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!

Read More →

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!

Four Ways to Implement Cross-Curricular Instruction

by Jenna Sekerak | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist 

The climate of education is changing. Facing demands from rigorous state standards and high-stakes testing, teachers nationwide are racing to cover more subjects and skills than ever to help students succeed in school and in life. Today’s students are expected to master good old-fashioned reading, writing and arithmetic while also developing 21st-century skills in critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving.

How can teachers hope to cover all these standards, subjects and skills, you ask? Through cross-curricular instruction!

Read More →

According to a long-standing definition from Heidi Jacobs, cross-curricular instruction is “a conscious effort to apply knowledge, principles and/or values to more than one academic discipline simultaneously. The disciplines may be related through a central theme, issue, problem, process, topic or experience.”

The demand for cross-curricular instruction signals the end of subject compartmentalization (for example, spending 15 minutes on history and then 30 minutes on math) and calls for lessons that let students think critically across multiple disciplines. After all, to meet 21st-century demands, we must plan 21st-century lessons!

But don’t worry—it’s not as hard as it sounds! Here are four ways you can easily use cross-curricular instruction in your classroom—and get students building important 21st-century skills!

1: Start with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)!

Get started with cross-curricular instruction by encouraging students to use skills in four different subjects—science, technology, engineering and math—to solve problems and develop critical thinking with Lakeshore’s Real-World STEM Challenge Kits. In addition to covering multiple disciplines, the kits take the tedious planning and preparation out of whole-class cross-curricular instruction. Teachers don’t even need to decide where to start or figure out what materials to gather—each kit comes packed with everything students need to complete the challenges. Plus, detailed lesson plans make it easy to focus students’ learning and explain the STEM concepts behind each challenge.

Real-World STEM Challenge Kit – K–Gr. 1

As an added bonus, each kit includes careers cards that help kids connect what they learned during the challenges to the real world. The cards might even inspire kids to consider studying STEM disciplines as they move through school and life! This is important because the U.S. Department of Commerce expects STEM occupations to grow at a higher rate than other positions in the future.

2: Graduate to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math).

Integrate even more focus areas—including art, STEM, literacy, creative expression and social-emotional development—into your cross-curricular instruction with a comprehensive STEAM kit from Lakeshore. Our Fairy Tales STEAM Kit combines classic stories with hands-on STEM and literacy activities that students are sure to love! Students read the stories, animate the puppets, answer questions and complete each STEM challenge—building language, creativity and even engineering skills as they go.

Fairy Tales STEAM Kit

3: Try project-based learning.

Project-based learning is another great way to get students using skills from multiple subject areas. I love this type of learning because it provides hands-on, relevant learning that doesn’t feel like just another assignment—and it benefits students at all levels. According to research from the Buck Institute for Education, project-based learning helps students boost important critical-thinking skills, including synthesizing and evaluating information.

Lakeshore’s ready-to-use Whole-Class Project-Based Learning Kits allow the entire class to dive right into meaningful, real-world projects. Teachers simply introduce a topic to the class by posing a question about a real-world problem. Then students conduct research and apply what they learn to create a project, such as a digital slide presentation or a newsletter. And a one-of-a-kind project isn’t all students have to show for their work! As they complete projects, students develop skills in researching, reading informational text, writing using evidence and working with peers!

Whole-Class Project-Based Learning Kit – Gr. 1

4: Combine STEM and project-based learning.

Once you’ve implemented a few separate STEM and project-based learning lessons, why not try combining the two? It’s easy with our Global Challenges Project-Based STEM Kits! The kits help students develop skills in many content areas—college and career readiness, digital literacy, technology, science and engineering practices. That may seem like a lot to absorb, but a project-based approach could actually make information easier to understand and remember—studies have shown that project-based learning boosts students’ performance on content knowledge assessments.

Each kit includes an attention-grabbing card that introduces a modern-day problem. Students have to use STEM and research skills to create a meaningful project designed to solve the problem. As students work through each kit, they’ll build and test a model home that runs on solar power, create a working solar still to desalinate water and build a working oil containment boom.

Global Challenges Project-Based STEM Kits

We hope these ideas take some of the stress out of implementing cross-curricular instruction this year—and we know your students will love these engaging new ways to learn!

