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Growing up in Southern California, I never understood the concept of spring-cleaning. Spring was usually sunny and in the low 70s, much like the winter that came right before it. But now that I live in the Midwest, I’m at the mercy of the four seasons in all their glory and all their fury. After the mud, salt, and grime of a tough winter is washed away outside, I understand the strong urge people have to get organized and start fresh inside as well.
And when I think of getting organized, there is one aspect of my space and life that is in the most disarray: the back door. More specifically, I mean getting out the back door. With a one, three, and four year-old, getting out the door in the morning is by far my biggest challenge of the day.
I interviewed a slew of moms and dads and begged them to divulge their best tips for getting their crew out. Here are some simple tips and tricks to make leaving the house a cinch!
1. Set clear expectations ahead of time. For example, during breakfast, remind your child that after she eats you expect her to wash her hands, gather her lunchbox and backpack, and put on her shoes and coat. If your child meets these expectations, offer descriptive praise to reinforce the good behavior, ie: “Great job following mommy’s directions the first time and getting yourself ready for school!”
2. Keep all socks and shoes organized by the back door. This way no one has any reason to wander back through the house and be distracted by what they find along the way.
3. Set an alarm for 10 minutes before you need to be out the door. When the alarm goes off, it will be the alarm—not you—nagging the kids to hurry up.
4. Plan as much as possible the night before. Check your calendar for the coming day and see what you need to prepare. Do you need to pack lunch? Bring show-n-tell? Check the forecast and set out weather-related items by the back door (i.e. coats and scarves in winter and sunscreen and baseball caps in summer).
5. Pack the car while the kids get ready. If you can pack the car before it’s time for everyone to leave, you’ll have more free-arm space to move them along. One mom quickly throws everything into the car while her kids are eating breakfast, and finds there are a lot fewer balls in the air when it’s time to make an exit.
6. Stay with your kids as they walk from house to car. Even if the car is only two feet from your back door or in an attached garage, make sure to lead the way. One dad noted that he had to “micromanage” his two sons’ 10-foot walk from their stoop to their Suburban, lest the rascals get distracted in the nearby plants and mud.
But most importantly, be consistent. The more you stick to the plan the easier it will become for everyone to adjust over time (including you). Here’s to cleaning up the messiest part of my day! Welcome, glorious spring.
– Katherine Riolo
February vacation is fast approaching and parents are beginning to prep for a week filled with family fun. Whether you are jetting off to a tropical paradise, taking a road trip to visit family and friends, or tucking in to a relaxing staycation at home, it’s nice to have some tricks up your sleeve that will keep the little ones happy and entertained.
To ensure that the whole family has an enjoyable and stress-free vacation, stock up on some new games, crafts, and activities that the kids can play with while you travel from point A to point B. Spending some quality time around the house instead? Adding fresh toys to your collection will bring some extra excitement to your regular routine.
Learning Express Toys has the perfect selection of travel toys and vacation activities for your family. Create a kid-friendly goodie bag to keep in your carry-on, backseat, or closet to surprise the kids if they get restless. Check out these 6 great products available at your neighborhood Learning Express Toy store:
You’ll never have to hear the words “Are we there yet?” again. Perfect for young travelers, the 100 Things for Little Children to Do on a Trip set comes with 52 activity cards. Each card provides kids with engaging challenges including puzzles, games, coloring pictures, and eye-spy quizzes. Kids can write and draw directly on the cards with the included erasable marker, eliminating the need for extra paper and enabling them to re-use the cards hundreds of times!
Little artists will love creating fanciful designs on-the-go with the Travel Spirograph studio. Complete with a built-in design ring, work surface, storage compartment, paper, and drawing supplies, this portable set fits easily in any storage compartment or bag. Keep this kit handy for plane rides, train travel, or in the car as you run errands and go on day trips with the kids.
Mom and Dad also deserve some distraction while traveling or staying home with the kids during vacation week. Fidgety Block is the perfect toy for any parent that’s feeling stressed or anxious. As the kids try your patience, just click, glide, flip, breathe, roll and spin this six sided block to melt your stress away. If one day you cannot locate your Fidgety Block, look no further than your spouse or kids as they have discovered this can’t put it down toy. You can always find a supply of Fidgety Blocks in array of colors for each member of the family at your neighborhood Learning Express Toy Store.
