COMMENTARY: Kids Love to Make Stuff

Kids love to make stuff. Arts and crafts, do-it-yourself kits, construction sets—you name it. I loved crafts as a kid, especially the kinds that didn’t quickly run out of the included supplies, so I could start over if it wasn’t quite right the first time.

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Recently, I took home Schylling’s Metal Pot Holder Loom. It was the first time I’d made one of those over-under hook-and-loop pot holders since elementary school. Even back then, I remember taking great pains to get the weave tight, so there weren’t gaps or curves. This time was no different, except that the loom is now significantly larger. The kit includes a metal loom, a metal hook, a plastic crochet hook, an instruction manual, and enough loops to create two pot holders and still have some left over. One quiet weeknight, I settled in with a good show on TV and started making a pot holder. The little girl in me still enjoyed the process, and I put thought into the design before beginning. The result was an even, tight, and pretty awesome-looking kitchen accessory, if I do say so myself. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Not All Science Toys are Created Equal

Not all science toys are created equal. Today’s kids live in a world oozing with technology, discovery, gizmos, and gadgets—and toy store shelves reflect this environment. Classics, such as volcano kits and fossil excavation sets, will always retain their charm and their ability to excite and inspire kids. However, more high-tech items, such as solar-powered robots and hovercrafts, are the toys of today—and tomorrow.

There is immeasurable value in science toys. Kids gain knowledge and understanding of the world around them by immersing themselves in a hands-on activity that lets them comprehend how things work, where things come from, or how to use one thing to power another. Providing kids with fun and exciting alternatives to mind-numbing video games or TV shows is a great way for parents and caregivers to encourage learning and positive play, even outside of school hours.

Hovercrafts, once a thing of sci-fi and fantasy, are now a reality. Thames & Kosmos offers kids the opportunity to build their own working hovercraft with the Air Stream Machines kit. The kit teaches kids about air mass and air pressure by letting them experiment with propellers, impellers, blower motors, and fans. Kids can even build a batting machine that suspends a ball on top of the stream of air. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Solar-Powered Toys Let Kids Harness the Power of the Sun

The best way to learn is hands-on, and there are lots of great toys that let kids learn about the world around them—while having fun at the same time! With solar-powered toys, kids come to understand how the sun provides energy and how to harness it for their use.

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OWI’s 14-in 1-Educational Solar Robot Kit, recipient of Best Green Products Award 2013, is a solar-powered robot that transforms into 14 different robot modes. Kids can easily change from a tail-wagging dog to a running beetle, a walking crab to a surfer, a speedster to a zombie chaser, and others. The robot kit provides unique accessories and parts that allow the robot to move on land and in water. It moves in direct sunlight and allows kids to create and use their imagination. There are two levels in building the robot kit. Level one includes Turtle-bot, Beetle-bot, Quadru-bot, Boat-bot, Walker-bot, Dog-bot, and Wheel-bot. Level two includes Roly Poly-bot, Auto-bot, Slither-bot, Surf-bot, Zombie-bot, Crab-bot, and Row-bot. Additional features include adjustable polarity on the solar panel to change direction of motor rotation, a retractable robot head which can be quickly stored in the upper body and can be installed in the front, top, or rear of the gearbox, and a transparent housing so kids can see the movements of the gears. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: The Many Incarnations of Apples to Apples

Christine.August12.2Apples to Apples has emerged as a go-to party favorite for players of all ages. Since its debut in 1999, the game has become incredibly popular and has been reinvented time and time again to cater to different audiences. It is now published by Mattel and is available online and at retailers worldwide.

Apples to Apples

Apples to Apples Party Box contains more than 1,000 cards. Each player begins with seven red cards that contain “Things.” One player selects a green card and reads the “Description” aloud. The other players must then decide which of their red cards is the best match for the green card. For example, if the green card says “A day at the park,” players must choose the best card to fit that card. Players can select anything from the literal (perhaps “picnic”) to the silly (“dancing clowns”) to the ironic (“sad and lonely”). The player that read the green card must shuffle the cards and then pick the one they like best. The player that put in the winning card keeps the green card. The first player to get five green cards wins. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Fandooble is Fun for Players Young and Old

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During a recent game-testing session here at The Toy Book, I had the opportunity to play Fandooble, from Mindtwister USA. This game took a few rounds to get the hang of, but once I did, I really liked it—so much so that I called dibs and took it home. Last weekend, I hosted my two teenage male cousins from Sweden. Needless to say, it could be a challenge at times to find activities that we all enjoyed; after all, a 13-year-old boy and a 28-year old woman don’t have a lot of common ground. Fandooble was a great solution, and we played several times during their visit. I even purchased another copy to send home with them as a reminder of our time together.

The game includes four dice and a bag of gold coins. The dice bear images of green dragons, red dragons, knights, wizards, treasure chests, and Fandooble—the money-snatcher. Each player begins the game with five coins in their “stash.” The rest of the coins are kept in the middle. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Kids Can Have Pets with Living Toys

Every kid wants a pet. Some start small, asking for a goldfish or a hermit crab; others go all-out from the get-go and ask for a pony; many more go for a more attainable, yet oft-denied option: a dog or cat.

For parents that want to let their kids have a pet but don’t want to take on the responsibilities of a larger animal, there are plenty of toy choices that will let kids have the enjoyment of a live pet.

