Kids + Toys (Educational + Fun) = Future Innovators

Monthly Archives: August 2013

Montessori Learning Activity

Children learn by doing.  One key aspect of Montessori philosophy is: “Help me to do it myself.”  (See my earlier post on Montessori Philosophy.) Montessori activities use multiple senses to learn, internalize and prepare for the next steps such as writing, all in a developmentally-appropriate way.   One of the activities I loved when my daughter was in Montessori preschool was the “feel & find” activity. When I saw Guidecraft’s 3D Feel & Find, I knew that we had to carry it.

Guidecraft 3D Feel & Find Montessori Guidecraft Feel & Find Fine Motor children

What is it? The set includes 20 wooden tiles, 20 matching wooden shapes and a cloth bag. Children put their hands into a bag and identify the shape through touch alone.  Is it a letter shape, a geometric shape, an animal shape?  Fit it into the matching puzzle tile.  The child can also sort the pieces by color and/or type of shape.

Fine Motor Skills

Recent posts have focused on different toys that help children build fine motor skills such as lacing toys and manipulatives.  The Feel & Find uses several senses to strengthen your child’s fine motor skills:

  • Tactile
  • Spacial
  • Visual

Depending on how the game is used, children also learn:

  • Sorting & classification skills
  • Social skills when played as a game with other children.

How to play with the Feel & Find?

  1. Hand out the puzzle tiles to the players and then have them take turns reaching into the bag (no peeking!)
  2. Children find the matching shape and insert into their puzzle tile.
  3. Based on which tiles are used the learning activity can focus on geometric shapes (10), real world object shapes (10), colors or a mix.

The shapes are colored with safe non-toxic paint and are safe for ages 3 and up. 

What  a great way to nurture your child’s sensory exploration.  Isn’t it nice when children incorporate multiple senses in their learning since we frequently rely on our visual sense.  Plus, the bag lends an air of secrecy & mystery!

What other multidimensional learning activities do your children like?


best preschool toys for homeschoolers

School starts next week in Vermont.  Has your family already gone “back to school”? The learning never stops for homeschoolers but this is a good time to revisit the best preschool toys for your home classroom (or any classroom!).   Here are some of my favorite learning toys for preschoolers.

What are the best preschool toys for homeschoolers?

At this age, children are learning their alphabet, reading, strengthening fine motor and other skills and problem solving.  They are learning through play.  Guided but open-ended play are a must.  PBS Kids has a great grade-by-grade learning guide.  Here’s the one for Preschool.

  • Blocks – alphabet and unit.  So critical to a host of learning skills – especially spatial skills. A recent study showed how spatial skills are a great indicator of how creative or innovative a child will be later in life – more so than math or verbal skills.
  • Puzzles – any are great for multiple types of learning (fine motor, visual, spatial, cognitive) and can supplement other areas of learning such as reading and math.  Pattern & memory games are all great options at this age.

    Maisy Harvest toddler wooden puzzle

    Maisy Harvest Wooden Puzzle

  • Manipulative toys are more than just fine motor toys. They can be used for color & shape recognition, math, story telling & more.
  • Art materials – any drawing, painting, or other art activity!  Having the appropriate materials and area in your home is key to your organization and sanity!
  • Play Kitchens & other furniture  Children like to imitate the work of the adults around them.  Wooden play kitchens and furniture nurture this.

Alphabet & Unit Blocks Uncle Goose Classic Alphabet Blocks

With block play, the learning possibilities are endless.  Our Uncle Goose alphabet blocks are made in the USA and even come in different languages!   English, Greek, Chinese, Korean and Arabic.  A great way to practice spelling and even learn a new language!  Guidecraft unit blocks are perfect in the home and classroom and come in sets of 34, 53 and 110 wooden blocks.

Imaginets, Pattern Play & Color Stix from Mindware

Imaginets are an award-winning toy that lets your child play with colorful wooden magnetic blocks on a magnetic board that doubles as a dry-erase board so your child can incorporate the blocks into drawings. Pattern Play‘s colorful wooden blocks introduce kids to sorting, symmetry, matching and spatial relationships. Last year, I met the designer of Mindware’s Color Stix.  It was amazing to hear the concept behind the game (matching same colors along the “stix”) but the game can be used in open-ended play: stacking, building, sorting.  It’s fun to see what sculptures kids build!

Alphabet Puzzles & Number Puzzles

math puzzle toy for preschoolers

Wooden Numeric Puzzle

A fun way to learn your alphabet and numbers! Our wooden puzzles are high quality and will last for many years of enjoyment and multiple children.   Butterfly Alphabet PuzzleAnimal Alphabet Parade Puzzle, and the Dinosaur Alphabet Puzzle teach letters, shapes and colors.  The Number Snail Wooden Puzzle and the Wooden Numeric Puzzle teach numbers, counting, colors and shapes.

