Learn Through Play All Summer Long

by Clara Lauwers | Lakeshore Marketing

Do you want to know the secret to organizing educational summer activities kids will love? Get them involved in the planning process! And here’s another tip: It’s easy with Lakeshore’s free, downloadable summer learning calendars.

Packed with two full months of activities, these calendars are my go-to resource for activities to keep my 3-year-old son, Lucas, busy and learning all summer long. I let him pick the activities he wants to try, so I know he’s just as pumped for his summer of learning as I am.

Here are just a few of the many activities he can’t wait to try:

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Sunday, June 11: Eat breakfast outside.

Breakfast, sunshine and cooking are a few of my son’s favorite things, so this activity caught his eye immediately. We’re going to make French toast, his favorite morning meal, and take it outside for a family picnic. I’m excited (nervous) to see how sticky we all get from the maple syrup!

Wednesday, June 21: Have a slice of watermelon and count the seeds.

Lucas is obsessed with watermelon. I love watching his little face disappear as he digs in! I’m so glad he’ll get to enjoy his favorite warm-weather snack while practicing his counting skills.

Thursday, July 6: Go outside and find pictures in the clouds.

This creative exercise requires no materials…and no preparation! Lucas already loves looking up at the clouds, so I’ll just ask him to describe what he sees. We’ll be on vacation on July 6, but it’s no problem since we can do this activity anywhere.

Thursday, July 13: Use chalk to make a racetrack on your driveway. Race toy cars on the track.

When my son sees a toy car, he just has to race it. (Or drive it over all our furniture!) Chalk is an inexpensive and easy way to create a huge racetrack outside in seconds. Lucas and his dad are already busy planning an epic track that will take up the entire driveway.

Tuesday, July 18: Make up dance moves to your favorite song.

My little one loves moving and dancing, which is fine by me! It’s a great way for him to burn off some of his energy. We’re going to double the fun by inviting a friend over to dance with us.

Thursday, July 27: Go on a “listening walk” with your child. What does he or she hear?

My family of hikers can’t wait to do this activity multiple times! It’s important for young minds to take time out and listen to nature sounds…and even neighborhood sounds, like driving cars, chirping birds and barking dogs. This activity is also perfect for staying active while learning.

Free Crafts for Kids

Lucas loves going to Free Crafts for Kids at our local Lakeshore store. He can’t wait to make a Dad’s Day Craft-Stick Card on June 17, and he really can’t wait to give it to his dad on Father’s Day. We also plan to make Sail Away STEAM Boats on July 15. Lucas is already scouting out places where he can see how well his boat floats!

To discover more ways kids can learn through play this summer, visit our Summer Learning Guide.

Teacher Appreciation Week: Gifts They’ll Love

by JoAnna Rowe | Lakeshore Retail Marketing Manager

Every day, teachers do a million incredible things, from designing mathematical adventures to reading books in the perfect character voice. Teacher Appreciation Week (May 1 – May 5) is our big chance to say “thank you!” Here are some gift ideas to help you come up with the perfect way to show your teacher they are appreciated.

Idea 1: Bundle up some books.

Teachers always need more books for their reading corners or libraries. Bundle up some of your favorite titles along with other reading-time essentials, like Story Wands. Of course, there’s always room for a personalized message! (“You made this year one for the books!”) This also makes a great group gift! Just have each student make a contribution, then wrap all the books together.

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Idea 2: Dazzle them with décor.

Have you ever met a teacher who doesn’t love storage bins? Teachers enjoy sprucing up and organizing their classrooms, and even small accents can really brighten up a space. Vibrant borders and colorful organization bins help give any classroom a mini makeover.

Idea 3: Customize a basket of supplies.

I guarantee every teacher in your life always needs supplies. Turn a bunch of school essentials into a thoughtful gift basket using the art of presentation. We nestled arts & crafts materials in a Clear-View Storage Box.

Idea 4: Make a memory book.

Nothing says “thank you” like fond memories from students. Grab a Blank Hardcover Book and have kids fill it with memories from the school year. Kids can work independently—or with the whole class—to write messages, draw pictures, create collages, paste photos and more. Teachers will love whatever their students decide to do!

Idea 5: Create a teacher-style “tool belt.”

Glue, scissors and pencils disappear around my house all the time, and I only have one kid! This gift idea helps teachers keep important items where they’ll always be able to grab them in a snap. To make one, just fill an All-Purpose Teacher’s Utility Apron with essential supplies. You can even throw in a cute message to make it more personal. We love “Thanks for giving us the tools to succeed!”

Idea 6: Put it on a card.

A gift card is perfect in nearly any situation. To add a personal touch for Teacher Appreciation Week, pair a gift card with a classroom essential and a cute pun. Here are some examples:

For even more ideas, check out our post “Gift Ideas for Teacher Appreciation Week.”

5 Ways to Enhance Dramatic Play Through Family Engagement

by Ron Mohl | Lakeshore Lead Educational Presenter

Have you heard the term “family engagement” lately? It might make you think of conversations around the dinner table, game nights or even park outings, but there’s a little more to it! Family engagement refers to the practice of families participating in activities with children to maximize learning. One way you can work family engagement into existing routines is by using it to enhance dramatic play.

The five ideas below pair family engagement with dramatic play to help children have fun while developing practical skills in literacy, math and more!

Idea 1: Take a walk in someone else's shoes!

