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Posts Tagged ‘Learning through Play’

Choosing Toys for Little Ones

testing-blog-graphics-6By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

When I was a boy in my home state of New Jersey, we often stopped at roadside diners where I would stare gobsmacked at the delights posted on menus that went on for days. “Your eyes,” my dad liked to say, “are much bigger than your stomach.” He was right, of course. I’d order some big special, take only a few bites and leave piles of food behind.  

So it was when I became a parent. This was AFTER I had finished pediatric residency, mind you, so I was supposed to KNOW THINGS about choosing the right toys for my oldest when he was born. Going to the toy store or looking at listings online was like the diner all over again. I was inclined to buy the things that LOOKED great, without really thinking whether they were the best choices. So, when I showed up with a really cool LEGO Star Wars setup for my 18monthold, my wife was very much in the right to give me some sideeye. I reflected that I may have brought home a kit far past his developmental level and, even worse, might have allowed him to swallow up to 148 separate small pieces. Indeed, what was I thinking?  

Let’s learn from my mistake. When choosing a toy for an infant or toddler, it pays to keep a few simple ideas in mind   

  1. Keep it simple.  
  2. Build on what they love.  
  3. Go age appropriate.   

Of note here for this pandemic year, I am not inclined to recommend that folks buy additional tech or screenbased gifts for children, as I think we should be inclined to get our children outside, off the couch and away from screens to the extent that it is safe and possible.  

Keep ISimple.  

If anything, many households suffer from an overabundance of toys and playthings. I recommend gift shoppers avoid buying items for children at any age that might lead to what we might think of as the LEGO problem: toys with too many pieces or toys that are too complicated for the child. Do you really want the parents of the giftee to be stepping barefoot upon an item from a science kit at midnight? Remember, we often muse as adults that children love to play with the boxes of pricey items more than the toys inside them. Let us learn from that example and seek to offer up toys that tend not to have accessories that can be lost, misplaced or swallowed.  

Instead, consider a teething toy for an infant, a simple box with a latch a toddler can sort and dump stuff from or even an oldschool Nerf hoop for a preschooler. Ask yourself how easy it is to use and how much it will add to the clutter factor. This leads us to our next guideline. 

Build on What They Love. 

Think about the ages and stages of the apples of your eye. What enchants them and might keep them delighted over a long period of time?  Babies are easy. It is hard to go wrong. The world is full of things they love to grasp, squeeze and use to make noise. As a parent, I advise wellmeaning uncles and aunties to go light on the battery-operated stuff or noisemakers. They become annoying before they are out of the box. If it is a child you know well, then think about items that would allow the child to pursue a passion, such as sorting and packing activities for toddlers (consider a series of measuring cups or resealable plastic bins) or balls and wheeled carts for any active startingtowalk children. For children approaching their second birthday, think about simple items that will allow them to engage in pretend play. Consider kitchen items, sidewalk chalk and play cars and trucks. Don’t forget an often overlooked item in the 21st century: books. Therein lies a trove of opportunity as these gifts will go on giving long past the holidays as children reread them and share them with their families (or steal moments under the covers with a flashlight). 

Go age appropriate. 

Don’t be seduced by the grandeur or wow factor of a big purchase. I have made these mistakes in my parenting career. Just as you would not buy a twowheeler for a twoyearold (I hope), we should be guided by the recommended ages on the box or packaging of any toy. These recommendations are made with careful consideration for the safety and appropriateness of the ages and stages of each child. Buying a puzzle recommended for children five and up for a threeyearold may lead to frustration or even a child choking on puzzle pieces. Fortunately, that leaves PLENTY of room to run for the toy shoppers out there. I do find that reviews on Amazon and other sites (e.g., ToyInsider.com) can be helpful as you do your diligence about the safety, quality and suitability of many toys. 

In addition, one can do some additional reading, including materials from the wellregarded authorities at the American Academy of Pediatrics (one such example ishttps://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/What-to-Look-for-in-a-Toy.aspx). For further inspiration and insight about what makes a toy both desirable and timeless, make your way to the Toy Hall of Fame and get lost there (https://www.toyhalloffame.org). 

