10 Ways to Encourage Curiousity!

Did you know that our brains are actually wired to release feel-good chemicals when we learn new things? Yep, we’re actually physiologically programmed to be rewarded for our curiosity. Obviously, curiosity is a critical piece of learning—it’s much easier to understand something you’re interested in, and research* indicates that being curious leads to a more positive academic experience and better results, both at school and at work. But the benefits of curiosity don’t end there! According to one study**, people who are curious exhibit more positive emotions, less anxiety, and are generally happier and more satisfied than their non-curious counterparts. Curiosity is also linked to stronger relationships and empathy. All good, right?

So how can we encourage curiosity in children, at home and in the classroom? After all, we can only answer “why” so many times. Read on for 10 tips to encouraging curiosity (and take heart, none of them have to do with why the sky is blue!):

  1. Ask open ended questions. “How was school?” “Fine.” We’ve all been down that frustrating path. But asking open ended questions like “What was that like?” when a child first jumps off of a diving board, or “How do you feel about…?” after reading a sad non-fiction passage in class leaves room for kids to formulate their own thoughts and perhaps even come up with more questions. Oh, and by the way, we also need to…
  1. Teach kids how to ask questions. Formulating and articulating a confusing thought that needs answering is a skill unto itself.  Teachers and parents can aid kids’ natural curiosity by helping them learn how to assemble a question. Repeating what you think a child is asking in detailed question form helps reinforce this critical skill. But then we need to…


  1. Make time for questions! Parents are busy and teacher’s days are jam-packed with mandated lessons and super-tight schedules. But making time for thoughtful discussions now and then provides an opportunity for kids to express their opinions, understand other perspectives, ask questions, and identify the need for more information in order to answer them—all cornerstones of curiosity. Teachers know that some of the best learning happens when their lessons get derailed by a particularly passionate discussion.
  1. Work in groups. Group work in the classroom is a wonderful way to encourage curiosity. Provide enough context for kids to understand a topic, then assign each group a position and listen as they work through the ideas and challenges together, asking questions and formulating hypotheses.
  1. Be a mirror. Before responding, deflect your child or student’s question back to her. “Why do YOU think porcupines have quills?” What do YOU think we could do to solve this problem?” These questions not only reinforce how to ask a question, but also encourage the child to get curious and prove that her opinion is valued.
  1. Wonder aloud. To our students and children, we are adults who know everything. Curiosity, by nature, is wondering about things we don’t Show kids that YOU are curious, too, by sharing some of your own pursuits. “I’ve been reading about the pioneer days… I wondered what they ate during the winter when they couldn’t hunt.”


  1. Follow their lead. Whenever possible, help kids pursue their own interests. If your class can’t stop talking about the ant infestation in the cafeteria, move your bug lesson up a month and dive in! Daughter doodling rainbows (with her Rainbow Prancer™ Markers) all the time? Research the weather conditions that cause the phenomenon online or hit the library for a book on rainbows.
  1. Encourage open-ended thinking. So many of kids’ daily experiences are completely directed. From classroom learning to video games, kids are told what to do almost all the time. Providing open-ended play props like blocks, dolls, and puppets like our Puppet-on-a-Stick™ are a great way to encourage curiosity. Let the kids loose and watch them wonder what to do!
  1. Stock the toolbox.Some tools are designed specifically for the curious. Providing kid-safe magnifying glasses, microscopes, telescopes, binoculars, chemistry kits, and other discovery tools gives kids the supplies they need to begin to discover and understand their worlds. Our GeoSafari® and Nancy B’s Science Club® lines feature the perfect props to satisfy kids’ natural scientific curiosity.
  1. Forget the mess. Speaking of satisfying one’s curiosity, that can sometimes be messy! Understanding why it’s hard to contain a handful of sand requires, yes, sand. Seeing what happens when you add water to a pile of dirt is downright filthy! Instead of discouraging messy exploration, contain it in a classroom center or backyard area and let kids go to town.


A Breath of Fresh Air: December’s Change It Up! Contribution


Change it Up - December

Imagine feeling short of breath, even when you were resting. That breathless feeling, along with a dry cough, aching muscles and fatigue, are just some of the symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis. The term Fibrosis means scarring and Pulmonary Fibrosis (PF) indicates scarring in the lungs. In the case of people suffering from PF, scar tissue builds up in the walls of the air sacs of the lungs, restricting the oxygenation of their blood and making it difficult to breathe, walk, or exercise.

Although there is no known cure, there is hope for those suffering from PF via The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. The Foundation is the leading source of information on PF and aims to increase pulmonary fibrosis awareness, provide enhanced patient support, and increase research funding. Their signature programs include the PFF Care Center Network, PFF Patient Registry, PFF Patient Communication Center,and the PFF Ambassador Program, the PFF Summit, disease education materials, and an international network of support groups and online communities.

