Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Play Games?

HOW MANY OF YOU have memories of playing games when you were younger?

Tag? Kick The Can, Four-Square? Monopoly? Candy Land? Hide And Seek?

How do you feel when you think about playing those games? Do you remember the people you played with? Do those memo¬ries bring smiles or tears? Do you have that same intensity of emotion and recall about the books or homework you did in say 3rd Grade?

Today I want to briefly address why playing GAMES is important, whether they be physical games, board games or unstructured and even role-playing games.

An incredible amount happens at the same time when children are playing. They learn to reason, negotiate and problem solve. They develop large and small motor skills. They broaden their language skills and vocabulary. They learn to take risks and develop confidence and competence.

Do you think children today have shorter attention spans than in the past? Can you agree that this is NOT a good thing in a learning environment? Do you feel it is our mission to find toys that lengthen the attention span, not cater to its brevity? Children who are over exposed to electronically-activated toys, television, video and computer games, and dolls that wet themselves probably will have shorter attention spans and less imagination than children whose time with these activities is limited.

Increased attention span is one important benefit of playing games so what are other reasons to invest time in playing games? By playing games, children can learn to: take turns, pay attention to others, be considerate, follow the rules, predict outcomes, determine consequences, think critically, get along socially with others and use their imaginations. Do you think these skills would be useful to them for success in the classroom? How about in their personal and professional relationships?

Social Skills are one of the 4 CRITICAL AREAS OF LEARNING: People skills are probably the most highly sought skill today and are essential to satisfying adult relationships. Give your children a more successful present AND future by providing playthings and play experiences that encourage INTERACTION, CONVERSATION & NEGOTIATION. Board games are excellent in all 3 of these areas.

What is the #1 reason most people are fired from their jobs? It’s their inability to get along with others. Sometimes this is referred to as not being a “good fit” for the job.

What are the old sayings, “ A family that plays together, stays together.” “You don’t grow too old to play, you grow old because you stop playing.” I could go on but I think you know that these aphorisms have been around for a very long time.

Children love playing games. They love it even more when it means spending time with you. Playing games promotes personal interaction and helps create opportunities for open communication. While you play together, your child may start conversations they may not have felt comfortable with otherwise, and you might do the same. Plus, turn-based games introduce and encourage social skills and help children (and adults) learn to win and lose gracefully.

Game playing is not passive like watching TV. A regular game night gives your family a positive structure and an opportunity for connection and communication. Good communication during a child’s early years builds confidence, accelerates learning, and promotes a positive influence that extends through adolescence and beyond.

Use games, competitive or otherwise, in your family to help your children release tension in a safe, acceptable way. Play games together that allow opportunities for expressions of antagonism in a safe context. Play cooperative family games together. Almost any game can be played so that the goal is a collaborative one, be it a board game or a physical outdoor game.

Part of the mission of Discovery Toys is to help parents raise children as peacemakers. I also believe that our company chooses and designs toys that are non-violent, and intentionally create a cooperative game version for most of our games that encourage children to work for a common goal. In this very complex, rapidly changing world, the development of positive social behavior – the ability to deal with others effectively – may be the most important task for parents and for others who care for children. Part of the social competence we want for our children is that of sensitivity, personal concern and empathy for others in a world that in many ways, encourages the impersonal. A child’s ability to be a peacemaker include that sensitivity, that desire to understand and care about another person’s point-of-view, as well as the ability to deal creatively with conflict, make and keep friends and work cooperatively with others.

Games can also be used to teach math, reading, history, science, social studies, geography and almost any other subject you would like…but most of all, GAMES ARE FUN!! This brings us to the next three critical areas of learning—Mentally, Physically and Creatively.

Discovery Toys' skill labels help us understand how our products help develop children Mentally. Thinking, learning, knowing, recognizing, organizing, remembering, problem-solving, drawing references and the list goes on and on. The higher-level thinking a person can do will dramatically affect how many doors will open for him throughout life.

