Toy Blog - Toys, Parenting, and Kids

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!

Exploring The Human Body – Its A Puzzle!

A couple of years ago, my older son received a gift – a puzzle.  It wasn’t just any puzzle, though.  It was a magnificent floor puzzle of the human body by Melissa and Doug.  On one side is the skeletal system, and on the other side is a picture of organs and muscles, both sides with labels and a key.  It is quite impressive, stretching four feet across our living room floor.

What I didn’t realize is how much it piqued his interest in the human body.  Since then, we’ve purchased a 3-D miniature model with removable organs and a fold-out book with a life-size diagram along with countless books and charts.  We are constantly being told little tidbits of information about bones or muscles, the digestive system or the brain.

My son didn’t instantly attain this high level of interest for the human body.  It developed over time as we worked the floor puzzle together, over and over.  What makes the puzzle perfect for children is the size.  For them, it is life-size.  My son would sometimes lay down on the floor beside it (and a few times, on top of it) to compare himself to the image on the puzzle.  He could identify bones and organs easily.  And, once we had that down, he was eager for more, which led us to the other items we acquired.

I’m not saying that exposing your child to this particular puzzle will assure them an MD after their name later in life, but it will bring tons of enjoyment and hopefully encourage them to find out more about their own bodies in a different and fun way.  It is a great challenge for your child!

Why Making A Mess Is A Kid’s Job

“It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”  Words have never been truer than when in relation to children and what they do – make a mess. 

As a parent, it is difficult for me NOT to get mad when the kids make a mess.  It isn’t the mess I dislike as much as it is the not-picking-up part.  Part of me would just as soon not have the messy toys in my house – no play dough or paint, no little cups and pots, no construction toys like Zoob, no scissors, markers or glue.  If they aren’t here, the kids can’t make a mess with them, right?

But, the fact is, kids WILL make a mess.  That’s what they do.  They explore their environment to its fullest, and they use creativity in ways we seem to forget as we grow older.  Children dive head-first into delightful things, such as packing peanuts and glitter.  It is fun; it is learning.

So, while I might not want to sweep up the shredded paper ONE MORE TIME or clean the marker up off the kitchen table – AGAIN, I know that my kids are learning to express themselves and discover more about the world around them with each exciting activity they do, no matter how messy it is.  And that is our job as caregivers – to expose children to as many different situations, stimuli, activities and experiences as possible in a safe (and hopefully fun) way.  Of course, the other side of that is to also teach our children to be responsible and clean up after themselves.  I’m still working on this one.

Someone remind me of this when my youngest manages to spill the fish food all over the carpet again tonight, okay?

Supporting a Southpaw – Ideas For Lefties

Our younger son is destined to be a lefty.  He does EVERYTHING left-handed and always has.  And, we are already beginning to see where little modifications will need to be made for him to be a successful lefty.

These days, you can actually find supplies specifically designed for lefties.  Spiral notebooks are now available with the spiral binding along the right side instead of the left.  Scissors specifically for left-handed people are available, from the basic red-handled preschool scissors to upper-end adult shears.  Pencil grips are a great investment; make sure you get one marked with an “L” for left-handed people.  Grips are excellent for teaching correct pencil/pen holding regardless of hand preference; just make sure you get the one right for your child.  In fact, I ordered the Melissa and Doug triangular crayons (available in regular and jumbo sizes) for my younger son for this very reason – they are a nice, large size and are like a built-in grip for him to practice correct hand position with a writing instrument.  Triangular chalk by Melissa and Doug is also available.

Left handed children have a natural tendency to do everything from right to left instead of left to right, so work with your child on this.  You can draw a green line down the left side of the page and have him or her draw or write from that point.  Left-handed children are more apt to draw circles backwards (clockwise), and this can been an issue when learning to write letters like c, o, q, s and others.  So, it is important to adjust your child’s ideas of the writing process (left to right).  Bear in mind, though, that you do not want to make your child feel like they are doing something “wrong” when what they are doing comes perfectly natural as a lefty.  Encourage and praise when they do it right, but don’t dwell on it if they aren’t to the point to correction yet (as an aside, many lefties will typically “mirror write” for a while before correcting it, and that is okay.  Just model correct form when you can).

Give your child plenty of elbow room, especially on his or her left side.   And slightly elevate the writing surface on the left side, so that the crayon, pen, pencil, marker, or whatever tends to move “downhill”.  When a lefty is sitting next to another child, the best position for the lefty is on the other child’s left side, so as not to bump together.  And, realize that their writing will be “smudgy” especially if they are practicing and using the left-to-right format.  It is okay.  And, sometimes (but not always), lefties prefer their computer mouse on the left side of the keyboard.

When teaching a left-handed child how to tie shoes, the easiest strategy to use (as a right-handed parent) is to sit across from them and mirror the task.  As a left-handed parent, though, sitting behind the child or beside the child and modeling the process is easiest.

If your child loves to play sports, you will need to be mindful of certain aspects, such as a “lefty” glove in baseball and golf clubs for left-handed people.  Lefties will bat on the other side of the baseball plate as well.

 As with any special need (and in my book, my lefty-son is awesomely special!), patience and positive encouragement will account for 90% percent of the success a child has.  Making the acquisition of skills as a left-handed individual fun and non-threatening will pay off in the long run!

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