Memory and Teach & Play Tile Games

Maple Landmark preschool Memory Tile Matching Game

Memory Tile Matching Game

 Vermont’s Maple Landmark has beautiful wooden Memory and Teach & Play tile games.  The wooden tiles (made from birch) teach recognition, classification, grouping, sorting and matching.  Choose from among the following themes: the environment, animals & vegetables, or buildings & vehicles.  More made in the USA toys!

Manipulative Toys

Lots of great lacing, sorting & stacking toys to strengthen fine motor skills- I just posted about lacing toys in More Toys for Preschool Fine Motor Skills and sorting and stacking toys in Best Toys To Build Children’s Fine Motor Abilities.

Picture Book Puzzles

Goodnight Moon preschool puzzle

Goodnight Moon puzzle

Puzzles that depict favorite book characters can create a great opportunity to read, recite, rhyme and play!  Our favorites include characters from Eric Carle & Maisy & Goodnight Moon.  See my post on all of our great storybook puzzles.  Our wooden Maisy puzzles are made in the USA!

Art Activities

Any art activity encourages creativity, problem solving, eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.  Give your artist a dedicated space to create their art.  It keeps them – and you! – organized and lets them know that you take their art seriously. When our kids were young, we had both a standing easel and a child-sized art table with stool which gave our children a sense of ownership and responsibility.   Both the easel and the table and stool will last your children many years (probably through 3rd grade or longer.) The table features a large 24″ square work surface of dry-erase marker board, big pencil tray, safe wooden paper cutter bar, paper roll holder.  The easel features a dry-erase & magnetic whiteboard on one side, green chalkboard on the other side, 2 paint trays, center storage tray, hanging paper holder, and paper cutter.  Both the easel and table are made in the USA!   Don’t forget paper refills!

Play Kitchens & Furniture

 Yes – your children are watching you!  This is part of their development and learning opportunities abound in the kitchen.  Play kitchens are indispensable and I think are the #1 piece of play furniture.  If you have room in your kitchen, put your play kitchen in a corner so they can work  along side of you.  Or, have them safely reach the counter to help you with a KinDer-Perch.  The KinDer-Perch also doubles as a sturdy play unit (think fort).  Children love chores and it gives them a real sense of accomplishment.  

There are zillions of great toys out there and it can be hard to choose.  Just focus on the basics and invest in quality materials. 

What kinds of toys are your preschoolers playing with at school and at home?

We are having a sale on all KaZam balance bikes

& Kettler balance bikes and Kettler tricycles!

KaZam & Kettler balance bikes and tricyclesI’m starting to see splotches of foliage turn color and school is starting in two weeks!

That means Summer will soon be over and we have more Balance Bikes from Kettler & KaZam and Tricycles from Kettler than we’d like. So take advantage of our 20% off sale on Kettler & KaZam Balance Bikes and Kettler Trikes.  Sale is limited to stock on hand. Please use code AUTUMN at checkout.

KaZam and Kettler make quality riding toys that will last for years and can be passed down from child to child.

You have lots of choices. The KaZam balance bikes come in green, red, blue or pink. The Kettler balance bikes come in two different styles:  the Racer and Layana.

For tricycles, choose among the Kettler HKS Navigator, the Kettler Oceana or the Kettler HKS Air Navigator.   All Kettler trikes are tip-resistant and  durable.

  • The HKS Navigator has, among other features, 4-position adjustable seat, removable push bar, pedal forwards, backwards, or stationary for coasting.  Available tandem seating and removable rear dump bucket add to the fun. 
  • The Oceana  has all the features of the Navigator except switchable rear wheel steering and dump bucket. 
  • The Air Navigator has it all! All the features of the Navigator plus high traction pneumatic tires.

Don’t forget to check out all the cool accessories Kettler offers.

Be sure to read our previous blog posts on selecting a balance bike and how to teach a child to ride a bike.

Happy Trails!

Science Olympiad is right around the corner and we are having a sale!

It’s never official until the rules come out next month but it looks like Elastic Launch Gliders, Helicopters and Boomilevers will be back for the 2013 Science Olympiad Season.

Science OlympiadWe’re getting ready for SO season by bringing in contest rubber, balsa (low, medium and high density available), helicopter kits, scales, mylar film, condenser paper, tools, glue (including hard to find Ambroid Cement) and all the pieces and parts to make your projects fly longer and hold more weight!

To make shopping easy we’ve organized our products by SO event. Place your order by 8/31/13 and receive 10% off your order. Use coupon OLYMPIAD at checkout.

As promised in my previous post, Best Toys for Children’s Fine Motor Abilities, here are more preschool fine motor activities: lacing toys!  kids lacing toys for fine motor skills

These wonderful lacing toys will help your toddler or preschooler develop their fine motor abilities. As you know, fine motor skills are huge in your child’s development.

