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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.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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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.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Developing Math Awareness and So Much More

Children writing equation solution on chalkboard

April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. That got me to thinking about ways children learn mathematical concepts during play and through daily activities, observations, and conversations. Consider the infant gazing intently at the face of the person cuddling her. The human face is intriguing, each unique yet sharing similar features in a particular order. Thus begins an awareness of patterns, of similarities and differences, both precursors to language and mathematics.

Children are naturally curious. As adults we encourage their learning when we supply words that describe their daily experiences and set the stage for cognitive and language development. Washing up is a perfect time to point out and name features—ears, nose, fingers, toes. Think of nursery rhymes that reenforce this information. Remember Mother Goose? Now’s the time for playing with toes and saying,

This little piggy went to market, 

This little piggy stayed home, 

This little piggy ate roast beef, 

This little piggy had none. 

This little piggy went…Wee, wee, wee, all the way home!

 Of course, that naturally leads to a comment on how many feet and how many toes the child has. This rhyme becomes an introduction to the concept of one to one correspondence, key to understanding the meaning of numbers. One foot, five toes, two feet, 10 toes. For numbers to have meaning, initially the numbers need to correspond to concrete objects. Abstract thinking comes later.
Dressing invites talking about clothes and the process of putting on and taking off. The process involves sorting out what goes on first, then next. That’s sequential order, an important executive skill involved in everything from independent dressing to reading and math. Chatting about the sequence helps toddlers understand its rationale. Of course, there’s some leeway in how we get dressed, but why do we put socks on our feet before sticking our feet in our shoes? You know, but someone just learning might not.
This is also a good time to talk about color, a distinguishing feature of any garment. Knowing the names of colors makes communicating easier. So, if the weather requires a jacket and the child has two, one red, another blue, offer a choice. Identifying the jackets by color, ask her whether she wants to wear the red or the blue one. She may not identify the one she wants by color, but she’ll begin to associate the colors with the words that describe them. Through such experiences children learn the value of language.

Children learn from interacting with people and objects in their environment. Quality toys invite exploration and open-ended play that build skills. Moving forward, we’ll explore how, beginning with math awareness.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

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How Do We Decide What’s Best for Our Child?

children playing with bubbles

We all strive to do what’s best for our children. Question is, what does ‘best” mean? Does one size fit all?  Should we consider each child and choose options that best fit what we know about that individual and how she learns? Or go with the flow?

Once we decide what’s best, how do we evaluate the “rightness” of our decision over time? After all, nurturing children isn’t a “set it and forget it “ proposition. It’s one that requires vigilance and willingness to re-evaluate. What we thought the best choice could turn out not to be or to be for less time than we thought.

Beyond that is a plethora of information and opinions. Consider currently prevailing pressure for more academic learning at ever earlier ages.  What’s to be gained? What’s being lost? What are the consequences, both short-term and long? These are issues we need to confront as we weigh what’s best for our children.

Someone who has, both as parent and professional, is Angela Hansom. As a pediatric occupational therapist she focuses on activities of daily living. For a child that includes play. But what happens when children as early as preschool find themselves trading play for a more structured, academic approach to learning?

As a guest blogger for Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet in The Washington Post, Hansom shares her experiences. “The decline of play in preschoolers-and the rise in sensory issues” outlines what she sees as the consequences of society’s push towards structured enrichment activities and academic achievement as early as preschool over early childhood as a time for child directed, open-ended play.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Children Learn While Playing

Girl with green hoodie and bubbles

Play is essential. Children learn while playing, and we adults do irreparable damage to children when we ignore this truth. By play, I mean self-directed, open-ended exploration and discovery. When playing, children use of what’s available, decide what they want to do, and put their energy into doing it. When a challenge arises, they assess the situation, re-think possibilities, and go from there. During play they develop creativity, problem solving, and executive planning skills. Playing with others, they learn vital social skills: how to articulate their ideas, to listen to others, cooperate, compromise, respect.

PlayopolisToys has pinned article after article to our Pinterest board Children Learn While Playing offering research demonstrating the value of play and lamenting its decline. Among these pins is a reprint of a speech by child development specialist Nancy Carlson-Paige, the author of Taking Back Childhood. An educator with 30 + years experience teaching teachers, she sums up her dismay over current practices that leave children little time to experience the benefits of unstructured, “free play”  by saying, “…never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.” Yet we do.

In “How “twisted” early childhood education has become – from a child development expert,” Valerie Strauss, writing in The Washington Post, reprints the speech Carlson-Paige gave when accepting the prestigious Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. Read what she had to say. If you’re a proponent, your passion for play will be validated.  If you’ve never given much thought to the issue, you’ll find plenty to think about.

Then settle in and find out what children learn from traditional open-ended play with blocks and bubbles, puzzles and play dough, and so much more.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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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.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Learning to Value Process

I admire creative people and am fascinated by the creative process. I’ve been observing how people view what they do and how they react when challenges arise along the way. Process leads to product, and that’s where differences surface. If we begin our process with a specific outcome in mind and consider our efforts a failure if we do not achieve that exact result, we’re product oriented in the extreme. If, on the other hand, we embrace the undertaking, knowing that nothing is certain in this life except the proverbial death and taxes and accepting that we do not have control over everything that affects the outcome, we’re process oriented. Either way, we have an end product. How we react to the outcome lets everyone know where we stand.

Being extremely product oriented can leave us feeling distressed even when the product turns out well, but not precisely as we expect. If the outcome is a disaster by acclimation, the process oriented person likely feels disappointed but finds stepping back and thinking about what was learned easier. Of course, most of us reside between these polar opposites. I think we all prefer a positive return on our investment of time, money, and energy. Question is, how do we define that success? Could going through the motions have value even when the product itself doesn’t live up to our expectations? Absolutely.