When you have made the right choice, the gift wrapping is off and the new item is there on the living room floor, why don’t you get down on your knees with your sondaughterniecenephew or best buddy and share the fun?  

 

Our Top 10 Toys for Children, Just in Time for the Holidays

town

By Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

This is the time of year when children are compiling or chatting about their wish lists. It is also the time when grandparents and other friends and family members need ideas for gifts.  The Goddard School has conducted an annual toy test for ten years. We thought we would put our top ten in a new list for you and your loved ones.

The top ten toys are for children in the early years, from infants to kindergarteners. These interactive, engaging toys will keep children’s attention. Your children may still play with the boxes they come in, which is great for creativity and innovation, but the toys will stand the test of time.

  1. Count Your Chickens from Peaceable Kingdom

Count Your Chickens from Peaceable Kingdom

Board games are perfect for social-emotional development. Children learn to take turns, cooperate with others and communicate. This colorful and easy game also supports the development of counting and problem-solving skills. Plus, it is a great deal of fun!

  1. Giant Roller Ramps from Lakeshore

Giant Roller Ramps from Lakeshore

We love toys that help our littlest engineers build and create in a big way. The ramp materials can be used in many different configurations so your children can stay busy designing their own ramp courses. After constructing the ramps, use a ball to test them out.

  1. Lite-Brite from Hasbro

Lite-Brite from Hasbro

This creativity tool is now a classic. Children use colorful pegs to design an image and then scream with delight when they switch the lights on. Children really enjoy making funny faces or silly expressions on the design pad. It is also great for collaborative play because you and your children can create something together.

  1. Baby Animal Sounds Pals from Learning Curve

Baby Animal Sounds Pals from Learning Curve

These lovable and huggable stuffed animals make wonderful sounds to engage our youngest learners. Animal sounds are some of the first sounds babies make. This is true across all cultures. These toys are also great to help calm babies at fussier times.

  1. On the Farm from HABA

On the Farm from HABA

Children love both the threading and stacking games. These are perfect for developing fine motor skills and understanding spatial relations. Children can work together to complete the tasks. We found that children make the animal sounds during play and build vocabulary while naming the animals.

  1. Take-Along Town from Melissa & Doug

town

The folks at Melissa & Doug really know children. The Take-Along Town is a terrific toy that goes indoors or outdoors for lots of imaginative play. This type of free play supports children’s application of skills and what they see in the world around them.

  1. Gymini from Tiny Love

Gymini from Tiny Love

These are our favorite baby gyms. The toys and gadgets in each gym keep babies in exploration mode. Older infants will can crawl in and out of the gym as they play with the hanging objects, which can be taken off the gym for more play as children get older. The guide is wonderful for giving new parents lots of ideas on using the gyms with their babies.

  1. John Deere Gearation Board from TOMY

John Deere Gearation Board from TOMY

Children love to tinker and explore how things work. Families voted the Gearation Board as one of the best toys to support these explorations. The gears can be moved with the on/off switch. Children create patterns while they develop fine motor and creative thinking skills.

  1. Railroad Pals Building Set from K’Nex

Railroad Pals Building Set from K’Nex

Did we say that children love building and construction play? Well, they do, and this is another interactive set that will keep children’s natural curiosity and creativity going for hours. Spend some time playing with these materials with your children, and you will get hooked as well.

  1. Star Diner Play Set from Melissa & Doug

Star Diner Play Set from Melissa & Doug

We love dramatic play toys, and this set is from our friends at Melissa & Doug.  Children use dramatic play to develop social-emotional skills and to apply what they have learned. Dramatic play is also important for language development as children learn to express themselves. Starting up their own diner allows your budding entrepreneurs to create their own restaurant.

 

 

Thanksgiving Crafts

There is so much to be thankful for this time of year, and what better way to explore the concept of thankfulness with your child than through activities you can do together? These Thanksgiving-themed crafts are the perfect place to start.   

Turkey Tracks 

Where did the Thanksgiving turkey go? Follow the tracks to see! Your child will enjoy this activity while learning spatial relationships, developing fine motor skills and getting creative. 

