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Encourage Preschoolers to Use Their Imagination

Encourage preschoolers to use their imagination. Although  naturally imaginative, curious, and creative, they might be stuck in a rut with their play, grasping for the same toy or game repeatedly. Energize their imagination and inspire some creativity with engaging games that allow your child to create, learn, and explore. These fun activities don’t require any pricey toys or elaborate setups. All they need are some prompts from Mom and Dad and some creativity, and they’ll be engaged in some imaginative fun in no time.

1. Build With Boxes

Tuck away those extra boxes in the garage until you have a nice stack of them that can become a creative opportunity for your preschooler. A stack of cardboard boxes can serve as the inspiration behind some seriously creative pretend play for your child. Help them connect the boxes with duct tape to create a structure, whether you are building a castle, a rocket ship, or a boat. Then, leave the rest to them. Your child can decorate the box structure, play in it, fill it with stuffed animals or dolls, and so much more. Their imagination will come to life as they build, create, and play––all while reusing those extra boxes.

2. Cook With Play Dough

Encourage your preschooler to develop some life skills early––with lots of fun, too. Make some homemade play dough or pick up your favorite dough from the store. Then, give kids a plastic plate and plastic utensils like a pizza cutter or rolling pin to allow them to play cook. You can even give them some prompts, asking them to decorate a birthday cake or make a pizza. Glitter in a salt shaker can add some sparkle to their creation, and beads, gems or pipe cleaners are fun to add to their faux food creation.

3. Host a Special Event

Let your little one get creative in planning the perfect party. All they need is the prompt, and your preschool party planner can take care of the rest. Tell your child that their favorite doll or stuffed animal is having a birthday, and they need to plan the party. You’ll be delighted as you watch your preschooler’s mind at work as they decorate the space, design invitations, plan activities, and prepare for the special event. Then, invite the family––and some toy guests too––to watch the event unfold.

4. Create an Engaging Outdoor Space

Being outdoors can certainly inspire some creativity, so you want to ensure your preschooler has access to an outdoor space where they can use their imagination. Add a few outdoor toys to that space to further engage their creativity. An outdoor playhouse, for example, encourages a classic pretend play game of family. Together with siblings, friends, or even favorite toys, your child can cook, clean, and care in their kid-sized house. Likewise, consider a play set or sandbox, which serves as another outlet for creativity. A sandbox stocked with shovels, rakes, sieves, buckets, and plastic toys allows your child to build castles, create engaging setups, and transport their mind to a new place, all from the comfort of their backyard.

5. Butcher Paper Art

A roll of butcher paper goes a long way in engaging your preschooler’s imagination. Have your youngster lie down and trace their body. Then, give them craft supplies to draw themselves and decorate them however they so choose. Or, tape a long piece of paper to your floor using painter’s tape. Ask your child to draw your city as they see it. They can draw and color buildings, cars, animals, nature elements, and so much more. Butcher paper is also great for outdoor art because it offers a large surface for kids to create. Give them some waterproof paints and paint brushes and sponges and let them create on this blank canvas, which you can tape to your fence, patio or driveway and then display indoors when their masterpiece is complete.

Imaginative play gets your preschooler’s mind working by encouraging them to approach playtime from a new perspective. When they do, they’ll be more engaged and more inspired by the play, which means you’ll have a happy kid who dives right into creative time day after day.

The social isolation resulting from the current Covid-19 pandemic frequently challenges parents to come up with engaging activities for their preschoolers. Cristin Howard who runs Smart Parent Advice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Cristin writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase. 

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Why Toys Are Important for Child Development

Play and toys support child development. Playing  is what children do. Toys are their tools. When adults shop for tools, quality counts. We want safe ones that work well and enable us to do our best. We look for thoughtfully designed, well-made, sturdy, built-to-last products that we’ll enjoy using over and over again. All this, and more, holds true for toys.

Here’s what I have learned. Play is essential. Quality developmental toys support skill- building and, thereby, enhance play. Consequently children flourish. So what does that mean?

