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Holiday Gift Ideas for 2016

Every year when the winter holiday is almost upon us and the gift giving about to begin, I recommend toys and books that are beloved here at CHP. We spent a lot of time this fall talking about and reading rhyming books so I posted a list of some of our favorites. Many parents told me how much they enjoyed my favorite toy and manipulatives list from last year so I am posting it again.
Happy Holidays to All!

Alphabet and Counting Rhyming Books:

Dining with…Monsters!:  A Disgusting Way to Count to 10 ! by Agnese Baruzzi
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
Dr. Seuss’s ABC, by Dr. Seuss

Classic Rhyming Books:

Green Eggs and Ham  and The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss (my favorites but there are many of the other gems from Dr. Seuss!)
Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, by Al Perkins
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See,  by Bill Martin Jr.
Chicken Soup with Rice, by Maurice Sendak
A House is a House for Me, by Mary Ann Hoberman

Holiday Rhyming Books:

Five Little Pumpkins, by Dan Yaccarino
Stick Man and Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson (and many other rhyming gems from Judith Donaldson!)

Musical Rhyming Books:

Baby Beluga, by Raffi
Down by the Bay, by Raffi and Nadine Bernard Westcott

Fun Rhyming Books:

Dinosaur Roar! by Henrietta and Paul Stickland
Mrs. McNosh Hangs up the Wash, by Sarah Weeks and Nadine Bernard Westcott
Silly Sally, by Audrey Wood
Jamberry, by Bruce Degan
Subway, by Christoph Niemann
Trashy Town, by Andrew Zimmerman and Davie Clemesha

Pets and Animals:

The Pet Vet, by Marcia Leonard
The Big Red Barn, by Margaret Wise Brown 

Favorite CHP Toys and Manipulatives:
Magna Tiles are some of the more popular building toys at CHP, a favorite of girls and boys.  They are very easy to build with so this allows building with little frustration.  Warning:  These builders are not cheap but they are educational, fun, and extremely durable.


Binoculars and magnifying glasses are often in use at the science center. What is nice about these science tools is that they are light and portable so you can take them with you when you explore.

Classic Forest Animal Collection:

These little forest creatures are always SO popular!

These sequencing puzzles are well loved at CHP. They are not the standard jig saw puzzle. Each puzzle piece is the same size--long wooden strips.  These puzzles are completed both visually and with knowledge of numbers and ABC letter sequencing.

Measuring Tape:

Like binoculars and magnifying glasses, measuring tape can be another “take along” toy.  Measurement is such a great way to learn about numbers, estimation and comparison.

Alphabet Learning Locks:
What a fun way to recognize the alphabet and use your fine motor skills!

Faber-Castell Markers:
Faber-Castell GRIP Color Markers (Non-Toxic and Washable) are our most popular writing tools.  The colors are bright, they are easy to use and you can even revive them with a little bit of water if they dry out.

These little people are great for pretend play.  They are used in so many ways like in block builds and are well loved at the playdough table too.


Assorted Colored Masking Tape and Dispenser:
Children have LOVED working with this colored masking tape. They use it to make letters, pictures and to build things.  This set comes with a large wooden dispenser so it is a bit pricey but you can buy tape refills.  I predict your child will use their imagination with this item for years to come.

Talking Toys vs. The Sound of Your Voice

Last year, my assistant Kristin had the foresight to create a place for articles and videos on our website—the perfect place to share them with the CHP community.  Last month I posted an nprEd article -- The Trouble with Talking Toys.

I was so happy to have someone put in writing what I recognized for a long time--the best way to stimulate language development in your toddler is to talk to them.  This article focuses on infants and toddlers but much of the same goes for three and four-year-olds.  Children need to look at your face, learn by watching your expressions and listen to the tone of your voice.  Did you know that children need to hear 30,000 words a day for optimum language development—your words not words from a Smart Phone or device.  We know there is limited vocabulary learned from a talking toy, but there is so much more to this.

I was lucky attend a lecture last week by Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair—the author of The Big Disconnect-Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, someone I have written about previously on Carol’s Wall.

What I learned at the lecture was compelling. I knew that babies and toddlers should not be exposed to devices under the age of two and some experts believe even longer than that. I also knew that babies need real life experiences and strong connections to humans and nature.

What I did not know (but what made so much sense) is that recent studies have shown a baby’s brain “lights up” when a known person reads to them. There is no lighting up the brain with a device reading or a talking toy.  If you want your children exposed to “books on tape” for the child to have the best learning experience, the tape should be the voice of a mom, dad or teacher.

