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Puzzle Play! Simple Activity with Amazing Developmental Benefits for Your Child

Back to school means back to homework, activities, and hectic schedules. It is hard to carve out time out of busy schedules to just wind-down with your kids and simply enjoy each other’s company.

Puzzles can be a great avenue for spending quality time with your children while helping them develop psychologically, emotionally, physically and academically. You would be amazed at what you can learn about your child while working with him and observing him as he completes a puzzle – the way he approaches and solves problems (does he get frustrated or does he keep searching for the right piece?), fine motor development (can he easily fit the pieces together or is it a challenge?), etc. With younger children, it is easier to sit down with them for 10-15 minutes to work a puzzle. However, older children may require more time. Even if you don’t have 30 minutes or more to spare on some of the more complicated puzzles, you can designate a special spot in your house for puzzles where you can leave it and come back to it when you have time. You might also be surprised to see your child gravitate to the puzzle without you on occasion, as she learns perseverance and the wonderful feeling of accomplishment when the puzzle is completed.

According to the Child Development Institute, there are so many reasons why puzzles are important to the development of your child.

  1. Hand-eye coordination
  2. Manipulating the world around him/her
  3. Developing fine motor skills
  4. Developing gross motor skills for younger kids through stacking blocks and larger puzzles
  5. Problem solving
  6. Shape recognition
  7. Memory
  8. Setting small goals
  9. Achieving a goal and increasing self-confidence

You can also use puzzles to encourage learning and creativity. For instance, if you are constructing a puzzle such as the Melissa & Doug’s Rainforest Puzzle with your preschooler, you can talk about the different animals that you might find in a rainforest and create a story using these animals as characters.  You can also try to recreate the animals on paper using the puzzle as a guide to further enhance their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

A great puzzle to do with all ages (ages 3 and up), although it’s not your traditional puzzle, is Pattern Play by Mindware. This set comes with pattern cards where the child has to figure out how to recreate the pattern using the multi-shaped and multi-colored pieces. Or, for younger children (ages 3-4), they can create their own patterns by fitting the pieces together on the board. This is a wonderful set to leave out on a table – my kids always gravitated toward this set when I left it out and recreated one pattern at a time.

Rotate your puzzles often to keep kids interested and engaged while bonding with their favorite person – you!

About the Author

Shannon McAfee is a mom of three girls in Glen Allen, VA. She is the Founder and Owner of TOYconomy, an online toy rental service for children. She is a huge advocate of play to enhance child development and strengthen the bonds and communication with children.



Read and Play: Get Ready for School!

Theme-based play is a great way to educate children while having fun! Teachers use themes during school to reinforce concepts and parents can do the same at home. Reading is an important part of early child development and so is play time – so bringing the two together is a great way to create a fun and educational environment for your child. As summer comes to an end, it is a good time for parents to help kids prepare for the start of school. There are many books out there to help prepare children for school. Here are some suggestions:

Dinosaur Starts School

Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten

A Fine, Fine School

There are so many wonderful books out there and your local library is also a great resource to find school-themed books!

Once you have found a selection of books, you can start pairing them with toys and games to help reinforce the concept through fun and interactive play. A great play set to help your children get excited for school is the new Melissa & Doug Whittle World Wooden School Bus Set. This set can be especially helpful for Kindergartners who may be riding the bus for the first time. Kids can set up a bus route and go through the routine of picking up the students at each bus stop. You can also pair this play set with a dry erase board, chalk board, activity books, or paper and crayons so kids can teach lessons to their “students” after they drop them off at school.

Pairing good back-to-school books with this play set can be a fun way to get your kids ready for the upcoming school year!

Rent Children’s Toys

You can rent Melissa and Doug toys and other brands at http://www.toyconomy.com.

Children’s Books

Looking for the perfect book? Slimybookworm.com is a mom-owned online bookstore and book concierge service, a great resource for parents and grandparents who love reading time!

Going on Vacation? Pack Less, Enjoy More!

Summer vacation, a week at the beach, visiting grandparents? It all sounds so simple and relaxing, but the work that goes into packing and planning for a family trip is enough to make your head spin. I cannot count how many times, we have loaded up the car with everything that we planned to take, and then started piling on the extras…toys, pillows, blankets, video games, more toys, etc. Pretty soon the car is packed to the hill and my poor husband cannot even see out the back window.

As you start to make your vacation plans for this summer, be sure to include TOYconomy in your packing list. By sending a shipment of toys directly to your vacation destination,TOYconomy can help eliminate all of the last-minute extras and save space in your car and luggage!

Imagine the look on your children’s faces when they get to their new destination and have a box full of new and exciting toys to play with for the week. And the best part is when your vacation is over, TOYconomy will schedule a pick-up and you can depart without worrying about how to get everything home. As we all know, luggage tends to double in size during a vacation, and we all seem to leave with more bags than we came with!

