GIVEAWAY – Hearth Song Exclusive Triplet

This giveaway is now closed.

I had planned on this giveaway having another post before it, but my delegated time for working in the last few days has been consumed by trying to get the site back up… for this giveaway. So, I’ll get to the assessment of your kids’ knowledge retention in the next couple days. In the mean time, you should be entering as many times as allowed for this:

Hearth Song is an unbelievable company dedicated to the seamless unity of play and education. Many of the toys they offer are open-ended with very little instruction. However, I venture to claim that all of the Hearth Song Exclusives promote a boundless amount of creativity and almost no effort.

That’s a pretty big deal. I have focused a lot of energy on trying to make learning fun… on trying to engage them in the creative process and getting them to activate that imaginative, this-is-what-makes-YOU-exceptional, part of the brain. It‘s incredibly refreshing and a little humbling to open these toys from Hearth Song and have that cognitive process stripped of all difficulty.

AND, one lucky reader will win this Hearth Song Exclusive triplet!

Here’s what’s included (and pictured):

Connectagons: I had my doubts about this product. Judging on the picture alone, I thought they looked like an overwhelming amount of flimsy discs that will likely be lost in a matter of days. 240 pieces of anything in a house with children is ambitious for a company to assume you’ll keep around, eh?

I became a huge advocate of connectagons in a matter of minutes. They’re NOT flimsy; they are made out of wood. The bright assortment of painted discs are thick enough to be sturdy, but Hearth Song made them thin enough to maintain an almost weightless state.

240 discs x 8 useable slots for construction each.< Honestly, I can’t watch my kids play with these. I’m on the floor with them and building away.

About the storage: I winced a little upon opening the outer packaging for the connectagons. I was thinking, “Okay, there are 240 little things inside this small box and I’m never going to be able to make them condense into this size again.” Ha! You open the cardboard outer box only to find a wooden inner box about the size of a cigar box. The top slides out from an inner groove of the sides only to reveal neat, happy little rows of connectagons stacked like poker chips. This alone sold me on the product. Toy-making genius, really.

Domino Race:
I definitely remember lining up dominoes vertically only to watch a fun trail of them falling down. But the dominoes I used were the rounded black dominoes… you know, dominoes. These are dominoes done the Hearth Song way. You can build bridges, stairs and ramps with the accessories in the pack. There is a marker for both the Start & Finish lines for kids to create a limitless array of tracks that only they can create… there’s no diagram on purpose. The awesome people at Hearth Song have donated both the original set of Domino Race and the Add-On Set accessory pack for this giveaway.  Don’t worry, they come with a drawstring storage bag.

Automoblox: Finally, I asked Hearth Song if they’d donate one of the many sets in their Automoblox collection. What I’m giving away is the A9 Compact. All of the Automoblox collections work together. If you buy one, it stands alone as creative building, and it helps young kids to get a better feel for how real things are put together. When you combine a few sets, it allows for a huge range of options that are all compatible and incredibly entertaining.

How to Enter for the (awesome) Hearth Song Triplet Giveaway:

1. Leave a comment in response to the question: When, and with what objects, do you see your kids thinking and having fun at the same time?

2. Subscribe! After you do, email me at simplekidsblog [at] gmail [dot] com with NEW SUBSCRIBER as the subject. If you’re already a subscriber, email me with “Current Subscriber” as the subject!

3.Post this on your blog, or update your twitter status, or join SimpleKids on Facebook and email me with “POSTED” as the subject and the link to where I can find it.

Five entries is the limit with all-of-the-above included.

This giveaway will end on Thursday, 12 February at 11:59 PM. You have plenty of time to spread the word and enter as many times as allowed.

If your friends don’t have kids, tell them to enter for the benefit of your kids.

Teaching Your Kids – Without Them Knowing They’re Learning

Empty Classroom

I have two kids that learn in entirely different ways. My son is our first-born and he lives to learn the ins and outs of anything that strikes him as interesting. His curiosity drives his intelligence. A running joke in my family involves him, at the age of 3, telling my uncle, “YOU HAVE TO EXPLAIN THESE THINGS TO ME!”

