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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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How to Choose The Best Toy

Looking for the Best Toy?
 Customers sometimes ask me to recommend the best toy for their child or grandchild, particularly if the child has a special need. Many begin the conversation by sharing a diagnosis. While valuable, this information only addresses one aspect of who the child is. To answer the question, we need to think beyond gender, age, development, or disability. That’s because we all have preferences, and those make all the difference.
We Buy What Appeals to Us
 Just think about ourselves. When we’re shopping, we bring our preferences with us. Think about a sweater. I might find one that seems perfect in every way, except one. The fiber, style, and fit are exquisite. The price, the lowest it’s ever been. The only drawback is the color. It’s a lovely color and the height of fashion, but it isn’t one that makes me look my best. Perhaps I could convince myself it’s not all that bad. In fact, it has much to offer, considering the price. Who doesn’t appreciate a bargain?  And it will keep me warm. That’s the main reason for buying a sweater, right? Yes, but… And here’s the reality in that three letter word. I’d end up not wearing that sweater, except if I was freezing and had absolutely nothing else to keep me warm. What we buy has to appeal to us if we’re to use and enjoy our purchase.
Kids Choose Toys That Appeal to Their Sense of Play
 Children are the same. A toy has to appeal to a kid before she’ll give it her attention. Something about the toy has to invite play, and once the child begins playing, the toy has to prove its worth. The child decides if it merits her time, if the toy offers enough value to hold her interest. Young children like repetition. That’s how they develop skills. Their toys need to be safe, well constructed, and durable, able to stand up to persistent play. Being easy to clean counts too.
Kids Learn Through Play        Array of flannel covered crinkle paper for babies
 Kids also like to explore and discover. Through play, infants begin to understand cause and effect and learn about their environment. Small enough for tiny fingers to grasp, Baby Paper is made of soft flannel with an inner layer of crinkle fabric that makes the sound of paper being crumpled when touched. Babies typically find that appealing and repeat the action that produced the original sound, learning through repetition about cause and effect, about their ability to make something happen.
Observe Kids at Play Before Shopping For Toys
 We make our best decisions when we’ve observed the recipient at play and know her preferences. When choosing toys, select from those you think will appeal most to the child and mesh best with her current abilities, emerging skills, and developmental goals. This is true for all children, with or without special needs. Toys are tools for play. When a child finds a toy intriguing and engages in play, learning occurs naturally and joyfully.

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Artistry in Alphabet Blocks

Classic Early Childhood Play
What early childhood toy is more classic than wooden alphabet blocks? Long before they are ready to learn the letters and numbers on the blocks, children engage in block play. They “fill and spill”, dropping blocks into a container, then dumping them out, again and again. They arrange blocks into a row. Progress to stacking and knocking down. Incorporate blocks into their imaginative play.
Progressive Skill Building
Their play builds fine motor skills from grasp and release to eye-hand coordination and controlled placement required for stacking. Some alphabet blocks feature simple pictures that develop vocabulary when an adult or older child supply the name of the objects. Gradually the child will associate the word with the object and begin to identify the objects by name. Only later do children begin recognizing specific letters and numerals and later still that they combine letters to make words.
Wooden alphabet blocks come in many forms, from smooth cubes with printed letters to cubes with embossed letters on the ends and printed ones on the sides. On some the letters are carved. Blocks handmade from natural hardwood stand out. My favorite are made in the United States of sustainably harvested native hardwoods.
Alphabet Blocks in Multiple Languages
Uncle Goose in Grand Rapids, Michigan, hand makes alphabet blocks in 23 languages, from the most common to the esoteric. These 1 3/4 inch basswood cubes are true artisan blocks designed by creative artists and made by master craftspeople. Four smooth sides with vibrant graphic designs reflecting the culture of the language and two with deeply debossed letters make every set an invitation to cultural awareness.
Upper and Lower Case 
English alphabet blocks are available in both upper case and lower case sets. Children may learn lower case letters more quickly than upper case because the ascenders, as in b, d, h, and t, and descenders, as in g, j, p, q, and y, make the letters easier to identify. Capital letters, by contrast, lack such visual distinctiveness. While playing with alphabet blocks in both cases, children gradually develop an interest in identifying the letters, matching upper and lower case, arranging blocks in alphabetical order, and beginning to spell their names and other simple words.
Alphabet Blocks for Inclusion
Committed to inclusive play, Uncle Goose also offers alphabet and number blocks in Braille and Nemeth math code for the blind and alphabet blocks in ASL, American Sign Language. Indispensable to children who will be learning Braille, the blocks also introduce Braille to the sighted, making children more aware and socially competent. The same applies to children learning ASL. For hearing children, learning to sign the alphabet reenforces competency and bridges gaps between the hearing and the deaf.
 Visually Appealing
Uncle Goose alphabet blocks are visually appealing, whether artfully displayed on a table or waiting in a basket for someone to come along and explore the possibilities. Designed for children three years old and up, these exquisite blocks are made for play. Beautiful alphabet blocks encourage children and adults alike to play, arranging blocks, matching letters, spelling words, whatever brings joy. The time spent playing together fosters attachments and makes fond memories.
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Have An Oball, Baby!

