Starting School: Tips for a Successful Transition

by Jenna Sekerak | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist

People have always said that kids grow up fast, but the idea really hits home when it’s time for kindergarten. The first days—and even months—of school can be hard. Parents struggle with seeing their babies growing up, while children worry about navigating their new lives as students.

During this emotional time, children look to their parents for comfort. Luckily, there are plenty of ways parents can ease kids’ fears! Here are some of our favorite tips for making the transition to kindergarten as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

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Before Kindergarten Begins

Get to know the unknown.
Visit school before the first day. Be sure to meet the teacher, see the classroom and walk around to help kids get to know their new surroundings. If you’re lucky enough to meet other families, we recommend setting up playdates. Allowing kids to establish friendships with classmates will help them feel a sense of belonging.

Establish a routine.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children suggests starting a school routine early to ease the transition from free summer days to jam-packed school schedules.

Before the first day of school, do a practice run to see exactly how much time kids will need for each step of the routine. Watch for areas where kids need more support or practice, such as getting dressed and tying shoes.

Start a storytime tradition!
Read a story every night to comfort children with happy thoughts, soothe them to sleep and help them adapt to an early bedtime. You can even use Lakeshore’s Story Wands to initiate engaging conversations and increase listening comprehension.

Story Wands

Prepare for school with educational games.
Playing educational games as a family helps kids get ready for school, and it proves that education is important to you! Lakeshore’s Are You Ready for Kindergarten? Game Show® covers all the bases. Kids get to become game-show contestants and win pretend cash when they answer questions correctly. When you’re done playing, you can enter the results online to get an assessment and free activities to help kids build skills where needed.

Another great resource to help children develop skills for kindergarten is Lakeshore’s Transition to School Backpack. It features a three-month calendar filled with skill-building activities!

Transition to School Backpack

At the Beginning of the Year

Engage in conversations.
Ask children about their days and have them share what they learned in school. To get more than a one-word response, ask children open-ended questions that begin with “how” or “what.” If children respond with a short answer, follow up with another question, or use a teacher’s favorite prompt: “Tell me more about that.”

For example, if your son or daughter tells you their day was “fine,” keep pressing and ask them to share their favorite part of the day. This will demonstrate your sincere interest in hearing about school!

Throughout the Year

Establish—and stick to—an after school routine.
Once school is in session, it’s important to establish an after school routine. Check kids’ backpacks and school folders each day for communication from the teacher and for papers that need to be signed and returned.

Help children grow accustomed to nightly homework by setting up a dedicated work space. If children don’t have any assignments, reinforce what they learned in school with our Family Engagement Packs. Each pack includes easy-to-follow instructions and materials for hands-on games that get parents involved with the learning process. This kind of at-home family participation can have a positive impact on student achievement!

Family Engagement Language Packs – Preschool-Kindergarten – Complete Set

We hope these tips help make the transition to school easy! Don’t forget to encourage children to share ideas, ask questions and try new things! And most of all, don’t forget to enjoy watching your young students flourish!

References:

  1. Strasser, Janis, “Transitioning to Kindergarten,” National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Accessed August 2017, https://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/child-development/transitioning-kindergarten
  2. “Saying Goodbye to Preschool and Hello to Kindergarten,” National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Accessed August 2017, https://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/child-development/saying-goodbye-preschool-and-hello-kindergarten
  3. “Twenty Ways You Can Help Your Children Succeed at School,” Colorín Colorado. Accessed August 2017, http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/twenty-ways-you-can-help-your-children-succeed-school

Lakeshore Staff Picks—Summer Reading for Kids

Posted by JoAnna Rowe | Lakeshore Retail Marketing Manager

Summer is a great time to get little ones reading! Lakeshore’s Research & Development Team has specially selected each title to appeal to children just beginning to discover the wonder of reading. And our experts should know—they are former teachers with years of classroom experience! Each book they chose helps develop and nurture essential skills in children—from early literacy and reading skills to social-emotional lessons on empathy, kindness and perseverance. Read on to learn what books they recommend and why!

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury (24 months to 7 years)

Recommended by Meghan Bruggeman

Children splash through a river, cross a tall field of grass and more in this exciting adventure featuring alliteration, word repetition and bouncy illustrations inspired by nature!

