Toy Blog - Toys, Parenting, and Kids

Reading Readiness – Get Ready For School!

Here’s a fun activity to try with your child that promotes critical thinking and school readiness.  This idea can be adapted for any age from preschool through grade school and beyond.  Best of all, no supplies are needed!

Have your child turn his or her back to you.  Using your finger draw a letter on your child’s back and see if he or she can identify the letter.  After he or she guesses the letter, see if they can come up with a word that begins with that letter!

If this is too difficult for your child, try it out first on the palm of his or her hand.  That way, your child can see the letter being written.  With younger children who might not know their letters yet, try simple shapes, like circles, triangles and squares.  Older children will enjoy the challenge of entire words or a more complex picture, such as a tree, a plane or a house.

Have your child do the same to your back as well.  It is great practice for writing, spelling and simple fine motor skills and dexterity!

Fine Motor Skill Development In Toddlers

Stringing beads, lace up cards, even picking up cereal – these are all wonderful ways to help your child develop fine motor skills and strengthen hand muscles.  In turn, these skills will aid your child in learning to write and even cut with scissors.  Providing ample opportunities for your child to practice is important during the Toddler Years.

  1. Necklaces!  Give your child a piece of yarn (tape the end to keep it from fraying) or a shoelace and let him or her create some fun and festive jewelry.  Children can string a variety of pasta (and it can be colored as well – simply mix 1/4 c rubbing alcohol or vinegar with food coloring in a baggie, add pasta to be dyed, shake and let dry on wax paper!) to create patterns and designs.  Or provide them with other household items to string: keychains, old keys, large buttons, big beads, and even construction paper “donuts” (circles with a hole punch in the middle) are great for stringing as well.  For coordinating bracelets, use chenille stems or pipe cleaners to string items.  Twist around wrist to fasten.
  2. Lace up cards.  Several companies provide lace up cards to work on the ‘in and out’ motion of simple sewing.  You can also create your own.  Mount a picture from a magazine on a piece of sturdy paperboard, posterboard or even cardboard.  Once dry, punch holes around the outside.  Provide a shoelace for “sewing” and let the fun begin!  Younger children may need a knot in one end of the lace to keep from pulling it through.
  3. Starburst.  Take a paper plate, punch holes around the outside edge, and give your child a piece of string.  Lace around and across the plate, creating a multitude of patterns and designs.  For even more fun, punch a hole in the middle of the plate as well – can you make a sun?  A star?  What other shapes can you make?  Use different yarn colors as well for another design element.
  4. Snack time!  Give your child an activity to do during snack time.  Give him or her a bowl of their favorite snack for lacing, such as pretzels and/or cereals – anything with a hole in it.  Using a piece of string or dental floss, let your child create an edible necklace.  Or, use it as a way of sharing snacks with nature – create a garland to hang in a tree for the birds!

Putting Used Playdough To Good Use!

Playdough is definitely a finite material.  Even store-bought dough doesn’t last forever.  And, while I love to make playdough for my class and my boys at home (here is a link to my favorite playdough recipe), it very quickly becomes dried out and over-used.  So, here are a few ways to send that old playdough out with a bang:

1.  Explore colors.  If you have colored playdough, consider mixing the colors to make new colors.  This is especially interesting with primary color playdough (red, blue, yellow).  Granted, our playdough is typically mottled from the mixtures of color anyway, but if you have some that is “wearing out” yet still in good color, try mixing it and doing a little lesson on coloration.

2.  Make a gift!  My homemade playdough works especially well for this.  When our playdough is reaching the end of its usefulness, we like to create sculptures to give to others.  My older son has made pencil holders for desks, statues of beloved pets, and a lovely collection of homemade (and quite heavy) flowers.  Letting them sit out to dry for several days is a great way to get them to “set”; placing them in a low-heat oven can speed up that process as well.

3.  Turn it into a science exploration lesson.  My kids at preschool LOVE to take old playdough and make the ultimate sculpture – a volcano, complete with a “crater” in the top.  Once our playdough volcano is hardened, we put baking soda down in the crater and then pour vinegar into the hole to make the “lava”.  Tint the vinegar with red washable watercolor to make it really realistic!

4.  Of course, kids aren’t the only ones who can find a good way to recycle old playdough.  Use old playdough in the bottom of pots to arrange silk and live florals. 

