WeAreTeachers Blog Hop STOP #2: The Four Best Educational Toys of All Time

Welcome to the WeAreTeachers Blog Hop Stop #2. If you’re just joining us, head back to the BLOG HOP LAUNCH POST so you can collect all of the necessary clues for a chance to win an iPad, a $50 gift card, and much more!

As a participant in this blog hop, I’ve been asked to write a review of my favorite educational gift. I’ve decided to blog about the four best educational toys of all time, including dress-up clothes, wooden blocks, a cardboard box, and magnetic letters.

Age range:   Pre-K – 3rd grade (and beyond)

Subject areas: Social Skills, Reading, English, Math, Fine Motor, Gross Motor, and specific language development skills including Syntax, Morphology, Phonology, and Phonemic Awareness (not to mention imagination!)

Hot Deal: KidKraft Wooden Block Set – Item #63242 ONLY $15.00 ($5 S&H) from Woot.com

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You’re all on the hunt for the perfect educational toy, right? I’m guessing you’ve found tons of high-tech gadgets, snazzy apps, and gizmos. Call me old school, but I believe it’s a “gift to be simple.” So today, I’ve chosen four of the Best Educational Toys of All Time, and I’m betting your holiday budget will be glad I did.

1. There’s no better educational toy than a good old-fashioned dress-up box. Children learn best through hands-on play, and the benefits of imaginary role-play are endless. They won’t know it, but while pretending to be dragons, teachers, or superheroes, they’ll actually be learning sequencing, storytelling, language, and creativity, not to mention the social and communicative skills involved when acting out scenes with peers. But there’s no need to spend a fortune to gather a spectacular imagination kit.

  • Visit local thrift stores or garage sales for treasures.
  • Include old costumes, scarves, hats, vests, and shirts.
  • Consider clip-on earrings, necklaces, watches, and bracelets.
  • Don’t forget used cell phones, appointment books, or calculators for the briefcase or purse.
  • Antique suitcases can store the clothes and double as props.
  • A cape is a must. For a great selection of budget-friendly capes, visit: http://powercapes.com/ready-made-capes

2. If you splurge on one manufactured toy this holiday, consider a set of wooden blocks. These target much more than motor skills, and your children will still be playing with blocks long after the batteries have died in all their other toys.

  • Create castles, farms, skyscrapers, and camps and then add action figures to put these original playsets in motion.
  • Build balance beams and obstacle courses and then practice moving through the maze.
  • Construct roads and bridges, and pretend those roads lead all sorts of places, both real and imaginary.
  • Target basic skills such as counting, shapes, and cognitive concepts including  more, less, big/bigger/biggest, tall, short, and prepositions (in front, behind, next to, on top, above, under, etc.). Ex: “Challenge: What can you build with five blocks?” “Now, can you make something bigger/smaller/taller/shorter, etc.”  “Add two more on top.”
  • Decoupage family photos (or classmates) to the blocks, helping young children recognize faces, or attach flashcards to teach letters and numbers.

                       

3. If you really want to encourage free spirits and a wild imagination, give your kids a sturdy cardboard box. It can become a runaway train, a secret hideout, a roaring racecar, or a spectacular spaceship. Upside down it becomes a stove, a table, a mountain, or a desk. Stuffed animals make fun play companions and with a little encouragement, children can spend their best years converting that simple box into an infinite world of wonder.

4. Finally, for teaching letter recognition, phonics, reading, and spelling, you can invest in tons of expensive programs, OR you can purchase a cheap set of magnetic letters. I encourage you to purchase lowercase letters because most of the words we read are written in lowercase. Use these on your refrigerator or with a metal cookie sheet for lap work.

If Lakeshore doesn’t have what you’re looking for, here’s another site with tons of letter kits at bargain prices http://www.abcstuff.com/magnetic-letters.php They offer great sets with multiple letters (so you can spell words), uppercase and lowercase, various sizes, and they even have foam letters that can be used for bathtub fun. (Also be sure to look for their Daily Special and Web Specials for super deals.)