Oball is another type of ball popular with babies. Three variations each offer different play experiences that infants and toddlers find engaging. All are round, allowing babies to internalize the feeling of roundness and all roll, inviting visual tracking of an object in motion. What makes Oballs unique is the construction. These lightweight, hollow balls feature a surface of open circles, easy for fingers to explore and ultimately grasp.

The four inch Oball Rattle features four see-though disks containing brightly colored beads. Shaking the ball and seeing that the beads colliding against each other creates a sound is a powerful example of cause and effect. Often when a toy makes a sound in response to a baby’s action, the source of that sound cannot be seen and the baby misses an opportunity to make a connection.

 

4-inch oballOball invites finger play that can become more complex as fine motor skills develop. When a child begins learning to bring thumb and adjacent finger together, a process known as pincer grasp, consider stuffing a lightweight, silky scarf inside an oball and watch as baby explores and finds she can employ her new skill to pull the scarf out. When the silky scarf becomes too easy, replace with another more challenging fabric. Try a bandana. It’s also lightweight and thin but not likely to pull through as easily as silk. As long as the child enjoys the game, incremental challenges enhance not only fine motor development but also tactile discrimination.

 

The easy-to-grasp 6″ Oball with Rainstick introduces size, weight, and sound comparisons. The sound of the beads cascading from one end of the rainstick to the other invites observation and experimentation. Shake. Rattle. Roll. Chase. Baby visually tracks the movement of the beads and rolling of the ball and develops auditory discrimination as beads respond to different motions. A gentle push creates softer sounds than a vigorous, give-it-all-you’ve-got shake. Whether shaking or chasing, baby is engaged in physical activity that develops fine and gross motor skills.

Babies learn to grasp and let go as they approach their first birthday. Mastery of grasping and releasing takes practice. That’s why fill and spill games are such important skill builders. Infants and toddlers like to drop balls into a bowl or pail, box or basket, and then dump the container and repeat the process again and again and again. Developing the fine motor control and finger strength needed to latch on to and let go of an object takes practice.

Lightweight, easy to grasp, rattle, crush, throw, catch, and chase after, Oballs support early learning and skills development.

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Have A Ball, Baby!

Here’s a challenge for you. Name one toy that, in one form or another, appeals to infants, toddlers, preschoolers, the school-aged, adolescents, and adults. Here’s a hint. Although available in a multitude of shapes, sizes, materials, and weights, the first one you encountered in life was likely round and lightweight.

The answer, of course, is balls. There’s a ball for everyone. Typically ones for newborns are fabric and feature bright colors, simple, high contrast graphics, tactile details, and often have a chime bell concealed inside. Babies will look intently at a ball and track its movement with its eyes. Once sitting, the child is likely to engage in fine motor play, exploring tactile features from piping along the ribs to sewn in ribbons of different colors, textures, or widths or discovering the differences among sections of a segmented balls.

cloth ball with high contrast graphicsLearn & Play Ball features simple graphics in high contrast black and white on bright, solid backgrounds most appropriate for young babies, piping, and sewn in ribbons of different colors and textures. An encased chime bell adds an unexpected auditory response as the six inch diameter ball rolls or is pushed.