Safety Matters

Safety matters. Sound construction is a must. But that’s not the whole picture. The developmental age of the child matters too. Safety is a collaborative effort. Even the safest toys require adult supervision.

Manufacturers are required to label products that pose a chocking hazard. The most common reads  WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD – Small parts. Not for children under 3 years old. That’s one of six. The others apply to a toy that is or contains a small ball or a marble or, likely the most serious hazard, contains magnets.

Yet another warns that children under 8 years of age can choke or suffocate on un-inflated or broken balloons. That Children with balloons require adult supervision. Safety warnings alert us to hazards. Beyond that we must take into account where our children are developmentally. We do well to remember that some need more time to grow out of the habit of putting everything in the mouth. No blame, no shame. Every child develops at his or her own pace. 

Thoughtful Design and Careful Construction

Thoughtful design and careful construction are hallmarks of the best tools for  play. First and foremost these attributes reflect an understanding of child development and an appreciation of how children acquire skills while playing.

When a toy is well-made, it is not only safe, but also satisfying. It works as intended. That’s important. Just as we want our tools to perform well, children want their toys to meet their expectations. Otherwise play becomes frustrating, and the toy is cast aside.

Building Beakers

ten graduated cups for nesting and stacking

Let’s look at two toys that exemplify top-notch design and construction. These are Building Beakers and Lock a Block. Made by Ambi, both are classic early childhood toys that engage infants and toddlers in skill-building play. Moreover both are toys that support child development.

The manufacturer recommends Building Beakers beginning at 10 months old. A true developmental toy, these cups offer new ways to play as the child develops new skills. At first, I suggest offering only the smallest and the largest cups. That invites putting one inside the other, turning the larger cup upside down and watching the smaller one fall out. That’s filling and spilling, an activity the toddler will repeat over and over again.

What’s happening here? The child is experimenting. Observing when-I-do-this-that-happens. Confirming the cause and effect through repetition. Developing fine motor skills: grasp and release  while filling and wrist rotation as the child spills. When we offer words to describe such attributes as color and size of the cups, we’re encouraging language development.

Features  Make A Difference

Rolled Rims

Rolled rims are an important feature of Ambi Building Beakers. On the one hand, they make separating nested cups easier. On the other, stacking becomes more successful. When a toddler is learning to stack, eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, and dexterity are only beginning to develop. Obviously stacking is challenging. Quite often the adjacent block slides off as the child attempts to place another on top of it. The rim helps hold the beakers together and makes the stack more stable.

Raised Patterns

Each cup also features a unique raised pattern on its base. These invite both visual and tactile exploration. Pressing the cups into sand, play dough or clay creates patterns and encourages creative expression. Furthermore recognizing patterns is a pre-reading skill.

Pinholes

Sand and water provide further opportunities for play. In the sand, the cups become molds. Two pinholes in the bottom of each beaker add another dimension to water play. The graduated sizes allow young children to explore how the cups are alike and different. All the beakers are round, but each is a different size. Small or large or big or little, short or tall. These are important math concepts learned through play. 

Lock a Block

shape sorter toy with lock and key

Lock a Block – an inclusive toy, if ever there was one – is my favorite shape sorting toy. Because all children like saying, “I did it.”  Note the high contrast between the bright white top and the color matched raised rims outlining each opening. That makes “hitting the target” easier. Dropping a shape into its slot not only requires shape discrimination. It also takes eye-hand coordination and the ability to grasp and release the shape. Developing fine motor skills takes practice. Success motivates.  Lock a Block is a must for the blind and visually impaired. As well as for those with fine motor challenges.

Furthermore, three dimensional shapes drop more easily into place than shaped dowel pieces that require precise fitting. Again motivating the repetition that leads to skill-building. This shape sorter toy includes two each of three shapes, a plus that encourages one to one matching games. Furthermore naming the colors and shapes encourages cognitive and language development.

In First, Then Out

Retrieve shapes through a door on the front of the box. Permanently attached key fits smoothly in the lock and turns easily. As the key turns, the lock clicks. Following the sequence of steps required to get the shapes out involves problem solving, memory, and concentration. Eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, and wrist rotation  increase with each repetition.

