Category Archives: Parenting

Nina’s Rush Hour Victory!

This video made my day!  A father teaching in Japan recently shared this fantastic video of his 5 year old daughter Nina working diligently through tough Rush Hour challenges.  Her flushed cheeks and “tired brain” at the end are signs of a real mind workout!

I sent Nina’s dad a message congratulating Nina on her impressive problem solving and was thrilled to hear back right away…

“Wow! What an honor to get a message from you! I discovered Rush Hour 10 years ago, in the U.S. I enjoyed it so much, I bought one to take back to Japan. My Japanese wife loves it, too. After doing all the cards, we put it away and forgot about it until Nina came along. I thought five might be too young, but Nina surprised us!”

Bravo Nina!

It is such a thrill making connections with thinkers all over the world… do you have great photos or video of your favorite game(s) in action?  Please share!

The Today Show Celebrates Smart Toys for Smarter Girls and Boys!

What a thrill to wake up this morning and see Stephanie Oppenheim on the Today Show in a segment featuring games that support learning through play! Even better? She shared two ThinkFun games that are very close to my heart – Zingo 1-2-3 and Rush Hour – both the physical game and the app!

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I worked closely with our Product Development team to fine tune the design and game play for Zingo! 1-2-3, so it was a very proud moment to see this game celebrated for the fun way it builds number sense skills and reinforces math facts!

Love to see healthy brain play being celebrated!

The Case for Play

Came across a fantastic article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that I just had to share.  This piece details the challenges that educators, researchers, and parents face today as free play is squeezed out of kids’ academic lives, marginalized by test-driven curricula, and pushed aside in favor of over-scheduled “downtime” by well-meaning adults seeking to give their kids a leg up.  The power of play cannot be overstated, and I particularly appreciated one of the comments in response:

BStevens: “This is kind of like discovering that people who eat live longer than people who don’t eat. I have a PhD, but I would say that 90% of the most useful things I know I learned either from my parents at home, my siblings, or from “free play” both as a child and as a grown-up.”

February 20, 2011

The Case for Play: How a handful of researchers are trying to save childhood.

By Tom Bartlett

Lucas Sherman and Aniyah McKenzie are building a house in Central Park. It is small, even by Manhattan standards, and the amenities leave something to be desired. But Lucas, who is 6, and Aniyah, who is 7, seem pleased with their handiwork. The house has a skylight (a hole torn in cardboard) and a flat-screen television (a black square of fabric). Lucas is too busy to answer a stranger’s annoying questions, but Aniyah, who is holding a feather duster, explains that she must clean the walls because they are very dirty.

Lucas’s father, Dan, observes the project from a nearby bench. “It’s amazing what you can do with boxes and junk,” he says.

photo 10230 portrait wide The Case for Play

Pretend play—being a chef "cooking" with Play-Doh, for example—may be essential to children's development, say some researchers.

Lucas Sherman and Aniyah McKenzie are building a house in Central Park. It is small, even by Manhattan standards, and the amenities leave something to be desired. But Lucas, who is 6, and Aniyah, who is 7, seem pleased with their handiwork. The house has a skylight (a hole torn in cardboard) and a flat-screen television (a black square of fabric). Lucas is too busy to answer a stranger’s annoying questions, but Aniyah, who is holding a feather duster, explains that she must clean the walls because they are very dirty.

Lucas’s father, Dan, observes the project from a nearby bench. “It’s amazing what you can do with boxes and junk,” he says.

That could almost be the slogan of the New York Coalition for Play, which provided the boxes and junk. The nonprofit association ran one of the two dozen booths at the Ultimate Block Party, an event last fall that brought together companies like Disney, Crayola, and Lego, along with researchers from Columbia and MIT, and attracted thousands of parents and children. The goal was to “celebrate the science of play” and to push back against the notion that education happens only when students are seated at their desks, staring at chalkboards, and scribbling furiously in their notebooks.

