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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.



TOYplay Tips: Egg-Spressions by Educo

Feelings are a hard thing to communicate with children, and even harder for them to communicate with you! So, when I saw Egg-Spressions by Educo, I thought this would be a great way to work with my 3-year-old on feelings and learning how to recognize facial expressions to understand the way a person is feeling.

First, I laid out all of the eggs on the table, separate from their colored bases. I asked her to find a face that looked “happy”. When she found the egg with the happy face, I then asked her to find the matching base. We went through each of the six “feelings” this way. When I asked her to find the “sad” face, her tone of voice changed and when she found the right egg, she immediately cradled it in her hands and swayed back and forth like she was comforting it. That was a great moment to watch as a parent because I learned that she can empathize and her immediate instinct was to care for the egg when she saw the sad facial expression.

Second, we read the board book that went along with the eggs and when each “feeling” was mentioned, I asked her to find the right egg and line it up in the order it was mentioned in the story.

Third, I asked her to show me her facial expressions for each of the six feelings. This was fun for both of us and caused a few giggles! But, the great thing about this activity was that it helped her relate her own facial expressions to feelings, which will help her associate them in real life scenarios.

Overall, this is a cute activity. It may require a little more interaction with younger kids and may not be stimulating enough for older kids.

Developmental areas: Emotional development, matching, sorting, order, expression and communication

Recommended ages: 2-3 years

Play time: 10 minutes

Extension activities:

1. Help your child create a story using each “feeling” and the eggs as characters. See what kind of scenarios they can imagine up for each character!

2. Spread the eggs around the room. Make a facial expression that matches one of the eggs/feelings and have your child race to find the right egg to match your facial expression.

Tested and review written by:

Shannon McAfee (Founder/Owner of TOYconomy) and 3-year-old daughter

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).

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

Sensitive Periods: Language

By: Sarah Jane

Melissa & Doug Alphabet Peg Puzzle

Melissa & Doug Alphabet Peg Puzzle


Language in all its variety comes in 3 focal forms – speaking, writing and reading. Though it may come as a surprise to many, language development begins early from 7 months into a woman’s pregnancy through to when the child is 6 years of age. The learning period for spoken language, however, is fundamentally between 7 months in the womb to 2 ½ years of age, in which the child by then would be communicating in short sentences. Preparing the environment for your child’s sensitive period for spoken language includes reading to the child and providing room and opportunity for your child to express his/her needs rather than always having to anticipate them. There are numerous toys out there that are supportive during this sensitive period. Pick out materials with fewer words and more images such as picture cards, colorful knobbed puzzles (especially those with interesting topics such as animals, people, and numbers) as well as materials that require explaining or speaking to your child. Electronic toys that ‘speak’ to your child are also extremely beneficial. Along with these toys, remember to allow your child ample opportunities to respond while keeping in mind that this is a stage of progressive learning, one that should not alarm parents should their child withhold from any actual verbal response.

The second sensitive period of writing is usually initiated between the ages of 3 ½ to 4 ½ years of age, in which a child would concurrently be learning the letters of the alphabet, including its phonetic sounds. The writing process begins with tools that not only promote pencil grip, but are also fun and stimulating for every child. This is enhanced through toys that allow manipulation of the thumb and the first two fingers. From tiny knobbed puzzle pieces and building sets in conjunction with actual writing practice materials such as coloring and tracing books, we exploit the rule of repetition which allows the child to mentally imprint the various formations of letter and number writing even before putting pencil to paper.     

The final sensitive period of Language is reading. Reading in children is an intense foundation and can be rather frustrating and worrisome for some parents. Just like in a Montessori classroom, it is essential to understand that a child learns most intensely to read between the ages of 4 ½ to 5 ½ years old. The previous two sensitive periods, if nurtured, would have allowed your child enough room to build up and prepare for this challenging stage. It is from the very foundation of writing that a child acquires the ability to read and seldom the other way round. Spend at least once a day reading with your child, rather than just reading to him/her. Allow your little one the opportunity to participate freely in this process.

Begin with simpler reading materials that encourage and boost confidence in your child before moving on to phrases or sentences. Phonetic reading sets such as Fitzroy and Leapfrog are some examples of reinforcements for early readers used in a Montessori environment. In a Montessori classroom, trained teachers take time to stir and maintain interest in children through reading games that use the phonetic sounds of the alphabet to blend and form 3-4 letter words. This takes persistence and patience as it is the easiest stage to put a child off from Language as a subject completely, so avoid unreasonably high expectations and perplexing books and games.

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).