Why I Love It: This book is filled with predictable text, so it’s super-fun to read aloud. The repetitive language allows children to easily join in and “read,” even if they are not yet fluent readers.

Children can even act out the characters’ actions as they face obstacles throughout the book, such as walking through “thick oozy mud.” Engaging in a story this way really brings it to life! Plus, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt touches on story sequencing, vocabulary and descriptive words. It’s packed with educational value!


Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Parker Swanson

Children will love this heartwarming tale of Gerald the Giraffe, who thinks he can’t dance—until he listens to his own unique song!

Why I Love It: The excellent rhythm of Giraffes Can’t Dance makes it read like a long, playful poem. Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees take kids through a range of emotions as they get to know Gerald the Giraffe.

The book provides the perfect opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions with kids. It even helps kids develop empathy! When poor Gerald is teased for his lack of dancing skills, he is never alone—my students would be right there, compassionately sharing his distress. And near the end of the book, when Gerald starts dancing, my students would jump with excitement. I loved seeing how this story helped my students truly feel what the protagonist feels! This book is also great for discussing how teasing and bullying make others feel.


How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends?* by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Bethany Hernandez

Dinosaurs are the perfect way to capture children’s attention! In this story, charming dinosaurs help kids connect with the text as they explore the book’s message about friendship.

Why I Love It: Young children may not know how friends should behave with each other or why certain behaviors are inappropriate or hurtful. How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends? makes these concepts easy for kids to understand and apply to their own relationships!

It’s my go-to book for encouraging social-emotional expression and interaction!


The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Alison Glaser

An encouraging and reassuring book to comfort little ones headed off to school, camp…or any place that’s unfamiliar and scary.

Why I Love It: The Kissing Hand is a heartwarming, beautifully illustrated story. I used to read it to my own children when I had to be away from them. I kissed their hands and reminded them that they always carry my love—even when I’m not around.


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Eric Chyo

The easy-to-follow rhyming text has a pleasant pace that captivates children—and encourages them to wonder what they’ll see next!

Why I Love It: Eric Carle’s artwork is a visual treat! I love observing the details up close, seeing the thick brushstrokes and layered shapes that form recognizable animals. Plus, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? has a strong rhythm, with the words following a musical, repetitive pattern.

As my sons grew older and started decoding words, they loved reading this book independently because they already knew the rhythm and pattern of the story. I have great memories of my boys exuding confidence as they read the book aloud without any help!


The Day the Crayons Quit* by Drew Daywalt (3 to 7 years)

Recommended by Emily McGowan 

When Duncan opens his box of crayons to discover letters accusing him of not using the crayons correctly—all written by the crayons themselves—Duncan has to figure out what he can do to make everyone happy.

Why I Love It: This book is full of humor and emotion! I love reading it with my kids—they laugh so hard at the idea of their crayons being alive!

Every time I read The Day the Crayons Quit, I’m struck by its powerful message of empathy and treating others with care. It helps little ones understand their emotions and discuss them in a safe way. I can’t think of a more valuable lesson!


Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts (4 to 8 years)

Recommended by Juliana Born

This inspiring book tells the story of engineer-extraordinaire Rosie—and her never-give-up attitude!

Why I Love It: This book gets kids excited to build their own inventions! After reading Rosie Revere, Engineer, your kids might start rummaging through your junk drawers to find materials for their creations. But Rosie Revere, Engineer does more than just inspire creativity. It teaches kids that failure is a part of learning—an important message for little (and big) perfectionists everywhere!


We hope your kids enjoy these educational summer reads! Find a Lakeshore Learning Store near you to stock up for a summer of reading.

*Available in stores only.

Summer Learning Through Sand & Water Play

Guest Blog by Danielle | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Mom Inspired Life

My kids love sand and water play, so I’m always brainstorming activities that inspire joy and learning. These sand and water activities did not disappoint! In fact, they were a huge hit—they kept my kids engaged and learning for hours.

I hope your kids enjoy these summer learning activities as much as mine did!

Activity 1: Scoop Up Kinetic Sensory Sand Ice Cream!

