Tag Archives: Books and Resources

Gift Guide: Toys to Build Toddler Brains

photo showing toys like Duplo train, Quadro climber

Parents often ask me for recommendations for “the best toys for toddlers”. It’s a little tricky for me, given that I often advocate for owning fewer toys. But, if you’d like a few special items for a child to unwrap for their birthday, Christmas, or another holiday, here are some thoughts on how to choose the best toys. I’m going to sort them into categories based on ways to build a variety of skills and multiple intelligences. (I also recommend you check out my handout on activities and free items which also help to build their brains.)

Word Play (Linguistic / Verbal Intelligence)

We go to the library a lot! And when my son was a toddler, we went to story-time at the library every week. This means we get to “try out” hundreds of books a year for free! We only buy copies of the very best. Here are my favorites for books that toddlers love, preschool level books about inventors and makers, and books that sing. (For your adult reading enjoyment, here’s my recommendations for recommended parenting books and resources for teaching STEM to kids.)

It’s also helpful to play a lot with letters: I like magnetic letters for the refrigerator (which you can use all over the house) and duplo letters.

I also recommend a Kindle Fire tablet with Kindle FreeTime installed, which includes lots of ABC games and literacy building apps. (Here are thoughts on making screen time work for your family.)

Doing the Numbers (Logical – Mathematical Intelligence)

Everything you have more than one of is a math toy! You can count how many blocks you have, figure out whether you have more trains than balls, and so on. A few helpful specialty math tools are: a set of Duplo numbers, which you can use for counting, number recognition, while mixing them into your building tools, Unifix Cubes, and a great app called Bedtime Math. Every night at bedtime, we read a story problem and solve some math puzzles related to that story.

Putting the Pieces Together (Spatial Intelligence)

I like wooden puzzles for younger children and jigsaw puzzles for older kids. Melissa and Doug is generally a reliable brand. Babies 6 – 18 months like stacking toys and shape sorters. Toddlers love wooden train tracksto assemble and a big collection of wooden trains.

There’s tons of great building toys for older kids (I list many here in my STEM Gift Guide) but my all-time favorite is building toy to give is a basic Duplo set. For a 5 – 6 year old, choose basic Legos.

Moving & Grooving (Bodily – Kinesthetic Intelligence)

I would recommend several balls of varying sizes and textures, a Nerf style baseball bat, a Strider bike, and plenty of time to run and play indoors and out.

Rather than buying a pre-made climber that can never change configurations, I recommend a climber built of Quadro (Quadro is a fabulous combination of building toy and playground equipment! We’ve had ours for 20 years now, in near constant use.)

Playing Well With Others (Interpersonal Intelligence)

Imaginary play and telling stories with characters is one way to build interpersonal intelligence. Choose a few stuffed animals or puppets,  a collection of finger puppets to tell stories with, a toy picnic basket with fake food.

Learning about Myself and How I Feel (Intrapersonal Intelligence)

This category of intelligence isn’t about tangible stuff. It’s more about interaction and emotion coaching, and also making sure your child has time for quiet contemplation and down time.

Song and Dance Routines (Musical Intelligence)music

We have a box of miscellaneous musical instruments he can pull out anytime he wants. A few were purchased for him, but most are just items that have entered our lives over the years, like the plastic Yamaha recorder I had as a child, and the plastic Yamaha recorder I had to buy for my daughter’s class when I couldn’t find my old one… We also have a very old electric piano that’s in his room and he spends part of many “nap times” exploring the piano.

We listen to a lot of music together (one older sibling loves Broadway show tunes, one loves vintage jazz, Abuela loves classical and Spanish music) and sing songs A LOT, and enjoy circle-time songs at BC classes and library story times and hymns at church.

Fun with Flora and Fauna (Naturalistic Intelligence)

As you can guess if you’ve read other posts on my blog, we spend a lot of time outdoors. Camping, hikes, zoo trips, farmer’s markets, walks to the library and the pool. The only “tools” we use outdoors are a bucket and a shovel. (But, when we forget them, a stick and a rock can fill in as digging tools, and an empty Starbucks cup from the car makes a fine bucket.) Some day we’ll find our binoculars again, and pick up a new magnifying glass.