Materials 

  • Pipe cleaners; 
  • Paint in assorted fall colors; 
  • Paper plate; 
  • Paper. 

Directions 

  1. Help your child bend a pipe cleaner in half to make the turkey’s legs, and then bend the ends of the pipe cleaner on each side to make the turkey’s feet. Make one set of turkey feet for each color of paint you use. 
  2. Pour each color of paint onto a paper plate to create a palette.  
  3. Have your child dip the pipe cleaners into the paint and make “turkey tracks” on a piece of paper. 

Thanksgiving Place Cards 

Help your child get involved with the Thanksgiving festivities by creating place cards for the dinner table. This activity supports writing, counting and creative skills while connecting to those you love. 

Materials  

  • Cardstock; 
  • Scissors; 
  • Crayons and markers; 
  • Glue; 
  • A variety of craft supplies. 

Directions 

  1. Talk with your child about the family members and friends who will be attending your Thanksgiving dinner.  
  2. Cut the cardstock to twice the desired size of the place cards, and then fold them in half to make tents. Slightly larger place cards will be easier for a little one to decorate! 
  3. Help your child write each person’s name on a place card. 
  4. Let your child get creative and start decorating them any way your child would like. 
  5. When setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner, let your child put out the place cards. 

 Leaf Letters 

From learning to identify letters to spelling simple words, the number of activities you can do with this simple fall craft are endless. You’ll love spending time outdoors with this fun way to help build your child’s knowledge of letters along with developing their fine motor skills. 

Materials 

  • At least 36 leaves; 
  • A black permanent marker. 

Directions 

  1. Go on a nature walk with your child and collect leaves. You will need at least one leaf for each letter of the alphabet and some extras.  
  2. Write each letter of the alphabet on a separate leaf. 
  3. Have your child identify the letters, put them in order, trace the letter shapes with a finger and spell out different words. If your child can recognize uppercase and lowercase letters, make a set of each, and have your child match the uppercase letters with the lowercase ones. The possibilities for language and literacy lessons are endless!  

 Fall Mosaic Wreath 

Your child can help you decorate for the season with this fun craft. Besides the fact that children simply love to tear up paperthis is a great way for them to get their creative juices flowing while strengthening their fine motor and pre-writing skills.  

Materials  

  • Construction paper in fall colors; 
  • A paper plate; 
  • A glue stick; 
  • Scissors; 
  • String or yarn to hang the wreath. 

Directions 

  1. Cut out the inside of the paper plate so that the outer ring is left.  
  2. Have your child tear up pieces of construction paper. 
  3. Help your child glue the pieces of construction paper around the paper plate, and talk about the difference between a mosaic, where the pieces of paper don’t touch one another, and a collage, where they can overlap.  
  4. Once the glue is dry, tie the yarn or string around it to hang it up 

 

Autumnal Luminaria 

These festive lights are perfect for cozy fall nights, and they are a great way to bring nature indoors. Your child will build fine motor skills while following a sequence of steps to create a special candle. 

Materials  

  • Leaves; 
  • Clear glass jars; 
  • Mod Podge; 
  • A foam paintbrush; 
  • Battery-operated votive candles. 

Directions 

  1. Have your child paint one side of the leaves with Mod Podge and place them against the insides of the jars.  
  2. Allow the leaves to dry, and then help your child paint another thin coat of Mod Podge on top of the leaves to help seal them to the jar.  
  3. Once the Mod Podge dries, place a battery-operated votive candle inside the jar and enjoy!
     

Pine Cone Turkeys 

This fun fall craft is a great way to get little ones involved in setting the holiday table and sharing their thankfulness.  Along the way, you’ll help your child build processing skills through sensory learning while supporting their development of self-awareness 

Materials  

  • Large, unscented pine cones;  
  • Construction paper;   
  • Washable markers;  
  • Googly eyes;  
  • Child-safe scissors;  
  • Glue.  