I learned this experientially. Once I asked a friend to show me how to knit so that I could make a wool scarf for my father. She did, and off I flew to visit Daddy. When I got there, he had unexpectedly been hospitalized. I spent hours at his bedside quietly knitting, grateful for having something calming to occupy my mind. A novice knitting in low light, I began inadvertently adding a stitch at every row. By the time I realized what I’d done, I had no clue how to take out those ever widening rows and start fresh. Still I kept on knitting. The process itself had become too valuable to abandon. I pulled out every stitch after my father died. That brought the journey full circle for me. Someday perhaps I’ll choose to learn to knit. Meanwhile I cherish what some would call a disastrous attempt.

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Make Play a Priority

Play is universal. Spontaneous. Joyful. Stress relieving. Any activity we do for pleasure. Whether we’re engaged in a solitary pursuit or interacting with others, as long as we’re enjoying ourselves, we’re playing.

Play is essential to our well being. When doing something pleasurable, we relax. As we de-stress, we loosen up, slow down, unwind. We can actually feel our muscles relax, our minds calm. Going with the flow invites new ways of thinking and gives us fresh perspectives. We become centered, more confident, more creative, more positive.

When we’re playing, we’re enjoying ourselves. What’s enjoyable to one person, of course, can be anything but to another. Some people are happiest and at their most relaxed baking. Others can’t believe that’s even possible. Children have play preferences too. Some adore finger painting, and getting up to their elbows in paint is pure joy. Others want nothing to do with anything that feels so “yucky.” That reminds me of the adage “one person’s passion is another’s poison.” That translates as what’s fun is play, what isn’t, isn’t. Fun makes an activity play.

For adults, our main challenge is likely carving out time to play. Everyone is busy, and often we feel we don’t have the time. When we allow ourselves to play, we realize what we’ve been missing. We haven’t been giving ourselves permission to pursue joy often enough. Once we make play a priority, we quickly learn how enriching the experience is.

Sometimes children need encouragement to engage in active play – the child directed, open-ended engagement with objects, people, or pets that is essential to learning. The lure of electronic devices has reduced the time children spend in such traditional play. Balance is essential and moderation the key.

In active play children develop skills, from fine and gross motor to cognitive, communication, and social. They strategize, experiment, and adjust their thinking in response to their observations and experiences. While playing with others, they’re communicating and collaborating, learning to negotiate and compromise. And they’re enjoying the process. That’s the power of play. Children learn while playing.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Sharing What We Learn From You

Because children learn while playing, our goal is to offer toys that invite open-ended play and encourage self-directed learning among all citizens of play. Hearing how much your child delights in playing with something you purchased from PlayopolisToys makes our hearts sing. We like that feeling. If something does not meet your expectations, we need to know. We strive to build positive relationships and provide responsive customer service. We’re here to work with you.

We want every child to experience the joys of play and to learn to play comfortably with others. Inclusive play brings children of varying abilities together, fostering awareness and respect for differences. When you share an alternative or adaptive use for a toy we sell, you create a ripple effect reaching farther than you know. We appreciate you making the effort and like sharing what we’ve learned. Let’s build a community of shared ideas and information.

Remember the expression “I’ll be there with bells on?” Except for jingle bells threaded onto the laces of toddler’s shoes, I’ve never seen anyone show up anywhere with bells on. Have you? Oops, I think I’m dating myself by mentioning laces on little kids’ shoes.

boy wearing jingle band crown

 

That could change with Jingle Band, four large sleigh bells attached securely to a colorful web band with Velcro closures. The adjustable band makes attaching around wrists or ankles simple, and as Anne Ward found, multiple bands joined end to end easily encircle a head. She reports her grandson “loves to jingle by shaking his head (no!).”

An orientation and mobility teacher attaches one just above the tip of the cane for beginning cane users. Let’s celebrate all the ways Jingle Band enlivens spirits with their joyful jingles. And please keep those ideas coming. Everyone has something valuable to share.

 

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Show Respect. Judge Not.

I’ve been thinking about my friend and her heartfelt desire not to be defined by physical limitations caused by a chronic and incurable disease. I bristle at the thought that anyone would make assumptions or label her based solely on limitations. I suspect anyone doing so would be a stranger. Those who know her know she’s so much more than any limitation.

Defining someone by disability isn’t the only way we short change ourselves or others. Consider all the assumptions we make based on casual observation, something we’ve heard, or attitudes instilled in us. These “settled ways of thinking” can become so ingrained that we rarely question their validity. Experiences and observations that challenge our beliefs raise doubts. Being willing to face our doubts takes an open mind and heart. Once we start questioning one attitude, we likely become more willing to re-consider another. This can put us at odds with family and friends. Battles to change popular opinion can be fierce and long. And some people never change their view.   

Attitudes towards women, race, sexual orientation, religious tolerance have changed dramatically in my lifetime, yet battles rage on, passionately and stridently. I’d welcome a paradigm shift to self-reflection and compassion. To ratcheting down the volume in an effort to learn how to sit with those whose beliefs differ from ours, engage in dialogue, find common ground where we can, show respect and be respected.

Not so long ago, tattoos were a fringe practice. Something men might choose to get, and those who did were primarily soldiers, sailors, marines, …and bikers. “Nice people” didn’t “go there.” Then attitudes began to shift, beginning, of course, with rebellious youth, both males and females. Initially being taken seriously professionally required folks to keep their tats under wraps, either by personal  decision or employer dictates. Gradually the practice became mainstream, and fewer and fewer restrictions apply in the workplace. Tattoos have become more elaborate, more an art form than a carnival side show. Such shifts in attitude are seismic. Now anyone can embrace body art, and anyone who doesn’t want to, doesn’t. 

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play