Games and activities with items to sort, classify, compare, contrast and match further children’s learning of simple math concepts and ready them to begin recognizing written numerals and letters. Game play, with turn-taking and use of simple logic skills (such as dominoes) are valuable for recognizing same and different characteristics. Board games and card games also become attractive as children become more comfortable with decision-making and the use of rules.

Games are a great way to learn and practice skills. A well-designed game introduces learning in an exciting, interactive way and is fun for both the child AND the parent. A well-designed game also provides several ways to play including a simple way to get started and alternative options to increase the challenge and fun.

PHYSICALLY: Physical activity is a healthy way that the family can spend time together. Hard exercise lowers kids’ bad cholesterol. Even moderately intense exercise in childhood may reduce the risk of developing heart disease in adulthood. With a firmer grasp on reality, play will no longer be an attempt to create the world in order to understand and learn about it as it does for the preschooler, but rather will take on more of the aspect of recreation and relaxation – as it does for adults.

The 4th CRITICAL AREA OF LEARNING is Creatively: This is not just about being artistic. Expressing one’s originality & imagination are major parts of it but it also includes the ability to problem solve. As our world gets more and more complex, this skill becomes even more important to encourage and develop in our children.

What kids really need is balance in their lives and that includes RELAXED DOWNTIME. It really helps them (and us) unplug from stress and allows them to imagine and dream those “what ifs”. If you can’t dream, you can’t be an effective leader. Anyone can handle the nuts and bolts of running a business. But you’ve got to be able to imagine a better future or way of doing something to find joy and success in what you do.

All these skills however pale in comparison to the real benefit of playing games so let me be very clear about this next statement which is: THE MENTAL HEALTH of our children is related to their ability to play.

So I encourage you to play games with your children – whether they are outdoor-indoor-board games-unstructured play – whatever!

by: Teri Potter, EL (Experienced Mom), from: DT Consultant Connection, Nov. 2009

Cara Retz
Educational Leader, Discovery Toys

Monday, November 23, 2009

Black Friday Sale

Get your Black Friday Shopping done from the comfort of your own home!

Call or email your orders for these offers.

Check out my website: http://www.playsmartstore.com/

Friday, November 27

12:01am - 5:00am
order $25 or more = Choice of Eco Tote or Choke Tube

5:01am - 12:00pm
order $100 or more* = Free Shipping and Crate to Organize you new Toys and Choice of Eco Tote or Choke Tube

12:01pm - 5:00pm
order $25 or more = Choice of Eco Tote or Choke Tube

5:01pm - 12:00pm
order $50 or more* = Crate to organize your new toys and Choice of Eco Tote or Choke Tube

All Day - Power of 3 Sale
Buy 3 Toys = 3% Discount
Buy 6 Toys = 6% Discount
Buy 9 Toy = 9% Discount

*Special DT Home Office Promotion: Place an order of $55 or more and get a Bundle of Learning Joy package at a special price.

If you live within a 10 mile radius, I will deliver your order.
Cara Retz

Educational Leader, Discovery Toys
(765) 461-7989

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Joys of Open-Ended Play

President: Marilynne Eichinger - Written by Kara Bowman, Educator

Consider this: The Children’s Discovery Center in San Jose, California had a problem. They had a 1,200 square foot open space for changing exhibits, which was empty for a month this fall between the departure of one show and the arrival of the next. A museum staffer had an idea: she taped up some discarded boxes and threw them in the exhibit area. After adding a few dozen more boxes, some crayons, masking tape and safety scissors, the museum found they had one of their most popular exhibits of all time: Box City. Given that the museum has had exhibits costing up to a million dollars in the same space, what makes Box City one of the most popular attractions in the museum?