By four months or so, babies will reach for a ball, grasp it between open palms and begin exploring its shape, internalizing the feeling of roundness. When the ball rolls out of reach, she makes every effort to retrieve it by shifting her weight, rotating her trunk, and working to maintain balance while sitting upright, likely becoming frustrated when the ball rolls farther away with each try.

With crawling comes new play possibilities. Now baby can chase after and retrieve this obSegmented tactile fabric rainbow ballject of delight, and older children and adults can expand play by joining the baby and rolling the ball back and forth. Such play builds trust and re-enforces what the baby is learning about the nature of a ball in motion.

The eight sections of Rainbow Ball make grasping and holding on to a ball easier. When exploring the ball, the baby discovers distinctive colors, some solid, others with simple patterns from dots and stripes to a twisting vine, textures from smooth to nappy, ridged or netting, and sounds from crinkle to rattle to squeak. Such multi-sensory experiences lay the groundwork for developing auditory, tactile, and visual discrimination.

 

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Lights, Music, and Movement, Everyone!

All light up toys are feasts for our eyes. Some hum or whir, causing our ears to perk up too. Think Meteor Storm. Others encourage active play. Finger Lightz come to mind as a light up that gets fingers wiggling, arms waving, and feet dancing. Combining lights, sound, and movement creates multi-sensory play experiences. Consider Magic Moves or for gym rats, Jammin’ Gym. Both appeal to all abilities and all ages. Such inclusion teaches all of us that we are each unique and we all contribute to the wholeness of each other.

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Magic Moves is all about…MOVING! Stomping like an elephant! Soaring like an eagle! Start with twinkling light shows and 26 musical styles. Add 90 fun commands to get everyone up and moving, exercising bodies, creativity, and listening skills. Magic Moves promotes creative movement, gross motor development, listening skills, and language development. Translating a command into a movement leaves room for individuality and creativity. Everyone has his or her own unique style. Having fun while being physically active is the goal.

Following the commands enriches language as together everyone learns the words that describe how different animals move. Consider the distinctive movements involved in the command to creep, hop, or leap, to prowl, sway, strut, to stomp, slither, or soar. Not only are children learning all these active words and what they mean, they’re also making associations between the animals and the way each moves. That opens minds to further inquiry and learning.

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Jammin’ Gym, an electronic free weight, combines twinkling light shows, jamming music, and 65 whole body exercises targeting head and shoulders, arms and legs. Jammin’ Gym develops balance, coordination, and gross motor skills while reinforcing the ability to listen and follow instructions. Such sensory motor integration enhances brain development and supports learning. Once learned in this fun, playful way, the exercises can be done from memory, any time, any where. These early fun experiences with physical fitness routines help establish positive attitudes towards exercise and provide a way to relieve stress, both vital to healthy living.

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Great Light Up Toys Not in the Top 10

The problem with any top 10 list is what gets left off. With light up toys that includes ones that deserve careful consideration. Although their appeal is not as broad, what they do, they do well.

Consider these four light up toys for the delight they elicit and the skills they develop.

White Lightning Stick

Lightweight and safe, this 1 1/2″ diameter by 15 1/2″ long foam tube produces six different light effects: rainbow strobing and morphing, steady on, and red, blue, and green strobing. To move from one light display to the next, press the small button on the end of the tube. When you reach the sixth, you’ve seen ‘em all. Easy to grasp and wave, it encourages gross motor activity. Think Simon Says. Wave White Lightning Stick up and down, side to side, in circles, over your head, behind your back. Add music, and get your groove on. Develops motor skills, visual tracking, sequencing, memory, and recall.

