Go Outside and Play!

Go Outside and Play

A brief history of some of our favorite outdoor playthings.

Whether due to inclement winter weather or endless hours of electronics, we’ve all spent more than enough time inside this year. But spring has sprung and it’s time to get outside and play! If you feel a little rusty, don’t worry – the play experts at EI have put together a crash course on some of the classic outdoor playthings you may have forgotten about during your hibernation. From hula hoops to hopscotch, we present a brief history, along with some little-known facts, about your favorite outdoor playthings. Did your fave make our list?


Riding Bikes – Bikes have been around since the early 1800’s. Invented by the Germans and named by the French, the first bicycle had no pedals – riders sat on a seat and pushed the bike along with their feet. Necessity was the mother of this invention, as many horses, a common mode of transportation before the bike, were dying of starvation due wide-spread crop failure.


Skateboarding – Turns out Marty McFly wasn’t far off! The skateboard actually owes its popularity to surfing – skating on a board with roller skates underneath was a way to “surf the sidewalk” when there were no waves. The first skateboards were made and sold in L.A. by a surf shop owner who ordered skate wheels and attached them to wooden boards.


Pogo Stick – The first batch of wooden pogos to hit U.S. soil rotted on the ship ride over, so Gimbles Department Store asked a local toy designer to create a more durable jumping stick. Popularity of his version sky rocked after being featured in the Ziegfeld Follies and today’s Xpogo athletes reach heights of 10 feet and perform incredible stunts at professional pogo events like Pogopalooza.


Hula Hoop – Although modern-day toy manufacturer Wham-O is credited with launching the hula hoop in the U.S., its history goes a bit further back. To ancient Greece, actually. There’s evidence that the Greeks used hula hoops to work their abs. We’re not that surprised. They did bring us the Olympics…


Hopscotch (and it’s very best buddy, Sidewalk Chalk) – Speaking of ancient civilizations, it is thought that we can thank the Romans for hopscotch! This classic game of tossing and hopping was first recorded as “Scotch Hoppers” and is still played by children around the world (Cuban kids know the game as Pon). The first hopscotch squares were etched out using tiles, coal, or chalk, all of which became scarce during WWII. Now street painters use colored chalk and even 3-D glasses to bring amazing works of art to life.

The fact that some of our favorite playthings have been around for several centuries isn’t that surprising. After all, people have been playing outside since the dawn of time, so we’ve had plenty of time to perfect it! You can find additional outdoor play ideas on our Pinterest board. What’s your family’s favorite way to play?

Little Free Library Book


When I retired from my job as Director of Product Development for Educational Insights one of my first goals was to open a library. On October 9, 2016 I did just that, hosting a grand opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, book-themed crafts, games, and food for my neighbors. Dozens of them turned out to bring and exchange books.

The library, a bright blue structure built by my husband from recycled wood, features a roof shingled with discarded CDs and vintage campaign buttons. Stacks of books are stenciled on the library’s sides. Located in my front yard in Manhattan Beach, California, it is a branch of the Little Free Library, an organization that promotes miniature residential libraries in communities world-wide based on the principle “take a book, return a book.” The library has something for everyone, from picture books to popular fiction, even some cookbooks.

I keep my library stocked with contributions from the friends and neighbors and by attending local library book sales where books withdrawn from circulation are offered to the public at bargain prices. Most recently, I picked up a grocery bag filled with hardcover children’s books for five dollars! The sales are a great resource for quality books for my Little Free Library and benefit the public libraries financially as well as make room for their newer titles. Occasionally, I post a notice on our local “free cycle” group and find a bag of books on my front steps.

I love being a library steward and seeing what my neighbors choose and leave in return. Popular adult fiction gets picked up the most. Children’s books about dinosaurs are also very popular. Two gorgeous, coffee-table photo books about Alaska have been the most interesting contribution so far.

I’m always in “steward mode.” I keep a box of books in my car trunk ready to “book bomb” the occasional library I come across in another community, and I research the location of free libraries on the organization’s website map when my husband and I take day trips. Other people have done such inventive things, from café-like touches including benches and tables to mascots like stuffed animals.

Another benefit of being a steward – if someone leaves a book in the library that looks interesting, I get to borrow it first!

