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Markie’s Blog


13 Children’s Books That Encourage Kindness Towards Others

Kindness is one of the most important character traits, but sometimes kids need an extra reminder about the best ways to be kind to others or why kindness matters. These books provide that reminder in creative and appealing ways. Happy reading!


Counting on it!

strong willed

Want successful kids? Focus on empathy!

"UnSelfie" by Michele Borbahttp://makeitbetter.net/family/want-successful-kids-focus-on-empathy/


5 Ways to Build Language Skills with a Puzzle

by Sherry Artemenko


Parents don’t typically consider a puzzle to be a language learning toy. Sure, it’s great to build fine motor, and spacial relationship skills but how does language fit in? When parents join the play, it ups the level of learning as long as we stay in the passenger’s seat and let our child drive the play.My 4-year old friend brought out his favorite Galt giant floor puzzles, “The Farm” and “Dinosaurs.” Let’s look at the farm. I sat down on the floor next to him and started the conversation. Soon he was leading and asking me the questions. So how can we strengthen language skills while playing with a puzzle?Asking questions. I started out with, “Where is the rest of the roof of the chicken coop?” or “Where are the purple stripes?” He joined in with “Can I have the tractor?” when we had  assembled the pieces around the shape of the missing tractor. “Where are the rest of the bales of hay?” as we looked to see what might be continued on the missing puzzle piece.Building vocabulary. After we finished our farm puzzle, my friend started to take out the animals one by one, “Wanna see this one?” and had me name them. Then he chimed in with the associated sound the animal makes, “bak bak bak” for the chicken and “neigh” for the horse. While assembling, I am talking about the  pasture, silo, chicken coop or clay flower pot.Describing. I like to describe what I am looking for. I need the front part of the pig, an animal with orange spots, the scarecrow’s body or the wooden doors of the barn. Kids start to follow that model and describe what piece they are searching for too so there is some nice chatter as they assemble their puzzle.

Relating the objects and theme to life experiences. Start by talking about how the pictures related to your recent experience or something you might have done together like visiting a petting farm, seeing a cow, or maybe just growing a plant. As kids enter school they are asked to relate “books to life,” meaning tell what they have seen or experienced that matches a character, object or event in the story. These connections build language skills as children start weaving their world together and explaining the connections.
About Sherry Artemenko

Sherry Artemenko M.S., CCC-SLP, speech language pathologist for over 35 years, is the founder of the PAL Awards (Play Advances Language) which distinguish the best new toys, games and books that have the DNA to build language skills in children. Through her private practice, Play on Words LLC and work in the schools, she has served kids for over 15,000 hours. Her popular blog, http://www.playonwords.com/ shares insights and tips with parents, educators and therapists on how to build speech and language skills.

More Active Play Equals Better Thinking Skills For Kids



As schools cut down on physical education and recess, kids are spending more time than ever in a desk. And while nerdy second-graders like me didn’t ever consider arguing for more gym, there’s increasing evidence that being active helps not just children’s waistlines but their brains.”If you consider the anthropology of humankind, we were designed to move,” Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tells Shots.

Hillman and colleagues have added more evidence as to how activity helps kids. His study, published Monday in Pediatrics, shows 7- to 9-year-old children who run around and play like, well, children, for at least 70 minutes a day show improved thinking skills, particularly in multitasking, compared to children who aren’t as active.

The researchers looked at a nine-month after-school program, called Fitness Improves Thinking in Kids (FITKids) at the University of Illinois. The 109 students met after school nearly every day for a snack and a quick lesson on fitness and nutrition. Most importantly, the children spent 70 minutes running around and playing tag, soccer, jump rope and other games. The focus was not on competition, but playing like kids normally do.

Brain activity during the multitasking test for active kids (left) and non-active kids (right). Red indicates more activity, blue indicates less.

Courtesy of Charles Hillman

“Kids tend to move and get their exercise intermittently,” says Hillman. “They don’t go out and run four miles” like an adult might.”

In one multitasking test, children were shown a character on the screen and indicated with a thumb press whether the character was a certain color and a certain shape. The kids who had participated in FITKids were significantly faster and more accurate at identifying the color and shape than children who weren’t exercising.

Scans of the FITKids children’s brains showed increased brain activity during the task, in a network known to correspond to paying attention. Interestingly, the changes in brain activity correlated to the amount of time kids spent in FITKids. The more times they attended, the greater the change.

The researchers also looked at the children’s ability to selectively focus attention and resist distraction, but did not find as strong an association with physical activity.

