Tag Archives: Toys

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10 Fun and Unusual Holiday Gifts for Kids

I’m always on the lookout for cool and unusual kids’ holiday gifts, the kind that convey a fondness for and knowledge of the recipient, as well as a desire to give them something truly unique and worthwhile. Looking for something with a lot of play value that won’t already be under the tree? Check out these choices.

Pssst. Know a spy in training? They’d enjoy 4M’s  Spy Science Secret Messages kit. Future cryptologists can learn how to send top-secret messages by writing on X-ray paper, using invisible markers, utilizing a cipher wheel, and more.

Insect Lore’s Giant Butterfly Garden lets kids (and adults) witness the wonder of the butterfly life cycle, from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. See-through mesh with zippered entry allows easy access for care and feeding, and keeps butterflies inside until you set them free.

The Perfumery Science Kit, from Scientific Explorer, allows kids to create, design and mix their own perfume, enjoying a science and art that dates back to 2000 B.C. The kit comes with instructions, vials of various scents, and ideas for experimentation, so that kids can become their own mini olfactory factories.

I don’t know many kids who wouldn’t want this Expresso Cafe and Playhouse from Serec Entertainment. The cute 7′ x 4′ playhouse easily fits eight kids. It features a front entrance with a swinging door and a roll-out patio for role playing, inside and out.

Seeking a fun, holiday themed gift? Smart Snacks’ Gingerbread House Shape Sorter features a sweet and brightly colored cottage with six holes that match six chunky candy shapes. In addition to being fun, shape sorting toys are great for teaching and enhancing early learning skills.

No need to stop the fun when bath time comes! Construction Squirters, from Alex, allow for fantasy, dramatic and water play. Alex also offers Squirter sets in Pirate, Piggy and Doggy themes, as well as lot of other toys for creative bath play, from toys that let you make music and art, to shapes that stick on the wall for storytelling.

Why be limited to run-of-the-mill superheros when you can make your own? Emce’s Comic Book Hero Action Figure Customizing Kit contains everything you need to create and customize  your own superheros, including three articulated base bodies and various heads, hands, hair, masks, capes, paint and decals.

Since you’ve got to wear a helmet for bike and roller-sport safety, you might as well customize it. Wipeout’s Dry Erase Helmet lets you do just that. Helmets come in a variety of colors and include dry erase markers in assorted neon colors and a stencil kit with eight fun shapes.

The award-winning game SET (Enterprises, Inc.) is one of my family’s long-time favorites. It’s fun, challenging, and different each time you play. In addition to the original card game, SET now offers online daily challenges, as well as an iPad version.

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Most kids (and adults) are fascinated by magic. My First Magic Kit lets you perform your own. Watch a picture magically paint itself, make candy magically appear in an empty box, and much more. Have fun and amaze friends with this art that has been performed throughout history.

Enjoy your holidays!

 

This post originally appeared on Bookboard.com.

Slow News Day: Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Last January Wired Magazine ran a story on the Five Best Toys of All Time. Which toys did the high-tech, gadget-and-gizmo friendly magazine (or at least the Geek Dad section) name as the best? The stick, the box, string, the cardboard tube, and dirt. Not an electronic toy in the bunch. And, even more, all of these are simple, available (if not free), and provide open-ended play. Two are found in nature.

The internet went nuts with this story, as person after person — parents, teachers, nature advocates, play experts, and people who simply sense that today’s children grow up too quickly — passed this story around. With all the holiday advertising and shopping, and all the craze for the flashiest and the latest, a writer was advocating that kids go play in the dirt.

When Anna was small, I noticed that she was happy for hours with simple things — dirt, water, grass, a tire swing, paper, scissors, glue. She spent about a year being fascinated with adhesive tape — pulling, cutting and laying it down on paper, creating cardboard box-and-tube cameras and “candy machines”.  She didn’t seem to need or want anything more expensive, complicated or “educational” than that. I’ve found this is often the case if we slow down, adjust our ideas about what is normal or expected, and let our children and our own instincts guide us.

