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Montessori. It's a bit of a buzz word when it comes to early education. But what does it really mean? What were Maria Montessori's principles and values? 

We asked one mumma who is adopting Maria Montessori's way of learning in her own home why she likes it.

"I used to work in childcare and through my studies found Maria Montessori’s books and "Montessori from the Start" and I was really captivated by how respectful I thought it was towards kids, the sense of agency that it gives them and thought I’d probably do it. And then found that when I actually had her it was all very instinctive to us and goes along with other parenting things that we believe in (no screen time at this point, respectful parenting). She doesn’t go to a Montessori childcare though they do a lot of Montessori type stuff and we aren’t strict about it." 

We asked how she knows her child is reaching 'milestones'? 
"We don’t test her on “what’s this colour” “what’s this animal” and she really gets to pick her own interests and work on skills that pop up for her when it’s relevant for her. So, there’s less stress on us about meeting certain expectations when it’s about the process." 

What are some of the other things you like about the Montessori way?
"I think Montessori and the way that you prepare the environment for the child to make choices helps them develop an attention span and independence which is something we all kind of crave. It can be hard to observe and not interrupt them playing because they’re so cute or what they’re working on feels like such a big deal and you want in on it, but how can they learn that stuff if we don’t give them the opportunity?"

And finally, overall, is it working for your family? 
"I guess to sum it up I like it because she is not a doll, she’s a capable person who has agency and deserves respect so we follow her. So, yes. It is working for us."


You can follow this Montessori Mumma at @apartmentmontessori to get ideas on great activities you can do at home too!
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5 Factors to consider when shopping for the perfect toy gift Picture the look of excitement on a child’s face when you buy them the perfect toy as a gift. The toy-buying process can be challenging, with so many colourful and cute toys to choose from. Deciding what to pick can be a difficult decision; but here are five factors to consider when shopping for the perfect wooden toy gift.

1. Adds educational value The toy should help the child to learn new things in a fun and interesting way. Educational toys can give children confidence in their abilities and challenge them to think critically or problem solve as they play and explore. Pick the toy that can encourage the child to take the next step in their learning and development. Further on this point, wooden toys add an extra dimension of educational value to toys. We have written blogs about this before - so we know you've heard it all already - but to expand your childs mind, providing high quality, wooden toys will open up so many new educational doors. 

2. Open-ended toys for longer use As kids grow, their imagination and desires also change. Get toys that can be used in a variety of ways to foster their changing imaginations, creativity, and play. Make sure that it can be transformed to become more challenging as the child grows. 

3. Encourages creativity To keep the child’s imagination going, go for toys that can help them explore their creative side. Consider getting building blocks that the child can use to construct whatever they want, instead of a Lego kit to build a ship. This aspect is critical in ensuring that children learn more about the world around them and their abilities to make it better.  

4. Fits the child’s interest From a young age, kids begin to show their interests. It could be curiosity towards outer space, a particular cartoon character, or love for music or animals. You can fuel the child’s interests by gifting them with toys that relate to something they currently love. You can purchase the most expensive toy kitchen or carpenter bench on the market - but if your child prefers to climb and jump or do puzzles than it will probably collect quite a bit of dust. 

5. It’s age appropriate  Curious school-going kids, active pre-schoolers, and infants just learning to crawl require different types of toys. Good news is that the packaging on most toys have clear labels indicating the ages they are appropriate for. It is important to follow the instructions because they are critical to the child’s safety, especially if they are below 3 years. However, parental discretion and level of supervision come into play here also. There are many toys that have labels for older children, that with the right level of supervision and guidance can help younger children learn. 

CleverStuff can help you shop for the perfect toy gift for your child, grandchild, or your best friend's child. Call us today on 1300 552 500 for quality and educational toys in Penrith.
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5 ways educational toys can help develop an interest in STEM

Many parents can attest that it is not easy to convince an older child to believe that STEM subjects are not as hard and boring as they think they are. However, teaching a young child to embrace the concepts early can make the subject interesting and help them discover their love for STEM. Here are five ways educational toys can help develop an interest in STEM.

1. Experimenting with cooking and baking

Cooking and baking are excellent ways for kids to explore chemical reactions at home. Measuring ingredients, mixing them together, and watching them transform in the oven is a science experiment in itself. It becomes fun and easier for children to view other daily activities and objects from a scientific point of view. 

