Explore Family Diversity with 5 Easy Activities

by Toisha Burns | Lakeshore Marketing

Families come in all shapes and sizes. This can be hard for young children to understand…since they spend so much time with the same, familiar family. Luckily, there are lots of easy ways to teach kids about family diversity—no traveling required.

Keep reading to get directions for five hands-on classroom activities that help kids explore all the ways families can be different—from the kinds of houses they live in to the activities they do for fun.

1. Home, Sweet Home!

world map

home-sweet-homeIntroduce a world map or globe to the class. Begin a discussion about the various places people live in the world and what their homes might look like.

Find pictures of different types of homes families live in around the world. Share the pictures with students and guide them through a comparing and contrasting activity of the photos. What parts of the houses are similar to the one you live in? How are they different? After discussing the homes, use a map to find the regions where these homes are located. Use a push-pin or tape to add each picture to the map in the region it’s from. If the photo covers the entire region, use a string to point to the region and tack the photo off to the side.

Display the map on one of your bulletin boards and use it throughout the year to conduct more compare and contrast activities with students…like people, foods, clothing, etc.

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2. Who's in Your Family?

whos in your family craft


Discuss how there are many types of families and that they take on different shapes and sizes. Show children different pictures of families.

Provide each child with a 5″ x 5″ piece of white paper and crayons or colored pencils. Ask them, “Who’s in your family?” Have children draw a picture of their family in the center of the paper. Using 5 Jumbo Craft Sticks, show children how to assemble the shape of a house around their picture and glue the craft sticks together. Center the picture of the family in the frame and glue it in place. Have each student write their family name on their house. Display the houses by hanging them around the classroom.

3. Families Grow Like Trees

family tree


Continue the conversation with students about family members. What is a generation? Depending on the level of your students, the conversation can be as simple as explaining the parent-to-child relationship and how it defines generations. For example, grandparents are a generation, parents are a generation and you are a generation. Families are made up of multiple generations, and these generations make up our family trees.

Assist children in creating a family tree. Provide each of them with an empty and clean paper towel roll, a 9″ paper plate and a sheet of construction paper. Have them decorate the paper plate to represent the top of a tree. They can collage and/or paint it. Assist them in gluing the paper plate and the paper towel roll onto the construction paper to create their tree. Provide them with circles, and on each circle have them draw a family member and label it with their relationship. Remind them to also create a circle for themselves. Finally, have students glue on the family member circles beginning with their circle just above the tree trunk. Then have them add their parents above them, then their grandparents and so on…

For a more challenging activity:
Have students research and create a list of relatives as far back as they can, making sure to document not only names, but relationships. Encourage them to interview family members to gather as much information as possible. Invite them to build their own family tree using the information collected. Once complete, allow students to present their family trees to the class. How many generations were you able to trace? Invite them to share one interesting fact they discovered, during the interviews, about their family or a family member.

4. Family Facts

family facts photo


This next activity is great for use as a morning warm-up or end-of-day wrap-up. Complete a Family Facts graphing exercise each day as a group. Set up a graphing area in your classroom. This could be on a dry-erase board or a graphing pad. Title the graph with the fun fact question you want the children to answer about their families.

Introduce the daily question to the class and have students write their names on the graph under their answer. Review the results with the class once everyone has had a chance to contribute. Here are some topic suggestions:

a. Do you have family in another country?
b. How many people are in your family?
c. How many letters in your family name?
d. Have you vacationed outside of the United States?
e. How many pets do you have?

Expand questions further to allow students to share more about their families. For example, invite students to share which countries they have family members living in or what places they have vacationed to outside of the United States.

5. What's in a Name?



Write each students’ first or last name on a sentence strip. Invite students to sit in a circle with the sentence strips face down in the center of it. Invite a student to pick a sentence strip from the pile and read the name to the class. Have the student whose name it is stand up. Demonstrate for students how to clap the syllables found in the name. Invite them to clap the number of syllables found by saying the name. Once the class has clapped the syllables in that name, invite that student to pick a new card and repeat the process.

5 Fall Crafts for Kids

Guest Blog by Lindsay | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from My Creative Days

Hello, Lakeshore Learning readers! My name is Lindsay and I blog at mycreativedays.com. I am super-excited to be here today sharing five fall crafts for kids.

Fall is our family’s favorite time of year! We are all about crafting and creating pieces we can use throughout the season—especially now that the kids are old enough to really get involved. The five crafts I am sharing with you today are all great ways to get your kids involved with fall decorating, gift giving, and even setting the perfect Thanksgiving table!

1. Wood-Block Pumpkins


These Wood-Block Pumpkins are so fun! We used Lakeshore’s Wooden Craft Cubes and our favorite craft adhesive, Tacky Glue. We played around with different pumpkin builds and came up with a tall pumpkin that we really liked.

We glued the blocks together and then painted them orange.

