Raising a Thinker

Contributed by Audrey Matalon-Rogers www.GiveMeMilk.com www.ZenMotherhood.com

All I want is to raise children who think. “Thinking” defined by Websters is to have an intention; to have an opinion; to exercise the powers of judgment, conception, or inference.

I believe that cultivating ‘thinking’ starts young, very young and requires time spent learning and exercising the mind in conscious, intentional ways. I’ve heard lectures on early childhood education. The main theory is that unstructured play develops thinking and creativity. Children naturally engage in play when unobstructed, so I wondered what could enhance children’s natural inclination to play and learn, and think.

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As I walked into 2012 Time To Play Holiday Showcase looking for what toys are on the horizon, my experience would be framed in…Which will help my kids develop their thinking and emotions? Are there any toy brands conspiring with me to raise thinkers?

If your desire for thinkers is similar to mine then please take a look at the special toy finds from this year’s Time To Play event…

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It’s easy to tell an Eric Carle item. The incredible artist and children’s storybook writer has an admirable understanding and appreciation for the minds of children evident in his toy and book product line. Colors so vibrant and saturated are an instant draw for children, almost like looking at luminous colors in a bed of flowers. His characters, animals and bugs have perfect imperfections; quirky, boxy, rigid edges. It gives an illusion as if he cut shapes and textures from various materials and pasted them together. I’m glad my children will be exposed to Eric Carle’s art because I want them to have appreciation for the natural, not things that have been worked over…10+ times!
Enhancing what naturally exists in children, I was happy to see he’s branched out into the tactile realm of toys and play. There’s the Days of the Week Playmat for children and the activity bar for babies which attaches to a car seat or play pen and helps to widen the baby’s awareness for details, since it has so many. It’s a beautiful, soft version of his hungry caterpillar.
To note his persevering influence, I found The Grouchy Ladybug in a second hand children’s store in Phoenix AZ, The Very Hungry Caterpillar in a box of random books a friend game me and as part of Kohls’Cares, which donates profits to children in need, I found Eric Carle books and toys near the checkout at Kohls.

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The creators of http://www.JibJab.com are dads definitely on course for making learning lively and enjoyable. They are now the creators of StoryBots www.StoryBots.com , animated tools for learning through play. (Please read my post about StoryBots for a more detailed profile.)

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vtech always operates on the forefront of what’s next in technology and how they can bring it to children. Children’s tablets are expected to be a big hit this holiday season. You can see vtech‘s InnoTab tablet in the picture above. Leap Frog also has a tablet, LeapPad but vtech’s rep assured me in comparison it’s InnoTab is superior and point for point a better buy. Vtech’s InnoTab is $80 and LeapPad $100. LeapPad has a set 2 GB while Vtech expands to 16 GB. While they have the same size screen, the InnoTab is a bigger frame, which I like as a shock absorber. I find vtech very durable in design. Just this morning my 2 year old, Azzie, was throwing the vtech Move & Crawl Activity Ball repeatedly on the floor. It’s still working!
The vtech also has the Alphabet Activity Cube which is an electronic version of the standard activity cube, but with removable pieces. While I have not personally tested the InnoTab (or the LeapPad, or the Alphabet Activity Cube), I do trust vtech to produce educational and stimulating toys at a decent price, and that will last for years.

Another avenue of the tech and electronics genre is social gaming networks. While I definitely don’t want my children to replace friendships with electronics I do acknowledge social gaming networks are here and are reaching children younger and younger. So it’s my responsibility to investigate this arena and see how it can fit into the goals I have as a parent.

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Moshi Monsters www.MoshiMonsters.com is one of the most popular social gaming networks for kids right now. The brand, Moshi Monsters, is committed to “fun, education and safety.” My children are too young, but I did go to the site to see how they execute “fun, education and safety”.
One of the first things that happen is parents are asked to permit their child to become a “User”. As a User, children may invite their friends for heavily monitored interactions within the social network. The next layer includes the User to adopt a pet monster. Their monster becomes like their child, and requires the User to care for the monster while solving puzzles and playing games. With successful solving of puzzles and games your child earns a form of money which they spend on items for their monster. What a valuable experience.
It will be a few years before my  children will be of age for the Moshi Monster experience but I strongly encourage parents of children 6-12 years old to at least visit the site. It’s a beautiful concept.