EI Production Artist Ramon Padilla has been personally affected by this difficult disease. His mother-in-law suffered and ultimately succumbed to PF in 2010, and he selected The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation as the recipient of the EI team’s charitable donation for the month of December in her memory. We’re proud to support Ramon’s choice and hope you’ll join us in contributing to The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation.

For more information on The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation or to make your own charitable contribution, visit: www.pulmonaryfibrosis.org

Little Miss Manners: Teaching the Fine Art of Thank You

“Please” and “thank you” were probably among your child’s very first words and they’re definitely three of the most important words in the English language. “Thank you” comes into play big time during the holidays, with so many gifts and kindnesses to acknowledge. Whether for a delicious, home-cooked meal or a brand new bike, saying “thank you” goes a long way, especially during the holidays. Read on for some simple ways to teach your kids the etiquette of expressing thanks.

Opening Gift

Verbal Thanks

Gratitude comes naturally for most kids when they receive something they genuinely appreciate, but you may need to remind them that it’s the thought that counts before they dive into the stack of gifts under the tree. Have a quick conversation about how wonderful it is for someone to have thought about your child, making a special trip to shop for something they think your child might like, and spending their hard-earned money to purchase that gift, even if it’s not exactly what your child would have chosen. Whether it’s your kiddo’s cup of tea or not, the thought is truly what matters. If they seem to understand, you can also remind your child that many gifts can be exchanged if need be. Teach—and practice!—the three steps below before gift time:

  1. Look at the tag and say the name of the gift giver out loud: “Oh, this is for me, from Grandma Irene!” If there’s a card included, open and read the card before opening the gift.
  1. Open the gift and hold it up for all to see.
  1. If the gift giver is in the room, look her in the eye and say a sincere thank you—or, better yet, get up and give her a hug.

Are the abstract conversations getting you nowhere? Try a heart-tugging video!

In this vid, a kindly kid has mastered the art of gratitude, hugging and thanking his parents for the cutting board they pranked him with before giving him the birthday gift he really wanted. You don’t have to speak Spanish to understand the sincere gratitude he feels for the gift—any gift!

YouTube / baizer zac – via Iframely


Written Thanks

Thank you notes are an excellent practice and are expected by many older family members. Getting your child into the habit of sending a written thank you, within a week of receiving a gift, will instill a life-long habit that will serve them well (think future job interviews). Plus, research shows that an attitude of gratitude has countless mental and physical benefits, so it’s good for everyone! Thank you notes are a must, and you can make thank you notes a little easier anda lot more fun with these simple steps:

  1. Gather your supplies ahead of time. Paper, pens (a playful pen like our Puppet-on-a-Pen™ can make writing anything more fun!), crayons, markers, and stickers can make thank you notes feel more like an art project.
  1. Be sincere. If your child didn’t love the gift, he doesn’t need to say he did. Help him find another aspect to praise—how thoughtful the gift giver was to think of him, how much he enjoyed unwrapping the gift, how much time it must have taken to make the gift (in the case of a hand-made present).
  1. Add some color. Whether your child is writing her own thank you note, or you’re transcribing a younger child’s words, custom artwork adds a bit of flair to any note. A hand-drawn picture of your child using the gift, or of your family gathered around the menorah or Christmas tree, adds a special touch to any thank you.

Traveling with Kids This Holiday? 13 Thrilling Ideas to Help You Keep Your “Bon Voyage” a “Calm Voyage”

Travel Tips

Whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile this holiday, transporting kids anywhere can be tricky. In addition to bringing along new books, movies, and apps, we’ve got you covered with 13 fabulous traveling activities for kids en route. Consider packing some of the following in your carry on:

  1. New coloring book and crayons—With so many coloring books for older kids (and adults!), it’s easy to find the perfect book for every kid—just be sure to give each child their own set of crayons to avoid arguments. A pencil box is great for storing supplies on the road.
  1. Playfoam®Keep the creativity rolling with no-mess Playfoam! This squishy, squashy substance is perfect for sculpting on the go! It never dries out so the fun never ends, andpsst: it won’t stick to the car seat or airplane carpet!


  1. Fill in the Blank Stories—Found at your local book and toy stores (or you can even make your own, custom versions tying in to your trip!), fill in the blank stories are good for some serious giggles. You ask your child for a series of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, then insert them on the blanks and read their slapstick story aloud. These are fun for ALL ages (and educational, too. Shhh…).
  1. Card games—Think small and light, like The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel™ Card Game for little ones or Rhyme Out™ for whole-family fun.

