Monday, November 30, 2009

Having a Hard Time Figuring Out the Right Gift? Age Does Matter

Whether you're buying for your own kids or someone else's, choosing the best gifts can be tough. If you've never had children of a certain age group, you may be unfamiliar with age appropriate toys, games, and electronics. Luckily, we've created the following buying guide with a few great gift ideas for kids of all ages!

Infants and Toddlers: This can be the most tricky age group to buy for because kids two and under grow and learn so quickly. A child who is six months old, for example, would probably not be interested in toys designed for newborns, while still being unable to enjoy items meant for a one year old.

Fortunately, there are a few options that are perfect for almost any child within this age group. Blocks, for instance, can be purchased in various sizes and textures to accommodate both infants and toddlers. There are also various riding toys, like mini rocking horses, that can be used for years to grow along with the child.

Preschoolers: Kids in this age group are becoming more independent and learning new skills everyday. Reading and counting skills are being developed at this time, so choosing toys that will encourage learning is a great way to keep preschoolers engaged and entertained. Memory games and puzzles are one option. Many of them are brightly colored and feature fun characters, while helping kids enhance both memory and fine motor skills.

Art supplies like markers, easels, crayons, coloring books, clay, and stamps are also favorite among this age group. They are able to express their budding individuality by creating new drawings and sculptures, as well as practice writing and drawing letters, numbers, and shapes.

Elementary Age: Although this age group includes children from 5 to 9 or ten, there are some toys that nearly all children enjoy no matter what their age. These include activities and games, as well as pretend play toys. Choose games that allow children to jump and move around while playing. Counting, reading, and writing games are also great choices, with skill levels being based on the exact age or grade level of the child.

Pretend play toys can include things like toy kitchens, doll sets and houses, or costumes. Although children in the upper end of this age group may seem to grow out of these types of toys, you’ll likely find that even older children enjoy playing make believe if the game is engaging enough. Encourage them to try out their acting skills by writing and performing their own plays, or have them learn to cook a real dinner while younger siblings join in by preparing a pretend one.

Pre-teens and teens: These kids may have outgrown dolls and tea sets, but they still enjoy things like board games, computer games and accessories, and fun décor items. When choosing games, make sure the skills required are challenging enough to entertain adolescents for more than five minutes. For décor items, choose things like bean bag chairs to provide extra seating while hanging out with friends.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turkey Got Your Kids Feeling Sluggish?

There's no better time to get kids active than after the holidays! Once all the turkeys are carved and the gifts are unwrapped, you may find your children getting a little stir crazy from being inside during the holiday break. Fortunately, even if where you live isn't ideal for outdoor play during the winter months, there are plenty of ways to get up and get active in your own home.

For hop, skipping, and jumping fun during and after the holidays consider these ideas to get kids moving!

Exercise and balance balls are favorites among kids and grown ups alike. Your children will love bouncing up and down and trying to balance on the ball, while you can take advantage of one of several great workouts geared toward exercise balls. There are even models that come with unique shapes that make falls and spills less likely for little ones. Just make sure you do your workouts in an area without furniture with sharp corners.

Balance toys are another great choice for kids of any age. These can include walking paths or platforms where children can fine tune their balancing skills while having fun. Many models can be put together and taken apart for easy storage mobility.

Indoor mini trampolines have always been a favorite among children. They will get the same fun as with an outdoor model, but without the risk of falls and injury. Many models even come with a handle for added balance, so even young toddlers and preschoolers can get in on the action. Best of all, trampolines are top notch for burning calories and staying in shape, but your kids will be having so much fun they won't suspect a thing.

You may also consider getting an indoor swing for your infant or toddler. While older kids are out having fun at the park, your little one will love bouncing and swinging from any door frame in your home. Just remember to supervise carefully, and to be sure the swing is attached securely to avoid falls. Many newer models have added safety features, so they are safer and more fun than ever.

