Basics of Kindergarten

As we move into the uncertainty of the fall, I have heard from many parents that they are worried about their children. They are worried about their health if they return to school, and worry overall about if they will miss out on educational opportunities. This worry about missing out on educational opportunities seems universal, regardless of how the school is able to support the child’s learning.

Teachers and the school systems will be doing everything they can, as safely as they can. However, I wanted to write down some ideas for parents that can support your child’s learning. You can use these ideas as a supplement to the school activities, or if you are looking to homeschool your child, these are some foundational learning opportunities.

Today I want to focus on kindergarten. Kindergartners typically learn best with hands out activities, that encourage exploration and focus on their interests. As you probably know, children this age require quite a bit of physical activity, and learning that requires moving the entire body may be more successful than sitting for long periods of time.

Some basic areas of focus for kindergarten are:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math
  • Beginning Science Concepts
  • Social/emotional – or learning how to get along with others
  • Movement

Writing

Kindergartners are working on forming letters and understanding that what they write has meaning. They are still developing the small muscle movements to make write, and need practice strengthening these muscles in their fingers and hands. Here are some examples of some activities that will support their writing skills:

  • Start encouraging your child to encourage their drawings. This may be starting with attempting the first letter of the word – H for horse. The important thing is to encourage the attempt, it doesn’t matter at this point if it looks like the word or letter. Encouragement for trying is better than correction at this stage.
  • Practice “writing” words in the sand, or with bubbles in the bath. Take some sand – either sandbox sand, or you can use the Tactile Sand from Discovery Toys, and put it in a large cookie sheet. Practice writing letters or words in the sand. A great way to encourage this is by sitting next to your child with your own sand and writing your own words and spelling them out, and talking out loud about what you are doing.
  • Activities to strengthening the little muscles in the fingers and hands, which support your child’s writing over time. Some great ways to do this are puzzles, putting beads on string, and picking up and sorting small objects.

Math

Kindergartners are learning number concepts, and the foundations of sets, graphing, addition and subtraction. This may seem like something that is a stretch for your kindergartner, however over the year they will start playing with these concepts. Here are some examples of how to play with the concepts with your child:

  • Practice counting. There are so many things in life to count, bath toys, cereal, rocks, steps, and so much more.If your child is really active, a great way to get the wiggles out is to count the number of jumps your child can make!
  • Practice sorting. Children naturally sort everything, that is how they start making sense of their world. You will see them put rocks in groups, or animals in different groups. You can suggest ways to group items – spoons/forks/knifes, and also allow your child to try their own groups and have them describe to you how they groups the items. A great Discovery Toys product(s) for this is Busy Bugs or Busy Farm, sorting by legs, type of bug, color, and more.
  • Try some simple equations using real items. Children start to understand addition and subtraction when you use real items. You can use animals and group 2 sheep plus 3 pigs equals 5 animals. Have your child count the animals by placing their finger on each animal. You can also have your child practice writing the numeral. If they are still learning, you can create a connect the dots of the numeral that they can trace.
  • Have your child start exploring size, shape, length and volume. Some cool ways to do this is in the bathtub with cups and spoons, and with sand. Try measuring which one is more/less, heavier/lighter. Two Discovery Toys materials that I love to combine for this are the Measure Up Cups and Tactile Sand.

Beginning Science Concepts

Science in the early elementary school years, and honestly, the rest of your life, is about learning how to be open to exploring and testing concepts. Children are natural scientists. They are curious about their world and will explore materials in a variety of ways. The best way to support their scientific learning at this point is to ask them open ended questions about what they are doing. Open ended questions are questions that do not have just one answer. For example, what does that feel like? What are some ways you can get the water from that cup to another cup?

Social/Emotional Learning

Social/emotional learning is about controlling our emotions and learning how to talk to and get along with others. This is what kindergarten is all about. Beginning academic skills are important, but the skill of understanding ourselves and getting along with others will help us through our lifetime.

As I write this we are at the beginning or maybe middle of a pandemic, and you may be concerned about your child interacting with other groups of children. You do not need groups of children to teach your child about their emotions, turn taking, language to communicate their needs, and impulse control.

