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!

5 First Learning Activities for Toddlers

Guest Blog by Susie | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Busy Toddler

Do you ever wonder what to teach toddlers? How do you get them ready to learn about the world?

Don’t worry—learning activities for toddlers don’t have to be complex or “fancy.” Play is the best way to help toddlers learn. I keep activities light and simple by focusing on five basic areas: sensory play, sorting, artistic expression, gross motor development and fine motor control.

There’s nothing better than a quick, easy toddler activity, especially one that is full of learning!

Sensory Play

Sensory play is incredibly important for toddlers because it lets them learn while they explore and engage with the world!

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I put together my favorite sensory activity using a bag of rice and a few scooping tools, such as Lakeshore’s Stack & Nest Sensory Toys. The setup is simple, but it will help toddlers build problem-solving skills and learn about capacity, cause and effect, and spatial awareness. Yes, little ones can get all that from a bin filled with rice!

Here’s my own toddler building fine motor skills as she pours and plays!

Sensory bins make a perfect early learning activity for toddlers!

Sorting

Sorting activities are worth their weight in gold! Sorting is a complex skill—one that toddlers will use throughout their lives.

Sorting is powerful! When toddlers sort, they analyze data, make decisions and organize objects by attribute.

A “toy sort” is one of my favorite activities! I like to use a variety of shapes and colors, so Lakeshore’s complete set of Classic Hardwood Learning Toys is perfect! To set up, I removed the pieces from the boards and placed them onto a cookie sheet to keep the pieces contained.

Then I challenged the toddlers to sort the pieces and place them back on the boards. Finding the right place for all the different shapes and colors takes focus and concentration, so this is a perfect learning activity!

Artistic Expression

Open-ended art activities are an important and valuable part of childhood—and that includes toddlers. That’s why I like to think beyond sitting and coloring when I prepare an art activity.

To shake up art time, hang paper right on a wall. This helps toddlers build up their arm muscles and gets them moving as they create. What an easy way to make art time even more valuable!

Gross Motor Development

Gross motor skills are used for big movements, including running, jumping and climbing. There are tons of fast, easy and exciting ways to help kids boost gross motor skills. You could have a dance party or set up an obstacle course outside.

To prepare a quick gross motor activity, I love to cover our family room with pillows and have my kiddos run around. This activity promotes balance, problem solving and spatial awareness.

Fine Motor Control

Fine motor skills are used for small movements—usually those involving hands and fingers. As toddlers grow, their fine motor skills naturally improve, but it’s important for toddlers to actively practice these skills since they’ll need them for writing and other tasks throughout their lives.

I love to promote hand and grip strength with transferring activities. Using a pair of tongs, my daughter moved the soft-sewn pieces from Lakeshore’s Learning Letters Washable Activity Book into an adjacent muffin tin.

As my daughter transferred the pieces, I talked to her about the letters on the pockets of the book. I love incorporating additional skills, such as alphabet knowledge, into a simple activity!

Remember—learning activities for toddlers don’t have to be extravagant. Play is the most important ingredient in any toddler learning activity!

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

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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).

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!