On the heels of the Wired story came another one: The Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University released the results of its 2011 TIMPANI (Toy to Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) study. Each year they name a “best toy” based on three categories: thinking and learning; cooperation and social interaction; and self-expression and imagination.

This year’s winner? The nearly 10o-year-old Tinkertoy Construction Set. Said the study’s principal researcher, “Basic, open-ended toys tend to be more beneficial to children’s play and learning than some of the more elaborate and commercial toys that are on the market.” The Tinkertoy designers, after all, created their toy after seeing children play imaginatively with pencils and empty spools of thread.

The article goes on to point out that open-ended toys foster cooperation and communication, with peers as well as with parents:

Through play, you can provide your child with the support needed to learn and grow, to learn how to learn, and to get needs met in safe, appropriate ways.

I’ve often bonded through play and creating with my family, and I’ve seen scores of children be happier and more engaged when playing with open-ended toys.

You may also be interested in:
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

Photo: Melissa Gutierrez

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Butterfly Girl Dolls

I adore these Butterfly Girl Dolls from the Canadian company, Little Humbugs. Each of the cute 12″ plush dolls comes snuggled inside a chrysalis, the way a real butterfly is. It’s a great idea — The chrysalis provides further play, teaches about nature, and doubles as the dolls’ packaging as a way to cut down on waste. Each doll is cutely designed in a color-coordinated outfit and bright wings, and each has a nature-inspired story — Jasmine is a protector of nature, making sure animals and plants are safe; Chloe is a gardener, growing beautiful and healthy things in her organic garden; Lucy is a bird keeper, nurturing and spending time with her feathered friends; Nika is a gemstone collector, making beautiful things with found objects.

There’s even an eco superhero for boys, Flint the Dragonfly Boy, who is strong, mischeivous and courageous.

Little Humbugs also offers beautiful Butterfly Girl books, custom prints and colorful fair-trade felt beads.

Little Humbugs and Butterfly Girls are the creation of children’s book author and illustrator, Marghanita Hughes. Marghanita is passionate about connecting children to nature and encouraging them to enjoy and steward the Earth, as well as appreciate its magic. This is easily apparent in all she does, from creating a company and products that use resources consciously to share a gentle message about the Earth, to exploring the wonders of the outdoors with groups of young children through a series of nature workshops, videos and books. The Butterfly and Dragonfly dolls are lovely, made with heart, fun to play with, and devoid of the consumerist trappings that similar plush dolls include.

Photo: Little Humbugs

My criteria for a green holiday gift? One that :

Promotes nature play or care of the earth
Uses all or mostly natural ingredients
Fosters observation and/or open-ended active and creative play
Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping
Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

Got any suggestions? Send them my way!

Other Green Holiday Gifts:
Homemade Cookies
Root Viewer Garden Kit

Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy

First came word from Lenore Skenazy, the wonderful keeper-of-the-calm-flame over at Free Range Kids, that the era of the passive toy was over. It seems she had done a sweep of the recent Toy Fair, where next Christmas’ gewgaws were revealed to the trade, and found, to her delight, that largely gone were loud, electronic, performing toys like Tickle Me Elmo, and in their place were toys that called on children’s imaginations to build with them and do things with them. Imagine that!

Then I ran across this story that should be required reading for anyone who is in any way feeling inferior or stressed out because their children do not have the latest wonderful toy that will help them get into a good college, or at least goose their fine-motor development:

When the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, CA, found itself with empty exhibit space between shows, clever exhibit designer Ronnie Bogle tossed a few giant boxes, which had contained the museum’s new recycling bins, into the area. Almost immediately, children were crawling in and around them, drawing on them, role-playing in them, and creating skyscrapers, houses and forts. New boxes were added and the exhibit was christened Box City. It became one of the most popular exhibits in the museum.

You can read the complete story of Box City here.

