Shop/Buy Local


Indie businesses are the backbone of a durable community, employing more people directly per dollar of revenue than chains & online stores. Support your neighbor, support your community. Buy Local.

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Reading to Your Baby and Toddler

read to your child

Believe it or not, by the time babies reach their first birthday, they will have learned all the sounds needed to speak their native language.  The more stories you read aloud, the more words your child will be exposed to.  To learn more about why you should read to your baby, click

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How To Kill Your Child’s Creativity


Kids are born creative geniuses. But unfortunately, by the time they reach the third or fourth grade, their creativity has sunk. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect: each generation, scores go up about 10 points because enriched environments make kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has been identified: since 1990, creativity scores are falling. What are we doing wrong?

little girl

These are some of the most effective creativity killers:


  • Rewards: scientific research has demonstrated that rewards inhibit children’s exploration and imagination. A kid will put as much effort as it is needed to get the reward and he won’t push himself any further. Prizes and stickers eliminate the intrinsic pleasure of creative activities. We want engaged, motivated children, not just kids with their notebooks filled with stars.


  • Shadowing: always sitting by their side and micromanaging their projects is detrimental to their creativity. If kids are constantly being observed and we give them always some advice they won’t learn to take risks and they won’t experience the value of making mistakes as part of the process.


  • Limited choice: we put our children into a system that teaches them “there is only one right answer” Most toys come with instructions and we barely let them choose. However, exploring options is at the heart of lateral thinking. Creative kids feel free to propose alternative solutions and are keener to follow their curiosity.


  • Over scheduling: organized activities, workshops, social dates… children’s diaries have never been fuller. But we are so busy over-stimulating them that we forget to allocate time for the most important stimulus of all: boredom. Boredom feeds imagination and imagination feeds ideas and creativity. We often say “I need to just sit down and do nothing to recharge” and yet we don’t apply this to our kids. It is during times when we are doing “nothing” that our mind gets the best ideas.



Creativity flourishes when things are done for enjoyment. What matters is the pleasure, not the perfection. Let’s forget about the “getting it right” and let’s give our kids the opportunity to explore, to make mistakes and take risks and to feel the freedom to express all their wonderful ideas.


This article is from



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Want your kids to do well at school? Send them outside to play!

play-word press

Katherine Martinko (@feistyredhair)
Living / Family
February 16, 2016

The decline of free play time in favor of structured learning has resulted in never-seen-before sensory issues and emotional problems in young children.

Parents worry far too much about their preschoolers’ academic performance. They sign kids up for reading enrichment activities, music lessons, dance classes, organized play dates, museum camp, and more, all in hopes of their children getting an upper hand when real school starts.

The problem, however, is that when little kids under the age of 7 spend so much time doing organized activities, it takes time away from the free play that is so desperately needed for developing other areas of their brain and wellbeing.

Angela Hanscom is a writer and founder of TimberNook, a nature-based camp with unstructured programming in New England. She wrote an article for the Washington Post called “The decline of play in preschoolers – and the rise in sensory issues.” Hanscom explains why young children so desperately need free play:

“It is before the age of 7 years — ages traditionally known as ‘pre-academic’ — when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop strong bodies and minds. This is best done outside where the senses are fully ignited and young bodies are challenged by the uneven and unpredictable, ever-changing terrain.”

When children do not have access to free play, this creates serious problems that, one could argue, make their academic performance pointless if they lack the very important social and emotional skills that should go along with it.

“If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences, they start their academic careers with a disadvantage. They are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilize poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions. We are consistently seeing sensory, motor, and cognitive issues pop up more and more in later childhood, partly because of inadequate opportunities to move and play at an early age.”

Hanscom quotes one preschooler teacher who describes kids these days as being “different.” They cry more often, are easily frustrated, fall out of their seats multiple times a day, walk into doors and walls. She says, “It is so strange. You never saw these issues in the past.”

Much of this can be blamed on a major shift in parenting in past decades. Parents don’t want to hear that their kid played in the mud all day at school; they’d rather know how Jolly Phonics went. The rise in helicopter parenting has resulted in parents pressuring teachers to follow up with kids’ homework and to improve their grades. Schools have responded to this parental obsession with academics by limiting free play in the curriculum and focusing on what seems to matter most to parents.

It’s so unfortunate that kids get the short end of the stick in this whole free play vs. structured learning debate. If adults simply let them do what they’re naturally inclined to do – mess around in the yard, digging, climbing, chasing, jumping – then there would be less need for social skills groups, special breathing techniques, coping strategies, and exercises to ‘teach’ young kids how to focus and sit still, not to mention the countless psychotropic medications given to American kids. We are attempting to teach something that should come naturally, if we only allowed it to.

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Electronic Baby Toys Associated with Decrease in Quality and Quantity of Language in Infants

Electronic toys for infants that produce lights, words and songs were associated with decreased quantity and quality of language compared to playing with books or traditional toys such as a wooden puzzle, a shape-sorter and a set of rubber blocks, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.