The rally of sorts was the brainchild of two top play researchers, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, the authors of Einstein Never Used Flashcards (Rodale, 2003) and editors, along with Dorothy Singer, of Play=Learning (Oxford University Press, 2006). They want to take what they’ve learned in the lab and proclaim it in the park, or wherever else people will listen. The message is this: The emphasis on standardized testing, on attempting to constantly monitor, measure, and quantify what students learn, has forced teachers to spend more of the school day engaged in so-called direct instruction and has substantially reduced or eliminated opportunities that children have for exploring, interacting, and learning on their own. Recess has, in many districts, vanished from the schedule entirely. After school, parents shuttle their kids from activity to activity, depriving them of unstructured time alone or with friends.

That matters, according to researchers, not just because play reduces stress and makes children more socially competent—which evidence suggests that it does. It matters also because play supposedly improves working memory and self-regulation; in other words, it makes kids sharper and better-behaved. So, ironically, by shortchanging them on play in favor of academics, we may actually be inhibiting their development. Hirsh-Pasek, a psychology professor at Temple University, considers the move away from play to be a crisis, even comparing it to global warming, in the sense that it may take years for the consequences to be felt. When it comes to the value of play, she declares: “The science is clear.”

But how clear is it? Even researchers who’ve devoted much of their careers to studying play question the more inflated claims of its importance. Within the world of those who take play seriously, there are multiple camps, each with its own dearly held tenets. There are the Free Players, who argue that play is a human right and that adults should more or less leave kids alone. There are the Play Skeptics, who see play as useful for blowing off steam but are dubious about its cognitive upside. And there are Play Moderates, who advocate a mix of free play, adult-guided play, and traditional classroom instruction. No matter whom you’re talking with, though, it seems every discussion about play eventually comes around to a prolific Russian psychologist who died more than 75 years ago.

Before tuberculosis claimed him, at just 37, Lev Vygotsky managed to produce a stack of volumes on topics as diverse as the psychology of art, the relationship between thought and language, the problem of consciousness, the behavior of primitive man, scientific language, and child development. While the amount of work he cranked out is notable in itself, what’s more impressive is how influential that work has become, even though much of it remained unpublished and untranslated for decades following his death.

For play researchers, no one looms larger than Vygotsky, whose name, along with that of his longer-lived and better-known contemporary, Jean Piaget, pops up on seemingly every other page of the literature. Vygotsky viewed play, particularly pretend play, as a critical part of childhood, allowing a child, as he said in one oft-repeated quote, to stand “a head taller than himself.” His biggest theoretical contribution may have been the Zone of Proximal Development: the idea that children are capable of a range of achievement during each stage of their lives. In the right environment, and with the right guidance (which was later dubbed “scaffolding”), children can perform at the top of that range.

For instance, Vygotsky explained, when a child can pretend that a broomstick is a horse, he or she is able to separate the object from the symbol. A broom is not a horse, but it’s possible to call a broom a horse, and even to pretend to ride it. That ability to think abstractly is a huge mental leap forward, and play can make it happen.

Among the many who have been influenced by Vygotsky is Deborah J. Leong, the author, along with Elena Bodrova, of Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education, an attempt to turn his theories into practical classroom techniques. Leong, a professor emerita of psychology at Metropolitan State College of Denver, points out that when young children are pretending, they often use bigger words than they normally would and fully inhabit their roles, like mini Method actors. If they’re playing doctor, for instance, they might say “injection” or “thermometer.” Recently she watched a group of preschoolers pretending to work at a well-known chain hardware store. “Welcome to Home Depot,” a 4-year-old said. “You can do it, we can help.” Meanwhile another group of children, who were pretending to be airport screeners, informed a would-be passenger that a bottle she was carrying was larger than the permitted three ounces.

Pretend play isn’t just about vocabulary. A 2007 study published in Science looked at how 4- and 5-year-olds who were enrolled in a school that used the play-based, Vygotsky-inspired Tools of the Mind curriculum measured up to children in a more typical preschool. The students in the play-based school scored better on cognitive flexibility, self-control, and working memory—attributes of “executive function,” which has been consistently linked to academic achievement. The results were so convincing that the experiment was halted earlier than planned so that children in the typical preschool could be switched to the Tools of the Mind curriculum. The authors conclude: “Although play is often thought frivolous, it may be essential.”

