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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How to Help Storm Victims

Today I am thankful for people who reach out to help those in need after major catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy. I’m a Mississippi girl who spent my entire childhood in Louisiana, so while we in the South were lucky to escape Sandy’s wrath this week, we certainly understand the trauma people experience during such an event.
I’m happy to learn Writers and Readers Reach Out 2012 is recognizing the need to support those closest to home (in addition to sponsoring Make Way Partners). If you’re wondering how you can “reach out” to those who have lost their homes or loved ones from Sandy’s surge, CNN offers a list of ways to help, including links to Charity evaluators like Guidestar and Charity Navigator.
Thanks for all you do to make the world a better place.
j

Adoption: What Do Adopted Children Really Think of It?

My friend, Catherine West, has recently published an emotional and personal novel titled Hidden in the Heart. In it, she taps into the complexities of the adoption journey, giving us a new perspective on those most affected by the experience — the children.
I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Cathy, one of the many talented authors working within the Christian realm of the publishing industry today.
Fill in the blank: If you like to read ______, then you’ll like my book, Hidden in the Heart.
Karen Kingsbury, Deborah Raney, Susan Meissner – I love to write romantic family/saga type stories filled with angst and humor and most of all, a healthy dose of healing and restoration.
Cathy, you were adopted as a child. What do you most want people to know about adoption?
I believe adoption is a wonderful thing, however, I don’t believe it’s the fairytale a lot of people think it is. You bring home a relinquished baby from the hospital or from halfway around the world, and don’t get me wrong, this is a GOOD thing. That child is going to have many advantages they might not have had growing up, and most of all, get to be raised in a loving home with parents who can provide for their needs.
BUT…the growing trend within the Christian church of international adoption is something I’m watching with interest. Not that I don’t agree with it or applaud those families who are following the call they believe God has given them, I’m just fearful that many of these kids may grow up with a ton of unanswered questions and not know how to handle it.
The side to adoption that is often not explored is the long-term effect on the adopted child. Not knowing where you came from or who your birth parents are can have, and most likely will have, a profound impact on that child. If this is not dealt with sensitively, being adopted can turn into something negative.
When I was younger, I always felt guilty for wanting to know where I came from. I didn’t feel like I could ask questions. I was afraid of hurting my parents. In the end, I hurt myself for pretending I really didn’t care, didn’t want to know. When I eventually gave in and decided to search, I opened a Pandora’s Box and was blindsided by feelings so soul-deep I barely knew what to do with them, and hadn’t been aware they existed.
All this to say, I am all for adoption, but it is a sensitive subject and needs to be treated as such.
What do you want people to know about Christianity and your understanding of real faith?
Um, well of course I want people to know that all Christians are perfect, we never make mistakes, ever. We’re too holy for that.
Not. Seriously – Real faith is a journey. Real faith is understanding this, knowing we’re not perfect, accepting that we’re never going to be, and quit trying to pretend we are. Real faith to me, in one word, is this – authenticity. Be the real deal. We don’t have time for anything less.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned from your publishing journey?
I’m not sure I’ve really been surprised by anything thus far – maybe a few reader reactions to some of the things in my last novel, Yesterday’s Tomorrow. I don’t exactly write sweet romance, so there were a few raised eyebrows. Too early to say whether I might shock anyone with Hidden in the Heart. I hope not. Or maybe I hope I do. I don’t know.
Sometimes I think it’s too easy to sanitize our writing, to ignore the hard stuff, step around the mud puddles instead of jumping through them. I guess I like to think of it this way – if I never get dirty, I’ll never experience the joy of getting cleaned up by God. It surprises me that some people are still offended by this train of thought.
Do you have more works planned for the future?
New works – yep, I’m always working on something new! My agent currently has two books that she’s shopping, so hopefully they will land on the right desk at some point. If that happens then I’m guessing I’ll be in edit mode again, but for now I’m taking a bit of a break and doing some research on the next book I want to write, which takes place on a winery in Sonoma, CA. Yes, I do think I need to do first hand research for that.
Catherine West is an award-winning author who writes stories of hope and
healing from her island home in Bermuda. Learn more about Catherine by visiting her website and following her blog: Http://www.catherinejwest.com

Gratitude or Attitude? What Dogs Remember And Humans Forget

Are your kids in overload mode from the season of too many gifts? If so, maybe these furry friends will remind them to appreciate the little things. Share this clip with your kiddos and help them remember to always take time to say thanks.

Cheers,
j

Day 25: Merry Christmas!

Luke 2:10-11 NIV

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

Day 24: O, Holy Night!

image from pinterest.com

It’s Christmas Eve! Wow…that went fast.

If you’re like me, now is the time to cuddle up with the kids and savor the silence. Gather your family around a fire or candle tonight and say a family prayer for peace tonight.

Give your kids each a new set of Christmas jammies (an important tradition in our home) and let them open one special gift. For us, this is the gift they have for each other — the sibling gift. We started this tradition when they were very young, and it has become one of most special events of the holiday season.

Whether you are on the road or opening doors to extended family members, try to dedicate this night to focus on what matters most: faith, family, and friends.

Merry Christmas!

j

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!