Instructions  

  1. Trace your child’s hand on a sheet of construction paper, and cut out the handprint.  
  2. Ask your child to share at least five things he or she is thankful for, and write one thing on each finger.  
  3. Write your child’s name on the palm of the hand.  
  4. Draw a small diamond on an orange or yellow sheet of construction paper, and cut it out.  
  5. Fold the diamond in half to create a beak for the turkey. Repeat as necessary for multiple turkeys.   
  6. Glue googly eyes to the tapered end of the pine cone 
  7. Glue the beak below the googly eyes.  
  8. Insert the handprint between the back scales of the pine cone so that it stands up. If it won’t stay upright, glue the hand to the bottom of the pine cone 
  9. Have everyone who is coming to your Thanksgiving dinner create a turkey, or make them ahead of time to use as place cards.

Picture Frame Collage 

This craft is a wonderful way to help your child understand the concept of thankfulness. Before you begin making the frame, talk to your child about someone your child is grateful to know, and explain that the frame will be a gift for that person. Gift giving supports your child’s development of social awareness and relationship skills.

Materials 

  • An unfinished picture frame; 
  • Glue; 
  • Assorted fall-themed materials, such as leaves, acorn caps and  colored paper ; 
  • A picture to include in the frame, such as a photo or a piece of your child’s artwork. 

Directions 

  1. Remove the back of the frame and the glass, and keep them away from your child’s reach.  
  2. Help your child arrange and glue the fall-themed materials around the frame.  
  3. Set the frame aside to dry, and help your child choose a photo or create a drawing to place in the frame.  
  4. When the glue is dry, replace the glass, place the picture inside the frame and replace the back. 

Whether you and your child try all of the crafts on this list or just a few, you’ll both be most thankful for your time together.  

More Than Just Fun and Games: What Children Can Learn from Playing Games

child playing board game with parent

By Helen Hadani, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

After sheltering in place for several months, many families are digging deep into their closets and garages for games that haven’t seen the light of day for months or even years. For families with young children, classic games like Chutes and Ladders, Go Fish and Candyland are fun ways to enjoy family time, but they also promote important social skills, including taking turns and sharing, and academic skills, such as counting, color matching and comparing numbers.  

By definition, games include rules. Remembering those rules requires working memory (the part of our memory that allows us to hold and mentally manipulate information in our minds), and following rules often requires self-control. For example, children have to resist the urge to touch their toes when playing Simon Says unless they hear the magic words “Simon says.” Similarly, in the classic outdoor game Red Light, Green Light, children need to exhibit self-control and only run fast when they hear “green light.” Even just waiting until it is your turn can be hard! 

Simple card games like Go Fish, Old Maid and Crazy Eights involve matching suits or numbers, which promotes early math skills. When children roll dice or use a spinner to determine the number of spaces they should move, they have an opportunity to practice counting. In fact, researchers have found that playing a number-based board game like Chutes and Ladders can improve preschoolers’ numerical knowledge and skills. 

Games are meant to be sources of entertainment and joy (and they bring out the competitive side in some of us), but research shows that some games can also promote cognitive and social skills.  

Don’t worry if your children ask to play their favorite game more times than you want to count – they are learning along the way as they get to that last spot on the board! 

How to Set Up a Child’s Room for Playful Learning

a photo of a preschool child's bedroom

By Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Setting up a child’s room can be so much fun, but it can also be overwhelming. Don’t worry – you likely already have more than you need. Do not stress over how educational each toy is or feel like you need to fill up the room. I recall my nephew as we were setting up his room. He lined up all his trucks on a shelf and announced, “Auntie Lee, just leave the blocks and trucks. You can sell the rest.” He was four.

The two most important things are safety and fun. The learning part will come as your child explores, imagines and plays. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Use colorful bins or tubs and sort toys your child can easily access;
  • Create a reading nook by placing books on a low shelf or bin. Add a soft place to curl up and read;
  • Place a small plastic mirror on the wall at ground level – it’s a wonderful addition for infants and toddlers;
  • Add art and science or math spaces in an area that can be made messy and then easily cleaned up again. For art projects, have a variety of papers, paints, crayons and other materials on hand. For math and science discovery, measuring cups, bowls, rulers, dried foods like pasta and even food scales are wonderful resources for hands-on learning;
  • Think about what toys are safe for your children at their current age levels. Place those within easy reach and let your children dump them out and play away;
  • Create a dramatic arts area where your children can dress up, play pretend and use recycled food items to expand their understanding of the world around them;
  • Add new items and rotate older ones out occasionally. Later, bring some of the older ones back;
  • Blocks, puzzles, board games and stacking toys are always a hit;
  • Introduce new toys one at a time and add items that might give your children a challenge. For example, if they can do a 10-piece puzzle, add a few 15-to-20-piece puzzles into the mix;
  • You don’t have to create a designated space for technology since it should enhance other learning experiences. Instead, take a tablet outside for a photo or video-making session, help your child create an e-book in your reading nook or look up steps to create a robot in your science area;
  • Avoid clutter as it can be overwhelming and inhibits creativity and exploration.

