I speak to many teachers and a big concern is emerging that children under the age of nine (in the Foundation Phase) have not consolidated many skills that children should normally have mastered by grade one, including being able to hold themselves up comfortably in a chair for 20 minute3s at a time.

We take sitting upright in a chair for granted, but it is the culmination of many skills, sufficient muscle tone and core strength. You can see how challenging it is for children by the way they need to prop themselves up on their elbows on the desk, leaning up against a wall or even leaning on each other for support.

When children have to expend a lot of energy on keeping their bodies upright, it stands to reason that there is less energy left to concentrate on the actual task at hand or what is being taught.

This lack of posture and basic core strength seems to be appearing en masse and not just in a handful of children who need therapy, as was the case some years ago. Low muscle tone, together with problems in planning basic movements and co-ordination of the body, are leading to schools adding in perceptual skills programmes, over and above normal physical education.

Children are not just needing to play sport for health and fitness, they must practise and  reinforce many basic skills to provide the foundations for academic learning. A child’s posture will impact on their ability to read, write and do maths, among other things.

This should not all be left up to the school. Parents can go a long way to helping their children at home:

  • Encourage movement
    • Riding scooters and bikes
    • Swimming
    • Tree and jungle gym climing
    • Running and jumping
    • Using a trampoline
  • Playing with educational games and toys:
    • Threading, puzzle building and construction toys are good for strengthening muscle tone, strength and co-ordination in the hands
    • Blowing bubbles and chewing gum is good for muscle tone and co-ordination of the mouth for good speech
    • Skipping ropes, stilts and whizzers are great for core strength and co-ordination of left and right sides of the body as well as the upper and lower half of the body

Let’s make sure we give our kids solid foundations for their academic careers. It all starts with the body!

Click here to view Nikki Bush's recommendation from Toy Talk 2017/2018

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The quickest way to make a child tune you out is to sermonise, lecture, nag or preach to them. Have you noticed? The trick is to develop short, memorable sound bites, or catchphrases, that grab your child’s attention, and spur them into action.

Barney, the popular purple dinosaur, provides us with some great examples that really do stick with kids and families, such as:

  • Sharing is caring
  • Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.

I love some of the examples from the book, Your Children are Listening (The Experiment, 2011) by psychologist, Jim Taylor PhD, and I have adapted the explanations:

“That’s the job.”  Kids don’t always like jobs or chores and neither do we, but we do them because they are our responsibility.  When someone has the grumbles about doing the chores, everyone can chime in, “That’s the job, Bob!”

“Take it out, put it back.” All children need to be taught about tidying up after they have taken toys out to play with. Instead of nagging, teach this mantra from an early age.

“Families work together.” Togetherness is the essence of what being a family is all about and togetherness is something children really crave even if they profess not to. So, when everyone is required to pitch in and help with something, this is a lovely uniting sound bite to use.

“Do it now, do it well.”  Everyone in the family has responsibilities and many of them have to be carried out at a certain time. This catchphrase reminds children to do things timeously and do them to the best of their ability. It instils pride in all that they do and gives you the opportunity to praise them afterwards by saying:, “You did it and you did it well!” Lovely positive reinforcement for taking responsibility.

“Work first, play later.” In my mind this catchphrase could relate to a number of things from getting homework out of the way before playing an on- or off-screen activity, or clearing the dishes before watching TV, for example.

“Listen to your conscience.”  I just love this sound bite although I would change it to “listen to your inner voice” or “listen to your heart”, which I think is more child friendly. This connects being responsible to making good decisions. Your inner voice is what helps you to choose to do the right thing especially when you are being pressured or are in doubt. 

Start creating your family sound bites today that could become part of your family tradition. Perhaps you will hear them echoing in the years to come from your grandchildren.  Now there’s a thought!

Click here to view Nikki Bush's recommendations from Toy Talk 2017/2018

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When we think about children learning we think about the brain. But, it’s amazing how issues of the heart, feelings and emotions are inextricably linked to a child’s ability to learn easily. 

