Clear the decks

Now that there are new toys to be enjoyed in your house, this is a good time of year to clear the decks of things your kids are done with. If you can do it with your kids all the better.  You’ll need a bag for the give-aways (younger family members, neighbors, charity) and one for throw away.

For some kids, putting old toys away can be too upsetting.  I once watched a three year old absolutely paralyze her high-powered attorney mom with a dispute about donating her crib mobile. If you’re in one of those power struggles with your kids, put the toys in a big box with their name on it. The toys will be put away for them–for another calmer day. You can also do the clean up without them–for some kids (and grown ups) this is the only way to do it.  A clean room with their new things front and center- may spark some “hey, what happpened to my….” but they quickly move on.  Obviously you don’t chuck their favorite huggable even though it looks completely chewed and gross…but chances are they won’t put up much of a fuss about the old sets of shape sorters that they have been done with for years.

Why does it matter? Having a clean, uncluttered play space allows kids to focus and be active thinkers and players.  An architect friend of mind once said, “if you have a good space to  work in, you can then go about your life– other wise you’re always navigating through the mess.” The same is true about play experiences–if you’re in a room that’s cluttered with junk, it’s hard to focus on any one prop for pretend or a wonderful new construction set.  Distractions are everywhere. If you have a child with ADHD this is particularly important to achieve for your child.

For toddlers who are terrific at the “let’s pull everything off the shelf” trick,   limit the choices of things they can explore at any given time.  If there are only three toys on a shelf that they can reach, chances are they will sit down and explore those toys.  Those quiet moments are the goal–and that’s where the value of play kicks in.  You can’t blame your two year old for pulling everything down–that becomes the game, not any of the wonderful things you have brought home.

So go for it….

Encourage Curiosity about Nature with Discovery Box

worlddiscoverytreasuresMy grandfather used to take us rock hunting at a quarry in Franklin, New Jersey.  These adventures with my grandparents (my grandmother went along for the ride, but did not share my grandfather’s enthusiasm for the rocks)…were part of our childhood.  After finding our rocks, we would then go into the dark room with our black light (along with other rock folks) and see if we had found any with fluorescent substances.  Pretty cool right?  Kick in a guaranteed trip for ice cream cones–and you could see how much fun this would be.  My grandfather (an engineer by training) sold the first tv in their area (in upstate New York).  My mother recalls that when there was a big fight or important event on tv, that people would gather to watch it in front of their appliance store.  His backroom was always fun to visit because there was always something to look at including his great collection of rocks.  He always encouraged us to build our own collections.  One of my last road trips with him before he died was to a rock show.  He was still delighted that I was interested (I was 17).  Truth be told, I just really enjoyed being with him.

worldbox

World Discovery Box with a sampling the treasures

So when I first came across World Discovery Box, it made me think of my Grandfather.  The focus of the company is to help build your child’s own collection of nature and science collectibles. Of course, you could do this yourself if you were so inclined but I really love the quality of the materials and boxes you can order. The wooden boxes and artifacts range in price from $69 to $199.  You can add to your child’s collection from their site – making this  a gift that you can add to as your child grows.

I also like the idea of using the box as a starting point.  Adding treasures you may find together-from a trip to the beach, on a walk in your own neighborhood.  Maybe because of my own experience, I think this is a great present for grandparents to give since it starts a dialogue. The only aspect of this product that could use some beefing up–the limited reading materials about the insects, minerals, shells, fossils that comes with the box.  (It’s just a folded guide). For the money,  I would have thought it would be paired with a book  about these topics and maybe some tools for your own rock, fossil and bug collecting adventures. In any case, it’s something you can add on your own.

Two great books:

Smithsonian Rock & Fossil Hunter

Smithsonian Bug Hunter

Bug tools:

Insect Lore Big Bug Magnifier

Creature Peeper

Pick of the Day: Scratch Art's Wacky Scratch Deluxe Activity Kit

SCR3424 We’ve always been big fans of Scratch Magic from Scratch Art Co. – it’s a fun craft activity that’s easy to explore and works for a range of ages.  You start off with a black sheet and with the enclosed wooden stylus–you scratch off the black to reveal the print or colors hidden beneath the blank overlay.  You can draw your own design or use the enclosed stencils.  This deluxe set, Wacky Scratch Deluxe Kit $15.99,  comes with sixteen drawing boards (trust me you will want to try this yourself), stencils and three frames for displaying your work.  They also make travel sized sets—  useful and easy to take along when you need your kids to be entertained, sitting down and quiet (at least for a little bit!). You can also buy this bigger kit and break it up into small sets to dole out as you go.  Also a good to choice to have in your office for when your kids drop by and you have some work to do.

Playmobil Underwater Adventure a Huge Hit

“Wow” was how the review started from one of our testing families.  Our tester parent sent us the following review after watching her kids enjoy this setting : “The complete set with the large boat, submarine, small  boat, diving cage, deep sea diving bell. etc. etc is just incredible.   Each set individually or all of them together provide innumerable  opportunities for pretend play.  The figurines and all of the  accessories provide EVERYTHING a child needs to act out nautical  stories.  I am amazed by the level of detail in each set.”

This set is right for the bathtub…this family also plays with it on “land”…

If you have a child that likes to pretend with miniature settings…this is one to consider!