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Light Up Slinky 

Red and blue blinking lights and assorted translucent colors: green, red, and purple, add visual stimulation to a perennial favorite. Watch a continuously changing light show as you manipulate this 3 3/4″ diameter plastic Slinky. Turn on and off by pressing the button on light module. Does not turn off automatically. Encourages hand to hand transfer and visual tracking.

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Finger Lightz

Fit-on-your-fingers lights. Simply slide the switch forward to turn on the LED, then light up the night. Wiggle your fingers, wave your arms, and dance around. Add music and let your imagination soar.  Develops bi-lateral coordination, fine and gross motor, and visual tracking skills. Encourages movement and creativity.

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Light Up Magnetic Gyro Wheel

This variation on Light Up Whirly Wheel, one of our Top 10 Light Up Toys, allows us to experience centrifugal force first hand as we tip Magnetic Gyro Wheel up and down by its handle to make the wheel spin around the ring. Spinning creates the rainbow light effect; the faster the wheel spins, the brighter the light display. High quality magnets keep the wheel spinning smoothly. Drop the wheel onto the floor and watch the top spin and spin and spin. Develops fine motor skills, wrist rotation, and visual tracking. Measures 8″ long.

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Top 10 Light Up Toys

Light up toys are our best sellers. Some are simple; others more elaborate. All immediately grab our attention and draw us into a visual fantasy. We’re mesmerized by what we’re seeing and excited with anticipation about what’s to come. Light up toys also enhance our skills, from cause and effect to fine motor and visual tracking. Consistently appealing, these toys delight both the young and the young at heart and are popular for distraction and stress relief.

Starting at number 10, here’s our take on what makes each of these light up toys a winner. Our sales determined the order.

Tenth place goes to Going Swing which changes color with a squeeze of the hand. Move through seven constant colors: blue, green, red, purple, cyan, yellow, and white to slow, then fast pulsing color bursts. Shock resistant polycarbonate core features a removable, ribbed, thermoplastic cover that provides slip resistant tactile stimulation. Going Swing comes with a detachable lanyard for wearing and swinging. Imagine calling your posse together and creating dazzling light shows by dancing, prancing, and waving Going Swings. Use your smart phone to capture the spontaneous celebration of light and movement.

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In ninth place is Light Show Stick. Create moving, spinning light shows with the press of a button. Super bright, light-emitting diodes combine to create 32 different light patterns. Press and hold on/off switch keeps kiddo engaged. Flexible tubing “blades” stop spinning on contact. Hums gently while spinning, providing auditory input. Dazzling in daylight, hypnotic at night. Measures 12″ tall.

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Number eight, Light Up Whirly Wheel, demonstrates how something old can become new again with the addition of lights. Experience centrifugal forces first hand. Tip Whirly Wheel up and down by its handle to make the wheel spin. Spinning creates the rainbow light effect; the faster the wheel spins, the brighter the light display. High quality magnets keep the wheel spinning smoothly along metal rails. Drop the wheel onto the floor, and watch the top spin like crazy! Develops visual tracking, fine motor skills, and wrist rotation. Measures 12″ long.

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Seventh place lives up to its name, Fantastic Two-Headed Light Show. One touch activates this hand-held, 360 degree, double headed light display with 32 magical lighting effects. Chrome finish. Press and hold on/off switch keeps child engaged wile ever changing light displays provide visual stimulation.

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Sixth place belongs to Going Magic Light Ball. This 2 3/4-inch diameter ball changes color with a squeeze of the hand. Squeeze  through seven colors – blue, green, red, purple, cyan, yellow, and white plus three light modes – constant color, slow, and fast pulsing. Know how to juggle? Going Magic Light Ball is ideal for creating dazzling, mesmerizing light shows. The shock resistant polycarbonate core is clad in a removable, ribbed, thermoplastic cover that provides slip resistant tactile stimulation.

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Fifth place goes to Light Up Molecule Ball, a stress ball that lights up your life. Smooth, soft, and squishable, this thermoplastic, elastomer ball is filled with 3/4″ translucent spheres in assorted bright pastels and one LED ball that lights up when squeezed. Pick one up and play. Feel your stress melt away while your fingers and hand get a workout. Larger spheres give Light Up Molecule Ball a firmer feel than the  similar Light Up DNA Ball. Measures 2 3/4″ diameter.