How about some hopping games? They come in various varieties, and have the ability to get kids moving while playing their favorite games. Whether they like stepping stones or play mats, they will enjoy making up new games and playing old favorites like hopscotch. They'll also be learning space perception and fine turning major muscle groups that help with balance and coordination.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Winter Vacation from School: Now What?

The holidays are meant to be fun for kids and adults alike, but before you rush out and buy the latest and greatest toys this year, stop and think. You want to choose toys your kids will love, but since these may make up the bulk of his playthings for the coming year, you want them to have some educational value as well.

Don't worry, you can find great gifts that will stimulate his brain without being blatantly educational. Your kids won’t even know the difference!

Our favorite kinds of toys for both learning and hours of fun?

Memory Games: These can be as simple as a few cards with various pictures on them, or more complex versions made from a variety of materials and with dozens of numbers, shapes, colors, and pictures for kids to find. This not only enhances memory, but is a fun way to get more than one child involved for some healthy competition.

Blocks and Stacking toys: Kids can use these to create any number of things, encouraging healthy imaginations while enhancing hand eye coordination and find motor skills. They also begin to learn the difference between sizes. For instance, large blocks are better placed at the bottom and smaller blocks on top.

Sorting games: There are several varieties of sorting games to choose from, many of which offer a variety of ways to play. Kids can sort items based on color, numbers, shapes, letters, and other things. This will help your child improve memory and get them ready for beginning school.

Writing and Drawing Sets: You can choose writing sets that are designed to help children learn numbers or letters, or drawings sets which help their imaginations take flight. Both are excellent options for young children because they provide hours of entertainment, while also improving fine motor skills and a sense of creativity. Additionally, studies have shown that children who participate in the arts also have higher math and science scores than those who don’t. So encourage your Picasso to get creative!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas for Kids

Picking out gifts for your children can be a real task, but picking out gifts for someone else's children can be downright tricky. How do you know what they already have? What they like? This can be an especially daunting task if you rarely see the child's parents or feel uncomfortable asking what you should buy.

In this situation it is important that you choose toys that are suitable for children in multiple age groups and that are fairly generalized and timeless. For example, most children love coloring books but your may fair better picking one without any popular cartoon characters or toys as the main focal point. Instead, choose something generic like an animal theme.

Books and art supplies are great options for children of almost any age. If you are unsure about the child's exact age or skill level, choose plain drawing paper and crayons or markers instead of a coloring book. You can also go for modeling clay sets, paint sets, easels, and other art supplies.

When picking out books, be sure to choose a general topic that most kids love, such as animals or fables. Although religious themed stories are great for many families, if you don't know the child’s particular spiritual beliefs it's best to ere on the side of caution and go with something secular rather than spiritual.

Board games, puzzles, and small games like dominoes are also great options for kids in various age groups. Assuming you know the general age group of the child, you can choose puzzles and games based on the average skill level of a child that age. If you don't know the age, such as a gift you may be buying for the child of a relative's new significant other, it's better to choose something the child can grow into rather than something he's already outgrown.

Videos are also a popular option for children in almost any age group. Choose educational items where available to offer added benefits to the child and win extra points with the mother or father. Just be sure to pick something within the appropriate age group or as close as possible.

If you are buying for a family with multiple children and have a limited budget, it is generally a good idea to buy one gift the entire family can share. Depending on your financial situation and the ages of the children, this could be anything from a sand or water table to a simple board or memory game that the children can play together.

The most important thing to remember is that it's not the amount of money you put into the gift, but the thought you put into it. By choosing gifts that are not only fun but educational, you show both children and parents that you care.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pretend Play in the Classroom

Pretend play brings out the creativity in children while encouraging them to invent their own ideas and learning cooperative play. Teachers love to see their students engaging in this kind of play because it makes the day go smoother. Having the right items in your school room encourage dramatic play at school.

The possibilities with blocks when it comes to pretend play are endless. One of the most insightful activities a teacher can do with blocks is to dump out some blocks in front of each student and let them decide what to build. Some students will build towers, other students will build pens for their animals, some will build car ramps, and others will build their own unique designs.