Then, there’s my daughter. She’s just as smart, but she’s all about theatrics. We’ll sit down to learning time, and she acts like all of the information is bouncing off of her and nothing is learned. Then we’ll overhear her and her brother talking in the other room; she reveals that she knows far more than what she lets on… usually more than I was trying to teach her in the first place. When you try to teach her in the traditional sense, I guess it’s not dramatic enough. She’s something else.

This post is for everyone, especially those in my position with a kiddo that requires an alternative course of action. “Strategery” if you will. I want to have our learning time, but not with her getting her “I dunno” act together beforehand. I’ve found multiple ways to do this.

Regular Activities with Learning Potential

• Cooking: Your kids can greatly benefit from helping you in the kitchen. Almost every measurement involves a fraction and a parts-of-the-whole mentality. If they’re not ready for fractions, it’s still an opportunity for them to enhance their familiarity in general and grasp the idea that numbers come together in many different ways.

The ingredients in your kitchen alone broaden the educational possibilities You can go into the nationality of the different foods you eat on a regular basis. Bring out a cookbook to show them what foods look like if you don’t have them on-hand. If you don’t already, designate separate fruit and vegetable drawers, and ask your child to help you unpack groceries to introduce or practice categorizing.

Things have changed so much since I was little, but I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a daily sheet – or optimally a dry-erase version – of the food pyramid and have the kids check off what we’ve had after every meal or snack. I’ve never done this, but I think it’d be great for categorization and health consciousness from an early age.

With great care, have ice and water and boiling water close by, and tell your kids that it’s all made from the same thing if they don’t already know.

Sensory Education: Have taste tests. Blindfold your kids and have several samples for them to taste. See if they can tell. Then, switch them up or replace them completely and have them smell or feel samples to see if they can identify the food or drink. My brother and I used to do this, and it was one of the greatest things I remember doing at home when I was little… free, innocent fun.

If you brave the grocery store with your kids, ask them if they’ll fetch things close to your basket while you decide on another nearby item. They’ll have to combine several descriptors to find the right product, and if nothing else, they’ll find it by deductive reasoning… even if it’s you telling them it’s not right until they find it.

• Laundry: I guess categorization is the key element here. Have your kiddos separate dirty laundry into light and dark, or have them separate clean laundry into each family member’s own pile. If you think of any more, tell me. I need as much help as I can get in keeping up with our laundry.

• Let your kids feed or help feed the animal(s), and put it on their chore chart. Responsibility is a huge lesson for every child to learn. We’re planning on getting our son a fish. We will explain to him that the fish will live if he feeds him regularly, but we’re not going to help him. This may sound harsh, but if the fish dies, hopefully it’ll be a lesson learned. If you’re a member of PETA, I’m talking about sea kittens.

Games and Activities That Teach

I love playing games with the kids. I think they all have some level of education, but there are a few that really stand out.

• Mouse Trap: I love this game. Our daughter got it for her birthday recently, and I was thrilled. This game actually has a lot of educational components. First, you have to assemble the whole contraption by following written and illustrated directions. If you haven’t played the game in twenty years, it even takes an adult a few moments to wrap their minds around the whole thing. The most useful components, to me, are both the lesson of cause and effect, and the introduction of chain reactions. Cause and effect is everywhere, but maybe when you are trying to describe it later when teaching in written form, you can refer back to Mouse Trap. That may be a stretch, but I can see myself using it!

• Battleship: Our son recently started playing this game and it’s great for a youngster. Without them knowing it, the point of this whole article, they are learning how to read a grid. You need that skill your whole life, and in many cases it serves as the foundation of an entire discipline of math. The fact that this game so effortlessly makes the skill accessible to very young children is incredible to me.

• Perfection: This game pushes your kids to recognize shape and spatial orientation. Once they can get all of the shapes into the correct places, then they begin to push themselves to improve their time. Their reaction time. When you see or hear your child saying that they’ve improved their time and are getting faster, it’s easy to assume the basic shape recognition aspect of the game has been mastered.