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In fourth place is the sensory and simply delightful Flashing Spiky Ball. Bounce or whack on a hard  surface to activate the colored flashing lights inside this 2 1/2″ diameter malleable, spiky ball. The soft spikes provide sensory input that many children and adults find calming.

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Number three is the ultra smooth, soft, flexible, thermoplastic, elastomer Light Up DNA BallFilled with soft, translucent mini spheres in assorted bright pastels and a LED ball that lights up when squeezed, the Light Up DNA Ball is easier to squeeze than its firmer counterpart, Light Up Molecule Play. Squeezing strengthens finger muscles, improves flexibility, and relieves stress.

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Runner-up to the coveted first place position is a miniature spinning light show on a break-away cord. Mini Meteor Storm hums softly and gently vibrates while spinning. Press and hold on/off switch keeps child engaged. Measures 4″ tall. Worn as a necklace, Mini Meteor Storm provides instant distraction on demand.

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At the top of light up toys is Meteor Storm. A spinning ring of 10 lights creates ever-changing, multi-colored light patterns inside a clear globe. Steady hum and gentle vibration add auditory and tactile input for a multi-sensory experience. Touch and hold on/off button teaches cause and effect and keeps child engaged. Measures 8″ tall. Meteor Storm is the ultimate distraction toy and a consistent motivator. Teachers of the visually impaired report students so eager to earn play time with a Meteor Storm that they readily “get down to business” and complete their assignments promptly. And, of course, Meteor Storm is a great antidote to a grey day or a dark night.

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Tips for Selecting Shape Sorters

Remember the expression “a square peg in a round hole”? Immediately we understand what’s being said; someone is a misfit, an individual who does not fit within a specific group. The observation creates a visual impression. We see in our mind’s eye the misfit between a square peg and a round hole. Perhaps because as toddlers we played with one or more shape sorters and learned to “post” shapes into their corresponding spaces.

Shape sorters take many forms, and what works well for one child might not be the best choice for another. When considering shape sorters, remember that toddlers are just beginning to distinguish shapes. Limit shapes to basic ones: circle, square, triangle. The goal is to balance challenge with the likelihood of success. Acquiring skills is an ongoing process that moves forward with experience, repetition, and incremental success.

Shape sorters develop eye-hand coordination, fine motor, cognitive, and language skills. Rewarding matching with a distinctive sound also develops auditory awareness and discrimination. Value-added features expand play possibilities.

Children need to feel competent and confident of their skills before moving on to the next level. If a toy is too complex, the child will avoid it, and we will need to “walk backwards in our minds” to identify the missing link between where she is now and the activity we’ve offered.

With discriminating shapes, stepping back means assessing multiple skills. Does she easily grasp and release? Does she relish every opportunity to” fill and spill”? Are her eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills well developed enough for her to fit a peg in a hole? These activities come before posting shapes. The Classic Pop Up Toy is an engaging, traditional wooden toy featuring four peg figures that pop up and down on concealed springs as the child presses one after another. The removable figures can be color matched to stripes on the front of the box but that’s optional. The focus is on developing eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills required for successful posting. Matching colors and shapes are a next step.

Ambi Lock A Block is my favorite shape sorter. Features that make Lock A Block most successful to Raised rims make sorting shapes easierbeginning sorters also make it a must for inclusive play. Unique attributes that support success in identifying and matching primary colors and basic shapes include high contrast between white top and color matched, raised rim openings and three dimensional shapes that drop into place more readily than shaped dowel pieces. Retrieving shapes by unlocking a door on the front of the block adds another dimension to play. The permanently attached key fits smoothly in the lock and turns easily. The lock clicks as the key turns, adding auditory input.

