Play More = Higher Intelligence

Playing makes children smarter.
In fact, playing increases intelligence in adults too.  Sounds like a marketing pitch, right?  Wrong.  I have spent over seven years investigating this premise and I can’t find any data to debunk this claim.  Actually, the more I research the better I understand the why of this claim.  The crazy thing is our schools are decreasing the amount of free play in their curriculum in the United States.  No doubt this is the result of the well-meaning politicians who know not what they do.  The subsequent increase of homework for all ages is almost at epic levels.  Well my friends, here is a bit of homework that will increase your child’s intelligence and at the same time, decrease stress at home…Play More.

Tinkering:  Time Magazine reports, “Research in the science of learning shows that hands-on building projects help young people conceptualize ideas and understand issues in greater depth.”[1]

Free Play: “The average bright child seems to spend about 45 to 50 minutes a day more in play than the average dull child. In mental recreation (“picture shows; playing checkers; cook and similar games; playing the piano or other instruments, etc.”) the average bright child spends an hour more than the average dull child.” Writes Boynton and Ford, in The Journal of Applied Psychology back in June of 1933![2]

Sports: There are scores of reports that show a positive correlation between participation in sports and academic improvement.

Doll Play:  Another scholarly paper writes, “Pretend play might be a zone of proximal development, an activity in which children operate at a cognitive level higher than they operate at in nonpretense situations. “[3]

I like to keep my posts short and to the point. But if you wish to read on, here is a great article found at Parenting Science:

My goal for Via E is to provide an educational experience that is cloaked in fun.  Since play is a natural part of learning, we have science on our side.  So, come on…let’s Play More!

Always yours, Ellen


Ellen Callen, B.S., M.B.A., Instructor at the University of California, Irvine, Division of Continuing Education, researcher of Child Development and Early Learning, is the founder of Via E, Inc. Via E’s, mission is to develop and deliver wholesome play products and integrate methods to increase cognitive and creative abilities in the young and young at heart–and have a lot of fun doing it.





The Magic of Christmas Snow–an Alex Story

Christmas Snow

 This story is dedicated to my grandma,
who always knows just what to do to make me happy.

Love, Alex

The Magic of Christmas Snow

SnowflakeThat one looks like a star … and that one looks like a crystal medallion … and that one

“Alex, would you like to come away from the window long enough too have some hot chocolate and cookies?” Grandma hollered from the kitchen found in a room just around the corner from where I was sitting with my knees snuggled deep into the plush green couch and my nose growing cold from being pressed up against the wintered glass of grandma’s window.   I immediately sprung free of the couch and ran to the kitchen, where I found grandma slowly pulling out another batch of steaming-hot chocolate chip cookies from the top oven. Mmmm … the smell of chocolate was so thick in the air that it seemed as if I could eat it! Grandma had her once-blonde hair pulled back, neatly twisted and secured with a red and green Christmas comb.  As she turned around with her hands full of steaming hot chocolate chip cookies I could see that she had on the cooking apron I made her last year.  It had bright imprints of my hands all over it with big Xs and Os followed by my signature.

“You still wear the apron I made for you?” I asked, grinning with delight.

“Oh yes, Alex, this is my special cookie-making apron,” Grandma said with her blue eyes sparkling in a way that only grandma eyes do. “Come sit over here.  I’ve poured you up some hot chocolate; it should be cool enough to drink now. Here are some banana-flavored marshmallows to make it extra special for my extra special granddaughter.” Grandma gave me a squeeze and a kiss.

“Grandma, I’m your only granddaughter!” I said while crinkling my nose.

“That, among many other things, is what makes you extra special to me.” Grandma said with another hug and a wink.

I love coming to Grandma’s house in the winter. There is something special about the snow in Colorado. Sometimes the snow coating over the house grandma lives in is so perfect that it does not look real. It had been snowing since I had arrived two days before, so the blanket of snow over the farmland looked like twinkling, heavenly clouds that kissed the blue Colorado sky.

“Grandma, I called out impulsively, can I go out and play today? I’ll be careful and bundle up well so I don’t catch a winter cold.” I promised.

