How Children Can Learn With Classic Toys

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Have we lost our children in a hypnotic video game trance? Have they become “drones” to the “video age”?

Sometimes it may seem that way as many children spend hour upon hour in front of a video screen, pressing buttons or jockeying around a joystick. But it is up to the parents of children to say enough, let’s find some educational alternatives. However, it wasn’t that long ago when we were kids….we had real toys….classic toys.

Let’s step into a time tunnel of sorts and recall some of the fascinating toys that we had the pleasure of playing with:

Tinker Toys

Ahh..Tinker Toys..rods, sticks, spools, spokes..simple, but a true classic toy invented in 1914 by Charles Pajeau, who was a stonemason by trade from Evanston, Illinois. He was inspired by children playing with pencils, sticks and empty spools of thread to create his new toy. He saw them improvising and using their imaginations and wondered if improve upon what they were doing. He designed his first set of Tinker Toys in his garage and displayed them in 1914 at the American Toy Fair.

Alas, his Tinker Toys drew no interest. So he tried again, this time at Christmas time, but with a new marketing plan. Pajeau hired several midgets and had them dress in elf costumes. He then had them “play” with the Tinker Toys” in a store display window in a Chicago department store and with this publicity a new toy was born. After a year or so, over one million sets of Tinker Toys had been sold!

Lincoln Logs

Notched redwood logs that could be used to construct log cabins, Lincoln Logs were the invention of John Lloyd Wright, son of famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. The inter locking logs, invented in 1916, were fashioned after the foundation of Tokyo’s earthquake-proof Imperial Hotel, which the younger Wright witnessed being constructed.

During the World War I era, it was in vogue to encourage American patriotism and for American’s to buy American made products, thus the new toy was named after one of our most revered presidents, Abraham Lincoln.

The original sets sold very well and became even more popular with the introduction of television to the United States. In fact, Lincoln Logs were among the first toys to be advertised and promoted on television. Capitalizing on the popularity of westerns in early television, Lincoln Logs were successful promoted on 1953’s Pioneer Playhouse.

Today, Lincoln Logs are still available and have stood the test of time. As a matter of fact, as late as 1975, Lincoln Logs were still selling at a rate of one million sets per year. A sophisticated toy, it challenges youngsters to use their imagination and improve hand-eye coordination skills.

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A Grandparent’s Guide To Choosing Age Appropriate Toys

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1.3 million children are entrusted to their grandparents every day. Roles of a grandparent include spoiling and enlightening their grandkids with toys they will enjoy. After all, toys are considered to be treasures of childhood. With this role comes an added responsibility to make sure that grandchildren stay safe and enjoy a toy that is age-appropriate. Grandparents make up a large percentage of toy buyers. Thousands of toys are marketed with the promise to educate and entertain kids. Unfortunately, not every toy is safe for children to play with. What can a grandparent look for when purchasing a toy for the kids that they love?

Most pediatricians and child experts believe there are a lot of hidden hazards concerning toys that people should be made aware of. Here is a guide that grandparents can use when it comes time to buy a distinctive toy for that special little person:

* Make sure the toy is age-appropriate. Labels on toy packaging should specify the age group the toy is made for. Consider that children at any age have different maturity levels. You may want to avoid buying a toy that won’t hold the child’s attention. Make sure to buy educational toys that match every child’s age group. This will make the toy effective and fun to play with.

* Read and follow all warning labels. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission or CPSC, choking is the most common cause of toy-related deaths. Warning labels are made to alert if a toy poses a choking hazard for younger children, typically under the ages of three. Federal law requires these labels. Make sure toys made for older children are kept out of the reach of younger children. Objects such as balls should not be less than 1.75″ in diameter. Avoid toys that have small parts that can potentially be pried off by tiny curious hands. Examples of toys that contain small parts are stuffed teddy bear’s eyes or a wooden car’s wheels. Stuffed and wooden toys are still very popular among children; just think BIG when checking out the “parts” attached to the toy. Toys should be larger than the child’s mouth. Tip: if a toy or toy part can fit inside an empty toilet paper roll, chances are the toy is too small. This would not be a safe toy. If a toy contains small parts, parts should be secured and guaranteed not to come off.

