the issues and advise about best practices.

There is no doubt we'll get it right eventually but there will be many battles, bruised egos, and law suits before the majority is happy with pre-k to 12 education.

There are two interesting articles in the October 18th Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times from writers Jason Song and Jason Felch. The articles discuss the Value-Added method of teaching. The writers explain that the value added approach attempts to level the playing field by focusing on growth rather than achievement. Using statistics, it tracks students improvement year to year, and uses that progress to estimate the effectiveness of teachers, principals, and schools.

The value-added method also challenges the following assumptions:
  • all teachers are equal
  • more money, more learning
  • teachers can't overcome a student's background
  • class size is key
  • bad teachers tend to teach in poor schools
  • teacher experience matters
  • teacher education matters
  • teacher credentials matter
If you're an educator or parent who has an opinion about the value-added method, please read the article and let us know your thoughts. The articles are located at
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Halloween: Safe & Fun Trick-or-Treating

Halloween is just around the corner, and your kids are probably gearing up for the big day by planning their costumes and trying to figure out the houses with the best candy. You may be giving this year's holiday a lot of thought too. But for slightly different reasons. How can you let your kids make the most of Halloween while still keeping them safe? No worries. We're here to help!

Although you probably remember every news headline about poisoned Halloween candy or other horrifying tales, these incidents are literally a one in a million deal. Keep in mind that millions of children go trick-or-treating every year, and virtually none of them come in contact with anything dangerous. The reason these headlines are so noteworthy, is because they are so extremely rare.

Even so, it's best to ere on the side of caution when it comes to kids. Keep them safe without spoiling all the fun by following a few simple guidelines.

Check all candy that comes from a stranger before letting your child dig in. Make sure all wrappers are still securely in place, and be sure there are no holes or blemishes on the packaging. Most of the time these things are nothing at all, but they could indicate candy that has been tampered with. To be extra sure, trash any "suspicious" pieces. Your kids won't miss them.

While you're out and about milking the neighbors for all the bubble gum they're worth, be sure to keep a close eye on every child in attendance. If more than three kids will be joining the fun, bring an extra adult (or two) and instruct kids ahead of time to walk on the sidewalk only. If small toddlers will be present, keep them in a stroller or attach a "toddler leash" to their costumes. Little ones are fast and tend to disappear easily in a crowd.

Choose easy to recognize costumes. Although choosing the latest TV character may be
"in", there are plenty of stylish and fun kids costumes to choose from that will be easier to pick out in a crowd. The Doctors Costume for Kids by Aeromax, for example, comes in several easy to see bright colors and is available in multiple sizes. Similar ideas are the Cowboy & Cowgirl Costume for Kids. These are stylish and fun enough to keep the kids happy, but will help you avoid confusing your child with one of the other blond pop stars on the street that night. You can even make it an educational day by discussing what the character does or might have done when they dressed up just like your little trick or treater.

Stick to neighborhoods you are familiar with. If there is a particular area that is notorious for having "good candy" and you haven’t been there, take a quick drive by during the day to map things out. Choose which streets you will visit, keep a stretch of the neighborhood handy so you can easily find your car, and if you want to be super cautious check the crime in the area by searching online. Even better, take along a friend who knows the area and follow her lead.

A few minutes of preparation will make each and every Halloween fun for your kids and give you some peace of mind.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Making Your Child's First Halloween a Hit

If you're a new parent, you've probably been counting down the days until his first Halloween. Nothing could be cuter than those chubby little cheeks all dressed up in a fun baby costume! Make his first Halloween super special by letting him get as involved in the festivities as possible, and following these tips to ensure that everyone stays happy and healthy this holiday.

Obviously a baby who is only a few months old should not have candy of any sort. For babies six months or older, however, it may be a little more difficult to decipher what is and is not safe. Until your child is at least three (older if he still has issues chewing food thoroughly) stay away from hard candies and thick taffy, peanut butter, or caramel. Lollipops can be safe as long as the candy is snug on the stick, and you watch him closely. Other good choices include chocolate or any candy that melts in the mouth. Cut or tear larger items into small bit sized pieces.

Remember, your child probably has no idea what's going on. To kids under the age of two or three, Halloween is just another day of the week. That said, make sure he maintains his normal schedule for as much of the day as possible. This means regular meal and naptimes, as well as quiet playtime without any older brothers or sisters popping in wearing their costumes. By doing this, you give yourself a better chance of having a happy baby as you go out trick-or-treating with older siblings, or visiting relatives to show off his cute costume.