“I don’t see why not,” Grandma said, “It would do you good to run off some of that fidgeting energy you have been storing up! But stay close to the house just in case another storm blows in.”

Before Grandma could finish her words, I was halfway up the stairs to my room to put on my fur parka, black ski pants, mittens, and boots. I knew I would miss my best friend Elena, so I had brought my dollfriend that looks like Elena with me to keep me company. She has a fur jacket, white mittens, and black ski pants just like mine!

With my Elena dollfriend® carefully prepared, I sprung out the back door, Elena in hand, and leaped into what looked like a big cloud of snow. It caught us gently and made a crunching sound as I swung my arms and legs, making my first snow angel. Elena needed some help with her angel, but I didn’t mind. I like helping her; it makes me feel like a big sister. I was carefully moving her legs and then her arms, all the while thinking how wonderful it would be if she could actually talk to me. Do you think she would like making snow angels? Or maybe she’d rather stay inside and eat cookies with Grandma. I wonder what her favorite color would be or if she likes the clothes I put on her or how I style her hair. Sometimes I feel so much love for her that I pray she could really hear me.  Grandma says that my dollfriend is real, as real as I wish her to be.  I can care for her, tell her secrets, make things for her, we sleep together and she always smiles at me in the best way!

Christmas was just around the corner, and orange and pink Via-E boxes were already wrapped in green and red paper just waiting to be put under the Christmas tree. It would be so cool if she could open the presents up herself. I wonder if miracles ever happen. You know, Pinocchio, Frosty, the Nutcracker … they all came to life why not Elena? I thought to myself.  Then I looked at the glistening snow angel I had created and said aloud, “Why not Elena?”

“Well, Miss Christmas Snow Angel, I continued with my most heart-felt request, what do you think? A miracle for my dollfriend Elena and me?”

I placed Elena on her snow angel and then laid back down on mine and began swinging my arms and legs so fast that I was digging deeper and deeper into the lightly packed snow. My eyes were closed tight, and with every inch of my being, I wished. Then I slowly opened my eyes, turned my head to look at Elena, and … nothing. Her eyes were closed and her arms were still spread out as I had last left them. I plopped back down atop my angel, my hands falling behind me to catch my fall, and ouch!  Something stung my hand right through my winter gloves.

What’s this?  I thought. A small, pointy thing was poking out of the snow ever so slightly. Now curious, I started to dig, revealing a silver star strung onto a red ribbon. I started to pull it free from its snowy bed, and I saw it had a clasp. It was a bracelet! Wait! There was another red ribbon!  I started to pull on it. This one was longer … it popped out of the show reveling that it had a clasp too, and another star! It was a necklace! A set! One for me and one for Elena!  Oh, how fortunate was this? I thought with excitement.

The star was so beautiful.  I opened the clasp on the necklace and reached back behind my neck to fasten the necklace onto myself. The necklace dropped to its resting place on my chest and I put my hand on top of it feeling rather special.   My head was down when I first noticed the snow around me seemed to take on a soft blue-white glow.  I quickly pushed myself up from the snow angel I was making to examine it from a distance.  It was as if by magic, the snow angels Elena and I had made rose up from the ground and gracefully floated just above us. I rubbed my eyes and then took a second look.  If it hadn’t been for the warm feeling I felt inside, I might have been really scared!  Everything was happening so fast.  Before I could utter a single word, my angel said,

“Hello, Alex, I am one of your guardian angels, and I have come to help you with your Christmas wish. Put the bracelet around Elena’s neck and she will come to life.”

“To life? You mean really to life? Walking, talking, laughing … to life?” I said in disbelief.

“Yes, Alex. Walking, talking, laughing, and loving, just as you wished. But only for you, and only until midnight tonight. Christmas morning, at the stroke of exactly twelve, Elena must come back home with us.”

“Elena is an Angel?” I could hardly believe the words coming out of my mouth.