Thoughtful design makes toys adaptable and versatile. More inclusive and engaging. Children naturally enjoy playing with toys that  work well. A delighted “I did it!” not only announces success but also shares the joy of achieving a goal. As they play, children build competence and confidence. Through play, children acquire the skills they need to reach their fullest potential. Toys support child development by enhancing play.

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Intergenerational Relationships Rock

grandpa teaching toddler grandson to fish

Let’s Be Friends-Young, Old, and In Between

Intergenerational relationships rock. So let’s be friends-young, old, and in between. Seniors are important in the lives of children. Research confirms the value of intergenerational connections. Although we think first of grandparents, elders need not be biological relatives to forge deep and lasting relationships. Unrelated adults and children easily form strong attachments. Ones built on mutual acceptance and constancy. Children thrive with such unconditional love. Even the most devoted parents cannot provide what elders do.

As a child I was blessed by the presence of elders in my life, some relatives, others not. All happily gave me the gift of their time and undivided attention. Time had a different quality then. We were unhurried, at ease, comfortable. As we spent time together, we talked. Sometimes they shared stories of their childhoods. Other times I asked questions or sought their advice. Always I felt safe and loved.

Pots of Gold, Spring Water, and Blackberry Brambles

I learned about leprechauns and shamrocks from Mrs. Higgins. She shared stories of her native Ireland. Cousin Mary not only  took me for rides in her Model A Ford but also invited me to sleepover in her cabin in the woods. Where water came from a natural spring. And we carried what we needed in buckets.

When my maternal grandmother and I went berry picking, she cautioned me to pay attention to the  brambles. And as we crossed the cow pasture, to keep a sharp eye out for cow patties. Later I made a blackberry roll under her gentle guidance. That’s when I learned that some people know how to cook without recipes. On wood burning stoves.

Mutual Admiration Societies

All strong and nurturing, these women made a positive impression on me. They were accepting and encouraging, generous of spirit. They enjoyed our time together as much as I did. Clearly we forged our own mutual admiration societies. 

Everyone benefits from positive relationships across generations. Younger ones learn when and how to lend a hand. While elders, accustomed to their independence, learn to appreciate and accept thoughtful gestures of assistance.

Becoming An Elder

Now I am the elder and recognize, in a way I did not as a parent, that children are drawn to adults who slow their pace and savor the present. Parents have many more responsibilities. Calming their minds and being in the moment often eludes them. Having “been there and done that,” we know the feeling. Current parents benefit from non-judgmental relationships with veteran parents. Hearing messages of encouragement and appreciation make a positive difference. We strengthen bonds all around when we give harried parents a couple of hours of respite. That’s a triple hitter.

We must pay attention if we want to create mutually respectful intergenerational bonds. Listen attentively. Show compassion. Respond gently. If we want those we cherish to be open and honest, we must be willing to acknowledge what we’re being told without judging. Being critical is the least effective way of communicating. We can be honest and compassionate. We have feelings and need to respect ourselves as well as those around us. Honesty and kindness strengthen our connections.

Being Our Best Selves

We need to share our stories. Our lives may seem ordinary to us but to the child who adores us, we are absolutely fascinating. People who have lead extraordinary lives. Moreover we are not only fun but downright funny as well.

Change occurs so quickly now. Even we are in disbelief about all we’ve experienced. We grew up in different times. What once was the norm, now often seems like ancient history. Yet our stories have the power to impress.

Steam trains are relics of the past, yet every week-end, weather permitting, enthusiastic families show up at Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum to ride the 1/8th scale model trains and learn railroad history and lore.

To our adult children (or others of their age), we bring experience. If we’re willing to listen without telling them what they should do, we can offer encouragement as well as  learn something along the way. To quote the Beatles, we all “get by with a little help from…friends.” We live longer, healthier, and happier lives when we’re well connected with people both older and younger than we.

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Intergenerational Play Rocks

quote about what makes a family

Thanksgiving Gatherings

Everyone benefits from purposeful intergenerational relationships. The gathering of family and friends to share a meal at Thanksgiving traditionally involves multiple generations. What better time to share activities that nurture connections among different age groups?