* Make sure toys are free from sharp and pointy edges. As an experienced mother or father, you are probably aware, small children have a tendency to put most things in their mouth. It is important toys are free from sharp edges as to avoid cuts and injuries. There may be danger of a child falling on top of a toy while playing. To avoid injuries, make sure pointy edges are buffered or eliminated,

* Avoid LOUD toys. Children’s ears are highly sensitive and hearing can easily be damaged by loud noises. In order to find out if a toy is too loud, use your own ears as a tool. If the toy is too loud for you, it’s twice as loud for the child. You can choose to take out batteries of the toy or cover speakers with tape. This method is not preferred since tape can be pulled off and the child can swallow it.

* Make sure toys are free of toxic chemicals. Toys such as art supplies, play make-up and crayons have been known to contain toxic chemicals. Before making a purchase, investigate ingredients and contents of the product by looking at the label. The same label should also provide instructions on what to do in case of accidental ingestion of any hazardous substance that the item might contain. It may be wise to consult your local poison control to use as a reference if you need one.

* Some toys come with cords or strings. If a cord or string is longer than 12 inches in length, it can pose a strangulation hazard if looped. Never cut an electrical cord! Make sure electrical cords or wires are secured and protected. Make sure to supervise if an electrical toy needs to be plugged into an outlet. Battery-operated toys are preferable to purchase, especially with young children around. However, battery doors need to be checked frequently to make sure they are secured and cannot be opened. If strings have been cut, make sure frayed edges are cut also. When purchasing crib mobiles, make sure the mobile can be safely mounted high on the crib and out of babies’ reach.

* If you choose to purchase a toy over the Internet there are a few things that you should be aware of: Internet sold toys may not comply with U.S. Toy regulations. Auction sites may sell toys that have been recalled by the CPSC. This could be due to the fact the toys were hazards to children’s safety. If you happen to come across a recalled toy, or you would like to see what toys have been recalled, there are web sites available to you. CPSC or http://Recalls.gov provides sites with helpful information.

* Supervise and be realistic about your grandchild’s abilities and maturity levels. Ask yourself the following questions: Is the child physically ready for a certain toy? Is the toy too heavy? A heavy toy can cause severe injury if the toy falls on the child. Gauge if the child can physically control a heavy toy. Teach the child the safest way recommended by the manufacturer to use the toy properly. Again, SUPERVISE!

* Follow these tips when buying video games: follow age recommendations of each game and observe a game’s ratings. Games rated T for Teen can contain violence, profanity and content not suitable for children under the age of 13. EC for early childhood or E for everyone would be the best choice of rating when buying a video game for younger children.

* Remember the days when you would buy toys for your children? How many dollars have we spent to watch our children and now our children’s children go to the kitchen cupboard, pull out all the pots and pans and wooden spoons and bang away and be happy for hours at play? Or grandparents made or bought wooden toy vehicles and wood constructed pull toys that were safe and entertaining. Maybe all the banging of pots and pans is no longer a situation we wish to experience but fun and educational wooden toys are still available.

There was a time when toys were put on the market and bought without a lot of regard for safety. Grandparents could buy any toy that surely the grandchildren would enjoy without considering if the toy was age-appropriate. It was assumed that kids were thought to have the automatic knowledge not to pick up monopoly money and put it in their mouth. Slinkys were toys made to “walk” down your closest set of stairs. Who knew kids would start to use the Slinky as a rope from which to hoist their little brothers up to the highest treetop? Times have changed. So many toy accidents have taken place, it is now important to teach kids and grandparents the importance of toy safety. The most exciting thing about being a grandparent is watching grandchildren grow up happy and healthy. By becoming vigilantly aware shoppers, grandparents have the power to protect the grandchildren they love.