I recently had the opportunity to watch a brain scan being done while a child was having an anxiety meltdown.  On the outside the child looked quite normal and calm but the picture of the brainwaves was startling.  It looked like a bird’s nest of lines all jumbled on the screen versus a normal coherent picture of orderly wavy lines. 

No wonder an anxious or fearful child will have some performance issues in the classroom!  While there may be no actual learning difficulties as such, a messy brain wave picture can result in a child experiencing information processing difficulties because information flow is being blocked by the anxiety.  This can also impact on the brain being able to update the working memory properly, among other things.  You may see a drop in their test marks, a child starting to lose things, not being able to remember instructions, etc, when previously the child was doing fine.

Many things can send your child’s brain into a jumble including, but not only:

  • family rows
  • death
  • illness
  • divorce
  • crime
  • financial stress
  • neurological conditions such as seizures
  • watching inappropriate TV programmes or inappropriate gaming content (violence, horror, sexually explicit)
  • over-exposure to on screen media (too much screen time)

A very common stressor amongst working parents that can create stress and anxiety in children would be absent parents who are rushed and unavailable either physically, emotionally or both. And when parents feel guilty, that too, can create stress in children. I know this is a tricky one for parents which is why so many people use the techniques I teach in my Parenting on the Run® workshops, to turn the little time they do have with their children into quality time.

Even repeatedly broken promises can break down trust, creating anxiety and disappointment. In addition, never underestimate the emotional disruption caused when there is a change in caregivers. Where possible keep things consistent for children. 

Here are some tips to open the channels to learning in your child:

  • Keep your child well nourished and with sufficient water intake
  • Resolve any learning difficulties or anything else that could be a source of anxiety or unusual stress for your child.
  • Provide lots of loving touch (tickling each other’s backs or wrestling with each other, for example)
  • Ensure plenty of movement (from rocking of babies to children playing sport at school)
  • Engage in lots of conversation – we talk our children clever
  • Promote a feeling of safety and security in your homes and families
  • Love your children unconditionally (not only for what they achieve but for who they are)
  • Don’t forget to play.  It’s a de-stressor and a relationship and confidence builder.

Some of these factors I have mentioned above can have a very short-term effect for an hour or so, while others can have a longer-term impact.  It’s all very dependent on the nature of your child, how you resolve issues with him or her, and how quickly you pick up on such stresses.

Click here to view Nikki Bush's recommendations from Toy Talk 207/2018

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Bikes and scooters are the perfect toys to encourage bilateral integration. They encourage children to use both sides of their bodies at the same time in a co-ordinated way. The more children ride them the more co-ordinated they become. They also experience a great sense of freedom and mastery of their world.

Here are some fabulous items from the high quality JD Bug range that will help your child with:

  • Core stability
  • Balance
  • Bilateral integration
  • Co-ordination
  • Directionality
  • Awareness of left and right
  • Crossing the midline

JD Bug Swayer

The JD Bug Kids TC66 Kidz Swayer is great for indoor or outdoor fun. This sophisticated sit-down scooter is fantastic for stimulating the vestibular sense of balance as it enables kids to take curves and corners with ease.  The seated position is 120mm off the ground and it has four swing-driven wheels, making it highly manoeuvrable and safe.

With a high-quality molded plastic seat and ergonomic handlebar it provides a comfortable ride that also encourages crossing of the midline when turning corners. Movement is created by weight distribution when leaning from side to side. It's a most unusual and fascinating experience that youngsters love to master. Takes up to 50kg form 3 - 12 years of age.

JD Bug Training bike and add on gear box

The JD Bug training bike enables youngsters to use a bike like a scooter and then you can add a gear box which is essentially a set of pedals, when they are ready. Comes with or without a handbrake (check the model). Takes up to 25kg. Suitable for 3 - 5 years.

The JD Bug Cool Carver Scooter

The JD Bug Cool Carver Mini is a smaller version of the popular Cool Carver (the larger one takes up to 65kg). Younger children will find the lighter and smaller Mini Cool Carver much easier to handle and ride. A completely new scooter riding experience that relies on weight distribution, swaying and leaning to make the scooter move. This concept fascinates children. Five years and up.

