My position on toys is...
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Saturday, April 12, 2008

What should kids learn from preschool?

If you haven't read my sidebar on my educational background, here it is again: I have a bachelor's degree in Human Development with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. Basically I took a lot of classes about development and early learning. This prefaces the following (bear with me, it all leads up to the important stuff).

A month or two ago I visited a high school class that teaches a preschool class within the high school. Basically, with one 'head teacher' the high school kids teach the preschool kids, plan lessons, etc. After observing the preschool class I was asked to come into the high school class where the other rotation of high schoolers were preparing their lessons for the following week. I was asked questions and in return was able to ask questions.
My number one most important question... What is the most important thing for children in preschool to learn? The answer I was looking for... Social Skills.
I got a decent answer about a kid learning to function in their environment which goes under the umbrella of social skills.

A lot of parents these days want their children to come out of preschool reading and writing. Well, this month's Parent & Child Magazine had a little blip about this and I quote it here:

School Manners Matter

BE NICE. TAKE TURNS. LISTEN. Is your child being taught these social skills at school? It would be a wise idea, say the authors of the book The Social Skills Improvement System. Their theory: Knowing and practicing simple niceties increases academic learning because teachers have more time to devote to teaching. Here are the top 10 social skills that contribute to school success, based on the authors' survey of thousands of teachers:

1. Listening to others
2. Following the steps for each task
3. Following the rules
4. Ignoring distractions
5. Asking for help
6. Taking turns when you talk
7. Getting along with others
8. Staying calm with others
9. Being responsible for your behavior
10. Doing nice things for others

Basically, what this means is that children should enter kindergarten with these skills so that the teacher doesn't spend precious class time managing behavior. The teacher can then spend the class time teaching what needs to be taught in kindergarten such as phonics. What it boils down to is that these are the skills children should be learning in preschool, not reading, writing, and arithmetic. And, guess what, for the kids who learn that stuff in their preschool years, whether it be at home or preschool, their so called "smarts" all even out by first or second grade. In other words, children with the "educational advantage" end up on the same level as their peers in just a few short years.

So, what do you look for in a preschool? The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has come up with a list of criteria that their accredited programs have to pass. First of all, the program has to follow Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) to be accredited. This covers a lot of stuff, but mainly, the program is centered around the children, or child-centered. This means that the lessons and activities implemented in the classroom are age-appropriate. Basically, what the kids are learning is applicable to their lives. For example, you won't see the three year olds learning about planets because they can't relate to planets. You may however see them learning about earth because they live on earth and touch, smell, see, feel, and taste things on the earth every day. Being DAP also means that teachers are aware of each individual child's skills and abilities and they plan lessons to incorporate ways to build on those skills and learn new ones. Another accreditation requirement is that programs have a low teacher to child ratio. This means that for every let's say 4 kids, there is 1 teacher. The fewer kids per teacher means that each child receives more one on one time with an adult. This also means that with more adults in the classroom, children have more opportunities to learn and explore because so many early childhood activities require adult supervision but one teacher can only do so much, with more teachers it's possible to do more each day. There is a lot that goes into being accredited by the NAEYC, but these are the most important to me in choosing a preschool.

The NAEYC has a wealth of information available for parents as well a list of accredited programs in your area. If you want more information about choosing a preschool, click on their "families" link. They also have a links to a couple dozen research reports about early childhood education that are very helpful in looking at these kinds of issues. Here is a link to a brochure put out by the NAEYC about the 10 accreditation standards if you want more information on those.

Some books on the subject that I recommend reading include:

Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk by David Elkind (Anything by him is GREAT!)
The Power of Play by David Elkind
Theories of Childhood: an Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, & Vigotsky by Carol Mooney
Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn --Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Kathy Hersh-Pasek

I would also like to note here that I find it interesting how many parents rush out and buy pregnancy books when they get their first positive result but how those same parents don't read as enthusiastically about their child's development or behavior as they get older. Each stage of development is different and each child born into a family is different. To make an educated decision about finding a preschool worthy of their child, parents need a solid understanding of child development so they can understand the importance of the DAP guidelines and how the preschool could affect their child and their learning. That is why I urge parents to read these amazing books.

It is because I understand child development that I can say children need play, they learn through play, "play is a child's work" in the words of Maria Montessori. Early childhood is the only time in a person's life where play is critical and the only time they are allowed to do it. As soon as they start elementary school their lives become a daily rotation of school, homework, extracurriculars, and, if there's time, play. Through play children can act out their feelings, such as when they play house and punish others or role play to be a mom or dad. Through fantasy play children become super heros or pirates, fairies or princesses. Imaginative play and creativity involves higher thinking and is related to high intelligence. For some children preschool may be the only interaction children have with peers and they should use that time to role play and make friends in the process. It is also through play that children develop some of the social skills mentioned earlier.

Preschool is a great time for our kids, it's so fun to watch them learn and make friends. Take the time to research a school and make an educated decision on where to send your child. A child's first memory of school, whether good or bad, stays with them forever and their attitude toward school is formed early on. If you want more information, or want recommendations to my top 5 picks in Salt Lake, email me.

I would love to hear your feedback (positive or negative), so come out of the woodwork and comment! I go to great lengths for these posts sometimes (I've pulled out several books tonight to reference) and it's hard not to get feedback and see comments. I know you're out there, I see my counter at the bottom of the page going up. You are more than welcome to remain anonymous or just give a first name or initial, just please leave a comment once in awhile, it will pay off soon in a give away I'll be doing. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hate Is A Strong Word...

