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Back to School 2014!

I saw it just the other day – the first “Back to School” commercial. I thought that it couldn’t be that time already, but then I realized that we are into July. For most of the country, August is the month to get back at it, and teachers need to be ahead of the game.

We want to save you a lot of stress, so we put together an inclusive list of Back to School essentials that you can use as a jumping off point. Cross off what you don’t need, add what you do. This list will spark your memory so you can pick up things as you’re out and about this summer.

For personal items and classroom supplies, Learning Shop has lots of what you’ll need. Park at the door or shop online (free shipping on orders over $69!) to make crossing things off your list a piece of cake! For classroom furnishings, check your local Craigslist, garage sales, flee markets, and resale shops to add cozy touches and make your classroom uniquely you.

Personal Items

Classroom Supplies

Classroom Furnishings

  • Baskets/Bins
  • telescopeBean Bag Chairs
  • Book Shelves
  • Bulletin Board Sets
  • Carpets/Circle Time Rugs
  • CD/MP3 Player
  • Chair for the Teacher
  • Clock
  • Cubbies
  • DVD Player
  • Extension Cords
  • File Cabinet (locking)
  • Maps
  • Pocket Charts
  • Telescope
  • Throw Pillows

Most importantly, keep enjoying summer! We’ve still got two months right?

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The Opening Act? Fun!

Here we are, smack dab in the middle of summer! There are so many events that you love to attend with your family, but the young children in your group might not find joy in gazing at the clouds while waiting for the outdoor concert or fireworks to begin. To stave off their boredom, why not pack a few travel-friendly diversions that will keep kids entertained before the main event?

Color Wonder Stow & Go StudioLet their creativity shine wherever they go with the Color Wonder Creativity On-The-Go Stow & Go Studio! This kit includes writing surfaces with stay-put clips, a 12-page Color Wonder Activity Book, 2 storage compartments, 4 Color Wonder Mini Markers, and a marker caddy. Perhaps kids could draw a nearby person or thing and then have you guess who or what they’ve drawn!

 

Find It Kids GameGreat for one or more players, you can have hours of mess-free fun with Find It Kids! Spin, shake, and twist the container to reveal the different hidden items inside. Then check off each item as you find it on the included tally pad. This brightly colored game is completely contained and perfect for both individuals and entire families!

 

 

Spot It JrA fun family game we love bringing with us while waiting for our favorite outdoor events to begin is Spot It Jr! The small tin packs easily into our cooler or backpack, and the entire family loves playing! The object of the game is to spot matching colorful animals on the Spot It Jr. cards with only 2 matching animals between any 2 cards! The high-quality, glossy card stock will stand up to countless games played both indoors and out! Inside the tin you’ll find 31 playing cards and illustrated rules. Fun for 2-6 players, ages 4+.

We have lots more travel games, card games, and brainteasers that are easy to pack, and fun for the entire family! Throw one of these little gems into your bag before heading out and surprise everyone with a fun new tradition!

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Car Travel Activities for Kids


By Laurel Smith

Time flies when you’re having fun – The miles fly by too! You can make a long family car trip seem a lot shorter if you have fun with your kids along the way. Plan ahead with a few car activities, and making the journey can be as much fun as the destination. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Family Car TripMake a Trip-Journal or Scrapbook 
Give everyone a big spiral bound sketchpad and a box of crayons or markers. Each day of the trip or for each event along the way, draw a picture of what you did that day, or draw a map of where you went, and write about it. You can also paste in souvenirs.

Get a Good Songbook With All the Lyrics 
It surprising how many songs you think you know, but you don’t really know all the words. Have a singing marathon and learn the old classics by heart.

Give Your Kids an Allowance for the Day 
Tell them that this money is for snacks, treats, souvenirs etc. Help them learn to budget their money and make good choices.

Let Your Children Have a Map
 Give your kids their own copy of a map of where you are going. Show them how far you have come, how much further there is to go and let them mark it with a crayon. Every time someone asks “How much further?” let them see for themselves. You might also like to get a compass and show them how it works along with the map.

Have Bubble Gum Blowing Contests 
The weirder the gum the better. Get it at the rest areas and try all the different flavors.

The License Plate Game
 Print a U.S. map or list of states for the license plate game off the computer and color in the states as you see license plates from each one. See if you can get all 50 states between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You might even record the time and date and the state where you saw it. This can be a family project as you build your “collection” of license plates together.

