Tis' the Season for Learning

For those of you who may not know, when I'm not decorating or shopping for the latest mini fashions, I homeschool Holiday.  Truth be told, homeschooling is the main gig happening at our house, all the rest is what happens in my free time (hence why I don't blog as often as I'd like to or plan to!)

While everyone is in the full throes of Christmas shopping, sometimes it's hard to wrap your brain around bringing even one more toy into your home.  Especially when the toy at the top of their list is nothing more than a cleverly marketed Nick Jr. commercial and you know your hard-earned money will end up in the pile of toys that are rarely played with though regularly competing for your sanity.  

Today I wanted to bring you a list of learning toys that I've found valuable in the classroom and play time.  There have been many moments when I'm teaching Holiday that I can tell she just needs something extra to grasp a concept.  I've been amazed at the power of educational toys (aka learning manipulatives) which can add a tactile and fun dimension to learning.  

Tis' the season for early literacy 

Holiday was an early reader- doing easy CVC books at age 3 and reading at a 3rd grade level before she was old enough to be in Kindergarten.  I think part of her reading success was due to the types of toys and resources I surrounded her with from the time she was a baby.  So much of early learning happens in play.  As a baby, I used these simple letter toys in the bath tub would would tell her what sound each letter makes as she played with them.  As early as 10 months, she could tell you the sounds for several letters. Here's a collection of early literacy for your tiny ones up through progressing leaders: 

1. Munchkins Bath Letters: This is a great, wonderful, first way to introduce little ones to letters and their sounds as they're playing in the bath. BUY IT HERE

2.  The Learning Journey Upper & Lower Case Letters Puzzle:  This is a great little puzzle to learn lowercase letters and letter sounds. BUY IT HERE

3.  Smart Snacks Alpha Pops: Holiday has had this set since around 1 year of age.  It was late 3's when she was really able to snap them together, but was a great resources with connecting uppercase letters to their "little matches." BUY IT HERE

4. Mudpuppy Magnetic Letters: I love these magnetic letters from Mudpuppy.  The picture is for the uppercase letters, but I highly recommend buying the set of lowercase letters as well.  There are two color-ways for each.  If you get the same color-way for both the uppercase and lowercase letters, the color/pattern of the uppercase letter will match the lowercase letters.  BUY UPPERCASE HERE.  BUY LOWERCASE HERE

5. Dick and Jane Early Readers Collection:  When kids are building a strong phonics foundation, Dick and Jane books are absolutely invaluable.  There are countless early readers with every recognizable character out there.  However, not all readers are created equally.  There is a reason that Dick and Jane stands the test of time.  The word repetition really helps young readers grasp the CVC words in combination with everyday, simple, high-frequency words.  I also love that many sentences would end in one word and the next sentence would begin with the same word.  I felt like this really helped Holiday recognize that the same word starting with an uppercase or lowercase letter was still the same word.  BUY IT HERE

6.  Learning Resources Goodie Games ABC Cookies: This game/ toy is all lowercase letters.  This is great for when kids are at the point of learning CVC words and word groups.  Simple games included to play with letters make learning deliciously fun! BUY IT HERE

7.  The Land of Nod Letter Scramble Kids Game: I LOVE this game!  I bought this for Holiday for Christmas this year.  Follow the purchase link to see how HUGE this game is-- these fun, over-sized plush pieces make learning even more engaging.  This is pretty much like the old-school Boggle game-- but way more fun and engaging for little ones.  This is a good game for one kids are starting to spell CVC words on their own and can be fun all the way through age 99! BUY IT HERE 

8. Leap Frog The Letter Factory DVD and Flashcards: This link is for a 3 pack DVD set and they are ALL excellent.  I can't recommend the Letter Factory DVD enough for learning letter sounds.  I specifically linked this set because it includes a set of flashcards that link back to the movie for each letter.  I think the tangible, visual reinforcement is really wonderful bonus.  The other two DVDs in this pac are also wonderful.  Going to School goes over all the basics- letters, counting to 20, Days of the Week, Months of the Year and more!  Talking Words is the next step after The Letter Factory-- it shows children how to blend letter sounds together along with "Sticky Letters" (aka Vowels) to make words! BUY IT HERE

9.  Hooked on Phonics PreK:  I am a HUGE believer in phonics as the best course for early reading.  Many schools and curriculums focus on memorizing long lists of sight words and high frequency words. However, I've seen first-hand, how valuable a strong phonics foundation is.  We have used Hooked on Phonics all the way through.  Holiday did the Kindergarten Hooked on Phonics when she was 3, so I wouldn't go by age as much as what their literacy skill level is.  This Hooked on Phonics Pre-K is to develop letter recognition and learn all of the letter sounds.  Once your child knows all of their letters, letter sounds and STRONG lowercase recognition, you're ready to jump into the Kindergarten version of Hooked on Phonics.  BUY PRE-K HERE.  BUY KINDERGARTEN HERE 

Tis' the season for STEM development 

These days there are so many awesome, play-based, resources out there to develop Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Skills.  Here are some of our favorites: 

1.  Learning Resources Hundreds Board: If you have no other early math toy in your collection, have a good Hundreds Board.  I shopped around quite a bit for just the right hundreds board (would have loved an all wooden version) but this one was the best one I have found so far.  There are individual tiles 1-100.  In addition, two sets of colored translucent tiles (red and blue) are also included.  The colored tiles were really helpful when we were working on skip counting (2's, 5's and 10's).  There have just been more times than I can count that I've pulled out the hundreds board to teach a math concept whether it be to use as a number line or finding the nearest '5' when learning to tell time.  It's also a great visual resource for teaching multiplication. BUY IT HERE

2. Math Marks the Spot Game: Super, over-sized, math fun!  Roll the big, plush dice and solve the match problem. BUY IT HERE

3. Math Mat Challenge: We don't own this, but I have read a lot of reviews on this one and it looks like a super fun and engaging way to work on math! BUY IT HERE

4. Learning Resources Magnetic Apple Fractions: Many of the learning toys we have are also play food!  These apples get played with, regularly, just as play food.  However, they are such a good, tangible learning resource too.  When it came to teaching Holiday fractions to 1/4, no teaching was really necessary-- she immediately understood the concept because she had played with these apples so often.  They were also super useful when she learned to tell time to the quarter hour.  BUY IT HERE

5.  Bunny Peek-a-Boo Logic Game:  This is an awesome logic game from Smart Games for little ones (geared for ages 2+).  My neighbor lent this one to us a few years ago and I loved how this toy made Holiday think in a way that her other toys didn't.  Such a great way to work on STEM skills early on.  Cards are color-coded for difficulty so you can really scale for a variety of ages (I would say this one would be good through age 5).  BUY IT HERE

6.  3 in 1 Construction Bulldozer, Dump, Excavator Drill and Build: Kids are just attracted to cars and things that go.  This toy takes that concept to the next level by having your little engineer build this multi-functional dump truck/ excavator/ bull dozer first!  Super durable, can be built and re-built over and over.  Plus, it's a super fun truck to play with assembled.  BUY IT HERE

7.  Inchimals Blocks:  I really love these Inchimal Blocks from Fat Brain Toys.  12 blocks with the largest being a 12 inch giraffe and the smallest, a 1 inch lady bug.  This has been a great toy to get a sense for measurement, addition, estimating and figuring out how to get to 10.  Having a tangible learning manipulative that shows scale, the number and has an identifying animal gives children a variety of ways to latch onto mathematical concepts.  It also comes with a dry erase booklet and marker to work on number sentences using the blocks.  BUY IT HERE

8.  I Sea 10 Math Game: "New Math" has an early focus of getting to 10.  Many early math activities focus on what we must add to numbers 1-9 to get to 10 and what combination of numbers will get you there.  This game is a super fun skill builder that develops an overall numbers sense.  Fish are turned over to reveal a number.  As soon as a combination of 10 is on the board, the first person to should "I See 10!" gets to keep those cards.  BUY IT HERE 

9. Ocean Raiders Math Board Game: There are a variety of ways to play this fun addition game.  Whether adding single numbers, double digit numbers, numbers without carrying and numbers with carrying.  BUY IT HERE 

10.  My First Lab Mini Duo-Scope Microscope: This was on Holiday's Christmas List this year and reviews as a great, little first microscope!  I'm excited about adding a new dimension to our classroom and learning activities!  BUY IT HERE 

11. Lunar Telescope: This was also on Holiday's Christmas List this year! She loves outer space and what better way to bring the galaxy a little closer. BUY IT HERE

12. Magna-Tiles: We love Legos for STEM development, but Magna-Tiles are really more open ended in my opinion.  My husband grew up on the mission field in Chile and Guatemala and a suitcase of Legos were his main (and one of his only) toys through childhood.  He often comments while doing Legos with Holiday that today's Lego sets aren't what they used to be.  Where Legos used to be almost all bricks, now there are lots of specialized, large molded pieces that are very specific to each, individual set.  Out of all the magnetic block options, Magna-Tiles are far superior to its competitors.  They are a completely open-ended toy, fun for all ages. BUY IT HERE

13. Design and Drill: There are several versions of Design and Drill (some are less gender specific), but we have found this to be a great little game to get the brain thinking and the drilling is just SO much fun for kids.  Holiday has really enjoyed this toy over the past year.  BUY IT HERE

14. Robot Turtles Game for Little Programmers: My husband, David, is a Senior Network Engineer/ Architect at Google and this board game has been a big hit for he and Holiday to play together. It teaches computational thinking in a simple way for little ones to comprehend.  You can start playing this game as early as age 4.  There's also an add-on pack for more advanced programming challenges.  BUY IT HERE

15. Trucky3 Logic Challenge Game: Not all little ones will have the attention span to sit and figure out a logic came.  HOWEVER, Trucky3 is a game changer for lots of those kids!  For ages 3-8, this challenge is more difficult than it looks!  You must fit specific shapes into the beds of each truck without any shapes sticking up over the bed of the truck.  Such a fun and engaging logic and STEM activity for your vehicle lovers! BUY IT HERE

16.  Camelot Jr. Logic Game: Camelot Jr. is much the same concept as Trucky3 and the next level of difficulty after Bunny Peek-a-Boo listed above.  A great logic challenge!  BUY IT HERE

Tis' the Season for Telling Time 

Telling Time is getting its own mini section apart from other STEM resources as I just finished teaching Holiday how to tell time to the minute.  We have loved and used each of these, daily, during our math time.  