References:

  1. “Cross-Curricular Connections in Instruction: Four Ways to Integrate Lessons,” by Melissa Kelly, last modified March 31, 2017, https://www.thoughtco.com/cross-curricular-connections-7791
  2. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, “STEM: Good Jobs Now and for the Future,” by David Langdon, George McKittrick, David Beede, Beethika Khan, and Mark Doms, Issue Brief #03-11, Economics and Statistics Administration (Washington, D.C., 2011), http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/stemfinalyjuly14_1.pdf
  3. “Summary of Research on Project-Based Learning,” University of Indianapolis: Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (2009). Accessed July 2017, https://www.bie.org/object/document/summary_of_research_on_pbl

Product Spotlight: Design & Play STEAM Kits

by Kirk Iwasaki | Lakeshore Senior Product Designer

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. It’s where STEM concepts, like critical thinking and engineering, meet the creativity of art. Our Design & Play STEAM Kits help kids integrate artistic flair and STEM knowledge to create vehicles with the perfect balance of good looks and functionality.

Read More →

How do kids use the Design & Play STEAM Kits?

Kids use the kits to design and create real-working cars, boats and planes.

They grab their own arts and crafts materials to decorate and add custom details to the precut pieces. Once they’ve built their vehicles, they can add finishing touches.

Next, they test their creations. They might discover that improperly aligned wheels make a car wobble or that acrylic gemstones make a plane too heavy to soar. Kids fine-tune and test their vehicles until they discover an ideal combination of engineering and design.

What will children learn?

Since these kits are open-ended, they cover a variety of concepts. For example, children could learn about:

  • Problem solving—as they troubleshoot through the design process to build their vehicles
  • Cause and effect—as they test and adjust their vehicles
  • Natural forces, such as gravity, motion and buoyancy—as they create flying planes, racing cars and floating boats
  • Communication—as they design with partners

Kids will also learn how to use creativity and perseverance (a key 21st-century skill) to create something unique. That’s what kids love most—creating a one-of-a-kind vehicle that looks and works just the way they like!

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.

Read More →

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.

Spark Young Imaginations with Space-Themed Activities

by Toisha Burns | Lakeshore Marketing

A fresh new year calls for new adventures! And to help guide you toward them, Lakeshore offers FREE teacher workshops at our stores nationwide. Our Shoot for the Stars! Workshop is a great place to start. From creating a mission control center to forming letters in “moon sand” and more, you’ll discover fun ways to help kids explore new horizons―even when chilly weather has trapped them indoors. It will be a blast! Here’s a sneak peek…

Read More →

Activity 1: Mission Control to Lakeshore

Transform your dramatic play area into NASA headquarters! Share with children pictures from space missions, space shuttles, Mission Control, the moon landing, etc. Once you’ve looked over and discussed what the children saw in the photos, decide what you want to include in your own “Mission Control.” Provide children with art materials in order to create different parts of “NASA” in the dramatic play area. You may want to provide them with some basic pieces they can build upon (e.g., the outline of a space rocket, the area dedicated for Mission Control, pictures of space, etc.).

Extension:
Create a Mission Control panel and headset. For the panel, use a presentation board (the board in the photograph uses only half a board), assorted arts and crafts materials and a variety of reusable materials, such as empty tissue boxes, different bottle and jar tops, etc. For the headset, use craft cups, Pipe Stems, Pom-Poms and a yarn lace.

If you are able to create a space shuttle, discuss what types of things you need to complete your rocket (e.g., a steering wheel, windows, chairs, control buttons, etc.). Line up chairs “within” the shuttle so children can pretend to take off for the moon.

Activity 2: If I Were an Astronaut

Brainstorm as a class what you all might encounter if you were in space. What might it look like? How might it feel? What might you do while in space?

Provide students with a sheet of picture story paper and ask them to write about or draw something they would do or experience if they were an astronaut in space. They can either try writing the words themselves or you can provide them with a writing prompt like, “If I were an astronaut, __________.” Once everyone is done, have each child share what their experience would be.

Invite the class to pretend to be astronauts. What do astronauts wear? Explain that in order for them to breathe outside of the spaceship, they wear a space suit and helmet. The suit and helmet provide them with the oxygen they need to breathe while in space. Share pictures of present-day space helmets and suits.