Hillman says the significant effects resulted from only small changes to the kids’ activity. “We’re not taking them from low-fit to high-fit,” he says. “We’re taking them from low-fit to slightly-less low-fit.” In fact, the overall change in fitness was only about 6 percent.

Other scientists say this is yet more evidence that physical activity improves school performance. “It might actually help,” says Catherine Davis, a professor of pediatrics at Georgia Regents University. “I think that parents need to go to the educators and say, ‘Why is my child sitting down for six hours a day when he’s a 7-year-old boy and he needs to move?’ “

Architetrix Constructor Set is winner in the constructive play category!

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hapeHave a budding architect in your life? This set from Hape’s Architetrix line has all you need to get started building in mind-expanding, unconventional ways! Nabbed the ASTRA Best Toys for Kids award for constructive play!

Independent Specialty Toy Store owners love th

e Architetrix Constructor Set because it includes 33 green bamboo building rods along with 14 translucent nodes for anchoring and connecting constructions and contraptions.  Architetrix is all about thinking differently about building while at the same time creating a strong foundation of spatial-reasoning, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills. The moment you open your first Architetrix box, you’ll be thinking outside of the box. Great for builders four years and up.

A 2014 ASTRA Best Toys for Kids Winner in the constructive play category!


Board games boost brain power!

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Games are great for kids for different reasons at different ages. For preschoolers, they’re a fun way to learn how to “follow rules, focus, take turns and defer gratification, which helps with self-regulation, the basis of problem-solving and thinking creatively,” explains Peter J. Pizzolongo, the senior director of professional development at the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Board games also get bonus points for bringing families together (especially if family dinners are a rare occurrence) and for luring grade-schoolers away from the Wii. And all kids get lessons in decision-making (“Should I buy Boardwalk or save my money?”), consequences (“Ooops—no morecash!”) and strategic thinking (“If I swap two railroads for Boardwalk, I can start buying houses”).

So should you set up regular times to play or let your child set the agenda?

“Both,” says Pizzolongo. “Let your child come to you, but setting aside a special evening or afternoon gives her a ritual—and predictability and routines are important for kids.” For ideas on what to play, read on for the games that get the highest marks from experts.

ASTRA Best Toys for Kids: Sands Alive! by The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association

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The 2014 Best Toys for Kids Winner in the Choose Your Own category! Experience the fun of a sandbox no matter what the weather. This sand is designed to played inside the house.  Mold it! Squish it! Anti-Bacterial, water soluble, never dries out. Educational. 100% all-natural, designed to be played indoors, and is easy to clean-up.

Set contains 1 large sand tray, 4 pounds of sand, 12 geometric shape molds, 3 sculpting tools and one smooth roller.

Added bonus? Sand play helps build hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.


Happy 4th of July!!

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4th of July Eric Carle


ASTRA Best Toys for Kids: The Teeter Popper!

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ASTRA_Best_Toys_For_Kids_Teeter_Popper_628_394The 2014 Best Toys for Kids Winner for the Active Play category! Whether they rock it, roll it, sit in it or stand… kids want to move with Teeter Popper! “POP-POP-POP… POP-POP-POP!” Senses go for a ride every time they play. A cinch to maneuver – stand, sit, rock, tilt, wobble, wiggle, spin. Developed by Fat Brain Toys, we love how many play possibilities exist with the Teeter Popper! How children play is however they choose.

Hand kids a TeeterPopper and walk away… but don’t look away. Seeing the curiosity, the surprise, the concentration on their faces as they attempt new movements is something you don’t want to miss. Teeter-popping excitement is catching, (so are their giggles).Kids find themselves teetering on the brink of perfect physical play. No special skills needed. In playful exploration, Teeter Popper improves core strength, stability, leg strength, balance, coordination and gross-motor skills. Curiosity wakes up, senses come alive, imagination engages, and creativity gets moving!

Find other Best Toys for Kids winners and find an independent toy store near you.ASTRA_Teeter_Popper_6281

6 ways to encourage writing in preschool

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safe_imageBy Courtney Floyd  May 14 2014

When it comes to writing, the most important thing to remember is that it should be fun!  Shouldn’t  that apply to all learning? From time to time, a follower on Facebook will ask for advice about how to get their child to enjoy “writing practice.”  The first thing I suggest is to make the “writing process” fun!  Put away the workbooks until the time comes when the child is interested in them, and instead incorporate writing activities into their daily play…

1. Start with their name

When introducing writing to your children or students, you want to make it relevant to them.  What is more relevant than their own name?  Begin by pointing out the letters in their name when you see them in environmental print.  You can say things like, “This cereal starts with the letter R, just like your name.” Or “Will has four letters in his name, just like Jack has four letters in his name.”  This year, at school, we have tested out a few ways to get our children to sign in each morning.  Our young threes may not grasp all the letters in their name, but we still encourage them to “make their mark.”  We want them to know that their name is important, and also that we are glad they came to school.  ll good artists will want their name on their artwork and all teachers need a way to remember whose artwork belongs to who. So, we like to encourage our children to put their name or make their mark on all of the art work that they do in class.  This is also something that you could do at home…

2. Use your fingers

You can begin the writing process with the tools you were born with–your fingers!   Writing doesn’t have take place with pencils or crayons.  In fact, using your fingers helps to develop the strength that is needed to eventually be able to grasp a pencil or crayon later on. Sand or salt trays are also an interesting medium for children to write in.  The children can practice writing their names in the salt tray or use the trays for drawing or printing…

Paint trays are another super fun way to encourage writing.  Rainbow writing in a paint tray is a bright, colorful, and inviting way to get young preschoolers interested in writing…



3. Offer interesting tools

If you have students that do not enjoy finger painting or having messy hands, then you can certainly offer other tools to use in their paint trays or salt trays.  Q-tips work well for writing in paint and an unsharpened pencil works well in a salt tray.  Paper, crayons, pencils, and markers are often abundant in our homes and classrooms.  But if your children are not showing an interest in writing, you may want to consider offering some unique tools to spark their interest.  We keep a set of clipboards out almost all the time in our classroom.  We introduce the clipboards at the beginning of the school year, along with some telephones and calculators in an office dramatic play set-up.  These tools for play inspire the desire for writing that will hopefully last throughout the school year…Other unique writing tools could include smelly markers, colored pencils, chalk, oil pastels, different types of paint, or even water.  Next, play around with your canvases.  What will the children be writing on?  Chalkboards, cardboard, sidewalks, wood, and dry erase boards are all great canvases for writing practice.  These mini plexiglass easels and window crayons are a great example of using unique materials to spark new interest in the writing process…Not only are all of these great ways to practice writing, but the children are also working on building strong muscles in their hands so that the writing process eventually comes easier for them.

4. Offer unique writing experiences

Make writing fun by offering unique writing experiences.  Writing in shaving cream is a blast and one that children won’t soon forget.  And how often do children get the opportunity to make their mark in snow?

5.  Keep a journal

Journaling is a great way for children to practice writing.  It can also be a fun way for children to express themselves creatively.  Invite children to journal about an enjoyable experience that they’ve had either at school or at home.  Children can journal about a story or movie or even their favorite color.  Keep in mind that young children’s first attempts at journaling will probably take the form of drawing pictures and that is okay.  Have the children describe their picture to you or “tell you their story.”  Write it down as best as you can word for word to show children that their words have value.



6.  Set up a writing station

If you have room in your home or classroom, a writing station is a perfect place to invite children to write.  A writing station consists of different types of paper or cards, stickers, writing tools, scissors, and glue.  Varying the materials that you offer in your writing center will keep children interested in coming back.  If you don’t have the space to keep a writing station up permanently, consider offering a temporary writing station for birthdays and holidays.  Children love making cards and gifts for their family and friends, especially around the holidays.  Remember that the most important part of all early learning experiences is that they should be fun and based in play.  We want children to associate writing with enjoyable experiences that they are happy to take part in

Soaking up the Summer! Water Play!

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water play

Best way to cool off on a sweltering afternoon? Water play, of course! Tons of fun for all ages, easy clean-up and who doesn’t love getting wet?

Kids are naturally drawn to water play, and it’s a great way to get them outdoors. But there are even more reasons to head out to the backyard and turn on the garden hose. What your child thinks is good ‘wet’ fun is actually learning incognito. Water play engages children in physical play, helps them develop their sensory acuity, cultivates their social and emotional skills, and stimulates their imagination. You thought it was just a garden hose, didn’t you? WATER PLAY FOR INFANTS Your baby learns much about the world through her senses, and water is stimulating to her budding understanding of the environment around her. Here are some ideas for water play with your baby: • Make it rain on a sunshine-y day! Punch a few holes in the bottom of a clean plastic bottle. While your child is in outdoors in the grass or wading pool, or inside in the bathtub, put warm water in the bottle and let it “rain” over his skin.   • Explore wonders of ice. In the wading pool or bathtub, floating ice will intrigue your little one while it provides relief in the heat. Make ice in several sizes and shapes by using various clean containers (milk cartons, Chinese food boxes, plastic food storage containers, etc.). Make sure the pieces are too large to be swallowed in case your child puts them in her mouth. Help your baby reach for the ice, touch it, push pieces underwater and generally explore these magical melting “toys”. WATER PLAY FOR TODDLERS A toddler’s world is full of firsts — they can be doggedly independent about how they choose to experience them! (Understatement, right?) When it comes to soothing water play in the summer heat, the best advice is to keep it simple. Here are a few activities to try: • Mud Mixing. Oh, what a toddler can do with a little bit of water and the great outdoors! If there’s a patch of dirt anywhere in sight, your budding chemist (or maybe chef?) will enjoy mixing up a batch of mud. Give them a few empty plastic containers, the garden hose (or some buckets of water) and watch them go! • Sprinkling a little joy. Admit it—every once in a while, do you still sometimes walk through sprinklers on a hot day, just because? Imagine how wonderfully refreshing and exciting a sprinkler feels to a toddler who is exploring many forms of movement—crawling, walking, running—and who loves the sensory stimulation of the cool water. Water your lawn and your toddler at the same time—both will soak it right up. WATER PLAY FOR PRESCHOOLERS Preschoolers love to pretend and use their imagination. Give them a little encouragement, and they are likely to come up with all kinds of elaborate play scenarios. Try these fun water activities: • Scrub-a-dub those riding toys. Make it a “car wash” day. A bucket of soapy water and some clean cloths or sponges can turn your backyard into a car wash. Your kids can round up all of their toys with wheels and work out their own system for who washes, who rinses with the garden hose, who dries off the toy, and so on. Don’t be surprised if other kids in the neighborhood to join in on the fun—and the scrubbing! • Old Fashioned Laundry Day. A dishpan with sudsy water and another with clear rinse water can encourage your kids to do their dolls’ washable laundry the old fashioned way. Add to the fun by letting your preschooler whip up the suds with an egg beater! Find a place to put up a makeshift clothesline, and voila! your children’s imaginations will take over from here. WATER PLAY FOR ELEMENTARY AGE KIDS Primary school kids are increasingly competent and responsible, but still love to play! They will enjoy being in the water just for the sake of getting wet, but they can also wile away the lazy days of summer engaged in sophisticated water play. Here are some science-based water play ideas: • Science fun with water. Can you get muddy water clean? What happens when you pour clean water through sand? Kids in elementary school may be intrigued by questions like these. Give them some jars, funnels, coffee filters, sand, pebbles, cotton balls, and other household items and let them test out their own theories. • Big billowing bubbles. Bubble technology has gone far beyond its wand-in-a-bottle roots, and older kids can enjoy some cool new ways to play with bubbles. Make homemade bubble makers from pipe cleaners formed into loops to wave like wands, clean empty juice concentrate cans (dip one end into the bubble solution and blow on the other end for a huge bubble), and straws that can help you make a small bubble inside a larger one.


What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

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I had decided NOT to order anymore Handwriting Placemats yesterday.  Then I opened the newspaper last night and read this article.  The Handwriting Placemats are on the way to my store!

Does handwriting matter?

“Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.”For the full article in the NY Times Science section, copy and paste this link:


Voting Begins for Best of North Shore 2014

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Best of 2014: Cast Your Votes Now!

August is just around the corner and so is our annual “Best Of” edition, brimming with reader picks from fashion and shopping to fitness and entertainment.

This is where you come in! Vote for your picks in each of the 11 categories below to see your favorites recognized in our August 2014 Best Of issue. Don’t see one of your favorite places listed under a category? Write in your best pick in the “other” section to record your choice, and you might see it in the magazine come August!

Everyone who votes will be entered to win one of three great prizes listed below:

  • 4 front-row Cubs tickets
  • $200 Lettuce Entertain You gift card
  • $100 Artizone gift card

Last year, you submitted more than 50,000 votes and helped make our 2013 Best Of issue a huge success. This year, make sure your voice is heardhttps://growfromwithin.wufoo.com/forms/best-of-2014-kids/Bestof2014_Callout

HERE IS THE LINK:https://growfromwithin.wufoo.com/forms/best-of-2014-kids/