We used tiny blocks for the stem of the pumpkin. We painted the blocks green, then added a green paper leaf and wrapped some floral wire around the stem. These would be great for a teacher’s desk, or you could write names on the leaves and use them as place cards for your Thanksgiving table.

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2. Thankful Journals


These journals are fun to make—and they’re perfect for the season of thanks! We used Lakeshore’s People Shapes™ Project Kit and Blank Softcover Books to make our Thankful Journals. This year, my kids wanted to make them for all our Thanksgiving guests. They designed a journal for each adult guest, and we decided to set out a basket of supplies on Thanksgiving…so our youngest guests can make their own!

3. Turkey Napkin Rings


Speaking of Thanksgiving, we could not resist making some Turkey Napkin Rings for our table this year. We used Natural Tree Rings, some goodies from our Arts & Crafts Supply Center, and Tacky Glue.

My daughter loves the Arts & Crafts Supply Center. She uses it for all her creations. For our Turkey Napkin Rings, we used foam pieces, googly eyes, and ribbon—all from our supply center.

To make each turkey’s feathers, we folded a few pieces of ribbon in half and glued the ends together. Then we glued each loop to the back of a Natural Tree Ring.

After that, we added googly eyes and foam pieces to make each turkey’s face.

We cut more ribbon and glued it to the bottom of the tree ring to make feet. To turn the turkeys into napkin rings, I hot-glued rubber bands to the backs. They are so cute—the perfect addition to any Thanksgiving table!

4. Dipped Acorns


We have been doing this fall craft for years. The kids always have a blast, and I love using the colorful acorns in my autumn decorations. Just grab some acorns and paint to get started!

I put the paint in small cups, and the kids used tweezers to dunk the acorns in the paint. We laid them on wax paper to dry.

The acorns make beautiful additions to vases, bowls, and more.

5. Gift Tags

We do a lot of baking in the fall. Homemade gift tags are the perfect touch to our homemade goodies!

‘Tis the season for gift tags! I love to use homemade tags to add a special touch to gifts and favors. We have made many gift tags over the years. This year, we designed some with Lakeshore’s Draw & Shrink Craft Kit. The kit lets you turn any drawing into a plastic charm. (We made pumpkins and acorns!)

I hope you have been inspired to make some of these fall crafts with your kids.

Happy crafting!

Make sure to stop by My Creative Days or say hello on my Facebook page to see what else I am creating for my favorite season!

Inspire STEM Learning Through Cardboard Creations

Posted by Victoria Montoya | Lakeshore Director of Public Relations

Imagine you’re a kid. Mom and Dad just received a huge package. After you see what’s inside (and discover it’s just a boring appliance), what’s the first thing you do? Play with that glorious, empty box! Is it a car, a robot…a fort? It can be anything you want!

To encourage this kind of creative thinking, Lakeshore’s Research & Development team dreamed up the Cardboard Creator Tool Kit—a set of kid-safe tools and reusable hardware that makes it easy for children to build anything they imagine with an ordinary piece of cardboard.

I sat down with Lynette Hoy, a manager in our Product Development department, to find out more about these cool new tools.


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VM: What inspired the Cardboard Creator Tool Kit?

LH: The son of one of our product developers inspired us. The little boy had a brilliant building idea…he just needed some help from his father to bring it to life.

  • The materials: an old computer-shipping box.
  • The vision: a robot with moving arms.

As the pair tried to make the robot, they found a major hole in their resources: kid-safe tools. Since our developer had to do all the sawing and cutting, his son didn’t get the hands-on experience he could have. That’s when this engineer chose his next product to develop—safe tools to help kids bring their brilliant ideas to life with their own hands.

cardboard creator tool kit
Our kit includes kid-safe tools, reusable hardware, and an activity book. Kids will have a blast!

VM: How can parents guide kids through the designing and building process?

LH: Turn cardboard creating into a family event! Here are some tips:

  1. Start by talking about recycling, then discuss how reusing cardboard can help the environment.
  2. Ask your kids what they want to make! You can make anything you want, but the kit comes with an activity book filled with projects and step-by-step instructions if you need a place to start.
  3. Turn the idea into a plan. Tell your kids planning is a key part of the design process, and explain that a good plan helps the final product turn out perfectly. Have them sketch the overall design, as well as the individual parts. Decide on a good size and gather the materials you need. Before you start creating, outline all the pieces onto the cardboard so you know where to cut. Remind your kids to measure everything before they make any cuts; they’ll want to make sure all sides are equal to build a stable structure.
  4. Keep a discussion going as your kids build. If they run into problems, ask questions to help them persevere and develop solutions. For example, if your kids don’t know how to add moving arms to their robot, ask them to think about what kind of connector they should use. (Hint: Attaching the arm with just one rivet will allow it to move and swivel.)

VM: What STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills does the Cardboard Creator Tool Kit promote?