How to use Magnetic Letters to teach kids at various levels:

  • I Spy the Letter A . . . : For the early letter-learners, reduce the set to five letters at a time and challenge children to find the letters you spy from that set. For example, show the letters: A, T, B, S, W. Then say, “I spy the letter S.” If they can’t find it, point to it, repeat the letter name, and then prompt with a new challenge. Reduce the set to two or three letters for beginners, and make the set larger as their skills increase.
  • Who Goes There?: Put the letters in alphabetical order but then remove a few random letters. Place the ‘lost’ letters under the alphabet and ask kids to help the lost letters find their way home.
  • Word Families: Help little ones learn to read by changing the first or last sound to make new words. For example:  Place the letters “_at” together and slide various consonants in front to make real and nonsense words (cat, bat, rat, zat, wat). Laugh hysterically when they read a “silly word.”
  • Morph: It’s fun to teach difficult morphological concepts with magnetic letters. Simple add ‘s’ to the end of a word and VOILA! You suddenly have more than one. Start with dog, cat, etc. and show your kiddo how to make one into many. Try learning other prefixes and suffixes such as: er, est, ly, y, re, un, pre, mis, less, ful, etc.
  • Message Me: Place all of the letters in one cluttered group on the fridge and encourage kids to stop by to create a word or two. Surprise one another with creative word creations throughout the week. Start with simple CVC words (dog, cat, pat). Write family members’ names, pets’ names, etc. This is also a great way for you to leave sweet messages for your readers (many letter kits on the site linked above include multiple letters to build words).
  • For a Grade: Challenge older children to put the letters in alphabetical order or to create their spelling words each week on the fridge!

The next stop on the blog hop is: The WeAreTeachers Book Club

Your clue is:  OPPORTUNITIES

More Chances to Win: Thanks for taking part in this blog hop. Now, you can enter to win a set of my children’s books: God is with me through the Day (writtent to help young children cope with seperation anxiety) and God is with me through the Night (a book to help children overcome nightmares and fears of sleeping alone), as well as my NYT bestselling novel, Into the FreeTo enter, do one (or more) of the things below:

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Day 23: Ha! Ha! Ha-lidays!

Image from pinterest.com

While little ones learn to master Ho! Ho! Ho!, challenge your older kids with these fun Christmas tongue twisters.

  • Chocolate cocoa cravings cure colds
  • Santa sings shining star songs
  • Sally skis super slow
  • Big bright bells banish boredom
  • Grumpy Grinch goes grizzly gus
  • Pretty packages perfectly packed
  • Tip-top tiny tot toys
  • Sally’s striped stocking’s stuffed slightly
  • Santa’s super souped sleigh swiftly slides sideways
  • Cheery cute caroling Christmas critters
  • Candy cane cookies keep kids coming

And tell silly jokes, like these:

Q: What does Santa eat for breakfast? A: Frosted Flakes!

Q: Why does Santa have three gardens? A: So he can Hoe Hoe Hoe!

Q: What do elves learn in school? A: The Elf-abet!

Day 22: A Little Angel Did It!

image by artsopure.com.au

If this beautiful photograph by artsopure.com.au doesn’t inspire you to wear wings, I don’t know what will. Help your little ones learn the importance of practicing kindness, even when no one is around to see. For the entire day, they should sneak around and practice random acts of kindness. When asked, “Did you make your sister’s bed?” They should say, “A little angel did it!”

 

Help point out ideas so they can learn to look for opportunities such as cleaning up the toys, taking the dish to the sink after dinner, sharing the last cookie, etc. It won’t take long for the lesson to sink in: kindness is fun! And it’s even better when it’s given without being recognized for the effort.

 

Day 21: Good Morning, Love!

image from frostmeblog.blogspot.com

Rise and shine! It’s time to put a little love in those tummies with this terrific idea from frostmeblog.com . Simply unroll refrigerated cinnamon rolls and reshape into hearts. Bake as directed and wait for the smiles!

Day 20: Add a Little Magic to the Bathtub

image from pinterest.com

Who says elves don’t take baths? Reindeer too? This is how they bathe in the North Pole! Drop dollarstore glowsticks into the water and dim the lights for an absolutely polar-ific tubtime!

 
 
 

Day 19: Gratitude Rolls

Image from beautyandbedlam.com

Looking for a special way to keep the true meaning of Christmas alive this holiday season? I LOVE this simple idea from Jen at beautyandbedlam.com .

Start by asking each family member to write on a small slip of paper (let little ones dictate their thoughts for you). Encourage them to share something they are grateful for or a special thought about what Christmas means to them.

Next, prepare rolls, spraying the inside lightly with cooking spray. Place one paper strip in each roll. Bake as directed and serve warm. As each person unwraps a message, they read it aloud to the family at Christmas dinner.