Letting Go of Perfection – One Mom’s Pursuit

I remember it like it was yesterday. Picking up my daughter from school with plans to head to the gorgeous Japanese Gardens on the campus of nearby Cal State Long Beach (btw, if you live in the area or have plans to visit this is a GREAT way to spend an afternoon). We’d feed the koi fish, spend some time together, talk about our days. I’d been looking forward to it all morning. We were – and still are — so lucky to be able to do things like that.

My happy girl passed me her pack as she hopped into the back seat and, compelled to check the day’s work before even leaving the lot, I opened her folder and found a failed math test. My heart raced and my stomach knotted. I was shocked. She’d always been at the top of her class, with good grades coming easily. I was so stunned that I had a hard time recovering enough to enjoy our walk through the gardens. Although I put on a happy face, I could hardly wait to get home and dig into that test, review the questions with her, see what in the world could have happened. Instead of relishing every minute with my daughter in that special setting, my mind was spinning. Oh, did I mention? She was in second grade.


I wish I could say this was the last time that I over reacted to what is a natural part of growing up – failure. Instead of seeing a low test score or botched dive in a meet as an opportunity to teach my beautiful, smart, loving, kind, funny, brave, athletic daughter how to pick herself up by her bootstraps, identify a problem and come up with a plan to solve it, overcome difficulty and disappointment, learn that practice makes perfect, to never give up, or one of a million other invaluable life lessons, I (internally) panic. Every time. And I don’t think I’m alone here.

The new “growth mindset” making its way into classrooms around the country addresses this very issue, from the student’s point of view. Just because you haven’t mastered something YET doesn’t mean you won’t, eventually. Every brain – young and old – has the potential to grow, to push through something new or difficult and master it in time. A low score is just the starting point. From there, with work, it’s nowhere but up and you CAN do it! If you haven’t watched Carol Dweck’s TED Talk on growth mindset, you really should. It’s incredibly inspiring.

So that addresses our kids and their take on failure. But what about us, the panicked parents in pursuit of perfection? Where’s our pep talk? Who’s going to shake our shoulders and tell us that it’s going to be okay? The former dean of admissions at Stanford University – that’s who. The first time I heard them, Julie Lythcott-Haimes’ words were like a ray of sunshine, a literal deep breath of fresh air, a lifting of the proverbial weight from my shoulders. Essentially, Lythcott-Haimes says that by pushing our kids to achieve perfection in the name of “offering the best opportunities”, we are depriving them of the chance to help them become their truest selves – which is, of course, the real definition of successful parenting.

“When we treat grades and scores and accolades and awards as the purpose of childhood, all in furtherance of some hoped for admission to a tiny number of colleges or entrance to a small number of careers, that’s too narrow a definition of success for our kids!” – Julie Lythcott-Haimes

The mom of two teens, Lythcott-Haimes says we are asking our kids to perform at a level of perfection we were never held to as kids. Sound familiar? Lord knows it’s true for me! I wasn’t a perfect student. Or a perfect gymnast. I didn’t go to the very best college. And I didn’t get the very best grades when I was there. But here I am, productive, successful, and, yes, happy. So why am I pushing my perfect-just-as-she-is daughter toward academic perfection, at the risk of damaging her psyche, instead of helping her acquire the everyday life skills that translate to happiness and success? Lythcott-Haimes knows why AND what we can do about it – and she’ll tell you, too. I implore you to listen – these will be the best-spent 14 minutes of your day, I promise.

Amy Opheim is a mom, wife, and freelance writer based in Southern California.

Word Up, Webster?

On October 16, “wordiacs” across the country will celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Noah Webster, considered the father of the American dictionary. While school-aged children might ‘take a page out of that book’ and brush up on their dictionary skills, you and your early learner can join the “party” with vocabulary-expanding games and activities.

Vocabulary grows very quickly from ages one to six. Toddlers have about a 20-word vocabulary. By first grade, most children have approximately a 2,600-word expressive vocabulary (words they say) and a 20,000 to 24,000-word receptive vocabulary (words they understand).

Vocabulary development enhances critical thinking, promotes comprehension of new concepts, and is a crucial factor in reading skills and school success in general.


A word (actually two) to the wise – TALK and READ to your child.