LH: Our kit is all about using the STEM design process and persevering to take ideas from start to finish, an important 21st-century skill.

We suggest kids build confidence by making the projects in our activity book, so they’re ready to create their very own designs. That’s why we made all the pieces in our kit reusable—so kids can build again and again, boosting their STEM skills in these areas each time they practice:

  • Spatial awareness
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Measurement and data
  • Engineering
  • Structural stability


VM: What will kids love about this product?

LH: Kids get a rush of pride when they see the final creation and realize they can actually build something they imagined. After that, they can’t wait to discover what else they can make.

Kids also love using our “grown-up” tools. Our tools work just as well as the real thing, and since they look so “official,” they give kids the confidence they need to build.

VM: What are some creative things you’ve seen kids make using the Cardboard Creator Tool Kit?

LH: The possibilities are endless! For example, the kids over at the Lakeshore preschool, Kids & Company, just used the tool kit to make these adorable costumes.


They simply used their imaginations, our tool kit, and some craft materials, including:

No other kids on the block will have costumes like these!

Dollars & Sense: Teaching Kids About Money

Guest Blog by Suzanne | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Mom Confessionals

Kids today are far more social than we were…and their “social” isn’t simply going to the park. Over the summer, my 9-year-old daughter, Ava, went out with friends several times a week. They did dinner, movies, museums…and even zip lining. My husband and I were doling out $20-$50 for each outing! When I realized that was more than my own lunch budget for a week, I decided it was time for some money lessons, and came up with this four-point plan.

1. Give an allowance

I was thrilled when Ava asked for an allowance. We chose $5 a week—not enough for her weekly outings but definitely a good start. Since Ava loves her smartphone, we decided to get an allowance app to help her manage money.

We knew the app alone might not teach her the value of money or the importance of saving, so we turned to Lakeshore’s huge selection of toys that teach kids about money, like The Allowance Game®. My kids love this game—especially landing on the bank and collecting $0.50 in interest!

the allowance game

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2. Teach through pretend play

Since my kids are 3, 6, and 9, it’s tough to find toys and games they’ll enjoy. That’s why I love the classics, like our beloved play kitchen. To work some financial education into our kitchen play, we picked up Lakeshore’s Real-Working Cash Register and Let’s Pretend Restaurant Writing Box. The kids had hours of fun pretending to be chefs, customers, waiters and cashiers. The real-working calculator in the cash register was a great teaching tool. It helped our waitress (Ava) check her calculations for each “check.” (However, the calculator didn’t help our budding restaurateurs price the food accurately—$42 for a hamburger, anyone?)

real working cash register

3. Build skills with games and puzzles

I love Lakeshore’s Money Equivalency Puzzles. In addition to teaching money skills, the puzzles reinforce many widely valued learning concepts, such as the “same but different” equivalencies. Plus, it’s easy for my kids to figure out if their answers are correct without asking me. If it doesn’t fit, it isn’t correct, and they can try again.

Board games are also a huge hit in our family. They help us unwind and connect as a family while staying away from the “screen.” My husband loves how the Making Cents Money Game challenges our kids to think abstractly…and to remember the value of different coins.


4. Teach through real money experiences

Even little Lucas (age 3) is benefiting from our family’s financial play. When we were out shopping and he found a toy he wanted, he was keenly aware that he needed money to get it:

“I need money, mommy. You buy for me with money?”

It was too cute for words.

We’ve even started asking Ava to figure out the bills and coins we would need for payment if we weren’t using credit cards. Sometimes, we ask Marcus (age 6) to guess how much change we’ll receive when we make small cash purchases.

Getting kids involved in these everyday transactions helps them grow into informed consumers…and gives their math skills a boost!

So far, this money-savvy year is off to a great start! Now, let’s see what financial lessons we can learn while holiday shopping.

Mom Confessionals

6 Road Trip-Ready Activities

by Heather Toms | Lakeshore CRM Manager


I love family road trips. I get to spend quality time with my loved ones while creating unforgettable family memories. After all, who’s going to forget seeing the world’s largest rocking chair?

I always have a blast once I’m on the road, but I have to admit, the planning can be a bit stressful…especially when I start wondering how to entertain my four-year-old and six-year-old for hours in the car. Questions swirl through my head: What should I pack? How can I squeeze some learning into the trip? Where do I start?

Now that I have a few family adventures under my belt, I’ve learned how to add entertainment and education to road trips while staying stress-free and excited for my vacation. Before I pack, I simply run through my road trip-approved activity checklist to make sure everything I bring is:

  • Fun.
  • Easy to transport.
  • Easy to clean up. (Avoid messy materials and items with lots of parts and pieces. Who wants to spend the next five years picking gooey glitter dough out of the car seats?)
  • Device-free. (Even though there are plenty of educational apps out there, I like to give my kids a break from iPads and videos—it always helps set the tone for a relaxing family vacation!)

