discovery toys blog of billie elias
Tips for parents who play with their children or who want stay-at-home income.
Toys for special need, autism, gifted and typical kids.

January 29, 2010

World-class education

Did you watch the President's first State of the Union address Wednesday night? In it, he spoke about education, the lagging emphasis on math and science in our schools and America's risk of falling behind if we don't make education an affordable priority. My favorite line was, "The best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education." Who could disagree?

Back in July 2009, I provided the alarming statistics of where America's teens were ranked internationally in math and science. What are the other countries doing differently? Finland was ranked #1 in both math and science in the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Are more moms in Finland staying home and playing with their babies? (The next results, PISA 2009 National Report, won't be released until December 2010. )

Why not help your child get a head start by playing and reading every chance you get? Using Discovery Toys takes the guess-work out of choosing the right toys. Our experts rate the toys by the developmental abilities of particular age-ranges and by the skills developed. Today's pre-schoolers and school age children are tomorrow's scholars. Start now!

January 26, 2010

Love is spelled T.I.M.E.

In the introduction of the book To A Child Love is Spelled T-I-M-E, co-author Lance Wubbles, a best selling author of inspirational books, writes about a man who in his old age is comparing his newly re-discovered old diary side by side with his son's diary of the same year.

"As he opened his journal, the old man’s eyes fell upon an inscription that stood out because it was so brief in comparison to other days. In his own neat handwriting were these words:
Wasted the whole day fishing with Jimmy. Didn’t catch a thing.
With a deep sigh and a shaking hand, he took Jimmy’s journal and found the boy’s entry for the same day, June 4. Large scrawling letters, pressed deeply into the paper, read:
Went fishing with my dad. Best day of my life."

Remember the tag line of Discovery Toys: teach. play. inspire. I hope our toys will allow parents to spend the type of quality time with their children that will allow them both to remember those moments as some of their fondest. Have you played with your child today?

January 19, 2010

Parent like the President

Part of the reason for selling Discovery Toys and for writing this blog is to help parents become better at parenting. I've written about my own parents and the influence they had, and continue to have on me, and how their parenting style influences mine.

I usually don't refer my readers to other blogs, but in the case of this article, "How to parent like the President", author Linda Natali says it all. I highly recommend it.

Hmm, I wonder if the President and First Lady have any Discovery Toys in the White House. If they're reading this, may I propose Marbleworks Deluxe to help Sacha and Melia learn about logic, gravity and civil engineering concepts. Word Flip is another game the whole family can play, taking educated guesses about the word whose letters are hidden behind small doors. Maybe they even have a family game night.

January 15, 2010

Is autism increasing?

There are many controversies over the prevalence increasing or the number of diagnoses; is it caused by vaccines, toxins in environment, age of father? Certainly, we are attempting to diagnose earlier (and more often) because we believe the sooner treatment can begin, the better the outcome. We also see a high percentage of children who have been previously diagnosed, but no longer have the disorder. That begs the question, "How good is the diagnosis?" Stanford neurobiologist and researcher Ricardo Dolmetsch talks about his own child and the research he and others are doing in this recorded interview.

Vaccines were initially suspected of causing autism. The world scientific community, however, has ruled out a relationship between thimerosol, the mercury-containing preservative used in many vaccines, and autism. We know that most children get vaccinated, but the incidence of autism is not uniform throughout our population. Researchers find clusters of incidence in certain geographic areas, leading us to believe that those families may simply have access to resources that will diagnose the disorder.

Dr. Dolmetsch talks about research in identical twins (where the chance of both having autism if one has it is 90%) vs. fraternal twins (where the chance is only 5% of both having autism if one has). Based on that research, scientists believe there is a strong genetic basis, not due to just one gene (because you share more than one gene with your sibling), but due to many genes. With each successive generation, humans have approximately 150 new gene mutations, and just one of those mutations could mean the difference between having autism or not.

Paternal age also seems to be a cause, because as men age, their sperm accumulate more of these genetic mutations. More affluent people are marrying later and having children later (mothers average age now is 29, fathers 38), 10-15 years later than 1 or 2 generations ago. Both paternal age and geography suggest you are more likely to get autism if you come from a high socio-economic family and live in a nice neighborhood.