Expanding Horizons (Magic / Imagination / Religion / Cultures)

We have a big box of miscellaneous dress up – old Halloween costumes from his siblings, sunglasses, silly hats, etc. In all of our books and the videos we watch together, we aim for showing lots of diverse cultures and experiences, and we go to a church that talks a lot about diverse beliefs and appreciation of the sacred in all forms.

All the Pretty Colors (Artistic Skills and Appreciation)

This is the one area we have an abundance of STUFF.

One cabinet in the kitchen is over-flowing with art supplies: Model Magic clay, no-spill watercolors, pom poms, pipe cleaners, paint, paper, glitter glue, stickers, markers, crayons, beads, scissors, and so on. When he and I are in a relaxed, mellow mood, we pull these out and get to work.

I try not to do much art when I’m in a cranky mood, or when I won’t have time to deal with any mess that arises. I have to confess that I can have a hard time when he’s being really messy or “wasting” art supplies, or “messing up” art supplies – like when he dips the red-paint-covered paintbrush into the yellow paint. Because I know that about myself, I make sure that he has plenty of opportunity to do art in spaces that are designed for kids’ art and where it’s OK to make a mess. So, this year, he’s enrolled in Creative Development Lab, which is all about exploring and experimenting with art.

Child-Directed Play

In addition to buying stuff for your kid to play with, also make sure they have some time to play with you that is child-directed – where they get to decide what they want to play. Learn more about child-directed play.

If you have an older child, check out my Gift Guide to STEM Toys for Ages 3 – 6.

(Note: this post includes Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and purchase anything, I get a small referral fee. I spend any income from that on doing outreach to encourage more parents and educators to come check out what I offer here on this blog.)

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Twenty Recommended Parenting Books

Today, I put together a handout on 20 Recommended Parenting Books. Click above for a printable handout, or check out the list below.

Title Author topic
And Baby Makes Three Gottman relationship skills
The Baby Book Sears overview of infant care
Becoming the Parent You Want to Be Davis parenting style
Brain Rules for Baby Medina brain development
Breastfeeding Made Simple Mohrbacher nutrition
Child of Mine Satter nutrition
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting Lansbury parenting (infant/toddler)
Heart Tending: Creating rituals that nurture you and those you love Watson daily routines and rituals
It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules… Shumaker discipline
Last Child in the Woods Louv activities: nature
Mind in the Making Galinski development
The No-Cry Sleep Solution Pantley sleep
No-Drama Discipline Siegel discipline
NurtureShock Bronson & Merryman development
Our Babies, Ourselves Small culture of parenting
Parenting Without Borders Gross-Loh culture of parenting
Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn Simkin, et al pregnancy & birth
Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child Gottman emotional devel
Simplicity Parenting Payne parenting style
Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors Doorley activities: STEM

Recommended Parenting Books

This list includes 20 great books on parenting kids age birth to five. They are some of my personal favorites, and also include books frequently recommended by my colleagues in the Bellevue College Parent Education program. I have included affiliate links to the Amazon description so you can learn more. If you live on Seattle’s eastside, check out the spreadsheet at the bottom of this post to see what you can check out from the library for free.

Pregnancy and Birth

Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn:The Complete Guide. Simkin et al, 2016. (Fair disclosure: I’m a co-author on this book.)

Breastfeeding and Nutrition for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Breastfeeding Mothers by Mohrbacher and Kendall-Tackett. 2010

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Satter. 2000

Parenting a Newborn or Toddler

Elevating Child Care: A guide to respectful parenting by Lansbury. 2014

The Baby Book: Everything you need to know about baby from birth to age 2. Sears. 2013

Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture shape the way we parent by Small. 2011

Parenting, general

Becoming the Parent You Want to Be: A Sourcebook of Strategies for the First Five Years by Davis and Keyser.