Having wooden blocks in the classroom gives teachers many options to engage students in pretend play. Learning about space can result in the building of rockets. Learning letters can result in students "building" their name. Blocks also give students a great way to pretend play together. Learning to share and build on another students idea are lessons that will continue all throughout the education process.

The following comments are from teachers and explain how classroom area rugs help them and their students:

  • We spend most of our day sitting on the carpet for lessons, calendar, morning meeting, and music

  • Kids learn best with hands and feet on activities

  • We like to it upon the rug for lessons, to talk about our feelings, to play games, to listen to stories, and to sing songs. This meeting space brings us all together, and fuels our sense of community

  • Having a nice, clean, spacious, rug fills us with pride in our learning environment. The children sit on a rug in front of the white board to practice phonics, block and center time and story time

  • A classroom rug adds an attractive, inviting area for the children to sit and read books when they have completed desk assignments. It also provides a place to gather for interactive hands on Science activities

  • These little energetic bodies need their space defined on the rug. They are learning to be good listeners and respect the personal space of their peers. A rug with defined lines will help us accomplish this goal.
  • Rug time helps us transition from one activity to the next. We spend a lot of time on the rug singing, reading and listening to stories

  • The bigger size of this rug helps students sit on the floor without disrupting one another and it also provide them with educational experiences.

  • They love to lay on the reading rug in our classroom library and relax and read. We usually do story time and class discussions on the reading rug. We spend a lot of our class time on the reading rug

  • A rug allows my students their own personal and easily identifiable space during group gathering time. It will also assist in organizing students into cooperative learning groups. The rug will come to life in our classroom and enhance our learning atmosphere

  • A welcoming rug enhances their love for reading and writing. A rug will be the focal point of the classroom
Other Classroom Furniture Items

Having book displays in the classroom give students the perfect setting to play library or book store. This kind of play will encourage students to read and become interested in books. Students can take turns being the librarian or cashier and describe the books to the other students.

Encourage pretend play in students as part of your lesson plans. Learn the personality of each student and you'll be surprised at their imaginations and ability to see the world in a different light. 

Create a mail person of the day game. Get index cards and have the children label each card with the books in the class. Take them to the schools library and let them get an idea how the school library system works, them emulate that in your class. Pretend play with a lesson!

The simple set up of a table and chairs within the classroom can give kids a place to pretend. Students can pretend they are at the dinner table while they serve and eat pretend food. This gives students a relaxed setting to act like a family and take turns doing different jobs.

Students may also arrange the table and chairs in a way that represents the classroom, pretending to be teacher and students. For a teacher, it is exciting to see students play school. It gives insight into what they are learning and what type of teaching they mimic. Teachers can observe and get some understanding into what parts of the day and what types of lessons kids enjoy. They will pick their favorite things to act out.

A table and chairs is also a good setting for pretend office play. Maybe students have seen their parents work at an office, have visited the school office, or watched the teacher work at her desk. For teachers, this type of play is a good way to see which students take the leadership roles and which students take other roles.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Make Thanksgiving More Enjoyable for Kids

Thanksgiving is right around the corner! Although you and your family are probably getting excited, buying ingredients to cook up the annual feast, and taking stock on all the things you have to be thankful for; kids often don't fully understand the meaning of this special holiday. They may even become restless and bored while you are busy with preparations. Thankfully, you can make Thanksgiving more enjoyable for your own kids, as well as any children who will be visiting with friends and family members, by keeping them in mind as you make your holiday plans.

We've listed a few items to get your home child-ready, even if you don't already have kids of your own.

Make sure you have plenty of activities, games, and/or toys on hand to occupy kids of all ages. Things that very young as well as older children can enjoy include arts and crafts, puzzles, building toys, and pretend play toys. Designate a special place in your home for kids to play. You may choose a corner of the living room so they can still be amongst the rest of the family, or a bedroom where they are free to make more noise. For toddlers and very young children, you may supply play food so they can help "cook" right along beside you!