Need some toys to help them develop a love of pretend play in the kitchen? We have some here!

2. Giving life and role to objects

The good old basic educational toys are still a great choice compared to the complex toys being introduced to the learning sphere. Open-ended toys like wooden toys give kids a chance to be in command of the toy, and not vice versa. This allows children to become creative and imaginative by giving the wooden toys life and a role to play. For example - when a child is in charge and acts out a scene with a dolls house, they are creating their own world, they are the director of the play. When children play with toys that mimic life (like an electronic toy) they are restricted in how they play. 

3. Solving problems through role-playing

Role-playing allows children to imagine and exercise skills that are critical in STEM subjects. This may involve kids wearing lab coats and taking a trip to the future to save a situation, just like scientists. The point is to equip the child with problem-solving techniques that may inspire their career choices in life.

I wonder how many surgeons played doctors as a child? How many vets enjoyed play time with pretend animals? 



4. Building with wooden blocks

The idea of individual pieces joining together to form a whole other useful object can enhance a child’s observation and analytical skills. Construction toys like wooden blocks provide an open-ended and fun activity which can prepare kids for subjects like engineering and can make it easier for them to recreate. Kids are better able to handle the challenges with a structured block since they get to work with blocks of various sizes, shapes, and colours.

Does your block collection need some love? We have you covered here!

5. Exploring the great outdoors

Scientific toys offer a chance to go out there and explore the great outdoors. When you have some time to spare, consider taking your kids on an adventure where they can collect flowers, seeds, rocks, and leaves to investigate later with educational toys. Use a magnifying glass to look closely at the shape of a leaf, use a flower press to create dried out art works. 

Clever Stuff is your one-stop shop for high quality, safe, and fun educational toys. Call us today on 1300 552 500 for all your toy needs.

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5 benefits of musical toys for babies and toddlers

Music is a universal language and an integral part of human society and culture. It permeates our lives through radio, television, and theatre, forms part of our celebrations and is an instinctive way for many of us to express ourselves. Additionally, music has many developmental benefits for young children. Below are five reasons to consider musical toys for the babies and toddlers in your life. 

1. Promotes creativity
Children are naturally curious and will enjoy exploring the different sounds they can make with a range of musical educational toys. Xylophones and flutes are a great way for toddlers to try to repeat familiar melodies, while musical bells, castanets and maracas will create fun percussive sounds to stimulate young brains and help them express their creative talents.

2. Boosts cognitive skills and sensory development A lot of research has been done on the benefits of music for young brains as it stimulates neural pathways and promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It is thought that the patterns and rhythms of music help the brain to become faster and more efficient at transmitting information. Babies and toddlers who are exposed to music perform better in areas such as language development, speech, listening and reading skills.
3. Develops gross and fine motor skills

It can be tricky for little fingers to master the coordination required to hold and play musical toys. Correctly striking a drum or xylophone, for example, requires proper handling of drum sticks, and good hand-eye coordination. A variety of wooden instrument toys of different sizes, shapes and types will encourage different muscle areas to strengthen and develop.

 

4. Teaches patience Playing musical instruments, like any skill, takes time to master. Children will enjoy the sense of achievement they get from learning through play as they are gradually able to repeat familiar tunes or patterns, or maintain a steady rhythm. Toddler toys are also a great way to introduce the concept of waiting and turn-taking to young children to promote positive social interactions.

5. Encourages self-expression

Babies and toddlers don’t always have the vocabulary they need to express themselves and can get frustrated when they are unable to verbalise their feelings. Musical baby and infant toys give children an opportunity to express however they are feeling in the moment and can help release any pent-up energy, as well as just being a whole lot of fun!

The world of music has so much to offer young children. Now that you know the benefits, pick up those bells and maracas and shake along with your little ones!

Do you need some musical toys to help your children learn while making beautiful music? We have loads of wooden musical toys HER

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If your kids struggle to stomach their greens, you’re not alone. 

Children commonly encounter eating issues early in life, with most heading for the cookie jar over the fruit basket when hunger (or boredom) strikes. If your toddler or pre-schooler is showing signs of being a fussy eater, pretend play can be a powerful tool to help them overcome their culinary aversions. 