• For reading children, I think Scattegories is perfection for words: If your child can read and write, it’s never too soon to introduce this game. It’s highly probable that early readers and writers will benefit more from the game without the timer involved. Almost identically to Perfection, Scattegories offers evidence of vocabulary growth and advancements in writing skill when the timer becomes more fun than frustrating to your child.

• Any sport: Let them pick, or if they are indecisive, you pick. Whichever, they need the hand-eye coordination. The forethought that comes with athletic experience is irreplaceable; when you’re able to predict what another player or person will do and it becomes instinctive, a very valuable skill has been acquired. Whether you want to or not, think of how your kids will eventually assume the position behind the wheel of a car… having them conditioned to “keep their heads on a swivel” will come in pretty handy. I know that babies can’t really benefit from a tennis racket right now, but rolling a ball to a toddler or even pre-toddler will benefit their growth tremendously.

• Felt boards, Easels, Chalkboards, Dry-Erase Boards: All of these outlets give an open door to whatever the child’s imagination can muster. When you make or buy a felt board, gather a wide variety of colors in sheets of felt (I think they’re about $0.10 each) and ask your children what they’d like. Go ahead and make numbers and letters and the shapes associated with what you know they’re “into” and let them be the sounding board for subsequent shapes and themes.

My daughter and I just went to the craft store and stocked up on beads. She has made necklaces and bracelets before and loved it. I figure her enthusiasm for the activity serves as a great opportunity to introduce patterns into the (under the radar) curriculum. I mention this to be used as a template. Take into account their favorite activities that wouldn’t normally be seen as educational, then find a way to make them so.

My son is in Kindergarten at a public school and I follow his daily work closely. None of what he brings home is beyond what his little sister is capable of, and it encourages me to push her without her feeling the pressure.

The common factor in all of these activities: you know they’re learning, but they only know that they’re either being involved with your usual activities OR having fun like they do best. There’s no asking, “What is…?” There’s no pushing your child for an answer if they’re not inclined to offer one on their own. My daughter has gotten better about offering answers, but only after I stopped quizzing her for them.

All children are different, but I hope this gives you a little help, an encouraging voice, or just a different perspective.

Do you find these helpful? Can you see these ideas helping in your kids’ learning or retention style?

Sleep, Organization and Prepping Your Child’s Mind

I am beginning a series that I am very excited about. Just so you can connect the dots in this whole gamut, it will begin with how to prepare your child’s mind adequately for primo knowledge absorption.

  • Then, I will move on to how to teach your child wonderful things without them ever knowing they’re in class.
  • I will follow this up with easy and effective ways to assess what your child has learned without quizzing them outright and putting them on the spot.
  • Finally, I have a great surprise for all of you next Friday to highlight a wonderful resource for this learning style. Stay tuned. It’ll be fun.

clean bed

I was thinking of how to optimize my kiddos’ ability to learn, but I wanted to improve the processes already in place rather than making them learn something to improve the way they learn something. Yeah, the common sense just isn’t there for me.

The two factors that I felt I could work on were ensuring their restfulness and cleanliness. I will start with the cleanliness.

I know there’s a difference in the way my kids function when the house is messy versus when it’s spotless. I further knew that there had to, somewhere, be scientific evidence to prove it. Well, I found it, and it affects the mind more than I thought.

I discovered Robert Cohen’s The Development of Spatial Cognition and decided that deep cleaning every time is the only way to go for me. Here’s why:

“Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment”

It was a study done over two decades ago. In the gathering of information, the observers gave organized homes high scores. Organized = relevance in both location and utility according to a family’s set schedule. Conversely, low scores were given to untidy homes, where routine activity occurs haphazardly in location and timing. These scores were then applied to an assessment of children of ages 3-1/2 and 4. Check this out:

“Those [pre-schoolers] from homes that had been given high ratings on the organization measure had significantly higher IQ scores than children from low-scoring, messy homes.”