Extension:
As a class, create your own astronaut helmets. Assist students in taking a large, brown paper bag and cutting a circle or square on the face of the bag. Then provide the class with arts and crafts materials to finish decorating the helmet. Encourage students to add “dials,” NASA markings, “tubes,” etc. Have children bring their helmets to the dramatic play area.

Activity 3: To the Moon and Back

This next activity creates a hands-on, sensory experience that encourages letter recognition and helps develop early writing skills.

Create “moon dust” by taking regular sand and mixing in a little black liquid watercolor or black food coloring. Once it dries, add a thin layer of it to a tray. The tray should be shallow enough for children to easily reach inside. Clip an alphabet card to the tray or set the card next to it so children can easily reference it as they practice writing in the moon dust.

Extensions:
1. Create a sensory area with a space-themed twist. Add stars, figures, and flags to the sensory tub. Children can act out a scene using the astronaut figures. Encourage them to create craters or set up a colony on this new, strange “planet.” Provide a shoe with a rugged sole to make imprints on the surface of the “planet.”

2. Give each child a sheet of aluminum foil. Have them crumple their pieces of foil into different-sized “moon rocks.” Set out a bucket and have the children practice tossing the “moon rocks” into the bucket from different distances.

Take a look at the other upcoming workshops we offer—all jam-packed with ideas for exciting educational activities like these!

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

Read More →
  • 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!

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.

Read More →

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!

7 STEM Activities You Can Do at Home & Beyond!

by Eric Chyo | Lakeshore Product Development Manager

stem-image

What would you guess is the most important ingredient for valuable STEM learning? It’s not fancy lab equipment, complicated engineering books or the latest high-tech gadgets. Every kind of STEM learning out there actually hedges on one much simpler concept: curiosity.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, but beyond that intimidating acronym, STEM simply represents a hands-on approach to exploring the world, examining how it works and solving real-life problems. So if you have curious kids, they can practice STEM!

Research shows early STEM learning benefits kids across multiple subjects.1 So while you’ll undoubtedly see more STEM activities popping up in the classroom, don’t let the learning stop there. Get in on the fun and support STEM learning at home with these simple activities (for ages 5 & up) that turn your kiddos into the super-solvers of the future!

Read More →

1. Join the maker movement

Celebrate the ultimate creative activity: making stuff. Your kids don’t need expensive equipment or special instruction manuals to start making—just their own creative minds, a few easy-to-find materials and some encouragement. Here are a couple of ways to get your kids making:

  • Turn a regular craft table into a maker space by piling it with any materials you have on hand—like straws, rubber bands, craft sticks, cardboard, toilet paper rolls, plastic foam, tape, glue…and other odds and ends. Ask your kids to build! If they need a little boost, pull up some ideas online and help them build their first creation.
  • Start collecting large cardboard boxes and encourage your kids to find new ways to use them. Kids can make anything imaginable from recycled cardboard—castles, houses, cars, vending machines, robots and rocket ships…the sky’s the limit!

robot-final1

Having “ready-to-go” materials around helps kids create the moment inspiration hits. Plus, it gives them firsthand experience with the design process!

2. Turn wonder into discovery

Every little question your curious kids ask—and we know they ask a lot—presents a prime opportunity for STEM learning. Whether they ask how the toilet flushes or how the refrigerator light turns off, you can answer tons of questions in our digital age. Simply head online together and investigate the answer.

When you see your kids playing with their favorite toys or eating their favorite treats, ask them to guess how those items were made. After they come up with a solid guess, research How It’s Made videos on YouTube that give kids an up-close look at the manufacturing process of their favorite products. Not only will this help foster a healthy sense of wonder, it will also help kids build up their “bank of knowledge.”

3. Tinker with everyday tools

A child’s daily routine includes tools, gadgets and inventions that all resulted from a design process, and therefore, can be improved. Have your kids brainstorm how they might design even better versions of things they use every day. They might make scissors more comfortable to hold, design a toothbrush for fun brushing or even improve a spoon handle to minimize dribbling.

Ask your kids to sketch their new and improved tool and explain what they’ll change and why it’s an improvement. They can even create a working prototype! For example, kids can work with clay or play dough and old spoons to create a spoon handle for a steadier grip.

image1

Then have them test out their new design…and watch them get a huge kick out of using something THEY invented. As they design and test, they’ll feel just like real engineers—with the power to improve things and invent from scratch!