 

3-shapes sound emitting shape sorterA perennial favorite among the blind and visually impaired is Sound Puzzle Box. Each shape makes a unique sound as it slides down its clear tube. The basic shapes – circle, square, and triangle – require more precise fitting than the three dimensional ones in Lock A Block, but the auditory response rewards the persistent. For children needing tactile re-enforcement, the openings for the shapes can be outlined with a Wikki Stix. When no longer needed, Wikki Stix peels off easily. Retrieve the shapes by turning Sound Puzzle Box upside down.

 

musical shape sorter and activity boardMusical Shape Sorter challenges with four distinct shapes, each featuring a different animal insert. Each shape doubles as a rattle that makes its own distinctive sound. Set the dial to play either animal sounds or four different melodies in response to the correct placement of the shapes. The auditory feedback develops auditory discrimination. Battery-operated, Musical Shape Sorter, features an on/off switch.

 

Teapot and cups double as shape sorterThe most versatile and sophisticated shape sorter, Teatime Shape Sorter, doubles as a shape sorter and a usable tea pot. Whoever would have expected such a combination? And yet, we all appreciate toys with multiple ways to play, don’t we? A clear beaker fits securely inside the pot and holds liquid to pour into the cups. When teatime ends, remove the beaker and slide the four cups into the pot through cut-outs that match the color and shape of each cup. Retrieve the shapes by removing the lid.

Inviting imaginative play, Teatime Shape Sorter develops social skills and provides practice in pouring. Learning to pour liquids without spilling is a challenge requiring concentration and coordination, fundamental skills needed for developing more complex ones. Being able to pour without spilling gives a child independence: he can pour himself something to drink when he’s thirsty. When he offers someone else a drink, he’s demonstrating social awareness. Learning to estimate how much liquid is in a pitcher and figuring out how to divide that evenly among the tea cups develops mathematical awareness. Talk about unexpected learning from a shape sorter.

When choosing a shape sorter, consider the child who will be playing with the toy. Once you’ve figured out the appropriate skill level, you’ll be able to choose confidently.

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Stack and Learn

Toddlers are scientists. They’re constantly researching “what happens if” and observing the outcome of their experiments. Thus the insistence upon repetition. Consistent results confirm their understanding of cause and effect. Through repetition the children develop a basic understanding of the relationship between actions and effects. The more open-ended and varied the play experiences, the better. Similar but different play experiences allow children to apply what they’ve learned and adapt it to new challenges.

Building beakers nest one inside the other or stack one atop another. The design of classic wooden stackers, on the other hand, limits play to stacking alone. The process of stacking also changes when the object becomes piling rings one atop another on a dowel.  A stacker with a uniform dowel allows placing rings in any order without regard to their relative size, as would be required by a cone shaped post. The child is free to focus on attaining competence at one task before tackling another. This reduces frustration and invites experimenting with different arrangements of the rings. As the child becomes aware of differences in size, she’ll likely stack from largest to smallest as well as experiment with turning the column upside down by arranging rings from smallest to largest, a feat more easily accomplished when stacking on a post than when piling larger building beakers atop smaller ones.

Holgate, an American toymaker, introduced Rocky Color Cone, a classic wooden stacker with a twist, in 1938. The trademarked feature, a rounded bottom, invites children to give Rocky a push and watch as it rocks, spins, and topples over, spilling the rings and setting the stage for another round of stacking and toppling. 

Once a single dowel stacker becomes “old hat,” consider double or triple versions with variations in the shapes and colors of the rings. Sleek and contemporary, Pattern Stackera triple stacker with uniform dowels, invites mixing and matching of rings in three distinctive shapes and color combinations. No longer focusing exclusively on developing motor skills, the preschooler is ready to turn her attention to new challenges.

Stacking develops eye-hand coordination, grasp and release, fine motor control, and spatial awareness. Identifying colors and shapes, recognizing relative sizes, and developing patterns that mix and match these attributes represents cognitive and language skills that come from interacting freely with similar but different toys along a developmental continuum. 

Learning is an incremental process. Understanding patterns is a prerequisite for learning to read. Words are letters arranged in specific patterns. P-L-A-Y is essential. We learn because we play.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play