 PlayopolisToys serves the citizens of play. Those children and adults who delight in entertaining themselves with engaging activities. That’s what play is. Younger and older citizens having fun together forms bonds that enrich everyone involved. Opportunities abound. Take a walk. Share stories, Read a favorite book aloud. Create something. Play a board game, preferably a non-competitive one. Or go on a treasure hunt while sitting together on the sofa.

Cooperative Games Foster Teamwork

Cooperative games require players to work together toward a common goal. By putting aside competition and working cooperatively,   everyone comes away with positive feelings. Non-readers and readers. Preschoolers and high schoolers. Parents and grandparents can enjoy playing a game together. Team work leads everyone to success. Moreover no one leaves the game gloating or feeling like a loser. 

Megana Hosein, a mother of four, is enthusiastic about the value of cooperative board games. She “loves how board games encourage interacting and thinking with children in a way that is rarely explored in our busy lives. I am always amazed to hear what they have to say about solving dilemmas within the game. This taps into greater topics of conversation that might otherwise have gone unrealized. Furthermore my children can easily make new friends over the commonality and cooperation in a board game, both with peers and adults. Truly a gentle way to introduce social rules. And simultaneously focus the active child while drawing out the shy one.” Consider cooperative games for those times when kids of different ages and  abilities as well as kids and adults want to play together.

Thwart Stink Bugs

Ever thought about hiding bugs under a rug before stink bugs show up and stink up the place? That’s the  challenges players face with Snug As A Bug in A Rug. One of more than two dozen fun-for-all-to-play cooperative games by Peaceable Kingdom.

With three levels of play, these skills-building games grow as players become more proficient. Create a team to solve these problems. Two players will do, but there’s room for more. Designed to be played in 15 minutes, these games offer a quick solution to the challenge of keeping the peace before and after Thanksgiving dinner.

Search for Treasure

Find It games, theme-based treasure hunts in sealed clear cylinders, also invite intergenerational searches.  Moreover these Contained Adventures offer both cooperative and competitive ways to play. Imagine more than 40 tiny objects hidden among brightly colored plastic pellets. Color coordinated plastic caps seal the tube. The top one lists all the objects hidden inside. In addition, a tear-off pad helps players keep track of found objects. What’s more, every game contains an elusive hidden penny.  Whether Original or  Kids.  Or the specific interest At the Beach and Glitz and Glamour, a shiny penny awaits discovery.

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How Worry Eaters Help Children Manage Fears

Plush character holds worries and cuddles

Everyone Worries

We are all afraid of something. So we worry. Children and adults alike. And that’s not altogether bad. In fact, our fears help keep us safe and motivate us to do whatever we can to avoid what we fear could happen.

Whether we’re 16 or 60, taking the written test to get or renew a driver’s license is likely to make us anxious. We fret over the possibility we’ll fail. That fear motivates us to study the manual until we feel prepared. No guarantee we’ll pass, but we’re more likely to answer the questions correctly and to feel less apprehensive.

Real Versus Imaginary

Children worry too. Sometimes their fears spring from their active imaginations.  Take monsters under the bed. These fearsome creatures may be make-believe, but to the young child not yet clear about the difference between fantasy and reality, the fear is real.

Magical thinkers who view the world from a self-centered perspective, children often believe themselves responsible for events. I recall our then three year old son thinking his grandparents had bought a new car because he’d thrown up in the old one. He worried they were angry with him. In his mind, he’d ruined their car. That months had passed between these unrelated events never occurred to him.

Tools for Managing Worries

Gerd Hahn knows the feeling of losing sleep from worry overload. A creative man, he used his angst and talent to create a solution – Worry Eaters. Engaging, soft, huggable characters, their manta is “Let me carry your worries so you don’t have to.”

Their invitation is simple.

1. Write down or draw your fears and worries.

2. Feed them to me – I’ll hold them for you.

3. We’ll get through this together.

That’s a powerful message. Worry Eaters help children put a name on their worries and express their feelings. As adults we sometimes can’t put a finger on the cause of our distress. Likewise children sometimes cannot find words to explain theirs.