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5 Exciting Ways To Spark Your Kid’s Imagination

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If there’s one thing that a child can fascinate you with, it’s what he can do with his imagination. A child’s mind is like that of a creative writer, it can bring him to all the places he wants to be in, whether it’s in Neverland or in outer space; it allows him to become whoever he wants to be—a superhero, pirate or scientist; and it enables him to do whatever things he likes to do: fly, stop time, or turn objects into gold.

But your kid’s imagination is not wild all the time. As a parent, it is up to you to always encourage him to let his imagination soar. Here are some exciting ways that will help you promote active imagination in your kid.

1. Incite your kid’s imagination through play. A child’s life typically revolves around play because it is from this that he acquires the basic skills he needs to flourish as an individual—including the use of imagination. Spark his imagination by engaging him in imaginative pretend plays. Help him become the superhero he wants to be by helping him put together his superhero costume. Or support his desire to become an astronaut by helping him decorate his bedroom with outer space decors.

2. Give him art projects that will encourage him to create using his imagination. While drawing and painting are excellent ways to incite his creative imagination, it is also a very good idea to provide him with art activities in which he will have to create artworks using recycled materials or those that found in the house but are no longer needed. For example, invite him to mold paper maché sculptures from old newspapers. Just be sure that you assist him in during these activities because it is not safe to leave your kid to use scissors and other art supplies on his own.

3. Provide him with toys and play things that will enable his imagination to fly high. Modern electronic toys that sing, dance or talk may be fun and entertaining for your kid but they are hardly instrumental in inciting your kid’s creativity. It is better to opt for building and constructible toys like wooden train sets which your kid can use to build and create trains, houses and communities using his imagination. He can also use these creations as props for imaginative pretend plays. The Maxim Wooden 145 Piece Train Set for example will provide endless possibilities for imagination enriching activities.

4. Parental support and guidance are also key ingredients in stirring your kid’s lively imagination. If your kid talks to you about his pirate adventures and the treasures he has captured, don’t frown on him or tell him that these make-believe stories are nonsense. If you do that, you’re inhibiting his active imagination. Instead, listen to him and be interested in the stories that are products of his imagination.

5. Related to the fourth tip in sparking your kid’s imagination is this is fifth and final tip which asks you to join your kid in playtime. Be the princess in the tower that he will save from the dragon or be his crime busting police partner. Playtimes are nice and fun time to spend with your kid. It is a good bonding activity that will not only allow you to get closer to your kid but will also bring out the child in you.

Living in a fantasy world where his imagination soars is an important aspect of being a child. Be supportive as a parent and join your kid in the adventures and see where your imaginations will take you.

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Simple Ways To Build Up Your Child’s Brainpower

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Centuries ago, midwives and mothers advised pregnant women to stay happy, listen to music, be around nature, and embrace good health. Now advanced research in child development shows that brain development in children does not occur after birth but begins in the womb itself. Some of the recent trends these days include the use of classical music, providing your child with references for the objects around them, and playing games with your child, recognizing their efforts.

So, it is important for both parents but especially mothers to avoid smoking, alcohol, and substance abuse when pregnant and to adopt a healthy lifestyle. It is just not about food and exercise. It is about staying positive in thoughts, keeping a happy frame of mind, exposing the child in the womb to wonderful happy thoughts and music. There are parents who talk to the unborn child and swear that their child is clever and an achiever because of this. Try it, ask your doctors about it.

Changes in Routine Help

Babies as well as toddlers and older kids respond to the stimulus offered by experiences in their home and environment. Did you know that the brain of children is stimulated by the variety of sensations encountered each day? So, you can set the wheels in motion by introducing activities within the house as well as outdoors. These will promote learning and interactive experiences. Talk to the child as much as you can. Maintain eye contact and allow the child to absorb your facial expressions. Savor every attempt at communication made by the child be it a hand extended towards you, a gurgle, or smile. Create a rapport between you and the child and you will be surprised to see that the child understands and responds.