Be sure to check out www.toyconomy.com. With a few simple clicks, before you hit the road, your toys will arrive at your favorite spot in pristine condition and ready to be enjoyed by all!


Jeanne Brooksbank, mom of three. Currently works at TOYconomy in TOYmember Services.

The Danger Zone: What in the World is That?

Guest post by: Sharon Silver



The Danger Zone: What In the World is That?

When I read questions that parents ask around the Web, I notice a common thread about setting limits with their children. Over and over again, moms want to know why what they’re doing isn’t working. “The Danger Zone” just might be the answer.

A battle of wills, normal as it is, is one of the hardest things a parent and child deal with. Most parents believe that the battle is the child’s fault. But when I look at a battle of wills, I see two sides, each one valid, yet destined to collide with the other. Let me explain.

What is the Danger Zone?

Suppose you read about a parenting tip you want to try. It resonates with you because it’s gentle and firm at the same time. Halfway through using the new technique your child’s behavior seems to be getting worse. You wonder what could be making her react, especially since the method is calmer and more peaceful than the yelling she’s used to.

You begin to wonder if the method is failing, and think about giving up.

The reason your child is reacting is because she wants the “Old Normal” to prevail. You know, the way it was yesterday and the day before, even though the old way involved yelling and punishing.

To her, the “Old Normal” was familiar. You, on the other hand, are reaching for a “new normal,” the way you want things to be from now on. Those two opposing points of view collide, creating the battle of wills.

The reason your child feels so uncomfortable is because you’re so calm. When parents yell, children tend to retreat emotionally in order to withstand the yelling. The yelling prevents your child from feeling how firm you really are because she’s busy protecting herself from the intensity of it.

When you remove the yelling, your firmness takes center stage, and that’s powerful. Feeling your authority and the unmovable boundary can cause her to feel unsettled and throw everything she has into a battle of wills hoping to make you return to the “Old Normal” or at least what she perceives as “Old Normal”.

After all of that, who wouldn’t wonder if the method is failing? The truth is the method is not failing; parent and child are just in the middle of the process. I call the middle of the process the “Danger Zone”. It’s the place just before change occurs, the place when a parent wants to give up.

Hanging in There Pays Off

When you’re in the “Danger Zone” you have to push past the feeling of wanting to give up, or you’ll have to begin the method again at another time and endure the entire battle of wills all over again.


You need to hang in there and remain calm so you can show your child that this is the way things are going to be from now on.


If you lose your temper, or things get really out of hand, then stop, remember the “Danger Zone” and begin again.


You can be supportive, too. Tell her you know she doesn’t like the new rule, but this is the way it’s going to be. Invite her to sit on your lap or give her a hug, if she’ll allow you to. Doing that helps her feel safe enough to make the shift to the new way of doing things.


So the next time you find yourself knee deep in a battle of wills and you want to give up because you think the method is failing, know that you’re in the “Danger Zone”, the middle of the process, and hang in there just a little while longer in order to create change.


Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting as they deal with the whirlwind of emotions created by raising kids ages 1-10. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Child Development: Care of Self, Care of the Environment

Submitted by: Sarah Jane

–          A common Montessori practice in your very own home!

Practical Life

Develops motor skills, concentration, eye-hand coordination and builds self-confidence!

That cozy little home of yours is where learning truly begins, from the very time your child is born till the days your child leaves for college. Montessori often emphasizes the importance of ‘care of self’ and ‘care of the environment’ because it is nothing short of natural as part of your child’s moral and emotional development. These principles are most exploited through the environment you set for your child. Though this is done through the subject classified as ‘Practical Life’ in a normal Montessori setting, we can also embrace this subject within the home. Practical life exercises and materials are those that form part of our child’s daily life. From buttoning his own shirt, to putting away the dishes, these are exercises that slowly but surely help a child to adapt and orientate him/herself into the environment, in this case – home.

There is no ‘special or secret material’ in a Montessori environment under Practical Life. It is exactly how and what you prepare for the child that will aid him/her in this aspect of development. A teacher allowing the children to pick up a wet cloth and wipe the table is considered part of Practical life. A child cleaning up spilt milk in the classroom on his own is also another aspect of Practical life. Knowing this, you can begin to construct your own conducive learning environment in your home rather than waiting for your little one to pick it up solely at school.

