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Friday, August 21, 2015

Tinkering Tots! 7 Ways That Play Helps Kids Grow into Thinkers and Inventors

Photo by Pascal (Flickr)

When you consider the great thinkers and inventors of all time, who comes to mind? I think of philosophers like Plato and Ayn Rand and inventors like Marie Curie and Thomas Edison, but plenty of kid inventors also come to mind. Maybe one day, my own girls and your kids, too, will join the list of greats. There's no better time than childhood to hone their thinking and innovating skills, thanks to these fun play ideas.

Building Blocks

Blocks are a basic toy most kids enjoy. I know my girls like building houses, garages, and towers with large blocks and Legos. I've also noticed that in addition to having fun, my girls learn persistence, physics, how to break large tasks into manageable pieces, and patience when they play with blocks. Those lessons are all traits that thinkers and inventors have in common.


On the playground, my curious kids are always looking for new and fun ways to use the equipment. The jungle gym helps them escape from zombies, and the slides transform into enemy castles they can conquer. Even playing with other kids helps my girls become more flexible in their thinking, and those creative, imaginative, and problem-solving skills shape their ability to think and invent.


If you think art is useful to express creativity, you're right! I've watched my girls spend hours drawing pictures and choosing colors that move the image in their mind onto paper. By persevering until the project is complete, mixing colors to make new shades, and trying different media, art also becomes a wonderful way for kids to practice creativity and express themselves.


I get so excited when my girls and their friends decide to put on a play. They write the script, set up the props, and dress their parts. Watching them work through the process reminds me of how role-playing builds thinkers and inventors. After all, it takes creativity, flexibility, problem-solving, and imagination to put on a play, invent new technology, or cure cancer!


Do you think of teamwork when you think of inventors? Orville and Wilbur Wright worked together to build the first in-flight airplane, and every great thinker needs a teacher. Our kids also need to learn teamwork and collaboration, which they can do when they play sports. Sports also teach kids to make decisions, be confident, and persevere as they train to become thinkers and inventors.

Modeling Clay

It's hard to imagine that one tiny ball of modeling clay can teach our kids so many valuable lessons, but I've watched it in action. In addition to helping my girls express themselves, clay play helps them hone their mechanical skills and learn to cooperate as a team. Even the acts of concentrating while following a pattern, restarting a project that didn't work right the first time, or waiting for clay to dry prepares our kids for their future.

Obstacle Course- and Fort-Building

Have you ever watched your kids try to build an obstacle course or fort? I know my girls spend more time building it than actually playing in it because they have to come up with just the right design and then figure out how to get all of the parts to fit together. Those engineering, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills all help our kids succeed in life.

Maybe our kids will grow up to become the great thinkers and inventors of their generation. Or maybe they'll become influential teachers, architects, politicians, or parents. No matter what the future holds, out kids need to play. It teaches them important skills that prepare them for their future. How will you encourage your tinkering tots today?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

9 Fun Ways for Kids to Keep Learning Over the Summer

Photo by vastateparksstaff (Flickr)

Summer break may be your kids' favorite time of year, but typical students lose two months of math skills over the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association. This season is also the time of the year when parents struggle the most to find productive and entertaining activities for kids. I think summer can be filled with learning opportunities, and they don't have to be boring or dry. Here are my favorite nine ways to help my girls actively learn as we have fun together.

Play Outside

Learning can happen in a structured classroom with a desk, paper, and pencil, but my girls won't learn that way this summer! They'll explore nature, engage in pretend play, and meet new friends at the park as they stay active mentally and physically.

Teach Your Kids to Cook

Yogurt-covered blueberries, garden salads with homemade croutons, and zucchini pizza are just three tasty recipes my kids will learn how to cook this summer. We'll also search our local farmers' market for other fresh and in-season fruits and vegetables. While the end result of our cooking sessions tastes yummy, my girls also exercise their brains as they read recipes, follow directions, and use safe cooking practices.

Go Stargazing

Armed with library books on astronomy and a small telescope, my girls and I will spend hours on clear summer nights searching the stars for constellations. Not only can we sit in our backyard for this fun activity, but I also appreciate that they're learning about astronomy, reading, and having fun.

Visit National Parks

With 59 national parks in the U.S., you're probably within driving distance of at least one. I know we are, so I'll turn the trip into an education for my kids by having them use library or online resources to plan the trip itinerary, learn more about a park's history, and find local wildlife and plants. My girls will also create a travel guide, journal, or scrapbook with their findings so that we can remember this fun and educational trip for a long time.

Start a Rock Collection

Your kids don't have to be geologists to enjoy collecting rocks. I know my girls simply gather pretty, textured, and unusual specimens while hiking, and they've found some cool ones at our local park or while walking around town. Then, they use books and online resources to identify their new collectibles. Your kids might enjoy this fun and educational summer activity, too.


Whether your kids are avid or reluctant readers, get them to read this summer with a few literacy resources and tricks.

  • Join the local library's reading challenge and earn prizes or other rewards.
  • Race each other to see who can read the most books.
  • Start a book club or book exchange with neighborhood kids.
  • Blog book reviews.
  • Read books together.

No matter which tricks you try, reading this summer is one of the best ways to engage your children's minds and keep them learning.

Make Homemade Bubbles

Of course, you could buy bubble solution at the store, but what fun is that? I prefer a homemade bubble solution my girls can mix themselves. Then, we use strings, empty milk cartons, cans, and other unique tools to blow bubbles all around the neighborhood.

Build Your Own Musical Instruments

Repurpose tissue boxes, paper towel tubes, and string into musical instruments as you ignite your kids' imaginations. I store different materials like these in a craft box and let my girls make guitars, maracas, and trumpets. Then, we turn on the music, dance, and play our instruments on rainy days or any day!

Plan a Family Activity Day

Instead of being the activity director every day, I give my kids a chance to plan a fun family day. With a budget, they can decide where we go and what we do. In addition to the trip, they practice budgeting, planning, and time management.

This summer, your kids can keep learning even though they're not in school. I personally like these nine activities and enjoy doing them with my girls. Which activity will your kids try first?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart