Bridging the Gap Between Preschool Fun and Learning

The new school year is well underway and, hopefully, the kids are learning a ton of things that will enable them to support us in our old age. In the meantime, though, we want them to have as much fun as they can both in and out of school. For little kids, the key is combining learning and fun, and since we’re the ones with the wallets it’s up to us to give them the tools to do just that. ALEX Toys, one of our favorites, has a number of wonderful products that you can do with your kids and have fun at the same time.

ready set write alexReady, Set, Write, and Wipe (Alex Toys)
A perfect way for little kids to learn and practice their numbers and letters—and for bigger kids to get their handwriting into shape—without wasting an entire tree’s worth of paper. Ready, Set, Write, and Wipe is a 19-page, spiral-bound book. Each page has brightly colored illustrations (G for Goat, for example, or 10 stacked blocks) and a place for kids to trace the number or the first letter of the word. There’s also plenty of space for freehand (non-tracing) practice. Best of all, when the kids are done, just wipe the page and they can do it all again. The one downside is that the marker can stain clothing. For kids 3 and up (but if your kids are that young, you need to keep an eye on them). $19.95 at www.alextoys.com/.

ready set tell time alexReady, Set, Tell Time (ALEX Toys)
We may be living in a digital world, but kids still need to learn how to tell time on a clock with hands (if for no other reason than so they’ll know what the words “clockwise” and “counterclockwise” or the phrase “I’ve got your 6” mean).  Ready, Set, Tell Time gives kids a number of different ways to learn how to tell time. The clock itself, is cheerful and has hands that are easily manipulated by little fingers. The kit also comes with a puzzle (with numbers that punch out and can be placed on the clock) and a lot of cards. The flash cards are what you’d expect, but they add some tactile learning by having the child move the clock’s hands to match what’s on the card. The activity cards do a nice job of making time a little less abstract by getting the child to associate specific times with activities that generally happen at those times (breakfast lunch, and so on). More than just a pretty (clock) face, it sells for $18.95 at www.alextoys.com/.

my first mosaic alexMy First Mosaic (ALEX Toys)
Research shows that children who are exposed to art are more confident and creative than kids who don’t have access to it. They’re also more empathetic, score higher on IQ tests, and do better in school. Unfortunately, more and more schools are cutting out art classes, so it’s up to you to make sure your child gets plenty of art time. My First Mosaic comes with five pictures and a few hundred square- or triangle-shaped stickers in a variety of bright colors. Just like with the old paint-by-numbers kits, kids match the colors and shapes called for in the picture with the corresponding stickers. The sticker-between-the-lines aspect is great for little kids since it lets them create something recognizable that they’ll be proud of. But be sure to give your kids plenty of outside-the-lines time too. For kids 3 and up who won’t put the stickers in their mouth. $11.95 at www.alextoys.com

Stop Telling Your Kids How Much to Eat

Dear Mr. Dad: My son, age 8, is very overweight. We’ve talked about how he has to start eating less and get more exercise. But he doesn’t want to play sports because the other kids make fun of his weight. And even though I’m trying to change his diet—by making him eat more vegetables and taking away his dessert privileges—his weight isn’t changing. Just the other day I found a bunch of candy wrappers in his room. What can I do?

A: It’s obvious that your intentions are very good: Trying to get your son to exercise more and eat differently is an excellent strategy. The problem is in your execution.

Let’s start with the physical activity part. I completely get your son’s reasons for not wanting to play on a sports team. Exercising in front of others can be humiliating. A recent study from Brigham Young University found that being bullied and teased is one of the main reasons overweight kids don’t exercise. And the problems don’t end there. Being bullied/teased also negatively affect overweight kids’ grades and relationships with their classmates.
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Debunking Myths about Marriage and Divorce


Shaunti Feldhahn, author of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and The Good News about Marriage.
Topic:
Debunking myths about marriage and divorce and discovering the little things that make a big difference.
Issues: The truth about marriage (most are happy) and divorce (the actual divorce rate is nowhere near 50%); improving your marriage by doing completely un-intuitive things: go to bed mad, keep score, don’t tell it like it is, and more.

