Tag Archives: preschool

5 Rules For Evaluating So-Called Educational Toys

The following post is by Wendy Smolen.  Wendy is a regular guest blogger at Toy Whimsy and co-founder of Sandbox Summit®, a series of conferences that explore the synergy between play and technology.

The ABC’s of Educational Toys

abcs 300x225 5 Rules For Evaluating So Called Educational ToysIt’s almost unavoidable. Every toy in your toddler’s playroom, from cell phone-shaped rattles to push toys to stacking blocks and caterpillars, seems to be decked out with alphabets. Is this part of our obsession to make kids smarter, faster, sooner? Should you specifically look for toys with ABCs? Or should you leave them on the shelf?

I talked to experts Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Professor in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and author of Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less (Rodale Books) and Dr. Alice Wilder, Ed.D., Chief Content Officer for Kidos, Co-Creator of Think It Ink It Publishing, and Co-Creator and Head of Research and Education for the PBS show Super Why!

Based on their insights, here are 5 basic rules to educate yourself about so-called educational toys.

1.Having the alphabet on a toy doesn’t automatically make it educational.
PLAY IS HOW KIDS LEARN. Do I need to say it louder? Every toy has a purpose. A ball, a drum, a stuffed animal, a picture puzzle — they all teach. Sharing, cause and effect, nurturing, motor skills, spatial arrangement– these are the childhood basics. Whether a ball has the alphabet written on it or the teddy bear recites a poem is secondary to the play value of the toy itself. As kids age, alphabet recognition becomes more important as a pre-reading skill, but it should be fun, not work. And you should know what’s realistic for a kid to learn at each age and stage of development. “Children don’t really need to master letter recognition and letter/sound connections until kindergarten,” explains Dr. Wilder.  “Having said that, surrounding children with books and words, playing with words and letters through games, songs, oral storytelling, and writing to communicate messages will all build the foundation for pre-reading. Preschooler’s toys should stimulate their curiosity and imaginations to explore the world and draw connections so what they are playing becomes a richer, deeper learning experience.”

2. A “pretend computer” with a qwerty keyboard is not necessarily better– or worse — than an alphabetical keyboard.
I’m all for tech preparedness. Kids in the 21st century need to know how to master the technology that makes up their world. I guarantee kids will see and recognize qwerty keyboards long before they’re able to start texting. But when they are first learning letters and sounds, an alphabetical keyboard may have some advantages over a qwerty. “There isn’t a lot of research on qwerty keyboards, “ explains Dr. Hirsh-Pasek. “Since young kids initially learn their letters in order, both by seeing them and singing them, an alphabetized keyboard at first seems more logical.  Once kids recognize the letters, followed by the sounds they make, using a qwerty keyboard presents a realistic challenge. Then you can encourage them to, ‘find an A,’ which isn’t at the beginning of the keyboard. Think of an alphabetical keyboard as level one, a qwerty as level 3. It’s all about readiness.”

Dr. Wilder believes that young kids will be able to adapt their knowledge to a new way of presenting information without much difficulty and learning in the context of real life objects or technology makes a lot of sense.   “Learning the order of the alphabet is less important than knowing each letter, the sounds each letter makes and the fact that letters come together to make words that have meaning. The way that I see it is that I know how smart children are and they can learn anything if given an appropriate context and motivation.”

Bottom line: you need to know your own child’s level. As adults, our “toys” have both types of keyboards: alphabetizing on phones; qwerty on computers. Somehow, we’ve been able to adapt. Our kids will too.

3. Don’t expect a one-year-old to read.
“It all depends on how one defines “read,” laughs Dr. Wilder. “Children are learning literacy from the day they are born. Before they know and can understand language they can ‘read’ body language, tone of voice, and they begin to associate symbols for things that they want or need and respond accordingly.”

