Toy Blog - Toys, Parenting, and Kids

Make Mealtime A Teachable Moment

I got a terrific idea from my son’s teacher this week.  This idea can be used with just about any subject being studied.  Take a piece of posterboard (12 x 18 inches) and have your child decorate it with anything that is currently being studied.  For example, if your child is learning his or her multiplicaction facts, have him or her write them around the edges of the posterboard.  Or, if your child is learning to identify colors or letters, do the same with that information.  Maybe your older child needs to memorize a timeline or a set of dates or events.  Write whatever subject it is on the posterboard, then cover it with clear Contact paper.  Viola!  Your child has made an instant, teachable placemat to use at mealtimes!

Working With Preschool-Aged Children – Pre-Writing Fun

“Practice makes perfect.”


These words couldn’t ring truer for preparing a child to become a writer.  Writing isn’t an acquired skill; it is learned and practiced long before pencil is actually placed in hand.  Here are some great ideas to get your preschooler ready to write – and still have a great time doing it!

  1. Take a ziplock baggie and place about 1/4 cup of hair gel inside.  Seal the bag, squeezing out all the excess air (depending on the size of bag, you might need more or less gel, and colored gel works better).  Place the sealed baggie on a flat surface and use as a writing “tablet”.  Children can draw and doodle in the gel, wiping their “slate” clean by simply smoothing out the gel.  Place the gel baggie over a piece of paper with squiggle lines or simple shapes and have the child “trace” the shape with his or her finger.  This can even be used with large letters written on paper as well.
  2. Spread sand on a cookie sheet or other edged pan.  Have children use this surface as a writing surface.  It can be easily “erased” as well.  Use fingers as well as other items, such as straws, unsharpened pencils, pasta and even small cars to “write”.
  3. Place a dollop of shaving cream on a table.  Have the child spread the shaving cream out and then use it as a writing surface.  Children can “erase” by simply covering their marks with more shaving cream.  (I use this method at the end of the day, and the shaving cream helps “clean” my tables!)  To make it more interesting, add a drop or two of watercolor.  Children can make shapes, squiggles, pictures or even write letters.
  4. As children become more intentional in their strokes, give them several markers or crayons.  Have them trace the same shape over and over with different colors.  These shapes can be arcs, circles, lines, zig-zags, or even letters.  My class calls this “rainbow writing”.
  5. As a culminating activity as we learn our letters, I give each child an unbaked breadstick (Pillsbury makes a good one, as does my generic store-brand).  Children then form their breadsticks into either their favorite letter or the first letter of their name.  Bake and eat!

Preschool Art – It Is All In How You Look At It

“Ms. J!  Ms. J!  Come look what I painted!”

Ella beamed at me from around our art easel in my 4 year old classroom yesterday, barely able to contain her excitement.  It was catching.  I wondered what I would see as I rounded the side of the easel: her name written across the white paper?  A rainbow with pretty flowers underneath?  Maybe an ocean with all sorts of sea creatures that only a 4 year old imagination could conjure?

Nope, I saw BROWN.

Brown.  Brown paper, brown easel stand, brown paint brushes.  Oh, they didn’t start out brown.  They were initially red, yellow, green and blue.  But now, each of the easel’s paint pots were a murky brown and each brush was dripping with the same goopy concoction.

This story could take two turns at this point.  I, as Ella’s teacher, could have chastized her for mixing the colors, rendering the easel unusable for the rest of the day and the rest of the class.  I could have reminded her of our rule to take care of our room and the things in it so that everyone could enjoy it.  And, I could have taken her paper down and thrown it away, calling it a “mess”.

If you know me, though, this is absolutely NOT something I would do.  Instead, I told Ella that her work was “impressive”.  It was a good word choice; it is quite neutral while still sounding encouraging.  I then asked her to tell me about her painting.

Ella, in her own words, described to me her exploration of the primary colors.  She mixed yellow and blue on the paper and realized she had a green color, but it didn’t match the green in the paint pot.  So, she tried adding some red.  And then some more yellow, and some more blue.  Pretty soon, she was swirling colors together and making a “yummy chocolate pie” on her paper.  Yes, that’s exactly what it looked like to me – pie, but without the boundaries of a crust.  Free exploration with a lesson in color making.  Wow.

That is what art needs to be for children – free exploration.  Children need the freedom to create and explore in a non-threatening environment.  They need encouragement and praise, even when all we see is a mess of brown.  Becasue, in that brown is a lesson to be learned, and it is much more valuable than keeping the paint colors separate.

Supplementing Your Child’s Education

Bells are ringing across the country, in classes (and homes) as children make their way back to school for another year.  As a parent, I want to give my child the best possible chance at a successful school year.  Being actively involved in my child’s experiences at school by volunteering and assisting, as well as being a physical presence around the school, are great ways to take an active role in my son’s education.  I also like to find things to supplement classroom learning and bring it home as well.

WonderBrains is currently carrying two lines of materials that are perfect for homeschooled children and children who are educated outside the home.  Carson-Dellosa, a leading education publisher, has created a variety of activities and workbooks for children ages three through fifth grade.  For preschool-aged children, WonderBrains carries a variety of read-aloud, activity-centered books, such as Magnix: A Visit To the Farm.  The Magnix series of books also branches into early math and writing activities as well.  For school-aged children, WonderBrains carries Carson-Dellosa’s Summer Bridge series.  But, don’t let the titles fool you!  These are excellent tools year-round, and may even inspire your young learner to come up with even more activities.  These books are found as Summer Bridge Activities, Summer Bridge Math and Summer Bridge Reading and are available in several different age ranges. 

WonderBrains has also welcomed Remedia on board.  These reading activities workbooks are available for children from Kindergarten through high school with a wide range of reading skill areas.  For younger children, the Remedia Beginning Reading Program is a comprehensive collection of age and ability-level appropriate materials with an accompanying activity guide.  Choose from the sampler set or the small group set (three copies of each story).  As the students progress in their learning, so do the skill materials covered by Remedia’s materials: comprehension, vocabulary, context clues and life skills reading activities.  For reluctant readers, Remedia offers a line of activity books that are high-interest, low-readability to boost confidence and success in students who need it the most. 

Extending the learning to the homefront is a wonderful way to stress the importance of education with young people.  WonderBrains can help you find the resources to do so!

Edible Geometry!

Even our little kids will get a kick out of this great idea for using fun food to create some excitement about geometry!  It is a great way to explore shapes, and even older kids can benefit tremendously from this hands-on activity with shapes.

You will need toothpicks and a soft (and yummy) food, such as gumdrops, fruit snacks, grapes or marshmallows.  Use the toothpicks to place the piece of food on each end, then stick another toothpick in to form shapes, such as triangles, squares, and three-dimensional objects.  The food pieces are your “endcaps”.  This is similar to Tinker Toys and K’Nex.  See what interesting and new structures your little architect can create!

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