Here are some road trip-ready educational activities that meet all my criteria. My kids love them—and I’m sure yours will, too!

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1. Write on your windows

With some Window Crayons or Write & Wipe Markers, you can use car windows to create a spectacular mobile learning station. Windows provide the perfect place to solve math problems, draw pictures, practice writing, and even play games like tic-tac-toe. Be sure to bring a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle full of soapy water for easy cleanup.


2. Belt it out

It might seem old-fashioned, but a classic sing-along can entertain the whole family for hours. Plan ahead and create a playlist of your kids’ favorite songs so they’ll be super-excited to start singing. If you really want your kids to feel like rock stars, bring along this awesome Echo Microphone.

I also like to give our sing-alongs a learning boost with Listen & Read Sing-Alongs. These books are great for kids who don’t like to sing—the CDs do all the work! Kids just sit back, look at the colorful pictures…and sing along if they want to!

3. Reinvent classic car games

When it comes to car games, you’re really only limited by your imagination. Most car games require zero materials, and they’re easy to tweak to add an educational punch.

  • Language
    Car games don’t get much better than the Alphabet Game. To play, simply go through the alphabet and find objects outside of the car that start with each letter. To deepen the language lesson, have your kids search for objects with matching middle and ending sounds! See who can find the most matches in 15-minute increments. You can up the ante by using a Write & Wipe Lapboard to keep score! My kids love playing kids against parents.
  • Math
    Give the Alphabet Game a math makeover by playing with shapes instead of letters. Print out a list of basic shapes for your kids to reference. Go through the shapes one at a time, asking kids to search for items outside with the same shape. Keep playing until you’ve found a real-life item for every shape on your list.


4. Stop and smell the roses

Don’t let snacks, gas, and the restroom dominate your stops. Do a little research before you leave to make a list of monuments and historic sites along your route. The National Register of Historic Places has an awesome interactive map that makes it easy. I like to look up information on my phone before we arrive at our stops so I can share some historical tidbits with my kids.

If you don’t have time to do research, be spontaneous! We like to make stops when we come across beautiful scenery; everyone appreciates the chance to stretch, enjoy the view, and get some fresh air.

Tip: Pack balls or a plastic disk to help your kids release extra energy. My kids love tossing these sensory balls—they even like to squeeze them during the car ride to keep their fingers busy.

5. Trust the good old worksheet

No matter how busy you are, there’s always time to download and print free worksheets from Lakeshore’s website. Grab some pencils, magnets, and a Magnetic Write & Wipe Lapboard, and your kids will have everything they need to enjoy some learning on the road.

Tip: When my kids are done with their worksheets, we use our magnetic boards for magnet play! We like Magnetic Letters to practice alphabet skills and spelling…and Magnetic Numbers to practice counting and simple addition.


6. Document the trip with creative keepsakes

It’s easier than you think to help your kids make a one-of-a-kind travel journal. Before any trip, I use this free, printable template to make a blank journal for each of my kids. I pack some crayons and colored pencils, and voilà—my kids have everything they need to fill the journal with memories while on the trip back home.

Tip: My kids love to be photographers, finding the perfect shots for their journals. Since taking pictures is usually an adult domain, letting kids take their own can be an exciting way to pass the time. Pack a Polaroid or disposable camera…or just let them use your cell phone!

If your kids want to get really crafty, the My Scrapbook Kit is a perfect way to make scrapbooking kid-friendly. It includes everything they need (paper, accents, and even scissors) to preserve precious memories from your trip. We love to scrapbook as a family when our trips are over—it keeps the fun alive!

I wish you safe and happy travels…and I hope these ideas inspire you to come up with your own family road-trip traditions!

Your Back-To-School Prep List

Guest Blog by Brandi | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Mama Knows It All

It’s time to head back to school, and after a fun summer with no homework or rules, it can be tough to get back in the swing of things. As a former educator, I’ve done this a million times, and I have plenty of tips to share that will help make the transition from summer to school a little easier for you. Even if you aren’t the most organized mama (guilty!), or you’re just not ready to let go of summer break yet (guilty again!), I know you can get your kiddos ready before the bell rings on the first day of school.

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Step 1: Get Organized

Before you go out and start purchasing a bunch of new school items, organize the things you already have. If you didn’t file schoolwork and other papers away when school got out at the beginning of the summer, do that now. I put all of my daughter’s things away in the My Keepsake Portfolio and stored it out of the way.

After you go through the papers, empty out pencil boxes and crayon containers. I understand that school shopping is part of the fun of going back to school, but that doesn’t mean that pencils, crayons and markers from the year before have to go to waste. Instead, put them in containers on your kids’ desk so they can use them for homework and projects.

Throw out anything that is run down or beat up and make space for all the new materials your kids will be bringing home!