A trusted, caring adult, can help a child figure out and assign a name to what’s bothering him. Through the process of sharing his feelings, the child gains emotional support. By feeding his worries to a Worry Eater, the child lightens his load, creating space between himself and his worries.

A favorite Worry Eater also becomes a confidant. Whenever a child needs an ear, Worry Eater listens. Soft and huggable, Worry Eater comforts and consoles.

Not Just for Little Kids

Worry Eaters help bigger kids too. School age children face daily challenges as they grow and develop. Managing worries in a healthy way is a must. Worry Eaters, like a journal, serve to ease anxiety by encouraging kids to identify and cope with what’s bothering them. The process of naming the worry and feeding it to a Worry Eater symbolically creates space for problem-solving.

Customers have purchased Worry Eaters for their young adult children too. I recall one buying two to send daughters in law school. She figured – and you know she’s right on – those young women had plenty of worries in need of holding.

Worry Eaters in Therapeutic Situations

I credit my daughter-in-law with this idea. Having individual Worry Eaters for every little kid client is expensive. What she suggests is creating a file box with an envelope for each client. Between sessions transfer the worries to these envelopes for safe keeping and quick retrieval.

Something for Everyone

Worry Eaters help children (and their adults) express and cope with their worries in a healthy way. With two sizes and an array of delightful characters-five available both large and small-you’re sure to find a Worry Eater perfect for every worrier in your life.

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Why I Avoid Licensed Products

architectural building set fosters creativity

Babies As Billboards

Here we are 17 years into the 21st century. The only constant is change and that comes at an increasingly maddening speed. Since becoming a grandmother a year ago, I’ve discovered that almost every aspect of “bringing up baby” is different now. What distresses me most is the proliferation of branded products for young children. Customers pay a premium for these products, merchandise that promotes brand identity. The beneficiaries of branded products are companies, not those buying the products.

Leading brands of disposable diapers feature licensed characters. Babies become billboards, re-enforcing brand identity, advertising specific products. Do we really want babies commercialized in this way? I don’t. Fortunately non-licensed brands of equal quality and at lower prices exist for those of us who prefer diapers advertisement free.

Once Upon A Time Before Widespread Licensing of Toys

Toys have suffered a similar fate. Once upon a time, Lego designed products for unscripted, open-ended play with themes reflecting general interests of its audience. Never miss open house at the neighborhood fire station? Select from individual fire trucks to a fully equipped fire station. Although designed for building specific play props, bricks used to build a fire station could also be used to craft something altogether different. Build a cityscape complete with streets and vehicles, even an airport, design and build skyscrapers, housing, school, and parks. Add a neighborhood landmark. Children built whatever came to mind and created their own story lines as they played.

Sets included diagrams for building the item pictured on the box, and that was what children usually built first. Gradually the pieces from one set joined those from others to form a sea of multiple and varied building components which served as a catalyst for open-ended, creative play. The search for just the right piece sharpened visual discrimination.

Licensed Products Script Play

Now Lego holds numerous licenses, and play is more apt to reflect related story lines than to evolve from the imagination of children. The toy comes with a script. Yes, the child is free to adapt the toy to fit other narratives, yet by its nature a licensed product limits creativity. Using his imagination to spin his own yarns is more creative than following a script.

How Non-licensed Toys Benefit Children

Toys that invite children to “put on their thinking caps” and engage in a process of experimentation, discovery, and problem-solving allow children to follow their muse and reap the rewards. They gain competence and confidence as they acquire and refine skills in comprehension, language, and mathematics, eye-hand coordination, fine motor control, and spatial awareness. Creativity, executive planning, and problem-solving blossom as children design and construct ever more advanced structures.

Texo = Open-Ended Building

While numerous open-ended design and construction toys are available, a particularly versatile one is Texo, an award-winning 3-dimensional building system from architect, author, and designer Lester Walker. This building system allows children to progress gradually from basic color and shape sorting, matching, and identification to simple puzzles and stacking of interconnected shapes and finally to advanced architectural models. Plastic rods and solid wood planks coupled with the geometric precision of molded plastic connectors enhance the design and construction potential. Imagination dictates what gets built. And creativity blossoms.

