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.

Holiday Shopping: 6 Simple Tips for Choosing Educational Toys

by Patti Clark | Lakeshore VP of Research & Development

Finding the toy selection a bit overwhelming this holiday season? No worries; we’ve got you covered! Consider surprising the little ones with educational toys. Not only do they inspire hours of joyful play, but they also encourage growth and development. Here’s how to find educational gifts your kids will love.

Tip 1: Pick toys that match your child’s interests and age.

Children will learn only from toys they find interesting, so take cues from what they like.

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  • Consider what gets your children excited. If they’ve been talking nonstop about dinosaurs, look for games and toys focusing on prehistoric themes. If they’ve been asking questions in the kitchen, pick up toys to help them practice cooking skills, like The Amazing Chef Cooking Set.
  • Check the age ranges on product packages to choose age-appropriate toys aligned with their abilities (and keep frustration and boredom at bay).
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Tip 2: Look for toys kids can use in a variety of ways.

Open-ended toys make smart purchases, since kids can use them over and over again. Simply look for blocks, builders, bricks, arts & crafts materials and anything else kids use to create.  Some of these toys can even transition to more advanced play as children grow and develop new skills. Toys that focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), for instance, are open-ended, encourage creative thinking and give kids fun firsthand experience with the process of design.

Tip 3: Choose toys that spark the imagination and provide opportunities for pretend play.

Good old-fashioned pretend play helps children develop creative thinking while building language and literacy skills. When you’re shopping, consider how your kids’ imaginations might run away with a product. Here are some ideas:

  • Play kitchen sets and pretend foods might lead to a bustling restaurant in your living room.
  • A toy cash register and play money may inspire kids to open a make-believe store.
  • Blocks, play animals, cars and other figures give kids what they need to build a miniature zoo or city.
  • A stethoscope and some stuffed animals could become a thriving veterinary practice.
  • A picnic playset lets kids have a picnic anywhere, anytime—even on a snowy holiday morning!

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Tip 4: Opt for toys that promote social skills and collaborative play.

Most children learn how to cooperate through play. Since so many games highlight the fun of working with others, it’s easy to find gifts that foster social skills.

  • If you’re shopping for young ones, look for activities involving taking turns, sharing and compromising.
  • If your kids are older, consider toys offering opportunities for teamwork and group problem-solving.
  • Choose gifts kids can enjoy as a team, like games, experiment kits, puzzles and builders.
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Our Stretch & Connect Builders allow kids to collaborate on tons of crazy constructions!

Tip 5: Shop for toys focusing on real-world exploration.

Spark natural curiosity and stimulate learning with exploratory toys.

  • A simple set of binoculars provides hours of discovery while prompting children to ask a variety of different How? and Why? questions. Afterward, dive into some books to answer their questions.
  • A bug-catching kit helps kids get an up-close look at nature.
  • Experiment kits and science toys like this Young Scientist Chemistry Lab make great choices, too. Who knows? You might end up inspiring a budding scientist or STEM enthusiast.

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Tip 6: Find board games that boost math and language skills.

It’s easy to find games with learning potential. Here’s how:

  • Choose games featuring pieces that help young children build counting skills as they move them around a game board.
  • Look for games involving making decisions and forming strategies to help boost both math and cognitive skills.
  • Find games with question cards or trivia to help kids practice reading skills.
  • Browse the aisles for games that help kids learn life skills. For example, The Allowance Game® helps kids make smart decisions when earning and spending money.

No matter which toys you choose, encourage your kids by getting in on the fun. Set aside time each day and take part in playtime. The best holiday gift you can give is to play along with your kids!

Happy holiday shopping!

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!

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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?)

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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.

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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

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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

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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!

Recycled Robots for Earth Day

by Marni Hughes | Lakeshore Marketing Operations Manager

If your kids are anything like mine, you’ve probably witnessed what I call the “cardboard box phenomenon” firsthand. A long-awaited (and very expensive) toy finally arrives and within a few hours, your kids start playing with the box it came in. Don’t fight it—embrace it! That kind of creative recycling is just what our planet needs, after all. Encourage your little cardboard creator to explore all the ways they can make something old new again with our Recycled Robots craft—the perfect Earth Day activity for the whole family!