Road Trip BingoPrintable Car Games 
Print some activities to bring along on your trip such as Car Bingo, License Plate game, tic-tac-toe, lines and dots, scavenger hunt and more. You can find lots of printable car games here.

Cats Cradle or String Loops
 You just need a piece of string for this one.  See if you can make  “Jacob’s Ladder”, “Kitty Whiskers”, or play “Cats Cradle!”

Magnetic Board Games 
Do your children know how to play classic board games like Chess, Backgammon, Checkers, or Chinese Checkers?  What better time to learn than in the car to pass the time! The magnetic car versions of these games are nice because they are small and compact, and have easy ways to store the pieces so they don’t get lost.

Counting Cows 
Count the cows you see on your side of the car. If you pass a cemetery on your side of the car, you lose all your cows. The one with the most cows wins.

Read Out Loud
 This passes the time quickly in the car for the reader and for the family members who are listening.

Road TripLEGO Contest
 Have a contest to see who can build the best item that relates to where you are going. Use a shoebox to store the LEGOs, or large zip lock bags.

Guess How Far Away That Is 
Pick an object and have everyone guess how far away it is, then clock  it on your odometer.

Play Favorites
 Have everyone think of different “favorite” questions for the group. What’s your favorite… movie, flavor of ice cream, song, game, toy, place to visit, restaurant, book, animal, fish, etc. Be creative and don’t forget to ask the driver too!

Aluminum Art
 Give everyone a sheet of aluminum foil. Have them mold it into anything they want: animal shapes, Frisbees, balls, jewelry, crowns, headband, necklaces and masks. Be creative. It’s inexpensive fun and easy to clean up. Toddlers love this one too.

Remember that it’s sometimes nice to sit in the back of the van with your kids while Dad is doing the driving and play some games right along side them. You might be surprised at how much fun you have too. Happy travels!

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Author: Laurel Smith is a former schoolteacher and mother of three who has logged thousands of road trip miles both as a kid and a mom. Visit her website for more than 101 travel games and activities for kids at MomsMinivan.com and moms might also enjoy her other websites for free baby stuff and free makeup samples!

Find It Kids Game

 

Editor’s Note: Learning Shop offers tons of great travel games and activities.  Visit your local Learning Shop or shop online at http://www.learningshop.com/browse.cfm/travel-toys/2,90.html.

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Little House on the Prairie

nos·tal·gia  noun  \nä-ˈstal-jə, nə- also nȯ-, nō-; nə-ˈstäl-\ pleasure and sadness that is caused by something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again.

Like me, I am sure there are many things that make you feel nostalgic – viewing old photographs, making cookies that your grandma used to make, or hearing a favorite old song.

Dance at Grandpa'sThe Book(s): Today’s book features are books that make me feel nostalgic. Welcome to Little House on the Prairie! Many of us grew up reading the yellow covered books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Years later, a series of picture books were published. The picture books focus on a specific event in the lives of the Ingalls family ( such as, “Dance at Grandpa’s”). These picture books are beautifully illustrated.

 

The Adventures of Laura & JackThe follow-up to these picture books is the series of chapter books. These books are adaptations of the novels, making them perfect for beginning readers. The chapter books pull stories from a number of books following a general theme. For example, one of the books is called, “Adventures of Laura & Jack.” This book contains stories about Laura and their dog, Jack.

 

Little House Paper DollsThe Story Stretcher: The paper dolls that accompany the books. Paper dolls are definitely something from the past. Your child will enjoy re-enacting the stories you read in the books.

Take time to introduce your child to this time in history. They may very well enjoy it just as much as you did when you were their age!

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What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

By Maria Konnikoa, New York Times

Does handwriting matter?

Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.Cursive Writing

But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

Traditional PrintingA 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

Cursive HandwritingDr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.

That variability may itself be a learning tool. “When a kid produces a messy letter,” Dr. James said, “that might help him learn it.”

Our brain must understand that each possible iteration of, say, an “a” is the same, no matter how we see it written. Being able to decipher the messiness of each “a” may be more helpful in establishing that eventual representation than seeing the same result repeatedly.

“This is one of the first demonstrations of the brain being changed because of that practice,” Dr. James said.