Step 2's Water Quarry

I grew up playing in a sandbox–it was right next to the hose which meant that floods were a great part of the fun. My two older brothers  always seemed to tell the best stories–that required swift action that often resulted in mud!  My mother’s only complaint about our adventures was that a good number of her good spoons ended up in the mix.

So when we both saw Step 2 ‘s new Water Quarry – that included vehicles, water and sand…we were very excited. (Of course there is a self-aware moment that most people probably don’t get as excited as we do when we see a new toy–but that’s part of the job description.)

One of our testers is here with the toy set up–but not yet in use.

simonquarry

You can see that there are lots of play possibilities here–the roadway, the ramps, the digger…all seem good.  Both families that took a whirl with this toy had almost the same reaction.  It’s wonderfully messy and right on target in terms of play for the 2-4 year old crowd.  If you don’t like mess-this toy is not for you. (No judgement here…but if you’re not happy with a lot of water, mud, etc….you know certain toys are not going to be a good choice to bring home.)

Both families wanted this toy to work–the kids initially loved the concept and enjoyed exploring both portions of the toy. They liked pouring water down the ramps. One parent also commented that she liked that the red piece fits like a lid so you could close up the toy from the elements.

However….they both reported the same problems with the design…the green roadways do not stay flush with the red road–so the cars get stuck at each point. The bigger ramp also fell off from time to time.They also wish the lower section was higher up so the kids could get to the sand without kneeling…(I would have just sat in the container).

At $99, both families felt that while this was fun–it needed some tweaking before they would recommend it to others. We agree–the concept is fresh, fun and right on target for the age group…we hope the company will address these design issues for their next sand toy!

Pick of the Day: Chickyboom from Blue Orange Games

Chickyboom from Blue Orange Games is a fun balancing game that appealed to our school age testers (and their parents). Most balancing toys like this ask players to add pieces – here you take away chicks, bales of hay and wagon wheels…they all have different weights and will affect the balance of the perch. Points are assigned for each of the play pieces–the players with the greatest point value (when the rail finally falls over) wins.  Easy to learn –and fun to play. The company says that each round takes about 1o minutes.  Our parent testers gave this one a thumbs up.  We’re giving this one an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award. A solid gender free choice for kids 4 & up.

Pick of the Day: PushAlong Dog from ImagiPLAY

This friendly PushAlong Dog from ImagiPLAY is just right for toddlers that love have wheel toys but are not ready for cars that have small parts. He doesn’t make any sound–also a welcomed novelty these days!  There’s also a really cute yellow duck, greencar, and red cat in this line. All $14.99.

Pick of the Day: Learning Curve's Thomas and Friends New Talking Train Set

I’m pretty old school when it comes to wooden trains.  Having watch kids play with trains sets for a long time, they usually don’t need a lot of bells and whistles.  Several years ago (before all the lead issues), train makers were looking for ways to compete with all the electronic toys–so there were lots of  trains with lights and sounds.  They were ok, but truth be told if you have a child really in the train zone they provide their own scenarios and excitement.  So I was pretty skeptical when Learning Curve announced voice recognition technology for their new set, Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway-The Great Discovery Set.  I have to say–it is pretty amazing.  Sir Topham Hatt greets the trains by name as they go through the station…how does he know?  While one of our testers was amused (not amazed) with this aspect of the toy, what I loved was that he continued to play with the setting in a very traditional manner.  The technology did not take over the play experience–it enhanced the play possibilities.

Trains are a wonderful puzzle–which is why I do not recommend gluing down tracks or being wed to a train table.  Train tracks can take all different turns — I’ve also observed that 4 year olds are better at making train tracks work than most adults.  Watch your child as they work out how to make the tracks connect–it’s really one of those moments to enjoy.

This 35 piece set comes with enough for making a figure eight, the Great Waterton Station, Morgan’s Mine, Thomas and Stanley.  The trains and accessories are sold separately so you can them to your existing trains.  The sound levels are set very high when you demo them in the box–the good news, you can turn down the volume.   With BRIO all but gone from the US market–it’s nice to see Thomas the Tank back with all engines a go.

Pick of the Day: Gamewright's Too Many Monkeys

Gamewright’s new card game Too Many Monkeys is easy to learn and great fun to play. The storyline borrows from the classic story — one monkey is trying to sleep but other monkeys keep dropping by, not to mention the occassional giraffe or elephant.  The game play is to get your monkey sleeping all by himself–you do this by getting the cards in front of you in order by pulling from the draw pile.  Our testers loved that they were swapping cards until they had them in order. The rounds move very quickly-also a plus. Fun for 2-6 players. They say 6 & up.  Our adult testers also enjoyed playing this one!

Crayola 3D Chalk…what makes it 3D?

One of our testers who really liked the 3D Chalk kits just raised a great question…is there something in the chalk that makes it 3D or will the 3D glasses make all chalk 3D…we posed this question to the folks at Crayola…

“Yes, the 3D glasses will work with any Crayola chalk and out sidewalk
crayons.  The ones that come with the Crayola 3D Sidewalk Chalk Kit allow for the best results
because we paired warm and cool colors together.”

Al Roker had a fun time with these glasses on our outdoor toy segment last year…click here to watch the segment.