Before we get to that question, consider this: The National Toy Hall of Fame inducts toys each year based on specific criteria including the toy's icon status, the longevity of its popularity, how the toy encourages learning or creativity, and innovation. Past winners have included Legos, the Barbie doll, crayons, Tonka trucks, the jigsaw puzzle, and other usual suspects. Based on their criteria, in 2008 the Hall of Fame’s judges inducted … The Stick. "It's very open-ended, all-natural, the perfect price -- there aren't any rules or instructions for its use," said Christopher Bensch, the museum's curator of collections. "It can be a Wild West horse, a medieval knight's sword, a boat on a stream or a slingshot with a rubber band. ... No snowman is complete without a couple of stick arms, and every campfire needs a stick for toasting marshmallows. This toy is so fantastic that it's not just for humans anymore. You can find otters, chimps and dogs playing with it."

The box? The stick? What is it with open-ended play that makes it so appealing that kids will put down the several hundred dollar video game system to play with a ball of silly putty? It could be that our children’s brains know what they need to develop optimally, just as their bodies know when they're hungry. Research has shown there are several advantages to a child's development if they engage in play that has no defined expectations or outcomes.

Open-ended play develops the imagination. Imagination is the ability to form a mental image of something that is not there. Starting around age two, children can understand the symbolic nature of one thing standing for another, such as a box for a boat and a towel for a sail. The abilities to think symbolically and abstractly are the basic building blocks of creativity and intelligence. Albert Einstein even said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge," and he's no slouch in either department!

Creative play also helps children develop their social and emotional abilities. Kids will try on adult roles and test out ways of acting and being. In this way, they can develop their 'what-if' abilities, which is one way to strengthen their understanding of consequences. Children solidify their learning by not just taking things in passively, such as with screen time, but by mimicking and recreating what they have seen. They can also express themselves emotionally under the guise of being a character and children who playact are known to develop their ability to empathize. Creative play has also been linked to increased cooperation, problem-solving skills, leadership skills and behavioral control, such as using words to express oneself and waiting one's turn. Hmm… Maybe we should have time-outs to play house in Congress. It couldn't hurt.

Spending a lot of time in creative play also helps build cognitive skills. According to a National Public Radio report, "While... play might look a lot like time spent doing nothing much at all, it actually helps build a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of elements, such as working memory and cognitive flexibility, but perhaps the most important is self-regulation - the ability for kids to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. Executive function - and its self-regulation element - is important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ." (Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control, February 28, 2008)

So how can we give our children this elixir of all good things? Unlike most parts of parenting, it's very simple: 1) provide a safe space, either in the house or outdoors, 2) provide open-ended materials that will help spark creativity, and 3) provide the gift of time. (Why Creative Play Matters, Zrinka Peters, education.com) Children who have ample opportunity for creative play will be comfortable with it and find occasion for it everywhere. For example, when my daughter was in kindergarten, I received a note from her teacher one day that said, "Would you please talk to your daughter about pretending to be a dog at lunch and eating her meal with her hands behind her back? It was okay for the first week, but now everyone is doing it and they’re not all as neat as she is."

You can provide materials that will spark the creative drive in your child. Toddlers love to mimic so you can provide them with toy household goods or dress-up clothes. Other items that can stimulate creativity are stuffed animals or other figures, and large building blocks. Preschoolers also enjoy creating whole small worlds, such as dollhouses, airports, or towns. They also enjoy dolls, dinosaurs and other representative playthings. Elementary aged children add to the repertoire with puppets, play-dough, adult-style dolls, and more sophisticated building blocks and construction materials. All children love age-appropriate art supplies such as specialty papers, pens, paints and scissors. To encourage creativity, just make sure there are lots of uses, rather than one correct outcome such as with a coloring book or painted figurine. (Structured play is fine at times, too, and can teach skills such as following rules and sequencing.) One caveat regarding encouraging creativity is to stay away from TV show and movie character costumes or props since playacting things seen on the screen is often an act of re-creation rather than creation. What you want is to inspire their own imaginations, like the kids who were given a bunch of rubber gloves in their preschool class. One said, "I'm a doctor." Another pronounced, "I'm a scientist." And a third one exclaimed, "I'm a mommy changing her hair color!"

