My kindergartner came home from school recently with yet another tale of a classmate. The same kid who called her “stupidhead” last week wrote “big blue butt” during sentence-writing time…not exactly what their teacher had in mind, I’m sure. I saw my 9-year-old stifle a giggle when her sister shared the story. And so it begins (sigh…). As any parent knows, calling other kids names is a big no-no, but it’s hard for little ones to discern between which words are right vs. wrong, especially when the result of your actions is laughter throughout the classroom. One mom has set out to change all this and (hopefully) put an end to fresh talk or, at the very least, discourage it. Tapping into her own experience as a parent trying to teach her kids about kindness, she created the Tacky Box Set, a kit that puts the kabosh on unkind words. It comes with a storybook (one for girls and one for boys, sold separately), a special notepad on which kids can write down any bad word they may have picked up and a wooden box they can decorate and put those words inside. The premise is once the word has been written and placed in the box, it’s locked up and gone for good. What we like about the Tacky Box Set is that it lets kids feel like they’re in charge, rather than being reprimanded or lectured to. They make the choice to say goodbye to the bad words and banish them to a place where they’ll do no good all boxed up. We think it’s a great tool that helps parents make the discussion of inappropriate language a little less difficult, and lets kids play a part in making good choices, even at a young age. Maybe if every preschool and kindergarten teacher had a Tacky Box Set of these in their classroom, we’d hear a lot fewer “stupidheads.”
My 9-year-old needs to get into the groove. A math groove, that is. Back to fractions, multiplication and all the other “fun” stuff that goes along with fourth-grade math. After a few months of fun in the sun, it’s finally back to the books, and I fear she’s not ready for all that lies ahead. Because the dollar store workbooks I picked up over the years don’t seem to hold her interest any longer (and I’d rather not always resort to apps and other PC games), we were on the lookout for something else. Well, when the Lakeshore Learning catalog arrived in our mail, it was like Christmas had come early. Ever the lover of playing school, my daughter happily flipped through the pages and eventually came across Problem Solving Cubes, a set of 15 soft-sided cubes containing word problems that range from money to measurement, to addition and subtraction. After we received a test sample, she got down to business and I was delighted with the results. With the variety of choices, my daughter was able to come up with a ton of word problems that tested her strengths–and weaknesses. What I liked about these cubes is how easily you can mix things up and create a entirely new puzzle to solve simply by turning over one of the cubes. And because word problems become a classroom staple as students advance into older grades, it’s a great product to help kids get comfortable reading and solving these, minus the pressure.
In a Nutshell: Math gets the hands-on treatment with cool cubes that make problem-solving as easy as 1-2-3.
“Pure learning fun.” The new tagline for LeapFrog was a fitting greeting for the educational toy company’s holiday showcase this week in NYC. We were on hand to find out what’s big in teaching toys and from judging by the looks of the LeapFrog line-up, there’s plenty of opportunities to get kids excited about learning. First off, we had a chance to experience the just-released LeapReader. Bearing a striking resemblance to LeapFrog’s Tag Reader, this multi-level learning tool steps its up a notch or two, enabling kids to learn the basics of reading, begin to write their letters and enjoy the experience of listening to audio books. With so much functionality in one product, parents may wonder just how capable this product is in keeping up with their kids. When we find out that the LeapReader contains rechargeable built-in batteries that last up to eight hours, a few gasps were heard among the audience. Quite the workhorse, this product helps kids sound out their letters to make words, and when switched to write mode, it turns into a pencil that prompts preschoolers into tracing upper- and lower-case letters. Finally, a vast library of 100 downloadable audio books are the perfect companion for a long car ride, plane trip or summer vacation road trip. Aimed at ages 4-8 and available in July, the LeapReader will not only attract kindergarten-bound kids for its fun quotient, but their parents eager to get them off to school on the right foot…He may be known as man’s best friend, but in the case of this plush pup, this dog is better known as a book buddy. Available in time for back to school, Read With Me Scout is the latest incarnation of LeapFrog’s favorite pooch, one that can now read short stories aloud and ask kids related comprehension questions. Five color-coded board books make for easy-to-follow reading, each containing engaging activities that involve colors, counting and other basic learning skills. Scout even has a sleepytime setting with a reduced volume that turns storytime into a calming bedtime routine and ends with 8 minutes of lullabies. We couldn’t ask for a better house-trained pup…From dogs to cats: Headlining the latest Leapster Explorer software collection is Hello Kitty Sweet Little Scoops, a math game teeming with tons of number-based fun starring everyone’s favorite feline. Don’t be fooled by the pink-and-purple imagery; this are hard core computations that involve estimating, reading charts and bar graphs and discerning odd from even numbers. We like that this game, along with all other LeapFrog content, has auto-level capabilities, making it perfectly paced for your child’s individual learning style. Aimed at ages 4-7, Hello Kitty Sweet Little Scoops will be available in August.