Establish healthy habits

The more familiar certain foods become, the more likely your kids are to eat them. It can take multiple tries for a child to develop a positive association with certain foods, so be patient and persistent if your fussy eaters don’t want to cooperate at first.

A great way to increase familiarity with healthy foods is to use wooden toys such as fruit cutting puzzles, grocery bags and salad sets with recipe cards. By getting the kids to engage with toys that show fruit and veggies as an essential part of play time, they’ll be more likely to try these foods in their real form on the dinner plate!

We have many food toys here to help begin to introduce your child to good food choices.

Reinforce positive behaviour 

If dinner time typically ends in tears, look for ways to reward the behaviour you want your children to display. Rather than punish the kids for refusing to eat their meal, look for creative ways to use toys and puzzles as an incentive to encourage the family to clean their plates.

Need a reward chart to track behaviour and reward consistent positivity? We have some great reward charts here.

When the kids gather around the table, turn their distaste for veggies and healthy foods into a challenge to be conquered! Set clear rules from the beginning of dinner time, such as ‘finishing all your pieces of broccoli before leaving the table’ and make the experience fun and positive with the reward of imaginative play time afterwards using wooden toys and puzzles.

Make meal time exciting

Wooden recipe sets and toys are a fantastic way to spark a love for food and cooking in young children. Give your kids the opportunity to engage with a variety of meal options using wooden recipe sets to get them excited about preparing healthy foods. Chances are, when they are served these healthy dishes they’ll be much more likely to want to take a bite.

Involve your child in decisions and preparation of meals

Another way to ensure your child is include them in the meal prep! If they are too little to use a knife, give them a wooden toy

 

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Top 4 skills children learn through play

From infancy through to childhood, toys are a vital part of children’s development. Wooden toys, educational toys and infant toys are a lot of fun, but they also help kids grow and learn. Play helps children to develop problem solving, social, gross and fine motor skills and much more. 

Here are the four key skills your child can develop through play. 

1. Effective communication

Whether your child plays alone or with others, it allows them to develop essential language, speech and listening skills.

During solo play, children will narrate the action as they go. This is fantastic for exploring emotions and developing their imagination. When there is no-one to disagree with the direction of play, then the possibilities are endless!

When playing with friends, children will communicate with each other to organise the activity. If there are any disagreements, children talk through the problem to figure out a solution together. This is wonderful to not only develop their language skills, but also their conflict resolution and co-operation.  

2. Social skills Play time shows children how to work with others towards a common goal. While one child may lead the games, they also learn how to identify and respond to others’ needs. It allows children to learn to speak up, to compromise and to listen to each other. Sometimes, children may need a little adult involvement to come to an outcome, but that's okay! They are still learning how to navigate social situations. 

Play teaches children to be perceptive, assertive, cooperate and to share. The collaborative skills kids learn through play is the foundation to building lasting friendships. 

3. Cognitive skills

Play is one of the most effective ways for children to learn how to solve problems. When playing with toys, they start asking questions like, “what does this do?” and “how does this work?". This is particularly true of toys that a child must interact with, like with wooden toys. It's not a simple as pushing a button to get a reaction, but they must think to themselves about what the cause and effect will be of moving pieces about. 

Regular playtime gives children the chance to enhance their memory and grow their attention span. And, as they enter a more stimulating environment (i.e. day care or school), children develop higher levels of thought through play. 

How often have you looked at your child and thought "I wonder what is going through their brain right now". Well, when at play it could be absolutely anything - it really is a magical time when they are learning so much. 

4. Motor skills

Through physical play, with wooden toys, educational toys and more, children develop vital motor skills, and learn skills to cope with stress. Playing with toys such as blocks, for example, teaches them about balance and gravity, while improving their hand-eye coordination. 

Children will first learn large motor skills, like running, jumping and throwing, before moving on to finer skills like buttoning, colouring and writing. 

Start your child on a lifelong learning journey through play today. Simply call or email the friendly team at CleverStuff for a wide selection of baby toys, toddler toys, wooden toys, educational toys and wooden puzzles.