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My four-year-old daughter loves using her Sensory Sand Ice Cream Set to pretend she’s working at an ice cream shop! I love how the set helps her develop fine motor skills and practice social and emotional skills like sharing, cooperation and communication as she serves “ice cream” to others. It’s also perfect for dramatic play. My daughter has been getting super-creative with the invisible toppings she offers. Anyone want some sweet “rainbow syrup”?

Activity 2: Make Kinetic Sensory Sand Cupcakes!

For this pretend-play activity, you’ll need some Kinetic Sensory Sand, a cupcake pan, cupcake liners and candles. Tell your kids to pretend they own a cupcake shop, and ask them to bake some colorful treats. Your kids will have a blast! Up the fun factor by adding some candles to the cupcakes and hosting a pretend birthday party.

Activity 3: Explore “Sink or Float” with the Water Exploration Station!

The Water Exploration Station makes it easy to do a variety of activities with kids. We used it to explore whether items sink or float in water. My kids went around our yard collecting items to test—rocks, sticks, leaves, flowers, mulch, seeds and more. Then we made predictions about whether each item would sink or float.

I invited my kids to drop items into the tubes to test their predictions. My daughter was mesmerized. She was excited every time she dropped a flower or stick into the tube. After we tested all the items, my daughter continued to search the yard for other things to test. She absolutely loved it…and she caught on to the science part of it. It took her only a few tests to realize that heavy items sink and light items float.

My six-year-old son got great satisfaction from correctly predicting many of the outcomes. But there was still an item or two that surprised him. This led to great discussions about why those items didn’t behave in the way he expected.

Activity 4: Cook Up Pretend Soup!

My kids couldn’t get enough of this activity!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Large pot
  • Ladles/spoons
  • Measuring cups and spoons (I put water in a watering can so my kids could pour it into the measuring cups.)
  • Plastic saltshaker
  • Bowls
  • Sand (I added some sand to a plastic saltshaker so the kids could pretend to add seasonings to their soup.)

My kids started by adding water to the pot with measuring cups and spoons. Then they added lots of “seasonings.” They also used the measuring cups and spoons to scoop in sand as if it were sugar or flour.

After they stirred and stirred (great gross motor practice), the kids looked for other things to add to the soup. My son added some grass to look like fresh herbs. My daughter added some rocks—they looked just like potatoes!

As the little chefs worked, they had some squabbles over who could use the ladle to stir the soup and who could use the saltshaker. This gave them the chance to develop social skills—to work through issues and practice sharing, cooperating and communicating effectively. Did they do this perfectly? Absolutely not! They needed guidance from me, but that is to be expected. When all was said and done, though, my kids were extremely proud of their “soup”!

We are definitely going to do these sand and water activities again and again this summer! Not only are they a total blast, but they’re also a fantastic way to build skills. Enjoy!

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.

Get Kids Moving: 6 Ideas for Active Play

Guest Blog by Clarissa | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Munchkins and Moms

Active play is not just an important piece of all our homeschool days—it’s a vital part!

As kids move their bodies through play, they are not only improving their health but are also developing a sense of self and space. They are physically internalizing the concepts of left and right, above and below, forward and backward, etc. These are important prerequisites for reading (left-to-right, top-to-bottom progression), math (moving forward and backward on a number line) and so much more!

On warm, sunny days, it’s easy to get outside and play…but staying active when stuck indoors can be a bit more of a challenge. That’s why we’ve added a few new versatile toys and games to our home. They can be used outdoors in the beautiful spring weather, or they can be brought indoors when it’s rainy. Either way, we are prepared for fun and active play this spring!

Here are a few of our favorite ways to keep our minds and bodies active:

Idea 1: Go “alphabet” bowling.

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This isn’t your average bowling set! The Alphabet Bowling set from Lakeshore Learning comes with every letter of the alphabet and a foam “bowling” ball. We couldn’t wait to set it up!

We played this game both inside and outside for the chance to compare and contrast how the ball rolls on different surfaces. Bowling is also a great way to work on eye/hand coordination and practice friendly competition.

Here are some more ways we plan to use the game:

  • Spell words (sight-words, kids’ names, etc.) to knock down using the ball.
  • Use the foam letters in a seek-and-find game.
  • Stack the letters to form alphabet towers.