The reality for many families of young children is that opportunities for direct parent-child play time is limited because of financial, work, and other familial factors. Optimizing the quality of limited parent-child play time is important.

Anna V. Sosa, Ph.D., of Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, and colleagues conducted a controlled experiment involving 26 parent-infant pairs with children who were 10 to 16 months old. Researchers did not directly observe parent-infant play time because it was conducted in participants’ homes. Audio recording equipment was used to pick up sound. Participants were given three sets of toys: electronic toys (a baby laptop, a talking farm and a baby cell phone); traditional toys (chunky wooden puzzle, shape-sorter and rubber blocks with pictures); and five board books with farm animal, shape or color themes.

While playing with electronic toys there were fewer adult words used, fewer conversational turns with verbal back-and-forth, fewer parental responses and less production of content-specific words than when playing with traditional toys or books. Children also vocalized less while playing with electronic toys than with books, according to the results.

Results also indicate that parents produced fewer words during play with traditional toys than while playing with books with infants. Parents also used less content-specific words when playing with traditional toys with their infants than when playing with books.

The authors note results showed the largest and most consistent differences between electronic toys and books, followed by electronic toys and traditional toys.

electronic toys word press

The study has important limitations, including its small sample size and the similarity of the participants by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

“These results provide a basis for discouraging the purchase of electronic toys that are promoted as educational and are often quite expensive. These results add to the large body of evidence supporting the potential benefits of book reading with very young children. They also expand on this by demonstrating that play with traditional toys may result in communicative interactions that are as rich as those that occur during book reading. … However, if the emphasis is on activities that promote a rich communicative interaction between parents and infants, both play with traditional toys and book reading can be promoted as language-facilitating activities while play with electronic toys should be discouraged,” the study concludes.


Editorial: Keeping Children’s Attention

“Electronic toys that make noises or light up are extremely effective at commanding children’s attention by activating their orienting reflex. This primitive reflex compels the mind to focus on novel visual or auditory stimuli. The study by Sosa in this issue of JAMA Pediatrics suggests that they may do more than just command children’s attention; they appear to reduce parent-child verbal interactions. Why does this matter? Conversational turns during play do more than teach children language. They lay the groundwork for literacy skills, teach role-playing, give parents a window into their child’s developmental stage and struggles, and teach social skills such as turn-taking and accepting others’ leads. Verbal interactions of course are only part of the story. What is missing from this study is a sense of how nonverbal interactions, which are also an important source of social and emotional skills, varied by toy type,” write Jenny S. Radesky, M.D., of the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, and Dimitri A. Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., of Seattle Children’s Hospital and a JAMA Pediatrics associate editor, in a related editorial.

“Any digital enhancement should serve a clear purpose to engage the child not only with the toy/app, but also transfer that engagement to others and the world around them to make what they learned meaningful and generalizable. Digital features have enormous potential to engage children in play – particularly children with a higher sensory threshold – but it is important the child not get stuck in the toy/app’s closed loop to the exclusion of real-world engagement. Bells and whistles may sell toys, but they also can detract value,” they conclude.

Funding: This study was funded by a research grant from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation.

Source: JAMA Network
Image Source: The image is in the public domain
Original Research: Abstract for “Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication” by Anna V. Sosa, PhD in JAMA Pediatrics. Published online December 23 2015 doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753


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10 Ways to Encourage Curiousity!

Did you know that our brains are actually wired to release feel-good chemicals when we learn new things? Yep, we’re actually physiologically programmed to be rewarded for our curiosity. Obviously, curiosity is a critical piece of learning—it’s much easier to understand something you’re interested in, and research* indicates that being curious leads to a more positive academic experience and better results, both at school and at work. But the benefits of curiosity don’t end there! According to one study**, people who are curious exhibit more positive emotions, less anxiety, and are generally happier and more satisfied than their non-curious counterparts. Curiosity is also linked to stronger relationships and empathy. All good, right?

So how can we encourage curiosity in children, at home and in the classroom? After all, we can only answer “why” so many times. Read on for 10 tips to encouraging curiosity (and take heart, none of them have to do with why the sky is blue!):

  1. Ask open ended questions. “How was school?” “Fine.” We’ve all been down that frustrating path. But asking open ended questions like “What was that like?” when a child first jumps off of a diving board, or “How do you feel about…?” after reading a sad non-fiction passage in class leaves room for kids to formulate their own thoughts and perhaps even come up with more questions. Oh, and by the way, we also need to…
  1. Teach kids how to ask questions. Formulating and articulating a confusing thought that needs answering is a skill unto itself.  Teachers and parents can aid kids’ natural curiosity by helping them learn how to assemble a question. Repeating what you think a child is asking in detailed question form helps reinforce this critical skill. But then we need to…