Step 2: Go Shopping

After you’ve organized things at home, it’s time to go shopping for supplies. Here’s something I learned the hard way: Before you go, it’s super-important to make a list. Even though you might think you can wing it (especially if it isn’t your first time at the rodeo), it’s never a good idea to go back-to-school shopping without a thorough list. Although most schools send a list of supplies for each grade, make sure you think of supplies you’ll want to keep at home.

Picking up the Arts & Crafts Supply Center from Lakeshore Learning Materials is an easy way to make sure you have craft materials on hand for homework and school projects. It comes filled with things like pom-poms, sequins and other fun items to add color and pop to schoolwork.


If your budget allows, double the supplies on your list so you don’t have to go out later in the year to replenish everything. If you have even more wiggle room in your budget, triple your list and donate a set of supplies to your kids’ classrooms for the teachers to keep on hand.

Be sure to involve your children in the shopping, too. It’s a great learning opportunity! Let them help you make a budget, price items and keep track of what you’re purchasing. It will help them get back into school and learning mode.

Step 3: Create a New Schedule

For most kids, summer schedules are much different from school schedules. Now is the perfect time to start implementing a schedule that will help your kids succeed when school starts back up. Start moving their bedtime up just a bit, by five or 10 minutes each night, to make sure they’re getting enough sleep. When they wake up in the morning, have them get dressed, eat breakfast and work on a project for a few hours…instead of going into summer chill mode!

It will also be helpful to create a calendar that lists every family member’s activities. Add things like Girl Scouts, piano lessons and anything else that you know the times and dates of for now. Sit the entire family down and go over the schedule. Set expectations for each day and get everyone on the same page. For example, make sure your kids know not to ask for play dates on Wednesday because that day is super-busy. You’ll all be at home a lot less once school starts, so you’ll have to maximize the time you do have.


Your children might not like following a schedule, especially if things have been pretty free flowing over the summer. But trust me, it’ll make a world of difference when that alarm starts buzzing at six in the morning!

Step 4: Prepare to Learn

Getting back into the learning mindset can be a challenge after a few months of leisure. If you haven’t already, get your kids ready for school with some fun learning games. We’ve been loving The Allowance Game® and the Add-It-Up! Archery Set. Both focus on math skills, foster confidence in learning and engage the entire family.


You can find a bunch of learning games at Lakeshore Learning Materials (even during the school year) to complement the work your kids are doing in school. Just because school is starting, it doesn’t mean the fun has to end. In fact, you should get ready for a new phase of fun to begin! Happy back-to-school!


Host Your Own Family Olympic® Games

Guest Blog by Susie | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Busy Toddler

The Olympic® games are here! What better way to introduce and kick off the games than by holding backyard Olympic® games for your family? Kids (and adults) will love these simple activity ideas, and you’ll love how easy they are to set up.

I had so much fun making different activity stations for my family. I set out with two goals—having family fun…and introducing my young son to several new games, each targeting a variety of skills. Spoiler alert: I nailed it on both goals! Our family loved this lineup of games, and it was especially fun having all the activities ready to play from the get-go (instead of having to stop and set up between stations).

Here are my eight favorite backyard Olympic® games for families. I’ve also included what my son loved about each game and what I (as a mom and a former teacher) loved about them as well.

1. Backyard Skee-Ball

Who doesn’t love skee-ball? I’m such a big fan of this arcade game that I wanted to introduce it as a backyard game for my son. I set out three bowls in varying sizes and gave him a bucket of balls to shoot with. This variation was just as fun as the arcade version…and definitely not a gimme for Dad and me! You can make the game a little more challenging by standing farther back to shoot. My son loved the challenge and thrill of scoring. I loved the rule-following (you have to stand a certain distance back) and the eye/hand coordination practice the game provides. We used balls from the Let’s Get Moving! Numbers & Counting Kit.


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2. Bowling for Cones

Talk about a game that’s easy to set up…and fun for all ages! This game captured the whole family’s interest; we were all dedicated to knocking down the pins. We used a soccer ball and cones to create a makeshift bowling alley. It’s not easy rolling a ball on uneven grass, so this took some turns for each of us to master. My son loved trying various ways to knock down the cones (rolling, kicking, and throwing the ball). I loved seeing him use persistence…and watching him wait patiently for his turn. We used the Best-Buy Color Cones as our “pins.”

Bowling for Cones 3

3. Paper-Plate Flying Disc

We took a few thick paper plates and decorated them using markers and crayons. Then we used them as homemade flying discs (think Frisbee)…and oh-what-fun that was! We measured the distance each one flew and learned some new tossing skills (Dad is oddly good)…plus, we made something fly, which is always a hit with the kids. My son loved learning a new skill—he’d never thrown a flying disc before! I loved that he got to use gross motor skills to throw the discs.