Idea 2: Skip, hop and jump to boost math and reading skills.

We’ve discovered hours of learning fun using a sidewalk and some chalk.

To practice reading skills, we draw a 5′ x 5′ grid on the sidewalk and write a letter in each square. Then we call out simple words, and the boys hop on the letters that spell each word.

We use the same simple grid for a math maze by erasing the letters and replacing them with numbers. The boys love counting from 1 to 20 or skip-counting by 2s, 5s, 10s or 100s as they hop around the grid.

Next time, we plan to draw an out-of-order number sequence grid on the sidewalk and have the boys hop and skip over the squares to count in the correct order. When it’s time to learn multiplication, we’ll shout out numbers and have the boys jump on the two factors.

Idea 3: Play ball!

We love playing with lots of different balls—footballs, soccer balls and baseballs are some solid favorites. Playing ball is great for eye/hand coordination and promoting cooperative play skills. Our new favorite balls are these rainbow-colored, Soft & Safe Comet Balls from Lakeshore. They are unique and completely irresistible to kids!

The balls come in a rainbow of colors, and they’re so fun to throw! The ball portion is made from a soft, easy-grip material that won’t hurt other kids (or break windows).

My boys didn’t limit themselves to tossing from the head of the comet. They gleefully spun the ball from the tail and sent it flying sky-high, too! You can use these balls for countless games, such as:

  • Comet tag. Simply toss the ball to tag a friend.
  • Target practice. Aim balls at a chalk target on the sidewalk.

We took out a bucket and practiced making comet baskets for a fun twist on a classic activity. This game can also be taken indoors on rainy spring days!

Idea 4: Enjoy leapfrog (and other classic childhood games)!

Leapfrog, hopscotch, jump rope—these are some of the classic childhood games my kids and I enjoy together! The games only require a few supplies (or no supplies at all) for fun and active play and can be modified for both indoor and outdoor use. For example, use painter’s tape (instead of chalk) to make an indoor hopscotch game.

Leapfrog, hopscotch, and jump rope all provide great opportunities for kids to improve balance and coordination while having fun. As kids go through childhood growth spurts, their center of gravity shifts, so it’s important to play these types of games often! Their little bodies need the physical feedback this type of play provides to stay confident in their abilities.

Playing classic games is also a great way to connect and reminisce with your kids about your own childhood. (“I used to play hopscotch like this when I was a kid!”) Recalling a story from your past provides a great framework for teaching retelling skills, an important literacy skill in early childhood education.

Idea 5: Take aim with Lakeshore’s Indoor/Outdoor Kids’ Croquet.

Croquet is a classic game that I enjoyed playing as a kid, so I couldn’t wait to share it with my boys!

This set is unique because it can be played both indoors and outdoors. We played on grass and carpet—and had fun both ways!

Playing croquet develops eye/hand coordination, promotes good sportsmanship, improves muscle control and much more! It has been one of our favorite games to play this spring.

Here are some other ways to enjoy croquet with friends:

  • Take a field trip to a senior home and invite the residents to play a game of croquet with the kids.
  • Hold a neighborhood croquet tournament. If there are more than four players, create teams of two for more fun!

Idea 6: Go for a good old-fashioned run.

When it comes to active play, running is about as classic as it gets. Whether they’re running down grassy hills or racing against one another, kids always enjoy a good run! If you want to mix things up a little bit, here are some fun variations to include in your kids’ run game:

  • Use a stopwatch to time their runs. Encourage them to beat their last times!
  • Challenge them to change direction mid-run by calling out “left” and “right” at random intervals.
  • Have them run while holding streamers behind them. (This is fun to do on a breezy day!)

There are countless ways to include running in your kids’ playtime activities! It is one of the most basic gross motor skills kids develop throughout childhood, and helping kids enjoy it offers long-term benefits.

There are so many ways to play and stay active this spring. These great games can all be taken outdoors for fun in the sun…or brought inside on rainy days. Enjoy!

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.

amazing-chef-set

  • 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!

picnic-playset

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.
stretch-and-connect-builders
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.

young-scientist-chemistry-lab

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!

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

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!

susie