Recent research has included re-programming skin cells from children with autism into stem cells. Those cells are used to make neurons (in a dish) that enable scientists to study the electrical signals and connections in the brain cells of those children. Fortunately, the influx of money and attention to autism research in the last few years is helping us move in the right direction of finding a cure.

If you know someone with a child who has autism, please point them to this page which suggests specific toys for use with autism.

January 05, 2010

Measure Up Cups strike again!

Just when you thought you knew every possible use for my favorite product, comes a recipe from the kitchen of Discovery Toys consultant Michelle Reeves. She says,
“I want to share a Gingerbread recipe that you can make with your kids. The amounts are using the Discovery Toys Measure Up Cups and the Spoons from the Measure Up Pots & Spoons set and then in case you don't have those items yet I've included the regular measurements in parentheses as well.”

#9 cup Butter (3/4c)
#12 cup Sugar (1c)
1 egg, slightly beaten
#3 cup Molasses (1/4c)
5-#6 cups Flour (2 1/2c)
#8 spoon Baking soda (2 tsp.)
#1 spoon Salt (1/4 tsp.)
#4 spoon Cinnamon (1 tsp.)
#4 spoon Ginger (1 tsp.)

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and molasses. Sift the dry ingredients and mix with the wet ingredients. Chill the dough. Roll the dough on a lightly floured board to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out the gingerbread men shapes. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Optional: use Place & Trace puzzle pieces as cookie cutters instead of gingerbread men.
See more Discovery Toys recipes.

January 04, 2010

Consumer Product Safety Commission as Grinch?

In her article in The Wall Street Journal on 12/24/09, There Is No Joy in Toyland, Anne M. Northup suggests, "The overreach of a child-safety law is killing American jobs and businesses. It's not too late for some common-sense changes."

In February 2009, I reported on the Consumer Product Safety Commission's policy regarding limits of lead levels in children's products. Little did we realize at that time that many small toy concerns would be forced to eliminate jobs or to shut down their businesses completely, due to the cost of enforcing the policy. It seems the unscientific folks in Congress didn't realize that a zipper may contain lead that is not able to be easily absorbed into a child's bloodstream, unlike lead in paint. They also made the requirements so stringent that it bans some toys with less lead than the Food and Drug Administration allows in a piece of candy. Fortunately, the commission has agreed to take another look at such things as treating a 12-year-old toy and an infant toy identically.

In its 31 year history, Discovery Toys can boast no recalls. Read about their quality and safety promise. I wish that some of the larger manufacturers' greed hadn't spoiled it for an entire industry. At least when you shop with us, you know you're buying something that is safe and fun for your child.

January 03, 2010

Books Rule!

Despite the onslaught of electronic toys and gadgets that "read" to your child (instead of books and games helping your child learn to read while they're playing), learning to read will not be going out of fashion anytime soon. With most of America's school children heading back to school in the next month, it's time to dust off the books. Sadly, in our country 33% of all 4th graders cannot read at even a basic level, according to the 2007 National Center for Educational Statistics "Reading Report."

What's a parent to do? Plenty!

In a read-aloud entry in my parenting blog I report that the reading experts tell us that reading to your children is so important that even after they know how to read, we should still be reading to them! Not only is it a cozy way to snuggle up and share precious moments with your child, but you're sending the message that you value them: they are important enough for you to break away from whatever adult task you were involved with to devote some time to just them.

I also report that since babies start learning language from birth, reading aloud exposes them to the sounds of human speech. By the age of two, children know between 300-500 words. Children who are spoken to and read to frequently have larger vocabularies and develop into better readers.