Recycled Robots

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Note: This craft can also be adapted for use in the classroom—just add more supplies!

You will need:

Directions:

  1. Ask your kids to select a recycled box. This will be the body of their robot.
  2. Glue colored foil sheets onto the front, back, top and sides of the box.
  3. Now have kids make their robot totally unique. They can decorate their bots with glitter painters, construction paper, wiggly eyes and a variety of collage materials—like buttons, beads, bolts, gems and anything else they like!
  4. Next, add pipe stem antennae and legs to really bring the robot to life.

Recycling

Extend the learning:

Ask your kids if they had fun making Recycled Robots. Tell them there’s even more they can do to help keep the planet healthy—every single day. Ask them if they have any of their own planet-friendly ideas…and check out the list below for inspiration!

Create more recycled creatures:
Gather recycled materials kids can work with safely—like milk cartons, newspapers, cereal boxes and plastic bottles. Lay all the materials out with glue, scissors and craft materials and ask your kids to create anything they can dream up!

Rally for recycling:
Hold a recycling contest in your house…or your neighborhood. The person who collects the most cans, bottles or newspapers gets a prize. If your kids are old enough, ask them to head online to find out where they can take recycled items—or even investigate what happens at a recycling center.

Plant a plant:
Teach your kids how to plant seeds so they can grow their own plants. Make sure they know trees and plants help preserve our planet.

Read all about it:
Set up a reading corner and stock it with interesting and age-appropriate books with strong environmental messages. Here are just a few we love: Earth Book for Kids: Activities to Help Heal the Environment by Linda Schwartz, The Lorax by Doctor Seuss, The Great Kapok Tree Big Book by Lynne Cherry, and Planting a Rainbow Big Book by Lois Ehlert.

Brain-Boosting Activities to Beat the Winter Blues

Guest Blog by Christina | Vlogger from The Purple Alphabet 

On cold winter mornings, I often find myself wondering how to keep my children entertained while staying warm indoors. We have plenty of activities, toys and books around the house, but sometimes they lose their luster. It’s easy to rely on mindless entertainment, but as a mother, I’d rather see our indoor time spent on activities that boost their young minds. Here are three ideas to create a fresh perspective on your indoor play.

Brain-Boosting Activities

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Take Imagination to a New Level

If heading out into the cold or traveling through snow is not an option, bring a dreamy destination into your living room with a little imagination. Perhaps your kids will travel to another country to relax on the beach or taste the local cuisine. Maybe they’ll become famous Italian chefs, sorting and cooking up fresh pasta in their very own restaurant. Or perhaps they’ll visit the moon. Whatever their destination, use props to bring it to life, such as a blanket for a tent in the woods, pretend food, costumes for a scene from a favorite book or an oversize cardboard box to fly to outer space. Exploring through imagination is great for storytelling skills, creative thought processing and language.

Sort the Unsorted

Create new, less obvious categories for sorting toys. Sort large stuffed animals from small stuffed animals, breakfast play food from dinner play food, red race cars from blue race cars or fiction books from nonfiction books. Sorting into different classifications teaches organization, is a precursor to math skills and encourages critical thinking.

Make an Indoor Obstacle Challenge

Construct an obstacle course of any kind. You can include chairs, pillows or hula hoops. Obstacle courses keep those little bodies moving, especially when outdoor play is not an option. Add in normally stationary toys such as a puzzle or a collection of items. Have your child move one piece of the collection or puzzle through to the other side of the course until all the items have been moved. Doing so creates a goal for the child to accomplish, increases motor skills and provides a new challenge to old toys.

The winter blues will subside when you introduce new ways of playing with older games and toys. How do you turn your winter days into brain-boosting times of play? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear your ideas.

The product featured in this post is the new Pasta Playset. You can see my video review of the product on my YouTube Channel, The Purple Alphabet.
Brain-Boosting Activities