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun as you set up this space, and be sure to keep an eye out for what fun learning experiences your children have there!

Keep Outdoor Play Simple: Let Nature Supply the Learning.

Dad and two small preschool children going on walk outside on a path

Daily walks or time spent outdoors have recently become part of many families daily routines as the benefits of time spent outdoorsincluding lowering stress levels and combating hyperactivity, are being experienced firsthand. As such, many parents and caretakers are looking for guidance on worthwhile outdoor activities for their children that don’t require a lot of planning or supplies. Below are some ideas for simple, quality outdoor activities that you and your children can do together that don’t require supplies or much planning. 

Activity One – Taking a Walk Outside 

Taking a walk may seem too simple to have any real benefits, but it has many. It is a great gross motor and physical activity for the whole family, especially those still perfecting their walking skills. Even for older children, taking a walk on uneven ground such as over roots in a wooded area or through a park with slopes, arched bridges or hills provides excellent opportunities to practice coordination and helps them learn to navigate varying terrains safely 

Activity Two – Counting Natural Items 

Head outside to your backyard, a nearby park or natural space. Have your children pick an item that they can see more than one of, such as trees, flowers, rocks or even wildlife. Have your children count how many of each item that they see. For infants, talk about what you see and count out loud to them. Older children may even want to practice adding or subtracting the numbers that correlate to different natural items. 

Activity Three – Watching Clouds  

Find an outdoor space with a clear view of the sky. Lay in the grass or on a blanket and ask your children what they see in the clouds. Point out anything that you see in the clouds. Does one cloud look like a dog and another like a tree? Ask your children what they know about whatever they see in the clouds to help develop their critical thinking skills, and identify areas of interest that you can explore together 

Activity Four – Taking a Thankful Walk 

Take a walk around your yard or community and point out natural items that you are thankful for to your children, such as I am thankful for the trees because they provide shade for us on hot, sunny daysI am thankful for the grass because it gives us a soft place to sit outside or I am thankful for the sun because it helps all of the plants to grow. Then ask your children to point out what they see around them that they are thankful for, and why. Depending on what your children point out, you can dive deeper into any topics that they show interest in and help them think critically about the natural world around them.  

Even the simplest of outdoor activities can have numerous benefits for both you and your children. Use your time spent outdoors as a chance to relax and enjoy some quality time together while the learning happens naturally 

Rorie Wells M.A., CPSI 

Education Facilities Specialist – Playgrounds 

Independent Moments Three

3

When you need a moment or two and you’d like your child to do something fun, ask your child to try one of these instant playful learning activities.

1. Puzzled

Make your own puzzles with pictures from magazines or mailers. You can cut them up into pieces, mix up the pieces and put the pictures back together. To make the puzzles sturdier, you can glue the pictures to paper before you cut them up. How many pieces will you make?

You’ll need scissors, old magazines or flyers.

Learning Areas – Design, mathematics and fine motor skills

2. How Long Is It? How Wide Is It?

Measure things in the house using unusual units of measurement, such as your feet or arms. How many arms long is the table? How many feet is it to the door from the couch? Make a chart with your new measurements.

You’ll need paper and a pencil for your chart.

Learning Areas – Mathematics, cognitive flexibility and writing skills

3. You Have a Seat at the Table

Make personalized placemats for everyone in the family.

You’ll need paper and crayons. Using paint, markers and colored pencils can be fun, too.