“Yes, Alex, Elena is the guardian angel assigned to you when you were first born into this world.  You can’t see her, but she has watched over you and brags to the other angels about all the wonderful things you do.  She asked for a special exception to the rules.  She asked to spend this Christmas Eve with you. Quickly, put the bracelet on your dollfriend, as you don’t have much time.”

I realized the angel was right, so I quickly placed the bracelet around Elena’s neck, forming a necklace, and then I moved back to watch the transformation.

At first there was nothing, but as I continued to look on, Elena’s face softened. Her perfectly pink lips spread into the warmest smile, and then she stretched out her legs and arms as if waking up from a long, satisfying afternoon nap. Her eyes opened slowly, revealing a deep cocoa brown so warm and beautiful; the kindness they contained enwrapped my very being.

“Elena?” I said softly.

“Hi, Alex!”, Elena said energetically.

Next, Elena started to make her very own snow angel.  I couldn’t believe my own eyes.  Finishing the snow angel, my Elena dollfriend jumped up, giggled, and plopped back down.  Then she began to chatter,

“Don’t you love the snow at Grandma’s house? I love the snow! My favorite color is blue; I love the clothes you put on me, especially the Fashion Kitty T-shirt! I love to have my hair brushed, braided, put in pony tails, held with barrettes, you name it! I like that you play with me all the time even though I can’t talk back, and most of all I’m sooooo excited to see what present you bought me for Christmas!”

“Cooooool,” I said in astonishment.

“Tag, you’re it!” Elena reached over and pressed her hand against mine. It was soft and warm, just like mine. “If you don’t get up, you’ll never catch me, even with those long legs of yours!” Elena giggled and quickly made her way through the snow.

We played for hours. We built snowmen, had a snowball fight, sang Christmas carols, braided each other’s hair, talked about our favorite movies and music—best girlfriend things all day long. It was my best day ever!

Then as if it were a strange call from the wilds we heard grandma’s call,

“Aaaaleeeex, be-a-weet!”

Elena looked at me as if she had a funny question mark panted on her face.  “What in the world?”

“That’s grandma’s signal to come home!” I explained to a confused Elena.

“Beaweet?” said Elena laughing.

Smiling, I explained the history of the strange call grandma used. “It has been handed down from generation to generation. Because the  beaweet call is so unique and carries so far, our family uses it when out on the farm to call everyone back to the main house. Come, let’s hurry so Grandma doesn’t worry. I’ll race you back!” Taking me up on the challenge, Elena got the first start and then I quickly followed.  We laughed the entire way back to Grandma’s house.

I cautiously opened the back door to find that Grandma was busy juggling pots and pans over the stove while she finished making dinner. I said hi to grandma and quickly made it up the stairs to my room with Elena in hand.

Now safely in my room I asked, “Are you hungry? Can you eat?”

“I’m so hungry I could eat a house!” Elena replied convincingly.

“Okay, I’ll ask grandma if I can have dinner and a movie in my room so we can eat and play together.” Off I went to the kitchen to negotiate what would become my special Christmas Eve dinner with Elena.

Grandma always understood me. She fixed a plate of candied ham, mashed potatoes, a vegetable medley, and a big piece of Christmas pie.

“Grandma?” I said taking the tray from her hands, “Do you think I could have just a little bit more?”

“Really?” asked Grandma.

“Yes, I played really hard outside, so I’m a bit more hungry than usual.” I smiled in my best “Grandma I love you” way.

“Of course, sweetie, Grandma loves a girl with a good appetite!” Grandma then added one more scoop of everything.  I kissed Grandmas’ cheek and was then off to share my dinner with Elena.

Eating dinner in my room with Elena was so fun.  We laughed, told each other stories and had fun just being real friends.  After returning the dishes to Grandma and kissing her goodnight, Elena and I climbed into our jammies, brushed our hair and teeth, and then snuggled into my bed to watch my new DVD of the movie Frozen.

“Elena?” I said,

“Yes, Alex,” Elena replied.

“Will you open your Christmas present early so I can see if you like it?”

With excitement, Elena leaped out of bed and said, “Oh yes! Go get it! Go get it!”