With evidence like that, you might think that the kind of guided pretend play that Vygotsky favored would be universally embraced. In fact, according to Leong, it’s fast disappearing, as the idea of learning becomes synonymous with memorization and standardized tests. Play is steadily losing out to what play proponents refer to as the “drill and kill” method. “We drill more because they can’t pay attention, but they can’t pay attention because they don’t have these underlying play skills, so we drill more,” Leong says. “It’s pathetic.”

Not to mention misguided, according to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. Whether children play enough isn’t an obscure debate among developmental psychologists. If it’s true that children who spend too little time playing struggle with executive function, then we may be raising a generation of kids with less self-control, shorter attention spans, and poorer memory skills. If that really is the case, Hirsh-Pasek’s talk about a crisis isn’t so far-fetched.

She sees the Ultimate Block Party as the first step in a national effort to get people to stop dismissing play and start questioning the way we assume children learn. She wants to speak directly to parents, most of whom aren’t poring over every issue of Child Development for the latest research on play. The goal, in a sound bite, is to take that research “into the streets, subways, and supermarkets.”

It’s not every day that an academic stages a spectacle in Central Park to bring attention to what is, honestly, a fairly small field of research. To pull it off, Hirsh-Pasek hired a public-relations agency and drummed up big-name corporate sponsors. There was a Sesame Street sing-a-long, what was billed as “New York’s Largest Simon Says,” and a Radio Disney Dance Party. A small company called Ridemakerz hawked its build-your-own remote-control cars. Not to mention the guy selling a nifty iPhone app that lets you play a technologically enhanced game of hide-and-seek using the smartphone’s GPS capability.

There were also decidedly less-profit-driven booths, like the one run by the New York Coalition for Play. Rather than whiz-bang gadgets, they offered cardboard boxes and tubes, lots of fabric, ribbon, empty wine crates, and assorted items that would otherwise be found in a recycling bin. One of those overseeing the booth was Edward Miller, a senior researcher at the nonprofit group Alliance for Childhood, part of whose mission is to promote creative play. When asked what he thought of the Ridemakerz booth just a few yards away, he couldn’t help rolling his eyes. “We’re also concerned about the overcommercialization of play,” he said. “The right answer is less programming and more opportunities for kids to make up things on their own.”

Hirsh-Pasek is well aware that play purists look askance at including corporations in the pro-play campaign. Those who take a hard line on free play—that is, giving children basic materials like boxes and fabric and then leaving them alone—have zero use for Nickelodeon kid bands and pricey remote-control cars, which they see as just more ways for adults to get in the way. What she has in mind is a big tent, one that doesn’t exclude fancy toys or snappy musical productions. Nor does she have much patience for advocates who claim that the only valuable play is the kind that doesn’t involve anyone over 18. She wants kids to play on their own, sure, but she also wants them to engage in more guided play, where an adult or older child can take part.

There’s research to back her up. A study she recently submitted for publication gave blocks to children divided into three groups. In one group, the blocks had already been assembled into a heliport. A second group was given blocks, and adults helped the children follow directions to build a heliport. A third group was given blocks and told to do whatever it wanted. The researchers then listened to the language children were using as they played. Those who were building a heliport with an adult used the most imaginative and spatial language (like “below,” “on top,” “next to”); the kids who were playing with the preassembled heliport used the least.

While she’s no purist, Hirsh-Pasek is suspicious of some of the toys that purport to be educational. The title of Einstein Never Used Flashcards (subtitled How Our Children Really Learn—and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less) is an apparent slap at the Disney-owned Baby Einstein company. She also cites research that shows that electronic books for kids, the kind that talk and make noises, actually distract young readers: Kids who read them remember less of the narrative than kids who read the story on old-fashioned paper. What’s more, Hirsh-Pasek says, she turned down millions of dollars from a corporate sponsor (which she declines to identify) that requested the right to name the Ultimate Block Party.