The JD Bug Kick Scooter

A high quality aluminium framed scooter with a plastic deck. It can take up to 30kg. 5 years and up.?

Click here for Nikki Bush's toy recommendations from Toy Talk 2017/2018

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Every toddler loves to bash things around and make things happen. Action-reaction toys are king at this stage. "If I do this, then that will happen." There is nothing more empowering for a child than mastering cause and effect.  Hape's Little Pounder is perfect for this as they get to pound the coloured wooden pegs into the holes with a hammer. It strengthens the hand, arm and shoulder girdle - good preparation for writing one day. This activity stimulates fine motor skills, eye-hand co-ordination and manual dexterity. It also introduces problem solving logic and spatial planning. Suitable from 12 months +.

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Skateboarding is something I have never been able to do, but those youngsters who master it have amazingly strong core muscles and quick reflexes. I watch my nieces and nephews who just glide around without a care in the world and wish I could do that too.

What skateboarding is good for:

  • Core stability
  • Balance
  • Stimulation of the vestibular sense (in the inner ear)
  • Eye foot co-ordination
  • Awareness of both left and right sides of the body
  • Awareness of top and bottom half of the body
  • Spatial planning
  • Problem solving
  • Quick reflexes
  • Fun
  • Keeping kids off screens

Dangers of skateboarding

Of course, if your child falls off a skateboard, which is invariably being used on a hard surface, they will hurt themselves. Grazes are guaranteed and in extreme cases there can be broken arms, legs and even back, neck or head injuries.

This is why you need to ensure that your children have the necessary safety gear from arm and knee pads to helmets. And maybe a little bit of coaching from someone who knows what they are doing to start off with.

There are, however, children who take so naturally to the rigors and challenges of skateboarding, just as there are children who are naturals at skating, rollerblading and surfing. They just get up and look stylish from the very beginning.

The Maui range of skateboards

The colourful range of high quality Maui skateboards is available from Toy Kingdom stores around the country as well as their online store. They are bright with classic graphics and are known as 'free-riding gems'.

Click here for Nikki Bush's toy recommendations from Toy Talk 2017/2018

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Drones are becoming a regular part of life. We hear about them being used by the military, the police, for pizza deliveries and more. They appear regularly in movies, and they are currently one of the most aspirational tech toys on the market, particularly for dads and their children.

Some come with their own remote control while others are controlled by a smart phone or tablet. Children and adults have conquered the ground with remote control vehicles, and now they can conquer the air with drones.

For the most part, children want to master how to control an object that flies. The older they get the more functionality they want their drone to have, such as having a camera so that they can film their drone escapades and replay the footage later, or being able to carry a payload to make deliveries.

Rules for flying drones

While drones are fun and entertaining, we need to make our children aware that even toy drones may infringe on other people’s right to privacy if the ‘pilot’ doesn’t adhere to the following rules that apply to drone flying (including toy drones), no matter how sophisticated or simple one’s drone may be (Source: South African Civil Aviation Authority):

  • You may not fly a drone within 50m or a person or groups of people (think sports fields, road races, schools, social events etc)
  • You may not fly a drone within 50m of any property without permission of the owner.
  • You may not fly a drone near manned aircraft
  • You may not fly a drone 10km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad, airfield etc)
  • You may not fly a drone weighing more than 7kg
  • You may not fly a drone higher than 150ft from the ground

Commonsense guidelines for flying drones

While simple entry level toy drones can cost about R300 and up into the thousands, sophisticated adult devices can cost upwards of R25 000. Bearing this in mind as well as the rules mentioned above, here are some commonsense guidelines to help children to get the most out of their drones:

  • Fly drones on a windless day to avoid losing them
  • Fly drones in parks, on beaches, unoccupied sports fields and other areas where there is a lot of room and where the drone won’t irritate other people
  • Treat flying drones much like you would flying a kite
  • Fly drones where there are few people around to avoid upsetting anyone
  • Go for some drone flying lessons

If you are an adult drone enthusiast or hobbyist (16 years and up) you should do a Drone Competency Course through Drone Racing Africa. Click here for more info.