Some great ideas to teach emotions are:

  • Play simple games. There are several games for kindergartners that require turn taking. A cool game that integrates the words for different emotions, turn taking, and movement activities is Flip Flop Faces.
  • Books about emotions are another pay to teach and start discussions about emotions. Here is a post from We Are Teachers with different social/emotional learning books: https://www.weareteachers.com/15-must-have-picture-books-for-teaching-social-emotional-skills/
  • Art and dramatic play. Drawing about feelings and acting out different scenarios where a child experiences big emotions are great ways to strengthen the emotion muscles/brain connections. For example, maybe your child went to the store with you when they were tired and they started crying when they didn’t get a treat. Later or on a different day you might act out with your child that trip. Have your child come up with ways to act differently.

Movement

There is research that is now showing how connected our brain is to the rest of our body, and that movement, especially big movements (running, jumping, skipping), helps our brain organize itself. This means we can think clearer, we can control our emotions better, and we can learn. Kindergartners are usually a very active bunch. It might even feel like you don’t need to worry about this area because children naturally move. However it is important to help children move in a variety of ways and challenge their movements. If your child jumps with two feet, try challenging them to jump with one foot. Yoga is a great way to use large body movements in a controlled way.

Reading activities with your kindergartner

Learning to read is fun!

Children at this age are learning to read through sight word recognition, and phonics (the sounds of words). They focus on one thing at a time, and need help “tracking” or reading words in order (left to right in the U.S.). Some activities that can supporting reading development include:

  • Have your child read a book to you. This can be a favorite book that they are familiar with the story or a book with short sentences and a pattern. Two good options from Discovery Toys are Ahoy, Pirate Pete or Once Upon a Time
  • . These books are short, predictable text, and the child is able to change the story each time. Another good book is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by by Bill Martin Jr. (Author), John Archambault  (Author), Lois Ehlert (Illustrator)
  • Practice “tracking” while reading. Tracking is teaching the eyes to move in the direction we read text. In the the English language we track from the left side of the page to the right side of the page. A good way to teach this is by reading simple stories together, and point to each word as you read it.
  • Have your child write a book. This is a great way to have your child explore the concept of reading and creating. They can do it about anything, the content is less important than the practice. You can simply take some paper and staple together.
  • Reading and making signs and posters. Practice “reading” signs when you go shopping, drive to the store, etc. Often the first words a child learns how to read are the sign to their favorite store. You can start labeling things, and have your child label them. Giving your child some paper, scissors, markers and tape, and you will find that your entire house will be labeled in no time.
  • Practice patterning. Words are patterns of sound and visuals. Children who can see patterns in the world, can see patterns in words. You can pattern with many things, rocks and sticks, toy animals, bingo dotters. Start with simple patterns – rock/stick/rock/stick and have the child replicate it. Increase the complexity of the patterns, and then challenge your child to complete the pattern as they become more successful.

Recommendations of products that will support your child in learning to read:

Playful Patterns

Busy Farm

AB Seas

Wiz Kidz

Think It Through

Product Spotlight – Block It!

I just need to give some love to this Discovery Toy – Block It!

Block It! (1)

Blocks teach so many skills, but high quality solid blocks are really expensive. Discovery Toys has the solution!

Block It! allows you to build, stack, construct & create with this 40 piece colorful wood set. They are oversized for small hands to boost confidence in early construction. There are unique shapes and structural details that inspire open-ended building possibilities and imaginary play. These blocks help children learn the concept of halves and whole with the triangles, semi-circles, squares and rectangles. They even come with a storage bucket & activity guide, and the activity guide is trilingual (English, French, Spanish).

They are for ages 2 years and up.

Benefits of the blocks include:

  •  Toddler sized for safety & ease of use.
  • Basic shapes.
  • Colors.
  • Open-ended designs.
  • Stacking.
  • Building play.
  • Motor skills and eye-hand coordination.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Spatial skills.
  • Concept of halves & whole.
  • Free-form expression.
  • Imaginary play.
  • Social and language skills.
  • Handy storage bucket.

Check them out, and leave a review!

http://www.discoverytoys.com/vermonttoylady

 

Playdough makes you a super parent!

It is true! Make your child some playdough and you are super charging their brain.

Playdough

Playdough is a open ended material, meaning it can be used in multiple ways. Playdough is not just fun, it builds your child’s brain.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are the skills that help you do small muscle movements, for example being able to pick up something with two fingers – pincher grasp. Playdough builds a child’s small muscles just by playing, rolling, folding, building with it.

Motor Strength

Pushing, pulling, molding, building and balancing all strengthen your child’s muscles. Research is starting to show that having coordinated muscles, both the big and small muscles supports complex thinking.

playdough

Creative Thinking

Ok, this is a no brainer, but still I need to name it. Playdough lets your child create anything! This helps them build understanding of the world, for example understanding how the cars work by starting to understand the parts of the car. It also builds their ability to think about many different things, which builds their ability to understand complex jobs as adults!