In many ways, she is placing herself in the middle. She’s not trying to run toy companies out of business, but she is willing to criticize products that do more harm than good. She’s not attempting to tear down traditional classroom education, but she is pushing hard for more play in schools obsessed with testing. To that end, she’s working to make the research on play palatable for teachers and parents.

How good that research is, though, is a matter of debate. Peter K. Smith began studying play in the mid-1970s. At the time, he was a believer in the “play ethos,” which he defines in his recent book, Children and Play, as the “very strong and unquestioned view of the importance of play.” In that book, he quotes numerous researchers waxing enthusiastic about play’s importance, asserting that it is “vital” and “the work of childhood” and “the supreme psychological need.”

Later, Smith, a professor of psychology at the University of London, became a skeptic. “I looked at the textbooks of play” from Piaget forward, he says. “They said play is essential for development, that it enhanced this and this, and that and that, but they don’t cite any evidence.” So he decided to take a closer look. In the late 1980s, he picked a couple of studies that claimed to demonstrate the benefits of play. In one study, researchers had found that playing with small objects helped young children learn how to solve problems. Another showed that play made kids more creative. Smith replicated both using a double-blind procedure to eliminate any potential research bias.

His findings showed no difference in creativity or problem-solving ability between the kids who played and those who didn’t. It was a setback for play advocates and made researchers wonder whether the field was based on science or sentimental hype.

More than two decades after Smith’s debunking, researchers like Angeline Lillard, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, are still raising some of the same questions. “I think if you look hard at all the studies people cite as showing that play helps development, they are either correlation studies”—in other words, they don’t prove that play actually causes cognitive gains—”or they have problems,” she says.

Not that Lillard, or Smith, for that matter, is antiplay. Lillard is the author of the best-selling book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius and has written about the possible links between pretend play and social cognition. She does, however, believe that the field is in need of newer and better research. “My own view is that I would like for us to have firmer footing to stand on,” she says.

But while scientific support for play can be overstated, sometimes the criticism of play can be unfounded. Last September, Time magazine published an article with the headline “Free Play Won’t Make Your Child Smarter.” The article was prompted by a study that looked at how 2,751 preschoolers fared in programs with a variety of approaches, including free play and traditional group instruction. That study concluded that “more quality instructional time” and “less free play time” would better prepare kids for school.

But the study’s case against play in school isn’t entirely persuasive. It’s true that the kids who spent the largest chunk of their school day (41 percent) engaged in free play were behind their counterparts on skills like naming letters, naming numbers, and writing their names. But those who spent 29 percent of their time in teacher-guided play actually performed at the same level as the kids who played much less (only 13 to 15 percent of the time) when it came to naming numbers, highest number counted, language and literacy, word and letter identification, and writing their names legibly. In short, they played twice as much but learned the same amount. One of the authors of the report, Nina Chien, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at San Diego, acknowledges in an e-mail that this was proof “that kids can play a lot but still make good gains.”

More interesting is what the researchers didn’t test. Did the children who played more demonstrate higher levels of self-control and better working memory, as other research suggests they would? If so, did they outperform the kids—preschoolers, remember—who spent 15 percent or less of their time playing? Is being smart a race to see who can memorize the most, or is it about developing capacities to deal with a complex world?

While much of the research on play focuses on young children, the implications go well beyond third grade. In junior high, play is more likely to be called “discovery learning.” When professors try to get college students to look up from their iPhones, it’s probably referred to as “active engagement.” But the principles are the same. Stuart Brown, one of the authors of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, has reviewed thousands of life histories and concluded that play is essential for children and adults. He’s intent on spreading that gospel through his organization, the National Institute for Play, whose mission is to make human play a “credentialed discipline in the scientific community.”

And it’s not just people. That nonhuman primates engage in sophisticated play has been thoroughly established, and anyone who has dangled a string in front of a cat has conducted animal research. In his book The Genesis of Animal Play, Gordon Burghardt, a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee, reports playful behavior in lizards, turtles, and birds. Even fish have been known to amuse themselves.

For Hirsh-Pasek, the universality of play is part of the evidence of its value. Why would we do it if it didn’t confer an evolutionary advantage? She concedes that some of the play research is more suggestive than slam-dunk, and that cleaner, stronger studies would be welcome. But she also argues that we already know enough to conclude that play matters, and that failing to preserve it in the lives of children could be a disaster.