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Sea-Monkeys are a classic item that originated in the 1950s. Kids “hatch” their own brine shrimp—nicknamed Sea-Monkeys—from numbered packets and follow instructions in an enchantedly illustrated instruction booklet, depicting the Sea-Monkeys as a magical underwater society. The graphic element of Sea-Monkeys is enough to lure many kids in, but watching the Sea-Monkeys come to life and grow keeps kids interested, and teaches them responsibility as they must feed their pets each week. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Choose Friendship Company Lets Girls Get Creative

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At myfbm.com, girls can choose from six different kits, from the Choose Friendship Company, to express their creativity. From friendship bracelets to magnets, these kits provide the supplies, instructions, and inspiration to create one-of-a-kind items to display, wear, or swap.

My Ribbon Barrette Maker lets girls design and make their own hair barrettes. What little girl doesn’t love colorful hair accessories? What makes this kit awesome is the layout of the top of the box. There is a centered slot to firmly anchor the barrette, and numbered slots in which to place the ribbons as kids weave them into the barrette. Inside the box, the kit includes several silver barrettes, a rainbow of brightly-colored ribbon, and an array of colorful beads for girls to incorporate into their designs as they see fit. The kit comes with an instruction sheet with several design suggestions and photos to make it easy to master. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Wall Street Magnate Offers Fantasy Trading to “Investors” of All Ages

Christine.June3newI don’t know about you, but to me, the concept of trading stocks is one big, complicated, web of confusion, reserved for professionals, the wealthy, or older people. I’ve felt  little left out in the past, when I’ve heard of friends of mine buying stocks, and thought, “I should do that!” The problem is, I have no idea what I’m doing, let alone where to start. That is, until I was introduced to Wall Street Magnate (WSM), a groundbreaking new fantasy trading community that lets people learn the ins and outs of the capital markets. The site uses real-world financial information to offer a realistic and fun fantasy trading experience online, with up-to-the-minute data from all of the major U.S. Stock Exchanges.

WSM allows “traders” of all ages to learn crucial skills in an exciting and social atmosphere. Users have $100,000 in simulated cash to trade stocks listed on the NYSE, NASDAQ, and AMEX. Members climb the corporate ranks by increasing their Status and Title. WSM provides an easy-to-use and intuitive interface for fantasy trading. The site accounts for both dividends and stock splits in a real-time environment, and features social club play where members can collaborate or face-off with their friends while also competing against other clubs. “Traders” can track and document their complete trading history with sortable spreadsheets that can be easily exported. Member profile pages become the central gateway to fantasy trading, where privacy settings can be adjusted at any time. Members can quickly view a snapshot of their portfolio performance, their current achievements, friends’ status, club information, messages, and the WSM Ticker. The WSM Ticker allows members to see live activity streaming in real-time, including 24/7 news from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters Business, Yahoo! Finance, and CNN Money; the 20 most recent stock trades and new trades to hit the site; critical updates regarding buy and sell orders; all Status and Title upgrades achieved by themselves and friends; stock splits awarded for currently held stocks; dividends paid on currently held stocks; ticker posts; and recent friend and club updates. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: “Old Fashioned” Board Games Still Bring the Competition

I like to play a board game every now and then. These days, pulling out a thin cardboard box filled with a folded board, loose cards, and player pieces happens less frequently, and often takes some convincing on my part for my prospective opponents. However, it wasn’t always that way, and while kids today have a plethora of entertainment options to choose from, the classic board game still has a fan base. The features and effects—not to mention appearance—of games may have evolved, but a good old-fashioned friendly competition around the table is still a great way for families to connect.

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Sorry!, from Hasbro

This is one of my favorites. Up to four players start with four pawns in their start space. Players must draw a 1 or 2 to leave the start space (for each pawn). Players then make their way around the board, moving their pawns according to the cards they draw, and head for their own safety zone. The first player with all four pawns home wins. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Musical Instruments Get Kids Into the Groove

There are so many musical toys options to choose from that I wanted to continue the theme and discuss three more instruments that let kids’ creative juices flow. My last post on this topic covered the recorder, piano, and drums. This post is focused on older children’s interests, and on toys that can prepare kids for the real thing.

The Trumpet

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Schools vary on when kids enter the music program, but in my case, my class was introduced to the recorder in fourth grade. In fifth grade, students could choose a real instrument and practice in the band. My early introduction to musical instrument toys played a key role in my interest in participating in the band. Bontempi’s Toy Band Wind Instruments Trumpet is a great way for kids to explore music and get familiar with breathing techniques. Colored keys help kids learn notes, and the silver color makes it realistic for eager musicians.

The Guitar

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Young rockers can learn to play their favorite jams with First Act’s Classic Rock Electric Guitar Pack with Amp. The solid body, rosewood fingerboard, and maple neck give the guitar a solid feel and warm tone. The guitar also features chrome tuning machines, volume and tone control, and a guitar cable. The included practice amp is battery-powered, letting kids take their tunes on-the-go.

The Saxophone

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Kids that enjoy playing the recorder can move up to the Toy Band Wind Instruments Senior Saxophone, also from Bontempi. The saxophone features eight colored keys for kids to learn finger positions and notes, and comes with instructions that teach kids to play three songs: Jingle Bells, Oh Susanna, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

For more commentary from Christine, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!