Talk It Up

Research shows a direct link between a child’s academic performance in third grade and the number of words spoken at home between birth and age 3, so ‘talk a blue steak’ with your child:

  • Include new and interesting words in conversations: mealtimes, at the grocery store, in the park. Introducing new words in context helps your child learn their meaning.
  • Use gestures and facial expressions to help make sense of new words.
  • Invite your child to talk with other children. Encourage the conversation with questions and comments.
  • Sing with your kiddo and recite poetry and rhymes (Mother Goose counts!) to playfully introduce vocabulary.

Read On

The benefits of daily reading with children are well documented. Enhance your child’s vocabulary development during read-aloud sessions by explaining new words, discussing interesting aspects of the illustrations, asking a few open-ended questions, and encouraging your child to finish sentences or rhymes in books with repetitive refrains. And, when your child asks you to read The Gingerbread Man each night for a week, take heart! Studies with young children show that more words can be learned when books are read several times.

EI’s Once Upon A Craft line of storybook and craft activities gives children opportunities to read, re-read, make crafts, and enjoy multiple creative experiences with classic fairy tales.


Vocabulary Charades

Take turns acting out word meanings. Try nouns and verbs; you can even sprinkle in some simple science and math terms like rain, roots, circle, number, etc.

Odd Word Out

Say four words, three of which share a link, and one word that doesn’t belong. Encourage your child to shout out the “odd word out.” For example: red, green, cat, and blue.

Description Detective

Develop a vivid vocabulary that makes you child’s speaking and writing come alive! Work together to cut out colorful pictures from old magazines and catalogs and glue them to poster board. Then take turns playing I Spy, describing in as much detail as possible each item, including its color, shape, size, texture, sound, smell, movement, and so on.

Simon Says Strut!

Get the wiggles out and the vocabulary learning in! Play a game of Simon Says with directions using vocabulary-enriching action words (verbs). Here are some examples:

STRUT like a peacock

PROWL like a wolf

WADDLE like a walrus

Enhance the kinesthetic connection with EI’s Magic Moves Electronic Wand, an interactive music and movement toy with 26 tunes, sparkling light shows, and 90 movement activities.

Magic Moves


Unleash a blizzard of word learning and creativity. What is your child talking non-stop about lately? Super-heroes, submarines, spiders – whatever it is, word storm the topic together. TIP: Your child will have even more to say after sharing a nonfiction book about the topic. Your child obsessed with spiders? Read a book (or two) about them! EI’s Hot Dots Jr. Ultimate Science Facts Interactive Book Set has three kid-favorite subjects: Dinosaurs, Sharks, and Space.

Hot Dots® Jr. Ultimate Science Facts Interactive Book Set

After reading a book (or watching a spider in your garden!), word storm adjectives that describe spiders and verbs that tell how they move.

Spiders: tiny, creepy, fast, hairy

How spiders move: hide, jump, crawl, climb, hunt

Work with your child to use the word stormed lists to create sentences about spiders: Tiny spiders hide. Creepy spiders crawl. Hairy spiders hunt. Make a spider book by writing each sentence on a page for your child to illustrate.

Together Time with a Learning Twist

If you’re searching for something different to do with your kids this summer, look no further than Hot Dots®! With three ways to play (and learn!), Hot Dots has engaging, interactive, content perfect for kids of all ages. The sets are something fun that you and your kiddos can do together AND you’ll be sneaking a little bit of learning into their summer play. So what are you waiting for?

No matter the content, each Hot Dots set features teacher-developed activities designed to help kids master critical, age-appropriate, academic skills, instill academic confidence, and encourage a life-long love of learning. With cool, interactive pens, colorful content, and immediate feedback, kids of all ages love learning with Hot Dots. Whether your kiddo needs to stay in the school frame of mind (no summer brain drain here!), do a bit of catching up, or get a leg up with “next-level” activities, there’s a Hot Dots set just right for you.

Hot Dots® Tots

Take a break from the summer heat and bring learning to life for your little one! The perfect parent-child bonding activity, Hot Dots Tots lays the foundation for an early love of reading with sturdy, interactive board books and Elliott—The Musical, Teaching Bear™ pen. Read the stories together, talk about the pictures, then complete the activities on each page by pressing Elliott to any “dot” for an immediate response. Correct responses are rewarded with musical sounds and a glowing green light. Together, you and your little one can explore shapes, colors, numbers, emotions, opposites, animal, family, community, and household words, and so much more!

Hot Dots® Jr.