Learning the alphabet and letter/sound correspondences are certainly key steps every child needs to master to learn to read. Making the connection between letters and words is another critical leap. However, kids do this everyday by observing the world around them. Sitting on your lap while you read a book, riding in a car and seeing road signs and bill boards, recognizing a McDonald’s logo—these are all ways kids prep to read.

“Encouraging strong language skills is one of the most important lessons you can teach your young child,” stresses Dr. Hirsh-Pasek.  Reading, telling a story, or carrying on a narrative about what you’re doing are the most natural ways to do this. One-year-olds may love to look at books and turn pages, but very, very, few can actually read “words.”

4. Any toy that sings the ABCs is good.
“Singing songs, understanding the words sung in a song, and associating the words with meaning are the important components of singing any song,” says Dr. Wilder. When kids imitate their stuffed animal or toy truck singing the ABCs, the song is a mnemonic for remembering the letters. In that context, any toy that encourages singing is good. Most three-year-olds, and many younger kids love singing the Alphabet Song. “But we need to take the alphabet out of the context of order to help kids understand the real meaning of the song.”

5. Playing together doubles the fun — and learning.
You — the parent, caretaker, or grownup– are your child’s best (and probably favorite) toy. Of course you want him to learn the alphabet, read books, and be able to navigate technology in all kinds of ways. Toys that encourage kids to practice these skills are welcome additions to any playroom. Just don’t forget about the simple bouncing balls, baby dolls, blocks and bikes. These are just as necessary as toys with words and letters. But most important of all, know that when you talk, laugh, read, pretend, and share everyday activities with your child you reinforce the basic skills he needs to interact with the world in an age-appropriate and fun-loving manner. And that’s exactly what an educational toy should do.

I am THRILLED to be attending the upcoming Sandbox Summit in May at MIT! Click here to learn more about this conference!

The Next Billy Mays…

ThinkFun co-founders Bill Ritchie and Andrea Barthello may be moving into the infomercial-making industry!  Check out this silly ad they created over the weekend!

*Note:  This “infomercial” was created entirely in fun, certainly not the type of hard-sell marketing approach we take with our products!  Sorry, but you won’t see Bill on QVC any time soon icon smile The Next Billy Mays...

All that’s missing is a Snuggie!

Zingo! To Go is on the move!  The Zoomer car recently braved the crowds at the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC… and traveled into the desert!  See more adventures on this new Facebook Page.. and share your own photos!

Zingo To Go Takes a Road Trip!

moz screenshot 2 Zingo To Go Takes a Road Trip!moz screenshot 3 Zingo To Go Takes a Road Trip!moz screenshot 4 Zingo To Go Takes a Road Trip!Travel plans in your future?  Check out the just-released Zingo to Go, based on ThinkFun’s beloved Zingo! game!ZingoToGo 7702 lores Zingo To Go Takes a Road Trip!

Having visions of 72 plastic tiles strewn all over your backseat?  Not to worry!  The Zingo Zinger has been re-imagined into an enclosed Zingo Zoomer Car.  The Zoomer holds image dice that, once shaken up, fall into place in the windshield– no loose pieces!  Players snap together traffic light game boards and flip the images when they’ve got a match, and the first to complete a traffic light wins!

Mike, the designer behind the Zoomer mechanism, recently took Zingo-To-Go on the road and shared these hilarious photos… Enjoy!

Where have YOUR games been?  Do you have fun images of your family playing a favorite game (Zingo or otherwise) that you’d like to share?  Email me your photos and I’ll feature them  in an upcoming post!

S’Match Supports Speech Therapy Sessions (say that 3 times fast!)

The following post is by speech-language pathologist Sherry Artemenko, featured on her Playonwords blog

smatch playing275 206x300 SMatch Supports Speech Therapy Sessions (say that 3 times fast!)

Strengthen language skills through play!

SPEECH THERAPY GAMES: S’ MATCH BY THINKFUN

I use fun commercial games for speech therapy all the time. Some are valuable as a reinforcer after a turn of saying a sound, practicing a language structure or using appropriate social language. It is helpful if they are fast paced and turns are quick to keep the session going. But some games have a bit of language learning embedded in them too. I have blogged about Richard Scarry’s Busytown and Mystery Garden for learning association and categorization.

