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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.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and with all the Pinteresting parents out there, you can bet that this year’s school Valentines will be more creative, unique, and punnier than ever. V-Day is typically a day filled with candy and sweet treats, but in today’s health-conscious society, parents are trying to find healthy alternatives for their kids. So how do you enhance the holiday excitement while cutting out the candy? Here are 6 valentine gift ideas that will help you keep up with the pack and swap out some sweets at the same time!1. Plush Craft Heart Pillow Forget paint-by-numbers, this fun and easy craft lets kids punch rainbow colored fabrics into corresponding number slots to create a pillow full of pizazz! This is a great gift idea for kids ages 5 and up. Your little Romeo or Juliet might even want to give their finished product to a special someone.2. Bee Mine Valentine This adorable Valentine from Crafty Morning is the bee's knees! Follow the easy instructions and have your busy little bees help cut out the heart shapes and create the most Beeautiful Valentine. You can add a decorative pencil to serve as a Valentine goody. Get creative with your sayings—in addition to Bee Mine, try “What's Buzzin", "My Honey" "Bee your friend” and "Beeautiful”!3. Out of This World Valentine This galactic gift from Zakka Life is perfectly gender-neutral and packed with fun. You and your space pioneers can work together to explore your creative sides. Design these unique cards using black construction paper, silver pen, and bouncy balls. Add space-themed sayings like “I love you to the moon and back”, “I’m stuck to you like gravity”, “you are my sunshine”, and “you’ve got me seeing stars”!4. Sticky Mosaics Heart Box kit Give your sweetheart a keepsake craft that is a blast to decorate. The Sticky Mosaics heart Box kit comes with over 500 glittering jewels. Kids five and up will love matching the jewels by number to reveal a beautifully bedazzled box that is perfect for storing jewelry and Valentine’s cards.5. You Rule Valentine Rule the school this Valentine’s Day with these vintage-inspired cards from Relocated Living. This craft is as easy as 1, 2, 3! Have your star pupil help you pick out rulers from an office supply store—they can be old-fashioned wooden rulers, clear, or colorful. Print out valentine messages like “You Rule”, “You’re growing on me”, and “our friendship is off the meter” on red construction paper and create slits on either side to slide the ruler through. Add stickers or hearts for a bit of Valentine’s flair.6. Craft-Tastic String Art Kit Let your littlest sweetheart pull on your heart strings this Valentine’s Day. This kit provides all the materials to create a beautiful multi-colored string art heart and two other fun designs. Any Mother, Father, Grandparent or relative would be honored to hang these colorful masterpieces in their home.
Thanks for reading!
A pink-spotted egg lurks behind the cereal boxes. A glistening golden egg hides underneath an overturned coffee mug. Then, your child opens her sock drawer to find—surprise!—a bountiful Easter basket full of goodies.
Easter Egg Hunts aren’t all about the candy—they’re about the thrill of discovery. One Easter, I hid candy-filled eggs for my 8-year-old niece. When she visited my house a few weeks later, she came bouncing in, asking, “Can we hunt for eggs again? They don’t even have to have anything in them!”
Learning Express Toys makes creating egg-citing Easter baskets easy—just stop by and choose $25 worth of toys YOUR kid will love from our Bunny Buffet™ and receive a free personalized bucket! Then, read on for fun, educational Easter egg activities to keep kids seeking.
Puzzle Piece Easter Eggs Encourage your child’s critical thinking, logic, and visual perception skills (and mix up the candy routine) by having him hunt for puzzle pieces! Place one or two puzzle pieces inside each plastic Easter egg and let the search begin, followed by a family assembly session. Choose a delightful jigsaw puzzle from Learning Express, or decorate your own blank puzzle. As a variation, hide individual letters written on squares of construction paper to form a word or phrase for kids to unscramble.
Pro tip: Jot down the egg locations while you’re hiding them to prevent frustration later.
Egg Dye Chemistry Conduct a quick science eggs-periment with your kids using vinegar and water with store-bought egg dye or food coloring. Set up three cups of water. Add one teaspoon of vinegar to the first one, two teaspoons to the second, and none to the third. Place 10 to 20 drops of food coloring or a dye tablet in each cup, and have your kids place a hard-boiled, white egg in each cup. Set an egg timer for up to five minutes and ask your kids to observe the process. When it dings, remove the eggs and ask: Which egg is brightest? Which is lightest? The egg immersed in the most vinegar will be brightest. Explain that food coloring is an acidic dye which bonds to the egg using hydrogen, and this chemical process works best in an acidic environment. Ask: Did you notice the bubbles forming around the egg while it was in the vinegar bath? Did you see this happen in the cup containing only water?
Pro tip: Place the egg inside a whisk before dyeing for easy handling and drying.
Egg Drop Contest Promote ingenuity and problem-solving skills in your child by letting her drop raw eggs out a window! But there’s a catch: The egg must be contained in some kind of protective casing. The goal is to keep the egg safe upon impact using a variety of scrap materials: Bubble wrap, newspaper, foam, fabric, cardboard, or whatever else you can find around the house. Your kid might even fashion a makeshift parachute out of a shopping bag and string. The whole family can compete to determine which materials are best!