Marcia Gresko is the former Director of Product Development for Educational Insights where she worked for 18 years. She is a published children’s book author and a former teacher. In addition to being a Little Free Library steward, she volunteers with a creative writing program in Los Angeles and at the museum of a local municipality. She is training to become a docent at a historical home in Los Angeles.

International Book Giving Day — Share your love of books!

Organized and supported by groups of book enthusiasts, including bloggers, authors, illustrators, teachers, and librarians, February 14th  is International Book Giving Day. The celebration, started in 2012, aims to increase children’s access to and enthusiasm for books. Coinciding with Valentine’s day, a day dedicated to LOVE, why not share your love of books:

  • GIFT a book to your child and/or encourage your child to gift a book to a friend. Below are some simple, inexpensive ways to make handmade books.
  • LEAVE a book in a waiting room (at the doctor, dentist, train or bus station) for someone else.
  • DONATE a gently used book to a library, school, hospital, or shelter.





  • A long piece of paper (or several sheets of paper glued or taped together) approximately 8” x 24” (Craft paper or paper cut from a grocery bag gives a fun antique look to your scroll.)
  • 2 Dowels, chopsticks, or paper towel roll tubes
  • Tape or glue
  • Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
  • ribbon or string

Make It

Tape or glue the dowels to the ends of the paper. Make sure the paper is centered on the dowels. Roll the paper around them so that it is covering the dowels completely and tape or glue again. Lay the scroll on a flat surface to work. Have your child create an original story or dictate a story they already know. Leave room for illustrations. Depending on the length of the scroll, your child may need several days to fill it. When it is done, roll the scroll in to the center from both sides. Lightly tie a piece or ribbon or string around the scroll to secure it.




  • 3 (or more) pieces of copier or construction paper
  • 2 pieces of yarn, ribbon, or string
  • hole punch
  • markers, crayons, or colored pencils

Make It

  1. Stack the pieces of paper together so that each consecutive piece is about 1” higher than the sheet behind it creating “steps.”
  2. Holding the papers together, fold the top down and align the edges so that all but the top step or cover are even. Crease along the fold.
  3. Punch a hole on each end of the top fold, thread the yarn through the holes, and tie a double knot.
  4. Have your child hold the step book either vertically or horizontally, then write and illustrate the story.

Step books make fun counting books, how-to books, all-about-me books, and more.




  • A long, narrow piece of paper (or several sheets taped together) about 6” x 30”
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • 2 Pieces of cardboard
  • 2 Rubber bands, ribbon, or string

Make It

  1. Use the ruler to measure and mark 5”-6” intervals along the top and bottom of the paper. Draw a line between each pair of markings to create a fold line.
  2. Starting at one end of the paper, fold it along the first line. Use the back of the scissors to score the fold so that it is crisp and sharp.
  3. Fold the opposite way along the second fold line and score again. Continue this process, alternating the fold direction. When you reach the end, the paper will look like an accordion.
  4. Cut the cardboard pieces so that they are a little larger than the pages of the book. Glue the cardboard covers to the first and last pages.
  5. Encourage your child to use both sides of the book to write and illustrate a story.
  6. Have your child decorate the covers with markers, crayons, photographs, stickers, or pictures cut from magazines then add the title and name of the author.
  7. Secure the book with the rubber bands, ribbon, or string.

The accordion style adds some pizazz to alphabet books, counting books, books with a sequence of steps or events, and more. You can even make your accordion book in a fun shape! Because they stand up easily, they make great books for displays too.




  • 3 (or more) lunch-size paper bags
  • construction paper or card stock
  • glue
  • stapler
  • scissors
  • ribbon
  • markers, crayons, colored pencils

Make It

  1. Stack the paper bags on top of each other with the openings at the same end. Fold the stack in half and staple along the fold to secure. This will create a book with three “secret pockets.” (if you want alternate pages to have pockets, stack the bags with the ends in alternating directions.)
  2. Cover the staples with decorative tape or paper.
  3. Cut the card stock into rectangles approximately 3.5” x 4” to fit inside the pockets.
  4. Glue or staple a loop of ribbon to the narrow end of the rectangles, creating a pull tab.
  5. Have your child write and illustrate a story, including the pages hidden in the pockets.