Design a little down time for your preschooler this summer with Hot Dots Jr.! Choose from story books, fairy tales, and fables, non-fiction books about sharks, dinosaurs, and space, subject-specific sets focusing on letters, numbers, phonics, reading, math, science, and more, or grade-readiness sets including everyone’s favorite feline friend, Pete the Cat®! Review the material together, then challenge your child to answer the questions using one of several fun, interactive, pen friends. Correct responses are rewarded with fun, congratulatory phrases and sounds and a glowing, green light. Incorrect responses receive gentle redirection and a glowing red light.

Hot Dots®

With dozens of grade- and subject-specific sets to choose from, engaging Hot Dots® provides kiddos ages 5-12 the tools they need to succeed in the classroom, building confidence, and stretching young minds through interactive lessons that bring learning to life. Kids can work on specific academic areas ranging from reading and spelling to math and science, helping them stay in the school game all summer and even giving them a jumpstart on the coming school year. Your child can review the content alone, using the sleek, high-tech Hot Dots pen to respond to questions, then show you what she’s learned at the end of each session.
No matter the age, no matter the grade, Hot Dots is here for you and your children this summer, providing educational, together-time activities you’ll both enjoy. Here’s to a summer of Hot Dots!

Summer Brain Drain – Am I the Only One Who Worries?


Editorial by Amy O., Southern California Mom

It’s summer! Hooray! Our kids have worked so hard all year and it’s great to see them getting the break they deserve. I love leisurely days lounging at the shore, pool parties, play dates, sleepovers, summer camp… Okay, yes, if I’m being honest, there’s plenty of time spent eyes glazing over at YouTube videos. But still. Summer! I can’t tell you how many times my daughter has cut my Olaf impression short… “In SUMMER!” I’m like Maria twirling atop her hillside in The Sound of Music. I love summer that much.

Even amidst all my merriment, there’s a worry nagging in the back of my mind about just what’s being lost while our sanity is being regained through all this relaxation and play time. Research shows that kids in all grades lose months’ worth of academics over the summer. Months! Meaning teachers spend the first few months of each new school year re-teaching everything the students forgot over the summer. In some cases, they don’t even begin introducing new material until around Thanksgiving. What? As with the pool in June, I want my kiddo jumping in with both feet come September—refreshed, relaxed, and ready to learn something new, just just reviewing what she forgot over the summer. At the same time, I want summer to be a time for de-stressing and relaxing, not a regimented routine of academics. Like many parents, I’m just trying to find that balance.

So I cleverly plant enticing books around the house, insist on a few pages from the summer bridge workbook each morning (well, each morning for the first few weeks before we got off schedule), and make fun suggestions about keeping a journal or writing about her day from the cat’s perspective, few of which ever come to fruition. I tell myself that measuring the ingredients for the cookies we’re making counts as math!
But still… all that reading! And vocabulary! And spelling! And writing skills! Am I the only one who worries about what’s lost over the summer while the kids are out of school? Do you have summer brain drain worries? Here are some of my favorite ways to keep my kiddo entertained without draining the brain this summer…what are yours?

 Nancy B's Science Club® MoonScope™ & Sky Gazer's Activity Journal

Nancy B’s Science Club® MoonScope™ & Sky Gazer’s Activity Journal

Grab your MoonScope and take a tour of the nighttime sky complete with visits to the stars, Saturn, Jupiter, and even the mountain ranges and craters on the moon! The Sky Gazer’s Journal is packed with fun activities, like learning about the lunar phases, writing a moon myth, drawing your own man in the moon, and more! >> SEE MORE


 The Sci or Fi ® Files

The Sci or Fi ® Files

Test your knowledge of science truths with this set of 480 strange science statements! Includes 200 double-sided cards with fun facts and scientific explanations 32 score chips and 18 answer cards in file-cabinet box. For 2–6 players. Grades 5+ >> SEE MORE


 Nancy B’s Science Club® Microscope & Activity Journal

Nancy B’s Science Club® Microscope & Activity Journal

Zoom in on the fun with the Nancy B Microscope! This 2-in-1 light and dissecting microscope gives up-close views—30x, 100x, and 400x magnifications—of anything you can imagine, from peacock feathers and goldfish scales to your own skin and cheek cells. The included keepsake journal features 22 pages of fun science experiments for kids and activities from observation to creative writing, drawing, and more. >> SEE MORE


 Math Slam™

Math Slam™

Read the question, jam to the beat, scan the possible answers, and slam the one that’s correct! Better move quickly, though, each game of 13 questions is timed—the faster you get through the questions, the better your score! Incorrect responses are recycled until they are correctly answered. Three levels, flashing lights, and fun sound effects keep players interested. >> SEE MORE


This Summer, Play Your Way to School Readiness! Simple Tips to Get Kids Ready for Kindergarten

Free Worksheets for summer learning

Woo hoo! It’s summer! Time for fun in the sun, trips to the zoo, and family vacations. But boy, can time fly, and September will be here before you know it. Below are some simple—and fun—things you can do over the summer to help prepare your child for Kindergarten.