ImageDo you think Mit Romney lost the Presidency because he threatened Sesame Street funding? It’s believable! Sesame Street is inarguably a pillar of American society and deeply loved by millions. More than just having a childhood memory of Sesame Street, Big Bird, Elmo, Grover and the Count, many people attribute their early childhood education to the gang on Sesame Street. Now the Sesame Street character can interact with your child, or Mit Romney.
Yes, it’s Xbox & Elmo! It’s Kinect Sesame Street. Children ages 3+ can participate in a story plot or play a game and with Grover or Elmo. The characters can virtually catch a ball your child has thrown at them. It’s crazy and fantastic at the same time. Individual episodes are $5. Eight 30-minute episodes on two discs is $30.

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This year I fell hard for Nickelodeon. Probably because I have a child of age that shows me how powerful the Nickelodeon programs can be. At the event I was given a Team UmiZoomi DVD. I had not seen the program before this. It’s now one of Azzie’s favorite DVD’s! Prior to Azzie’s love of Team UmiZoomi and Sid The Science Kid I was against sitting “my child” in front of TV believing it would encourage mental and creative LAZINESS. Honestly I have changed my viewpoint with the quality that is coming from Nickelodeon…and StoryBots… and Disney.

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I have depended upon the iconic Disney to support my quest for purity and creativity. I could go on about Disney products for days. My newborn is in DisneyBaby clothes. I have used The Lion King as a bribing tool to get Azzie to eat his dinner. And Disney inspired baby and child gear have helped me get this far (as mom). Tigger has been in Azzie’s crib since he’s 7 months old. New Disney product this holiday season is Bouncing Tigger. He bounces on his coiled tail. You might ask why I’m mentioning a Tigger doll when I’m talking about raising thinkers. In my opinion, Azzie’s 3 Tigger dolls have offered him security and an experience of friendship. And part of being a thinker and having confidence stems from a healthy emotional foundation.

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Shrinky Dinks continues to be a favorite. The Incredible Shrinky Dinks Maker has been chosen one of the Best Picks For Children’s Products 2012. How do you improve upon great? I love Shrinky Dinks for the amount of involvement it requires; eye-hand coordination, artistic expression, planning the design to fit its final purpose. For example, if you are making a charm to wear then you need to cut a hole where a cord can be strung through. Answering the question, ‘How do you improve upon great?’ With the Incredible Shrinky Dinks Maker being an oven children can put Shrinky Dinks cutout on the small tray and slide it in the Incredible Shrinky Dinks Maker themselves. From a window on top they can watch the plastic take form which will mesmorize them for at least the first 50 Shrinky Dinks.

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From classics like Disney, Sesame Street and Shrinky Dinks to new comers, Armorteria www.armorteria.com The brand is the essence of what you would expect from people raised to think and create. The product is Sani-CuFFS, a wrist cuff that stocks hand sanitizer, squirting out a portion when it’s squeezed. The Sani-CuFFS are trendy wristbands designed with various characters and colors.

Ever had a teacher whom you feel impacted your future? I had a few who I still think about things they said, what they believed in or how they carried themselves. Because of the impact that school teachers have on the minds of children I want to share the process that led up to the creation of Sani-CuFFS… Two school teachers from Queens, NY, started working on this product after teaching their classes. They encouraged their students to be part of the project, interjecting students’ ideas, opinions and designs. What a strong message to their students about thinking outside convention and about their own ability for creating something in the world! I like everything about this product and am happy to see teachers who inspire our kids.

Summing up: On my quest to raise thinkers… (with brands like these) I can see I’m not alone.

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