Skills that will be sharpened by flying drones

  • Eye-hand co-ordination
  • Quick reflexes
  • Judgement of speed, space and distance

Toy drone shopping checklist

There is a wide range of entry level Syma drones and quadrocopters available at Toy Kingdom that vary from R499 to R1999 depending on the size and functionality you are looking for. Here is a short checklist to discuss when drone shopping:

  • Able to do stunts
  • Can do 360 degree flip stunts
  • Can do free tumbling around and fancy rotation
  • Has hover function
  • One key for taking off and landing that would be easier to control for a younger child
  • A built-in gyro for greater stability and wind resistance
  • Wifi camera/video function
  • Smart phone control function
  • What’s the controlling distance?
  • What’s the flying time?
  • What’s the charge time?

Click here to view our range of Syma Drones.

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Parents need to ensure that their children do not fall prey to Triple ‘S’ Syndrome:  a solitary, sedentary, screen-based existence.   With our busy lifestyles it is easy to fall into this trap:

  • On-screen activities perform the convenient role of both babysitter and entertainer which is very useful for us but detrimental to our children on the whole.  One of the key developmental areas in childhood is socialising and this must be done through real, face-to-face play activities to have any effect. When you are too tired to play with your child or too busy to take your child to play dates or host other children in your home, the result is often a child who spends a lot of time alone, and in front of a screen for company.  Even children who watch TV together don’t necessarily interact and communicate.

  • When children are in front of a screen they are leading an increasingly sedentary existence.  The couch becomes their best friend or Siamese twin, if you will.  Exchanging the couch for any movement-based activities becomes harder and harder the more time is spent in front of a screen. Movement helps to wire the brain for academic learning which means a sedentary existence must be avoided at all costs or you will have even more demands on your time and wallet as you sign your child up for therapy to fill in the developmental gaps.  Children also become more difficult to motivate and discipline which will strain your relationship.  Manage on-screen time for both your sakes.

  • When children spend a lot of time in front of a screen, on-screen activities can be very addictive because they stimulate the secretion of chemicals from the pleasure centre of the brain.  Children also experience a false sense of achievement without having done much.  Children are increasingly viewing the world from a screen.  Under the age of 12 a child has a developmental need to engage with the real and not the virtual world.  Moderation and a good balance between on-screen and off-screen activities is important.

It’s a sad fact that many children now engage with on-screen activities rather than sharing a bedtime story, songs or conversations with their parents. What I call Triple ‘S’ Syndrome is eroding the very connections on which we build our families and our children’s futures. Prevention is better than cure. Vaccinate immediately with regular doses of screen-free time characterised by the warm fuzzy features of play, movement, communication and connection.

Click here for Nikki Bush's toy recommendations from Toy Talk 2017/2018

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There is a risk and promise to technology. If you have children in preschool and primary school, I have developed a BEEPP checklist for you to test if you are over-using tech/on-screen devices with your children. Here is the BEEPP acronym explained:

B          Babysitter

E          Emotional crutch

E          Experience thief

P          Pacifier

P          Prompt

Devices as babysitters

How often do you use technology to babysit your child to free you up to do other things? Young children need and want you in their lives. When you are absent, even though they are occupied, there is an emotional void that a screen cannot fill. Do you see me?  Do you hear me? Am I important to you? These are three questions they ask of you, non-verbally, every day. When side-lined to a device too often, they are not getting yes answers to those questions. They will assuage their pain with a device, but it’s no substitute for you!

Devices as an emotional crutch

Is technology/a screen being used as an emotional crutch to put your child to sleep or to get them to eat? Many parents report that their children can do neither without the aid of a screen/device. This means they are not developing the self-regulation skills and self-discipline for the basics in life. If they cannot fall asleep without the aid of a digital tablet now, imagine what kind of tablet they may need in the future!