4. Fast Number Feet

Here’s a gross-motor-skills game with a math twist! Using large dice and some numbered feet, I made an awesome game for both toddlers and the elementary-age crowd. I scattered the numbered feet on the grass and handed my toddler the dice. He threw the dice, read the numeral, and raced to find the matching foot. He couldn’t stop laughing…and neither could we! My son loved the fun of rolling the dice and finding the matching foot, and I loved how the game combined math and movement to create a total two-for-one activity. We used the feet and dice from the Let’s Get Moving! Numbers & Counting Kit.


5. Bicycle Obstacle Course

There’s no velodrome in our backyard, so I set up a simple obstacle course on our patio with cones. This course worked great on bicycle and on foot! I used chalk to add arrows between the cones to make the course a bit like bicycle slalom, which added just the right amount of challenge. We took turns on our bikes going around the course. My son loved weaving around the cones, and I loved that he was using his problem-solving skills to get around each obstacle. We used the Best-Buy Color Cones in our setup.

6. Balance Beam

Ever since watching the U.S. Olympic® Trials for gymnastics, my son has been hooked, so I knew I had to include a balance beam in our backyard Olympic® games setup. The balance beam was perfect for turning, twirling, and leaping. It was also a snap to rearrange the pieces into different configurations. It was a big hit—and of course, Mom and Dad had to give it a go, too. My son loved sticking his dismount with a huge smile, and I loved watching him use balance and coordination to walk across the beam. We used the Beginner’s Balance Beams for our gymnastics routines.


7. Pass the Ball

This was a fun game for partners—and it was surprisingly challenging! I taped sticks to the backs of two paper plates (I used duct tape) and gave one to Dad and one to my son. I set a ball on the homemade paddles and gave the boys one goal: pass the ball back and forth without dropping it. This was such a challenge for my young son, but he loved trying to control the ball. I loved seeing him use his grip and arm strength to play the game. I can see so many additional game possibilities for using these paddles: paddle volleyball, a relay race…and even faux golfing!

8. Seal Ring Toss

Who doesn’t love a good ring toss? This seal-themed ring toss was the perfect station in our backyard Olympic® games. I set out two inflatable seals at different angles to make the game challenging. Using the inflatable rings, my son would aim and throw at each seal. He absolutely loved tossing the rings! Of course, we parents love this game too—it’s not just fun, it also helps develop eye/hand coordination and gross motor skills. Plus, it’s not an easy game, which levels the playing field and makes it fun for all! We used the Soft & Safe Ring Toss for this station.


It’s time for you to set up your own backyard Olympic® games for your family. The setup is simple, and the payoff is huge. My son can’t get enough of these games, and he keeps going back to play again—always a sign of a fun time!


Classroom Decorating Ideas: Real Teachers, Real Style

by JoAnna Rowe | Lakeshore Retail Marketing Manager

As back-to-school approaches, it’s the perfect time to sit back, relax…and start daydreaming about decorating your classroom for the next school year. It needs to be stylish and functional, and, of course, your students have to love it. Where do you even start? Right here! We talked to three amazing teachers to get their ideas for classroom styles that reflect their own personalities while inspiring young minds.

Find out which Lakeshore collections they love, and get decorating tips that will help you make your own classroom pop.

Our collections are available in our stores only—so you can experience the colors and designs firsthand…and coordinate on the spot with Lakeshore’s friendly staff. Click here to find a store near you and plan your visit.

Richard, Preschool Teacher – Superhero Collection

You don’t need any powers of your own to pull together this superhero classroom! Lakeshore Learning has done it for you. Motivate students with this bright and functional design.

blog image - cropped

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Decorating Tips:

  • Mix and match Lakeshore’s Superhero Collection with other classroom decor to make it your own. I used fadeless paper with a brick design to make normal classroom walls look like city streets.
  • Tie your theme into learning in creative ways. I encourage super behavior by displaying “How to Be a Superhero” and “Superhero Sayings” posters.
  • Add touches of color to bring the whole look together. I added red and black bordette, created a colorful gallery of student art and rolled out a carpet that brings even more color—as well as seating—to the room.


Jodi, Fun in First – Chalk Art Collection

This bright and colorful Chalk Art Collection is the perfect way to welcome students…and I love its modern take on a classic classroom design. This eye-catching display combines chalkboard black with bold colors that will brighten any classroom.


Decorating Tips:

  • Cut border strips and staple them together to create headbands for students. They’re perfect for birthdays and other special recognition.
  • When choosing your color theme, think about the colors of items in your classroom that you can’t change—like bookshelves, window coverings and cabinets. Choose a color palette that includes those colors.


Mel, Seusstastic Classroom Inspirations – Chevron & Dots Collection

The Chevron & Dots Collection is colorful, cheery and incredibly versatile! I love using this collection to create bulletin boards that really grab kids’ attention.