Language Development

When you are building all of those fun things… snakes, balls, houses, turtles… you will be talking about them. What kind of snake? Where does it live? Is it a mommy snake? All of these simple conversations build your child’s vocabulary. A large vocabulary indicates success in school and life.

Writing

Research shows that having strong fine motor skills supports writing ability later in life. Also you can practice “writing” with a pen in flattened playdough. It will give your child more “feedback” than paper. Meaning they will be able to feel their movements, and modify them easier than they are on paper. Also you can form letters out of the playdough, reinforcing your child’s understanding of the alphabet.

There is so much more that can be learned from playdough. What are your ideas? Share in the comments!

Why Should You Read Aloud to Your Children?

We have all heard the statement that children who are read to are more likely to succeed. That is great, but with our busy world can’t we use technology to do this and will it have the same effect? YouTube has great videos and there are story podcasts, I am doing the same thing if I get those for my child, right?

Unfortunately, no. Video stories and podcasts that have children’s stories are great for car rides, or when you need that shower. To get the benefits for your child you need to sit with your child and read a physical book. Why?

To succeed children need many skills, they need to know how to interact with other people appropriately, they need to be able to connect with other people, they need to understand how other people might feel (empathy), they need to be able to pay attention for longer periods of time, and they need to remember and recall information.

Think about that one person you have worked with in the past that drove you crazy. What was it? Did they lack people skills? Maybe they had a hard time understanding simple directions? These are the things that reading with your child gives them.

So what do children get from reading a book with you?

Social and Emotional Learning

When you read with your child, have them sit in your lap or near you. They learn that reading is an enjoyable activity, and they are making an emotional connection to you.

Empathy

Books are a great way to talk about how other people feel. When you read a book you can talk about how the character in the book feels, and make connections to how your child feels. Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister is a great book to read with younger children. It is the story of a fish that is very beautiful with shiny scales, but finds he is very unhappy. Through the story you can talk with the child about how Rainbow Fish feels, and why he is happy at the end of the story.

Conversation Skills

Children naturally want to talk about what is going on in the book. What do they see in the picture, what do the characters feel like, have they ever had that happen? All of these opportunities are times to practice conversation skills with your child. The give and take of a conversation, and listening to another perspective! Wouldn’t the world be a better place if all adults practiced these skills?

Words are powerful

Increases Vocabulary

Reading often introduces children to words that they may not hear in their day to day world. Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young is a good example. It is about blind mice that find something one day, and each mouse goes to explore it and describes it differently. The first mouse said it was a pillar, the next says it is a snake, and the third says it is a spear, and on. While snake is a word that might come up in life, pillar and spear are not common words in most households. Look for books that are familiar but use words that a child may not hear everyday.

Increases Attention Span

If you have ever read to a 2 year old, you know that they may only sit for one page. However, often when you read to a 4 year old they can sit through the entire book, or a library full of books! If they have been read to they learn there are interesting things that can happen in the books, and their attention span increases. Part of this is how the brain develops. As a child gets older the connections in their brain develop and focus on the skills that are needed and practiced. If you sit and read with your child you are helping their brain form to be able to focus on an activity for an extended period of time.

Beyond all of the skills above children can also learn concepts about print, such as:

  • How to hold a book
  • Where to look in the book
  • How to interpret information and pictures
  • Find words
  • How to turn pages

Boost your child's brain by reading!

Make Reading Even More Brain Boosting By:

  • Have your child predict what is going to happen next in the story
  • Give your child a part – stories that have predictive text children learn the words and “read” them
  • Make connections with the story and the child’s life. Did they see a dog in the park? Is it similar to the dog in the book?

What are other ways you help your child boost their brain through reading?

 

Building Blocks for Your Child to Read and Write

Reading and writing is a skill that is important for a person’s ability to learn. Learning and developing reading and writing skills is something everyone should continue to practice starting as infants through adulthood.

Parents and family are the most important teacher in a child’s life. You can do many things now to boost your child’s learning and ability to learn for years to come.

Here are several ways to support your child’s ability to read and write at a young age:

Talking to your child increasing their language, and supports reading skills.

Talking to and with your child.

The more words children have, and the more experience with language, the easier it is for children to learn to read. The best way to help your children learn many words is to talk to them about every day activities.

