Tag Archives: parenting

7 Key Features in the Best Toys


By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

With the glut of toys on the market, how can you choose the best toys for your child? Look for these 7 key features.

This post contains excerpts from the book The Power of Parent-Child Play, © Laurie Winslow Sargent, Tyndale House Publishers. 

Measure Up Cups by Discovery Toys

Image: Measure Up Cups (Discovery Toys)

In my mind, the best toys or games are safe, plus have several or all of the following features related to play value:


  • Can be played with in a variety of ways and stimulate some imagination
  • Teach more than one skill
  • Appeal to several age groups
  • Encourage positive behavior and learning
  • Are fun (for the child—and hopefully for the parent, too)
  • Get frequent, long-term use and stimulate interest in independent play
  • Offer a window into what the child is thinking or feeling

Toys that don’t meet many of these qualifications can be a waste of money and do little but create clutter in your home.

I’m big on what toys teach, partly due to my previous experience working as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) in public schools, including one Birth-to-Three program. But I’m also a huge fan of helping kids learn through toys because I did just that with my own three kids. (My middle daughter is now a teacher in early childhood education.)

I used to write toy reviews for the former Christian Parenting Today magazine. Toy manufacturers (including Fisher-Price® and PlaySkool) sent me boxes of play materials to evaluate. That made me think more deeply about what was worth occupying space in my own kids’ rooms and what I could justifiably recommend to my 250,000 readers.

Once when the UPS man delivered a huge box of toys for me to review, the neighbor kids were gathered in my yard. Reviewing the toys became a group project. One thumbs-down preschool toy was designed so poorly it made us all laugh. A catapult was supposed to launch plastic treats (with numbers on them) into a creature’s plastic mouth. Theoretically, it was designed to teach child recognition of the numbers one through five.  Realistically, correctly loading and launching the catapult required the motor skills of a child who could count to fifty. Of course my creative crowd found other things to launch with the toy until the catapult fell off.

A much better toy, one that all three of my children loved, was a set of Measure Up Cups, which can be used to “dump, fill, nest, stack and stamp. These volumetrically correct, sequentially numbered cups introduce important preschool concepts related to volume, size, time, color and measurement.”

The toy is described as appropriate for children from 12 months through primary school, but an infant can also play with the larger cups. That means the toy can be played with by the same child for four to five years–and my kids did.

The manufacturer’s site describes 16 different ways you can play with the Measure Up Cups. I’ve modified their list a bit to focus on games you can play with your baby, toddler or preschooler.

Games to Play with Measure Up Cups

  • Stack into a tower to knock down. (Toddlers love to do this, and don’t realize they’re learning cause and effect.)
  • Build a castle (the scalloped edges make great castle turrets). This can lead to some fun pretend play with preschoolers. This is a new feature my kids’ cups didn’t have. Neat!
  • Scoop, fill and pour water, sand, rice or small safe objects. At the same time your child learns mathematical concepts, since the contents of cup #1 plus cup #2 equals the contents of cup #3.
  • Nest the cups to learn about size and relationships. This also helps your toddler’s motor skills.
  • Practice number recognition with your toddler; the cups are numbered both on the outside and inside on the bottom. For fun, a child can put a corresponding number of small, safe objects in each cup.
  • Learn English, French and Spanish words for numbers as those words are stamped on the sides of the cups. This is also new, awesome feature to extend the fun even through early elementary school.
  • Practice color identification as your child sorts and stacks the cups.
  • Hide objects under the cups, then reveal them. This can teach a baby object permanence, but also can be fun for illusion tricks with preschoolers.
  • Touch and feel numbers with your eyes closed, inside the cup on the bottom.
  • Identify animals on the bottoms of the cups with your baby.
  • Stamp the animal designs into dough or wet sand with your preschooler.  Point out to your child that the designs grow progressively larger as the cups increase in size.
  • Trace around the cups and then match the cups to the right sized circles.
  • Practice telling time with your preschooler: the designs on the outside of the cups correspond to clock face positions–another new feature.

As a recap, to choose the best toys for your children, look for ones that can be played with in many ways, stimulate creativity and imagination, teach more than one skill to more than one age group, and make learning fun. The best toys will be used often and your child will enjoy playing with them by himself but also with you. Great toys can actually make parenting more exciting, when through parent-child play you see your child thinking, learning new skills and reaching new milestones.