In a Nutshell: Help cultivate a love of learning with a slew of new LeapFrog products, coming to a toy store near you.
Until earlier this week, when our electricity was restored following the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, family time was all about board games, crafts and anything that could be played by firelight. While those first few rounds of Candyland were doable, the novelty soon wore off. (I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t envisioning an escape plan–for one.) And with school closed for more than one week, I began seeing signs of brain drain I hadn’t seen since summer vacation. Before I was ready to throw my hands up, our mailman delivered a welcome treat: a trial sample of Little Passports, one of the more entertaining boredom busters we’ve seen in a long time. This subscription-based service lets kids ages 7-12 play armchair traveler as they journey along with fictional characters Sam and Sonia around the globe. We received the USA Discovery Kit, containing a detailed, kid-friendly map, disposable camera, travel journal, scratch art book and other resources for guiding your imagination. I was curious to see if my somewhat skeptical 8-year-old daughter would bite (having grown a bit board game-weary and missing her precious screen time). After we looked through the kit’s contents together, I purposefully left the room and waited to see what kind of “magic” would take place. Within minutes, I checked back to find her sprawled out on the floor, filling out her journal. “Guess how many states I’ve been to already?,” she asked. “Eight!” was her proud response. Not only did Little Passports give her a chance to share her vast knowledge of geography, but she was invigorated by the possibilities of unexplored destinations (perfect to capture on film at a later date). Little Passports isn’t only worthwhile for encouraging education, but helping to promote it continuously. You can sign up for subscriptions on a per-month basis, or have them delivered periodically. Who doesn’t like getting mail, especially the “wish you were here” variety…
In a Nutshell: Be it a cure-all for wanderlust or an inventive gift this holiday season, this mail-order gift is destined to transport imaginations and young minds alike.
Next week, my 4-year-old heads back to preschool. That means it’s time to brush up on sharing, taking turns and all those social skills that have become a bit rusty since June. (Sure, she’s had plenty of practice with big sister this summer, but sibling rivalry eventually takes its toll.) On a rather humid, late-summer afternoon, we decided to stay indoors and put those character-building skills to the test with a brand-new board game. Perfect for ages 3 and up, Animal Soup is a wacky mix-and-match game that rewards astute players with entertaining results. The premise of this no-reading-required game is simple: Be the first person to correctly pair different animal tops and bottoms with similar colored backgrounds, and you win. If your child is already familiar with Candyland and the like, she’ll be comfortable moving around the board and finding the correct colored space to land on–the only difference is spotting the animal card that corresponds with your spot. During our first game, my daughter had a little difficulty remembering to roll the die, move her guy and then pick up her animal card. But by the second go-around, she got the hang of it–and even won a round! Perhaps the biggest motivator was the laugh-out-loud animal combinations she got to make, like a croctopus (crocodile + octopus) and a squale (that’s part squirrel, part whale). Animal Soup is one meal this preschooler was happy to devour!
In a Nutshell: Laughter and learning go hand in hand with this preschool-level board game that’s worth dishing up.
Now that my 4-year-old is a fully fledged preschooler, we’re looking forward to an exciting year when she’ll have a chance to master all sorts of skills. From coloring in the lines, to putting letters together to form sounds and words, there are no shortage of activities to help her learn and grow. And while my daughter has taken to certain things, like completing puzzles and dressing her Calico Critters, I notice that she shies away from things that frustrate and challenge her, such as removing stickers from their backing (they tend to rip if she’s not too careful). To help fine-tune those dexterity skills, we hear that lacing is a great trick, and the new Lacing Peacock from Hape Toys seems like the ideal subject for practicing. We’ve seen quite a few lacing toys in our day, but never a peacock. We like that this toy’s generous design gives plenty of room for little hands to keep busy, and to demonstrate their handiwork. A refreshing departure from cardboard lacing cards, the peacock’s wood construction is a plus, ensuring that this toy will stand up to plenty of preschool wear and tear. And because kids can add beads and pretend feathers to their design, it steps up the level of play by creating an opportunity for matching, color coordinating, counting and all sorts of learning enhancements. And that’s something any pint-sized peacock can be proud of.