Being parents, we often have a natural tendency to keep our kids away from things such as a drinking glass, the kitchen utensils and other things we think would harm the child. But ponder over this – this tendency is precisely what disrupts a child’s adaptation skills. Not implying that you should hand your child a kitchen knife to begin with, but rather have a child-safe set of proper functioning utensils for your child’s use. Prepare glasses, pouring jugs, etc that are child-sized and allow your child the freedom to explore with them.  Have a set of child-like broom and dustpan so he/she can feel free to pick it up and use it anytime! Practical life materials and activities equip a child with life skills even if they seem insignificant to many. In accordance to Maria Montessori’s intense observation of children and research, it was discovered that children have an especially strong desire to perform the duties of an adult, though we as parents may dislike doing so ourselves. Participating in real-life activities teaches your child self-control, respect of self and helps build self-confidence. Your child will also begin to pick up on the importance of him/herself towards the environment and develop a healthy self-image through these activities.

Remember, get your little darling to help out around the house whenever possible and prepare to be amazed!

As quoted from Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952), “The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain a quiet observer of all that happens.”

About the Author

Sarah Jane is certified & trained in Montessori Teaching, with years of expansive knowledge and experience with young children from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Sarah Jane expresses her love and interest for child development through her writing, constantly sharing and promoting awareness to parents and educational workers from all walks of life. She is also the co-founder of a multinational marketing firm Hot Fry Media (http://hotfrymedia.com).

Sensory Play

Article by Shara Lawrence-Weiss

Sensory Play

Sifting pine needles with your toes? Oh, yes! That’s a sensory activity!

Sensory Play often refers to play-based activities experienced by children with special needs. Sensory Play can be for all children though, really.

Exploring the world around them is a wonderful way to introduce kids to textures, colors, sounds and more. Here are a five fun and simple examples:

Sift through the dirt. Don’t be afraid of dirt. In fact, some studies show that kids who are allowed to play in the dirt build healthier immune systems and are less likely to get sick. Remember that old saying from childhood: “A little dirt don’t hurt!”

Sort through leaves or pine needles. Are they hard? Soft? Sharp? Soft? Talk about it! Can you draw in the dirt or sand with a pine needle? What can you write?

Play in the sandbox. Pour water, sift, sort and let the sand mush through little fingers. What fun.

Splish splash in a water tub. I sometimes fill a plastic tub (the size of our kitchen sink) with water for my kids. We sit outside and they use sponges to soak up the water and SQUEEEEEZE over and over again. They love it. They toss in a few toys, boats and spoons to create their own mini water world. I might even allow them to add a few drops of dish soap to create some bubbles.

Home made play-doh. What kid doesn’t love play-doh, right? It’s soft, squishy, easily manipulated by small hands for fine motor skill development and…oh so much fun! Check out these recipes for home made play-doh!

*Don’t forget to look through the Toyconomy site for toys you can use during Sensory Play and exploration! If you don’t see a toy you’d like to use for Sensory Play, contact Shannon and request that a new toy be added to the site. Shannon would love to hear from you!

Shara Lawrence-Weiss is owner of MommyPerks and Personal Child Stories. She is a great resource for parents and families!

The Sensitive Period for Order: How Your Child’s Mess Can Stimulate a Learning Environment

The sensitive period for order beings from the very minute your little one enters this world. However, between the ages of 18 months to about 2 years of age, your child is at his/her utmost zealous stage where the need to establish order and routine is most prominent. It is often mistaken by adults that a child lacks order when he/she makes a mess in a given environment, but it is important to accept and realize that such situations are only minor disorders in your little one’s world, disorders that are part of a significant learning process, unrecognizable and often categorized as ‘terrible-two’s’ by adults.

To prepare and support your child through this sensitive period, begin by establishing ground rules in every environment. Just like in a Montessori setting, explain and demonstrate that everything has its proper place. Such a physical task institutes and encourages a child’s inner sense of order, a key foundation in character building.

As described after much observation of children, Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) regards this sensitive period as the most ‘baffling’ for adults. This is so because children, lacking a sense of order, may show signs of distress in the form of tantrums that in turn, for parents, may be quite upsetting. Remind yourself that your little one needs to familiarize him/herself in this new world and only through limitations, consistency and a systematic environment, can you provide for this.

Frequent and consistent observation as well as respect of your child’s sense of routine would give you direction and a better understanding during this sensitive period. In fact, you might be surprised to see your young one at work – removing and replacing things where they should go!      


About TOYconomy

TOYconomy is an online toy rental and exchange program that can help you significantly decrease toy clutter and help you save money and resources by being more selective about the toys you choose. Founded and established in 2010 by a mother of three in Richmond, VA, TOYconomy’s mission is to help you keep your kids happy and healthy without having to burn big bucks.

TOYconomy is available at http://www.TOYconomy.com/.


About the Author

Sarah Jane is certified & trained in Montessori Teaching, with years of expansive knowledge and experience with young children from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Sarah Jane expresses her love and interest for child development through her writing, constantly sharing and promoting awareness to parents and educational workers from all walks of life. She is also the co-founder of a multinational marketing firm Hot Fry Media (http://hotfrymedia.com).


© Sarah Jane 2011