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Learning Colors, Shapes, and Sizes Experientially

Learning to identify colors, shapes, and sizes begins at birth as adults introduce these concepts in casual, albeit one-way, conversation. Initially we comment on the color of objects in the environment, perhaps saying, as we dress our child to go outdoors, “Let’s put on your blue jacket.” Later when allowing the child a choice, we’re likely to use color in describing the choices available – blue jacket or red hoodie. Through spontaneous comments, we’re continually imparting information that our child takes in and processes.

Play also provides opportunities for us to give words to objects. If a toddler is engaged in a fill and spill activity with nesting and stacking cups, dropping the smallest into the largest, then dumping it out, we might comment on color or size as we observe the child at play. If the child is stacking one atop another, we can supply words to describe spatial relationships as well. “I see the little red one is on top of the bigger blue one.” Or conversely, the big yellow one is under the smaller white one.” This is an experiential approach to learning concepts and acquiring language. Learning from experience, through open-ended play and thoughtful commentary, is the most natural way of learning.

PlayopolisToys offers an array of engaging toddler toys that invite open-ended play that fosters learning and builds skills. We offer similar but different ways for toddlers to experience the benefits of playing with nesting and stacking toys. Each choice offers unique features that enhance the play experience.

Consider Stack & Fit, a set of five graduated, open-topfive graduated square stacking cups, square boxes with rounded-corners and raised rims on the bottoms. Stack & Fit is ideal for beginners. The limited number of cups makes play more accessible and manageable. Toddlers fill and spill, nest, stack, and knock down, over and over again, learning cause and effect and developing motor, cognitive, and language skills. Nested the cups resemble flower petals. Stacked a skyscraper. Raised rims facilitate successful stacking and keep cups from sliding. Graduated cups measure 3 1/2″, 3″,2 1/2″, 2″, and 1 1/2″ square. Adding sand and water enhances play as the child observes differences in volume and weight.


10 textured bottom, graduated stacking cups


Another choice, Ambi Building Beakers, expands play with 10 graduated, round cups, ranging in diameter from 1 1/2” to 4 1/4” and in height from 1 1/8” to 2 3/8”. With its primary + white beakers, the colors are familiar to toddlers. What makes Ambi Building Beakers most distinctive are the unique-to-each-beaker raised designs on the bottoms. Press the beakers in sand or into modeling dough or clay to create imprints. These patterns develop tactile discrimination and enhance the play of tactile learners and the blind and visually impaired. Two pinholes in the bottom of each beaker invite water play.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play





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Physical Activity Enhances Creativity

Recently I read that research shows physical activity enhances creativity. That’s yet another reason for getting up and getting moving. The arrival of autumn with its cooler, crisp, sunny days invites us to get outdoors and be physically active. Rain gutters need cleaning. Falling leaves need raking. Summer gardens need tilling and mulching. If you live in a place with mild winter tepmeratures, now’s the time for planting a winter garden. All these activities get our bodies moving and our creative juices flowing.

Taking a walk is my favorite year round outdoor activity, and autumn my favorite season for walking. After the high heat of summer, the cooler, crisp air is invigorating, and I cannot resist its invitation to come out, walk around, and take notice of all the changes the season brings. For one, I have to walk earlier. Since the autumnal equinox, our hours of darkness have increased, and soon “falling back” will find us shrouded in darkness even earlier in the day.

For another, trees are taking on their fall colors and leaves beginning to fall. I like the sights and sounds of these transitions~ the reds, oranges, and yellows brightening the leaves on the trees and the crunching of fallen ones underfoot. This is the perfect season for taking walks and spending time with our children celebrating the season through creative use of natural materials.

Grab a pail and take a walk. Gather interesting objects along the way: acorns, nuts, leaves, bark, sticks~anything that captures your attention and imagination. Afterwards use what you found to be creative. Glue, trace, rub, paint.

For rubbings, use a variety of different leaves and an array of bright colors. Place a leaf on a smooth tabletop and cover it with a sheet of thin paper. Take a crayon and rub the paper. Do this with a leaf from each species. This activity provides an opportunity to talk about similarities and differences, not only among the leaves but among the trees themselves~their bark, their height and girth. Naming the leaves and labeling the rubbings enhances the experience and may lead to a trip to the library to learn more.

For more nature inspired seasonal crafts, stay tuned. We’ll be sharing more ideas in the weeks ahead. We’re always eager to hear from our readers, and invite you to share “recipes” and pictures of your favorite seasonal creative activities for children.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Puzzles for Toddlers

Let’s look at classic toddler toys and explore how they enhance development in children from age 12 to 36 months. This post is devoted to puzzles.

Benefits of Puzzles

Putting together puzzles develops eye-hand coordination, cognitive, fine motor, and spatial skills. Figuring out how the pieces fit into a frame involves problem solving, persistence, and patience. And builds self esteem. Working cooperatively develops social skills.

Whole Object Puzzles

Begin with single whole-object wooden puzzles. Ideally made of wood, the pieces also need to be thick enough for a toddler to easily pick up. Sadly finding a whole object puzzle is akin to finding “a needle in a haystack.”