I remember that I quickly threw open my closet and then pulled out some shoes, then stuffed animals, then the dirty clothes hamper and finally—

”Here it is!” I announced.

After emerging from the depths of the closet, I placed two small boxes in Elena’s lap. “Just for you. Merry Christmas, Elena.” I kissed her cheek and then stepped back to watch Elena’s every move, every expression. I didn’t want to miss a thing. She tore into the red and green Christmas wrapping, exposing the pink and orange Via-E boxes—one for shoes and the other for clothes.

“Open the bigger one first!” I said.

Nodding, Elena opened up the larger box and pulled out a crisp white dress with a blue net skirt adorn with blue glittering dots.  It had a wide silver belt that tied in a white bow in the back of the dress.

“Now the other box!” I urged Elena onward. The smaller box contained silver sandals with a big-girl sized heal.  The sandals tied around the ankle with white ribbon bows. The perfect shoes to match the exquisitely girly dress.

That’s my Anniversary Dress!  Mom made one for me and another one for you so we could be the same!

“Oh, Alex!” Elena said.

As I looked at her, I noticed that she had tiny tears dripping from her eyes.

“It couldn’t be more perfect. And you couldn’t be a more perfect best friend,” Elena whispered.

 Wow, she is real, I thought to myself, and she does love me just like I love her.

We finished the night watching the movie until neither one of us could keep our eyes open any longer.

“Elena?,” I said with my eyes heavy and my mind ever so sleepy, “I want you to know that I will always take care of you and keep you by my side forever, and I will never forget the day you became real for me.”

Elena smiled, and then her warm cocoa-brown eyes slowly closed as she snuggled against me. She didn’t need to say anything, because we both knew whether she could talk or not, we would be best friends forever.

When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t tell if it was all a dream or if Elena was real for that one day.  But what I can tell you is that year at Grandma’s house was my best holiday ever!

Copyright 2009-2014, Via E, Inc. All rights reserved.

A Halloween Story by Alexis and Elena


From the outside the house was weathered; paint cracking and faded, the once green grass now brown, weeds growing so tall they looked intended and dirt caked over the windows like a thick brown frosting.  The house was just four years new and settled in a cul-de-sac just down the street of our neighborhood in São Palo, Brazil.  Mom, Dad and I would often walk past the house during our ritual evening family time.  We live next to a wildlife preserve so it was natural to see wild dogs roaming about and enormous black birds fly overhead.  What made this house so spooky was that the birds seemed to claim the house as their own.  At night the coyotes would howl in the spookiest way.  It was fun to pretend that the house was haunted.  For fun, Elena and I would ride our bikes to the deserted house then sit across the street and make up stories of what might have happened to the family that once lived there.  We wondered why they would have left so suddenly–leaving their house to sit empty.  This is one of our best stories:

Alex and Elena testOur Spooky Story–
A story of ghostly friendship

By Alex (Alexis) and Elena

It started with the first stone. The street wound through a housing track built on the edge of town, nestled up to miles and miles of burnt yellow grass hills with scattered old oak trees.  At the very end of the street was a house unlike all the rest. The new house had an old style making it look like it had lived peacefully with the burnt yellow grass hills for centuries.  A family had recently moved into the house and was in the process of putting in a new yard.  To keep with the old country look of the new house, the family had stepping stones shipped all the way from Transylvania, half way across the world, to place in their yard—Transylvania is home to some of the spookiest things in the world!  The night of the placement of the first stone in the yard a large black bird came to visit and sat on the roof of the house.  The yellowed eye black bird’s head tilted down and then tilted to the left and again to the right as if it were inspecting the stone’s placement in the new yard.  As the days went by more Transylvania stones were laid in the yard as if they were recreating an old path and sitting wall.  It was as if that path and wall had already existed for centuries.