  • At the grocery store, make a list, talk about it with your child;  do a scavenger hunt to see who can find the items on the list.
  • While cooking talk to your child about what you are doing, and talk about what happens to the food. For example, you make scrambled eggs, have your child describe the eggs before and after they are cooked. What happened? Why do they think that happened?
  • Tell stories. You don’t need to be an amazing storyteller. Your child will think your stories are great, regardless of what it is about. Tell a real story about when you were a child, or a story about a funny thing at work.

Busy Bugs Pattern

Make and find patterns in the world.

Words, sentences, and paragraphs in the English language are patterns. When we play with patterns, both visually and auditorily, we get familiar with seeing them in our world. Some ways to explore patterns:

  • Make patterns with toys or every day objects. Do you have toy animals at your house? Make a pattern of dog, cow, dog, cow. What about beans or pasta, make different patterns with the different types. After you make simple patterns, try complex patterns and challenge your child to finish the pattern.
  • Find patterns in the world. You would be surprised at how many patterns you can find when you start looking. Are the house colors a pattern? What about  the animals in that field?
  • Find patterns in the words we speak? By patterns I mean rhyming words. Dog/fog, and cat/hat. How many words can you think of that rhyme with  cow?

Give your child more experiences.

Now, I don’t mean taking your child to see the world. World travel is great if you can do it, but most of us are unable to afford distant travel. Instead give your child opportunities to experience and hear the words for many different things.

  • Go for a hike, how many different tress/plants can you find? Can you describe the different trees? How do you know they are different? You might only make it 200 yards with a young child, but think of what you can see in that distance.
  • Go to the grocery store. There are so many things to see an do at the grocery store!
  • Go to your local library. I think it goes without saying all of the cool things you can do to gain language at the library!
  • Go to a friend’s house. Everyone’s house is different with different experiences.

Playing with sound is fun

Play with sound.

Ok, you may think I am crazy here, but hear me out. When a child have experience with different sounds that make words, even nonsense words, they are able to understand the sounds of our language. This means when a child is learning to read, or gaining new words/spelling they have more experience with the sounds the letters make. Playing with sound is easier than you would think. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Music! Songs play with sounds is so many cool ways. Raffi is one of my favorite children’s songs artists, but there are so many.
  • Rhyming words! Have children come up with words that rhyme with their name, favorite animal, etc.
  • Make up a language. No seriously! Preschool age and up love to create nonsense words and assign them meaning. This is a great way to play with sounds!

What not to do!

Although I like to focus on what to do, it is important to highlight what does not work. Language and reading through media. Videos, games on the ipad/phone, all of the above. Children learn through human interactions. Research shows that learning through apps, flash cards, and videos may seem to work, but they don’t actually support children’s learning over time. In fact, research shows that media use by children contributes to mental health issues later in life.

If you want to give your child an app or video, do the above activities with your child at a rate of 5 human interactions to one computer/media interaction.

Leave your ideas in the comments for how to boost your child’s reading and writing.

Play is critical for children

Play is how children learn. You may have heard this this phrase, but what does it really mean?

Children naturally learn the skills they need for both life and academics through touching, moving, trying and failing, and talking. The best way to support children is to give them opportunities to explore and to explore with them.

One of the most important skills children and adults need in life are social and emotional skills. What does that mean? It means that a person can get along with others; can appropriately be aware of and express emotions; and regulate their emotions. These are difficult skills that many adults struggle with. Children gain these skills by people in their lives showing them, and practicing. A great game is to make faces and label them – silly faces, sad faces, happy faces – this is a natural activity for adults to do with infants and toddlers and is the beginning of understanding our emotions.

Another important skills is language – language skills is beyond reading and writing. Language is understanding what is communicated to you (receptive language); how to communication with others (expressive language); the mechanics of language – speech and listening; and the social rules of language. Infants naturally start playing with language by babbling and listening and looking for an adults reaction. Responding starts teaching receptive and expressive language. Another way of exploring language is to read different books, and talking about what you see and feel. This then combines social and emotional skills with language.

I hope to use this blog to explore more activities that adults can do with children to support their play and learning.

Toy Buying Guide

The holidays are only a few months away, and some people plan for the holidays a couple months in advance, others only a few days in advance, while others started shopping as soon as the holiday ended last year. No matter what type of planner this guide is for you.

We all want to purchase the gift that is loved for ages; AND we are all frustrated when gifts are played with for one day and never touched again. I know when my children were smaller, I was always picking up pieces of toys that never seemed to have a match.