Pro tip: Place each egg in a reclosable plastic bag before packaging to avoid a runny mess.
Make Learning Express Toys your first stop for Easter preparation, and keep the discovery going with surprises around every corner.
Have an egg-stra special Easter!
Working towards imaginative play with our kids who have special needs requires us parents and caretakers to be a little more creative when it comes to playtime. We are always looking for new ways to coax them into joining us, and remain hopeful that they are learning new skills along the way.
Kids with Autism can be very obsessive and ritualistic. When my daughter Kiki was a toddler, she had two primary obsessions: Disney's 101 Dalmatians & Barney. For the other children in her early intervention classroom it was Thomas the Train, wheels, doors, or computers.
Growing up, the idea of getting Kiki on the floor with me to play with an ABC puzzle was a hopeless dream. I couldn't even get her to settle down on my lap for a book. Instead I had to wrangle her in, and sometimes play all by my lonesome just to model what fun could look like!
When it came to learning, there was NO way she would sit with me and do a wooden puzzle, color pictures, or flashcards. She was on the go 24/7 and permanently set to "full speed ahead". In order to help her grow and develop, I had to tap into her "likes" (i.e. her other preferred activities) and HIDE learning into every experience.
A Box of Rice: An Easy Sensory Play Tool!
Kiki craved sensory experiences. She loved the water and watching things fall. She would grab handfuls of leaves and sit there letting them fall out of her hand again and again—watching them fall from every angle, studying as if she were a motion analyst. Her Occupational Therapist suggested we make a rice box for sensory play. Literally, a box filled with rice.
I bought a huge Rubbermaid tub (the kind that can slide under a bed) and filled it half way full with rice. We would have Kiki sit in the box (with her Dalmatians of course!) then pick up the rice and watch it fall. We would add tools to the box so that she could grasp, hold, and squeeze various handles to promote fine motor skills and pour the rice onto her arm or toes. As she grasped at measuring cups and wooden spoons, we benefited from an increase in eye contact—almost as if she was saying "thank you."
Learning ABCs and More through Sensory Play
Flash-forward two years. Kiki is almost five years old and we need to work on our school readiness. We need to learn counting, ABCs, sorting, matching, and sequencing... but she would not color, write, or sit still long enough to work on these things. I wanted her to learn and recognize her ABCs, not just to be able to sing the song. I knew that she was a visual/sensory kiddo who needed as many senses engaged in order to process, learn, and most importantly WANT to participate.
I took our wooden alphabet puzzle and hid just the first few letters of the alphabet deep into the rice. She saw me bury it. Little Miss Aloof was watching me carefully, and she heard me squeal with excitement when I recovered the letter A from the dangerous depths of rice! Even though she always seemed to be tuned out and ignoring me, she would listen and watch from the corner of her eye.
Ultimately, she accepted the challenge and recovered letter A from the rice. When she retrieved the letter I said "A" and placed it into the tray where it belonged. I then took all the letters out and started to bury more and more letters, using language like, "Oh no! Where's letter B?" I like to refer to this exercise as thinking INSIDE the box, inside the box of rice that is!
More Skill-Building Rice Box Activities
Other examples of learning that can be done inside the box of rice are:
1. Fine motor activities. With Wooden Lacing Beads or any stacking puzzles, bury the pieces in the rice and, as you retrieve them, recite the color or shape before placing on the lacing string/stick. Helpful OT hint: Stringing beads onto lace can be very challenging for our kiddos with low tone or limited mobility in their hands. Our OT suggested that we string the wooden beads (or spools) onto a wooden chopstick or pencil to help build the fine motor muscles necessary to ultimately lace on a string. We don't want our kids to get too frustrated or we lose the opportunity.
2. Shape recognition. Work on shape recognition by hiding different wooden shape puzzle pieces in the rice box.
3. Mummify That Toy! One of our favorite games and another sensory play opportunity was called Mummify that Toy! Take one of your child's cherished favorites and cover it 100% completely in dough. I love Playfoam, as it doesn't make a mess and leaves no damage behind. Roll it into a size so that your child cannot even recognize what lies below that dough! Use colorful language as you start to pick and dig out the item, "Uh oh, where's my Thomas the Train?" Make it into a song, "Oh where oh where can my Thomas Train Be, oh where oh where can he be?" As you start to reveal and uncover the toy, follow it up with more language,"Here it is!" or "I found your Thomas Train!" Have your child cover the toy up and start the process over again for great social, language, and fine motor fun!
When working to develop your child’s skill set, don’t be afraid to get silly, be creative, and remember that sometimes we gotta just think INSIDE the box! The ultimate goal is to make the playtime fun, and hope that our kids are learning new skills along the way. And don't forget to check out the Learning Express Skill Building Toy Guide for Children with Special Needs.
Thanks for reading!
Colleen Hendon, Learning Express Toys Manager