#UnpluggedPlay – What Play Is Teaching Our Kids

Why do we parents breathe a sigh of relief when our kids put down their tablets and pick up an action figure, dress up outfit, or hula hoop? Because we know balance is key! Tablet time isn’t tragic – it just needs to be balanced with reading, drawing, building, imagining, exploring, and exercising. But why? What is it that kids get out of #UnpluggedPlay that they don’t get anywhere else? Read on to find out.

Pretend Play

Pretend Play – There’s really nothing sweeter than listening to your kiddo act out a scenario using action figures, dolls, stuffed animals, or play props like kitchen and doctor sets. But pretend play isn’t just cute! Dramatic play helps kids explore the different roles they see in their lives, from parent to friend to baker to builder, developing not just an understanding of the world around them, but also building empathy skills. Pretend play with a friend helps kids learn to take turns, play cooperatively, and problem solve. Coming up with pretend story lines develops imagination and creative thinking skills. And “acting out” that pretend play scenario develops vocabulary and language skills.

Arts and Crafts

Arts & Crafts – It’s obvious that coloring, drawing, and crafting with tools like Playfoam® develop creativity and encourage self-expression. But creating also develops fine motor skills, the kind required to hold a pencil or paint brush, and bilateral coordination, the process of using both hands together, as in one to hold the paper and the other to cut it with scissors. Artistic creation also teaches trial and error, patience, and perseverance. And, best of all, creating is an incredible confidence booster – no right or wrong answer, just pure joy.


Building – Be it with blocks or other, more advanced, construction sets, the benefits of building are nearly endless. The perfect STEM learning activity, building introduces key scientific principles including gravity and balance, engineering concepts like arches and towers, and mathematic concepts and academic vocabulary including grouping, sorting, counting, addition, and subtraction. And, of course, manipulating blocks develops motor skills and hand-eye coordination, too.


Games & Puzzles – Games are great for getting your family laughing and playing together, but they’re good for more than fun! Playing games helps kids develop thinking and reasoning skills, strategic problem solving, spatial awareness, concentration, and focus. Word games develop language skills and vocabulary, while dice and math games like Even Steven’s Odd™ build and practice math concepts and facts. Game play also helps younger children develop social skills like turn taking and winning and losing gracefully.

Outdoor Play

Outdoor Play – Aside from reaping the benefits of fresh air, exercise, and the great outdoors, kids who play outside are exploring and discovering, developing and quenching scientific curiosity, and gaining self-confidence and self-efficacy.

We all need some down time and electronics are a great distraction. But the benefits to be gained from #UnpluggedPlay are not to be overlooked. Be sure to balance tablet time with some of the above ways to play each day!

#UnpluggedPlay – Outdoor Activity Ideas Your Kids Will Love


#UnpluggedPlay – Outdoor Activity Ideas Your Kids Will Love

You’ve seen the data. You’ve set the screen time limits. But getting your kids to turn it off and do something – anything! – else isn’t always easy. It’s likely going to take a little engagement on your part – so clear those calendars and get ready for an afternoon of #UnpluggedPlay for all! The experts at Educational Insights are here to help, with 10 awesome ideas for outdoor #UnpluggedPlay activities that will have your kids turning off their tablets and racing for the backdoor. Give them a go today!

1. Invisible Basketball (Or Football or Soccer…) – You don’t need a hoop – or even a ball! – to tip off this terrific, imaginative play session! Just face off, arms up, and let the games begin, exercising both your body and your mind.
2. Build a Backyard Obstacle Course – Transform your yard into an obstacle course, American Ninja Warrior style! You can go big by building everything from a balance beam, rock wall, and rope walk – together! – or you can use what you’ve got lying around. A hula hoop makes a great bean bag toss target and a 2×4 is the perfect balance challenge. Use your creativity – setting up is half the fun! And definitely don’t forget your timer.
3. Make Pet Rocks – Hard and fast friends, pet rocks are a great way to spend some time at #UnpluggedPlay. Simply collect some specimens, paint them to look like the members of your family, aliens, farm animals, pets – whatever!, let them dry, and voila! Dig them a home in the dirt, collect pine needles for a mattress, build them a backyard see saw with a branch – the possibilities for pretend play are endless.
4. Take a Listening Walk – Turn traditional scavenger hunts upside down with a listening walk! List 10 things you might hear in your neighborhood on a sheet of paper and set off to “hear” them, using your best listening skills. From an airplane overhead to a lawnmower, birds chirping, or dogs barking, you’ll be honing attention and focus while having fun.
5. Get Dirty – Giving your kids the go ahead to play in the mud will make their day. Simply supply a bucket or hose, find an unused dirt patch in your yard (or dump some dirt on the grass), and watch them go wild. Adding water a little at a time teaches the scientific concepts of density and resistance. Watching mud pies dry introduces the power of heat and the magical concept of evaporation. And, from baked goods to entire villages, mud play easily slides into imaginative play. Now that’s worth the mess!
6. Go Buggy – Nothing says “unplugged” like an afternoon of bug collecting! Surprise your kiddo with kid-cool tools, like the GeoSafari® Jr. BugWatch™ set, to capture and study the critters in your yard. A hands-on introduction to the incredible world of insects could spark a lifelong love of life science!
7. Blow it Up (With Bubbles) – From bouncing bubbles to colorful Kool-Aid bubbles, bubbles have come a long way, baby! Mixing your own bubble solution is a great first chemistry lesson and what could be more fun than blowing bubbles! Try string, straws, and berry baskets as bubble wands – then build your own, big and small. Test different solutions and study which ones make the biggest, longest lasting, most colorful, or most catchable bubbles. You could even capture your data in a chart…
8. Create a Monster Truck Track – Use parts you’ve got lying around your garage to set up a temporary monster truck track in your yard. From ramps and straightaways to curves and mud pools, you’ll also be giving your kids a glimpse into Newton’s Laws of Motion. Supplement your course with sidewalk chalk spectators for an added, creative, twist.
9. Speaking of Sidewalk Chalk – Even older kids can get into artistic expression with sidewalk chalk! Trace their bodies and have them color a crazy outfit. Create your house, street, or town. Go wild with a graffiti-like design. Trace the shadows of plants or trees projected on your driveway. With a little encouragement, sidewalk chalk can turn into hours of unplugged, creative play.
10. Make – and Fly – a Kite – Take advantage of the gusty fall weather to make and fly your own kite! It’s easy and all it takes is a piece of printer paper, a bamboo skewer (or a pencil!), and some string. Plus, you’ll be providing a crystal clear demonstration of the concept of lift.


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!