In the forward to the activity guide accompanying Texo, Walker shares his vision. Form and function are the foundations of architecture and design. Children learn at an early age about these principles through playing with blocks and construction toys and through their natural curiosity which leads them to explore, replicate and shape their environment. Texo – which is Latin for weave, twine together, plait, construct, build – is a toy I’ve designed to help children gain a richer understanding of form and function through a scaleable toy, one that at its most basic level is about stacking, sorting and sequencing, and grows in its complexity as a child grows, becoming something they can use to explore principles of architecture, design and engineering. Enjoy!

Play is, by definition, an enjoyable experience. Freed from scripts, children create their own as they explore possibilities. Providing the children in our lives with ample opportunities for open-ended play and watching them flourish benefits and delights both sides of the equation.

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Multiple Benefits of Light Up Toys for Children

Hand-held spinning light show globe
Lifting Spirits

With darkness falling earlier and earlier, we need a dazzling light show to lighten our spirits. Meteor Storm does that and more. Spinning, bright colored lights in ever changing patterns attract our attention. Captivated, we watch the show and feel our tension slip away. We’re lighter in spirit, more joyful. Other light up toys that also enthrall are  Mini Meteor Storm and Light Show Stick. Below are some benefits of light up toys for children.

Behavioral Distraction

Because light up toys are spellbinding, a child in the midst of a full blown meltdown may turn his attention to an amazing light show and stop acting out. In this case, the light up toy helps restore calm and supports self regulation. Meltdowns can often be prevented by providing a light up toy to a child struggling with self-control. “An ounce of prevention,” as the saying goes, “is worth a pound of cure.”

Therapeutic Distraction

In another setting, spinning light up toys make ideal distractions. Consider Meteor Storm. In a therapeutic setting, it draws a child’s focus away from a frightening situation. Child life specialists use light up toys to distract children undergoing simple medical procedures, such as a blood draw or inserting an intravenous drip line. Instead of the child freaking out, she becomes mesmerized by concentric circles of changing lights spinning inside a globe. Before the fascination wears off, the procedure is finished, and the child is too spellbound to notice. Such therapeutic distraction reduces patient and parent distress, improves patients’ coping skills and ability to cooperate, and makes the procedure go more smoothly. As a result a potentially traumatic experience becomes a positive one.

Visual Tracking Assessment

Vision specialists use Meteor Storm to assess visual tracking in children who are blind and visually impaired. Those with low vision delight in holding one close to their faces, watching the bright colored lights spin while listening to the hum and feeling the mild vibration the spinning creates. Teachers frequently motivate students by setting aside time to play with a Meteor Storm once a task is finished.

Fine Motor Development

These light up toys develop fine motor skills. In addition to grasping and holding the toys, children must press and hold the switch that starts the light show. This means the child must pay attention to what he’s doing or the lights literally go out.

Gross Motor Development

Lazer Fingers, lights with elastic bands for wearing on the fingers brighten up ceiling and walls as fingers dance and arms circle and swing. Getting a move on—dancing and prancing—takes the Lazer Fingers experience to new heights. To take it to the max, add music for a multi-sensory experience.

Added Safety On Halloween

Visibility is vital to safety as children go trick or treating. These light up toys make children easier for motorists to see in the dark. And add unexpected dazzle to the door-to-door trek.

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Mathematics: Numeracy

wood sound number puzzle

From Reciting to Understanding

When reciting numbers in ascending order or saying the alphabet, young children are usually simply demonstrating memorization skills. Numeracy and literacy require understanding the meaning those symbols and being able to put that knowledge to work. A number represents a specific quantity and is used in counting and calculating. Letters combine to form words.

Patterns Emerge

The particular arrangement of numerals signifies a particular arithmetical value. A specific arrangement of letters creates a specific word. The same numerals and letters can be arranged in multiple ways with very different meanings. Take the numerals 1, 2, and 3. These three numbers can be arranged to become 123, 132, 213, 231, 312, and 321. The letters o, p, and t can be arranged to read opt, pot, or top. Making calculations  and reading demand our attention. Numbers and letters are symbols we learn to decipher while developing reading, writing, and arithmetic skills.