One alternative is 3D Feel & Find, with 20 matching wooden shapes and textured tiles. Offer the child one shape and its corresponding tile to explore and fit together. Next add another pair to determine how readily the toddler is able to distinguish between shapes and to match a shape to its tile. Gradually add more choices as the child becomes proficient at matching shapes and tiles.

Multiple Piece Whole Object Puzzles

Next offer puzzles with three or four individual pieces. Chunky pieces facilitate placement. Shapes should fit only in their proper places. That’s how you insure a truly self-correcting learning experience.

Different children cope with challenges differently. Some become frustrated easily. Consequently adults need to watch for signs of annoyance and intervene before an exasperated child sends a puzzle flying. A partially put together puzzle can easily be set aside. When the child is fresh, ready, and willing to “have another go” at fitting all the pieces, he can pick up where he left off. No blame, no shame.

Interlocking Pieces Puzzles

Simple puzzles with multiple pieces are the next step. Wooden Block Puzzles offer easy-to-grasp chunky pieces that fit together in a wooden tray. Look for  three, four, and five-piece puzzles with bright colors and simple graphics.

Don’t Rush to More Pieces

Puzzles with interlocking pieces are challenging. Children need time to absorb the lessons they learn before “forging ahead” to more complicated puzzles.

Puzzles are but one classic toddler toy, next we’ll explore shape sorters.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Shopping for an Infant

When shopping for books and toys for infants (0-12 month olds), think simple. Does the toy engage the senses and invite play? Babies like play involving materials of varied textures. Choose toys offering a variety of textures, colors, shapes, soft sounds, and materials (cloth/plastic/wood).

Here’s another consideration: is the toy easy to clean? After all, we all know how much babies like to mouth their toys and how often toys “hit the dirt.” Make play easier on yourself. Look for fabric toys marked machine washable. Some tumble dry safely; others line dry .

To illustrate toys that meet specific play recommendations, we have provided links to individual Infant/First Toys at PlayopolisToys. Follow these links for further information on quality toys that support child development.

Simple and Soft Toys

Simple rattles and soft toys make perfect first toys. Babies delight in shaking toys and making noise. When babies shake or touch a toy and then feel and hear the reaction, they learn cause and effect. Machine washable Baby Paper represents an ideal first soft toy, Oball Rattle, a perfect first rattle and ball.

Baby Friendly Books

Good books for infants include ones with one or two clear images per page and simple rhyming stories. Show your baby pictures, and read stories, allowing him to watch your mouth and facial expressions as you read. Name and point to objects on a page, but don’t worry about finishing a whole story. Wordless books work well too, providing an opportunity for simply pointing to and talking about the object on the page. Relating the object to everyday life is another way to share a book with a baby. Such books include At the Farm, a wooden book, Garden + Pets,  a 2-pack of soft fabric books, and Things That Go, a chew proof, rip proof book. These sturdy books are easy to hold and stand up to mouthing.

Beakers and Blocks

Try  building a towers with stacking cups or blocks for your baby to knock over. My favorite stacking cups are Ambi Building Beakers, featuring a unique raised pattern on the bottom of each cup. Younger infants like stackable One Two Squeeze Blocks for their soft “squeezability, ” bold colors, and varied textures. Once ready for more challenge, children migrate to Stack and Play with their varied shapes and sizes.

Musical Instruments and Peek-a-Boo Toys

Musical instruments and peek-a-boo toys help infants master concepts such as cause and effect and object permanence. Rainbowmaker, a rhythm band instrument, provides auditory and visual feedback as baby shakes and rotates the tube. Musical Jack-in-the-Box rewards action, the turning of the handle, with a reaction, Jack popping up, and re-enforces object permanence. Jack is always in the box, whether we see him or not.


Mirrors are a must for encouraging visual activity, sense of self, socialization, vocalization, and gross motor activity. Consider both the Wimmer Ferguson Double-Feature Mirror and the lightweight and easy to grasp Ambi Baby Mirror.

If you could choose only three infant toys for a favorite child, what would they be? Why? Let us know.

Adapted from TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, with permission from the Child Life Council.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Child Appeal

Meteor Storm
Meteor Storm

Child appeal is the key to success in choosing toys for any child. Toys that do not appeal to a child neither entertain nor educate. Beyond that, choosing toys appropriate to the developmental and chronological ages of the child is important. Successful play results from having toys that provide appropriate challenges. When a child finds pleasure in an activity he will continue to play, enhancing skills as he entertains himself.

When developmental and chronological ages differ, finding an appealing toy becomes more difficult to be sure. Consider the interests and the abilities of the child and search out toys that reflect these individual preferences, strengths, and needs. What does the child like to do? What does he do well? What skills does he need to learn or enhance? What toys will entice him to work towards that goal?

A child who absolutely adores a special toy will be more willing to work on a task he dislikes, but needs to practice, if he knows he’ll get to play with his favorite toy once he’s finished. Many professionals and parents find Meteor Storm fits this description.

Talk about child appeal. Ten sets of lights spin, changing colors and patterns, inside a clear globe. Meteor Storm hums softly and gently vibrates, making this toy particularly appealing to the blind and those with low vision. Touch and hold on/off button keeps child engaged, making Meteor Storm ideal as a distraction toy for calming distressed children.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play