In another study, Dr. James is comparing children who physically form letters with those who only watch others doing it. Her observations suggest that it is only the actual effort that engages the brain’s motor pathways and delivers the learning benefits of handwriting.

Modern PrintingThe effect goes well beyond letter recognition. In a study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

It now appears that there may even be a difference between printing and cursive writing — a distinction of particular importance as the teaching of cursive disappears in curriculum after curriculum. In dysgraphia, a condition where the ability to write is impaired, usually after brain injury, the deficit can take on a curious form: In some people, cursive writing remains relatively unimpaired, while in others, printing does.

Modern CursiveIn alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach.

Dr. Berninger goes so far as to suggest that cursive writing may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia. A 2012 review suggests that cursive may be particularly effective for individuals with developmental dysgraphia — motor-control difficulties in forming letters — and that it may aid in preventing the reversal and inversion of letters.

Cursive or not, the benefits of writing by hand extend beyond childhood. For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding. Not every expert is persuaded that the long-term benefits of handwriting are as significant as all that. Still, one such skeptic, the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, says the new research is, at the very least, thought provoking. “With handwriting, the very act of putting it down forces you to focus on what’s important,” he said. He added, after pausing to consider, “Maybe it helps you think better.”

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Play Outside! Summer Safety Tips for Kids

by The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association

Temperatures are rising and days are getting longer as summer begins. With all the nice weather, families can find great opportunities to play outside together. However, when playing outside during the summer months, it’s important to both have fun and stay safe.  With these summer safety tips for kids, families can enjoy time together in the sun!

Summer Safety Tips for Kids
ApplySunscreenDon’t skimp on the SPF. Sunscreen is essential for days out in the sun, no matter your skin tone. According to the FDA, sunscreen should be between 30 SPF and 50 SPF, and applied liberally everywhere skin is visible. The more SPF a sunscreen contains does not indicate how long a person can go without re-applying, so re-apply about every 30 minutes.

Cool Clothes, Cool Play. Clothing can protect what sunscreen doesn’t! Large-brimmed hats protect the neck, and natural fabrics such as cotton help wick away sweat. According to the USDA, sunglasses with full UV protection will help protect the eyes of both kids and adults.

Stay HydratedKeep the H20 Handy. Kids running around all day don’t always realize when they should stop to re-hydrate. Water is still the best choice for hydration. Remind kids to drink plenty throughout the day, even if they may not feel thirsty. OSHA suggests that if your child is especially active outside, they should take a water break every 15 minutes.

SunCool Down. During the hottest parts of the day (around noon), bring kids in for a cool-down break. They can grab a snack, take a nap, or watch a movie while cooling off. This is also a great time to re-apply sunscreen.

Snack Smart. And finally, keep kids energetic with healthy, energy-boosting snacks. Fruits such as strawberries, oranges, and pineapples are all sweet and juicy, perfect for cooling down kids and giving them the energy they need to keep playing!

Summer doesn’t have to be sunburns and aloe vera. Following these simple summer safety tips for kids, families can focus on the play — all summer long!

 

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Summer Fun – The Wetter the Better!

When it is hot outside, there is nothing better than playing in cool water! Whether you’re swimming in a pool or running through a sprinkler, we have all of the water play for kids that you need to drench yourself in summer fun!

Waboba SurfIf you can’t decide if you’d rather swim or play catch, have we got a ball for you! The Waboba Surf ball actually bounces on water! This ball is great for playing catch and team games in both pools and lakes, and it uses the laws of physics and technology to do the impossible. With the many tricks and games of various skill levels to master, the Waboba ball will have you hooked on water ball bouncing!

 

Grub Scouts SprinklerAre you in the mood to get crazy and run through a sprinkler? Make that sprinkler play even more fun with the Grub Scouts Sprinkler! Simply connect this fun and colorful sprinkler to your garden hose and turn on the water for cool toy sprinkler action!

 

pumponatorWhat if you feel like getting wet without a sprinkler or a pool? Maybe you and your friends are in the mood for a water fight? If you’re in it to win it, you need the Pumponator! No more attempting to stretch your water balloon over a too-large faucet only to rip the balloon or lose most of your water. No more having to go into the kitchen to fill your balloons, only to miss out on the action outside. The Pumponator is the quick, easy way to fill your balloons wherever you are! Simply fill the container with water, slip your balloon over the slim nozzle and pump! It really will revolutionize your water balloon experience!

