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!