Each night one more black bird came to watch the construction of the old looking yard, quietly, as if they didn’t want anyone to know they were there, watching. One night—the night of the first full moon to shine on the completed Transylvania yard—something strange happened…a white mist rose out of one of the stones.  The mist formed into an image of girl.  The girl floated and came to sit on the wall as if it was her own.  She didn’t look very scary, but instead she looked a bit confused.  As the ghost girl rose and floated up and down the newly laid stone path, the black birds seemed to surround her like the blue birds that follow a Disney princess.  Elena and I secretly watched the ghost girl as she inspected her new home from behind a thick old oak tree growing across the street from the house.  As she continued to moved across the yard, her brow furrowed and the delicate corners of her mouth turned downward making a sad, confused frown—I don’t think she liked the new path or the new house very much.

The ghost girl had big beautiful, black colored eyes and long black hair that tumbled down to the floor in soft waves. If she had skin, the color would be like that of a cool white, ivory. She didn’t look very scary but rather pretty, in a spooky sort of way. Elena and I whispered to each other as we watched the ghost girl carefully.  Her smoky grey dress came down to her knees and swayed back and forth as she stood next to a newly transplanted olive tree.  Elena and I wanted to stay and watch all night but we knew it was getting late. If we didn’t get home soon, our moms would surely worry about us.  So we quietly attempted to tip-toe out from behind the tree from which we had been hiding. Eeek, Screech, Eeek… the black birds started to holler as if to warn the ghost girl of our presence.  We froze in our steps, goose-bumps raised on our arms and if our hair could stand straight up, I’m sure it would have!  We swung around quickly and in a moment she was gone.

Lights flashed on inside the house, each window glowed a soft yellow. The front door of the house swung open and out came the owners of the house with brooms lifted up behind their heads and gripped tightly in their hands as if they were to attack.  Elena and I quickly ran back behind the tree as it was too far to run all the way home without being seen.  We thought this house must be full of witches!  But as they waved the brooms bottom up into the air, we realized they were just trying to get rid of the birds who were so loudly screeching, creating the spookiest concert of noises we had ever heard.

Comforted by the thought the owners must be normal people like us, we laughed and started to talk about the ghost girl. “Where do you think she came from?  How old was she?  Where are her parents?  Is she friendly?”…we jabbered on with excited energy caused by the scare.

“I come from Transylvania, I’m eight years old, and I’m looking for my parents,” said a small voice.  Elena and I looked at each other with our eyes as large as saucers and bright with fear.  We grabbed each other’s hands and then slowly turned around.  There she was, the ghost girl, floating right next to us.

But when we looked into her worried eyes we were no longer afraid. We felt sadness for her. The ghost girl went on to say that she didn’t know where she was or why she can no longer find her family and friends.

“I’m lonely and I miss my parents so very much.” the ghost girl said.

“We can be your friends. I’m Alex and this is Elena. We live just down the street.” I said.

But the ghost girl’s sad eyes lit up only a little. “Thank you for your kindness and for not running away when you saw me.” The ghost girl continued, “Can you help me get back home?”

“We can try.” Elena and I said at the same time, now looking at each other for support.  “But we have to go home right now because our parents will soon be looking for us.  We promise to come back tomorrow and help make a plan to get you back home.”  With that, the ghost girl nodded, took two steps back and then vanished into the cool night air.

Wow, that was so cool! We said to each other now looking face to face and tightly holding each other’s hands. We couldn’t believe what we just experienced.  Giggling with excitement we jumped on our bikes and quickly rode home.

Elena lives in the house right next to mine so just as I got upstairs to my room and turned on the light I heard Elena on the can phone. The can phone is a science project Elena and I have that goes from my bedroom window to hers.  It is two cans connected by wire; she speaks in one side and I listen on the other.  I can hear her talking in her room anyway so I’m not sure if the can phone really works or not.  Elena tells me to log-on to our secured chat room so we can develop a plan to help the ghost girl.  We have our own chat room setup online so we can talk to each other even when we are not together.  We recounted the night and tried to figure out how to help the ghost girl until late in the night.  The chat only ended because I fell asleep with my hands still on my keyboard and my face smooshed on top of them.  Dad later scooped me up and placed me in my bed where I continued to try to find a way to help the ghost girl in my dreams.