I have put together this guide for things to think about when looking for gifts for any child or adult.

  1. Toys should have multiple ways they can be used.
  2. Quality; this means it is safe for the age of the child, and it is durable.
  3. Focus on the child’s interests.
  4. The toy is kid powered.
  5. Balance commercial or popular/show based toys with open ended toys.
  6. Look for toys that encourage learning.
  7. Look for toys that have “layers of learning” and grow with the child.

What does that all mean? I have spelled it out in a little more detail below

1.  Toys should have multiple ways they can be used.

Open ended toys, are toys that have multiple ways they can be used. For example, blocks or simple dolls can be used for a child in acting out many different scenarios. They can build towers and roads. This helps children learn about their world around them through their toys and building towers can help learn physics. When toys can be used in multiple ways, children are more likely to continue to play and use the toys. Open ended toys also are good to engage adults in the play.

Block It

2. Quality; this means it is safe for the age of the child, and it is durable.

We are lucky in the United States that there are laws that protect children from many harmful chemicals and risky toys. However, do not become complacent in your toy buying. There are still places where you may find toys with lead paint, or other hazards. The Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains information about toy safety and recalls of toys. Additional consider the age of the child. Toys are required to have an recommended age on the packaging. Consider the age when purchasing. Toys that are marked for ages 3 years and up often have small parts that a younger child may choke on.

3. Focus on the child’s interests.

Even the best toys may not get used if the child is not interested in them. If possible find out what the child enjoys doing, and look for toys that are similar or enhance those activities. For example if the child loves putting things together, try a marble maze or Discovery Toys Motor Works Collection. If a child loves creating or designing, consider a craft kit or look up how to make different things and give the child a homemade craft kit. I know many 9 to 12 year old girls and boys that would love to receive a gallon of clear glue for a slime making kit! If you don’t have any ideas, Discovery Toys’ catalog is organized by interest area, and you can always message me with questions.

4. The toy is kid powered.

What does this mean? Exactly what it says. To have the toy do anything the child must do it. Technology is wonderful, but it does very little to enhance most children’s play. In fact, in some ways technology actually is discouraging creativity and problem solving skills. The skills that children need when they become adults in our culture. Again open ended toys are best, as children can create or use them as tools in their play. However any toy that is 100% kid powered is good! Think blocks, dolls and action figures that don’t talk on their own, puzzles, playdough, sand, etc.

 

5. Balance commercial or popular/show based toys with open ended toys.

I understand children have that one item that is a must have based on the latest movie or show; and it is good to get that one item for the holidays. However, you will notice if you have been around children for more than one holiday, those “must have” popular toys are loved for a few days or months, until the next popular movie or show comes out. Then that toy is forgotten.

Balance the toy purchases between the popular/show based toy and open ended toys. I would recommend one show based toy to two or three open ended toys. Toys that will last for years to come. Remember open ended toys are toys that are designed to be used in multiple ways. Blocks, Measure Up Cups, dolls, cars, and playdough are good examples of open ended toys.

Tactile sand castle

6. Look for toys that encourage learning.

I am NOT talking about worksheets or academic tools. While worksheets and other academic specific tools have a place in learning, they are not toys. Children learn through exploring and testing out different scenarios and ways of being. A child that has wooden blocks can build a road to experiment with how the car drives on the road, and if they have trouble at the gaps; and that same child can build a tower to learn how to build it high so that it doesn’t fall. This information they learn helps them with academics by having a base knowledge of patterning and physics. If you are unsure if the toy encourages learning, check out Discovery Toys. The mission of the company is to sell toys that support learning of children. Leave a comment or question on this post for guidance. Or ask your child’s teacher.

7. Look for toys that have “layers of learning” and that grow with the child.

“Layers of learning” is a fancy way of saying a toy can be used in a variety of ways. Children and adults prefer to learn in a variety of ways. Some of us are visual learners, some audio, and many kinesthetic (learning by doing/action). Toys that can be used by many different types of learners in a variety of ways can grow with a child and be used for years. Measure Up Cups are a great example. A toddler can use the cups for scooping sand or water, banging, and stacking. A preschooler can do those things and can sort by color, use the numbered cups for simple math (the one cup plus the two cup, can fill the three cup), and early elementary age children can use the cups to learn to tell time (look for the picture on the front) and cook using the cups as measuring cups!

Measure Up Cups from Discovery Toys

I hope you find this guide helpful in your gift giving! Please leave me suggestions or comments below.