I have the fondest memories of a storybook that was read to me as a child. My mother and father never seemed to tire of reading the same stories and poems over and over again. The book happened to be an anthology of different writers, but the two-color illustrations that accompanied each story were indelibly written in my brain, along with some of my favorite stories. I have yet to forget Mr. & Mrs. Apple naming their children after different types of apples (Jonathan, Winesap, Delicious, Baldwin) or of Mr. Apple going to the library to research the names as they added more and more children to their family. There were Nina and Ted who looked forward each year to their winter vacation at their aunt and uncle's home in Vermont where they tapped the trees for sap, turned it into maple syrup and ate it on their aunt's delicious pancakes. There was also Rosa-too-little, for that's what they kept calling her until she could finally sign her name to get her very own library card.

These weren't just stories; they were stories where I was learning something about my world.
Our local libraries have children's librarians just waiting to help match you and your child with the ideal book, from picture book to non-fiction to chapter book.

We also know that children can understand books read aloud to them at several grade levels above their own reading level. This serves to broaden their vocabulary at the same time as they are digesting more complex sentence structure. A perfect book to read (and work on) together is "Puzzle Island." It's a unique book that involves unscrambling letters to form the names of animals whose pictures are hidden deep within the book's illustrations. One important tip to having "quality time" together with your child is doing something that you also enjoy.

For a beginning reader, you might choose another sort of interactive book to encourage a love of reading. "Ahoy, Pirate Pete" and "Once Upon a Time" are almost magical, with picture pieces that are stored on each page that you change each time you read the story, creating a new tale with each re-reading. "Dear Tooth Fairy" is another interactive book with small envelopes containing letters written by the Tooth Fairy to the little girl who refuses to leave her tooth under the pillow.

Discovery Toys has some great board books for you to add to baby's first library: Baby Bear's Bedtime, Ladybug's Lesson and Rough and Tough Tractors and Diggers books. Visit your local library where you can find many more titles.

Banana-fana-fofana-fie-fi-fo-fana. Sound familiar? This childhood ditty can be stuck in your head for hours, but it may eventually serve a purpose. You might want to make up your own silly version. Absolutely, GO FOR IT! Be sure to include your kids in the fun!

Why? Playing with sounds, rhymes, and nonsense words is vital to the logical progression of pre-reading skills.

Spoken language is made up of sounds (phonemes)
Sounds make words
Words make phrases
Phrases make sentences
Sentences have meaning
Mastering written language (reading) follows the exact same progression with the phonemes (sounds) represented by symbols (such as letters) called graphemes.

Remember how your baby would delight in your smiles, coos, and sound mimics during his babbling stage? As your child develops, she will mimic the sounds you make. Take advantage of these opportunities by making rhymes and word repetitions.
"bat, rat, cat, ratatattat"
"bed, bat, b, b, b, b"
"car, cat, cut,, not, sot, rot, tot"
Sharon Duke Estroff writes in :

Double check the reading level. When kids take on books beyond their proficiency level, they can become rapidly disheartened. To determine whether a book is too hard for your child, have her read the first page aloud to you. If she stumbles over more than five words, put it back on the shelf and help her make another selection.

It’s in the bag. Stash some books in a totebag and pull them out whenever you and your kids get caught in a holding pattern. Whether waiting at the doctor’s office or a restaurant, your children will be thankful to have books to bust their boredom.

Start a parent/child book club. This hot new trend in book clubs offers benefits galore ranging from heightened reading skills to multigenerational bonding. Find out everything you need to know about organizing your own parent/child group.

Enlist Hollywood. Seeing a story on the big screen (or a small one) can provide just the spark kids need to pick up the book version. Flicks like Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, Matilda are sure to have your little stars hitting the library in no time.

Gear them with glossy pages. Kids needn’t peruse classics to reap the benefits of reading. Magazines that zero in on children’s passions – from skateboarding to fashion – can inspire even the most reluctant readers to start flipping pages. Techno-savvy kids can pull up favorite magazines online at sites like Sports Illustrated Kids and Time for Kids.

Create a library on wheels. Propensity toward carsickness aside, keeping a supply of books in the car will turn all those idle hours in traffic into valuable reading time.

Turn them on to books on tape. Listening to a book on tape while following along in the real thing gives struggling readers (or those who simply want to tackle a book that’s beyond their reading level) an opportunity to enjoy the story without getting bogged down by difficult words.

Money talks.

Read to Them.

Read with Them.

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