Said Ronnie Bogle, “One of my fondest childhood memories is when we got a new refrigerator and my dad gave me the box. For two weeks that thing went from being a house to a rocket ship to a train to a car.”

This is another nice reminiscence about playing with refrigerator boxes, from the GagaSisterhood site, which is geared to grandparents.

Children’s Museum marketing manager Autumn Gutierrez echoed the idea that children can have fun without fancy toys.

“The kids really love our high-tech exhibits,” she said. “But then the window washer comes along, and they are just as excited by that.”

Worth remembering!

Photo: Melissa Gutierrez

Related posts:

Gopnick: Babies Learn by Playing
Time Magazine: Can These Parents be Saved?
Children Opt for the Box Over the Toy
Movement to Restore Free Play Gains Momentum

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Wind Power Renewable Energy Kit

Got a budding scientist or environmentalist at home? Or simply want to build something and then experience the way wind can be harnessed to create power?

Then consider the Wind Power Renewable Energy Kit from Thames & Kosmos, which, at its price point (found at Science City and Horizon Hobby for under $40), provides a lot of play and educational value.

This kit contains everything you need to build your own wind turbine and then use it to generate the electricity to light up an LED and charge a rechargeable battery, or the mechanical power to lift a heavy weight. Obviously a great way to learn about a natural energy source, the turbine is also fun to build and can be assembled alone or in a group. The accompanying book contains 20 different experiments.

The company also makes a hydropower kit for exploring the power available from water.

Other kits include a fun and elaborate Candy Factory, so one can explore the science and method behind making everyone’s favorite sweets, a Bubble Science kit, featuring tons of fun, soapy activities, a Perfume Science kit, with a mini perfume lab, for learning all about the creation of scent, and lots more.

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Eco-Dough

When my family first heard about eco-dough, from the eco-kids company, we all immediately knew it was a winner. Everyone loves traditional Play-Doh, from Hasbro, or play dough made in ones own kitchen from simple ingredients.

But what if your child is allergic or sensitive to wheat? In that case, Play-Doh, with its starch-based binders, is no longer a good play option. (A full list of Play-Doh ingredients, and an explanation of its chemistry, is here.) Enter eco-kids, a Los Angeles-based family company that handmakes natural gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free eco-dough! The dough comes in six wonderful colors, which are dyed from plants, vegetables and fruits. The dough is soft and very pliable and doesn’t dry out quickly, the way regular Play-Doh does. (If it should dry out, a little veggie, olive or flax oil brings it back.)

Eco-kids also sells natural finger paints and puzzles. They provide  a terrific product for those seeking a natural, gluten-free dough, and a toy that offers open-ended creative play, as limitless as ones imagination.

Photos: Eco-kids

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Butterfly Girl Dolls

I adore these Butterfly Girl Dolls from the Canadian company, Little Humbugs. Each of the cute 12″ plush dolls comes snuggled inside a chrysalis, the way a real butterfly is. It’s a great idea — The chrysalis provides further play, teaches about nature, and doubles as the dolls’ packaging as a way to cut down on waste. Each doll is cutely designed in a color-coordinated outfit and bright wings, and each has a nature-inspired story, whether the doll be a protector of nature, a bird keeper, or a planter of seeds.

One of the dolls includes an added benefit: For every doll purchased a tree will be planted in the Monarch butterfly conservation area, to help save that endangered butterfly.

Little Humbugs also offers Butterfly Girl ebooks, party invitations, sleepover kits, and other items. There’s even an eco superhero for boys, Flint the Dragonfly Boy.

Little Humbugs is the creation of children’s book author and illustrator, Marghanita Hughes. Marghanita is passionate about connecting children to nature and encouraging them to enjoy and steward the Earth. She notes on her web site that she hopes her work can help influence children to care for the environment in a fun and gentle way. I think the Butterfly and Dragonfly dolls would do just that and, best, they are just fun to play with, without all the consumerist trappings that similar plush dolls include.

Photo: Little Humbugs

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

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