She’s doing her part to stave that off. Hirsh-Pasek says 40 cities have expressed interest in holding their own Ultimate Block Parties. She and her colleagues will soon unveil a Web site to promote play research, and more books are on the way. Their goal, she says, is to restore play to its rightful, respected place in the lives of children. “Even if we don’t understand it perfectly, it’s silly to take play away from society,” she says. “It’s like taking love away. It’s crazy.”

 

Resource: Here is a great link for parents and professionals interested in studying the psychological effects of children learning in unconventional environments.

Is Your Child an iPad Addict?!

Yesterday, New York Times technology columnist David Pogue shared this very funny, and very insightful post on the captivating hold his iPad has over his 6 year old son:

pogue main 299x74 Is Your Child an iPad Addict?!

A Parent’s Struggle With a Child’s iPad Addiction

I think my 6-year-old is addicted to the iPad.

He asks for it constantly. He wants to use it in the car. He wants to use it at every unscheduled moment at home. He brings it to the dinner table.

When I tell him it’s time to shut off the iPad and head up to bed, or put his shoes on, or head out to the bus, he doesn’t hear me the first three times I ask. Sometimes, he gets bizarrely upset when I say I have to take it away now — out-of-character upset. That’s what makes me think he’s addicted.

And trust me — having read The New York Times series on the physiological effects of electronics on young minds, I’m plenty worried.

Now, before you begin sending the volleys of “bad parent” e-mails, let me reassure you: I’ve described what my son wants, not what he gets. We do have policies. The rule for my three kids is: no electronics on school days except what you actually need for schoolwork. No gadgets at mealtime or bedtime. Gadgets are O.K. when you’re home sick or in the car for long trips.

My older two kids manage to stick with those rules (mostly). My youngest, though, asks for that darned iPad constantly.

And I’ll be straight with you: I generally enforce the rule, but sometimes it’s tough. Because, let’s face it: When he’s on the iPad, he’s happy. He’s quiet. He’s engaged. And in this family, the two older siblings form a tween bloc (my oldest are 13 and almost 12), and then there’s a big age gap. So it can be hard to find activities, games or conversations that involve all three simultaneously.

The iPad is a magic electronic babysitter that creates instant peace in the household. If you told me you’d never, even occasionally, be tempted to hand it over, I’d say I doubt you.

What makes my feelings on this subject even more complicated is that, in general, my 6-year-old isn’t playing mindless video games. He’s not allowed to play shoot-‘em-ups or violent games at all. Instead, he’s encouraged to play creative apps — and most of the time, he does.

He spends hours, for example, playing with Puppet Pals, an amazing free app that lets you create animated cartoons. You choose a backdrop — say, the Wild West, or a pirate ship. Then you drag cutout characters around with your fingers; you can move them left, right, up, down, or forward and backward (they get smaller when you move them farther away). You provide the dialogue yourself. The app records everything you do, both audio and character motions. Later, you can play back the whole thing for your proud papa. Yes, my 6-year-old is creating his own animated shorts.

He also loves EasyBeats, a music app where you lay down one instrument track at a time, as the four-measure pattern loops over and over. He builds complex rhythms, one layer at a time.

Come on, how can apps like that be bad for a kid? Is it really that much different from playing with paper cutouts? Or blocks? Or a toy drum set?

When he does play games, he favors thinking games like Cut the Rope (a clever physics-based puzzle game) or Rush Hour (strategy puzzles). Heck, even Angry Birds involves some thinking. You have to plan ahead and calculate and use resources wisely.

iPadScreenShot 300x225 Is Your Child an iPad Addict?!

Rush Hour iPad app

In the old days, we used to tut-tut about how much TV kids watched — but parents usually made an exception for educational shows like “Sesame Street” and “Between the Lions.” How is this any different? Shouldn’t we make exceptions for creative and problem-solving apps?