Pocket books are great for question-and-answer style books like riddles, surprise-type books with notes or hints about the ending, and even gift books with little treasures such as a small sheet of stickers or gel clings – perfect for a birthday!


What to write about:

Original stories are great, but so is having young children retell a story in their own words, building an understanding of story structure. Retell:

  • Fairy tales
  • Mother Goose rhymes
  • Poems
  • Songs

For short pieces, like rhymes and poems, you can dedicate a page to each or fill a whole book with a single favorite, dedicating one or two lines per page.

How to Illustrate Your Books

Original artwork can be hand drawn with markers, crayons, and colored pencils or created in simple ways your child can learn. Try:

  • Collage with small magazine pictures
  • Rubber stamps
  • Potato prints
  • Thumbprints
  • Cut or torn paper shapes
  • Stencils
  • Stickers

NO MATTER HOW YOU CELEBRATE INTERNATIONAL BOOK GIVING DAY, SHARING YOUR LOVE OF BOOKS IS A GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING! And if your child enjoyed the book-making crafts, continue winning book + craft combination with Once Upon A Craft, the Educational Insights series of book and craft products that pairs favorite folk and fairy tales with mess-free, hands-on craft experiences based on the stories from making a mosaic to creating a crown and more.

Once Upon a Craft

Celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day with our Sneaky Snacky Word Search and Coloring Page

Ever since the creation of our award-winning Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game®, the folks here at Educational Insights have been a little nutty over squirrels. Can you blame us? Squirrels are cool, crafty, and super cute – and while we appreciate squirrels every day, Squirrel Appreciation Day is a big deal around here. To celebrate, we’ve crafted a super cool squirrel themed word search just for you. There are 12 sneaky snacky hidden words, can you find them all?

Happy hunting, Squirrel-Friends!

[ Click here to download Sneaky Snacky Word Search in PDF format ]

This adorable coloring page, inspired by The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game™, is a festive fall treat for all ages. Download, grab some crayons, and enjoy!

Sneaky Snacky Coloring Page

[ Click here to download Sneaky Snacky coloring page in PDF format ]


January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day!


Nuts, you say?

Seriously, according to the National Wildlife Federation, Squirrel Appreciation Day was founded by Christy Hargrove, a North Carolina wildlife rehabilitator, in 2001. It is observed annually on January, 21st.

Here are some fun facts about these clever creatures:

  1. More than 200 different species (kinds) of squirrels live around the world.
  2. From nose to tail, the tiny African pygmy squirrel is 5 inches long – about the size of a post card. The 3-foot long Indian giant squirrel is the size of a 3-year-old child!
  3. Talk about tiny, a newborn squirrel is about an inch long – the size of a paperclip. It’s also born blind and fur-less.
  4. Squirrels have 4 front teeth that never stop growing! Constant gnawing on hard-shelled nuts and acorns is tough on teeth.
  5. Squirrels are omnivores. That’s a fancy word meaning they eat plants and animals, from nuts and seeds to bugs and baby birds.
  6. Squirrels are tricky! They will dig a hole and pretend to bury food to prevent other squirrels and birds from finding their real stash.
  7. If a squirrel flicks its tail at you, it means “go away!” A squirrel uses its tail to communicate. Its tail also helps a squirrel balance on trees and telephone poles and makes a furry blanket in winter.
  8. In addition to being “tail talkers,” squirrels also chatter to each other with clicks and clucks and warn each other of danger with a whistling call.
  9. A better name for flying squirrels would be gliding Flaps of skin connecting their arms and legs to their bodies make a wing-like surface that helps them to coast through the air from tree to tree.
  10. Ground squirrels “kiss” when they see each other. Touching their noses together in greeting.

As charming as they may seem, squirrels do not make good pets, and it’s never a good idea to get too close to a wild animal.

Preschoolers can get an up-close and SAFE look at squirrels with our GeoSafari® Jr. Kidnoculars.

Older kiddos will love viewing squirrel antics through our GeoSafari® Compass Binoculars or Nancy B’s Science Club® Binoculars and Wildlife Activity Journal.

Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!