Quick Answers to Most Important Parenting Questions + Secrets of Happy Marriages

David Elkind, author of Parenting on the Go.
Topic:
Quick answers to parents’ most important questions, birth to age 6, A to Z.
Issues: Attention deficit disorder; back-to-school blues; childproofing the computer; empathy in children; time outs; manners and morals; sibling rivalry, and much more.


Shaunti Feldhahn, author of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and The Good News about Marriage.
Topic:
Debunking myths about marriage and divorce and discovering the little things that make a big difference.
Issues: The truth about marriage (most are happy) and divorce (the actual divorce rate is nowhere near 50%); improving your marriage by doing completely un-intuitive things: go to bed mad, keep score, don’t tell it like it is, and more.

And Now, Direct from a Screen Near You…

Although parents aren’t always thrilled about it, kids love toys that bring their favorite TV and movie characters to “life.” This week, we review several fun new toys that do exactly that.

paw patrolPaw Patrol (NickJR)
If you have a little one, chances are you’ve seen or heard of Paw Patrol—the hit TV show aimed at Pre-K and kindergarteners. The show revolves around six puppies: Chase, Marshall, Rocky, Zuma, Rubble, and Skye, plus their 10-year old tech-loving human companion named Ryder. They work together as a team, solve problems, and help creatures and the environment while showing kids cooperation skills. Now the pups are available as toys, from plush to action figures and even vehicles (which play a large part in the show). The Racers are a particularly good value because they each come with one vehicle and one pup (they also have working tires). If your child is a fan of the show or of animals in general, these super-pups will be a nice treat for them. Available for $7.99 and up at Amazon, Target, and more.

turtle sub underseaTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtle Sub Undersea Chase (LEGO)
This set is just plain awesome, even if you’re not quite sure where you stand on the movie and whether it’s okay to turn a cherished, animated TV show into a live-action Megan Fox movie (Hmm. Does that sound a little biased?). With 684 pieces, including four figures (Donatello Leonardo, and two Kraang) it lets kids (and adults who like to pretend they bought this kit for their kids) recreate scenes from the movie, flicking missiles, firing shooters, and operating mini subs along the way. Or use your imagination and create something totally different. About $60 at your favorite retailer.

tmnt large figuresTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Playmates Toys)
Haven’t had enough of those hard-shelled reptile badboys? Based on the movie characters, these figure are a little grittier than they have been in the past, but kids don’t seem to mind at all. Playmates has all of the main characters (the four Turtles, Shredder, the Foot Clan, and others) in a wide selection of sizes and styles, including wearable ones, which come with cuffs, a sword, and a bandana mask. There’s something here that every TNMT lover, old or new, will want to have. Right now. The large figures are about a foot tall and are more articulated then you might think, and after they’ve knocked each other around for a bit, they make great mentors for the six-inch figures (which are just as fun to play with). Small figures are about $9 at Toys R Us, and the large ones start at $14 on Amazon and other retailers.

how to train your dragon 2How to Train Your Dragon 2 Squirt and Float Dragons (Spin Master)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 Battle Sets (Spin Master)

If your kids loved How to Train Your Dragons 2 as much as our kids (and their parents) did, this is a great opportunity to bring the fun of the big screen direct to your living room—or your bathtub. The Squirt and Float Dragons comes with three figures (Toothless, Meatlug, and Stormfly), all of which can shoot water about four feet—just far enough to make your bathroom floor really slippery, so be careful. There are also three great Battle Sets, “Toothless vs. Dragon Catcher,” “Gronkle vs. Gronkle Cannon,” and “Zippleback vs. Zipplecatcher,” all of which will keep everyone (yes, you too, mom and dad) entertained for hours. $8 and up at stores like Toys R Us and Amazon.