Ryan's room shoe lace manipulative toy for preschoolers

What are fine motor skills?

Small muscle ability to do things like: tying shoes, writing, zipping zippers or picking anything up! 

Without developmentally appropriate fine motor skills your child will struggle with all of these fine motor activities.

Preschool fine motor activities – why lacing toys?

Lacing toys are great manipulative toys that help with eye-hand coordination, finger dexterity, are tactile, strengthen spatial and visual abilities (colors, shapes) and foster patience and concentration.

We offer only durable, high quality lacing toys – toys that will hold up under a lot of use and can be passed down to your younger kids or neighbors’ kids. 

  • Wooden lacing “cards”

    preschool fine motor activity Maple Landmark Animal Lace-a-Shapes Activity

    Maple Landmark Animal Lace-a-Shapes Activity

We love anything from our Vermont neighbor, Maple Landmark!  These Maple Landmark Animal Lace-a-Shapes Activity Toys feature 4 different animals (monkey, fish, butterfly and bear) in different colors (good opportunity to learn about animals, colors and shapes).   These are made of environmentally friendly wood and have a great heft for kids to work with.   For kids 4+

  • 3-D blocks or cylinders

Another opportunity for your child to hold and work with different shapes while they

sew & sew stitching block lacing toy

Sew & Sew Stiching Block

practice their lacing.  Our Ryan’s Room One, Two, Tie Your Shoe Lacing Toy is a wooden shoe that your child can lace and practice their shoe tying.  For 3+

Sew & Sew Stitching Block  One of our most popular manipulative toys!  A chunky wooden cylinder to sew through.  For 3+ (or 2+ with a little help from a grown up)

Ryan's Room lace em dragon manipulative toy fine motor skills

Ryan’s Room Lace ‘Em Up Dragon Lacing Toy

  • Beading activities 

 It’s really important to think about the size of the beads and to make sure that they are appropriate for your child. We like Ryan’s Room Lace ‘Em Up Dragon Lacing Toy because the over-sized beads are easy for little hands to thread.  Plus, the 12 wooden beads come in different shapes, colors and patterns and building the dragon really engages imaginations! For 18m+

How did your child learn to tie shoes?

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks / Foter / CC BY

fine motor abilitiesAcquiring fine motor skills is a major developmental milestone for children which is why it’s so important to create an environment that fosters this kind of learning.  How?  Appropriate toys and activities.  Remember – children learn through play and “doing.”

Guidecraft colored geo forms toy

Guidecraft Colored Geo Forms

What kinds of toys help build children’s fine motor abilities?

Toys and activities that can help your child build fine motor skills include:

  • sorting
  • stacking
  • lacing
  • weaving
  • coloring, and a lot more!

Manipulative skills allow little fingers to develop hand-eye coordination, spatial skills, visual perception, critical thinking skills and more.  Children explore the sensory properties of objects (size, shape, color, texture, weight, sound) when they play with manipulative toys.

Here are some great manipulative toys to help your child develop their fine motor abilities.   They are great toys that teach learning skills and would be equally happy as an in-home toy or at a Montessori school.

Sorting, Stacking & Shape Recognition Toys to Build Fine Motor Abilities

Guidecraft 3D Feel & Find  GuidecraftFind&Feel

A classic Montessori activity!  Children are given wooden tiles and they put their hand into the bag (no peeking!) to find the matching shape.



Guidecraft Nest & Stack Cubes & Guidecraft Nest & Stack Cylinders

Rubberwood cubes or cylinders that nest together so kids can explore spatial relations, they also stack promoting fine motor and shape recognition tools. Also as each of the shapes decrease in size the colors go from bold to pastel teaching kids color differences.

Guidecraft Colored Geo Forms

Helps develop shape recognition, size progression and color matching. Twenty shaped pieces fit into an extra wide base. Shaped pieces are the same color but are five different sizes to they can be sorted by size and color.

Guidecraft Barnyard Activity Boxes

A great toy for in-home play or classroom.  Perfect for color, counting, sorting and imaginative play. Includes six different color barns with opening door and plexi windows, 6 purple chickens, 5 blue geese, 4 green pigs, 3 yellow sheep, two orange cows and one red horse. Each barn has an animal shaped opening so kids can put the orange cows back in the orange barn. Activity guide included.

Guidecraft One to Four Sorter Toy

A classic toy to help build early counting and sorting skills. Kids can sort shapes and place them on the pegs. Each shape comes in 4 colors to help develop hand-eye coordination.

Guidecraft Texture Dominos

One of my favorites – 28 wooden dominoes have textured circles for matching. Great for developing tactile discrimination and visual perception. When played as a game it’s a good way for kids to learn to take turns and improve sorting sequencing activities.

Stay tuned for more posts about fine motor skill toys. Next up:  Lacing Toys!

Photo credit: Gurumustuk Singh / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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