Food for Thought

It is not just brain-stimulating activities that boost brain power, the food a child eats affects its thinking as well. Did you know, a brain needs plenty of carbohydrates, fats, as well as proteins, vitamins and minerals for both repair as well as function? In fact, many mothers are witness to mood swings and erratic behavior in their children after the consumption of chocolates or junk sugar foods like candy, icing, syrups, and packaged baked products. The sugar highs and lows caused by certain kinds of foods can make a child fidgety, irritable, inattentive, and sleepy.

Sharpen the Intellect

The goal of education is to teach children to be effective thinkers —as you know, this is what equips them to stay ahead in situations where solutions need to be found at the snap of fingers. So, you must focus on cognitive development and higher order thinking. As a parent there are a great many ways in which you can work towards the goal of effective thinking and higher reasoning. Technology has made available several computer programs, software CDs, and DVDs that are fun to use and place the children in more and more difficult situations, which they need to solve. The focus of companies such as Smart Neurons are educational teaching aids and toys which fulfill the goal of enhancing thinking, mathematical abilities, and problem solving in children.

All parents want their children to grow up having lots of fun. Parents provide opportunities for their kids to participtate in sports and clubs of all kinds. If they are able, parents fill their home with toys and games to keep their children entertained and happy with things that are safe for kids to do. Parents should, however, see to it that their children have more than just fun. Childhood should be a time filled with learning and trying new things. Parents can combine their child’s desire for fun with their need for learning by choosing educational games.

Educational games are great because they are just what their name suggests: games that provide children with fun and promote their education at the same time. Parents who take seriously their responsibility to help their children learn new things and grow in important knowledge will be pleased to know that educational games are becoming increasingly available and popoular for kids of all ages.

Think about your children’s ages and the unique educational needs they currently have. A three year old should be learning different things than an eight year old. If you are unsure of what educational games to buy for your kids, do a little research to see what kinds of needs your kids have and then find educational games to fit those needs. Talk to your children’s teachers to get good ideas of the needs that each of your kids have. Teachers will likely be able to suggest specific skills and goals that you can work on at home.

Educational games are a great way for parents to get involved in educating their children. Consider substituting educational games instead of a sporting event or an after school club that your kids are involved in. Find ways to balance the things your kids love to do with the things your kids need to be learning. In no time you may find that your kids choose educational games on their own once their learn how fun the games can be. It is a great thing when kids begin to request that educational games be a part of family time or a game night. Families can spend hours of quality time together laughing as they learn.

You can find educational games at many stores or online. Many companies are creating a wide variety of educational games for every budget. The next time you are tempted to pick up the latest video game for your child or to enroll them in an after school club, consider instead teaching your children to love learning by purchasing educational games for them.

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When Should You Begin Teaching Children To Read?

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It is never too early to begin teaching your child to read, or at least laying the foundation for early literacy skills, and it can definitely be left too late!

If you are not sure then think about this. Statistically, more American children suffer long-term life-long harm from the process of learning to read than from parental abuse, accidents, and all other childhood diseases and disorders combined. In purely economic terms, reading related difficulties cost our nation more than the war on terrorism, crime, and drugs combined.

Reading problems are a further challenge to our world by contribute significantly to the perpetuation of socio-economic, racial and ethnic inequities. However it is not just poor and minority children who struggle with reading. According to the 2002 national report card on reading by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), most of our children (64%) are less than proficient in reading even after 12 years of our attempts to teach them.

Even without knowing these worrisome statistics we are aware that reading proficiency is essential to success–not only academically but in life. As the American Federal of Teachers states: “No other skill taught in school and learned by school children is more important than reading. It is the gateway to all other knowledge. Teaching students to read by the end of third grade is the single most important task assigned to elementary schools. Those who learn to read with ease in the early grades have a foundation on which to build new knowledge. Those who do not are doomed to repeated cycles of frustration and failure.”