We have more outdoor kids toys and kids water play fun on our website. If there is anything that you are looking for that you cannot find, please contact us as we have just what you need in one of our stores.

We wish you lots of wet and wild summer fun!

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Jump for Joy – It’s Summer!

Now that school is out for the summer, let’s talk about some outdoor play activities to keep kids of all ages moving. This is the perfect time of year to go outside to play, and we have the best outdoor kids toys to keep everyone entertained!

Confetti Jump RopeWe will start off with a simple classic that is not only fun, but also provides wonderful cardio exercise. The Confetti Jump Rope will help children to build their balance and coordination skills while having a great time, either alone or in a group! Measuring 16-feet in length, Confetti Jump Ropes are double-braided to resist kinking, and they come in a variety of bright confetti colors!

 

Super Skipper

If you feel like jumping a little rope on your own, another fun option is the Super Skipper! This is individual active play at its finest! The Super Skipper will have your children jumping to the music as the pole revolves around the electric base. Keep jumping for as long as you can, but don’t let the pole hit you or you’re out! Includes three exciting songs, three speed modes, and an acceleration mode that speeds up as it spins!

 

 

Chinese Jump RopeWhat about jumping rope with a group of friends in a new and exciting way? The Chinese Jump Rope is a fun way to jump rope, whether or not you have the space to swing a rope! Stretch out the long elastic rope with one person standing on each end to hold the rope taught. Then the player(s) jumping can do any number of set jumping routines or make up something right there on the spot! Jump one at a time or in a group – there is no wrong way to do it!

Remember to stay safe when you’re outside playing this summer. Be sure to drink lots of water, apply sunscreen, and wear your safety helmet whenever necessary.

Now get outside and have some fun!

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Fun on the Run!

Whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile, we have just the trip activities and kids travel games and puzzles to keep your kids having fun every step of the way!

You will have hours of mess-free fun with the game Find It! Spinning, shaking and twisting the container will Find It Kids Editionreveal the 47 different hidden items. Check off each item as you find it on the included tally pad. The items in the Original Find It game are typically smaller and more difficult to find than in the Kid’s version, so it’s perfect for older children and adults. This sophisticated earth tone design can be left out and is completely contained and perfect for offices, travel or on the family room coffee table!

License Plate GameMISSISSIPPI!! Whether you call it the states game or the License Plate Game, it has been a staple road trip pastime for years. Now you can easily keep track of all those states on this colorful and educational US map. The flipping technology makes watching cars, not pieces, the name of the game. Learn the license plates and have fun getting to know all 50 U.S. states in this wonderful travel game for ages 5+.

Are you a Mastermind? The Travel Mastermind game has all the play of the original, now in a take-almost-Travel Mastermindanywhere size! Solve the color-coded sequence in 8 turns or less using clues from your previous attempts. Be the Codemaker or the Codebreaker in this travel version of the classic Mastermind. Simple to learn, difficult to master, and thousands of game play combinations possible!

No matter how you’re travelling or how long the journey takes, these fun kid activities and traveling games are sure to be a hit with your whole family!

We wish you all safe travels!

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Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom

Welcome to our second installment of “I Love to Read!” This is where we share some great books along with story stretching ideas that get kids excited about reading

Chicka Chicka Boom BoomThe Book: Our new picture book feature is “Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom,” by Bill Martin and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. Martin brings the ABCs to life making this one of the best alphabet books ever!

Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom Tree

 

The Story Stretcher: Save (7) 32oz cans – wash and remove labels. Remove the bottoms of five of the cans. Duct tape those five cans together. Add the last two cans – one on each end. Spray paint the tree trunk brown. Cut leaves from fun foam and hot glue them to the top of your tree. Your tree is now ready for magnetic letters.

 

Our second feature will bring out the scientist in your child. The books are “Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes,”Fire Bubbles and Exploding Toothpaste and “Fire Bubbles and Exploding Toothpaste,” by Steve Spangler. Spangler is the genius behind the Mentos geyser experiment. Turn your house into one big laboratory. Make gooey wonders like quicksand goo or glacier gak. Learn how to master walking on eggshells – literally! Make science fun by using common things you already have at home.