Restroom Review Bulletin Board:
This restroom review bulletin board is a wonderful way to have students review weekly skills in the hallway. As teachers, we must utilize every teaching moment throughout the day—even when kids are on their way to the restroom! Of course, this can be done in your classroom as well. I always include our comprehension skills and strategies, grammar, and sight- and spelling words for the week. I also include math vocabulary for the unit we are working on.

Decorating Tip:

  • I love using Lakeshore’s Reusable Write & Wipe Pockets to change out this board weekly. Easy peasy! I also love triple layering bulletin board trim for an extra pop! I used bright neon notebook paper and traced circles. Then I layered the circle bulletin board letters on top. And who doesn’t love colorful tissue pom-poms?


Back-To-School First-Grade Pencil Bulletin Board: 
This bulletin board is the most welcoming board in our first-grade hallway! Since our school is so large, we need our visitors and students to know which hallway they are in.

Decorating Tip:

  • I decided to layer Chalkboard Brights trim and Polka Dots trim—both from Teacher Created Resources. I handmade the burlap pencil letters using burlap, paint and twine.



Visit your local Lakeshore Learning Store for these collections—and more!

7 STEM Activities You Can Do at Home & Beyond!

by Eric Chyo | Lakeshore Product Development Manager

What would you guess is the most important ingredient for valuable STEM learning? It’s not fancy lab equipment, complicated engineering books or the latest high-tech gadgets. Every kind of STEM learning out there actually hedges on one much simpler concept: curiosity.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, but beyond that intimidating acronym, STEM simply represents a hands-on approach to exploring the world, examining how it works and solving real-life problems. So if you have curious kids, they can practice STEM!

Research shows early STEM learning benefits kids across multiple subjects.1 So while you’ll undoubtedly see more STEM activities popping up in the classroom, don’t let the learning stop there. Get in on the fun and support STEM learning at home with these simple activities (for ages 5 & up) that turn your kiddos into the super-solvers of the future!


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1. Join the maker movement

Celebrate the ultimate creative activity: making stuff. Your kids don’t need expensive equipment or special instruction manuals to start making—just their own creative minds, a few easy-to-find materials and some encouragement. Here are a couple of ways to get your kids making:

  • Turn a regular craft table into a maker space by piling it with any materials you have on hand—like straws, rubber bands, craft sticks, cardboard, toilet paper rolls, plastic foam, tape, glue…and other odds and ends. Ask your kids to build! If they need a little boost, pull up some ideas online and help them build their first creation.
  • Start collecting large cardboard boxes and encourage your kids to find new ways to use them. Kids can make anything imaginable from recycled cardboard—castles, houses, cars, vending machines, robots and rocket ships…the sky’s the limit!


Having “ready-to-go” materials around helps kids create the moment inspiration hits. Plus, it gives them firsthand experience with the design process!

2. Turn wonder into discovery

Every little question your curious kids ask—and we know they ask a lot—presents a prime opportunity for STEM learning. Whether they ask how the toilet flushes or how the refrigerator light turns off, you can answer tons of questions in our digital age. Simply head online together and investigate the answer.

When you see your kids playing with their favorite toys or eating their favorite treats, ask them to guess how those items were made. After they come up with a solid guess, research How It’s Made videos on YouTube that give kids an up-close look at the manufacturing process of their favorite products. Not only will this help foster a healthy sense of wonder, it will also help kids build up their “bank of knowledge.”

3. Tinker with everyday tools

A child’s daily routine includes tools, gadgets and inventions that all resulted from a design process, and therefore, can be improved. Have your kids brainstorm how they might design even better versions of things they use every day. They might make scissors more comfortable to hold, design a toothbrush for fun brushing or even improve a spoon handle to minimize dribbling.

Ask your kids to sketch their new and improved tool and explain what they’ll change and why it’s an improvement. They can even create a working prototype! For example, kids can work with clay or play dough and old spoons to create a spoon handle for a steadier grip.


Then have them test out their new design…and watch them get a huge kick out of using something THEY invented. As they design and test, they’ll feel just like real engineers—with the power to improve things and invent from scratch!

4. Take advantage of community workshops & events

Your local hardware stores and craft stores probably provide workshops for awesome make and take projects just for kids. As kids delve into these exciting workshops, they’ll handle tools and materials they don’t have at home, and the more tools kids can use, the more opportunities they have to invent, improve and innovate.

You can even check out local events, camps and science fairs that offer STEM activities…so your kids can get even more hands-on experience with exciting new tools and materials.

5. Meet the inventors of the past…at your local library

Have your kids imagine a world without electricity, medicine or even chocolate chip cookies! Tell them people from the past invented many things we enjoy today. What did those people all have in common? They asked questions, examined possibilities and innovated solutions to improve their world.

Ask your kids what invention they want to learn about—from bicycles to computers and even candy bars! Head to the library and help them find books to answer a few simple questions about their invention:

  • Who invented it?
  • What inspired the inventor’s idea?
  • What materials did the inventor use to create something completely new?

