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!

COMMENTARY: Musical Toys

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of watching a live jazz band play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The musicians seemed to thoroughly enjoy the set, and everyone in the audience was having a blast. Remembering my own days in the school band and piano recitals, I thought about how kids can be influenced early on by musical toys and instruments. Here are some of my favorites:

The Recorder

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Stripe Recorder, from Sassafras

A classic. I can almost hear “Hot Cross Buns” just by looking at one. Recorders, while often a symbol of fourth-grade music class, can actually be a gateway into other instruments for kids. While the standard plastic, beige soprano recorder reigns supreme among young players, there are alternatives, such as Melissa and Doug’s Makin’ Music wooden recorder, Sassafras’ Stripe Recorder, or colorful recorders from 1stNote. Alfred Music Publishing offers songbooks featuring tunes from The Wizard of Oz, Looney Tunes, and others.

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30 Key Fancy Baby Grand, from Schoenhut

The Piano

FirstAct offers a Dora the Explorer electronic keyboard for kids to explore music and try out different sound effects. Kids that want a more classical experience can enjoy Schoenhut’s 30 Key Fancy Baby Grand toy piano. For the youngest pianists, Hasbro offers the Sesame Street Let’s Rock Cookie Monster keyboard, featuring one octave of wide, easy-to-press keys.

The Drums

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Learn To Play Electronic Keyboard, from Discovery Kids

Kids that are more rhythmically inclined will enjoy Discovery Kids’ Learn To Play Electronic Drumpad. The battery-operated drumpad features drum sticks and adjustable tempo. Kids can follow the light patterns to play any of eight different rhythms. Union’s Toy Drum set features a bass drum, crash cymbal, and snare drum for little drummers to rock and roll. For a more laid-back beat, Remo’s Kids Bongo lets kids bang it out in colorful style, and are pitched high and low.

What are your kids’ favorite instruments? Let us know in the comment section!

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!

COMMENTARY: Outdoor Toys Are for Everyone

Spring is in the air, and kids are heading outside to enjoy the weather after this long, harsh winter. There are some great toys hitting shelves this season, giving kids and parents plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Who doesn’t like to fly a kite? Brainstorm has many options available for boys, girls, and parents. What I like most about Brainstorm’s Xkites line is the incredible designs. Half the fun of flying a kite is having one that’s cool, right?

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Mandrill kite, from Brainstorm

Brainstorm also makes AirSleds, colorful kites, and a range of licensed products including Angry Birds, Disney characters, Star Wars, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

For those looking for simpler ways to have fun outside, I suggest the Gertie Ball, “the world’s most catchable ball.” It has an almost-sticky texture that provides a great grip.

People who want more complex forms of play need not look farther than the Avitron. It is an R/C flying bird that is lightweight, attractive, and looks like a real bird when airborne. R/C toys are always fun, especially flying ones. Most such toys are helicopters or planes, so this is a  deviation from the norm.

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Young entomologists can explore their own backyards and collect bugs with the Bug Playground, from SmartLab. The playground is complete with a slide, jungle gym, pool, and rock wall, and kids will love to watch their new “pets” have a ball in their new hangout. The set comes with a bug-collector tool for easy capture and a manual with information on how to feed and care for insects.

For more commentary from Christine, check back each Tuesday afternoon. 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!