  1. Make time for questions! Parents are busy and teacher’s days are jam-packed with mandated lessons and super-tight schedules. But making time for thoughtful discussions now and then provides an opportunity for kids to express their opinions, understand other perspectives, ask questions, and identify the need for more information in order to answer them—all cornerstones of curiosity. Teachers know that some of the best learning happens when their lessons get derailed by a particularly passionate discussion.
  1. Work in groups. Group work in the classroom is a wonderful way to encourage curiosity. Provide enough context for kids to understand a topic, then assign each group a position and listen as they work through the ideas and challenges together, asking questions and formulating hypotheses.
  1. Be a mirror. Before responding, deflect your child or student’s question back to her. “Why do YOU think porcupines have quills?” What do YOU think we could do to solve this problem?” These questions not only reinforce how to ask a question, but also encourage the child to get curious and prove that her opinion is valued.
  1. Wonder aloud. To our students and children, we are adults who know everything. Curiosity, by nature, is wondering about things we don’t Show kids that YOU are curious, too, by sharing some of your own pursuits. “I’ve been reading about the pioneer days… I wondered what they ate during the winter when they couldn’t hunt.”


  1. Follow their lead. Whenever possible, help kids pursue their own interests. If your class can’t stop talking about the ant infestation in the cafeteria, move your bug lesson up a month and dive in! Daughter doodling rainbows (with her Rainbow Prancer™ Markers) all the time? Research the weather conditions that cause the phenomenon online or hit the library for a book on rainbows.
  1. Encourage open-ended thinking. So many of kids’ daily experiences are completely directed. From classroom learning to video games, kids are told what to do almost all the time. Providing open-ended play props like blocks, dolls, and puppets like our Puppet-on-a-Stick™ are a great way to encourage curiosity. Let the kids loose and watch them wonder what to do!
  1. Stock the toolbox.Some tools are designed specifically for the curious. Providing kid-safe magnifying glasses, microscopes, telescopes, binoculars, chemistry kits, and other discovery tools gives kids the supplies they need to begin to discover and understand their worlds. Our GeoSafari® and Nancy B’s Science Club® lines feature the perfect props to satisfy kids’ natural scientific curiosity.
  1. Forget the mess. Speaking of satisfying one’s curiosity, that can sometimes be messy! Understanding why it’s hard to contain a handful of sand requires, yes, sand. Seeing what happens when you add water to a pile of dirt is downright filthy! Instead of discouraging messy exploration, contain it in a classroom center or backyard area and let kids go to town.
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The Real Reason Why Kids Fidget

Angela Hanscom Headshot

The Real Reason Why Kids Fidget

Posted: 08/05/2014 9:07 am EDT Updated: 10/05/2014 5:59 am EDT

A perfect stranger pours her heart out to me over the phone. She complains that her 6-year-old son is unable to sit still in the classroom. The school wants to test him for ADHD. This sounds familiar, I think to myself. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I’ve noticed that this is a fairly common problem today.

The mother goes on to explain how her son comes home every day with a yellow smiley face. The other kids in his class go home with green smiley faces for good behavior. Every day this child is reminded that his behavior is unacceptable, simply because he can’t sit still for long periods of time.

The mother starts crying. “He is starting to say things like, ‘I hate myself’ and ‘I’m no good at anything.'” This young boy’s self-esteem is plummeting, all because he needs to move more often.

Over the past decade, more and more children are being coded as having attention issues and possibly ADHD. A local elementary teacher tells me that at least eight of her 22 students have trouble paying attention on a good day. At the same time, children are expected to sit for longer periods of time. In fact, even kindergartners are being asked to sit for 30 minutes during circle time at some schools.

The problem: kids are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are things of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Let’s face it: Children are not moving nearly enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.

I recently observed a fifth grade classroom as a favor to a teacher. I quietly went in and took a seat towards the back of the classroom. The teacher was reading a book to the children and it was towards the end of the day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Some kids were tilting their chairs back at extreme angles, others were rocking their bodies back and forth, a few were chewing on the ends of their pencils, and one child was hitting a water bottle against her forehead in a rhythmic pattern.

This was not a special needs classroom, but a typical classroom at a popular art-integrated charter school. My first thought was that the children might have been fidgeting because it was the end of the day and they were simply tired. Even though this may have been part of the problem, there was certainly another underlying reason.

We quickly learned, after further testing, that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of 12 children had normal strength and balance. Only one! Oh my goodness, I thought to myself. These children need to move!

Ironically, many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today — due to restricted movement. In order to develop a strong balance system, children need to move their bodies in all directions, for hours at a time. Just like with exercising, they need to do this more than just once a week in order to reap the benefits. Therefore, having soccer practice once or twice a week is likely not enough movement for the child to develop a strong sensory system.

Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting, in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”

Fidgeting is a real problem. It is a strong indicator that children are not getting enough movement throughout the day. We need to fix the underlying issue. Recess times need to be extended, and kids should be playing outside as soon as they get home from school. Twenty minutes of movement a day is not enough! They need hours of play outdoors in order to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom.

In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order for them to pay attention, we need to let them move.


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