In other words, I’m doing a lot of thinking lately. Is a gadget automatically bad for our children just because it’s electronic? What if it’s fostering a love of music, an affinity for theater and expertise in strategy and problem-solving? Is it a bad thing for a kid to be so much in love with mental exercises? Am I really being a good parent by yanking THAT away?

For now, I’m trying to live by the mantra, “Moderation in all things.” As long as iPad use is part of a balanced diet of more physical play and non-electronic activities, I think my little guy will probably be O.K.

Weigh in!  Do you give your child access to your smart phone/iPad?  Are there particular apps that you’ve found to be particularly engaging/effective as learning tools?

5 Ways to Make Family Game Night More Fun!

Happy Friday!  What better way to kick off the weekend than with Family Game Night!? The following article is from the fabulous moms at Chocolate Cake Moments blog… Check out these 5 great ideas to make Family Game Night more fun!

Is your Family Game Night feeling a little stale? The kids aren’t that excited about it anymore? Or, do you have a hard time convincing the family to even have a Game Night? Here are 5 ideas to inject a little more fun and creativity into your family’s special evening.

Ducks in a Row mom and child1 5 Ways to Make Family Game Night More Fun!

1. Put on a Costume.
Why just play a game when you can play the game in a silly way? For example, if you are playing a pirate game, have everyone wear pirate hats or eye patches. If playing the Snorta animal game, wear an animal mask. Make them out of paper plates before the game begins.

Or, I think everything is more fun when you are wearing a hat, so grab some of those plastic poker dealer hats and enjoy the silliness.

2. Get a Bigger Family!
Family Game Night isn’t limited to just your immediate family. While it’s definitely fun to spend time with the kids talking and bonding over games, shake it up a little and invite another family to double the fun. Have them bring their favorite family games over so you can try new ones.

3. Round Robin
If you have a larger crowd for Game Night or a mixed group of kids and adults, split up and have several games going at once. Set up a game in the kitchen, one in the family room, and one in another room. Each person then moves round robin to the next game as they finish playing. That way you’ll end up playing a few different games and not end up stuck playing the same thing all night (especially since not everyone likes the same games).

4. Create a mood.
Sometimes just changing the location of game night can be exciting. Instead of playing on the kitchen table, play on the floor of the family room. Put your jammies on and play in Mom & Dad’s bed. Set up a table in the backyard and play. Or pitch a tent to host game night. Here’s an idea that I received from another Mom – play by candlelight. She told me that her kids just love it when they have “No Electricity” night and set up their games near the fireplace or by candles to play.

5. Prizes? I Love prizes!
If you’re going to play games, you need prizes. Large chocolate bars or movie-theater size boxes of candy are great prizes to give to the game winners. If you are playing with younger kids you may need to make sure that everyone is a winner and receives prizes, but for older kids and adults let the competition begin.

You can also play for chores or activities as prizes. If Mom wins, she gets to give a chore coupon to someone in the house so they have to empty the dishwasher. Now who’s ready to play, Mom? Mom or Dad can make up the coupons letting the kids stay up an hour later, get out of chores, or earn an extra dollar of allowance one week. Or, before the game have each player write down 2 – 3 coupon ideas. If they win, they get to hand in their coupon to another player. The other player then has to do what it says on the coupon. (You might need to set some limits but feel free to be creative.)

Need new material?  Click here for great new family games to add to your collection!

I hope these ideas have inspired you to shake up your family game night or start the tradition. What are you waiting for? Go get your game on!

What do you do to spice up your Family Game Night?!

7 Questions to Stretch Your Child’s Thinking During Play

Maria Rainier photo1 150x150 7 Questions to Stretch Your Child’s Thinking During PlayThe following guest post is by Maria Rainier, a stay at home mom, freelance writer, and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online degrees.

It’s no new fact that kids learn when at play, and as parents and teachers, we know that it’s best to tell less and ask more.  When at play with toys and make-believe, children engage in self-regulation—inner speech that influences self-discipline and learning in later years according to executive function researcher Laura Berk in NPR article “Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills.” By engaging children with questions in their world of learning and make-believe, adults can in fact enhance and help develop a child’s thinking skills.

