• Why Kids Need to #PlayUnplugged (A Teacher's Perspective)

    Create with crayons on leafIt’s a free art day. Kids can make anything they want. This used to be a golden day for my students. But now, I’m bombarded with questions and concerns: What should I make? Give me an idea. I don’t know what to do.

    Why is using their imagination so difficult?

    Kids love working with devices. It’s hard to get them to put their devices down, even in school. Whether they are playing games or learning programs on the computer, there is usually a well-defined goal to accomplish. This is like taking a test. They know that with repetition and problem solving, they can come up with the “right” answer. How do I get through this maze? How do I win this battle?

    But with imagination, there may not be a right answer. And sometimes, kids get confused when they don’t know exactly what the final goal should be.

    So how do we encourage imagination and innovation?

    Stretching the imagination begins with thinking outside the box, participating in open-ended activities that don’t have a “right” answer for solving them. This can be as simple as doing something that you do every day, in a different way.

    For example: What if they had breakfast for supper? What if they had a picnic breakfast on the living room floor?

    By trying different ways of doing a traditional activity, kids begin to imagine other ways of changing them. What if we only ate yellow foods for lunch or foods that started with the letter L? What if we #PlayUnplugged and act out the video game instead?

    Thinking of alternatives opens their imagination to a multitude of answers.

    Summer is a great time for open-ended activities.

    Stretch kids’ imagination by doing activities that don’t follow traditional rules. Could they invent a way to play Quidditch from the Harry Potter books, even though in the books it requires flying? If they were to make up an entirely new type of game, what would it be?

    Try activities that require kids to experiment to find the answer. My kids spent an entire summer finding acids and bases from things around the house, by dropping them into red cabbage juice and watching it change color. Is there a better way to design a paper airplane? Could you build a catapult that would knock down a wall of milk cartons?

    Use art to expand their ideas by filling every square in the sidewalk with a different chalk drawing. Make your own playdough or slime and the tools to work with it.

    You don’t have to think up all these activities yourself.

    Books such as “100 Screen Free Ways to Beat Boredom” can help. It is filled with ideas that can be expressed in many different ways.

    For example: Put on a fashion show, make string art outside in the yard, start an herb garden, or make alien hats out of tin foil. These open-ended activities allow for surprises and unexpected results, delighting kids with what they can accomplish.

    To help push the imagination a little further, ask questions such as: What else can you add to this? Are you missing anything? Does this work or look the way you imagined it would?

    Unplugged and open-ended.

    Now when kids ask me what to make, I steer them away from the iPads, and challenge them with open-ended questions. It doesn’t take long for their imaginations to kick into gear with all kinds of possibilities. And before you know it, comments like "I don’t know what to do," disappear altogether.

    Diane Davis has been an art teacher for over 30 years. She has two grown children, and a new granddaughter who she can’t wait to start creating with.

  • Avoid Summer Brain Drain With Just One Book [Top Toy Review]

    Avoid Summer Brain Drain with just one book: Summer Bridge ActivitiesI used to have trouble sleeping the few weeks before school started. Toward the end of every summer I would have bad dreams worrying about my new teacher, meeting new classmates and what clothes I would wear the first day.

    Parents and teachers, however, are concerned about another issue: Summer brain drain.

    Summer brain drain, or summer learning loss, happens when children forget the skills they learned during the school year over the summer break. On average, students lose two months of progress in math skills during the summer and one month of spelling skills.

    “Research shows that students on average score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer than they do on the same tests at the end of the school year… Teachers spend an average of 4-6 weeks re-teaching material that students have lost during the summer.”— Marlene Gundlach, Statistics on Summer Reading, Bright Hub Education

    However, there’s good news: Your child can maintain their language, math and other academic skills by staying in practice. Even just 15 minutes of academics a day will flex those cognitive muscles!

    Why Your Child Needs Summer Bridge

    The Summer Bridge Activities book series is the perfect solution. These teacher-recommended workbooks contain activities to review the material that your child has learned and to get them ready for the next grade level. Topics span reading, writing, math, science, social studies and fitness for kids entering kindergarten through fifth grade. Just one book contains an entire summer of activities!Summer Bridge Activity Book

    Each activity book includes 12 weeks’ worth of daily problems to solve, writing prompts, fill-in-the-blank activities and fitness suggestions (“play leapfrog” or “do 10 squats”). Colorful illustrations and a sticker sheet bring life to the books.Summer Bridge Flash Cards

    Each workbook includes flashcards to cut out for practicing parts of speech, shapes, equations and more. At the end of the summer, you can present your child with the included Certificate of Completion.

    Summer Bridge Certificate of Completion

    The Summer Bridge Activities series includes suggestions to engage your kids in enriching summer experiences beyond the books. Reading with your children, visiting museums and parks, and finding teachable moments each day will maintain and grow those academic skills!

    Summer Bridge Activity Books

    Ease the transition back to school by keeping academics alive all summer long. Summer Bridge is one of our Summer Top Toys!

    Happy learning,


  • Have More Fun in the Sun with These Sweet Pool Floats [Top Toy Review]

    mermaid, donut, peacock, flip flop, shark and surfboard pool floats. text: "Have more fun in the sun with these sweet pool floats"

    One time, my cousin and I became mermaids. We darted up and down across the surface of the lake, bursting out of the water with a dramatic flip of the hair like Ariel.

    Another time, my best friend and I created a synchronized swimming routine to a Backstreet Boys song. (Or it might have been NSYNC. I can never remember.)

    My friends and I would regularly play “guess what I’m saying underwater.” Everyone would duck under, and one person would gurgle out a phrase over and over until someone correctly guessed it.

    We were always inventive, always making up new games. That’s why some of my best summer memories involve playing in the water.

    Summer gets even more fun with colorful and whimsical pool floats! Oversized, crazy pool floats will get your kids paddling, swimming and laughing all at the same time—while boosting their creativity and their gross motor skills. Read on to find out why they’re Summer Top Toys.

    Pool Floats

    Chocolate Donut Pool Float Why use just any pool float when you could relax on your favorite snack, animal, or even shoe? Have fun in the pool or lake by making up games with these oversized floats. Race the Chocolate Donut Float and Strawberry Donut Float against each other. Make magic with the Mermaid Tail Float.

    mermaid tail pool floatCatch a wave with the Surfboard Pool Float. Show off to your friends with the Peacock Pool Float. Prank your sibling with the Whoopee Cushion Pool Float. At the end of the day, kick back with the Emoji Flip Flop Float. Your kids will find plenty of ways to enjoy these silly inflatables! Get ready for some fun in the sun creating memories, and check out more great outdoor toys here!

    Wishing you sunshine,