Giant Pegboard
#1562 $18.50
From 19m-preschool

This has endless possibilities for learning disguised as play! Stack as high as you can! Use the pegs as bubble blowers! Great for learning colors and shapes! How about patterns and math? Turn it over and you have a geo board!

Playful Numbers & Shapes
#1098 $18.50
From 3y-primary school

Set of 52 numbers, math symbols and fun shapes. This great for learning colors, shapes, numbers and so much more! Trace them, do crayon rubbings, link them together and more! What will your child come up with?

Marbleworks Starter Set
#3875 $30
From 5y & up

Here’s the toy that is totally different each time you play! 46 colorful tubes, chutes & bases to connect together to create infinite raceway designs!

Want more ideas? Just ask me 765-461-7989 or playsmartstore@gmail.com or check out my website at http://www.playsmartstore.com/ the possibilities are endless!!!!!!

Cara Retz
Educational Leader, Discovery Toys

Friday, November 13, 2009

Product Spotlight - Labyrinth

#4872 $30.00

A family game where players move through a series of evolving, challenging mazes that are full of opportunities to think ahead, make decisions, and take action.  Players must plan and execute game strategies, develop observation skills, and predict outcomes.  With easier and more challenging rules, it's a perfect game for family night!
(K, V)   c d
Learning Pathways: 7y to adult
Strategic Thinking

Key Benefits:
Focus and following directions
Plan and execute game stratagies
Develop observation skills and predict outcomes
Generate critical thinking skills
Take turns and listen to others
Provide ideal entertainment for family game night!

To learn more or order this and other games, click here and then click "Shop Online".

Cara Retz
Educational Leader, Discovery Toys

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Can't find the hot new toy? Blame the economy.

Where's my hamster? With inventories thin, holiday shelves are already going empty

NEW YORK (AP) -- Robotic toy hamsters, the latest Barbie dolls and stylish boots are disappearing from store shelves as holiday shoppers start to get serious. But don't confuse this with the days of Tickle Me Elmo.

Instead of a throwback to great buying binges of the past, the empty shelves are just another sign of bad times. The shortages come from stores that are terrified of ordering too much and are keeping their inventories thin.

"I guess if you see it, you should get it," said Martha Frey, who was surprised when she couldn't find a specific style of boots in a popular size for her 17-year-old daughter recently at a Top Shop in Manhattan's SoHo district

Shoppers are spending a little more these days, but they aren't going on buying sprees. Stores, remembering how Americans snapped their wallets shut last holiday season, didn't order big piles of merchandise in the first place.

The result, with seven weeks to go before Christmas, is that popular toys are already hard to find.

In fact, the holiday season's early hit -- the Zhu Zhu Pets hamster is being compared to Furby a decade ago -- is almost impossible to nab.

"Stores just under ordered across the board," said Jim Silver, an analyst at Timetoplaymag.com, who predicted shortages of the top 100 toys by early December. In a typical year, only the top 15 are in short supply that early.

In recent weeks toy makers have dispatched executives to China to make sure they get enough products to keep shelves full, Silver said. But production times can be long, and chances look slim that people who put off buying a coveted toy until Thanksgiving will be able to get one by Christmas.

Shoppers are starting to notice.

Tami Megal, a 36-year-old mother of girls ages 5 and 9 from Melville, N.Y., had to go to Toys R Us five times before she got her hands on Zhu Zhu Pets a month ago. But she's having a hard time finding the accessories.

"It's no use to just get the hamsters. You need the habitat," she said. Megal noted that overall worry about shortages has made her start her holiday shopping early. She's almost finished.

The barren shelves are in stark contrast to last year, when stores ordered too much and had to slap big discounts on merchandise as soon as it hit the floor. Holiday sales posted their biggest decline in at least three decades, and the results cascaded into poor profits and even the closings of prominent stores like Circuit City.

This year, inventory is 8 to 13 percent smaller for mid-price clothing, and 10 to 15 percent smaller for home furnishings, said Antony Karabus, CEO of Karabus Management, a retail advisory firm.