Of note here too is that smart phones became part of our lives only seven years ago.  They were launched very quickly--before we knew what we were getting into. There was never any research done to assess the impact on the infant or toddler brain or the psychological fallout on young children. To make it worse, technology remains an unregulated industry.

The article did not discuss talking toys for the preschool age group but it is easy to understand that a talking toy or device does not serve this age group well. We know that preschoolers have vivid imaginations. Unfortunately, devices do not. When a toy “talks,” it does not think. You activate the toy and it says the same things over and over again. Once a child realizes this, if they want to interact with it, they need to stop using their imagination and change their play to accommodate the words of the toy.  Conversely, anything is possible when you play with a silent toy because you play without limitations. Just think of plain wooden blocks. They can be arranged into castles and harbors and spaceships. The sky’s the limit. 

While writing this, I took a moment to Google talking toys and, immediately, up popped famous toy makers’ versions of a talking chair, dog, bear, and my least favorite, a play kitchen. The kitchen says, “Who wants pizza?” and “Mmmmm cookies!” In this offering, I found another toy connected to the play kitchen. At an additional cost, you can purchase an ice cream set that “sings” ice cream and clean-up songs.  How sad.

It is so wrong that big toy companies sell toys under the educational guise.  So, what can you do about this?

Parents need to be empowered to know that there is nothing a talking toy or screen can teach your child better than you can. Your children want moments of connection with you, with human touch and comfort. Know too that devices are hyper-stimulants. In the case of the smart phone, remember that children need non-talking toys and hugs, not a digital pacifier. 

Studies have shown that the greatest educational gift you can give to your child is to read to them, for 20 minutes twice a day. Get rid of the talking toys and devices!

Summer and the Great Outdoors

I was recently sent these two NAEYC articles and I just had to share. As summer is almost upon us, many of our CHP families will be leaving the Big City to explore the great outdoors.
I fondly remember summer vacations in the Northern Adirondacks. Some of my most treasured family memories are of time spent together exploring nature. We did many of the things listed in these articles.
So this summer, if you and your family find yourself on a hike, on a lake or anywhere Mother Nature is abundant, you might like to try some of these ideas and activities. Enjoy!

10 Ideas to Get You and Your Child Exploring Outdoors

by Donna Satterlee, Grace Cormons, and Matt Cormons

1. Go for a nature scavenger hunt.
Find something that:
•    Is a certain color
•    Is dry, wet, shiny, or pretty
•    Is tiny or huge
•    The wind blows
•    Crawls
•    Has no legs, four legs, or six legs
•    Or make up your own ideas!

2. Put a twist on your scavenger hunt:
•    Find three flowers that are different. Smell the flowers. Close your eyes and see if you can identify the flowers by smell.
•    Find a fuzzy leaf. Find a leaf that releases an aroma when crushed, such as sage.
•    Try finding things in categories, such as items with bark, items that are high, or items with branches.

3. Observe and sketch.
Examine items carefully and draw what you see. For example, find flowers of different colors and point out the petals and other parts. Or find a variety of leaves and observe the different shapes, colors, textures, and veins. You and your child can imagine you are scientists, observing and documenting what you see.

4. Follow an ant trail.

Look up and look down, look all around, and feel free to crawl on the ground. Place a small piece of food nearby and watch what happens.

5. Observe a tree throughout the seasons.
Watch for leaf and flower buds bursting in the spring, insects buzzing in the summer, and leaves changing colors in the fall. During all seasons, watch for visitors to the tree—birds and small animals looking for food or a resting place.

6. Find nature in surprising places.
Look for places to explore near where you live. Nature can hide in the cracks of a sidewalk, under the stairs, in abandoned lots, or on the edges of manicured lawns. Don’t worry if you don’t live near an open field, a forest, a desert, or a seashore.

7. Press flowers and leaves.
Find flowers and let them dry, pressed between the pages of a heavy book. Once they are dry, use them to make crafts. For example, put clear contact paper over the flowers to make a placemat. In the fall, try the same activity with leaves. Find orange, yellow, purple, red, or brown leaves. Find a dry leaf and crunch it!

8. Explore holes and mud.
In an out-of-the-way corner, dig a hole and pour water in it to see what happens. Ask your child where she thinks the water goes. Play with the mud, squish it between your toes, and jump over or in the hole. When you are done, fill the hole with dirt again, and check it later to see what’s growing there. 