Dressing up is an important part of dramatic play. As children pretend to be construction workers, firefighters or nurses, discuss what these community helpers wear and why to familiarize kids with the real-life careers their costumes represent. For example, you could talk about the helmets, bright colored vests and traffic signs included in construction-worker costumes. Ask children why they think real construction workers wear these items so they can take away a deeper understanding of protective clothing worn in the real world.

You can even turn every errand into an eye-spy game to find dress-up ideas! When you go to the grocery store or post office, ask kids to observe what people wear. When it’s time to play dress-up again, kids can recreate the wardrobes they saw in real life.

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Idea 2: Tool around.

Dramatic play encourages children to act out different professions by using tools of the trade, such as a doctor’s stethoscope, chef’s utensils or cashier’s register. Playing with tools helps children boost fine motor and problem-solving skills as they figure out how to accomplish specific tasks. As children play, consider asking them these questions.

  • What could a fisherman use to catch fish?
  • What would an astronaut need to explore space?
  • What does a firefighter need to fight fire?

Asking questions will inspire kids to invent their own tools, leading to a fun-filled family weekend of designing and building dramatic play accessories.

Idea 3: Put on a show.

Create an experience everyone can share! Dream up a circus act complete with a ringmaster and clowns, start a rock band using cardboard instruments or put on a puppet show. The whole family will have fun, plus there’s learning in every aspect of planning. For example, creating flyers incorporates literacy…and setting up a stage requires math skills and spatial awareness. Everyone in the family will enjoy the planning process as much as the final presentation!

Idea 4: Respect traffic patterns together.

Trucks, cars and trains have a way of revving up kids’ imaginations! Have you ever noticed kids pretending to be different vehicles as they walk, run or ride trikes? Give their play an educational boost by placing traffic signs around the house or in the yard so they can practice following traffic patterns. When you go on walks or rides in the car, ask children to identify traffic signs and signals. You’ll be amazed at the transfer of understanding from play to real life!

Idea 5: Work STEM into dramatic play!

STEM (the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) helps children solve problems using a simple design process that involves planning, creating and testing. It’s easy to work these steps into dramatic play! For example, as kids pretend to be construction workers making cardboard forts, they’ll plan what materials, sizes and shapes to use; create the structure; then test it to make sure it stands upright. For an activity that incorporates STEM, dramatic play and family engagement, simply work as a family while asking kids thought-provoking questions about their building plans.

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

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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.

cardboard-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.

making-cents-money-game

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.”

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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.

Fast-Number-Feet

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.

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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.

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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!

susie

Summer Fun: 6 Ways to Learn Through Play

by Patti Clark | Lakeshore VP of Research & Development

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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!

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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.

How to Keep Kids Learning Over Summer Break

by Christine MacGregor | Lakeshore VP of Marketing

As a beach mom, I think summer is the perfect season. I just love sand, sun, long days and even the smell of sunblock in the air. There’s only one thing I love more than everything else about summer combined—spending even more time with my daughter!

There is a tiny downside to summer: As my excitement builds, I start getting a little nervous. How will I possibly come up with enough activities to keep my daughter busy, learning and having fun all summer? Talk about pressure.

We kept hearing the same concern from tons of other moms, so we created a summer learning calendar to help all parents—myself included—tackle summer with confidence. Our calendars include two full months of activities kids in preschool to third grade will love…and they’re free! Download your copy here or pop into any Lakeshore store to grab one.

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We designed our calendar so you could pick and choose your activities…and even switch around the dates. As for my daughter and me, we stuck our calendar on the fridge and started going through and circling our must-do activities. Here are just some of the activities we’ve circled so far:

Thursday, June 2: Play dress-up with old clothing.

I knew all those old clothes would come in handy one day! Dress-up isn’t just fun—it’s also a great way for kids to exercise their imaginations. My daughter hasn’t even seen what materials she has to work with yet, but she’s already decided to dress up like an astronaut. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with! I’m also brainstorming some games we can play while trying on outfits…so she can learn about the roles different people play in our community.

Wednesday, June 8: Use craft sticks to build a small birdhouse.

My daughter points out pretty birds she spots in our yard all the time. Usually, they take off too fast for us to get a good look. My daughter hopes a birdhouse will entice the birds to hang out in our yard a little longer…so she can get a closer look. She might even become a little bird watcher.

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Wednesday, July 27: Place an egg in vinegar and watch what happens.

To be honest, my daughter is so curious about this one…we might have to do it before July rolls around.

Sunday, July 31: Make some lemonade and start a small business!

I had no idea I had a budding entrepreneur on my hands until we selected this activity. My daughter jumped right into planning out all the details. She’s insisting on using real lemons, so she’s going to test a few different recipes before the big day.

Free Crafts for Kids

My daughter loves going to Free Crafts for Kids at our local Lakeshore store! She’s determined to make it out to Free Crafts for Kids on June 11 for the Blast Off Rocket Ship and on June 25 for the Crabby Headband.

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We haven’t even looked at all the activities in our summer learning calendar yet, but it’s already been such a relief to have so many great activities to choose from! I’m even going to take my calendars with me when we go on trips so I know my daughter will always have plenty to do. Now all I have to do is sit back, relax and count down the days until summer break.

Want even more ways to help your kids learn through play this summer? Check out our Summer Learning Page for even more great resources!