4. Take advantage of community workshops & events

Your local hardware stores and craft stores probably provide workshops for awesome make and take projects just for kids. As kids delve into these exciting workshops, they’ll handle tools and materials they don’t have at home, and the more tools kids can use, the more opportunities they have to invent, improve and innovate.

You can even check out local events, camps and science fairs that offer STEM activities…so your kids can get even more hands-on experience with exciting new tools and materials.

5. Meet the inventors of the past…at your local library

Have your kids imagine a world without electricity, medicine or even chocolate chip cookies! Tell them people from the past invented many things we enjoy today. What did those people all have in common? They asked questions, examined possibilities and innovated solutions to improve their world.

Ask your kids what invention they want to learn about—from bicycles to computers and even candy bars! Head to the library and help them find books to answer a few simple questions about their invention:

  • Who invented it?
  • What inspired the inventor’s idea?
  • What materials did the inventor use to create something completely new?

After learning about real-life inventors, kids will be inspired to see if they can be inventors too!

6. Learn up-close at a museum

Nothing brings learning to life quite like your local museum. If your kids love dinosaurs, they’ve probably enjoyed books and movies on the topic, but a museum can awe them with real dinosaur bones! Plus, kids can discover exciting STEM career paths they never knew existed—like becoming a paleontologist!

final-dig-1

7. Observe workers in action

The next time something around the house tragically stops working, turn the disaster into a learning experience! When your plumber, electrician or mechanic arrives, ask if you and your child can observe their work. As you watch, encourage your child to ask questions about their tools and the problems they discover as they work.

Kids can learn so much from watching a worker’s process of tinkering to detect and correct a problem. As kids observe and question, repairing a toilet turns into an educational experience! Plus, since your handyperson will stick around until they solve the problem, kids also learn the importance of persevering to solve problems—an essential STEM skill!


1. National Research Council, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas,” The National Academies Press (2012): 2-4

Summer Fun: 6 Ways to Learn Through Play

by Patti Clark | Lakeshore VP of Research & Development

522824_SummerHub_titleBanner-(1)

Nothing sparks the imagination quite like summer. As kids leave behind the school year’s routines, they become more curious than ever—feeling like explorers embarking on grand adventures!

However, research suggests that all too often kids actually “slide” backward over the summer, losing two to three months in their academic skills. Fortunately, this phenomenon known as “summer slide” can easily be avoided. You can help your little explorer sail into summer with simple activities that keep their days full of fun―and engage their minds at the same time! By doing so, you’ll make great memories and help your child succeed as they enter their next school year.

Read More →

1. Unleash your child’s creativity with an Inventor’s Box

What incredible inventions live in your child’s imagination? Find out with an Inventor’s Box! Don’t worry—it’s easier than it sounds! Just write “My Summer of Inventions” on a large poster board and load a box with building blocks or bricks and raw materials like discarded packaging, straws and cardboard boxes. Ask your child to create any building, vehicle or contraption that springs to mind!

inventor-2

When they’re finished inventing, invite them to “show & tell.” Ask questions about the invention. How does it work? Does the contraption have a name? What inspired such a cool idea? Snap a picture of the creation, glue it to the poster board and label it by name. Keep inventing all summer to help kids build an impressive roster of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills and make memories of the summer they invented a hamster-sized roller coaster.

2. Skip, hop & jump to boost math & reading skills

If you have a sidewalk and some chalk, you have hours of learning fun! Get started by drawing a 5′ x 5′ grid on the sidewalk and write a letter in each square—common letters like A, E, T, S and I work best! Call out simple words and ask kids to hop on the letters that spell each word. Who can get the longest word correct? Offer a small prize for the winner! Now, erase the letters and replace with numbers to make an exciting math maze! Invite kids to count from 1 to 20 or skip-count by 2s, 5s, 10s or 100s. Then draw an out-of-order number sequence grid on the sidewalk. Ask kids to hop and skip over the squares to count in the correct order. For older children, pick a number and have them jump on the two numbers that equal your number when multiplied! They’ll get great exercise and build key math skills!

chalk_redo

3. Act it out!

The ability to retell stories and summarize nonfiction texts sets kids up for lifelong reading success…and they don’t need to touch a pencil or paper to practice! This summer, ask your child to act out the story told in each book they complete. Kids can make costumes, props and even cast family, friends and pets in the production. For nonfiction books, kids can put on a newscast to report the important facts they learned!

