The Simplest Way to Teach Gratitude This Holiday Season

by Jessica Peters | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist

Thank you—a great message during the holiday season, but an amazing message for every day.

Being grateful and able to express gratitude to those in your life who make you happy, love you, help you and take care of you starts as early as the toddler years. Showing gratitude can be done in many ways—verbally, with gestures such as a hug but also with written notes.

Kids are going to get gifts over the holidays. What better way to teach the concept of gratitude (and practice handwriting!) than to have them write thank-you notes?

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Realizing when someone has done something nice for you and showing appreciation can be taught in classrooms and in the home. Adults can and should model as well as encourage various ways to show gratitude.

As kids get older and enter preschool classrooms, they can start to say thank you in notes and cards. Learning to say thank you and show gratitude is a large part of development and helps the growth of social-emotional skills, language skills, cognitive skills, literacy skills and fine motor skills. Saying and hearing thank you increases a child’s connection to others and increases the child’s sense of belonging to a community. Studies have shown that people who are able to express gratitude also have more empathy, tend to be more optimistic and experience less stress. Understanding the feeling of gratitude, being able to label that feeling and knowing what prompted that feeling are all social-emotional skills. When you feel grateful, highlight that feeling for a child and explain why you are grateful. Modeling this feeling is the best way for children to begin to understand and experience gratitude. When you see children doing something nice for each other, highlight those moments by asking the child if she feels grateful. If so, did she let the other child know? The more we practice showing gratitude, the more it becomes second nature.

It’s easy to say thank you to someone who gives you a Christmas gift, but what about someone who does something for you on a regular basis? Even as adults, we often miss opportunities to show when we are grateful. In order to encourage reflection, brainstorm with children to remember all the times in a day when someone does something for us that makes our day a great one (cleaning the classroom, cooking our food, etc.). Talk with children about ways you can let those people know that you are grateful. Could you write a thank-you note? Could you tell the person—or maybe even give him a hug or applause? At the snack or dinner table, have everyone say two things or name two people they are grateful for from their day. Over time you can add to this by saying how the child did—or will—show their gratitude.

Writing thank-you notes is also a wonderful way to develop fine motor writing skills as well as cognitive and literacy skills. In a writing center, have thank-you card templates children can copy. With art materials children can paint a picture to turn into a thank you, or create a thank-you card with art materials, stamps and writing materials. In the toddler and early preschool years, drawing a picture with a message dictated for an adult to write can be a very meaningful thank-you note.

Expressing gratitude offers a sense of joy for the giver—and the recipient. What a great way to build lifelong memories and connections!

7 Quick & Easy Ways to Keep Kids Learning All Winter Long

by Dalaney Sotolongo | Lakeshore Senior Product Developer 

Winter brings lots of opportunities to learn and explore the outdoors, but frigid temperatures often mean that kids are stuck inside—sometimes for days on end! To keep boredom at bay, check out these terrific winter activities that help kids to make the most of their time indoors—while also exercising creativity, encouraging scientific discoveries and more!

Upcycle Holiday Wrapping Paper Rolls

Save the rolls from holiday gift wrap and use them to create fun characters! Provide your child with basic art supplies like construction paper, markers, glue, collage materials and scissors to create winter-themed characters like a snowman and penguin…or their favorite storybook characters. Display the finished characters as wintertime decor—or use them to act out a scene from a story!

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Discover Gingerbread Geometry

Help your child build a gingerbread house using graham crackers and icing! For young children, precut the crackers into various shapes, including squares, rectangles and triangles. Invite your child to identify the shapes as you stick them together. Challenge older children to figure out the surface area of the house by calculating the area of each cracker and adding them together! (Hint: To find the area of a triangle, multiply the base and height and divide by two. To find the area of a square or rectangle, multiply the length and width.) As you build, encourage your child to choose where to place each graham cracker piece to develop problem-solving skills. When you’re done, work together to make a simple graph to show how many of each shape you used.

Enjoy a Marshmallow STEM Challenge!

After sipping some hot cocoa, rally the family to build constructions with marshmallows and toothpicks! For added fun, provide challenges for the whole family to try. Who can build the tallest skyscraper using the same number of pieces? Who can include the most shapes? Whose structure can withstand being blown by a fan? STEM activities like these draw upon children’s natural curiosity, stimulate their creativity and encourage problem solving in a super-exciting way.

Try a Cinnamon & Sugar Word Search

Fill a bowl with sugar and cinnamon to create a sweet and spicy mixture. Write winter-themed words on pieces of construction paper, using simple words like “hat” and “yam” for younger children and multisyllable words like “snowman” and “cinnamon” for older kids. Hide the words in the wintry mixture and invite your child to find and read each one. The multisensory experience of sight, touch and smell actually helps your child make connections that support the learning process! To boost even more skills, have your child trace the letters in each word; this strengthens fine motor control and provides printing practice, too.