Activities of Daily Living

We’re planting seeds of understanding when we impart information during daily activities. Dressing provides numerous opportunities. Naming the garments and enlisting cooperation as we’re putting each one on is one way. Guiding an arm into a sleeve while saying “let’s put this arm in this sleeve, one arm, one sleeve, there we go” gives meaning to the number one and shows one-to-one correspondence. One is one, whether an arm or a sleeve. The body offers many opportunities for learning words and numbers. From head to toes-two eyes, one nose, two ears, one mouth, two hands, 10 fingers, two feet, 10 toes.

Mother Goose and Finger Play

Nursery rhymes provide early lessons in literacy and numeracy. Thank Mother Goose for “This Little Piggy.”  Jennifer Griffin writing in Humpty Who? provides accompanying finger play that delights infants and toddlers.

This little piggy went to market,

Wiggle baby’s big toe between your thumb and index finger

This little piggy stayed home,

Wiggle second toe.

This little piggy had roast beef,

Wiggle middle toe.

This little piggy had none.

Wiggle fourth toe.

This little piggy went

  Wee, wee, wee,

  all the way home.

Wiggle the little toe and then run your fingers up      

the baby’s foot and leg as far as you can get.

At the Supermarket

Young children learn numeracy from everyday activities too. While at the supermarket buying fresh fruit, we can point out the number of bananas in a bunch or count apples as we’re putting them in the produce bag. This shows a child that a number represents a specific, unchanging quantity, regardless of what is being counted, and reenforces the sequence of numbers.

Zero is A Cardinal Number

When we’re learning to count, typically we begin at one. We can see one-to-one correspondence and understand quantity. Yet our cardinal number system starts with zero, and understanding that concept is critical. While shopping for produce, show an empty bag and ask “how many apples are in the bag?” Answer, “zero.” Point out that the bag is empty. Then add an apple, and again ask “how many apples are in the bag now?” When buying number puzzles, choosing one that begins with zero re-enforces the concept of 0: naught, no quantity, no number. When children learn 0 through 9, they’re better able to understand how our number system progresses. Consider Sound Puzzle Numbers. Under every numeral is an illustration of the quantity the number represents.  The space below 0 is blank. This puzzle also shows how easily the numbers zero to nine become 10 to 19. Playing around with the individual numbers creates new ones. Different arrangements, different values.

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Mathematics: Geometry

Shapes and the arrangement of relative parts within a whole are the subject of geometry. Consider the construction of spider webs. The arrangement of petals forming a rose. Study the facade of a cathedral. The angles and the fitting together of its architectural elements. Or all the parts in myriad shapes that combine to make an automobile. Both the natural and the human-made environments are studies in shapes, angles, and intersections.

Best Shape Sorter Toys

Through observation and experience children learn about shapes and parts. First come basic shapes: round, square, triangular. Among early childhood play experiences are sorting and matching of shapes using a shape sorter. Simple ones are best for beginners, and Ambi Toys Lock A Block is best of class. High contrast between the bright white top and the color matched raised rims outlining each opening facilitates “hitting the target.” Equally importantly, its three dimensional shapes drop easily into place.

As shape discrimination, eye-hand coordination, and fine motor skills improve, children are ready for the next shape learning toys. Fitting two-dimensional shapes into corresponding holes. Sound Puzzle Box is a popular choice that rewards proper placement with distinct auditory responses.

Basic Shapes Puzzles 

Puzzles are all about shape. Again starting simple is key. Chunky shapes facilitate placement. Shapes that fit only in their proper places make a truly self-correcting learning experience. Left to right orientation models the direction of reading and writing. Children are ready to identify and match more unusual shapes only after they easily recognize basic shapes.

Interlocking Pieces Puzzles

After learning individual shapes through puzzles, children move on to explore the arrangement of shapes as parts of a whole. Start simple. The more pieces and the smaller the pieces, the more challenging a puzzle is. Wooden puzzles with thick pieces are easier for small hands to manipulate than thin cardboard ones.