Learning Areas – Print knowledge, vocabulary and creativity

Independent Moments Two

2

When you need a moment or two and you’d like your child to do something fun, ask your child to try one of these instant playful learning activities.

1. Who Is That?

Make a funny character using a paper lunch bag.

You’ll need a paper bag, paper and crayons or markers.

Learning Areas – Creativity, social-emotional development and fine motor skills

2. My Room

Make a colorful nameplate for your bedroom door. You can add dimension with paper cut-outs glued to the nameplate.

You’ll need cardboard, tape and markers. You can also use crayons or colored pencils.

Learning Areas – Writing skills, creativity and fine motor skills

3. What Is That?

Take an upside-down picture or a close-up of a familiar object. What is it? Try this with a single category of objects, such as pieces of furniture or toys. Print the images or share them with your family members and ask them to guess what is in the pictures.

You’ll need a camera or a smartphone.

Learning Skills – Observation, cognitive flexibility, creativity

Independant Moments

1

When you need a moment or two and you’d like your child to do something fun, ask your child to try one of these instant playful learning activities.

1.Fruit Face

Make a face with fruits and vegetables on a paper plate. Will the face be happy, sad or silly?

You’ll need a paper plate and some cut-up food items. Take a picture of your child’s creation, and then enjoy the snack.

Learning Areas – Creativity, social-emotional development and healthy habits

2. Handy Animals

Turn an outline of a hand into a zany animal. Make more animals with outlines of your fingers or thumbprints.

You’ll need paper, crayons, markers and your imagination. Take a picture, and share it with family members and friends.

Learning Areas – Fine motor skills, creativity and biology

3. Does It Fly?

Create something out of paper and cardboard that will fly. You can decorate it, too. Try making two things and testing which one flies the farthest.

You’ll need paper, cardboard, crayons, markers and scissors.

Learning Areas – Engineering, creativity and invention

Tips for Engaging Your Child in Independent Play

balancing-working-from-home-with-children

Juggling work and childcare full time at home is a new and challenging task for many parents. By engaging their children in independent play, parents can have time to complete their own tasks while their children are using their imagination to practice executive function skills and problem-solving skills. The following steps can set up parents and children for independent play success.

Step One – Picking a Place for Independent Play

Depending on your children’s age, pick a space where they can play safely and independently. For younger children, you may want to start with a space that is easily within sight and reach, but older children may be able to be in their own rooms or private spaces. You should check the space for any potential hazards, such as sharp edges or objects, and ensure that any large furniture is safely anchored.

Step Two – Choosing Materials

Look around your home for loose parts that are age-appropriate for your children. Loose parts are found, bought or upcycled materials that children can move, manipulate, control and change within their play, such as buckets, balls, cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes, blocks, Legos, ramps and tracks. You can even set up bins or stations that hold each type of loose parts, which will allow you to easily exchange them or mix and match different items every couple of days or on the weekends to keep your children interested and engaged in their play.

Step Three – Introducing Materials

If you or your children are feeling unsure of how to engage with the loose parts, you can start with simple, open-ended challenges:

  • Build a tower using two or more of the materials;
  • Create a maze that you can roll a ball through;
  • Demonstrate stacking or nesting cups, putting balls or objects into cups and dumping them into other containers (for younger children).

Once your children are engaged with the materials, take a step back and let them lead their play. This provides the opportunity for you to focus on your tasks for the day while your children are engaged. Keep in mind that at first it may take some time for children who are not used to independent free play to stay focused but try to refrain from micromanaging the play, and instead continue suggesting open-ended challenges and let your children complete them independently.

Step Four – Discussing Play Reflections

The end of your children’s free playtime or the end of the day are great times to talk with your children about what they did during their independent free playtime. You can start by asking your children what they did or what they built during their free playtime. Do your best not to make assumptions about what any item your children created is supposed to be. Let them explain it to you. Wait until after your children have shown or told you what their creation is. This will be the perfect time to ask questions about it and engage them in some critical thinking and language practice.

To get your children looking forward to and planning for their next chance to engage in independent play (and your next chance to complete some tasks of your own), ask them about what they might build or create tomorrow and help them locate any additional loose parts they may need.