A higher intelligence quotient. Really.

I’ve always been a master multi-tasker. Objective: Getting lots of things done in a big ball of done-ness. This method has lost both its appeal and its effectiveness. I’m trying my best to get a handle on the one-thing-at-a-time approach. I guess in cleaning, I’m going from macro to micro.

I like sleep. I think sleep is amazing. But, I don’t have excellent sleeping habits. We keep our kids on schedule, but when it comes to us… occupying the back burner would be an improvement.

“It is recommended that infants (three to 11 months) get 14 to 15 hours of nightly sleep, while toddlers get 12 to 14 hours, children in pre-school 11-13 hours and school-aged children between 10-11 hours. Adolescents are advised to get nine hours of nightly sleep and adults seven to eight hours.” -Science Daily.

Okay, fine. But what happens to their minds if that doesn’t happen?

I took this directly from the Department of Philosophy at Goteborg University:

Fatigue Block

This is a brilliant summation of everything I wanted to know.  What our kids feel (subjective) juxtaposed with what we see (objective) when they are not adequately rested.

Take these things into account. That’s all. Be incredibly mindful of how they’re learning first… then move on to the what.  If you do, the minds of the kids in our lives will become more prepared for pretty much anything that comes their way. 

I have only listed restfulness and cleanliness as external factors in our kids’ attainment of information.  What other perpetual conditions can you think of for us to collectively improve for the sake of mind function?

Introducing the Simple Kids Showcase: Call For Submissions

I am so excited to announce the Simple Kids Showcase!

Beginning May 8th, every Friday will be Showcase day.  Simple Kids will be transformed into a blank canvas for your kids. If your kids have an artistic streak, whether it be in the form of writing, cooking, drawing, crafty creations, or new game rules, I want you to share them! 

Easy enough, eh?  Send them in as simple photo attachments to:
simplekids [at] gmail [dot] com.

By sending in a piece of work, you are giving me permission to post your child’s creation. 

I am looking forward to seeing your kids’ imaginations at work!

The Squeaky Wheel

train gears

So it’s been said, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” As an idiom, it means that the one who complains the loudest… well, they get the attention and the fix before the other applicants. 

I would much rather not need grease.  I would rather be quietly content.  

As parents, we need to be fully aware of the fact that our kids will turn into some derivative of us one day.   I am very similar to my parents in many many ways, but I’m blessed with nothing less than hard-working, joyous, exceptional souls as parents. 

I’m not saying I’m all those things, but I am fully confident that the path they’ve shown me - tread by love alone – will direct me toward my goal of being so. 

Alright. So what about that squeaky parent in all of us?  The obnoxious plaintiff…  The parent that causes a mid-game cancellation of a five-year-old’s soccer match…  That niche inside of us all that begs to talk at people rather than allow for a rewarding two-way conversation…  Consider what the next generation of that will entail.

I’m not aiming to have this come out as a negative rant.  Instead, I think I’ve figured out the difference between the squeaking and the non-sqeaking:

Squeakers need what they want. Non-squeakers want what they need.

How do you approach a positive attitude shift when you catch yourself squeaking?

1. Make sure your brain-to-mouth filter is fully engaged.

2. Regulate your volume.

3. Zoom out and determine where your demeanor would fall on the ‘brightness’ scale if you were a fly on the wall… or a colleague, teacher, or bank teller.

These may sound cheesy, but it’s in an attempt to make us not sound like [donkeys] for all our kids to hear… and eventually emulate it whether they realize or not. 

Ever catch yourself doing the “mom gasp?”  Ever push the brakes of a car… on the passenger floorboard when you’re not driving?  Obviously I have.  But, I can attest to the wonderful truth of my mom not being a squeaker. 

So basically, if we’re not pleased with something, let’s try not to pollute the population around us with negative noise.  Pursue your happiness instead pleasantly and peacefully… but only if you want your kids and my kids and those-people-over-there’s kids to do the same.

When do you find it the hardest to keep your cool? What do you do about it?