Sometimes, my 2nd grader likes to speak backwards–not facing away from me, but mixing up the order of her words. She, of course, thinks it’s hysterical; I find it maddening, especially by the end of the day. Because she gets a kick out of making us work to figure out exactly what she’s saying, it’s a real power kick…for a 7-year-old. But I figure there’s got to be a positive side to her punchy behavior. Maybe this strange sense of little kid humor was the inspiration for Sentence Shuffle Fun Deck. Housed inside a Band-Aid-style box are 56 illustrated cards containing a bunch of words that are out of order (for instance, “scaredy cat is a Linda.”) Players must then unscramble the words to form a sentence and then move on to the next card. Super-fast readers can show off their proficiency, while those just getting comfortable with chapter books can challenge themselves to become better wordsmiths. To up the ante, draw 20 cards, set up a timer and see how many each player can guess correctly. This is the perfect rainy-day boredom buster and works great for long car rides, too. You may find yourself getting caught up in the game play. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Or, should we say, “warn we didn’t you Don’t say.”
In a Nutshell: Kids who think they know their way around a sentence can test their skills with this travel-friendly game.
I must confess: I am a weather geek. Nothing gives me quite a thrill as the words “five-day forecast.” Just ask my husband. He says I refer to rain as “precip” (do I really?), and that I smile when I hear the weather man say, “High pressure will dominate.” Naturally, when we had children, I hope to spread my love of all things weather and eventually cultivate my own little storm chasers. What better way than with a kid-friendly weather station? If you’re looking for a last-minute holiday gift for a kid who’s more at home outdoors than in, we predict you’ll love the Storm Chaser Portable Weather Pod. Part of the Backyard Safari Outfitters collection, this handy gadget goes wherever the wind takes you to figure out the forecast. A built-in anemometer measures wind speed, while a weather vane tells you the direction it’s blowing. Trying to find out just how much rain, sleet or snow is headed your way–or whether Santa’s ride will be a smooth one this Christmas Eve? Set this baby up outside on a flat surface (it has three extendable legs) and see how much precip collects in the pull-out water gauge. No matter if it’s a White Christmas or a wet one, you’re bound to have a budding meteorologist on your hands.
In a Nutshell: The forecast calls for holiday toys that go the distance. This toy is one that keeps kids engaged, no matter the weather.
My 3-1/2-year-old is fascinated with puzzles. She started out with simple 3- or 4-piece wooden models whose knob-handle pieces made them easy to complete. Before long, she was moving on to puzzles with more pieces, especially the ones that had sounds and other bells and whistles. I notice there’s a particular one at our local library that she favors: a maze of animals whose tummies get filled with tiny marbles by using a magnetic wand. Each time she “feeds” the hippo, she shouts out in jubilation. I’m impressed with her persistence, as it wasn’t too long ago when she would have given up and cried if she wasn’t successful right away. Practice and patience are two things I’m trying to teach my girls, and I’m marveled at how such puzzles can teach them just that. Maybe that’s why Perplexus Rookie recently caught my eye. It’s a transparent globe that features the inner-workings of a colorful 3-D maze, and the object is to move a tiny ball along the numbered path until the end without losing your way. Twisting and turning is the name of the game, and stellar hand/eye coordination is key. But, even if you think you’re a master at this sort of thing, don’t count on it with Perplexus. There are plenty of obstacles and pitfalls along the way to catch you off-guard, like a set of scary stairs and an inviting igloo. I love that Perplexus also comes in Original and Epic versions, offering more advanced challenges for older kids and seasoned puzzlers. Wouldn’t it be great to get everyone in the family something they can play at the same time without fighting over, or one toy that your oldest won’t complain about being “too easy?” We think it makes for a great gift at the office, too, especially during those conference calls that seem to last forever. Don’t blame us if you become addicted…
My 3-year-old is learning French in her preschool. (When I was 3, the only French I could master was in the form of fries.) Today, exposing a child to her diverse, multicultural surroundings has become the norm, beginning well before the school-aged years. And since research shows that younger children demonstrate a natural aptitude for learning a second language, it helps to look for entertaining ways to cultivate this love of learning for your little one. Any parent who’s already familiar with the Little Pim line of educational DVDs will find the brand-new board book line to be a natural extension. And even if you don’t know the charming little star of this series, you’re bound to find a new learning partner for your preschooler. We got our paws on a couple of the series’ books featuring the global-trotting panda, found a cozy spot and began reading. For starters, the pages are especially sturdy and meant to hold up to lots of repeat page-turning. As pre-readers are introduced to different colors, feelings and other basic subject matters, they will enjoy the tactile experience of lifting the corresponding flaps and tabs, highlighting a specific word in both Spanish and French, as well as English. We like that the text can be witty as it entertaining (“No, this frog isn’t red!”), making this teachable moment more of an adventure. How great…or, should we say, “tres bien!”