A single layer, wooden 8-piece fish shaped puzzle for toddlers, Rainbow Fish, invites exploration of color and shapes and the way parts fit together to make a whole. With only one way to complete the puzzle, the child has to sort out and make sense of the pieces. Then work out how the parts go together to create the whole, a sometimes frustrating experience that benefits from adult encouragement.

Layered Puzzles 

Layered puzzles introduce perspective and offer graduated challenges. As always, start simple and progress gradually. More layers offer more challenge; however, the number of pieces is a more accurate indicator of difficulty.

Mathematical Concepts Puzzles 

Although most puzzles go together in one and only one way, others offer options, and these literally open doors to understanding of mathematics.

The Binomial square wood puzzle introduces mathematical concepts through observation and experience. Children develop proportional reasoning, area concepts, and place value understanding when they discover four small squares cover the same area as the rectangle and four rectangles the same as one large square. And that’s only the beginning of the possibilities.

Power of Two Puzzle encourages experiential learning of important mathematical ideas from fraction equivalents, fraction multiplication with a common factor of 1:2, proportional reasoning, and area. The 10 puzzle is cut into one-half, one-fourth, one-eighth, one-sixteenth up to 1/128th. Clearly challenging, the beauty of Power of Two lies in the multiple ways the pieces can fit together and the arrangement of relative fractions.

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Mathematics: Measurement

red, white, blue, yellow nesting cups

Measurement is a basic math concept for time, quantity, size, weight, and volume. Children learn these properties naturally through play. Think about the concepts learned while filling and spilling, nesting and stacking. Fill the pail. The pail is full. Spill the contents of the pail. The pail is empty. Full or empty, the pail has weight and dimensions. The pail is its lightest when empty, heaviest when full. Between empty and full, t volume and  weight vary.

Variety of Materials

Children learn sizes, order, and spatial relations as they explore, stack, and nest boxes and cups in a variety of materials, each with its own properties. Consider graduated boxes. These may be constructed of cardboard, wood, or molded plastic. Both plastic and cardboard will be lighter than wooden. Experience with a variety of nesting and stacking toys broadens children’s understanding of the properties of different materials and the ways those materials predict how the toys can be used.

Size, Order, and Spatial Relations

 Nesting Cylinders and Nesting Boxes give children an opportunity to experience nesting and stacking different shapes. Exploring both invites an experiential understanding of similarities and differences. Similarities include three sizes of each shape. Measuring confirms the dimensions of each and shows their corresponding heights. Weighing each shows their corresponding weights. During play children discover differences as well. The small cylinder will fit inside the medium box while the small box stays on top of the medium cylinder.

Learning Words

Such play enhances emerging cognitive, language, and mathematics skills. Learning words to describe the relative positions of the boxes and cylinders develops spatial awareness. And sets the stage for geometry. Think of the concepts being explored: small, medium, and large. Smaller and larger, shorter and taller. Lighter and heavier. Inside and outside. On top of, in the middle, on the bottom.

Wooden toys are classic and durable, apt to withstand rigorous play and be handed down to the next generation. That said, sturdy plastic nesting and stacking toys invite sand and water play that would be ill advised with their wooden counterparts.

Volume

Children explore volume as they fill and spill the 10 round, graduated, plastic baby stacking beakers. Pouring sand or water from a smaller into a larger beaker demonstrates differences in volume. The child readily discovers that what fills one beaker is too little or too much for another. Experimentation may lead to discovering how many of the smallest beakers are needed to fill the largest.

Developmental Age Matters

How far a child goes with such experimentation varies with developmental age and personal interest. The play and learning development of a one-year-old obviously differs from that of a three-year-old. Dropping the smallest beaker into a larger one, then dumping the smaller one out, over and over again, is appropriate beginning play. Learning simple concepts-empty and full, in and out, small and large-lays the foundation for more complex learning. Nesting and stacking require differentiating sizes and ordering the beakers to fit one inside the other or one atop the other. Repetition further solidifies concept acquisition and readies the child for taking the next step in learning mathematics.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play