Heart Tending: Creating Rituals that nurture you and those you love by Watson. 2014

It’s OK not to share and other renegade rules for raising competent and compassionate kids by Shumaker. 2012

No-Drama Discipline: The Whole Brain Way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing brain by Siegel. 2014

Parenting without Borders: Surprising lessons parents around the world can teach us by Gross-Loh. 2013

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Gottman and Goleman. 2011

Simplicity Parenting: Using the extraordinary power of less to raise calmer, happier, and more secure kids by Payne. 2009

Child development / Activities that nurture child development and brain growth

Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from zero to five by Medina. 2014

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Louv. 2008

Mind in the Making: Seven Essential Life Skills Every child needs by Galinski. 2010

Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children by Bronson and Merryman. 2009

Tinkerlab: A Hands-On guide for Little Inventors by Doorley. 2014

Relationships (and the impact of children on a relationship)

And Baby Makes Three: the 6 step plan for preserving marital intimacy and re-kindling romance after baby arrives by Gottman. 2007

Sleep

The No-Cry Sleep Solution (or the No-Cry Nap Solution) by Pantley. 2013

Learn more

Here’s an Excel spreadsheet with another 30 great books to consider… Recommended Parenting Books from the Bellevue College Parent Education instructors.

If you find books to be an overwhelming time commitment when caring for little ones, and are looking for short, sweet, little 1 – 4 page summaries of key topics, you can check out my collection of handouts at https://gooddayswithkids.com/for-educators/

Question:

What are your favorite parenting books and why?

Fun with Toddlers: Duck Theme

duckEach spring in our classroom, we have a spring theme with rain, raindrops and flowers, and on week 3 of the theme, the ducks appear! There are tons of great picture books about ducks, so in this post, I include lots of book recommendations and ideas for activities to accompany those books.

Songs to Sing

Five Little Ducks Went Out One Day
http://tmas.kcls.org/five-little-ducks-went-out-one-day/

Five Little Ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away.
Mother Duck said, “Quack, Quack, Quack,” but only four little ducks came back.
Four little ducks went out one day… …but only three little ducks came back.
(Repeat counting down to “but no little ducks came back.”)
Sad mother duck went out one day, over the hills and far away
Mother Duck said, “Quack, Quack, Quack.” Five little ducks came running back.

Six Little Ducks that I Once Knew http://tmas.kcls.org/six-little-ducks/

Six little ducks that I once knew, Fat ones, skinny ones, fair ones too!
But the one little duck with the feather on her back,
She led the others with a quack quack quack.
Quack quack quack. Quack quack quack. She led the others with a quack quack quack.

Down to the river they would go, A wibble wobble, wibble wobble, to and fro.
But the one little duck with the feather on her back,
She led the others with a quack quack quack.
Quack quack quack. Quack quack quack. She led the others with a quack quack quack.

Duck Picture Books and Activities they Inspire

Five Little Ducks by Raffi. The words from the song (above) in a book with illustrations. And 10 Rubber Duckies by William Winburn. These are both countdown songs/stories, and they have a really great rhyme and rhythm – easy for kids to predict what will happen next and easy to memorize!

  • Sing the song, and act it out with rubber ducks or handmade puppets. These are great for learning to subtract and learning about zero.
  • You may also use foam numbers – put 5 numbers on the table (or on the wall of the tub). As each duck disappears, take away a number to see how many are left.

One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root. (Be sure to get the full version, not the board book – it’s abridged, and you miss some of the great language.) Fabulous rhyming, rhythmic words. And a counting book. And lots of fun marshland creatures.

  • Dramatic play: make masks or finger puppets of the animals in the book. One child pretends to be the duck and says “Help, Help, who Can Help.” Other kids (or the parent if you’re playing this one-on-one at home) come to the rescue.
  • Sensory play in muddy muck: give child a bag of dirt (or collect dirt from yard). Spend time exploring the dirt, describing it, looking at it through a magnifying glass. Add a little water. Explore some more. Then add more water till you’ve got gooey mud. Get a toy duck stuck.
  • Find photos of real ducks, real marshes, and real marsh-land creatures.