Stores would rather be out of stock than stuck with lots of leftovers. But they also know that merchants who carry goods shoppers want will have an edge.

"No one wants to leave money on the table," said John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates. "No one wants to disappoint customers."

October sales results showed that lean inventories have helped raise profits for stores, but they're also limiting sales. And many reported slower sales toward month's end as they ran out of clearance merchandise.

Inventory is one of the biggest challenges stores face this holiday season, said Carl Steidtmann, an economist at Deloitte Research. Nevertheless, they're reordering only the best-selling items.

Even then, they may be out of luck. Manufacturers, particularly small ones, matched production to orders and don't have extras ready to ship.

Base Camp Adventure Outfitters in Basking Ridge, N.J., which sells outdoor clothing and gear, has sold out of a few styles of fleece jackets. The store can't get more until April.

"Folks are coming in, and we are trying to reorder," said Nick Marotta, a sales associate. "But there is nothing to get."

So, what can you do?

Get to a Discovery Toys Party quickly this holiday season!
With classic award-winning toys that never go out of style, now is the time for DT to take on Big Box stores and sore!!  Now is the time to attend, or better yet, host a Discovery Toys party! We provide the service, the toys, and the stress-free season people love.

Call me today to set a date. I still have a few available! (765) 461-7989

Cara Retz
Educational Leader, Discovery Toys

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Skill Focus: Visual Tracking

What It Is: Visual tracking is the ability to fixate on an object and follow the object as it continuously moves through a space. To acomplish this our eyes must follow the object with accuracy and have coordinated movements whether the object moves left to right, top to bottom, or in circles.

Why It’s Important: Visual Tracking is a visual behavior that is critical to reading success. The mechanics of reading demand that we be able to shift our eyes left to right from word to word as well as move our eyes from the top of the page to the bottom of the page.

Visual system development and maturation occurs after birth and is largely complete by 5 years of age. The visual experiences infants and children encounter after birth are essential to develop normal vision. This is an important concept for parents to understand. We are not just supporting development or skill building here. We are responsible for giving infants the optimal experiences necessary to develop normal vision at the appropriate stages in their development.

At birth infants can track an object in a 180 degree arc horizontally with their eyes, but they must move their heads to accomplish this. As infants approach 1 month of age, they develop the ability to track objects horizontally, without moving their heads however, their eyes are not able to move beyond their nose. They will develop the ability to track an object beyond the nose (in a 180 degree arc) without moving the head when they are closer to 6 months of age. At 2 to 3 months of age an infant develops the ability to track objects vertically and in circular motion.

Toys That Develop The Skill:

GO-GO CATEPILLAR: Great for horizontal tracking watch her go from left to right or right to left, quickly or slowly. (Item# 1341 $15.00)

Click here and then click Shop Online to see this and all of our products.

CASTLE MARBLEWORKS: Combines horizontal and vertical tracking. The balls travel from left to right, top to bottom, right to left, top to bottom until the balls exit the door at the bottom of the castle. (Item# 1756 $38.50)

Click here and then click Shop Online to see this and all of our products.

GIANT PEGBOARD: is the ultimate tracking toy. Building tall stacks in predictable patterns such as blue/yellow/blue/yellow provides practice with top/bottom visual tracking. After placing pegs randomly on the board, start at the upper left hand corner, point to the individual pegs (left to right). You and your child can “read the board” as if you were reading a book. For example, star, triangle, square, square, circle at the end of the first horizontal row of pegs, drop down to the second horizontal row of pegs and begin with the peg that is furthest to the left, continue until you and your “reading partner” have completed all five horizontal rows of pegs. This activity combines left to right tracking with top to bottom tracking. (Item#1562 $18.50)

Click here and then click Shop Online to see this and all of our products.

To see these and all of our toys go to PlaySmartStore.com!

Cara Retz
Educational Leader, Discovery Toys

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You Are Invited...

to a One Stop Christmas Shopping Party!

Get your Christmas shopping done in an afternoon of fun!