9. Explore seeds.
Find some weeds! How are their seeds dispersed? Do the seeds cling to your clothes, are they carried by the wind, or are they flung when the seedpods are touched? Ask your child what he discovered during this investigation.

10. Collect conservatively.
Discuss collecting with your child. If the ground is carpeted with acorns or flowers, it’s probably okay to take one unless it’s on a refuge where collecting is prohibited. Examine something for a few hours and then let it go again. Keep fireflies in a jar and release them the next morning. Transfer fish, turtles, or frogs to an aquarium for a night. Some fish will survive in an aquarium if you transfer them with the same water from where you found them.

Explore the Great Outdoors with Your Child

by Donna Satterlee, Grace Cormons, and Matt Cormons

Children are natural explorers. Set some basic boundaries, and let the child discover. The learning will come. Children use all of their senses to explore. They look and listen to observe what is happening around them, touch what they can reach, smell the fresh scents of nature, and occasionally taste when given permission. They run, jump, dig, and climb as they discover new places.
For a child, everything is new—even the tiniest things are interesting and exciting. In today’s entertainment-driven world, exploring the outdoors is an opportunity for children to actively engage in learning. Here are a few steps you can take to guide children’s exploration of the great outdoors.

Explore safely. Join your children in the fun if they want you to, and keep an eye on them. Before you begin, dress appropriately and teach your child the basic safety rules of the outdoors. Simplicity is often the key to establishing safety rules, and there is usually no need to restrict children. They rarely do something that makes them uncomfortable, unless someone is urging them on or daring them.

Let children choose what to explore. Let children explore, and see what they do on their own without offering suggestions. Do they run? Build? Climb? Even an activity as simple as digging leads to exploration. Children learn how to dig, the way soil feels, the angle of the slope before loose dirt slides back down, and the difference between dry and wet soil.

Ask open-ended questions. As children explore on their own, remain involved. Ask about their discoveries. Ask open-ended questions they can understand and answer with their observations. “What did you find? Oh, a bug? What does it look like? How does it move?” You do not have to know all the answers to children’s questions. Discuss what you see—the shape of leaves, the color of the soil, the movement of the grasses. The more your child observes, the more the world around him will make sense. Discovering how to learn through observation is important. Your child doesn’t have to know the names of all the plants and animals he finds. He will learn through his observations. You can even suggest he make up descriptive names of his own. 

Touch, lift, look under. Children need to touch the natural world to more fully understand it. In some cases, gently touching an object with one finger may be helpful. For example, gently nudge a frog or a grasshopper to help a child learn how animals move. When possible, though, examine an object from all sides. Looking carefully at the underside of a log and then carefully replacing it, for example, helps children understand that creatures live under the log and that not disturbing the creatures’ habitat is important.

Guide children to draw conclusions from the observations they’ve made. The best learning occurs when children come to conclusions for themselves. It would be easy to draw on your own knowledge to say, “It’s fall now. See, the leaves are red. Remember that they used to be green?” Instead, try asking questions or describing what you see, feel, hear, and smell. “Do you remember what color the leaves were last time we took this walk? What do you see now?” This modeling will help your child learn to use her own senses when exploring. Remembering and sharing helps a child learn, and shared memories bring cohesiveness as a family.

Some Cautions
Although we want children to explore at will, there are certain precautions that you will need to take.

Teach children to:
•    Be aware of the environment and the creatures that live there.
•    Always watch where they put their hands and feet. If they left shoes outside, make sure they empty their shoes before putting them back on.
•    Use clear cups and look before they drink. No one wants to accidently drink an insect!
•    Be wary of brown recluse spiders (also known as violin or fiddleback, spiders), black widow spiders, scorpions, and poisonous snakes.
•   Be cautious when lifting boards or rocks to find animals and insects. Also be careful to observe what is living there without disturbing their environment.
•   Recognize poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak. If you or your child comes into contact with any of these plants, scrub the exposed area with dish detergent or another strong soap.

Prepare yourself and your child to encounter insects and stains.
•    Wear old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
•    Wear light-colored clothing to keep insects at bay. Some insects are attracted to dark colors.
•    Wear a scarf or hat when walking through the woods.

Donna J. Satterlee, EdD, teaches child development in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.  She has collaborated with Grace and Matt Cormons since 1999 to implement the successful nature-based family learning program Shore People Advancing Readiness for Knowledge (SPARK).

© 2013 National Association for the Education of Young Children — Promoting excellence in early childhood education

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