5.  If for nothing else, use old playdough to help strengthen your child’s hand muscles and work on fine motor skills.  Have them roll the old playdough into balls between his or her thumb and forefinger.  And, use blunt-ended scissors for playdough cutting.  Kids LOVE to cut playdough into itty-bitty pieces, and it is excellent exercise for the hand muscles!

All Tied Up With Fun!

As my younger child grows, I am introducing more and more activities that focus on his fine-motor development without being tedious or frustrating for him.  One of his favorite activities is to play with lace-up toys.  It is a perfect activity for increasing eye-hand coordination as well as being a lot of fun!

There are several kinds of lacing toys that you can find online and in stores.  First, you have the traditional lace-up cards.  Usually there is a picture of an object with holes punched along the borders, and the child weaves a shoestring through it.  I always put a knot at one end of the string for my son so he doesn’t lose his patience with the end always pulling through.  At his young age, I have found it useful to start with shorter strings and fewer holes.  He can complete one easily and in a short amount of time; perfect for his attention span.  I also favor the ones that are cut to the shape of the object as opposed to being simply a rectangle with a picture imprinted on it.  It is easier for little hands to spot the punched holes around the object and reach.  They make terrific beginning stencils as well. 

There are also alternative lacing activities.  We have a book about tying shoelaces, and the cover of the book is a cardboard “shoe” that the child can lace.  He LOVES this one.  I just have to be careful – a week ago I found my tennis shoes unlaced!  Also, I have found a variety of the “Dressy Betsy”-style toys.  These are usually dolls or animals with all sorts of fasteners on them: snaps, buttons, zippers, velcro and yes, laces.

Another lace-type activity that we love is stringing beads.  These can be anything from large wooden colorful shape beads (which work great for teaching patterns!) to soft foam pieces and even colored (or uncolored) macaroni.  We make necklaces, bracelets, garlands and even a backpack “decoration” for Big Brother.  Beading is something children as young as two can enjoy as well as pre-teens.  It all depends on the materials used.

By giving your child the opportunity to explore such activities as lacing, you are helping to develop their fine-motor skills, their eye-hand coordination, and providing an outlet for fun for everyone!

The Joy Of Playdough

Playdough – mention the word and most parents and caregivers acknowledge the word with a slight cringe or eye-roll.  We all know what “playdough” means – matted red goo in the carpet, purple stuck in the crevaces of the soles of shoes, an unexpected snack as kids sneak a bit into their mouths, and dried little pills of it everywhere for days to come.  However, playdough is an important tool in child development.  So, before you hide or throw out that malleable substance, take a look at what a wonderful product it really is.

Playdough is an excellent tool with young children for the development of fine motor skills which is crucial for activities such as writing and cutting.  Just the basic kneading of the dough strengthens finger and hand muscles, which is important when building tone for those fine motor skills later on.  A step beyond this is clay, which is a less malleable substance and really gives those muscles a workout!

Children also develop a keener coordination between their eyes and hands while using playdough.  Estimation skills are used when determining how much playdough is needed for a specific task; using cookie cutters and rolling pins aids in planning and creating.  Rolling a “snake” (my two year old’s favorite task) helps kids understand cause and effect and motion as well.

Let’s not forget the creative part of open-ended playdough play!  The only thing kids CAN’T create with playdough are those things they haven’t thought of yet.  How about a purple dinosaur?  Or a green kitty?  Maybe a blue and orange sea monster or a space ship with six engines?  Or, perhaps your child wants to make a whole city?  A race car that can fly and float?  Why not? 

And, if you are really into playdough, making your own is terrific for basic math, language and science skills.  It is quite simple to make.  Here’s a terrific and easy recipe to get you started.  There are plenty of them out there.  Find one that works for you and use it often.  And remember all the good you are doing for your child.  It will make the time you spend cleaning playdough off of shoes more worthwhile!

HOMEMADE PLAYDOUGH:

In a saucepan, combine:
4 cups water
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1/2 T cream of tartar (can also subsitute with 1/4 T baking powder and 1/4 T baking soda)
4 tablespoons oil

Mix until no longer sticky over low/medium heat.  Turn out on plate or board to cool and store in ziplock bag.  Food coloring may be added for variation, and Kool Aid powder also works well for coloring (and smells great, too!).

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