Play on!


How Do I Stop My Kids’ Fighting?


By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

One frustrated mom asked, “How I stop my kids’ fighting? It’s driving me crazy!”

Photo by Stuart Miles: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ooooh, been there, done that, felt that. I know, it can be enormously frustrating. I think what  made me craziest was the noise level–just having to listen to it.

Even handling it perfectly (and how would that be?) won’t make it go away entirely. Kids are learning how to relate to each other and will practice with their siblings.

As we enter this discussion on sibling squabbles, ask yourself this:  “What am I most reacting to?” Is the answer:

#1 The noise?

#2 The issues at hand, which you feel you must intervene in (and should you–really–or must they work it out themselves?)

#3 The need to protect one child from another, physically or from wounding words?

Kids pick at each other for all kinds of reasons and many do require adult intervention (AKA refereeing). But for this first post on kids’ fighting, let’s examine your own attitude as a parent, as I was forced to examine mine.

Is it possible that your interventions in kids’ fighting sometimes make things worse?  Consider your:

(CLICK to cont. for 6 Ways parent attitudes can affect kids’ fighting…)

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Are We There Yet? 3 tricks to help kids travel (more) patiently


By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

How do you keep your sanity when traveling kids whine, “Are we there yet?” Here are 3 ways to keep them occupied, so they travel more patiently and pleasantly.

How do you keep kids from whining, “How much farther?”           Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today I had to lay still for half an hour for a simple medical test, but couldn’t see a clock. To pass the time (and distract myself from moving) I played an old mind game, Count the Music, which I played with my kids on long road trips.

Try this, plus two more ways to keep your own kids occupied as you drive:

Way#1: Count the Music

Consider that most songs on the radio are 3-4 minutes long. In your own head, take the number of minutes you expect it to take to reach your destination and divide by three. Tell the kids “We’ll be there in 7 songs,” (or whatever). They can keep track of the number of songs on their fingers.

While listening to music during my medical test, I’d calculated that would hear eight or nine songs. I only heard three, so must have dozed off while counting and focusing on the music. It tends to work the same way with kids–they either get into the music or fall asleep. It also gives them a sense for how much time is passing if they can’t grasp what “half an hour” is nor tell time.

(CLICK TO READ Way #2 and Way #3)

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A Huge Thank You for Playful Fathers


This makes me ache for every child who has no dad to play with, or a father who is present but not available. And it makes me very thankful for my own husband who has been so wonderfully involved with our own three kids and helped them grow to become such fine grown up people.

I appreciate Igniter Media for creating this video showing the empty spaces and places left by missing fathers. It truly reveals the power of parent-child play and especially the impact of playful fathers. Visit Igniter Media’s website at  ignitermedia.com and their YouTube channel. You can also find them on Twitter as @IgniterMedia.

7 Ways to Get Your Child to Clean His Room: What Supernanny forgot to tell the Phelps


Wondering how to get your child to clean his room? Here are a few tips Supernanny forgot, at least in this one episode.

On ABC’s Supernanny episode with the Phelps family (Season 6: Episode 3) plenty made me cringe. However, one scene stuck in my head for days.

In that scene, the mom repeatedly asked her child to clean up his toys. In a video shot of the floor, it looked as if every toy he owned covered it. Most moms can identify with that: Lego® blocks, mixed with action figures, mixed with who-knows-what. Aaack!

When the boy didn’t comply, Mom became enraged. Yelling and spanking didn’t work. Supernanny Jo’s suggestions, including the infamous Time Out (until the boy agreed to pick up his toys), plus anger management for Mom, helped some. Indeed, Mom had to handle her anger differently. (See Kathy Collard Miller for inspiration for Christian moms with anger issues.)  And I’m all for time-outs, although effectiveness varies according to personalities.

Yet critically missing from Supernanny’s advice were tips on how to prevent the problem in the first place.

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Kids and Allowances: How even young children can earn and learn.


The door jingled as we entered the small gift shop.

“There they are!” 9-year-old Aimee said. She held up a little stuffed dog. “This one is so cute!”

“I want one too!” exclaimed Elisa, age three and half.