You can CONTACT CLEVERSTUFF HERE

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We know that sometimes it seems like when children go to school they enter a void. They never seem to remember what they learned! 

We have been battling this and come to the conclusion that to get the best and most out of your child is to ask the right questions. None of those closed questions they can answer with 1 word like "did you have a good day?" or "how was school?" (answers : yep and good). 

We want you to think of a question that your child has to think about and construct an answer. Not just grab a random word and spit it out. 

Ask questions about their friends, what did they learn, did they do maths today (closed questions are okay if you follow it up with one of the below examples) and when they say 'yes' ask what was something new that they were taught. 

It's not tricky to ask questions, but it can be tricky to ask the RIGHT ones - so here is our list for you

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The benefits of pretend play have been celebrated for years. It is well known that young kids learn by imagining and doing. Whether they are playing with a stick or an expensive toy, your child is using an object to represent something greater and imagining themselves in another role or place. While it may seem simple, pretend play is an incredibly important part of a child's early development.

Stronger social and emotional skills When a child engages in pretend play, they are actually experimenting with life's various social and emotional roles. By pretending to be a different person or character, your child is experiencing life as someone else, which is an essential part of developing empathy. By seeing the world through another's eyes they will begin to consider the feelings of others and seek more meaningful social interactions. 

Sharper thinking skills Problem-solving and cognitive thinking are important factors in pretend play. During imaginative play, children must learn to share roles or take turns in the same role, while inventing new ways to evolve their play. For example, when playing with a dinosaur toy, a child must find terrains to make their imaginative world come to life. 

Wider language skills

By entering the role of another person, your child will naturally widen their language usage (particularly when they adopt roles they see every day). You'd be amazed to see how accurately children can mimic the language and inflections of family, friends and teachers. Through play, they will learn the value of language and how new words can help enact a story or organise their play. This process ultimately helps children make connections between spoken and written language. 

Encourage pretend play with our range of wooden toys At CleverStuff we have a range of wooden toys specifically designed for pretend play. We stock play sets, work benches, doll houses and toy appliances to help children expand their imagination and role play. Because our wooden toys don't have moving parts or voice directions, children must experiment and reason while engaging in pretend play. So, whether they want to be a builder, a doctor, or a farmer, our wooden toys will help widen their horizons.
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We always hear about the benefits of playing outside (and goodness, there are many) but that doesn't mean that playing inside is something to turn our noses up at. It's more important than ever, with our changing lifestyles of kids having more screen time and less green time, to make sure that play, while it doesn't have to be intentional should be beneficial. 

Lets look at some of the reasons that playing inside is a positive experience for children. 

1. Development of Social Skills

Inside children can develop social skills through activities where they take turns, show patience, play fair and engage in problem solving actitivies. Think of doing a puzzle - a child will work as a team, communicate, encourage fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. Playing inside can involve dress ups or pretend play where child can safely act out their feelings and emotions. 

2. Getting Active and Healthy

Just because you're inside doesn't mean you can't get sweaty (uh, have you heard of a gym!?). Why not make an obstacle course, or do some exercise inside. Exercise gives children a release, it leads to children being more attentive and encourages them to engage in healthy activities. 

3. Encourages Creativity

During their time in indoor play areas kids are often faced with situations and challenges that help them develop vital skills. Interacting with others helps develop their imagination. Kids learn to be more expressive and curious. It also helps them learn from one and another. Inside we can create dramatic scenes, engage in social and pretend play (car tracks or doll houses for example) or even enjoy craft time. 

4. Weather Doesn't Matter

Unpredictable weather can force us to stay at home. During such times indoor play areas can be the ideal place for kids to be entertained, remain active and have a good time. There are loads of indoor games and activities you can do while inside - and they won't be ruined by the hot weather or a bit of rain! 

What are your favourite indoor activities?

Looking for a fun COLOUR HUNT to do inside? Click HERE

Need more BOREDOM BUSTERS? Click HERE

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We hear all the time 'but how will I know if my child will like it?' and the answer is 'you don't!' but that shouldn't stop you from encouraging your child to try new things and test new toys! 

Today we want to take you through some stages of puzzles - from babies to toddlers (and even to adults) puzzles can challenge and educate people. But what should you look for at different stages of your childs development. 

Watch the video to find out 

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