The kiddie table doesn't have to be boring. Choose children's tables with unique shapes, fun themes, and comfortable chairs. By spending a little extra money up front for a quality table, you will have one that will last year after year, as well as give children a fun place to eat or play even when the holidays are over.

Put away any items that you would prefer not to have broken or lost. If you don't have children, or if your kids are past the age of grabbing knickknacks and putting them into their mouths, you may have valuable or hazardous things sitting around that young children can get into. Get down on the child's level by crawling on your hands and knees, and remove anything that you would rather not see shattering into a million pieces, or that could prove a choking hazard for small children. This will allow you to stop chasing your own kids around if they are of a certain age, and will let guests who have toddlers or infants relax and enjoy the festivities.

Have everyone in attendance name one thing they are thankful for including kids. This will force them to think about how lucky they are to have those toys you buy them and allow them to better understand a appreciate the holiday. You may also choose to do this in private as you put the kids to sleep. Explain to them what Thanksgiving means to you, whatever that may be, and have them tell you their own ideas.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Too Many Toys? Free Up Space

As your kids get older you may find yourself being constantly bombarded with new toys, games, and other necessities to put away. And while your child's collection of fun things may continue to get bigger, your home may not. Not to worry. All it takes is a little time and preparation, and you can get your home more organized and tidy before the Christmas mother load takes over. Best of all, you may just teach your kids and thing or two about helping others and the true meaning of while you're at it!

Here are a few great ways to free up more space in your home and make room for those new Christmas goodies.

It's a fact: most children have more toys than they will ever need. Odd are, in fact, that the majority of playthings cluttering up your child's room are no longer being used. The solution? Get rid of stuff. If your kids are a little older, they may be fine with the idea of gathering up some of their old toys and donating them to Goodwill or another venue where less fortunate families can get what they need for less. You may even know of a family who could use them, and let your children deliver the items themselves. This will show them that doing nice things for others feels good. For younger children who will become upset at the mention of losing a toy, played with or not; gather up all the toys they have outgrown or that they no longer use. Put them in a basket or box and hide them away for a few weeks. If they don’t miss them within that time frame, donate them.

Don't limit yourself by only using available floor space. There are several spacious and attractive wall units available, including cubbies and baskets. By using these in combination with your toy boxes, you can save valuable room for other things like activity tables or extra seating. Remember to choose items that are sturdy because young children tend to climb and hang all over furniture and storage units. Also be sure to check the weight limit for all storage units, and to be on the safe side, keep heavier items closer to the ground. Otherwise, your kids might try and pull it down and get hurt.

Place wall cubbies and other kids storage pieces low enough for children to read their belongings (or high enough where young babies and toddlers can't get into things.)

You may also consider separating all toys by type and keeping them in personalized or labeled toy boxes. This will not only make things easier for children to find and encourage them to read simple words, but while you are going through and separating all your child's toys, it will be easier to locate those that are no longer being used or toys that are broken.

Personalizing chests with your children's names is also a good idea, especially if your children have many of the same toys. Have each of them go through their things, make a pile of those that they don't play with anymore, and put the rest in their own toy box.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Crossing the Midline: Bilateral Coordination

One issue that can develop with young children is an inability to cross the midline. This means that a child will not take their hands or arms across the center of their body. For example, if you are holding something in your left hand and you want to pick something up off your desk that is on your left you generally use your right hand to reach across and pick it up.

Children who have trouble crossing their midline will either not reach for it, scream, or if you are lucky they will simply change hands or put the original object down. It is good to encourage children to develop this skill early because it helps them develop the connections between the left & right sides of their brain.

To promote this skill get your child to reach for objects just outside their grasp, or have them draw a line vertically down a piece of paper and have them color the left side with their right hand.

Improving bilateral coordination also helps with fine motor skills, object tracking, and overall better balance. Using the Rain Stick activity described below, have them hold the paper down while they cut around from one side to the other. You can also put on some music and get them to do a dance as you cross your left hand to the right side of the body and vice versa. Then get them to do it with their feet. For a change of pace, try this with paper streamers. You can also hand them materials in such a way as to get them to exercise this basic but important skill.