I explained to her, for the second time, that Aimee was spending her own, hard-earned allowance. Elisa looked very unhappy.

“But I want one really, really, really bad.”

“Well, what could you do to earn it?” I asked her.

Elisa stood still, thinking. “How ’bout if I do a chore like Aimee and Tyler every day?” She rambled on about how Tyler does the recycling and Aimee sets the table. Then she said, “I could empty the dishwasher every day, not do the knives ’cause they’re too sharp, but I could empty the rest.”

I told her it would take her four weeks to earn that eight-dollar stuffed dog, but if she did a great job, she could start earning a regular allowance–two dollars a week! Elisa eagerly agreed.

Elisa kept her promise.  Eleven years later–age 14 1/2– she is still faithfully emptying the dishwasher. Now she gets a bit more than two dollars for that and other chores, and the cash goes towards her cell phone service!

In our family, the purpose of giving our children allowances is not to directly pay them for chores, although they often see it that way. In fact, from this episode it may seem that way, but only because we hadn’t planned on starting Elisa’s so soon. In general we have always told our kids that as part of the family, we want them to share in our family finances and learn how to budget. In return, they’re expected to help keep the family household running smoothly.

Parents don’t want to be in a position where children expect to be paid for everything they do to help around the house. However, sometimes in addition to their weekly or daily chores, they’re given the option of earning more with specific jobs–for instance, helping change the oil in the car or power-washing the driveway.

We have also always differentiated between Personal Chores and Family Chores. The former are expected, no matter what (cleaning own room, bathing, tooth brushing, etc.) and do not earn the child any money (although we’ve been known to use stickers and other incentives!).  Family chores are ones that benefit the entire household. We discovered–as did Elisa–that we were actually dependent on her. We couldn’t eat unless we had clean dishes to put on the table, and dirty ones could not be washed until she put away the clean ones! It made her feel very responsible and necessary.  To make this chore easier for her, we let her stack the plates on low shelves in the cupboard.

How much to pay? Every family is different, but for us the amount of the allowance varies according to the child’s age and his or her ability to manage money. The big kids enjoy freedom to use allowance money for swimming or the movies. Older kids are given more, but also expected to use their own money to buy birthday gifts for friends or family, and eventually many of their own clothes–and learn to find bargains.

What new way can your child help the family today? What chores do your kids do, and at what age?



Excerpt from: Chapter 10: Chores are Done, Time for Fun!, page 157 in The Power of Parent-Child Play, by Laurie Winslow Sargent (2003, Tyndale House Publishers).

Appreciation is Like a Boomerang


A child who knows how it feels to be appreciated is more likely to encourage others.

I saw my daughter Elisa, back when she was a first grader, put this into action. As she sat quietly in the church pew next to me, she spontaneously scribbled a note to our pastor, telling him she loved his “speeches” (especially the stories he wove into his sermons). After the worship service, she insisted on taking her note to him.

Later I wondered: Did any of the other thousand people attending that service—or any of the five thousand there that weekend—think to encourage him that day? I also wondered: How many of the people who clamored around Jesus, as he told his clever parables, thought to tell him, “We love your speeches!”

If  any did, they might well have been children. To this day, children respond to Jesus’ stories. Even a small child grasps the importance of the shepherd who rejoiced at finding his lost sheep.

I also wonder if Jesus found it rejuvenating to hold precious, smiling, loose-toothed children, bursting with eager questions, open hearts, and funny mispronunciations?

On one occasion, His disciples attempted to shoo some children away, seeming to think they should be seen and not heard in the Master’s presence. Jesus, instead, welcomed them into His open arms. He taught the grown-ups that they needed to become more like those children.

As Christ revealed His love for children, those little boys and girls must have responded with eager affection, which I imagined in turn warmed Jesus’ heart.

My daughter Elisa’s encouraging words to our pastor came from deep within her, without prompting. She and her siblings have written countless words of affirmation to me. Many I have saved to reread when I need a boost! Their words have been much like those my children have heard since birth from each other, Mom and Dad, and others.

Appreciation is like a boomerang. Delight in your children, and it will eventually circle around back to you.


Laurie Winslow Sargent


From: Ch. 1: Delighted or Disillusioned, in Delight in Your Child’s Design.