Maria article photo 7 Questions to Stretch Your Child’s Thinking During Play

What questions, then, to ask?  Keep the following key points in mind the next time you’re in the sandbox with your kid, courtesy of Clayton Early Learning.

1. Ask questions about concepts.

If your kid is playing with shapes, ask, “Why doesn’t this shape (triangle) fit in this slot (circle)?”  If you’re at the park, take animals into consideration.  Ask, “Why isn’t this animal (bird) the same as that animal (dog)?”

2. Ask questions to get kids analyzing and reasoning.

The next time you help your child put on a rain jacket, ask, “Why do we need to wear a rain jacket today when we didn’t wear one yesterday?”

3. Ask questions to link thoughts across activities.

When learning about fruits or vegetables, take children into the kitchen and have them observe (or help, if they’re capable) the process of cooking a snack or dinner.  Ask, “What can we use this tomato for?”

4. Ask questions to help kids apply concepts to real life.

Try drawing different types of graphs with your child about how many days in the last week it rained, how many dogs they saw at the park over the week, how many red, white, black, blue, and green cars they saw on the way home from the grocery store, etc.

5. Ask questions to inspire creativity.

Encourage brainstorming by asking questions like, “How many ways can we get to the park?”

6. Ask questions to spark observation skills and judgment.

If your child already knows the story of the three pigs (or while reading the story to your child), ask, “Why would you want to live in a straw house?  How about a brick house?  Which one might protect the three little piggies from the big, bad wolf better?”

7. Ask questions to inspire self-reflection.

Get kid to think about the very process of thinking.  This encourages critical thinking skills and even gives them very necessary ego boosts.  The next time your kid shows evidence of analysis or creativity, ask, “How did you know that?”

Quick Tips: Successful Game Play for Children with Special Needs

The following post is by Ellen Metrick of the National Lekotek Center, the country’s central source on toys and play for children with special needs.

bluebanner Quick Tips: Successful Game Play for Children with Special Needs

Games have a way to bring families together. There are games that cater to big groups, small gatherings, different ages and yes, different abilities. Children who have disabilities may face many obstacles, but with a little help, games can encourage interaction, development and fun for all involved. And, individual games are helpful for children who may become over-stimulated and need a quiet time activity. Here are a couple tips when choosing the right game for your child/family.

1.      Levels of difficulty Choose games that have different levels of difficulty. This helps children who learn at different rates and can speak to different skills levels. Qwirkle is a domino-like game that can be played simply by matching colors or shapes, but can also incorporate strategic thinking for more advanced players.

SMatc 7911 lores Quick Tips: Successful Game Play for Children with Special Needs2.      Large pieces Choose games that have large components or play pieces like the spinner of S’Match. They are easier to grasp with a whole hand and eliminate the frustration of required refined manipulation.

3.      Play duration Look for games where duration can be altered. Children who have attention difficulties often face the frustration of not being able to complete a game. By altering the game, children can enjoy the game but for the time they are able to commit. Zingo to Go accomplishes this with snap-together pieces. Snap together enough to challenge without overwhelming.Choco 1530 lores Quick Tips: Successful Game Play for Children with Special Needs

4.      Segmented compartments Games that have individual compartments for the play pieces work well for children who may have involuntary movements. The compartments keep the game pieces in the desired spaces. Chocolate Fix is an example of this.

5.      Attached pieces Pick games that have attached pieces, like Amaze. Children who have physical limitations can easily retrieve the attached stylus if it is inadvertently dropped.

Top 10 Tips for Buying Toys for Children with Special Needs

Zingo TRU 300x256 Top 10 Tips for Buying Toys for Children with Special Needs

For many, this Thanksgiving week kicks off the holiday shopping season.  As you prepare your shopping list, it can be particularly challenging to select developmentally-appropriate toys and games for children with special needs.  Not to worry – the folks at the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making play accessible for children with disabilities, are here to help!

Use these 10 criteria and guiding questions to help you navigate the toy aisles!

1. MULTI-SENSORY APPEAL
Does the toy respond with lights, sounds or movement to engage the child?  Are there contrasting colors?  Does it have a scent?  Is there texture?