More than any other subject or skill, our children’s futures are determined by how well they learn to read.

Reading is absolutely fundamental. It has been said so often that it has become meaningless but it does not negate its truth. In our society, in our world, the inability to read consigns children to failure in school and consigns adults to the lowest strata of job and life opportunities.

And just when we thought the stakes could get no higher, over the last decade, educational research findings have discovered that how well children learn to read has other, even more life-shaping, consequences. Most children begin learning to read during a profoundly formative phase in their development. As they begin learning to read, they’re also learning to think abstractly. They are learning to learn and they’re experiencing emotionally charged feelings about who they are and how well they are learning.

What does that mean? Most children who struggle with reading blame themselves. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, the process of learning to read teaches these children to feel ashamed of themselves–ashamed of their minds–ashamed of how they learn.

And the sad truth is that they have nothing to be ashamed about. As Dr. Grover Whitehurst, Director Institute of Education Sciences, Assistant Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education (2003) says: “Reading failure for nearly every child is not the child’s failure; it’s the failure of policy makers, the failure of schools, the failure of teachers and the failure of parents. We need to reconceptualize what it means to learn to read and who’s responsible for its success if we’re going to deal with the problem.”

Do you want to wait for the policy makers to find a solution? Do you trust that they will? Or would you rather make sure that the job is done right by taking charge yourself?

I know what my answer is because I know first-hand from witnessing my brother’s life-long difficulties what an irrevocable impact a reading struggle early in life can make. It can mark your child for life!

I’m not promising that your child can learn to read early or that they won’t experience difficulty. After all, there is a significant number of children suffering from learning disabilities. These children will struggle. However, early instruction may ease their suffering and make the struggle a bit easier to handle. At the very least you will know that you did everything you could to help your child-and your child will know that as well. That cannot be wasted effort!

And you have a head-start on every educator because you know your child–herr temperament, her strengths, and her weaknesses. You are the person best equipped to begin teaching your child.

So we come back to the central question-when should your child’s reading education begin? Traditional American Education models call for teaching a child to read between the ages of 7-9. Obviously we cannot begin teaching a newborn how to read. However, we can begin in infancy to lay the foundation for literacy which will in the end make your child a stronger reader.

Literacy is defined as an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, compute, and solve problems, at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society.

Many of the simple things we do at home with our children support the development of literacy so you are already working to make your child more literate even if you are not actively beginning the process to teach your child to read. This includes simple activities such as reading to your child, reciting nursery rhymes, and singing songs.

But what if you do want to become a more active participant? There are many things you can do and it doesn’t mean you need to invest hundreds of dollars in an expensive reading program. You don’t actually need to spend much money at all to teach your child to read at home-or at the least prepare your child well for the beginning of reading instruction in school. Most parents already have the tools you need in your home to begin today!

This is why I stress that it is never too early to begin-if you work with your child’s development and make learning fun and interesting as well as challenging.

My essential strategy as an educator is to create learning opportunities and then to get out of the way of my students so they can learn. Learning is an active experience that should fully engage the participant. I believe that when I am “teaching” that the student is only passively involved in the learning process. I see myself much more as a guide and a resource than a teacher in my classroom. I have taken this approach with my son’s education and it has been very successful.

We have various learning toys and aids in our home and there are many lessons taking place each day (at home and away) but I have never drilled him on facts or even used flashcards.

If you can find ways to make learning fun and exciting-something that your child actually wants to do with you-then begin as soon as possible.

Your child will have plenty of opportunity for dry lectures, mind-numbing repetitive drills, and boring lessons as they grow older so don’t even go there. If you can’t make learning fun and more like play than work then don’t even go there. Trust your child’s education to the professionals and hope for the best. Remember, there are many wonderful teachers out there so you child is not doomed to failure even if you don’t intervene. However, the system is not a success and it is likely that at some point during the process your child may be adversely effected by it! That’s why I take an active role in my child’s education.

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