Eeboo Telling Time Game: This game is AWESOME!  Four individual clocks are included and can be played with up to 4 players or can be scaled to just a single player.  For Holiday play alone, she plays in rounds-- I set out each of the four clocks in front of her and put a different time card above each clock for her to set the correct time on each clock.  Her goal is always to get 4/4 correct for each round.  The deck of time cards is color coded so you can included cards for telling time to the hour, half hour, nearest 5 or by the minute. BUY IT HERE

Mindware Owl Clock: This clock has been invaluable in teaching time.  The back of it is chalkboard so you can either draw the hands on the clock and have the child write to time below, or you can write the time and have them draw the hands on the clock.  The front of the clock has a little moving window that helps with the "Secret Code" (aka counting the hour numbers by 5's to figure out minutes).  It also includes cards if you want to use it as a game to set the right time.  Plus, it doesn't hurt that it has a vintage look to it and is adorable in our Homeschool Room or Playroom!  BUY IT HERE

Flik Flak Swiss Watches for Kids: I'm in LOVE with these Flik Flak watches and was so happy to find them.  Holiday's was really helpful while she was learning to tell time and is such a good reminder now as well.  You'll notice that around the outside of the clock face, the "Secret Code" for figuring out minutes is also included.  There are TONS of options from prints to solid colors to choose from.  They are a nice, lightweight watch and not at all bulky for little ones to wear.  BUY IT HERE

Tis' The Season for Geography 

These are all such great resources for not only learning about our world and country, but also to learn individual facts for each state.  Lots of fun while your family is traveling or on road trips, to explore your destination or towns you'll be passion through-- or even to learn a little more about the state you call "Home." BUY IT HERE

1. The 50 States Big Book: This is a beautiful, BIG, colorful book that has a layout dedicated to each state with lots of fun and practical facts. BUY IT HERE

2. Atlas of Adventures: This is a wonderful, highly rated book to discover the wonders of the world.  A good way to grasp continents, countries and the major landmarks and cultural highlights for each.  BUY IT HERE

3. Janod Magnetic USA Map: I've been through several USA Map puzzles and activities and I really think this Janod one is the best!  It is nice, heavy duty and magnetic.  I love that the individual state pieces are the right shape for their state (versus just a puzzle piece).  This whole map, assembled, can also be hung up without pieces falling off.  The only drawbacks is that Alaska isn't to scale.  Also, a few of the northern New England states are combined onto one piece. BUY IT HERE

4. The 50 States Activity Book: This activity book is a wonderful compliment to the 50 States Book-- definitely worth having!  It also includes a beautiful pull-out, full color poster of the USA, all the state flags as well as all of the presidents through 2016.  BUY IT HERE

5. Globe: I researched quite awhile for the right globe for our homeschool room and this Advantus Desktop Globe was the winner.  I have been more than happy with our purchase.  It is really a beautiful, high quality globe and a great value for the money.  The colors and bright, nice contrast to make it easily readable and mountain ranges are raised.  BUY IT HERE

6. Land of Nod Road Trip Soft Wall Map:  This is a really fun way to learn the states and serves as a great room decor piece as well!  The felt USA map comes with a set of velcro state names as well as a separate set of velcro state capitols.  In addition, there are several fun landmark pieces to put on the map as well.  Pieces like "I Live Here," the statue of liberty, etc. BUY IT HERE

7.  Me on the Map Book: This is a great book for little ones to begin to comprehend their place in the universe.  We don't just live in a house, but in a town, a city, a state, a country, a continent and a planet.  This is a great, little, first geography book for any little one.  BUY IT HERE

8. Alex Toys USA Map in the Tub:  I have always been a big proponent of incorporating learning into play time and this USA map puzzle for the bath is a great way to introduce the 50 States!  BUY IT HERE

9. MAPS Book: This is, by no means, a comprehensive atlas, but rather a wonderful collection of 52 beautiful world maps to pique a child's interest in the world around them and in geography-- especially for a child who already really likes maps!  There's also an accompaniment activity book that can be purchased separately!   BUY IT HERE

tis' the season for anatomy 

1.  Janod Body Magnetic Set: This is a favorite toy at our house and super useful in our homeschool room.  This set comes with cards in a variety of languages, but rest assured, English is included as well.  This is a wonderful learning tool for children to realize there's SO much going on inside their amazing, little bodies!  There are pieces to make both a boy and a girl, full skin bodies, skeleton, muscular/ circular system as well as organ systems.  This is a great learning tool!  I often buy this along with the Outside-In book as a gift! BUY IT HERE

2.  Outside-In Lift the Flaps Book: This book is an awesome way for kids to being to understand how magnificent their bodies truly are and how different body systems work together.  BUY IT HERE