Everyday we rode our bikes to meet with the ghost girl and became great friends. After awhile, she was not as sad as when we first met her, but she still missed her family very much.  By now there must have been at least 40 black birds that came to the now haunted house to keep the ghost girl company.  The people who lived in the house were not very happy about their uninvited bird guests.  They would chase them with brooms and bang tin cans together to make loud crashing noises in hopes the birds would go away…but the birds would not.  Instead, more and more birds came to visit the ghost princess–we named the ghost girl that because only princesses could talk to birds.

We discovered that the stones from Transylvania were taken from the ghost princess’s house. She use to run up and down the path daily and since becoming a ghost she kept that ritual not knowing that she was now a ghost girl.  Only since she met Elena and me, did she realize she was no longer a little girl.  But it was no matter to her whether she was a girl or a ghost.  All she wanted was to find her family so they could all be together again.

Elena and I tried, and tried to find a way to send the ghost princess home. None of our ideas seemed to work, save one.

One day we knocked on the door of the haunted house. A kind looking woman answered the door and we began to tell her the story of the Transylvania stone and the ghost princess.  She listened to us for at least an hour as we told her everything we knew and begged her to find a way to take the ghost princess back to Transylvania to be with her family.  The kind woman’s eyes looked compassionate and without even a word she nodded and slowly closed the door.  Elena and I looked at each other with questions in our faces. What was the woman going to do?  Did she listen to us at all?

Later that evening we met with the ghost princess and told her what we had done. “We’re sorry.” we said, “We have tried everything we could think of to get you back home.”  “But you can be part of our families…we can be sisters…all three of us!” Elena said.  We all looked at each other and knew this was already true—we would be sisters-friends forever.  But sadly that was not enough.  Even though we had each other, the ghost princess needed her family.

The next night was a full moon. It was so bright that it looked like a big flashlight had been hung in the sky.  Elena and I went to the same tree we had gone to each night before to meet the ghost princess, but this time it felt different.  Not one black bird was at the haunted house.  None sitting on the fence.  None were sitting on the house or the mailbox or even in the olive tree…they were all gone.  The house was dark, not even the porch light glowed as it had every night before.  We walked across the street to take a closer look.  There were no cars in the driveway and the evening paper was still on the porch.  We decided to knock on the door.  Knock, knock, knock.  No answer.  No sound.  Nothing.  Knock, knock, knock, we repeated.  Still nothing.  We turn around and headed down the hand-laid path of Transylvania stone and noticed, one stone was missing.

Elena and I look at each other and our hearts filled with happiness. We knew at that moment the ghost princess was on her way home to her family.  The nice woman who owned the house did listen and did care.  Just as we got on our bikes to ride back home a warm wind blew through the leaves of the olive tree.  We looked over our shoulders towards the sound of the rustling leaves to find the ghost princess sitting on the wall under the tree.  We were so excited to see her that we dropped our bikes and ran back towards the tree.

“I wanted to say thank you and let you know that I will always be your friend…no, I mean your sister.” The ghost princess said warmly.

“I wish I could hug you goodbye.” said Elena “Me too!” I said feeling happy and sad at the same time.

“Maybe we can…maybe we can do a group hug…all three of us.” The ghost princess continued, “Elena, grab Alex’s hands…O.K….now both or you close your eyes and I will enter into the space between the both of you.” I looked at Elena and then grabbed both her hands with mine, not knowing what to expect next.  We then looked at each other and with anticipation closed our eyes at the same time.  It was then we felt a warm touch and a whisper, “Thank you, I promise to visit and never forget how you helped me get back home to my family.”  When we opened our eyes all Elena and I saw was each other’s smile…the ghost princess was gone.

The End

Even though a new family has moved into the once deserted house that inspired Elena and me to write Our Spooky Story, every Halloween we sit across from the house and read Our Spooky Story again.  We had so much fun writing it that it makes for great Halloween fun every year!  What is your best spooky story?  I’d love to read it!  You can send it to me at  Write to me soon!AlexElena2

Have fun this coming Halloween!

Your best dollfriend,


Copyright 10/31/2009 all rights reserved Via-E, Inc.