10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle. Based on a real-life story of a shipping carton of rubber ducks that fell into the ocean. Ten ducks float off in separate directions and encounter a variety of sea life.

  • Art: Make 10 paper ducks. Label 1 – 10. Your child glues them to a blue paper ocean
  • Numbers: Collect 10 rubber ducks, or use paper ducks. Child rolls dice, counts the dots, puts that many ducks in the tub to show “how many fell into the ocean?”
  • Talk about ordinal numbers and directions: the first duck swam north, the second duck swam south, and so on. Play a game where your child goes in the direction you say: “the little duck swam left, the little duck swam right, the little duck went up the stairs.”

Have You Seen My Duckling? by Nancy Tafuri. A mother searches for her baby.

Little Quack by Lauren Thompson. A book about a duckling who overcomes his fear and learns to swim. It would be a great read in the weeks before starting swimming lessons!

Even more great picture books about ducks: https://homeschool.rebeccareid.com/duck-picture-books/ 

More ideas (and source citations) at: www.pinterest.com/bcparented

photo credit: shot_1305563005476 via photopin (license)

Fun with Toddlers: Stars and Moon Theme

holiday-kids-crafts.com

holiday-kids-crafts.com

December 21 is winter solstice. The longest night of the year. If the weather is clear, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to go out after dark but before bedtime to check out the night sky and winter constellations (look for Orion!). Here are some other fun moon and star activities.

Planetarium trip

Many planetariums offer shows especially for young children. At Pacific Science Center in Seattle, they have Preschool Trip to the Moon for kids under 4. At Bellevue College, they have shows for kids 6 and up.

Sensory Activities

Mirror Painting. Let your child finger-paint on a mirror. Use blue paint (or blue and black), silver glitter paint, or shake-on glitter. The swirls of color and sparkle look like a starry night. When the mirror is covered with paint, you can use a clean finger to “write” on it.

Star Play-Dough. Make dark blue & purple playdough with glitter and star confetti mixed in.

Songs to Sing / Rhymes to Say

At Night I see the Twinkling Stars – rhyme
(see gestures here)
At night I see the twinkling stars
And a great big yellow moon!
My Mommy tucks me in at night
And sings a good-night tune.
Good night!  ZZZZZZZ. . .
WAKE UP!

We’re Flying to the Moon – rhyme
We’re flying to the moon. We’re flying to the moon.
Oh, what an adventure! We’re flying to the moon.
10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – BLAST OFF!
(lift baby into the air)

Four Little Stars – rhyme
(Use your fingers to count down)
Four little stars winking at me,
One shot off, then there were three.
Three little stars with nothing to do,
One shot off and then there were two.
Two little stars afraid of the sun,
One shot off, then there was one.
One little star, alone is no fun.
It shot off, then there was none.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star – song

Crafts to Do

Star Stickers. At any office supply or drug store, get a pack of star stickers, like a teacher would put on homework. You can let your child stick them all over black paper to make a starry sky, or make a holiday card by drawing a Christmas tree, and encouraging them to decorate it with the stars.sticker

Tip: It’s often hard for little ones to pry up stickers. Make it easier by pulling all the background paper up from around the stickers, leaving just the stickers on the paper. (Click on that picture for a better look.)

Popsicle Stick Stars. Give your child 5 popsicle sticks to decorate with glitter glue or paint or markers. Then assemble them into a star.

Books to Read

How to Catch a Star by Jeffers.

Goodnight Moon by Brown.

Twinkle books. There are LOTS of books with the words from Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and variants on that theme. Check some out!

For my full collection of theme-based “Fun with Toddlers”, click on “Fun with Toddlers series” in the right hand side bar. Or if you would like them in printable handout form to share with students, click here.

If you have a child age 3 – 7, learn about lots of hands-on activities for teaching them about the science of stars and constellations at https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2017/02/28/stars-2/