2. METHOD OF ACTIVATION
Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration?  What is the force required to activate?  What are the number and complexity of steps required to activate?

3. PLACES THE TOY WILL BE USED
Will the toy be easy to store? Is there space in the home?  Can the toy be used in a variety of positions such as side-lying or on a wheelchair tray?

4. OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUCCESS
Can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way?  Is it adaptable to the child’s individual style, ability and pace?

5. CURRENT POPULARITY
Is it a toy that will help the child with special needs feel like “any other kid?”  Does it tie in with other activities, like books and art sets, that promote other forms of play?

6. SELF-EXPRESSION
Does the toy allow for creativity, uniqueness and making choices?  Will it give the child experience with a variety of media?

7. ADJUSTABILITY
Does it have adjustable height, sound volume, speed and level of difficulty?

8. CHILD’S INDIVIDUAL ABILITIES
Does the toy provide activities that reflect both developmental and chronological ages?  Does it reflect the child’s interests and age?

9. SAFETY AND DURABILITY
Does the toy fit with the child’s size and strength?  Does it have moisture resistance?  Are the toy and its parts sized appropriately?  Can it be washed and cleaned?

10. POTENTIAL FOR INTERACTION
Will the child be an active participant during use?  Will the toy encourage social engagement with others?

Looking for more recommendations?  The National Lekotek Center evaluated hundreds of toys to select those featured in this year’s Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids!

Toys R Us Differently-Abled Kids Guide Features Several ThinkFun Favorites!

differently abled guide front cvr 3001 225x300 Toys R Us Differently Abled Kids Guide Features Several ThinkFun Favorites!

2010 Toy guide for Differently Abled Kids

Toys “R” Us, Inc. has released the 2010 edition of the Toys “R” Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids, featuring actress Holly Robinson Peete, mother of a son with autism, and 6-year-old Tommy Austing on the cover. Released annually, the guide helps parents of children with special needs select toys that will help their child develop skills. This year’s guide is the largest edition ever in the publication’s nearly 20-year history, spanning 60 pages.

The toys featured in the guide are assessed by the National Lekotek Center. The association assesses the value of hundreds of toys and at least two skill-building traits are assigned to each toy that appears in the guide. The skills include auditory, creativity, fine motor, gross motor, language, self-esteem, social skills, tactile, thinking, and visual. Additionally, the guide includes “Top Ten Tips for Buying Toys” from the National Lekotek Center and “Safe Play Tips for Children with Special Needs.”

This year’s Guide recognizes four outstanding ThinkFun products: Zingo!, S’Match, What’s GNU?, and Rush Hour.  Download the full guide here and check out pages 47-50!

A Little Zingo Teaches a BIG Life Lesson!

I absolutely LOVE this excerpt from Heather’s “Pumpkins, Cupcakes-, and a Little Zingo!” post on her blog Kaleidoscope.  Heidi’s incredible photography captures her family’s play experience beautifully, and shows her son learning an important life lesson through play!
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Once upon a time, a loving yet, apparently competitive family decided to play a game of Zingo!
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they laughed, smiled, and were just generally happy to be spending some time together before bedtime.
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they played and played until…”ZINGO!” someone won.
beckham was victorious!
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peyton just missed the train tile she needed…
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or had she just not yelled out that magic word.
you see, beckham raised his hands and said, “i won!” and with a covered board…he almost had, but his big sister realized that no one had said zingo and so she quickly grabbed the victory by yelling in her loudest voice…ZINGO! it was over in a matter of seconds…
and suddenly…
the flood gates opened.
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“what? i didn’t get to win?” cried the boy.
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heartbroken becks sobbed while his parents tried to remind him that the rules were the rules and that he needed to remember them in order to play the game correctly. after all, they had been practicing the rules for some time.
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a hard lesson for a small boy.
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soon though, the lesson paid off and the very next game he covered his board and yelled…BINGO! ha. bingo, zingo…it all works!
our sweet little guy. winning isn’t the most important part of a game. learning and doing your best is. besides, winning wouldn’t be as fun if you never lost. we love you, baby boy!