Make your Own Rain Sticks

Children love the sound of rain and splashing in the rain puddles when it is all over. With a Rain Stick they can recreate the sound themselves over and over again! My children made these Rain Sticks in preschool and they adored them.

Here is what you will need for each Rain Stick:
  • One tube from a paper towel
  • Strips of cardboard
  • 1 piece of sturdy paper (or two if it is easier for your child)
  • Tape
  • 1/4 cup rice
  • 2 Tablespoons of seeds or beans, popcorn, dried peas, or lentils (work best because they are small but heavier than the rice)


Using a cereal bowl (or other handy circular object) have your child trace two 4-inch circles on a piece of paper. Once they trace the circles, have them cut the circles out using safety scissors (they might need some assistance with this). Then, have your child lay one paper circle on the table and put a tube on the paper so that the paper is covering one of the tube ends. Hold the tube in place while your child folds up the paper.

Have the child hold the paper while you secure the tape. Make sure you tape it well enough so that the filling doesn't escape! The next step is to cut and insert the cardboard strips. First cut them into 1 inch strips. You can use a ruler to draw the lines and then have your child cut them using the safety scissors. Once you have the strips, fold them back and forth like a fan and then put them into the tube one at a time.

Make sure each one gets to the bottom before you add the next one. Fill the tube up to the top with cardboard strips and then pour the rice and seeds into the tube. Once filled, you can put the second paper circle on top and tape it up like you did the first one. Don't forget to let your child do as much of the work as he or she can.

Finally, decorate your rain stick using paint, markers, and/or stickers. You can also glue little treasures to it like feathers, glitter, confetti, pom poms or anything that your imagination desires. If you think it will be easier for your child, they can decorate the sticks before they are filled or even before you put it together by coloring the tube and paper prior to assembly.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Trip to the Doctor Can be Fun!

The holiday season is here. Time for new toys, good food, and no school (we actually love school but the kids aren't always aboard with that sentiment)! Unfortunately, the winter holidays also coincide with cold and flu season. Not only are kids home all day anyway. Parents are more likely to take them to the doctor for even minor illnesses because nobody wants a sick child during the holidays. Over the last few years caregivers are also being more cautious due to the chance of contracting a serious flu virus.

This means waiting rooms full of children who would rather be playing and stressed out parents who are just SURE their child is coming down with something awful. To make things easier and less hurried for everyone, it is important to have a family friendly waiting room that parents and their kids don't mind spending a little time in.

Spruce up your waiting area by:

Providing adequate reading materials for the grown ups. Sure, they could bring a book, but when your child is sick it’s easy to forget things. Free reading materials that you can find around town are not enough (most parents have those anyway…they’re free). Find magazines related to children of various ages, gossip magazines, and books of short stories. And remember, dads take their kids to the doctor too, so bring in some reading materials with fishing, car, hunting, or bodybuilding themes. Special magazines for teens may also be appreciated.

Have plenty of waiting room toys on hand. Its' best to choose things that kids of all ages can enjoy, like play tables, puzzles, and play cubes. The best toys are those that appeal for children of both sexes and that will not break or run out of batteries with heavy usage. Also, it's not a good idea to try and save money by purchasing second hand goods at your local consignment shop. These stores do not generally promise anything in terms of quality, and you'll likely wind up replacing toys three times as often. Plus, toys that are easily broken may be a hazard to small children.

Make sure the seating is comfortable. Just because you are serious about your business, does not mean your waiting room has to feature uncomfortable beige chairs with metal arms and legs. There are plenty of ultra plush children's seating in bright colors, as well as larger versions for adults and teens. If clients are encouraged to kick back and relax while they wait, they will be much less likely to complain about how long things are taking. It also sets the stage for more relaxed children. If they associate your business with fun and comfort instead of stress, it may be easier to get them to cooperate during certain procedures like shots or taking yucky medicines.