Devices as experience thieves

Is technology an experience thief, stealing/displacing real life experiences from your child that are essential for their development? What is technology displacing, remembering that young children learn best through concrete learning experiences with real people, real toys in real time, to give them multisensory experiences of the world? Tech has so much to offer, just make sure you create real foundations first.

Devices as pacifiers

Do you use a screen to pacify a tantrumming or upset child? While it most certainly will shut a child up, it also shuts them down and then they don’t get to experience and reconcile their emotional world. You do not want an emotional dwarf so beware of how you use devices to manage your child.

Devices as prompts

Is your child reliant on technology to prompt them what to do next? Children are losing their initiative and creativity because they are becoming so used to be instructed by an adult or a programme on a device. Help your child to develop their own initiative vs being helpless, something increasingly being witnessed by teachers in the classroom. Showing initiative will help to get them a good job one day.

We are not living in an ‘either/or’ world. Technology is part of the fabric of our lives. As conscious parents, awake to our children’s developmental needs in the early years, we need to ensure a balanced approach. Use the BEEPP checklist to find your middle ground.

Click here for Nikki Bush's toy recommendations from Toy Talk 2017/2018

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There are many big terms in psychology and child development that baffle parents, none more so than cognitive development. Simply put, this is about the emergence of the ability of a child to think and understand.

Children go through many stages of development that all play a role in their ultimate cognitive development. Interestingly, in childhood, the body is the architect of the brain. Children need to physically interact with their world – with the environment, with toys and games and with real people, both adults and children, to understand their world and create meaning for themselves.

By providing children with a variety of environments (home, school, playgrounds, nature), different people (adults and children) and many different kinds of toys, books and games, children’s bodies and minds are stimulated.

According to Jean Paiget, one of the most famous and influential developmental theorists, he believed that children were not just born empty vessels but that they play an active role in the construction of their  knowledge of reality.  Children are active learners not passive learners.

Children acquire new information constantly, interpret it actively (how does it work questions, playing with objects or toys, pulling them apart and putting them back together) and adapting their intepretations to fit in with their pre-existing knowledge and experiences (their world view).

A young brain learns easily

The brain is extremely plastic and elastic during childhood, meaning that learning is far easier for a younger brain than an older brain, although human beings are always able to learn new things.

Children acquire information and experiences through their senses which then get relayed to the brain that makes sense of it! The sensory system consists of:

  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Proprioception (information through the muscles and joints)
  • Vestibular (information through the sense of balance in the inner ear)

Phases of learning

Children learn in three basic phases (sometimes on their own and at other times, together, due the remarkable nature of the human brain):

1.            Concrete:                          Birth + e.g. a real apple

2.            Semi-concrete:                 2+  e.g. picture of an apple

3.            Abstract:                            5+  e.g. the word “apple”, letters, dots or a number (in other words, symbols)

From the example above you can appreciate that the concrete phase allows a child to interact with a real object with their bodies. They can feel the apple is round, see that it is green/red, taste it, smell it, feel the smooth texture of the skin, the spongy texture of the flesh, the juice that drips fromit and so much more.

Without such a personal and physical experience of the apple, it would have no real meaning to a child at all. Real trumps everything in early learning. Children need to be able to internalise and experience with their physical body for the ultimate memorable learning experience.

Consider the difference between the real experience of the apple and just seeing a picture of an apple they have never experienced? It is then just information until such times as they come across  a real apple.

Once a child has experienced the real thing, then the picture of it, which is called semi-concrete learning, or the letter ‘a’ or the word ‘apple’ will have meaning.

Don’t skip out the concrete phase of learning. No pictures on screens or in books can substitute for the real thing. Children thrive on three-dimensional learning – with real people, real objects and in real time.

This is also largely because young children are egocentric learners. If learning is not about ‘me’, it has no meaning at all.

It was Einstein who said, “All learning is experience, everything else is just information.”

Parents need to ensure they give their children a wide variety of rich learning experiences to develop their thinking and understanding. It stands to reason that children need more off-screen, real 3-dimensional learning experiences than on-screen ones. Use screen to rather augment the real. Real comes first.

Click here for Nikki Bush's toy recommendations from Toy Talk 2017/2018

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