Can you Kanoodle? This brain-twisting solitaire game is pocket-sized for traveling convenience. The set includes 12 colorful puzzle pieces and a turntable board that doubles as a carrying case. Kids can create complex 2D puzzles and 3D pyramids based off of 48 challenging designs featured in the included booklet. Children can play on their own or solicit the help of friends and siblings to tackle varying levels of play.
The Boogie Board Jot 8.5 and 4.5 are great for writing and doodling at home, in the car or on a plane. If your child loves their creations, they can save them with the free Jot app for future enjoyment. The Boogie Board Play N’ Trace and Scribble N’ Play are the perfect occupiers for younger children. The Play N’ Trace see-through writing surface provides hours of fun tracing pictures, words, or 3D objects. The Scribble N’ Play features color burst providing brightly colored rainbow pictures and doodles. These boogie boards are the perfect travel companion for any child.
Personalized Lap Tray and Clip Case
Give your kids the ideal surfaces for drawing, writing, and playing with colorful Lap Trays and Clip Cases from Learning Express Toys. The Lap Tray creates the perfect play area for long road trips and floor-time fun. Place books, snacks, drawing tools, and more in the deep side pockets and spread out your activities and food on the flat, top surface. Don’t have room on your lap? Try a Clip Case! Store papers and accessories inside the case and clip your works of art on the front for a stable drawing canvas. Learning Express Toy Experts will even personalize the trays and cases with your child’s name and fun designs completely free of charge!
No matter whether you’re lounging pool-side or on the couch, your family will appreciate these fun games and activities.
It was the early 1990s, and recycling was all the rage. Captain Planet and the Planeteers were battling pollution on TV, and “reduce, reuse, recycle” was becoming a mantra. So when I was asked to make an invention for a science fair, I made a robot from recycled shampoo bottles.
To be honest, my robot didn’t do anything other than stand there. (I somehow walked away with an Honorable Mention.) But there are kids out there inventing every day and learning as they go. For some examples, see the kid inventions from last year’s White House Science Fair.
Whether fun or funcational, the child inventor is learning critical skills:
“The ability to invent requires something that comes naturally to most young children: creativity and imagination. Creative thinking is an important life skill that can be applied to everything they do, especially to problem-solving, which is what inventing is all about.” –Ellen Church, Let's Invent Something Together!, Scholastic Parents
Kid Inventor’s Day is Jan. 17. What will your child invent?
Kids that invented things from the trampoline to earmuffs.
Here are five toys and books to encourage your kid inventor:
50 Science Things to Make and Do offers kids easy instructions for activities ranging from physics (Fire a Balloon Rocket) to nature studies (Butterfly Feeder) to chemistry (Making Gloop). These hands-on activities will inspire kids to think about how they interact with their world and wonder, “What else can I make?”
LEGO bricks allow kids to build entire creations out of small elements. LEGO builders visualize an end product and use problem-solving to get there, using the tools available and revising as they go. The possibilities are limitless – just check out this LEGO car, full-sized LEGO house and LEGO piano!
3. Snap Circuits
Snap Circuits teaches kids about electrical circuits with the parts and instructions for hundreds of projects they can complete solo. Kids can also make their own creations, experimenting with batteries, lights, fans, speakers and more! Just watch this kid explain the circuitry—will he grow up to invent the next smartphone?
4. Crazy Aaron’s Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kit
Mix, stretch, and observe the results with Crazy Aaron’s Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kit. Kids can experiment with three special-effect putties and three concentrated-color putties. Does blue putty glow in the dark better than red? Does glitter affect the stretchiness? The combinations are endless!
5. Air-Stream Machines Kit
Hovercrafts aren’t just science fiction! Kids will learn about how air pressure works while building their own hovercrafts that can traverse water or land. The impressive and functional results will build kids’ confidence and even spark an interest in engineering. What vehicle will your child dream up next?
I’m inspired by all the kid inventors out there! Keep your kids motivated with opportunities to stretch their imaginations in new ways. I can’t wait to see what they create.
My husband and I are expecting our first baby this month, and it has been so much fun to buy our baby-to-be gifts that remind us of our own childhoods: books we remember reading like Pat the Bunny, Winnie the Pooh cartoons, and Peter Rabbit room décor. We can’t wait for when our daughter is old enough to enjoy some of the same toys we did as kids, too!
Retro toys can help us connect to our kids and remind them that we, too, were once young. We love that so many great toys have stood the test of time – and some are more popular than ever before!