...but I think loathe would be a better one to describe the way I feel about these new toys. Learning Curve/Lamaze's Dream Screen can be hooked up to your iPod to play soothing music and display changing images to lull your baby to sleep. Why on earth would you want your baby to watch changing images? They have enough sensory stimulation to take in each day as it is. Bed/nap time should be a time for quiet relaxation that is stimulant free. Plus, today's babies get too much screen time as it is despite the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of NO screen time for babies under 2, and for just cause. Watching TV messes with brain wiring and the way babies and kids think. While we're on the subject, there's even a new book on the matter, "Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five."

Then I saw this, the Fisher-Price Digital Arts & Crafts Studio. You plug it into your computer and the kids draw on the screen digitally. It is advertised for it's elimination of messes. Excuse me, but isn't the point of Arts & Crafts time to make messes and enjoy the process, not the product? Well, the process is messy and that's half the fun of creating. Kids should be able to make messes while doing art, it becomes a sensory experience which adds to the fun and learning of doing crafts. And again, this promotes even more screen time throughout the day which we know kids need less of to begin with.

So I guess "loathe" is a strong word too. I just don't agree with the way these toys are marketed to trick parents into thinking these and other products are good and even educational for their children. I urge you to think about products like these before buying them. Ask yourself if they're really the best way to teach your child the skills and lessons he or she needs.

In response to Ashley...

I saw your comment about the Summer Bug Tea Set. I'm not sure what you're referring to for the payment option, but I found several stores that carry it and have it in stock:

Tin Toy Arcade
Trains 4 Tots

Check these out and if you're still having trouble you could try calling your local specialty toy stores. If you're in Salt Lake try The Red Balloon, Nifty Cool Toys, or Tutoring Toy. The tea set is made by Schylling but on their website it looks like they've maybe discontinued it. Comment here or email me at thetoysnob at gmail dot com if you need more help.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Yoga For Kids

As if you didn't already have enough reasons to love Pottery Barn Kids, here's another! Their new animal yoga mats are to die for! They have two options: hippo or elephant.There has been a huge popularity for kids yoga products lately, including this Yoga Kids DVD series by Gaiam, the same company that does the adult yoga DVDs and Prenatal Yoga that we all know and love. This 2-pack DVD set teaches fun things like letters and animals and the second one is about settling down and relaxation.We have this Yoga Pretzels card deck. The cards are categorized which makes it easy to create your own yoga session according to your child's ability level and attention span. It also promotes doing the poses together so you can get a workout in too.
You know yoga for kids is gaining popularity when there's a game about it! This is the Yoga Garden Game where you learn classic yoga poses.

These darling picture books are a great way to introduce your toddler or young child to yoga. On each page spread is an illustration of a child doing a yoga pose and of the corresponding animal. I love the beautiful colors and illustrations of Little Yoga and Sleepy Little Yoga.

Wouldn't it be fun to do a yoga-themed birthday party? Or even just invite your kid's friends over for yoga. I think that would be such a fun idea, and probably pretty unique, too.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Alternative Thursday

The Fisher-Price Little People are so popular, I feel bad bashing them. Okay, I'm over it. As fun as Little People are, they are all electronic. Take the farm, for example, if you put the pig in the duck's spot, it quacks (at least that's what I've heard). For this reason the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio calls this a "dumb quack toy." So, as an alternative to this oh-so-popular electronic toy, I offer you Plan Toy's County Barn. I strongly recommend you make sure to get the "all woods version" because ours has a soft foam roof that is less sturdy and pretty flimsy. It's especially important for the stable because with the foam top the stable collapses and the wooden beams were broken within months due to the removable/flimsy roof. I know this wouldn't have happened with the all woods version, since the roof is screwed on tightly. Despite the stable breaking, this has been a great little barn toy for my son. We gave it to him for Christmas 2006, when he was two. It was right before the all woods version came out, and if I had known I would have waited. The only downside to this set is you have to buy the animals separately. The fun part is you can add to this. Plan Toys also offers a farm house, farmer and wife, tractor and trailer (which we also have), vegetable garden, and pet sets. I love Plan Toys. They are made of renewable rubberwood and colored with vegetable based dyes that are chemical free. I found all of these on Amazon.

Okay, have I made a good come back?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


When I was a little girl (do you sense a theme tonight?) I always wanted to spend my allowance on those cheapie plastic make-up or jewelry sets but my mom never let me because she knew they'd just get lost, fall apart, and I'd be disappointed. Well now they make a more durable set of wooden cosmetics that just looks so much fun, it even includes a blow dryer and curlers! Boys can even have their own shaving kit, just like dad. If I have a girl, I'm totally getting this set to go with her vanity! They are both available at Moolka.

Better Start Saving

Tonight I stumbled across Luxury Playhouses at Posh Tots. For some reason looking at these makes me wish I was a little girl again. I always wanted a little place of my own like this to retreat to for slumber parties or just to read a good book. They have a lot of different styles, and even great options for boys. The site won't let me copy a picture, so you'll just have to check it out yourself.

I'm still here

Dear Blog Readers,

I sincerely apologize for my absence. I guess I've been in a toy slump this last month and haven't had the energy and enthusiasm I usually do toward toys.

For those of you who don't know, I'm 12 weeks pregnant! I'm hoping for a girl so I can finally buy cute girl toys that I post about and see while I'm shopping. I've been really tired and I think that has contributed to the toy sabbatical and creativity slump that I find myself in.

Bear with me as I get back into a toy review mind set. I promise to get going soon, maybe even tonight if you're lucky. Thank you for your patience,

The Toy Snob