After learning about real-life inventors, kids will be inspired to see if they can be inventors too!

6. Learn up-close at a museum

Nothing brings learning to life quite like your local museum. If your kids love dinosaurs, they’ve probably enjoyed books and movies on the topic, but a museum can awe them with real dinosaur bones! Plus, kids can discover exciting STEM career paths they never knew existed—like becoming a paleontologist!


7. Observe workers in action

The next time something around the house tragically stops working, turn the disaster into a learning experience! When your plumber, electrician or mechanic arrives, ask if you and your child can observe their work. As you watch, encourage your child to ask questions about their tools and the problems they discover as they work.

Kids can learn so much from watching a worker’s process of tinkering to detect and correct a problem. As kids observe and question, repairing a toilet turns into an educational experience! Plus, since your handyperson will stick around until they solve the problem, kids also learn the importance of persevering to solve problems—an essential STEM skill!

1. National Research Council, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas,” The National Academies Press (2012): 2-4

Summer Fun: 6 Ways to Learn Through Play

by Patti Clark | Lakeshore VP of Research & Development


Nothing sparks the imagination quite like summer. As kids leave behind the school year’s routines, they become more curious than ever—feeling like explorers embarking on grand adventures!

However, research suggests that all too often kids actually “slide” backward over the summer, losing two to three months in their academic skills. Fortunately, this phenomenon known as “summer slide” can easily be avoided. You can help your little explorer sail into summer with simple activities that keep their days full of fun―and engage their minds at the same time! By doing so, you’ll make great memories and help your child succeed as they enter their next school year.

1. Unleash your child’s creativity with an Inventor’s Box

What incredible inventions live in your child’s imagination? Find out with an Inventor’s Box! Don’t worry—it’s easier than it sounds! Just write “My Summer of Inventions” on a large poster board and load a box with building blocks or bricks and raw materials like discarded packaging, straws and cardboard boxes. Ask your child to create any building, vehicle or contraption that springs to mind!


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When they’re finished inventing, invite them to “show & tell.” Ask questions about the invention. How does it work? Does the contraption have a name? What inspired such a cool idea? Snap a picture of the creation, glue it to the poster board and label it by name. Keep inventing all summer to help kids build an impressive roster of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills and make memories of the summer they invented a hamster-sized roller coaster.

2. Skip, hop & jump to boost math & reading skills

If you have a sidewalk and some chalk, you have hours of learning fun! Get started by drawing a 5′ x 5′ grid on the sidewalk and write a letter in each square—common letters like A, E, T, S and I work best! Call out simple words and ask kids to hop on the letters that spell each word. Who can get the longest word correct? Offer a small prize for the winner! Now, erase the letters and replace with numbers to make an exciting math maze! Invite kids to count from 1 to 20 or skip-count by 2s, 5s, 10s or 100s. Then draw an out-of-order number sequence grid on the sidewalk. Ask kids to hop and skip over the squares to count in the correct order. For older children, pick a number and have them jump on the two numbers that equal your number when multiplied! They’ll get great exercise and build key math skills!


3. Act it out!

The ability to retell stories and summarize nonfiction texts sets kids up for lifelong reading success…and they don’t need to touch a pencil or paper to practice! This summer, ask your child to act out the story told in each book they complete. Kids can make costumes, props and even cast family, friends and pets in the production. For nonfiction books, kids can put on a newscast to report the important facts they learned!

4. Go on a reading treasure hunt…outside!

Want to get your kids moving and boost word recognition and reading skills at the same time? Grab some paper or index cards and write down words associated with a movie or theme that gets your kids super-excited. If they absolutely love Star Wars, write down battle, Jedi, force, lightsaber and so on. Make a list of the chosen words and hide the cards around your yard or at a local park. Then call out the words and let the scavenger hunt begin! If you have more than one player, see who can find the words first! Play the game with as many themes and movies as you want—hiding the cards somewhere new each time!

5. Turn an ordinary nature walk into an educational expedition

A simple measuring tape turns an everyday walk into an exciting mission of discovery! Ask your kids to keep an eye out for the longest leaf in the park or your neighborhood. When they’ve found it, hand them the measuring tape and ask them to figure out the leaf’s length. Keep playing with tons of different objects. Challenge kids to find the largest rock…and the tree with the largest circumference!

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6. Make lifelong friends and practice writing with a pen pal

Summer is prime time for kids to broaden their horizons, and that includes making new friends! Help your child meet kids outside of school with a pen pal program. Head online, search “pen pals for kids” and register your child for their very own pen pal. Your child will build a lasting friendship and boost writing skills!

Patti Clark is Vice President of Product Development at Lakeshore Learning Materials, one of the country’s premier producers of children’s educational products. A former elementary educator, Patti leads Lakeshore’s efforts to create quality, standards-based materials for early childhood programs, elementary classrooms and homes nationwide.