On the same note, since he has no idea what "Halloween" actually is, you can make the day more for yourself. That means putting him in the cutest costume you can find and taking dozens of pictures without protest (hopefully). The Baby Racing Costumer in Red and Blue or the Baby Police Officer Costume are both excellent choices for your little one. They're made just the right size for infants, and he will look adorable sitting in a toy car or playing with kid friendly handcuffs while snap away. If you don’t have any older children to contend with, you may just spend the bulk of your night taking photos (and emailing them to everyone you know)!

If your youngster will be tagging along for a trick-or-treat jaunt, remember to bring along plenty of supplies. Extra diapers, juice, blankets, and toys may all come in handy even if you are not roaming far from home. Infants and young toddlers are notoriously impatient, so keeping everything you may need close by will prevent you from having to return home early…or deal with a screaming baby house after house. Talk about scary!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Safety: Cooking with Little Ones Around

If you're a parent, you probably find yourself with little ones underfoot several times a week while making dinner. Whether you're making spaghetti or grilled cheese, kids love to help. Unfortunately, sometimes it isn't feasible to have little hands stirring the Alfredo sauce or helping you chop the onions; either because the job is too messy or dangerous, or you're just too tired to accomplish things efficiently.

Luckily, there are ways you can accommodate your child's need to "cook" his own meal without having to deal with the mess, heat, and power struggles that often cause problems.

Designate a special place where your child can cook. This can be a small table in the corner with a matching chair, or a specific stool at the bar. Let your child know that this area is his area. All other parts of the kitchen are off limits unless you give special permission. With his culinary creations being limited to a set space, you can (hopefully) cut down on the overall mess and avoid opening the oven door as a pair of tiny hands reach over.

Toy Food

Teach your child proper kitchen safety rules BEFORE you begin cooking. This obviously means instructing him to avoid the oven when it's turned on unless you are there to supervise, but also on the proper method for holding pot holders and using oven mitts. Show him how to pull out the oven racks using mitts. Also, make sure he knows never to run with sharp utensils (Not that you will be letting him anywhere near the knives but it's best to be prepared early on), as well as the proper way to handle peelers and other items when he's old enough!

For very small children, set up a play area in or close by the kitchen so he or she can help you safely. This can include things like toy food, play kitchens, pretend pots and pans, and other fun props. This will allow your child to participate without the risk of injury or sticky messes. A great option for kitchen play is the Bake & Decorate Cupcake Set by Melissa & Doug. It comes with toy cupcakes that wipe clean after each use, as well as dry erase markers that allow children to create and re-create new treats every time. By allow kids to actually create something right along with you, it will give them a sense of accomplishment just like if they were baking REAL cupcakes with you.

Be willing to get messy every now and then. You can't avoid the occasional spill or scattered cereal, so it's best to anticipate these things ahead of time. This will not only allow you to keep anger and frustration at bay when messes DO occur, you will already have a plan in mind for cleaning them up. And don't forget sometimes a good old fashioned food fight is just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Childhood Obesity and Exercise

With the rates of childhood obesity and other food related illnesses climbing each and every year, now is the perfect time to get your child moving! Cold weather doesn't have to put a damper in your exercise efforts. There are lots of things you can do to get your kids off the couch and they don't have to be boring or tedious.

The key, is to make exercise fun for children. Better yet, don't call it exercising. Call it "playing gym class" or just tell them that you're all going to jump around and act silly. Do jumping jacks, dance to your favorite music, and use an exercise ball to get them bouncing around and you toned and fit.

Try the Fitball and with Feet. It's very similar to traditional exercise balls, but it comes with small feet at the bottom that keep the balls from rolling; and it keeps your ball in place when you stand up. Best of all, it comes in both child and adult sizes so the entire family can get in on the fun.

The benefits of using the Fitball are numerous. Children will learn balance and stability while playing and sitting on the ball, and you will get the same benefits of a personal trainer without the high price tag. Exercise balls are superior for core training and working those abs, plus, they don't put strain on your hips and back. In fact, lying across the Fitball may instantly relieve back pain. That’s why therapists and chiropractors have been using exercise balls in their practices for years.

Before you get started, there are just a few things to remember before you begin working with the Fitball, or any other exercise equipment. If your children have any health issues, such as asthma, talk to his or her doctor before starting an exercise program or any other physical activities. Also, it may be a good idea to speak with your own doctor before you get started whether you have a health condition or not.
You should also keep a few things in mind as you actually use the ball. Keep your workouts indoors, away from sharp objects.

Although the Fitball is designed to take a bit of wear and tear, it is susceptible to punctures just as any other exercise ball. It's also a good idea to confine your workouts to areas without hard furniture with sharp corners. Move things around if you have to. The last thing you want is a child to bounce right into a table. You should direct children on how to behave while using the ball to avoid anyone getting hurt. Most of all, encourage them to move, bounce, and have fun!