Play & Grow Services
Rent The Toy Chest
Rent the Toy Chest is the online option for renting premium, high quality toys. We specialized in the preschool years, children 3-5 years old, but we also have toys that foster imaginative play; and promote motor, sensory, cognitive & emotional development for infants and toddlers too!
Articles by Teacher Karen
Teacher Karen’s Thoughts are a guide for knowledge and information on learning activities, play ideas, research, guest posts and issues on children’s overall health and wellness.
Teacher Karen’s Events
Invite Teacher Karen to speak to your group about her passion—PLAY and young children! You’ll come away with hands-on activities, enriched play-based, learning opportunities and other ways to extend the play—and the learning—that you’ll be able to implement at home.
WHY PLAY & GROW
PLAY & GROW supports parents to insure their children play…every day!
PLAY & GROW shares play ideas, developmentally appropriate learning activities plus offers up-to-date information on children’s overall health and wellness.
Speaking out on the importance of play, sharing its many benefits and giving take-away examples of incorporating play at home are central themes to PLAY & GROW presentations.
PLAY & GROW Toy Reviews give parents the facts they need to make informed purchases. Parents can trust PLAY & GROW.
PLAY & GROW takes toys out to be tested in the community; getting unbiased feedback observing children interacting and engaging with the toy and each other while at play.
PLAY & GROW also offers families in the Greater Seattle area the opportunity to rent toys via RentTheToyChest.
Teacher Karen’s Recommended Toys
Country Critters Play Cube by Hape
In general, I like Hape products, I find them well-made and made with safe, non-toxic materials. This activity cube is no exception! Hape comments how it’ll bring hours of entertainment with a shape-sorting puzzle, ball roller coaster, rotating maze, tracking panel and wire maze. One of its greatest assets, though, the manufacturer doesn’t mention—it’s very stable and the round edges and corners are another appreciated safety feature. It’s recommended for children ages 12 months and older, but I’ve had families with waddlers –those not quite toddlers—who have been helped by this toy, using it to help them stand up!Read more
- First is the shape-sorter—the pieces are too small to be safe for a toddler to use unsupervised; they should be considered choking hazards. Parents need to always supervise younger children playing with this toy OR put those pieces away until your child is older than 3 years! Also the mechanism to hold the shapes inside the cube can be a little hit-or-miss, with shapes falling straight through before the knob is pulled.
- For some families, the fact there is a hammer available might prove problematic—ie, it’s used to hit another sib and/or visiting friend. I would say take that as a teachable moment and carry on!
- You might have to true up the wires of the maze if they become bent impeding the movement of the beads—but correcting that isn’t difficult.
- PRICE—quality comes with a price so it shouldn’t be a surprise then that the Country Critters Play Cube is expensive. If it’s beyond your family’s budget—and you’re in the Greater Seattle area—think about renting!
- Lastly, storage issues: You can try to keep the shapes ‘inside’ the cube and the balls resting on the racks, but I would suggest keeping them in a small container (with a lid) so none end up disappearing or rolling away.
AquaPlay Land & Super Sets
Water play is always a good go-to for children and the AquaPlay Land & Super set is a great option. Whenever I set this up for the preschool kidlets it was guaranteed there’d be no extra spaces left vacant around it! The various pieces from the water paddle to the pump give them seeing-is-believing, hands-on experiences with the physics of water.
The AquaPlay Land & Super Sets is actually 2 sets in one. The AquaPlay Land Set comes with its own carrying case that also holds all its 21 pieces. The AquaPlay Land Set doubles as a system of byways where its truck can roll down a road or its boat float down a canal. Operating the locks and controlling the flow of water throughout the canals is definitely the main attraction in the AquaPlay Super Set.
Without a doubt your child(ren) will want to PLAY ON and I concur—this is a fantastic, imagination-rich toy for children 3 years and older!Read more
- Adults are required for assembly. Be prepared, for that first time, that it’s going to take quite a bit of time in fact. You’ll need to put on the strips that prevent water from leaking when the pieces are connected. Plus you’ll need to add the stickers to create lanes. Once that’s finished, you’ll find laying it for assembly is a huge help.
- You have to develop a ‘knack’ to connect the pieces—the pieces are very stiff and non-compliant initially (and really for several assemblies down the line)—you’ll know you’ve got the pieces in correctly when you hear a ‘click’. As difficult as it is to connect the pieces, you need to be somewhat gentle taking them apart to avoid breaking key parts of the piece.
- The PUMP! It can be the source for a lot of frustration. It takes work pumping the handle up and down; precision keeping the bottom of the pump in the water; and patience for the TIME needed to be able to draw UP the water. BUT once they see how the water comes gushing out of the spout it’ll be worth it and they’ll keep at it…besides, sometimes learning something new is challenging! That’s why doing it in a PLAY setting is perfect—there’s no downside.
- PRICE—getting both sets together will save you money but it’s still a very expensive toy. For water-loving Seattle area families, you have the option of renting!
- So I said water play for kidlets is great—and it IS—but for adults that might not be the case. If you choose the AquaPlay Land & Super Sets make sure you either set it up outside OR clear out a rather large area in the kitchen with a lot of towels available…the floor WILL get wet, as will your kidlets!
Teacher Karen’s Recommended Books
Below are just a very few of the many, many children’s books I think are absolutely fabulous! Look for additional titles recommended with corresponding learning activities and/or play ideas in Learning Activity posts.
Remember: Readers are made on the laps of their parents…and grandparents!
Summertime and Seafair go hand-in-hand in the Pacific Northwest…and if it’s Seafair the Seafair PIRATES can’t be far behind!! I think it’s fitting to start off recommending several sea-worthy books that any landlubbers’ll love…or ye may find thee plank awaiting!
Disclosure: Play & Grow participates in several affiliate programs, receiving compensation from those companies whose products we review. THANK YOU for your support!! We test/research each product; are independently owned; and the opinions expressed here are our own.
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About Teacher Karen
PLAY & GROW blossomed out of Teacher Karen’s commitment to children. The early childhood years are special magical years. She counts herself very blessed to have shared many children’s early childhood years as co-founder and teacher of a hands-on, preschool.
Central to Teacher Karen’s core teaching beliefs is play is essential to early learning. In 1995, Teacher Karen co-founded and taught at Red Gate Preschool. A key characteristic of Red Gate was facilitating learning through play.
Teacher Karen’s family has grown to 8 members including 2 beautiful grandchildren. As a parent, now grandmother, she knows the value and power of play. She is looking forward to sharing play ideas and learning activities with you – giving you the tools to bring more play to your child!
Our experience with Rent the Toy Chest has been very positive. I am the mother of a very active 1 year old. I’ve watched with delight over the last year as my son has grown developmentally. His curiosity knows no limits. As such, Rent the Toy Chest has been an asset. Each week, different toys were delivered, toys that inspired my son to explore and learn. It has been fun to watch him experience toys with different textures and sounds. His favorite has been the Country Critters Activity Cube which introduced him to the idea of cause and effect. The best part is getting new toys each week. This has meant that his curiosity is sparked anew each week with each batch of toys.Sara H
Pretty chilly out there but we did your scavenger hunt on our street! Surprisingly, couldn’t find a puddle until we were coming inside and spotted one in the back of the toy car. Thanks Teacher Karen!Miles (age 4) & Claire (age 2), Play Experts