Here are 5 retro toys that are making a comeback (or never left):
Simon, the electronic memory game from the late 1970s and 80s, is still entertaining kids today while helping them sharpen their memory skills. The battery-powered game is shaped liked a flying disc with four large buttons: green, red, blue and yellow. Simon lights up the buttons in a specific order that the player must repeat, with progressive difficulty. Each button lights up and makes a unique tone when pressed – the same classic sounds I remember from childhood! The only upgrade is that the buttons are now touch-sensitive instead of physical, clunky plastic buttons.
This puzzle toy, invented in 1974, has fascinated generations! The Rubik’s Cube is a 3x3 cube the player twists and rotates to match up the colored tiles on each side. The puzzle has exploded in popularity with a sport called “speedcubing,” a worldwide phenomenon with many official and unofficial competitions. Today’s version has fully-plastic tiles, so there are no more peeling and fading stickers (and no cheating)!
The arcade game Pac-Man was first released in 1980, and quickly became one of the most famous video games of all time. The yellow, pizza-shaped Pac-Man character navigates a maze, eating pellets and fruit and being chased by ghosts. Many versions of this game exist today, including the Pac-Man Mini Retro Arcade Game. This portable game brings home the nostalgia of an arcade cabinet while being just 6 inches tall!
Believe it or not, Lincoln Logs are celebrating their 100th anniversary! Named for President Abraham Lincoln (and the log cabin he was born in), Lincoln Logs are miniature notched, wooden logs for building structures. The 100th Anniversary Tin includes 111 all-wood logs and all pieces are made in the USA.
Spirograph is the geometric drawing toy that has helped kids make mesmerizing works of art since 1965. Place a pen tip in one gear, hold the anchor gear to your paper, and use the pen to turn the gear around and around as you draw. Soon you’ll have an incredible curve design! Today, Spirograph is better than ever, with a variety of updated features to make it easier to use. Many of our design kits include Spiro-putty, which holds the anchor gear in place. The Spirograph Cyclex and Spirograph Junior kits keep the gears self-contained within a plastic frame to prevent slipping. There are options for all ages (3 and up)!
In a world of smartphones, virtual reality games and other cutting-edge technology, there’s something satisfying about pulling out these retro toys and watching kids enjoy them. Try your hand at these too – it’s amazing how quickly it comes back.
Cheers to the toys of decades past!
Keeping kids cooped up indoors when the weather’s frightful can be a recipe for disaster—unless you have the right distractions to keep them busy. Avoid sibling disputes and boredom by helping kids stay physically active and work on a skill while they’re stuck inside!
Spin-balls LED Poi and Slimeball are two Holiday Top Toys that fit the bill. Both for ages 6 and up, Spin-balls and Slimeball allow kids to practice hand-eye coordination and both fine and gross motor skills. Feel free to use them outdoors on mild days—but when it’s not-so-delightful out, these are both safe for active, indoor fun!
What is poi? Poi is a style of performance art involving swinging a ball on a string. The art form originates centuries ago from the Maori people of New Zealand, and is now practiced worldwide as a form of dance, meditation and performance at festivals.
The Spin-balls LED Poi kit comes with two soft, light-up silicone balls attached to short ropes, and an instructional DVD for learning tricks. The easy-to-follow lessons begin with simple forward spins – swinging the balls vertically by your sides, like the wheels on a car. Advanced moves include “Hyper Loops,” which involves spinning the two poi in opposite directions, intertwining the strings and untangling them again while creating a stunning visual effect!
Spin-balls light up in many color modes, including a strobe light effect. Perform in the dark to dazzle your friends and family! For cooperative fun, split the poi between two people to create a partner dance.
Slimeball is the key to ooey-gooey fun without the mess! Slimeballs are green, sticky balls that stick to their targets with a satisfying “splat” – but never make a mess of the floor, walls or clothing. They come in multiple sets, with accessories for either solo target practice or competitive play.
Slimeball Dodgetag includes two target vests for players to wear while taking aim at each other. The balls only stick to the green, sticky part of the vest, so accuracy is important!
Slimeball Target Practice includes a target that can be hung anywhere. Kids can develop their aim and move farther and farther away to challenge their hand-eye coordination.
The Slimeball Slinger is a slingshot-like tool to launch your Slimeballs up to 30 feet!
Finally, the Slimeball Flinger Darts set includes a dartboard with scoring for competitive play. These Slimeballs have a built-in launch mechanism, allowing you to shoot them from a fingertip or the special Flingers.
Try both of these Top Toys for safe, satisfying indoor fun this winter!