4. Go on a reading treasure hunt…outside!

Want to get your kids moving and boost word recognition and reading skills at the same time? Grab some paper or index cards and write down words associated with a movie or theme that gets your kids super-excited. If they absolutely love Star Wars, write down battle, Jedi, force, lightsaber and so on. Make a list of the chosen words and hide the cards around your yard or at a local park. Then call out the words and let the scavenger hunt begin! If you have more than one player, see who can find the words first! Play the game with as many themes and movies as you want—hiding the cards somewhere new each time!

5. Turn an ordinary nature walk into an educational expedition

A simple measuring tape turns an everyday walk into an exciting mission of discovery! Ask your kids to keep an eye out for the longest leaf in the park or your neighborhood. When they’ve found it, hand them the measuring tape and ask them to figure out the leaf’s length. Keep playing with tons of different objects. Challenge kids to find the largest rock…and the tree with the largest circumference!

leaf2 (2)

6. Make lifelong friends and practice writing with a pen pal

Summer is prime time for kids to broaden their horizons, and that includes making new friends! Help your child meet kids outside of school with a pen pal program. Head online, search “pen pals for kids” and register your child for their very own pen pal. Your child will build a lasting friendship and boost writing skills!

Patti Clark is Vice President of Product Development at Lakeshore Learning Materials, one of the country’s premier producers of children’s educational products. A former elementary educator, Patti leads Lakeshore’s efforts to create quality, standards-based materials for early childhood programs, elementary classrooms and homes nationwide.

Inspiring Children with the Wonder of Science

by Emily McGowan | Lakeshore Early Childhood Product Development Manager

Children are natural investigators. Send them outside, and they’ll soon be following a bug across the sidewalk just to see where it’s going. Hand them a magnifying glass, and watch as they zoom in on everything—and everyone—in the room. Children have lots of questions about their world, and they can’t wait to discover the answers!

Shake & Reveal Science Cards
Read More →

By tapping into children’s natural curiosity, parents and teachers can provide focused and meaningful experiences that build fundamental science skills and encourage children to think like scientists. This is important because inquiry-based learning—the ability to ask questions about the world and then go about finding the answers—is becoming more prevalent in today’s society. In response to a need in the modern workforce for critical thinkers and problem solvers, a new focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has emerged in the classroom. So, in order for children to succeed in school and beyond, it is important to get them interested in science at an early age.

When our Research & Development team began brainstorming new ways to captivate young children’s interest in science, we knew it was important for children to experience the thrill of discovery. Kids’ first science experiences should be joyful and magical—which keeps them coming back for more. At the same time, our team wanted to address the core science topics that are included in most early childhood curriculums—introducing fundamental concepts that children will encounter again in the elementary grades.

These ideas led us to create our Shake & Reveal Science Cards. These fascinating cards use the magic of magnetism to introduce concepts—like weather and the parts of a plant—in a super-engaging way.

Each activity card has a question at the top for children to investigate, such as What happens when a volcano erupts? To answer the question, children just slide the card into the included window box, give the box a shake—and presto! Magnetic shavings inside the box stick to the card in just the right way—creating a fun picture that reveals the answer!

Because the product works through the power of magnetism, the cards can be used again and again. Kids just pull the cards out to “erase” the picture and try a brand-new one. Plus, the magnetic filings are fully contained inside the box—for safe, mess-free exploration.

While children will be delighted to reveal one picture after another, the activity can also provide a springboard for additional learning:

  • On the backs of the cards, children will find the answers written in word form to help boost early reading skills and science vocabulary, along with intriguing facts about each topic. In this way, the cards provide a great way to introduce a topic and then launch into a deeper investigation. Adults can ask guided questions to extend learning, such as, What time of year do you usually see snow? Besides snow, what else can fall from the clouds? Can you describe any other types of weather?
  • The window box can also be used alone—without the cards—to explore the concept of magnetism. Glide a small magnet over the box to show how the magnet attracts the shavings inside the box.
  • Encourage children to use the window box and a magnet to explore the power of magnetism on their own. Then challenge children to create an artistic design using the magnet and shavings!

By providing opportunities like these for young children to investigate scientific concepts in an exciting, hands-on way, they will gain an early interest in scientific investigation—and explore foundational science concepts they will build on in the future.