November 21st from 11am-6pm
At First Friends Meeting Place, 1801 Zartman Rd., Kokomo, IN
The following representatives will be on hand to sell and take orders.

Cara Retz from

Aubri Colescott from

Leia Beedham from

Joni Laughlin from

Robyn Whaley from

Denise Savage from

Pam McCrumb from

Amy Sefton from

And Others!

Good Food, Fun Games, and Big Prizes!
Bring a friend!

Cara Retz
Educational Leader, Discovery Toys

Monday, November 9, 2009

November Bloggie Give-A-Way

Winner's Choice November Bloggie Give-A-Way!

The winner of this month's give-a-way can pick either Ahoy, Pirate Pete or Once Upon a Time!

Ahoy, Pirate Pete #2277 playsmartstore.com
Nothing can rattle Pirate Pete in this entertaining, changeable sea tale. Read aloud story comes complete with press-out pieces that fit into the pages so your young pirate can make up the action as you go along. Early reading and vocabulary skills get a boost with the storytelling. Book measures 9 3/8" x 8 3/8."
from 4 years and up (K, V)

Once Upon A Time #2054 playsmartstore.com
A fairy tale your child can create and re-create over and over. Your child chooses from 36 interactive, changeable, story elements resulting in a different and imaginative adventure every time. Story crafting and retelling also builds vocabulary and early reading skills. 9 3/8" x 8 3/8" book.
from 4 years and up (K, V)

These books are fun for both boys and girls to make up their own story.  They can change it each time they read the story.  Have fun reading to your child!  Check them out at playsmartstore.com!

Ways to Enter:
-If you follow my blog, leave a comment that you are! (1 entry)
-Follow my blog and leave a comment that you are a new follower. (1 entry)
-Post my give-a-way on Facebook, Twitter, etc and leave a comment with the link. (1 entry each)
-Post on your blog about my give-a-way and lave a comment with your link. (1 entry)
-Subscribe to my montly newsletter and leave a comment that you did. (1 entry)

*You have until November 23rd to enter. Winner will be drawn on November 24th.

Cara Retz
Educational Leader, Discovery Toys

Friday, November 6, 2009

Why Do Babies Like the Box Better than the Toy?

Have you given your child a gift and find they'd rather play with the wrapper and box? Sometimes the toy is cute and interesting to the adult, but developmentally, the child is more interested in the endless opportunities the box and wrapper offers them. They like to explore the paper by crunching it, throwing it, smoothing it out again, tearing it, crunching it again to make noise, etc. The box can become something to thow the paper in, to turn over and beat on, to put other toys in, and if large enough, to climb in!

Give a child an old pan and a wooden spoon (to save your ears) and see how many things they do with them. Stir some imaginary soup, band an imaginary drum, use it as a hat, and who knows what creative things they can do with it.

Too often, thoys are only one dimensional in terms of their use.  That is why Discovery Toys are great. Each toy is designed to be used in many different ways in many different stages of development.

If your child is four to six months old, they love to look (My Baby's World), graps (Baby Grooves), and bring objects to their mouths (Super Yummy), so be sure whatever you give them is safe to do that. As they get older they learn to move the object from one hand to another, turn the object over (Rainfall Rattle), poke and scratch at the object (Jangles), or give the object to someone else. They learn to hide the object under a blanket or towel.

As the child approaches two years of age, they will begin to "pretend" one object is something else - a block will become a phone or a car, a box will become a hat or a purse. Your child will also begin to solve problems with toys such as putting a cube into a hole (Caterpillar Shape Sorter), or stack cups (Measure Up Cups), or work simple puzzles (Progressive Puzzles).

Sometimes the least expensive objects are the best objects for a child because they can explore and use them in so many ways. A musical elephant will basically always be a musical elephant to a child who can only look and listen, but not be imaginative with it.

Check out all our toys at http://www.playsmartstore.com/ and see what pretend, imaginative play you child can have!

Cara Retz
Educational Leader