Capture Holiday Memories

Gather up photos, drawings, cards and other mementos from family festivities. Provide your child with a blank scrapbook or make your own using thick construction paper. Invite your child to arrange the mementos in the order they happened and then write captions for each one. In addition to preserving cherished memories for years to come, children develop sequencing and writing skills—and exercise their creativity!

Create a Winter Sensory Bin!

Grab a variety of textured objects, put them in a tub—and you’ve got a sensory bin! Sensory bins allow kids to explore their sense of touch, which is a key component of cognitive growth. Infants and children use their senses to process information and understand the world, but people of all ages can benefit from sensory stimulation. Engaging the senses actually boosts brain activity, making it easier to learn and remember information. For this activity, gather a variety of winter-themed tactile materials such as Speedy Snow or white rice, natural objects like twigs and pinecones, plus animal figurines and play vehicles. Arrange them in a shallow bin to create a winter scene—and let your child explore! In addition to free play, you can also encourage your child to act out a scene, describe textures and compare objects—boosting language development, social-emotional skills, fine motor control and more!

Construct a Cozy Fort

Building a blanket fort is not only fun, but it also promotes creative problem solving! Encourage your child to sketch a plan for a fort and then try to build it. There’s a good chance the fort won’t be perfect at first, which encourages kids to troubleshoot and revise their design—just like real engineers! If your child runs into problems, avoid offering direct solutions. Instead, ask leading questions that inspire critical thinking and perseverance. For example, “I noticed the sides keep falling down. How could you make the fort stronger? Is there another material that might work better?” The completed fort will make the perfect setting for imaginative play, and the small, enclosed space can also have a calming, regulatory effect on some children. Want to double the learning fun? Put some books inside for a private reading corner!

Finally, here’s one more bonus tip: Be sure to get in on the fun! Your time is the most important gift you can give your child, so set aside a short block of time each day to enjoy these activities together. You’re guaranteed to have just as much fun as your child!

7 Tips for Entertaining Kids During Holiday Gatherings

Guest Blog by Nadia | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Fun with Mama

With the festive holiday season quickly approaching, you may be wondering how you can entertain the little ones while still giving yourself some ample and much needed adult time. Here are some fun suggestions on how to keep the kids entertained during holiday gatherings—whether you’re hosting at home or celebrating somewhere else. An added perk is that many of these activities encourage learning, creative play and opportunities for children to socialize even more during these events!

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1. Bring your own toys.

Bringing a few of your children’s toys from home is a great way to help them feel a bit more comfortable—especially if your gathering is someplace they haven’t been to before. Choose toys that are easy to transport, don’t make a mess and can be used without a lot of setup. A favorite of ours is the Dot & Learn Activity Pack, filled with fun and educational activity pages that combine art and learning. From counting and number recognition to the alphabet and rhyming, there are so many activities that my daughter enjoys!

2. Create a sensory bin.

You could theme the bin according to the holiday or according to your child’s interests. All the kids at the event would naturally be drawn to the bin, and it would be a wonderful social boost for your child too.

Here I created a winter-themed sensory bin using Lakeshore’s Speedy SnowWashable Sensory Beads, the Classic Forest Animal Collection and the Little Hands Fine Motor Tools. I also added a funnel and some paintbrushes to encourage more creative play. It is always a good idea to add in cups, spoons and other tools. We love that the Little Hands Fine Motor Tools set includes tools that work on a child’s fine motor skills at the same time.

3. Set up a craft station at the gathering.

We love these Pop & Wear Letter Beads to give to friends and family. They are easy enough for younger kids to use and they don’t have to worry about holding a string to string the beads onto. It’s super-convenient that there’s no string needed. You just pop the beads together! Children can make gifts for their friends or family using the kit.

 

4. Bake together in preparation for the gathering.

While this may not be something you do during the event, baking in preparation will get kids excited about the upcoming gathering, and they will be so happy when family and friends eat their special creations.

We used The Amazing Chef Cooking Set, which provided all the tools we needed (minus the ingredients) to create a special cake. It’s a great way for kids to practice important skills, like measuring ingredients, cracking eggs,  peeling and slicing, and more!

5. Create a cookie-decorating station at the party.

We baked cakes before the party using the Sweet Treats! Letter Molds, and then I bought some icing for the kids to decorate the treats with. I love how simple this was to prepare and that the icing packaging kept it from being messy.

You could extend this activity by having the children spell out holiday-themed words.

6. Have a parent-and-child dance-off.

My kids and I love having dance parties. This makes for the most wonderful giggles and family memories. Put on your child’s favorite music. Add in some funky costumes and hairstyles. Then dance! You could also play freeze dance, a wonderful way to help develop a child’s auditory processing skills, build teamwork and have fun!

7. Create an activity idea jar.

Task each adult attending the event to come up with one activity idea for the kids. Write down the ideas, put them in a jar and have each child draw an activity from the jar.

I hope these activities inspire some love of learning at your next gathering. Happy holidays!

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

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

market

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

boat

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

the allowance game

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?)

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

IMG_4245

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?

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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!

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!