A new game that just came out, S’ Match, by Thinkfun, can be used as a reinforcer or to learn language categories. You have to know the story behind the invention of this game. When I was at the Toy Fair, I spoke with Thinkfun’s Education and Curriculum Specialist and she said the Staples Easy Button and a salad spinner inspired the pop up spinner kids love that turns the dial to point to one of three attributes: color, number or category. Players turn over two cards and try to match images according to the attributes, making this a more complex memory game.

I first used the game with a little girl working on her /s/ sound. Every time we got a match we said, “S’ Match!” and each time we spun the wheel we said, “Spin the s’match.” When it stopped, we said, “I spun color, or category.” Interestingly enough, when kids didn’t make a match according to the spinner, they still called out the kind of match they got. For instance, if they had to match by category but uncovered two orange cards, they would say, “Smatch for color,” making a verbal note of where to find that match should they need it in the future. To reinforce categories, we would say, “a s’match for vehicles,” naming the category. Each sturdy cardboard card has the image as well at the words to encourage literacy.

Don’t forget to always look for a little language in a game.

Sherry Artemenko, MA-CCC, is a speech-language pathologist with more than 35 years experience and founder of Playonwords.com. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “S’Match” was provided for review by Thinkfun.

Revisiting the Classics…

Need inspiration to start your spring cleaning?  Here’s a great reason to dust off that old collection of classic board games!

A recent article from KnoxNews takes a look at how classic games like Monopoly and Scrabble can serve as powerful learning aids!  In the hands of a creative teacher (or parent for that matter), a game like Candy Land is transformed into a tool to reinforce number sense, early math, and critical thinking skills!

Monopoly 300x198 Revisiting the Classics...

This teacher uses Monopoly to teach money management skills like budgeting and making informed spending decisions.

This article shares results from a 2007 study by Carnegie Mellon University, in which disadvantaged preschoolers played a simple numeric board game four times for 15-20 minutes at a time over a two-week period.  At the end of the two weeks, researchers found students’ knowledge of math greatly increased in four different areas of number sense!

School Counselor Vicki Hill uses games not only for academic support, but also to build social skills. “I use Candy Land for a self-esteem building activity,” Vicky describes, “If the student gets a double color card, he must tell something good about himself. ”  Similarly, with the game Sorry, “if the student has to send someone back to start, he must say something positive to the player that gets sent back.”

Have ideas for ways to revive an old classic as a learning tool for your children?  Please share!

Have your fun… and eat it too!

A coworker recently passed me a link to the “100 Games Cupcake Game” (Cupcakes + Games = my two favorite words!) and, in the sugary fun spirit of Valentine’s Day, I had to share!

Each of the 100 Cupcakes is inspired by a particular game…

A few of my favorites…

Candyland Have your fun... and eat it too!Scrabble Have your fun... and eat it too!HungryHippo Have your fun... and eat it too!RockPaperScissors Have your fun... and eat it too!

There were some surprises in here for me… How many can you guess?!

Looking for ways to extend a baking project into a fun learning opportunity?

  • Shop for Ingredients! Check out this post from Pioneer Woman for a super creative way to incorporate math learning into your cooking project!   Setting up an at-home grocery store offers a HUGE range of learning opportunities – reading recipes, making ingredient lists, pricing household ingredients, adding up the cost of items, etc.
  • Build Math into Baking! Measuring ingredients and exploring equivalents (how many tablespoons in a cup?  Ounces in a pound?) is a natural way to bring learning into the kitchen!  Here are some tips to build math into your fun baking activity!
  • Read Quirky Momma’s thoughts on the rich learning opportunities that cooking offers toddlers and preschoolers!
  • Math Mom shares a cheat sheet to help with proportions and recipe conversions!