Sneaky Snacky Card GameRhyme Out

  1. Puppets—From DIY finger puppets to our Puppet-on-a-Stick™ Monsters, Dinosaurs, or Rainbow Prancers™, puppets are the perfect prop for travel play. Act out some of the things you’ll be doing at Grandma’s or Santa’s trip down the chimney.

Dino Puppets

  1. Family photo album—Bring along some pix of the relatives you’ll be seeing on your travels and share your favorite stories about each one.
  1. Art supplies—Pack a bag of supplies including pipe cleaners, beads, blank notebooks, cut-out collage images, glue sticks, and markers and watch the creativity soar.
  1. Stickers—Sheets of themed stickers are perfect for storytelling! Encourage your child to place a few, then draw the rest of her story.
  1. Origami—Older kids love origami. Pack a how-to book and some paper for some fabulous folding fun.
  1. Small puzzle—Too many pieces and some will get lost, but little kids love assembling small puzzles on the plane, over and over again. You can even purchase a puzzle mat to help contain the pieces and roll partially-finished puzzles up for later.
  1. New journal—Who doesn’t love a new journal? Younger kids can draw pictures of their travels while older kids can keep track of their trip, feelings, and inner most thoughts.
  1. Cereal Jewelry—You’ll need snacks…why not make them wearable? Bring some floss and your favorite “O” shaped cereal, and teach your kids to string their O’s before they eat them!
  1. Quiet toys—Speaking of string, stitch some fun into your ride with quiet, independent toys like our String Along Lacing Kit.String Along Lacing Kit

What’s your best travel tip? Comment below to let us know and don’t forget to share this post with any friends who are traveling with little ones this season.

Picture This! Meet the Design Minds Behind Our Newest Hot Dots Storybooks!

Bringing Famous Fables to Life

Hi there! It’s Jessie, one of the EI designers, here to share another behind the scenes peek at how one of my favorite EI products came together, just in time for the holidays!

I love working on our Hot Dots® Jr. Storybook sets—in fact, I’ve collaborated on three sets now. Each storybook requires a strong team of contributors, including a writer, an editor, a graphic designer/art director (that’s me!), and an illustrator.

It’s the designer’s job to find and direct the perfect illustrator to make each story come to life. I love this part because I get the chance to review the work of some of the best artists around the world! I look at artist’s agency websites, illustrator books like Workbook and Directory of Illustration, and the stash of artists I earmark throughout the year because I loved their work.

Illustration Books

After lots of looking, I decided to use Alistar, an Italian artist who had illustrated several other Hot Dots Jr. books, to illustrate The Tortoise and the Hare. I love working with Alistar because she’s so creative! In working with Alistar, I also learned a lot about her hometown of Pesaro, Italy. When I found out she’s an Airbnb host, I vowed to visit one day!

Tortoise and Hare

I chose another veteran EI illustrator to work on the The Ant and the Grasshopper. New Yorker Julissa Mora also worked on Magic Moves® Jammin’ Gym and RainbowJam™ illustrations, and I knew she was the right choice for this book when she began posting a series of ant sketches on her Instagram feed! I just love the way she depicted the ant as a tea-drinking, flower-wearing girl who enjoys her cozy fireplace and organized pantry.

Ant and Grasshopper


When I saw Argentinean artist Monica Gutierrez’s work, I knew she was the perfect artist to illustrate The Lion and the Mouse. Her animals are extremely emotional and her nature scenes include such interesting textures and bright colors. Her portrayal of the animals of the African Sahara really brought the story to life!

Lion and Mouse

Filipino artist Jomike Tejido had an incredibly impressive resume—he’s an architect, toy designer, fine artist, AND a children’s book author and illustrator. Now he can add fashion designer to his long list of accomplishments. We had so much fun collaborating on the mice’s outfits for The City Mouse and the Country Mouse!

City Mouse


The relationship between the art director and the illustrator is highly collaborative. I leave the parameters fairly open at the beginning,simply providing the manuscript and a template indicating where non-illustrated elements will go, like the Hot Dots activity questions and answers. Once I receive the artists’ initial sketches, I review them and share them with the product team. Then I note our combined comments in a single scan and send it back to the artist, so he or she has super clear direction.

Once the sketches are approved, the next step is “color roughs”, where we see all of the components of a layout and the artist’s color intentions. I once again share with the team and make comments so the artists can make final tweaks and send back high-resolution, print-ready files.


Once all of the Hot Dots Jr. Famous Fables illustrations were complete, I personally designed the book covers and package,and reviewed and approved the factory press-proofs to make sure everything looked perfect and all of the Hot Dots activities worked correctly.

Famouse Fables

There it is! That’s how our Hot Dots Jr. Famous Fables came to life. I sincerely loved working with each of the four artists and hope that children and parents everywhere enjoy these beautifully illustrated books!