Work It Out

Download our FREE summer math and ‘getting ready to read’ packets, which offer perfect practice for preschoolers preparing to enter Kindergarten. With 24 pages of fun readiness activities, there’s plenty of learning to last all summer long. And if your kids love learning with these pages, be sure to check out our selection of interactive Hot Dots® Jr. storybooks and card sets to take learning fun to the next level!

M0838 Math Worksheets_Page_01 M0838 Math Worksheets_Page_02
Click HERE to download our FREE Summer math packet

Reading Worksheet Page 1 Reading Worksheet Page 2
Click HERE to download our FREE Summer ‘getting ready to read’ packet.

Play It Out

Play, Play, Play! Set up playdates with kids your child’s age and trade off locations. This will not only help your child learn to interact with others, but also get him comfortable with being away from you. Story time at the library and music and movement classes at the park are also great ways to get your child used to being in a group setting. Be sure to provide plenty of toys and activities to keep little ones engaged—Magic Moves® Jammin’ Gym is a great way for kids to play together and release some energy, too!

Take Turns! Eager to never hear the words “I saw it first!” or “It’s mine!” ever again?  Help your child learn how to share and socialize by teaching them by example.  Play a board game like Kitten Caboodle, emphasizing “my turn” vs “your turn”, or trade off on the swings to practice taking turns and sharing.

Follow Instructions! Give your child a simple instruction and make sure she follows through. Then try two- or three-part instructions like “Please take your shoes to your room, put your socks in the laundry basket, and pick out a book you’d like to read.”

Act It Out! Slip some “first day” practice into playtime by acting out your child’s first day of school. Use stuffed animals or puppets like Puppet-on-a-Stick™ to represent the teacher and the students, and show your child what to expect.

Learn, Learn, Learn!

Learn Those Letters! Sing the alphabet song and look at letters on paper. Your child’s name is a great place to start but there are letters everywhere! Point them out in storybooks, road signs, and at the grocery store. Talk about the sounds each letter makes. “S, ssss…., S is for Star!”

Count It Out! Help your child learn to count to 20. You can count the Cheerios in his snack, the stairs up to the library, or the action figures in his toy chest. Then show him the numbers 1-10 and help him learn to identify each one and match it to the correct quantity.

Shape Up! Help your child identify basic shapes like circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles. Search the house for items of each shape, identify them, and try drawing them. Take a walk around your neighborhood and point out shapes you see – rectangular doors, square car windows, circular wheels. Games like Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco are also a great way to practice matching geometric shapes to real-world shapes.

Read, Read, Read! Listening to a story hones concentration and focus skills as well as increasing vocabulary. Read together for just 15-20 minutes a day – then be sure to ask your child about the story they just heard. What was it about? What happened at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end? Our Hot Dots Jr. Interactive Storybook Sets are a wonderful way to get kids excited about reading and practice key Kindergarten concepts. There are also some wonderful books all about the first day of Kindergarten that can help ease your child’s fears and illustrate what she can expect. We especially love First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg.

Hot Dots® Jr. Princess Fairytales Interactive Storybook Set

Move That Body!

Gross Motor Skills! Make sure your child gets plenty of outdoor play time. Practice bouncing, throwing, catching, and kicking a ball. Run races. Hop, skip, and jump.

Fine Motor Skills! Afternoon quiet time is a great time to practice fine motor skills. Squishing, squashing, squeezing, and shaping molding substances like Playfoam®, stringing beads, and putting puzzles together are all great ways to develop fine motor skills.


Block Play! The benefits of blocks are nearly endless. In addition to developing motor skills, they also introduce important early math, science, and engineering concepts and encourage creativity and imagination.

Incorporating these simple, but crucial, activities into your summer days will go a long way toward preparing your preschooler for Kindergarten!